Thursday 29 December 2011

Shaking hands with Non-Mahram? by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradhawi

The Question:

Is it proven in the Glorious Qur’an or the Sunnah that shaking hands with women is totally prohibited within the social and family relations when there is trust and no fear of temptation?

The Answer:

There is no doubt that shaking hands between males and females who are not mahrams (illegal for marriage) has become an intricate issue. Reaching an Islamic verdict on this issue away from extremism and dispensation needs a psychological, intellectual, and scientific effort so that the Mufti gets rid of the pressure of all imported and inherited customs unless they are based on the textual proofs of the Qur’an or the Sunnah.

Before tackling the issue in point, I would like to exclude two points on which I know there is agreement among the Muslim jurists of the righteous predecessors.

Firstly, it is prohibited to shake hands with a woman if there is fear of provoking sexual desire or enjoyment on the part of either one of them or if there is fear of temptation. This is based on the general rule that blocking the means to evil is obligatory, especially if its signs are clear. This ruling is ascertained in the light of what has been mentioned by Muslim jurists that a man touching one of his mahrams or having khalwah (privacy) with her moves to the prohibited, although it is originally permissible, if there is fear of fitnah (temptation) or provocation of desire.

Secondly, there is a dispensation in shaking hands with old women concerning whom there is no fear of desire. The same applies to the young girl concerning whom there is no fear of desire or temptation. The same ruling applies if the person is an old man concerning whom there is no fear of desire. This is based on what has been narrated on the authority of Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (may Allah be pleased with him) that he used to shake hands with old women. Also, it is reported that `Abdullah ibn Az-Zubair hired an old woman to nurse him when he was sick, and she used to wink at him and pick lice from his head. This is also based on what has been mentioned in the Glorious Qur’an in respect of the old barren women, as they are given dispensation with regard to their outer garments. Almighty Allah says in this regard: “As for women past child bearing, who have no hope of marriage, it is no sin for them if they discard their (outer) clothing in such a way as not to show adornment. But to refrain is better for them. Allah is Hearer, Knower.” (An-Nur: 60)

Allah explains that there is no sin on the old barren women if they decide to remove their outer garments from their faces and such, so long as they do not do it in a manner in which they would be exposing their beauty wrongly.

Here the object of discussion deals with other than these two cases. There is no surprise that shaking hands with women is haram (unlawful) according to the viewpoint of those who hold that covering all of the woman’s body, including her face and the two hands, is obligatory. This is because if it becomes obligatory to cover the two hands, then it would become haram for the opposite sex to look at them. And, if looking at them is unlawful, then touching them would become haram with greater reason because touching is graver than looking, as it provokes desire more.

But it is known that the proponents of this view are the minority, while the majority of Muslim jurists, including the Companions, the Successors and those who followed them, are of the opinion that the face and the hands are excluded from the prohibition. They based their opinion on Almighty Allah’s saying, “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent …” (An-Nur: 31) So where is the evidence on prohibiting handshaking unless there is desire?

In fact, I searched for a persuasive and textual proof supporting the prohibition but I did not find it. As a matter of fact, the most powerful evidence here is blocking the means to temptation, and this is no doubt acceptable when the desire is roused or there is fear of temptation because its signs exist. But when there is no fear of temptation or desire, what is the reason for prohibition?

Some scholars based their ruling on the action of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) on the day of the Conquest of Makkah. When he wanted to take the pledge of women he said to them, “Go, for you have given your oath of allegiance.” But it is known that the Prophet’s leaving a matter does not necessarily indicate its prohibition, as he may leave it because it is haram (forbidden), makruh (reprehensible), or because it is not preferable. He may also leave it just because he is not inclined to it. An example of this last is the Prophet’s refraining from eating the meat of the lizard although it is permissible. Then, the Prophet’s refraining from shaking hands with women (other than his wives) is not evidence of the prohibition, and there should be other evidence to support the opinion of those who make shaking hands absolutely prohibited.

However, it is not agreed upon that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) refrained from shaking hands with women to take their oath of allegiance. Umm `Atiyyah Al-Ansariyyah (may Allah be pleased with her) reported another narrative that indicates that the Prophet shook hands with women to take their oath of allegiance. This is unlike the narration of the Mother of the Believers `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) who denied this and swore that it had not happened.

It is narrated that `A’ishah, the wife of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), said, “When the believing women migrated to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), they would be tested in accordance with the words of Allah, ‘O Prophet! If believing women come unto thee, taking oath of allegiance unto thee that they will ascribe nothing as partner unto Allah, and will neither steal nor commit adultery nor kill their children, nor produce any lie that they have devised between their hands and feet, nor disobey thee in what is right, then accept their allegiance and ask Allah to forgive them. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.’ (Al-Mumtahanah: 12)” `A’ishah said, “Whoever among the believing women agreed to that passed the test, and when the women agreed to that, the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said to them, ‘Go, for you have given your oath of allegiance.’ No, by Allah, the hand of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) never touched the hand of any woman, rather they would give their oath of allegiance with words only.” And `A’ishah said, “By Allah, the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) only took the oath of allegiance from the women in the manner prescribed by Allah, and the hand of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) never touched the hand of any woman. When he had taken their oath of allegiance he would say, ‘I have accepted your oath of allegiance verbally.’” (Reported by Al-Bukhari)

In his explanation of the saying of `A’ishah, “No, by Allah, the hand of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) never touched the hand of any woman …” Al-Hafizh Ibn Hajar said: she swore to ascertain the news as if she (`A’ishah) wanted to refute the narration of Umm `Atiyyah. It is narrated on the authority of Ibn Hibban, Al-Bazzar, Al-Tabari, and Ibn Mardawih that Umm `Atiyyah said in respect of the story of taking the oath of allegiance of women, “The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) held out his hand from outside the house and we (the immigrating women) held our hands from within the house, then he said, ‘O Allah, bear witness.’” In another narration reported by Al-Bukhari, Umm `Atiyyah said, “… thereupon a lady withdrew her hand (refrained from taking the oath of allegiance)…” This narration indicates that they (the immigrating women) took their oath of allegiance by shaking hands. Al-Hafizh said: we reply to the first saying that holding out hands from behind a veil is an indication of the acceptance of the allegiance even if there was no shaking of hands. As for the second narration, withdrawing hands indicates the postponement of accepting the pledge of allegiance or that taking the pledge of allegiance happened from behind a veil. This is supported by that narration of Abu Dawud on the authority of Al-Sha`bi that when the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) wanted to take the pledge of allegiance of the immigrating women he brought a garment and put it over his hands saying, “I do not shake hands with women.” Furthermore, in his book Maghazi, Ibn Is-haq is reported to have said that when the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) wanted to take the pledge of allegiance of the immigrating women, he would dip his hands in a vessel and a woman would dip her hands with him in the same vessel.

Al-Hafizh Ibn Hajar said: it is possible that taking the pledge of allegiance happened on more than one occasion. Sometimes, it happened without touching hands by any means, as narrated by `A’ishah. Another time it happened that the women’s oath of allegiance was accepted by shaking their hands with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), as narrated by Al-Sha`bi. A third time it happened that they dipped their hands in the vessel as mentioned by Ibn Is-haq.

The most correct view seems to be that it occurred on more than one occasion, if we realize that `A’ishah talked about taking the pledge of allegiance from the immigrating women after the Truce of Al-Hudaibiyah, while Umm `Atiyyah talked about what seems to be the oath of allegiance of the believing women in general.

By transmitting these narrations, I mean to clarify that the evidence of those who are of the opinion that shaking hands with women is prohibited is not agreed upon, as is thought by those who do not resort to the original sources. Rather, there is some controversy concerning this evidence.

Furthermore, some contemporary Muslim scholars have based their ruling concerning the prohibition of shaking hands with women on the Hadith narrated by Al-Tabari and Al-Baihaqi on the authority of Ma`qil ibn Yassar that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “It would be better for one of you to have himself stabbed on the head with an iron needle than to touch a woman that is illegal for him.”

