Tuesday 28 February 2012

'Women treated worse than animals' in Pak:MQM chief

Mutthaida-e-Qaumi Movement (MQM), a key coalition partner in the PPP-led government, today lamented that women are ''treated worse than animals'' in Pakistan as the party held a massive rally in southern Sindh's provincial capital to highlight the need to empower them.

Thousands of women and girls in colourful dresses and waving the MQM flags thronged to the Bagh-e-Quaid Azam near the mausoleum of Pakistan's founding leader M A Jinnah.

Addressing the rally from London over phone, MQM chief Altaf Hussain, who has been in self exile in the UK, demanded more rights for Pakistani women.

"The world over women are considered equals in every sense. Unfortunately and sadly in Pakistan they continue to be treated worse than animals," Hussain said.
"Women in Pakistan are subjected to treatment meted out to second-or-third-class citizens. Worse, they are treated like animals. Crimes like honour killing, wani and marriage to the Quran are rampant under the veil of tradition," he lamented.
He mentioned honour killing, Karo Kari, acid crimes and domestic violence and even brought up topics like dowry and gender discrimination which are considered the social norm.

"The perpetrators of Karo Kari and acid crime should be hanged," Hussain said.
According to analysts, the rally in a country where women continue to be marginalised politically, was an attempt to attract women from the middle and lower classes in the country to the party fold.

He challenged the political and religious parties "to try to organize a rally of this magnitude". "Those talking about revolution should come and see this revolution of women," he said at the rally with the theme, 'Empowerment to women -- a better Pakistan'. The MQM supremo paid tributes to the women cadres, saying they had carried the party flag and run its affairs smoothly whenever the MQM men had to go underground or were in jail.

The MQM, Hussain said, wanted to create a Pakistan which was free from discrimination and where women had the freedom to make their own decisions.
The massive rally at the Bagh-e-Mazar Quaid Azam comes after the December rally of Imran Khan which showcased the rising political graph of the crickter-turned politician in the country.


Sunday 26 February 2012

Can Muslims be friends with Jews and Christians?

O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for your allies: they are but allies of one another and whoever of you allies himself with them becomes, verily, one of them; behold, God does not guide people who are unjust. (Quran 5:51)

This verse is often quoted to show that Islam is intolerant.

Quran is a complete book of guidance and while studying various issues it should be kept in mind that a particular issue may be discussed over several chapters or several verses in the same chapter. A complete understanding can only be achieved by understanding the whole issue as presented over all the verses and chapters and not by looking at only part of the Quran. God specifically warns us against doing just that, upholding part of the Quran while disregarding the rest.

.. Then is it only a part of the Book that ye believe in, and do you reject the rest? but what is the reward for those among you who behave like this but disgrace in this life? - and on the Day of Judgment they shall be consigned to the most grievous penalty. For God is not unmindful of what ye do. (Quran 2:85)

To understand the issue of befriending the Jews, Christians or people of any other faith, we have to study all the concerned verses from the Quran collectively.

Let us look at some other verses about this issue. The following two verses regulate relations with any people, regardless of faith:

As for such [of the unbelievers] as do not fight against you on account of [your] faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verily, God loves those who act equitably. (Quran 60:8)

God only forbids you to turn in friendship towards such as fight against you because of [your] faith, and drive you forth from your homelands, or aid [others] in driving you forth: and as for those [from among you] who turn towards them in friendship; it is they, they who are truly wrongdoers! (Quran 60:9)

From the above verses, we learn that we are only discouraged from befriending those who fight Muslims because of their religion. Now let's go back to the verse immediately after 5:51, to see if it sheds some further light on the issue.

And yet you can not see how those in whose hearts there is disease vie with one another for their good will (the hostile Jews and Christians), saying [to themselves], "We do fear lest a change of fortune bring us disaster." But God may well bring about good fortune [for the believers] or any [other] event of His own devising, whereupon those [waverers] will be smitten with remorse for the thoughts which they had secretly harboured within themselves- (Quran 5:52)

During the time of the Prophet when the Jews and Christians were in open conflict with the Muslims, there were some Muslims who were more concerned about maintaining there alliances with the Jews and Christians at the expense of the Muslim community. The above verse is referring to such situations where Muslims with doubts in their hearts will ally themselves with the enemy.

Chapter 5 Verse 57 of the Quran makes it clear again, who are not to be taken as friends; O you who believe! take not for friends and protectors those who take your religion for a mockery or sport,- whether among those who received the Scripture before you, or among those who reject Faith; but remain conscious of God, if you are (truly) believers. (Quran 5:57)

God teaches us throughout the Quran that there are righteous Jews and Christians. As such there is no prohibition for Muslims to be friends with Jews, Christians or people of any other faith who are of good character.

Quranic verses referring to the righteous Jews and Christians:

Of the people of Moses there is a section who guide and do justice in the light of truth. (Quran 7:159)

And We caused Jesus, the son of Mary, to follow in the footsteps of those (earlier prophets), confirming the truth of whatever there still remained of the Torah; and We sent him the Gospel, wherein there was guidance and light, confirming the truth of whatever there still remained of the Torah, and as a guidance and admonition unto the God-conscious. (Quran 5:46)

Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians - all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds-shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. (Quran 2:62)

Not all of them are alike: Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (For the right): They rehearse the Signs of God all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in God and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous. (Quran 3:113-114)

And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book, those who believe in God, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to God. They will not sell the Signs of God for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord, and God is swift in account. (Quran 3:199)

The following verse from the Quran capsulates this issue:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (Quran 49:13)

Friday 24 February 2012

Date Rape: A victim's story

Comment: this really disturbed me, I really feel for the sister and detest the predatory nature of far too many men...A hadith tells us if an unrelated man and woman are alone then the third person present is the devil...however I think men themselves are often the devil.

Below is an account of a traumatic event that occurred to friend. Let's put an end to violence against women by speaking up without shame! I want to thank my friend for her beautiful courage for coming forward. Peace.

by Anonymous.

My freshman year wa­­s by far­ a challenging one: I was date raped by a very close friend of mine.