Here, the following should be noted:

1. The scholars and Imams of Hadith have not declared the authenticity of this Hadith. Some of them say that its narrators are trustworthy, but this is not enough to prove the authenticity of the Hadith because there is a probability that there is an interruption in the chain of narrators or there was a hidden cause behind this Hadith. That is why Muslim jurists in the periods that followed the death of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) have not based their ruling on the prohibition of shaking hands with women on this Hadith.

2. Some Hanafi and Maliki jurists stated that the prohibition is not proven unless there is a certain qat`i (definitive) piece of evidence such as textual proofs from the Glorious Qur’an or authentic Hadiths on which there is no suspicion regarding the chains of narrators.

3. If we suppose that the above-mentioned Hadith is authentic, it is unclear to me that the Hadith indicates that it is prohibited for males and females who are not mahrams to shake hands. That is because the phrase “touch a woman that is illegal for him” does not refer to the mere touching without desire as happens in normal handshaking. But the Arabic word “al-mass” (touching) as used in the Shar`i texts of the Qur’an and the Sunnah refers to one of two things:

1. Sexual intercourse, as reported by Ibn `Abbas in his commentary to Almighty Allah’s saying, ‘… or ye have touched women …’. He stated that “touching” in the Qur’an refers figuratively to sexual intercourse. This is clear in the following Qur’anic verses that read: “She (Mary) said: ‘My Lord! How can I have a child when no mortal hath touched me?’” (Al `Imran: 47) and “If ye divorce them before ye have touched them …” (Al-Baqarah: 237)

2. Actions that precede sexual intercourse such as foreplay, kissing, hugging, caressing, and the like. This is reported from our righteous predecessors in the interpretation of the word “mulamasah”.

Al-Hakim stated in his Al-Mustadrak `Ala as-Sahihain: Al-Bukhari and Muslim have narrated many Hadiths that show that the meaning of the word “lams” (touching) refers to actions that precede sexual intercourse. Among them are:

a) The Hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “…The hands fornicate. Their fornication is the touch …”

b) The Hadith narrated by Ibn `Abbas that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “You might caress her.”

c) The Hadith narrated by Muslim that Ibn Mas`ud is reported to have said that a person came to Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) and told him that he had kissed a woman or touched her with his hand or did something like this. He inquired of him about its expiation. It was (on this occasion) that Allah, Glorified and Exalted be He, revealed this Qur’anic verse that reads “Establish worship at the two ends of the day and in some watches of the night. Lo! good deeds annul ill deeds …” (Hud: 114)

d) `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) is reported to have said, “The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) used to visit us (his wives) and it was his habit to kiss and caress us and do actions other than sexual intercourse until he reached the one whose turn was due and he stayed there.”

e) `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud is reported to have said in his commentary to Almighty Allah’s saying, “… or ye have touched women, …” that it refers to actions that precede sexual intercourse for which ablution is obligatory.

f) `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) is reported to have said, “Kissing is to be considered among the touching acts, so perform ablution if you do.” (Al-Mustadrak, vol. 1, p. 135)

Hence, the opinion of Imam Malik and the substantial meaning of the legal verdict issued by Imam Ahmad in this respect are that the touching of a woman that nullifies ablution is that which is accompanied by desire. And this is the way they interpreted Almighty Allah’s saying, “… or ye have touched women, …”

That is why Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taimiyah regarded as weak the opinion of those who interpreted “mulamasah” or (touching) in the Qur’anic verse to mean mere touching without desire. In this regard, he says, “As for the nullification of ablution with mere touching, it does agree with the original rulings of the Shari`ah, the unanimous agreement of the Companions and the traceable traditions reported in this respect. Moreover, those who held this opinion have not based their ruling on a textual proof or an analogical deduction.”

So, if “touching” in Almighty Allah’s saying “… or ye have touched women, …” refers to touching with hands, kissing or the like, as said by Ibn `Umar and others, then it is known that when “touching” is mentioned in the Qur’an or the Sunnah it refers to that which is accompanied by desire. We would like to cite here the following verse that reads, “… and touch them not, while ye are in retreat in the mosques …” Here, it is not prohibited for the one who retreats to the mosque for devotion and worship to touch his wife without desire, but touching that is accompanied by desire is prohibited.

Also, this includes the Qur’anic verses that read “O ye who believe! If ye wed believing women and divorce them before ye have touched them, then there is no period that ye should reckon …” (Al-Ahzab: 49) “It is no sin for you if ye divorce women while yet ye have not touched them …” (Al-Baqarah: 236) For if he (the husband) touches his wife without desire, then the waiting period is not required and he is not required to pay her the whole dowry, according to the agreement of all Muslim scholars.

So, whoever assumes that Almighty Allah’s saying, “… or ye have touched women, …” includes general touching without desire has exceeded far beyond the language of the Qur’an and that of people. For if “touching” in which a man and a woman are included is mentioned, it is known that it refers to touching with desire. Similarly, if “sexual intercourse” in which a man and a woman are included is mentioned, it is well known that it refers to actual sexual intercourse and nothing else. (See the collection of Fatawa Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taimiyah, vol. 21, pp. 223-224)

In another context, Ibn Taimiyah stated: The Companions had debate regarding Almighty Allah’s saying, “… or ye have touched women, …”. Ibn `Abbas, supported by a group, held the opinion that touching here refers to sexual intercourse and added: Allah is modest and generous. He euphemizes with what He wills in respect of what He wills. Ibn Taimiyah added: This opinion is believed to be the most correct.

The Arabs disagreed regarding the meaning of touching: does it refer to sexual intercourse or actions that precede it? The first group said that it refers to sexual intercourse, while the second said that it refers to actions that precede it. They sought the arbitration of Ibn `Abbas, who supported the opinion of the first group and regarded that of the second as incorrect.

By transmitting all these sayings, I mean to show that when the word “al-mass” or “al-lams” (touching) is used to mean what a man does to a woman, it does not refer to mere touching but rather refers to either sexual intercourse or actions that precede it such as kissing, hugging, and any touching of the like that is accompanied by desire and enjoyment.

However, if we investigate the sahih (sound) Hadiths that are narrated from the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), we will conclude that the mere touching of hands between a man and a woman without desire or fear of temptation is not prohibited. Rather, it was done by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), whose actions are originally a source of legislation. Almighty Allah says: “Verily in the Messenger of Allah ye have a good example …” (Al-Ahzab: 21). It is narrated on the authority of Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) that he said, “Any of the female slaves of Madinah could take hold of the hand of Allah’s Messenger and take him wherever she wished.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari)

The above mentioned Hadith is a great sign of the modesty of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

Furthermore, it is reported in the two Sahihs that Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to visit Umm Hiram bint Milhan, who would offer him meals. Umm Hiram was the wife of `Ubadah ibn As-Samit. Allah’s Messenger once visited her and she provided him with food and started looking for lice in his head. Then Allah’s Messenger slept putting his head in her lap, and afterwards woke up smiling. Umm Hiram asked, ‘What causes you to smile, O Allah’s Messenger?’ He said, ‘Some of my followers who (in a dream) were presented before me as fighters in Allah’s Cause (on board a ship) amidst this sea cause me to smile; they were as kings on thrones …’”

Al-Hafizh Ibn Hajar has mentioned lessons that are deduced from this Hadith: The guest is permitted to nap in a house other than his own on condition that he is given permission and there is no fear of fitnah. According to this Hadith a woman is also permitted to serve the guest by offering him a meal, drink or the like. Furthermore, a woman is permitted to look for lice in his head, but this last was an object of controversy. Ibn `Abd Al-Barr said, “I think that Umm Hiram or her sister Umm Sulaim had breast-fed the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him). So, each one of them had become his foster mother or his foster aunt. That was why he (the Prophet) used to sleep in her house and she used to deal with him as one of her mahrams.” Then he (Ibn `Abd Al-Barr) mentioned what indicates that Umm Hiram was one of the Prophet’s mahrams, as she was one of his relatives from his maternal aunts, since the mother of `Abd Al-Muttalib, his grandfather, was from Banu An-Najjar.

Others said that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was infallible and could control his sexual desires even from his wives, so what about other women who were illegal for him while he was granted infallibility from doing any wrong action or obscenity? This was one of his distinctive traits.

Al-Qadi `Iyad replied that the distinctive traits of the Prophet are not proven by personal interpretations of Hadiths. As for his infallibility, it is indisputable, but the original ruling is that it is permissible to take the Prophet’s actions as a model unless there is evidence that this action is one his distinctive traits.

Furthermore, Al-Hafizh Al-Dumyati said: It is wrong to claim that Umm Hiram was one of the maternal aunts of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) either by reason of marriage or fosterage. Those who breast-fed the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) are well known. None of them was from the Ansar except the mother of `Abd Al-Muttalib. She was Salma bint `Amr ibn Zaid ibn Lubaid ibn Khirash ibn `Amir ibn Ghunm ibn `Adyy ibn An-Najjar. While Umm Hiram is the daughter of Milhan ibn Khalid ibn Zaid ibn Judub ibn `Amir ibn Ghunm ibn `Adyy ibn An-Najjar. Umm Hiram has a common ancestor with Salma only in their grandfather `Amir ibn Ghunm. So, they are not among his mahrams because it is a metaphorical relationship. Al-Hafizh Al-Dumyati added: If this is proven, it is reported in the Sahih books of Hadith that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used not to enter any house in Madinah except the house of Umm Sulaim besides those of his wives. When he was asked why, he said, “I take pity on her, as her brother (Hiram ibn Milhan) was killed in my company.”

If this Hadith has excluded Umm Sulaim, then Umm Hiram is granted the same exclusion as her because they are sisters and resided in the same house; each one of them had her own apartment beside their brother Hiram ibn Milhan. So, the case is mutual between them, as reported by Al-Hafizh ibn Hajar.

Moreover, Umm Sulaim is the mother of Anas ibn Malik, the servant of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), and it was the habit of people that the master mixed with his servant and his family and did not deal with them as outsiders.

Then, Al-Dumyati said: There is no indication in the Hadith showing that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had khulwa (privacy) with Umm Hiram, as this might have happened in the presence of a son, a servant, or a husband.

Ibn Hajar replied: This is a strong likelihood, but it does not refute the original argument represented in looking for lice in the head and sleeping in her lap.

Ibn Hajar added: The best reply is that it is one of the distinctive traits of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) (See Fath Al-Bari, vol. 13, pp. 230-231).

What I conclude from the aforementioned narrations is that the mere touching is not haram. So, if there exists reasons for mixing as that between the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and Umm Hiram and Umm Sulaim and there is no fear of fitnah, then there is nothing wrong with shaking hands when there is a need for it, such as when returning from travel, the non-mahram male relative visiting his female relative, and vice versa, especially if this meeting happens after a long period.

Finally, I would like to ascertain two points:

Firstly, shaking hands between males and females who are not mahrams is only permissible when there is no desire or fear of fitnah. But if there is fear of fitnah, desire, or enjoyment, then handshaking is no doubt haram (unlawful). In contrast, if either of these two conditions (that there is no desire or fear of fitnah) is lacking between a male and any of his female mahrams, such as his aunt or foster sister or the like, then handshaking will be haram (although it is originally permissible).

Secondly, handshaking between males and females who are not mahrams should be restricted to necessary situations such as between relatives or those whose relationships are established by marriage. It is preferable not to expand the field of permissibility in order to block the means to evil and to be far away from doubt and to take the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as a model when there is no proof that he shook hands with a non-mahram woman. Also, it is preferable for the pious Muslim, male or female, not to stretch out his/her hand to shake the hand of anyone of the opposite sex who is not mahram. But if he/she is put in a situation that someone stretches out his/her hand to shake hands with him/her, then he/she can do that.

I have tried to clarify the detailed ruling of the issue here in order to inform those who are in the dark about it how to behave while sticking to the tenets of their religion. Also, when the detailed Islamic ruling is explained and people are fully aware of it, there will be no room for personal justifications that are not supported by legal backing.

Sunday 25 December 2011

Queenie’s Change of Heart

Queenie Padilla shares her rebirth after performing Haj in Makkah

By all accounts, a young Filipino singer-actress dubbed "the future leading lady" was on her way to stardom before she had a spiritual rebirth.

Queenie Padilla was starring in primetime TV shows and would sing and dance in production numbers on popular variety shows in the Philippines. She was the other half of a romantic pairing ("love team" in local showbiz parlance) meant to set hearts aflutter. At 20, she was living her dream — or so she thought.

"It was a deceiving dream," Queenie told Arab News as she sat wearing an abaya and a veil on her head. Devoid of makeup, her face is just as angelic and even more beautiful than when she was all dolled up for guest appearances and shows.

The Saudi media had recently picked up on the story of the Filipino celebrity who went to Makkah and came back with Islam reignited in her. After performing Haj for the first time, she declared to all and sundry that show business was now behind her. The YouTube video in which she tearfully shares her life-changing Haj experience was going somewhat viral; it was garnering likes and getting shared and re-shared among Muslims, and not just in the Kingdom. "Inspiring" was the consensus.

What triggered a 180-degree turn for the young lady who was dead-set on pursuing a showbiz career a mere four years ago? How did the decision come about? And, how did she break it to her fans?

Queenie said she had been so worried what the producers, directors, managers, and especially, her fans would think. Everyone had expectations of her and she was feeling the pressure. She had to ask herself: “Am I going to live my life disobeying Allah or am I going to make the final decision in living my life as a good Muslim and really practice Islam the right way? There was a struggle but I had to make a choice. So I made that choice. I quit.”

Queenie calls herself a revert to Islam because it was only eight months ago that she embraced her faith wholeheartedly after visiting her mother in Australia, where she grew up nominally Muslim with her two sisters and their youngest brother.

Her father Robin, who comes from a big showbiz clan, famously married Queenie's mother in Muslim rites inside prison as he was serving a 21-year sentence for illegal possession of firearms in the early 90s. He was pardoned by the then president, and he left jail in 1998 no less famous than when he entered it. He remains one of the Philippines' most bankable action movie and TV stars to date.

The busy life of a celebrity didn't leave much time for Robin to educate his family about Islam as much as he would want, but Queenie credits him nonetheless, because if it weren't for him they would not be Muslim.

“When I went to the Philippines, my father told me to wear a hijab and pray. But I didn't know why I was praying. I was ignorant about Islam and about being Muslim. At that time I hadn't yet tasted the sweetness of faith. I think that's why I was misguided.”

Their mother started practicing Islam herself just two months before Queenie did, and she let her eldest daughter know her desire for her children to become good, practicing Muslims. Queenie says that when she first saw her mother after the latter rediscovered Islam, she was pleasantly “shocked.”

“I saw this glow in her that I've never seen growing up as a child. Everything that came out from her mouth was all about Islam and Allah. And she was reading the Qur'an constantly and listening to lectures and she wore the hijab. I asked her if she was afraid of wearing the hijab in this society. She said she wasn't because she has piety, and that's all that matters."

Over dinner, they would have conversations about the Hereafter and whether or not they obeyed Allah with their deeds and actions.

"It got me thinking," she said. "I started evaluating and asking myself if I was really happy with my job, and I realized that there was something missing in my life. There was emptiness inside. I wanted to feel what my mother was feeling because she was so happy and content — and peaceful. I told her, 'Oh please, I want to learn more about Islam.'"

And she did. As she learned more about Islam, she knew she had found what would fill the void she was feeling: renewed religious fervor.

“It was an amazing feeling. I think it was a calling from Allah. The more I learned about Islam, the more it became my passion. And every day, when I gained more and more knowledge, the missing parts of myself began to grow. The emptiness is gradually going away too,” she added.

Queenie went to the Kingdom solely as a pilgrim and not an actress, although she met the Filipino community just the same. She visited the International Philippine School in Jeddah and other Saudi private schools where the students' reception was uniformly warm.

Her most unforgettable experience in her brief two weeks here, however, took place in a hospital where she visited a 30-year-old Filipino woman with a rare form of cancer. Queenie prayed for the patient who dreamed of going to the Kaaba. Shortly after, the woman reverted to Islam and declared her formula of faith in Islam, making Queenie “the happiest person alive.”