In September, I met Yusuf in class. He was a great friend and we would hang out and laugh a lot. He had had a great soul and cared about the world. We had our philosophical conversations about life, religion, politics, and the world for hours at a time. One day in April, Yusuf asked if I would have lunch with him. Our date was casual; afterwards he asked if I wanted to go to his place. I didn’t think too much of it, I had been to his apartment before and it had been completely innocent. He lived alone. I should have seen the signs. In retrospect it’s all so clear. But I was blinded by my trust in him.

Instead of protecting myself, I walked into the lion’s den. Vulnerable. He got onto his bed, and I distanced myself sitting at his chair. Our friendship was strictly platonic so I didn’t think too much of it. After a while, he asked me to join him on the bed. Because I trusted him, I got on his bed, and we talked for a long time. And then he was kissing me. I told him I was not comfortable kissing him. “Relax Fatima, we’re just having fun,” he repeated, on and on. Kissing him was already pushing my boundaries; I wasn’t okay with it. Then he started groping me, and touching me, and I was so uncomfortable.

Before I knew what was happening, both our pants were off.

I tried to talk him out of it, told him I wasn’t comfortable, told him I wasn’t ready for sex with him and all the consequences it would bring. He told me that it wasn’t a big deal, that it was just fun, but I kept repeating, “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. No. No. No. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t”. But instead of hearing my pleading, he pressed himself into me. I whispered, “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.” Then I just shut down, completely blocked out the world. My response to this traumatic, terrible thing was to turn myself off instead of fighting or fleeing.

I stared at the flag of Saudi Arabia the entire duration of it, at the shahada, the foundation of Islam, There is no God but God and Muhammad (saw) is the last Prophet.

Afterwards, he asked if I was okay, and I said, “Yusuf, did I ever say yes to you?” His response I will never forget. “No, but you silently consented”. I wasn’t okay with that answer. I looked at him and shrugged. He said, “Do you really think I raped you? How could you ever think I would do that to you?” I didn’t have words. I was confused. Was I just imaging it? Making a big deal of a casual college sexual experience?

Nothing made any sense after that. I went home and lay in bed feeling dirty and confused. I felt so alone. I kept the TV on – blaring -the silence was too loud. I took close to 40 showers in two days. I just never felt clean enough. I began telling close friends, a few didn’t believe me because they knew him, and didn’t think he was capable of such an atrocious act. I felt like my life had fallen apart, almost as if someone had unraveled the thread of my sanity. The rest of the semester went by in a haze. I’m not sure how I woke up each day, how I got ready, how I went about the most basic things.

That summer went by and each day I couldn’t force myself out of bed. I would sleep all day, and genuinely considered suicide. But I realized that I had too much to live for. This couldn’t be the darkest point of my life, and if it was, there was only one place to go from there: up. In the fall, I surrounded myself with amazing people at my new job. One of my advisors changed my life. She gave me the reigns to my life back; she helped me realize that it wasn’t my fault, and that I would be okay again. My biggest hurt was that it was a betrayal from such a good friend. He was kind, and genuine. He helped orphans, graduated Cum Laude. He wanted to change the world. He wanted to make a difference.

It’s been a year and a half and I still see him from time to time, and I feel like everything I’ve worked so hard to be, comes tumbling down around me again when I do. I had to start over from scratch because of this. I had to rebuild my life and my foundations. I lost my sanity, stability, and I had to fight to regain it. I never took legal action and I don’t regret that decision, but I know that karma overcomes all. I’ve thought time and time again what I would say to him if I was given an honest chance, but in some ways, it’s okay that it happened. If it had to happen, I’m grateful that it did the way it did. I love the person I am now, I have so much strength of character, I’m passionate and I’m courageous. Everything I’m not made me everything I am.


Thursday 23 February 2012

Being Religious Without Being a Jerk

“There is nothing that has gentleness in it except that it is beautified, and there is nothing that has harshness in it except that it makes it ugly. So be calm, O Aisha!”

The above words were spoken by our beloved Messenger ﷺ to his wife, `A’isha radi allahu `anha (may Allah be please with her). A group of people had passed by the Prophet ﷺ and our Mother `A’isha, and said to him: “As-sa’amu `alaykum” (death be upon you).” It was a wordplay on “As-salaamu `alaykum (peace be upon you)”, with the intent of ridiculing the Prophet ﷺ. `A’isha (ra) became so angry that she rose up and began yelling at them that death should be upon them, and the curse of God, and so on.

At this, the Prophet ﷺ turned towards her, and spoke these words, telling her to calm down, and not to lose her composure, even in the face of personal insult. This man, our Messenger ﷺ, was the pillar of tranquility in an ocean of chaos. Our mother Aisha (ra), did this out of a pure, sincere, and unyielding love for the Prophet (saw). Not out of any arrogance or pride. For her it was an anger rooted in love, a desire to protect her Prophet from those who hated him. May Allah be pleased with her.

Unfortunately however, many of us react with harshness when faced with religious differences, especially WITHIN our own ummah – not out of love, but out of arrogance. When we examine ourselves today, especially those among us who are students of religious knowledge or believers striving to better ourselves, a tragic observation can often be made: Religiosity often turns people into jerks.
Many have witnessed this story: A young man or woman who used to be friendly, well-mannered, who treated people well, sadly turns into someone who shows mild annoyance upon meeting people who follow a different religious opinion. He shows anger when presented with arguments against his or her own point of view. Finally, he or she begins to pronounce judgment against others—pronouncing minor differences in opinion as proofs of disbelief.
When told to calm down, to stop being judgmental—the response comes in one of many flavors:

“Brother, I am enjoining the good and forbidding the evil!”
“We are defending the Sunnah!”
“When people are harsh against the Sunnah, we will be harsh in defending it!”
And so on.

Over what kinds of issues? Not the serious lack of counseling services in the community. Not the difficulty that our youth are having in protecting their faith from intellectual attack. Not the issues of domestic abuse, poverty, family breakups or homelessness afflicting non-Muslims and Muslims around us.

But the length of our pants and whether or not they are above our ankles, the lengths of our beards, etc. Perhaps one’s adherence or lack thereof to a group or organization. What we think about pseudo-philosophical concepts about the essence of God’s attributes. Such meanness and harshness occurs not over what is physically affecting people, but over a disagreement between opinions in our minds. Over varying textual interpretations that result in different legal opinions or a creedal points unknown to the majority of the world’s Muslims.