“The patient awakened me in a way; she reminded me that sickness or death could hit us anytime. Every day as Muslims, we should prepare,” Queenie said.

Queenie’s parents, now married to different people, are very happy over her decision to fully practice her religion. Her next mission is to share more about Islam with her sister Kylie, who is an up-and-coming star in her own right back home. Queenie also plans to major in business, and at the same time, take up Islamic studies.

These days, Queenie speaks with a conviction not previously seen in some of her TV interviews, in which she appeared reserved and even a little nervous. She has transformed into a lady who conveys the message of Islam to people with courage and confidence, even if she admits her knowledge is still limited.

Queenie — or Khadija, the Muslim name she recently adopted — is sure to lose fans once she leaves the glare of klieg lights completely, but she looks to have gained new ones in her journey of proclaiming her faith.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Argue kindly!

“Argue with the People of the Book only in the kindest way--except in the case of those of them who do wrong--saying, "We believe in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to you. Our God and your God are One and we submit to Him."
(Surat al-‘Ankabut, 46)∙

Saturday 17 December 2011

With a new imam, a new outlook

He grew up as a preacher’s grandson in Oklahoma, attending Church of Christ services twice a week, until the pull of Christianity started to weaken. His teen years were spent spinning hip-hop music as a DJ, but that world came to feel hollow.

Then he found the Koran, and William Suhaib Webb was transfixed.

Now Webb, a year shy of 40, finds himself in Roxbury as the new spiritual leader of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the biggest mosque in New England. He started this week, and yesterday led his first jummah, the weekly congregational prayer Muslims hold on Fridays.

Webb’s unusual path to his new role is at the heart of his plan to make the mosque more inclusive, and reflects a broad desire by Islamic leaders nationally to dispel the perception of a rigid faith presided over by stern imams. That desire is evident, too, in the pop culture references Webb sprinkles into his sermons, from “Monday Night Football’’ to the Twilight vampire romance series.

“He’s ushering in a new era in the Muslim community of young imams who have knowledge of classical Islamic scholarship, but who are born in America and familiar with American life, and who are able to connect with the youth,’’ said Safaa Zarzour, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America.

The mosque had been seeking an imam for three years. Board members were familiar with Webb - and with his life story. That narrative appealed to them.

“There’s a huge dearth of qualified imams in this country,’’ said Nancy Khalil, a board member at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. “We wanted somebody who could relate to a diverse congregation.’’

Webb, who converted to Islam at age 20, said he comes to Boston eager to introduce his big tent philosophy to an ethnically diverse community in a city with a history rich in interfaith work.

But he is also aware that he inherits a mosque with critics who accuse it of radical affiliations.

Webb himself has confronted similar criticisms, with some suggesting he is a dangerous fundamentalist who harbors discriminatory views, while others from inside his faith excoriate him for being too accepting, too liberal.

Too many mosques, Webb said - though not necessarily the one in Roxbury - scare away some Muslims because congregations seem to exclude members of certain ethnicities or are led by imams who prove overly doctrinaire.

“If we’re able to function together to some degree, then we become like a Muslim ‘Cheers,’ ’’said Webb, who is married to a Malaysian-born Muslim and has two children, ages 10 and 8. “If we can acknowledge that we have certain differences, even religiously, then we’ll be able to develop as a community.’’

Webb started questioning his Christian faith as a youngster. Despite achieving popularity as a hip-hop DJ, he felt an emptiness. But hip-hop introduced him to African-American Muslims who stirred his curiosity about Islam. He checked out a copy of the Koran from his local library and studied the faith for three years before converting.

Webb then studied under a Senegalese sheik in Oklahoma and later became imam at a local mosque there.

From 2004 to 2010, he studied at Cairo’s Sharia College of Al-Azhar University, founded in the 10th century and considered a preeminent institution of Islamic learning. He graduated with multiple certificates in Islamic sciences, qualifying him to preach and teach, and says he’s memorized the Koran in Arabic (6,236 verses).

After his time in Cairo, Webb moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where he preached at local mosques and led spiritual retreats. He also established, a “virtual mosque’’ that showcases writings from him and about 20 Muslim scholars, who answer questions about jihad, dating, sex, music, women, and celebrating Western holidays.

The site gets more than 10,000 hits a day, with some of the most commented-on articles including “Save the Sisters,’’ “Wifehood and Motherhood are Not the Only Ways to Paradise,’’ and “Taking Off the Hijab.’’

Indeed, the role of women in Muslim communities, and how men treat women, are issues Webb grapples with frequently. He said he believes women can have active and leading roles in mosques, and said one reason he was attracted to the Roxbury mosque was because it had a woman on the board. Those views, in turn, appealed to the Roxbury mosque.

Many Muslims regard Webb’s training at Al-Azhar University as a stamp of authenticity, but Webb cautions Muslims that Islam imported from traditionally Muslim countries is not superior to the faith as it exists in the United States.

“We represent a different group of brothers and sisters now who are born in America, who went overseas to study for a number of years and realize that everything overseas isn’t necessarily right,’’ said Webb, who can seamlessly switch from English to Arabic. “I don’t have to be an Arab or a Pakistani to authenticate my Islam.’’

In 2010, Webb was part of a delegation of eight North American imams who visited the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps and issued a statement condemning anti-Semitism and terrorism.

“He was clear in his condemnation of anti-Semitism and evidenced considerable knowledge of the subject, and was helpful in clarifying many issues to the others on the trip,’’ Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding in New Jersey, said in an e-mail.

Despite his big tent philosophy, interfaith work, and preaching against radicalism, Webb has been assailed by mosque critics as a homophobic fundamentalist.

Charles Jacobs, the president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a Watertown-based group that has long been critical of the Roxbury mosque, accuses Webb of belonging to the hard-line Salafi sect of Islam and referring to homosexuality as an evil inclination.

“Considering Suhaib Webb’s homophobic and otherwise fundamentalist views, it would be strange to see him embraced by Boston’s progressive community,’’ Jacobs said in a statement.

Webb’s comments, posted on his website, were made in 2007 in response to an e-mailed question from a homosexual who wanted to convert to Islam. Webb acknowledged the comments, and said he regrets referring the questioner to an organization that purports to undo same-sex attraction. Webb said he believes sexual orientation is no reason to discriminate against someone’s right to worship, and that imams should offer guidance and compassion to gay congregants who seek it.

“If someone who’s a homosexual comes to the mosque, wants to pray, wants to worship, be part of the community, I have no issue with that,’’ Webb said. “Ultimately, people who have whatever inclinations in their life, no one has a right to bar them from their experience with God.’’

Webb accused his critics of belonging to an “Islamophobia industry’’ that seeks to demonize Muslims. His foes, he said, cite his old statements while ignoring more recent remarks.

“In Oklahoma, we say you can never judge a man till you walk in his moccasins. I would encourage them to come and meet me,’’ he said. Webb denied being a Salafi disciple and said he follows the Maliki Islamic school, which is followed mainly in North Africa.

Some of Webb’s biggest critics are hard-liners who accuse him of compromising Islam and misleading followers with his positions on homosexuality, gender mixing, and other issues.

In 2007, Webb left, a conservative online Islamic academy where he taught, and had a public clash with another teacher there, Sheikh Nuh Keller, also an American Muslim convert.

Online comments appended to a Los Angeles Times story about Webb earlier this year revealed the anger percolating toward him in some quarters. “This guy wants to destroy Islam from the inside, and he [wants] to turn mosques like churches where they come to eat food, and listen to music, and mingle with gays, men and women all together,’’ one commenter wrote.

Webb dismisses such criticisms, referring to Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, who didn’t spurn adulterers and drunkards seeking help, offering compassion instead.

“Religion is for people with issues,’’ Webb said. “Creating a comfortable space for people, and letting people know that I’m not here to indict you but invite you - that’s something that me and a few other imams in America believe is crucial to the sustainability as well as the dignity of Islam in America.’’

Tuesday 13 December 2011

One Jewish woman's fight for Palestine

For Jennifer Loewenstein, April 19, 2002 was a “waking nightmare”. She stood silent at the edge of the camp, in disbelief—and horror.

Listening to the sound of wailing, she watched as medical workers lay out the bodies of the dead. The corpses, wrapped in white, were loaded onto the back of a pick-up truck.

“I will never forget this time,” Loewenstein recalls. “I stayed in the camp for two days, picking through the ruins and debris of people’s former lives—watching children and families look for their belongings—anything they could salvage from the wreckage.”

Loewenstein was in Jenin.

She had spent much of the previous two years working as an editor and freelance journalist at the Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza. During that time, she traveled frequently to the Rafah refugee camp to visit friends. It was in that way that she came to know Rafah so well and later started the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project in December of 2002.

But Loewenstein’s decision to take on the plight of the Palestinian people was not an easy one. She has since been shunned by her community and accused of being a “terrorist sympathizer” and “self-hating Jew”—a term she considers as ludicrous as calling her a “self-hating human” for opposing human rights abuse.

Despite this opposition, Loewenstein continues her struggle to expose an injustice she wasn’t always aware of herself.

“I never really knew much about the plight of the Palestinians until I was much older,” says Loewenstein. “I didn’t begin to question all the information I’d gotten on Israel and on Arabs until I got to college (at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem).”

Loewenstein grew up in a secular Jewish family, but was instilled early on with a concern for Israel. She still remembers the day when her favorite dress was sent to her cousin overseas. She was only six, but gave up the dress because her family in Israel needed it.

Although her parents were not “avid Zionists”, their loyalty to Israel was strong. But even stronger than their loyalty to either Israel or Judaism was her family’s loyalty to peace.

“One year at Christmas/Hanukah time we refused to celebrate either holiday,” remembers Loewenstein. “Instead we made a ‘Peace Tree’ and celebrated our hope for peace.”

Her mother’s concern for peace was complemented by her struggle for civil rights. Because it has devastated her mother so much, Loewenstein never forgets the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

It was this early awareness of civil rights that Loewenstein carried into adulthood and would bring with her to Jerusalem. In 1981, she traveled to Israel for a semester-long study abroad program. During her stay she was exposed to a world she never knew existed.

One day during a tour of Gaza Strip instead of listening to the tour guide, Loewenstein sat at the back of the bus and looked out the window. She discovered “thousands of people living in tents and shacks.” Loewenstein was appalled.

“It was the first time I had ever seen this kind of poverty and the first time I understood the meaning of ‘occupation’ in a concrete way,” says Loewenstein. “I saw a woman with about three children carrying a jug of water on her head and a soldier watching her and the others around her with his gun slung over his shoulder.”

It was at that moment that she first realized “something was terribly wrong.” But nothing she saw that day would prepare her for what she experienced in April of 2002.

Loewenstein was among the first internationals—and only a handful of Americans—to enter the destroyed Jenin refugee camp the day after the Israeli incursion.

“When I got into the camp area I could not believe my eyes. It had been devastated. Thirteen thousand people had lost their homes,” describes Loewenstein. “The camp was destroyed beyond recognition—flattened into a heap of rubble and dust. The smell of death was everywhere.”

What was most traumatic for her was the discovery that many of the dead were unarmed civilians. “Not all the dead were fighters,” says Loewenstein. “Some were old men, women and children.”

The horrors that Loewenstein experienced in Jenin made her struggle all the more urgent—a struggle she fights, not as a Jewish woman, but as a human being.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Oh Fitna filled women take heed!!

The fitna that embodies the female gender has inspired some male “Islamic scholars” to make some interesting statements. Sisters, take heed! Women are to stay away from cucumbers and bananas, because of the sexual resemblance. Women should not be allowed to drive, otherwise there would be no virgins left. And men would become homosexual porn-addicts as well. And, as we all probably already know, women should not wear high heels, as they are a seduction to (weak sex-obssessed) men.


Girls will be boys in Afghanistan

It may seem strange, if not downright unbelievable, that in a society obsessed with maintaining strict gender roles, one form of transvestism has become widespread and even acceptable. We are talking here about little girls sporting closely cropped hair, dressed in boys' clothing and carrying male names – the phenomenon known in Afghanistan as bacha posh ("dressed like a boy").

Discussing it with my Afghan friends, I discovered that many knew at least one bacha posh, if not several.

"Remember that famous theatre actress?" one friend recalled. "She lived on our street. During the Taliban rule, she dressed four of her daughters as boys."

"I knew a girl in Herat," another told me. "She used to do occasional labour work and sometimes beg on the streets."

There is also a celebrity bacha posh: Bibi Hakmina, a politician who was previously with the mujahideen. Proud of having spent all her life as a man, she never leaves home without a Kalashnikov. She never felt like a woman either, she told the BBC in a documentary film, explaining what it felt like to live one's life as a man in a society where gender roles are so strict, that being a man or a woman often feels like coming from different planets.

Bacha posh is one way of adapting to a rigid social environment where having a son is a must for any family desiring prestige and security. Families that can't produce a son sometimes resort to this deception, dressing up one of their girls as a boy and presenting her as a male offspring to society.

In this bizarre form of keeping up with the Joneses, everybody, from the bacha posh's extended family to her schoolmates and teachers, become part of the deception game. They all pretend that the girl is a boy, even after discovering the child's real gender.

The pretence stops at puberty, when the bacha posh is overnight forced to become a girl again. The world of boundless male freedoms is thus replaced with the invisible chains that mark an Afghan woman's life.

The hardest part of this sudden boy-to-girl transformation is the behavioural change it requires. Having learned to face the world with an Afghan boy's direct gaze, she is suddenly required to be coy, averting her eyes in a show of feminine modesty. On television, it's easy to spot a former bacha posh from her erect posture, her direct eye contact, and speaking up with the confidence of a man.

Women who were once bacha posh talk about the psychological impact of their imposed gender change with mixed feelings. They feel anger over lost freedoms, bitterness over never having had a carefree childhood but they also appreciate that they are possessors of a unique experience: they have seen the world through both male and female eyes.

To have known and lost freedom still remains a most bitter pill to swallow, but such is the uncompromising nature of Afghan society. There is little room for individual suffering because what matters is what people think of a family, and if a bacha posh can help her family gain respect by pretending to be a boy, then so be it.

A generous take on this would be to look at the bacha posh as gender bridge-builders with unique insight into the normally separate worlds of male and female. Some of them have gone on to shine in political careers where negotiation skills are crucial. The head of the Balkh Women's Affairs Department, Fariba Majid, the previously mentioned MP, Bibi Hakmina and Azita Rafat, one of the first female Afghan MPs, belong to this category.

But while Bibi Hakmina broke the rules by never becoming a woman again, Rafat not only returned to her original gender but also became a wife and mother to four girls. Living the life of an MP, she found herself subjected to malicious jibes for not having a son. In reaction, she then repeated her own life-story, turning one of her daughters into a bacha posh, complete with a boy's name, short hair, and looking like a perfect mini-man in a shirt and suit.

If prestige is one reason for this radical but common deception, poverty and safety also make families opt to join the bacha posh game. Many poor families without sons find themselves caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand, allowing their girls to work as street vendors amounts to losing their moral integrity. On the other hand, the family needs money, having no choice but to let its daughters work. Unsurprisingly, the child street vendors one encounters in Afghan cities are often such girls pretending to be boys.

More recently, Afghan human and women rights groups have begun to criticise the bacha posh practice as not only a manifestation of misogyny but also a violation of the girls' rights to be themselves. But to deal with this problem is far from easy.

Like much else in Afghanistan, even though bacha posh exist in everyday reality, they do not exist officially. Ghost-like but real, the unfortunate fake boys are another symbol of a creative and resilient society that is often in denial of its own role in creating its own social ills.


Saturday 10 December 2011

'Joanna' the Muslim character on the webseries: 'Bloomers'

'Joanna' is an honest and complex portrayal of a young Muslim-American girl. Joanna struggles with whether or not to wear a hijab & whether or not to date outside her religion -- all the while dealing with the struggles of every young girl trying to make it in a big city.Through her triumphs and her mistakes, the creator of this webseries hopes her character will resonate with both the Muslim and non-Muslim community and do its part to fight Islamophobia.