Why does this happen to us when almost nothing is more important in our religion than the subjugation of our egos to the Power and Oneness of God?

The Remedy

“Islam takes us and throws us so we fall totally in love with The Creator. Yet, somehow some of us turn it into a way to look down upon the creation.”

This happens because somewhere along the line in striving to love God, the ego—the innermost part of our soul which continuously wishes to be glorified and exalted over others—made our religiosity a means of doing just that. The religion exists to crush the ego, and enslave it towards the worship of its Creator.

When we say AllahuAkbar (God is the Greatest), the true meaning of this, when one explores Arabic grammar, is “God is the Greatest Above All Things”—including our loves, our hates, our desires, our weaknesses, our dreams, our hopes, our very essences. Success in reaching our desires is only through His permission, and the power to overcome our weaknesses is only through His Mercy. This phrase is formulated to remind us of Allah’s greatness over ourselves and over every element of our lives. It acknowledges the overwhelming power that is Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).

On the ego’s path to enslavement and the realization of recognizing Allah (swt) alone as the sole object of adoration and love, our ego sought a way out so it would not have to undergo such tribulation and destruction; so that it would not have to give up its position as the one that is praised and feels valued.

That ego essentially hijacks the religiosity of the individual and takes it on a detour. What is that detour? Rather than letting Islam be Islam and allowing the soul to get lost in the wonders of Allah’s power, the limitless nature of His love, the magnanimous breadth of His Mercy, the immeasurable depth of His knowledge, the care and affection that He showers upon His creation—the ego detours the soul into LOVING ITSELF.

When the soul begins to love itself, it becomes dissatisfied with not only God, but with God’s creation. It sees its own knowledge, opinion, and worldview as superior to all others. In order to maintain its false notion of being humble, it will even fake humility to those on the outside: “I’m nobody, I’m not knowledgeable”—while secretly harboring contempt for all those who follow different opinions or ideas about Islam. It is easy to recognize this tendency in ourselves. It happens when our religious discourse, our religious speech, and our religious vocabulary become less about loving God, adoring his Messenger ﷺ, bettering ourselves and more about creedal disagreements, legal fine points, and how one group is bad or another is good.

When religion becomes more about how one person does not practice the way that pleases us (even if we are correct in expressing the opinion of orthodox Islam) than about how we can please God, the religion has essentially turned into a tool to make us feel better about ourselves.

This does not mean we should turn off legitimate criticism in religious discourse. Enjoining the good and forbidding evil means that we must take an active interest in our communities, and in striving to develop our communities and our religious practices in a way that is healthy, natural, and allows Muslims from all backgrounds to be included and non-Muslims to feel welcome.

Rather, it is time we examine our deeper motives and feelings when we criticize and put forth negativity: “Am I criticizing and putting forth negativity because my criticism and the way I am putting it forth will actively help to prevent harm and bring benefit? Or am I criticizing to ridicule, make myself feel better, and make others see me as superior?”

Answering this question correctly and being sincere is the difference between the religious jerk and a servant of God.


Sunday 19 February 2012


Just for fun, MashaAllah I love this brother! And some of these sketches remind me of my wife!

Saturday 18 February 2012

Female genital mutilation rife in Egypt despite ban

Comment: Anyone who advocates FGM (in any form) is a disgrace to humanity, and the Muslim men that do are especially deserving of contempt because they twist and defame Islam to serve their own oppressive patriarchal agenda.

In 2008 Egypt outlawed the practice of female genital mutilation, but as Newsnight's Sue Lloyd-Roberts reports in an article which contains graphic detail and which some readers may find disturbing, the ban has had little effect and the practice is still rife.

"Of course she must be circumcised," said Olla, referring to the timid 11-year-old girl sitting beside her.

I asked Olla if I could find out from the child herself, her daughter Raaja, who sat shaking with fear, what she thought.

"There is no need to ask her," her mother declared. "She doesn't understand what we are talking about."

I thought that unlikely. We were sitting in the family room of a two-storey house in a village in Upper Egypt. Besides Olla and her daughter, Raaja, present were her mother-in-law, who nodded approvingly at everything she said, and three young teenage girl cousins.

What else would the girls talk about when they were alone but that single event that can traumatise them for life - the dread of the inevitable, the incomprehension as they are held down by mothers, aunts and grandmothers, the indescribable pain as the midwife takes a blade to the clitoris.

Muslims and Christians

Astonishingly, in 21st Century Egypt, the latest figures suggest that more than 90% of the women have been subject to female genital mutilation (FGM). The figure comes from a Unicef approved survey carried out in 2008, the year that the practice was banned.

“ Some women say they won't have their daughters purified when the social worker is around. They humour her until she leaves and once she is gone they come and ask me to circumcise their girls. ”
Village midwife Om Mohammed
A new set of figures are due to be published later this year and doctors expect them to show a 10% decline. That still leaves the majority of women in Egypt exposed to unimaginable physical and psychological pain and denied what the rest of us would call a normal sex life.

The practice is not restricted to Muslims, as has often been claimed, but also carried out by Christians, who make up 10% of Egypt's population.

The practice predates the arrival of either religion in Egypt - there is evidence that it was practised back in Pharaonic times.

It is a deeply entrenched tradition, which is why it is proving so hard to eradicate.

Serious complications

Dr Randa Fakhr El Din of the Cairo Coalition Against FGM invited me to her surgery on the outskirts of the city, after dark when the last patient had left.

With the help of diagrams and photographs, she explained the difference between the Type 1 and Type 2 FGM routinely practised in Egypt.

Type 1 involves the removal of the clitoris; Type 2 the removal of the clitoris and the labia - the "lips" that surround the vagina, those hyper sensitive parts of the female genitalia which make the sexual act a pleasurable one.

She then showed me pictures of what can go wrong when amateurs wield the blade - infection, inflammation, giant cysts and injuries which can make it impossible to have a natural childbirth.

"Women dread the pain of sexual penetration," she explains, "but some girls die before they ever marry. There is an artery close to the clitoris. If the cut goes awry, many girls simply bleed to death."

Paradoxically, because of the ban, more girls are dying: "Their parents won't take them to the hospitals in case they get reported and imprisoned."

'Curbing desire'

In the rural areas of Egypt, in Upper Egypt, however there is scant respect for the law. You hear the words "tradition", "custom", "honour" uttered like a mantra when people justify their decision to circumcise their daughters.

The belief there is that it is the female who is sexually rampant and that her sexual desire must be arrested at a young age, before she can disgrace the family.

“ If we tell a police officer in the local station, we will be reporting to an officer who believes in it and is probably doing it to his own daughters ”
Nivine Rasmi, anti-FGM campaigner
"It is important that she loses that part of her body that awakes sexual desire. If not, she may play with herself or ask a boy to touch this part for her, not specifically a stranger, but one of her cousins for instance, and she might enjoy it," Olla told me. "When she feels the pain of it she will be more careful about this part.

"I know the doctor might be punished for this, but still there are doctors who are practising it," she said. "And if the doctors won't do it then we will get the daya."

The daya is a local midwife. In Olla's village she is a large, shambling woman in flowing robes who passes through the streets with impunity.

Acting with impunity

Om Mohammed was totally uninhibited as she extolled to me the benefits of her work: "I love it like my own eyes because I need the money. Take me to prison if you want to, take me anywhere, but I will keep circumcising girls. I want the money.

"Circumcision is healthy for girls. I know this - purified girls grow taller and get marriage proposals, but unpurified girls stay short and stubby.

"Some women say they won't have their daughters purified when the social worker is around. They humour her until she leaves and once she is gone they come and ask me to circumcise their girls. I have her mother, her aunt or neighbour hold her while I cut her," she explained.

The interview was carried out in the hearing of members of the local NGO which, with the help of Unicef, is trying to eradicate the practice in the area.

"Why don't you simply take her to the local police station?" I asked them. "After all, what she is doing is illegal."

"Who are we going to report to?" Nivine Rasmi, one of the NGO workers, responded. "If we tell a police officer in the local station, we will be reporting to an officer who believes in it and is probably doing it to his own daughters."

I accompanied Nivine as she went from house to house in the village trying to persuade mothers not to mutilate their daughters.

Entrenched belief

Gamila, a Christian with two young daughters, is one of her successes.

"I have had problems in my sexual relationship with my husband because of it and so when she explained about the health complications and how it is not part of religious faith, I was ready to believe her. I now don't want my daughters circumcised," Gamila said.

“ Raising the issue is a problem. Even talking about sexual relations within marriage is not tolerated by members of our congregation ”
Reverend Yacoub Eyad of the Assemblies of God Church
We wove through the narrow streets, past donkeys and ducking under washing. At the sight of us the women scurried into their houses, the men stared at us with hostile aggression. A few asked what we were doing.

It is custom, tradition and religion that we are fighting, Nivine explained: "If a girl is discovered not to have been genitally mutilated on her wedding night, a husband or mother-in-law might demand that she is sent back to her family and her chances of marriage can be destroyed forever.

"We start by talking to religious leaders, Christian and Muslim alike, and try and get them to understand our point of view."

All the anti-FGM campaigners I met in Egypt spoke enthusiastically about the help they were getting from the educated classes, doctors, priests and imams.

Hard line politicians

In the nearby town of Akaka, the local protestant priest, Reverend Yacoub Eyad of the Assemblies of God Church, explained the difficulties of getting the message across: "Raising the issue is a problem. Even talking about sexual relations within marriage is not tolerated by members of our congregation. So we pray that God will help us in reaching people with this message."

The local imam, Rabea Taha Farag, spoke with equal determination and commitment: "In the past, the imam in mosques didn't have enough information on this issue, but now cultural and educational expansion have allowed people to know more and understand the wrong acts that were done before.

"We are here working hard with the NGOs on spreading the word of not having FGM. We are ordered by the Prophet not to do it."

However, when I spoke to the imam's superior, Sheikh Ashraf, who was visiting Akaka, about whether he was similarly enthusiastic about the local anti-FGM campaigns he thundered: "No, I am not. The Prophet has ruled that this thing must be done," before tearing the microphone from his white robe and walking angrily away.

Nivine Rasmi admits that the campaign is facing difficult times. The result of Egypt's first free, democratic elections has seen two thirds of the Lower House of Parliament dominated by Islamic parties - the Muslim Brotherhood and the more hard line Salafis.

"Of course we fear this new parliament won't tackle issues like FGM because already there are extremists who want FGM unlike the previous regime," Nivine said. "We know that there will be a decline in women and children rights with this new government and parliament."


Friday 17 February 2012


A person once asked the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): "What is faith?" He replied: "When a good deed becomes a source of pleasure for you and an evil deed becomes a source of disgust for you, then you are a believer." The person then asked: "What is a sin?" The Prophet said: "When something pricks your conscience, give it up."

Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 8

Wednesday 15 February 2012

The Biggest Robbery of the 20th Century

The Biggest Robbery of the 20th Century - This picture is worth much a thousand words… it says it all.

The Palestinians are robbed (by Israel) of more than just land in this landscape reeking of devastation and hopelessness. It’s their life that they are losing, even while they are stumbling along alive in the eternal moments of their war-torn reality.

Monday 13 February 2012

Baby Girls Seen As Mixed Blessing In Afghanistan

At the age of 29, childbirth is nothing new to Rukhsar, yet the expectant mother can't help being apprehensive about her fifth child.

Her first four children, aged between 2 and 12, are all girls, and she feels pressure to deliver a boy to please her husband. If she gives birth to another daughter, Rukhsar says, she fears he will seek a second wife.

"I would have to organize for him to get a second wife," she says. "I don't want him to get another wife, but I would have no other choice [in order to avoid divorce]."

Not having a son has placed enormous strain on the couple's marriage, says Rukhsar, a native of the eastern Afghan district of Surkhrud who gave only her first name.

In Afghanistan, tradition among many families dictates a strong preference for boys, and blame is often placed on the mother if she gives birth to a girl.

This is for a variety of reasons: sons are seen as future breadwinners; the continuation of a family's lineage; the inheritors of the estate.