It certainly refreshing to see more and more Muslim characters in projects like this, and to see how creative and dedicated people are in the fight against prejudice and intolerance. To watch the webseries pls go to

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Allowing women drivers in Saudi Arabia will be 'end of virginity'

Comment: This virgintity fetish/need to imprison women makes me sick...

Allowing women drivers in Saudi Arabia will tempt them into sex, promote pornography and create more homosexuals, according to some conservative Muslim scholars.

Academics at the Majlis al-Ifta' al-A'ala, which is Saudi Arabia's highest religious council, said the relaxation of the rules would inevitably lead to “no more virgins”.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are banned from driving.
The academics, working in conjunction with Kamal Subhi, a former professor at the conservative King Fahd University, produced the conclusions in a report for the country's legislative assembly, the Shura Council.

It warned that allowing women to drive would "provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce".
Within 10 years of the ban being lifted, it claimed, there would be "no more virgins" in the Islamic kingdom.

It pointed out that "moral decline" could already be seen in those other Muslim countries in which women are allowed to drive.
In the report Prof Subhi described sitting in a coffee shop in an unnamed Arab state where "all the women were looking at me".

"One made a gesture that made it clear that she was available,” he said. “This is what happens when women are allowed to drive.”
Women caught driving in Saudi face corporal punishment.
In September, Shaima Jastaniya, 34, a Saudi woman, was sentenced to 10 lashes with a whip after being caught driving in Jeddah.

There has been strong protest in the country about the sentence, which was later overturned by King Abdullah, and about the law generally but resistance to reform remains strong among the traditionally conservative royal family and clerics.
The Saudi government is currently considering a proposal to ban women – already forced to cover up most of their body in public – from even displaying their eyes, if they are judged too “tempting”.


Monday 5 December 2011

'Honour' crimes against women in UK rising rapidly, figures show

Banaz Mahmod, an 'honour killing' victim strangled in 2006

The number of women and girls in the UK suffering violence and intimidation at the hands of their families or communities is increasing rapidly, according to figures revealing the nationwide scale of "honour" abuse for the first time.

Statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act about such violence – which can include threats, abduction, acid attacks, beatings, forced marriage, mutilation and murder – show that in the 12 police force areas for which comparable data was available, reports went up by 47% in just a year.

The figures, shared with the Guardian by the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (Ikwro), also reveal that a small number of forces – including four in Scotland – are still not collecting data on how often such violence occurs.

The 39 police forces that gave Ikwro figures recorded 2,823 incidents in 2010. Ikwro estimates that another 500 crimes in which police were involved were committed in the 13 force areas that did not provide data.

But this is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg, campaigners say, as so many incidents go unreported because of victims' fears of recriminations.

Jasvinder Sanghera of victim support group Karma Nirvana said the real figure could be four times as high.

Among the 12 forces that gave figures for 2009 and 2010, the number of incidents rose from 938 to 1,381. In London, reported incidents rose from 235 to 495; in Greater Manchester, from 105 to 189.

Ikwro's campaigns officer, Fionnuala Ni Mhurchu, said the increase was probably due partly to better police awareness and to more victims coming forward after coverage of high-profile prosecutions, but that violence itself was also increasing as young people increasingly refused to bow to their families' demands.

"They're resisting abuses of their human rights such as forced marriage more and more," she said. "And as a result they're being subjected to this kind of violence. We hear from the community that this violence is on the increase.

"These figures are important because they demonstrate this is not a minor problem – it is a serious issue affecting thousands of people a year, many of whom will suffer high levels of abuse before they seek help. We want the government to develop a national strategy on honour-based violence that covers not just policing but also issues such as education and community cohesion."

This is the first time UK figures have been collated for so-called honour-based violence, defined as crimes planned and carried out by a family or community in order to defend their perceived "honour".

Previously a figure of 12 "honour killings" a year has been cited, although it is unclear where the number comes from.

In 2006 Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year-old Kurd, was strangled on the orders of her father and uncle because they disapproved of her boyfriend. She had repeatedly told police her family were trying to kill her. The case led the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) to publish a new strategy in 2008, which highlighted the need to gauge the scale of the problem to improve police work and recommended that all English and Welsh forces introduce a mechanism to record the number of reports. There is no national guidance in Scotland.

Ikwro said it was concerned that some forces were still not collecting the data in a consistent format, and called on Acpo and Acpo Scotland to help ensure this was done, and release statistics regularly.

Sanghera said complete data was crucial to prove the scale of the problem, adding that she feared momentum had been lost in recent years.

Commander Mak Chishty of Acpo insisted this was not the case, adding that the police national database, which is being phased in, would provide collated figures.

"We have reviewed every force with a questionnaire and the 2008 strategy has been completed," he said. "We're now in consultation on a new strategy. All frontline staff have received awareness training and every force has a champion on honour-based abuse. I'm confident that any victim who comes to us will receive the help they need."

Maya's story

When I was 16 my mum came into my room one day and said I had to get married to my cousin in Pakistan. I was horrified: I wanted to go to college and get a job, and I didn't even know him, how could I marry him? But when I said no, my mum slapped me across the face.

After that I wasn't allowed out. My family treated me with disgust, as if I had shamed them. My father, mother, even my young brother, beat me on a daily basis. My body was covered in bruises.

I wasn't given any food for days on end, and I tried to take an overdose on several occasions. I just used to sit on my bed from morning to night. Prison would have been a better place.

After around a month, they let me go out to the doctor. Terrified, I sat in the toilet and called a solicitors' firm. I've not seen my family since that day. A wonderful solicitor got me a place at a refuge and a forced marriage protection order.

But I'm still constantly paranoid: I'm always looking over my shoulder. I've lost everything. And I'm scared of what will happen if they find me.

Maya's name has been changed


Thursday 1 December 2011

Israeli plan would uproot 30,000 Bedouin

Bulldozed by Israel more than two dozen times, a village known by Bedouin Arabs as Al-Arakib is one of many ramshackle desert communities whose names have never appeared on any official map.

If Israel's Parliament adopts proposed new legislation, it never will.

The plan to demolish more Bedouin homes in the southern Negev region and move 30,000 people to government-authorized villages connected to power and water lines has been hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a "historic opportunity" to improve Bedouin lives.

But Israeli Arab leaders, who have long complained about discrimination against their community in the Jewish state, call it "ethnic cleansing," and aim to thwart the project with protests, a general strike and appeals to the United Nations to intervene.

"I will never leave here, I intend to stay until I die," said Abu-Madyam, 46, a farmer from Al-Arakib.

He and his family of nine live in a makeshift plastic-sided shack in a cemetery near the ruins of their wooden home, razed by Israeli authorities last year.

The project is the most ambitious attempt in decades by the government to resettle Negev Bedouin and free up land in the largely open spaces of southern Israel for development and construction of military bases to replace facilities in the crowded center of the country.

Some Israelis argue the Bedouin have grown too dominant in the Negev, a geographic area wedged between Hamas-ruled Gaza and the occupied West Bank where Palestinians want a state, and that they pose a possible security risk.

The area being restructured also abuts Israel's largest Negev city of Beersheba and is near several military bases.

For decades, Israeli governments have tried to attract Jewish Israelis to move to the Negev, offering mortgage and tax breaks, but the region has fewer opportunities for employment than in the heavily populated center of the country.

Only 20 percent of Israel's Jewish population lives in the Negev, which covers more than 60 percent of the nation's land area. Bedouin villages take up two percent of Negev land.

Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel's population of seven million, 200,000 of them Bedouin citizens. Most of Israel's Bedouin, who predominate in the desert area that accounts for two-thirds of its territory, are descendants of nomadic tribes that had wandered across the Middle East from time immemorial.

Half of the Bedouin live in towns and villages recognized as formal communities by the government. Others live rough, in tents and shacks on patches of desert.


Tuesday 29 November 2011

Love One Another-Alhamdulilah!