Ehsanullah, a 33-year-old Kabul resident and father of two girls and a boy, explains that sons are expected to take care of their parents in old age. For many Pashtuns, he says, it's virtually unacceptable for elderly parents to live with a son-in-law.

On the other hand, says Ehsanullah, who gave only his first name, daughters can be a financial burden, and then they grow up and marry into somebody else's family. He says that before the birth of his third child, a son, he was embarrassed to tell relatives he had daughters.

'Sorry, It's A Girl'

"It doesn't mean that I don't love my daughters," he stresses, but there is another very real extreme that reveals itself in violence against mothers who "fail" to give birth to a son.

Women's rights activists in Afghanistan say that bullying and ostracizing women over the gender of their babies is not uncommon.
​​Earlier this month, the issue made headlines when a man in Konduz Province allegedly strangled his wife after she gave birth to the couple's third girl, rather than his much-desired boy.

Women's rights activists in Afghanistan say that such extreme cases are highly unusual, but bullying and ostracizing women over the gender of their babies is not uncommon.

Ironically, most of the pressure does not come from the father of the baby girl, but from the mother-in-law and other family members. This is according to Anisa Imrani, who was recently put in charge of women's affairs in the eastern Nangarhar Province.

"A woman who gives birth to a boy gets completely different treatment after the delivery. Her husband's family feeds her with the best possible food available; they usually slaughter a chicken for her," Imrani says.

"The birth of a boy is celebrated with lavish parties. But when a girl is born, the mother feels ashamed and she has to deal with harassment by her in-laws."

Conservative Society

Imrani says that while no reliable statistics are available, the phenomenon is more widespread among less-educated families.

Farida Hoad, an Afghan obstetrician who has worked in Kabul's Malalai maternity hospital, places the blame on "ignorance."

"They don't understand and do not accept, that it's the father's chromosome that determines the gender of the child," says Hoad, a native of Nangarhar.

Parents' preference of sons over daughters is strongly connected to men's and women's primary roles in the deeply religious society, in which men are traditionally the bread-winners and women are the homemakers.

In more conservative families, girls and boys are treated much differently by their parents while growing up. "My sister and I are allowed to eat only after my brothers finish their food," explains Nuriya, a teenage girl from the eastern Paktia Province.

Sons As Insurance Policy

As the heads of their families, men not only look after their elderly parents but they are also expected to take care of their younger siblings if called upon. Therefore, Afghan parents see their sons as a kind of insurance policy for old age.

Gulghotai Mahmadzai, a 55-year-old housewife from the southern city of Kandahar, says the fact that she never bore a son means she now faces an uncertain future.

Mahmadzai and her husband separated after she gave birth to 10 daughters, and her husband went on to marry a 26-year-old woman in an effort to get a son. He now has two more daughters.

Moving in with one of her daughters is not an option for Mahmadzai, and she lives alone. But Mahmadzai says that if she had had a son, her life would have been completely different.

Afghan women's rights activists say education and raising awareness is key to changing the situation. They call on religious leaders and mullahs, who enjoy great respect in Afghan society, to take part in campaigns to end gender discrimination in families.

"Our religion forbade discrimination over the gender of the child, which was prevalent before the arrival of Islam," says Afghan religious scholar Mawlana Mustafa. "It's anti-Islamic and is a sign of ignorance and faithlessness."

In Surkhrud, Rukhsar's marriage hangs in the balance as she waits to find out her baby's gender. If the ultrasound determines that she isn't carrying a boy, Rukhsar says, divorce or the prospect of having to share her husband with a second wife is imminent.

"Nothing else can change my situation," Rukhsar says.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Man killed wife 'for bearing third daughter'

Comment: Afghanistan hell on earth for women...:(

Police in Afghanistan are searching for a man accused of strangling his wife after she bore him a third daughter when he wanted a son.

The killing is the latest in a series of incidents highlighting how entrenched violence against women is in Afghan society, 10 years after the draconian Taliban regime was ousted from power.

Sher Mohammad went on the run last week after his wife, Storai, 22, was found dead at their home in the Khanabad district of northern Kunduz province. Police have arrested his mother, who is accused of helping to kill her daughter-in-law. Storai had told relatives that her husband threatened to kill her if she did not give birth to a son, said Nadira Geya, head of the provincial women's affairs department. Ms Geya added that it was one of the worst cases of domestic abuse she had seen.

In the same province in November, an armed gang sprayed acid into the face of a teenager and her two sisters after their family turned down the advances of an aging warlord. The burns were so horrific that the victim, Mumtaz, had to be sent to India for treatment.

Another case that hit the headlines last month involved a 15-year-old girl, Sahar Gul, who was rescued from a dark, windowless room in her in-laws' house where she had been tortured and starved after refusing to enter into prostitution. Acknowledging the problem, the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, recently announced plans to hold a conference in February on eliminating violence against women. The United States Embassy in Kabul has welcomed the initiative.

Some reports suggest Storai's husband is a member of a local militia group and is being sheltered by his associates.

"The existence of militiamen is a huge problem and therefore we face difficulty in arresting him," Kunduz police chief, Sufi Habib, said.

But Sediq Sediqi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Interior, said he could not confirm whether Storai's husband belonged to a militia or not.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Rabia Basri: A role model for all Muslim women

Rabia Basri is a role model for all Muslim women. She rules on the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Born in 95 A.H. in Basra in a poor but respected family, she was the fourth daughter of her father.

She was born in a dark night. The family was so poor that there was no oil in the lamp even to light it. Her sister asked her father to get some oil from the neighbor's house, but he said he would never ask anyone for any help except Allah.

When he slept with a heavy heart, he dreamed that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) came to him and said, “Don't grieve, your newborn daughter is a favorite of the Lord and will lead many Muslims to the right path. You should approach the Amir of Basra and present him a letter with a message that every night he is wont to offer 100 daroods to me and on Friday nights 400. But this Friday he did not offer daroods, so tell him that as a penalty he must give you 400 dinars.”

Rabia’s father got up and went straight to the Amir. The Amir was delighted on receiving the message. He distributed 1,000 dinars to the poor and joyously gave 400 to Rabia's father. The Amir then asked Rabia’s father to come to him whenever he needed anything as it was an honor for him to help somebody liked by Allah.

After the death of her father, Basra was hit by famine. Rabia got separated from her sisters and left alone. She was with a caravan that was attacked by robbers. The chief of the robbers took Rabia as captive and sold her as a slave. Rabia’s new master used to make her do hard work.

One day while she was going out, a man chased her. She ran to save herself but fell down and broke her arm. Thereupon, she prayed to Allah, “I am a poor orphan and a slave. Now my hand is broken. But I do not mind these things if Thou be pleased with me...”

Rabia used to spend the whole night in prayer after finishing her household work. She used to fast regularly. Once when her master woke up in the middle of the night he was attracted by Rabia's prayer:

“My Lord! You know well that my desire is to carry out Your commandments and to serve You with all my heart. O Light of my eyes. If I were free I would spend the whole day and night in prayers. But what should I do when You have made me slave of a human being?”

The master felt that it was sacrilegious to keep her as a slave. He freed her and offered her the choice of staying with him or leaving. She told him she wanted to carry on her worship in solitude. She went to the desert and devoted herself to worship. Her mentor was Hassan Basri. Much of her early life is narrated by Farid Al-Din Attar, using earlier sources. Rabia herself did not leave any written work.

She devoted herself to prayers. Later she set out for Haj. Rabia reached Makkah and there she met Ibrahim Adham who also performed Haj that year.

Throughout her life, her love of God, poverty and self-denial remained her constant companions. She spent all night in prayer and contemplation. As her fame grew she had many disciples. Though she had many offers of marriage, and even one from the Amir of Basra, she refused them as she had no time in her life for anything other than the Love of Allah.

Once when asked why she did not marry she replied:

“If you free me from having to worry about three things, I will marry. First of all, at the moment of death, shall my faith be sufficient to bring me to salvation? Second, will the Book of my deeds be given to me in my left or right hand? Third, on that hour when a party of people are called forth on the left hand to Hell, and another group from the right hand are summoned to Heaven, which company will I belong to? And further when I am interrogated in the grave by the two angels, shall I be able to answer their questions?”

Once Malik Bin Dinaar visited Rabia Basri. He found in her home a partly broken pitcher which she used for ablution and drinking water, a very old straw-mat on which she slept and a brick which she used as a pillow. He said to her, “I have many affluent friends. Shall I ask them to bring some items for you?”

Rabia Basri said, “O Malik! Is my Provider, your Provider and the Provider of the wealthy, not the same?” Malik said, “Yes.” Rabia then said, “Has He forgotten about the needs of the poor on account of their poverty, while he remembers the needs of the wealthy?” Malik said, “It is not so.” Rabia then said, “When He never forgets anyone, why should we remind Him? He has wished this condition for me and I am pleased with it, because it is, His pleasure.”

Rabia has taught us that repentance is a gift from Allah because no one can repent unless Almighty Allah allows him to do so.

Ibn Al-Jawzi relates that at the time of her death, she called Abda Bint Abi Showal and told her that no one be informed of her death and that she be shrouded only in her old robe for burial. When her last hour came, leading sheikhs gathered around her, but she told them to “Go out and leave place for the Angels.” They all went out and closed the door. While they were waiting outside, they heard from inside a voice reciting: “O soul at rest and peace! Return to your Lord...” For a long while thereafter there was silence. When they went inside, they found that she had passed away.

Rabia Basri's quotes

• When asked about some worldly thing she wanted to have, she replied: I am ashamed to ask for a thing of this world from Him to whom this world belongs; how can I ask for it from those to whom it does not belong.

• Indeed your days are numbered, for when one day passes; a significant portion of your life has passed away. And when that portion has fled, soon it will come to pass that your whole life has disappeared. As you know this, strive always towards the performance of good deeds.

• I am not after any reward for my good works, but only that on the Day of Judgment the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) should say to the rest of the Prophets: 'Behold this woman of my community; this was her work.'

• All people are afraid of the reckoning of the Day of Judgment, whereas I long for it. At last Allah will address me as ‘O, My servant!'

• Conceal your good qualities as much as you conceal your bad qualities.

• Death is a bridge between friends. The time now nears that I cross that bridge, and friend meets Friend.

Rabia Basri is and will remain to be a role model for Muslim women.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Imam condemns ordeal of youngsters still in primary school amid alarming number of abuse cases

AN alarming number of under-age girls – some as young as nine – are being forced into marriage in Islington, according to a leading campaign group.

The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) claim that at least 30 girls in the borough were forced into marriage in 2010.

The practice was condemned by the Imam of Finsbury Park Mosque, who said such marriages were against Islam and “unacceptable”.

He pledged to invalidate any marriage which he said were carried out by “back-street Imams”.

IKWRO, which made headlines last month when they revealed there had been almost 3,000 “honour-based” violence cases in 2010, has shown the Tribune records which revealed at least three 11-year-old girls and two nine-year-olds had been forced into marriage with older men within Islington. The oldest girls involved were 16.

They have warned that hundreds of Islington girls could be suffering sexual, emotional and physical scars as a result of the child marriages every year and are calling for teachers, social workers and police to be better trained to spot and manage the abuse.

Information from the Ministry of Justice, following a Freedom of Information request, revealed that 32 Forced Marriage Protection Order applications were made for children under 16 in Britain last year.

Six of these were made for under-16s within Islington at the Royal Courts of Justice, although these were not necessarily made for Islington residents.

At the Islington court, “five or fewer” orders were made to protect children between the ages of 9-11.

The orders are a form of injunction that threaten legal punishment if marriage takes place due to emotional or physical force.

In most cases, the children fear they will be killed if they reveal the truth to anybody, while others believe they will be separated from their families and taken into social services’ care.

Dianna Nammi, director of IKWRO, explained that the girls are married in a mosque’s sharia court. This means they are not legally married according to British law, rendering the Home Office unable to recognise or prove the abuse.

“They are still expected to carry out their wifely duties, though, and that includes sleeping with their husband,” she said.

“They have to cook for them, wash their clothes, everything. They are still attending schools in Islington, struggling to do their primary school homework, and at the same time being practically raped by a middle-aged man regularly and being abused by their families. So they are a wife, but in a primary school uniform.