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "You cannot enter heaven until you believe, and you will not truly believe until you (truly) love one another." - Muslim, Al-Iman (Faith) 93

Sunday 27 November 2011

Allah's mercy-SubhanAllah!

Coming upon a tree with withered leaves, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) struck it with his staff, and the leaves were scattered. He then said: (Saying) 'Praise be to God; Glory be to God; There is no god but God; and God is most great,' causes a person's sins to fall away just as the leaves of that tree were falling." - Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 737

Saturday 26 November 2011

Muslims proud to be British? There's something to learn from the surprise

The finding in Demos's report A Place for Pride that 83% of Muslims said they were proud to be a British citizen, compared with the national average of 79%, has been met with surprise in some parts of the press. Clearly many British citizens have both a strong religious identity and a strong national identity. Yet it also seems clear that many people see these identities as mutually exclusive. Why is this the case?

That 83% of Muslims are proud to be British does in fact make sense. Many British Muslims come from families that have sought the opportunity and refuge offered in this country. The Demos report suggests that "People who are religious are more likely to be patriotic than are those who self-define as atheists or nonbelievers"; 88% of Anglicans and Jews agreed that they were "proud to be a British citizen". Many British Jews have a family history of refugee status and it follows that this leads to a sense of pride in their British identity. People with a strong religious identity are also often part of a strong community, and benefit from the co-operation and collective goodwill that can come with this. Patriotism, the report suggests, isn't only concerned with Queen and flag, but also with community values.

There is a lot of misinformation about the British Muslim community. In 2009 the Gallup Coexist Index found that only 36% of the British public thought that British Muslims were "loyal to this country" as opposed to 82% of the British Muslim community. The surprise at the findings of Muslim pride in Britain is rooted in a prejudice that leads people to believe that it is paradoxical for someone to hold both their religious and national identities as important. Lazy caricatures of Islam as contradicting many of the rights and values that are seen as quintessentially British – particularly freedom and democracy – only exacerbate this problem.

So, how do we tackle the prejudice that leads to this view? We must start by challenging perceptions of faith groups that rely on broad stereotypes, and instead provide people with opportunities for meaningful engagement, where they can meet and learn about each other as individuals. The report quotes a student who participated in Three Faiths Forum's Undergraduate ParliaMentors programme, which gives young people the opportunity to work with students of different faiths and non-religious beliefs on social action projects, and to be mentored by MPs and peers.

The "people I worked with, neither of them had even met a Jewish person before. I found it quite daunting but it was good and it helped me in a way to understand who I am as well as to know more about Islam and Christianity. In the end, the things we sometimes fell out about were what we were doing on the project – not God."

Finding out that the difficulties that come with working with others are often simply the usual interpersonal challenges is an important part of seeing others as individuals, not just a Muslim, Jew, atheist etc.

What we need are more opportunities for this humanising process. If we can find these while people work together on a social cause then this is all to the good. One of the clear implications of the Demos research is that public pride is linked closely with "social engagement, interpersonal trust and volunteerism". If we embrace opportunities to work with people of all faiths and beliefs then we can start to overcome the prejudice that leads to surprise that other people are also proud of Britain. We will, in turn, also give ourselves more reasons for civic pride.


Friday 25 November 2011

Bridal slaves

India has one of the world's fastest growing economies. But the southwest Asian country also has the largest number of slaves in the world

In the midst of widespread poverty, fueled by economic inequality and rampant corruption, a new form of slavery - bridal slavery - has flourished. Women and young girls are sold for as little as $120 to men who often burden them with strenuous labour and abuse them.

In a country where female children are sometimes considered a financial burden, the common practice of infanticide and gender-selective abortion has led to a shortfall in the number of women available for marriage - something made all the more problematic by high dowry costs. Experts say this has encouraged bride trafficking.

Jamila, a former bride slave, says her traffickers kidnapped and drugged her, before selling her to an abusive man. "He would hit me and beat me day and night. I would have to work all day in the heat .... That's no life .... Is it worth living?"

Shafiq Khan, who runs a grassroots organisation dedicated to tracking down bride traffickers and their victims, explains: "The girls do equal amounts of work in two jobs. They are sex slaves, not just to one man but a group of 10 or 12 men. Apart from that there is agriculture - working on the farms with animals from morning until night."


Thursday 24 November 2011

FBI Reports Dramatic Spike in Anti-Muslim Hate Violence

Anti-Muslim hate crimes soared by an astounding 50% last year, skyrocketing over 2009 levels in a year marked by the vicious rhetoric of Islam-bashing politicians and activists, especially over the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" in New York City.

Although the national statistics compiled by the FBI each year are known to dramatically understate the real level of reported and unreported hate crimes, they do offer telling indications of some trends. The latest statistics, showing a jump from 107 anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2009 to 160 in 2010, seem to reflect a clear rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric from groups like Stop Islamization of America. Much of that rhetoric was aimed at stopping an Islamic center in lower Manhattan.
At the same time, the new FBI statistics showed a rise of almost 11% in anti-Latino hate crimes. The increase may be related to anti-immigrant rhetoric deployed as Arizona passed a harsh law targeting immigrants in 2010. Since then, even more anti-immigrant rhetoric has been heard around the country, suggesting that when the FBI's 2011 statistics come out, they will show a further rise in anti-Latino hate crime.

Earlier, anti-Latino hate crimes rose some 40% between 2003 and 2007, then diminished in 2008 and 2009. The newly reported apparent rise in these crimes last year also reflected, albeit in a diminished way, a 2010 rise in anti-Latino hate crimes of almost 50% reported earlier in California.

But it was the anti-Muslim numbers that were dramatic, and they occurred in a year when many watchdog organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, reported an increase in Islam-bashing rhetoric. The year 2010 saw multiple verbal attacks on planned mosques, along with several violent attacks and arsons.

It's not provable precisely how hateful rhetoric from public figures drives criminal violence. But anecdotal evidence suggests the link is a tight one. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, anti-Muslim hate violence skyrocketed some 1,600%. But then-President Bush gave several speeches that fall emphasizing that Muslims and Arabs were not our enemies -- only Al Qaeda was. Almost certainly thanks to that, anti-Muslim violence declined the following year by almost two thirds.


Wednesday 23 November 2011

Heroine of Bangladesh!

Bangladesh bride disowns her 'dowry demanding' husband

A top human rights group in Bangladesh has praised a bride who disowned her husband within minutes of their wedding because he demanded a dowry.

Sultana Kamal of the Ask rights group said that Farzana Yasmin had taken a "principled and brave stand against the gross injustice of dowry payments".

Ms Yasmin told the BBC that dowries "were the cancer of society".

Giving or receiving dowries is a criminal offence in Bangladesh but is still widely practised.

"Ms Yasmin has shown considerable bravery in doing what she did to highlight the evil and oppressive dowry system," said Ms Kamal, the head of the Ain o Salish Kendra (Ask) rights group.

She said that the number of enforced dowries in rural areas was alarming, and that it was not diminishing despite government efforts to wipe out the tradition.

"Already she is facing recriminations with several parties trying to defame her and portray her as a loose woman. In fact she is a heroine of Bangladesh."

'Have to protest'
Ms Yasmin's decision to divorce her husband within minutes of their wedding in the conservative southern district of Barguna has sent shockwaves through the country, with supporters and opponents of her action fiercely arguing their cases on Facebook.

The "10-minute bride" told the BBC that she wanted other "dowry-oppressed women" in Bangladesh to be inspired by her actions, which correspondents say appear to be without precedent.

"The dowry has become a cancer of our society. I have read this in newspapers and always wondered why people should put up with it," the masters graduate told the BBC's Shakeel Anwar.

"When I found myself getting caught up with this, I thought I have to protest.

"I know I cannot change the fate of thousands of other similarly oppressed women in the country but at least I have taken a stand."

Ms Yasmin - who has fled her home village to take refuge with friends and family in Dhaka - denounced her husband as she was about to be taken to her wedding car at the end of her marriage celebrations.

She told the BBC that he and his family wanted to delay her departure until they had received "gifts", including a TV and a fridge.