“The reason it doesn’t get out is because they are too terrified to speak out, and also the control their families have over them is impossible to imagine if you’re not going through it. The way it is covered up is so precise, almost unspeakable.”

Ms Nammi said that one 13-year-old had to sneak out of a maths lesson to contact the group, because she was being monitored so closely by her family.

“Her teacher didn’t notice because she said she’d gone to the toilet, but when she got home that day she was beaten,” she said.

“Her father knew she hadn’t been in maths because he had sent an uncle to spy on who she was talking to through the classroom window.”

Ms Nammi said that the girls are married off to family friends or family members to stop them from losing their virginity to anyone not chosen by their father.

However, the incentive is also often financial.

“The girl automatically becomes her husband’s property, so he takes financial responsibility for her,” said Ms Nammi.

“In fact, often the husband has to start contributing to the girl’s family, so it becomes a way of bringing in another salary.

“Who are girls going to tell? Often they feel like teachers at school won’t understand what their families are like. They will think they’re like Western families, and won’t understand that if they pass on anything at all that they’ve been told to the family, then the girl will be killed. So they just chose not to tell at all.”

IKWRO offers counselling and support to the children, but does not force them to take any action until they are ready. Often, that involves being placed in social services’ care.

Finsbury Park Mosque imam Ahmed Saad said he was glad the issue was being highlighted, and stressed that it was not an Islamic problem, but a cultural one.

“This is down to ignorance, and ignorant people who will use any excuse they can to do this to their children,” he said.

“It is the practice in their home countries and they don’t want to stop that here, so they will say it’s in the Koran, when it is not. According to Islam, it is entirely unacceptable.

“My own grandmother was married at the age of 11, but that was in 1907 in Egypt when lifespans were much shorter.

“I have heard of this happening in Islington by back-street imams. They are imams who have little knowledge of Islam – they are not educated, and they simply lead prayers, and yes they will do this and it is very quietly kept a secret with no one admitting to it.

“Islam says both parties must truly consent in their hearts, and if the girl was forced into it in any way then she can invalidate her Sharia marriage with or without the husband’s permission.

“I will personally do that for anyone who comes to me. This is simply child abuse, as a child does not know what they are doing.

“My heart goes out to the girls.”

Imam Saad explained that Sharia law stated an individual can marry when they begin puberty, with the most important stipulation being that they are “rushd”, or mature enough to understand marriage.

A spokesman for the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) said he was “unsure” whether the lack of legal status of the marriages affected whether the they could intervene or not, but directed the Tribune to government practice guidelines on dealing with forced marriage.

The spokesman added that due to the lack of legal status the marriages may be a “criminal matter that only the police can deal with”, but admitted to it being "”a very grey area”.

The FMU guidelines state: “It is probable that children’s social care will play a key role in protecting the interests of the child or young person. This can be achieved not only by arranging practical help such as accommodation and financial support, but also by co-operating and working with other agencies such as police, health and education professionals.”

A Turkish and Farsi speaking adviser at IKWRO, said while that the Islington Police’s domestic violence co-ordinators were “brilliant” at dealing with the cases, front-line officers “can make things worse by not being sensitive because they don’t really understand what’s going on”.

“When they try and speak to the child’s parents they often have a language barrier,” she said.

“Too often they don’t bother to call an interpreter so they don’t talk to the parents at all about what they’re doing, until it goes to court much later. A common complaint we have is that it depends on who you are, too – some women say that when they’re from poorer families the police don’t take them as seriously.”

Bride at 12 – ‘I have to be a wife to him...’

ROJIN – this is not her real name – told a Tribune reporter how she had been forcibly married at the age of 12 to a 32 year-old man. She said she grew up in Finsbury Park where she lived with her parents from the Middle East.

After her “marriage” she said she was placed in care and then allowed to live with friends.

“I was forced by my dad,” she said. “He didn’t beat me or anything, he told me I was useless, no one would ever accept me anyway so I’d better just marry while someone wanted me because it wouldn’t happen again.

“I thought that if I didn’t do it I would just be taken away and married anyway, so it was better to co-operate and at least get to stay in England.

“Also, if I co-operated then if my husband treated me badly at least my family would support me against him. But if I said no, they’d say I was bringing shame on the family and wouldn’t support me no matter what he did, because I would have made them angry.

“My parents sorted out an imam to marry us quite quickly. The first one they approached said no, the next one said yes, and this was in Islington. I met my husband three days before my wedding, which only my close family was invited to.

“We were married in my parents’ house.

“He was a 37-year-old man from Birmingham [the Tribune understands he had come from the Middle East]. I told my parents that I had fallen in love with him and I was doing it for myself because my mum felt bad about what they were doing to me. That night I had to go to his flat and sleep with him because that’s what marriage is.

“But I didn’t want to. After that I told my husband I didn’t want to look at him or talk to him. I didn’t want him sitting next to me, standing next to me, nothing. He got frustrated and said that I had to sleep with him because I was his wife, but I said if he forced himself on me then I would call the police and tell them everything.

“After my mum died I was taken into care. I told my social worker about everything, but I missed out the bit about sleeping with him.

“Social services have no understanding of Islam, and they don’t know that for me, as a Muslim, I am still his wife because we were married by an imam and we have not divorced. So I still text him and want to go to see him because I have to as a wife.

“This is more of a marriage to me than a legal one because it’s by Allah. In my mind I know I have to still be a wife to him till he finally divorces me or I feel something bad will happen to me, or my mum, who is now dead, will have shame on her name.

“He refuses to divorce me, though. Friends have said they’d be happy to come with me to the mosque for a divorce to say yes to it.

“I live with friends so I don’t have to sleep with him, cook for him, nothing like that. He can’t beat me, and no one can kill me here, but I am trapped as his wife.

“Even when I am an adult and leave, I’ll have to go back to him as his wife until one day he finally grants me a divorce.”

The Tribune has been unable to authenticate what this girl told us.
We have seen a record kept by the Women’s Rights body (IKWRO) stating she had been placed in care but there did not appear to be independent evidence that this had taken place.
We stress this is the story of a 12-year-old girl as told to this newspaper.