"My older sister reacted: 'We are going to give you our girl only, nothing else was promised'," she said.

Ms Yasmin said that she was "dumbfounded" by the actions of her "rogue husband" and his family. She ended up discarding her wedding dress and storming out of the ceremony.

She says that she is now filing for divorce.


Tuesday 22 November 2011

EGYPT: Gynecologist & Cairo woman discuss female mutilation

CAIRO: Heba, a 27 year old Egyptian woman, closes the door, offering a tray of glasses of sparkling red Karkale-nectar. Hibiscus-petals swim to the surface of the drink.
The walls of her apartment are likewise painted in clear colors, and the floors are lined with pillows.

Heba does not live with her family, but with friends – something quite uncommon for a young Egyptian female. Though her life seems fairly ordinary– she works, sees friends and visits her family now and then– she is unusual.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 100-140 million women worldwide are circumcised, and an estimated 90% of Egyptian women are subject to the female genital mutilation (FGM), generally known as circumcision.
Although Egypt made FGM illegal,except in certain circumstances in 1997, the Egyptian government passed a more severe law in 2008 completely banning the practice, following the death of 12-year-old Badour Shaker in June 2007 during a circumcision.
However, female genitalia are still often cut in most of Egypt.
Amr Muhammad, a doctor dressed in white scrubs, opens the door to a hospital in Dokki, Cairo.

A soon-to-be graduate student of medicine and the doctor’s nephew greets him with a manly hug. These two men share a clean-cut technical approach to talk of birth, genital parts, constructed norms and rites of tradition.
Doctor Amr sits down behind his desk and calls for coffee and tea from reception. A young man enters and places a tray of starch black coffee on the bare desk. The door closes and leaves the clear light reflected on the bare walls of his consultation.
In Cairo, nine months have passed since former President Mubarak was wrested from power.
It is a mere two days after civilians were brutally murdered downtown by the same military which was “one hand” with the people just nine months earlier.
Heba did not participate much in this. She had her own battles to fight. She squats in the couch and starts a part of her story as a female growing up in Egypt.
Heba comes from a family with four daughters. As a child she remembers trying to look over the shoulders of her aunts performing a circumcision on her cousin. But she was not allowed to look.

That cousin was someone she looked up to. The cutting of her genitalia was not something that was “done” to her. It was a part of life, compatible with having the first period, getting married, having sex with your husband: a ritual confirming a young girl’s ‘womanhood.’
Heba remembers that her mother asked her to come upstairs, where female family members were waiting for her.
“She was saying all these things about being pretty, and at that age, you don’t wanna be unpretty,” she says with a grin. “Had I known back then, I would have fought her.”

The doctor smiles vaguely, as he picks up the topic of the talk tonight: Female circumcision.
The WHO defines the FGM procedures in stages, stage three being the most extensive operation.
The first level is a moderately simple removal of the clitoral hood or partial or total removal of the clitoris. This is the far most common one in Egypt.
From here, the span goes to type three, known as infibulation. It means a total removal of all external genitalia, causing a layer of skin to form outside the entire vulva as the wound heals.
By inserting a thin stick in the healing wound, a small hole is left as a passage for urine and menstruation blood.

“Myself I never performed a circumcision, but my colleagues tell me that it was a fairly ordinary practice here until the 1997s,” he says ”but in the years from then and until 2008, where it was made illegal, it became less ordinary.”
“I have only been repairing,” he says, referring to those one or two times a week, when a young woman will be brought in with a ‘traumatic case,’ as he calls it. This is a circumcision performed in an illegal, unauthorized clinic or in the home. The woman is often bleeding heavily and needs stitching.
Amr is obliged to report these cases to the police. But he does not always do so.
“They made a law, but I didn’t see anything change. People are doing it, and they always will. So I hesitate to report – it might put the families in great trouble,” he says.

In Hebas family, they did it as well.
“We went upstairs, and I was sat down,” she recounts, “My mother left me to my aunt and my grandmother. My grandmother sat behind me and put her feet down between my legs, pushing my thighs open with her ankles. My hands were held back.”

It seems very harsh to hold her like that. “But I might have done something stupid when I realized what they were doing. I might have injured myself.”
Heba was 12 at the time.
Most of her youth, Heba did not feel anything missing from her body. Like most women in Egypt, she had a circumcision of a ‘mild’ degree, and most of her genitalia are intact.

But in her early twenties, she started cramping up completely during sex and could not go through with the intercourse.
“It would hurt so bad. In Dubai, I went to a gynecologist to understand why this was suddenly a problem. But it wasn’t until his secretary asked me if I was circumcised, that I understood.”

Circumcision is known to cause psychological blockings due to the physical pain and unease that is connected to the genital area by memory.
The trauma causes the musculature to cramp up in a reflex to avoid further pain, and makes intercourse quite difficult. These are one of the very common long-term effects of the mild levels of FGM.

Extensive cutting to the genitalia is rarely done in Egypt. But the further you get away from Cairo, the more far-reaching is the norm of circumcision.
“We are dealing with two different Egypts, if not more than that. There is one Egypt, which belongs to Amr Diab’s songs and the lovely ladies on TV, politicians and revolutionary youth in Tahrir square,” he says, “but the majority of Egyptians are living in a very different reality.”

Heba is from one of these places that Amr is referring to, a village in Upper Egypt. She had a circumcision of a ‘mild’ degree, and most of her genitalia are intact.
“The only one time it came up,” she says, when asked if she discussed her own circumcision with friends at the time. “…was when I was living in a dormitory in college with girls from the North. I found out they didn’t do it (circumcision, red.) there. For us it was a natural component of a woman’s life; like eating, sleeping, having sex, bearing babies. And they just didn’t have the tradition of doing it.”
Egypt is an enormously socially stratified society. There is a very long way from the bottom of the social ladder to the top, and very few live an average “middle class” life in between. Rural areas suffer from great poverty and lack of political attention from center Cairo.

“We’ve got this culture here, which was imported to us along with the oil from Saudi, when Sadat came in power. It took a firm grip on those of us, who didn’t have a lot to hold on to,” Doctor Amr says. He is referring to the surge of a conservative form of Islam that has been growing forcefully during the reign of Mubarak and Sadat.
“And now, after a number of years with a totally corrupt regime, which has made life very hard for many…Now people start thinking that the problem of the Mubarak-era was not the moral bankruptcy of the political system, but the fact that it was secular.”
Amr sighs, though he does see himself as being in a place to judge what is right and wrong.
“When a family comes here and ask me to check a girl’s virginity,” he says, ”then I do the check, but I will always state that she is a virgin. Even with clear signs of defloration, I would never tell her family.”

Heba on the other hand, is completely unambiguous in the matter. Her trauma was mostly psychological, but the understanding of what happened and the backtracking of psychological blockings has been hard.
“Earlier I did not know anything. I didn’t feel that something was different because I had been circumcised. Until we were taught about female genitalia and the cutting in college – when I saw it and knew what had actually been done, I cried.”
Doctor Amr nods. Coming from a tragi-comic tale of a husband who wanted his wife circumcised in order to tone down a sexual desire he couldn’t match, Amr returns to his main point.

For him, circumcision is a consequence of people wanting to do the best thing for their daughters in the social and economic framework of their life.
“Even though I personally believe, that the demand for virginity is a misunderstood idea of validating a young female’s character and morality, I will still give her and her backdrop what they need to live up to the framework, they are given.”
When he speaks again, he underlines his point from earlier.
“Laws made from the center of political power in this country is not going to change their perceptions of right and wrong. Not until actual change, political inclusion and social justice arrive with us,” he concludes and snaps his fingers.
Heba is equally decided as she speaks now. She is frowning while she speaks.
“I don’t know why my mum wants to do it. I will talk to her again soon, as one of my sisters is growing up.”

“This is wrong. No matter what the reason might be, the body came to us complete, and should not be cut. First of all, your body is yours to utilize and experience in whatever way you want. Cutting in a young girl’s body equals to implying that something is wrong with the way she was shaped. And that is wrong,” she says, her voice firming.