Monday 6 February 2012

Women Expose Secret Genital Cutting Rite

"It was a dark and dingy room, where an elderly woman asked me to take off my panties, made me sit on a low wooden stool with my legs parted and then did something…I screamed out in pain," recalls Alefia Mustansir, 40, of her childhood experience.

Her friend, Sakina Haider, remembers "putting up a good fight" before she succumbed. "I was told by my grandmother that I was being taken to the doctor to address burning in the genital area when soap went there while bathing!"

Both Haider and Mustansir have refused to have their daughters undergo circumcision or female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), the Dawoodi Bohras’ best-kept secret until young women from the community first began to speak up against it a few years ago.

Bohras, a sub-sect of Ismaili Shia Muslims, are a tight-knit community, with a majority residing in India and Pakistan, and estimated to number two million the world over.

An article in the Dec. 12 issue of the popular Indian weekly ‘Outlook’ says: "Khatna (circumcision) is a tradition the Bohras trace back to their origins in (north) Africa, one they continue with because they see this as an attempt to stay true to their faith."

The Outlook article goes on to say that "most Bohra women and men even today would rather keep this practice a secret rather than question a custom that is now universally seen as a gross violation of a woman’s body."

The World Health Organisation defines FGM/C as a procedure that "intentionally alters or injures female genital organs for non-medical reasons." FGM/C, as practiced in some African countries, may involve removal of the entire clitoris and labia.

The practice persists in 28 African countries, as well as in some Middle Eastern countries with varying degrees of cutting or mutilation. African countries that have banned it include Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Togo, Uganda, Kenya and Egypt.

Bohras insist that their practice is not harmful since it is done with care and moderation. Many justify it as a means to curb a woman’s sexual drive and keep her chaste.

Haider finds that argument "highly problematic" and sees it as a way of controlling women.

Dr. Nighat Shah, former president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Pakistan, finds it hard to believe that a community as "progressive and educated" as the Bohras carries out this practice.

"Medically speaking," she explained, "a little snip or clip (of the clitoris) may not affect childbirth, but it may rob the woman of sexual pleasure. It is a very sensitive tissue."

Another gynaecologist and obstetrician, Dr. Shershah Syed, finds no medical benefit to support female circumcision. "I am no religious scholar, so if a community believes it is an Islamic injunction, I’d suggest the girls should at least be old enough to understand the reason so that they can make an informed decision."

"Why do women’s sexual drives have to be curbed?" Haider asks. "Women who are not circumcised are not necessarily promiscuous!" she says.

A young Indian girl belonging to this Muslim sect, who goes by the name of Tasleem, has now found the courage to initiate an online petition asking the community’s high priest, Dr. Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin, to have this "cruel, inhuman and undemocratic ritual" stopped.

The petition addressed to the 96-year-old prelate, who is based in the western Indian city of Mumbai, states: "Such a barbaric ritual has no place in a progressive community like the Bohras. So we pray to His Holiness to stop this misogynist ritual." Mustansir and Haider are in a minority among Bohra women who refuse to accept the practice. Most still get their daughters circumcised because it is an order from the community’s high priest.

"I have blind faith in my leader. I believe there must be some goodness in this that there is so much insistence," said Zahabia Mohammad, 38, mother of three circumcised daughters.

Mohammad conceded that her own experience was "gross" and "barbaric", but justifies its continuation because "it is done in a very safe manner today by doctors."

She was present for all of her daughters’ circumcisions. "It takes less than five minutes and the procedure is done under local anaesthesia. Just a very minute bit of the clitoris is clipped off," she said.

She acknowledged she had little information on the rite except what was told her by an aunt "that the foreskin of the clitoris is unclean and circumcision is for the benefit of the women."

She also concedes that today, with a deluge of information circulating against this practice, it is imperative to equip the community with information to enable them to make informed decisions.

"Not everyone will accept this blindly, not the next generation. They will question and prod, so it is important to prepare them," she says of a rite that is kept secret from male members of the sect.

Tasleem told Outlook that genital cutting happens in all strata of Bohra society. "I’d say 90 percent practise it."

Arwa Mohammad, who is in her 20s, signed the petition because "it’s archaic and nonsensical." She was circumcised when she was seven by her grandmother’s doctor friend. "Just goes to show how this ritual perpetuates without anyone questioning!"

Married a year back, Mohammad was "not traumatised" for life for getting circumcised, but cannot comprehend the reason still. "I have friends who have been circumcised like me but have a high sex drive. On the other hand, she admits to "frigidity" in bed.

"The thought of snipping off a bit of a young child’s clitoris gives me the goosebumps," said 37-year-old uncircumcised Amena Ali. She refuses to put her two daughters, aged six and eight - considered the right age band for circumcision - under the blade.

The petition, put up last October, has opened an animated forum for discussion on both sides of the border, perhaps for the very first time, within the community on a subject that was taboo.

"Initially, only the non-Bohras were signing, but once the media got into the act, many women from the community openly began talking about their painful experience," Tasleem told IPS in an email exchange from India.

So far, Tasleem has been able to collect 1,059 signatures. "I will keep this going till Dr. Syedna bans it. Raising awareness is the first step towards solving the problem."

"Whether the ritual will be abolished by this petition, only time will tell," says Zainab Hussain, 49, but she feels the petition will make a difference. "They (community leaders) may eventually break their silence and give a plausible answer."

Sunday 5 February 2012

Canadian jury finds Afghan family guilty of 'honour killings'

A jury in Canada has found three members of an Afghan family guilty of drowning three teenage sisters and another woman in what the judge described as "cold-blooded, shameful murders" resulting from a "twisted concept of honour". The verdicts concludes a case that shocked Canadians.

Prosecutors said the defendants killed the three teenage sisters because they felt they had dishonoured the family by defying its strict rules on dress, dating, socialising and using the internet.

The jury took 15 hours to convict Muhammad Shafia, 58; his wife Tooba Yahya, 42; and their son Hamed, 21. They were each found guilty of four counts of first-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

After the verdict was read the three defendants again declared their innocence in the killings of sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar 17, and Geeti, 13, as well as Rona Amir Muhammad, 52, Shafia's first wife in a polygamous marriage.

Their bodies were found 30 June 2009 in a car submerged in a canal in Kingston, Ontario, where the family had stopped for the night on their way home to Montreal from Niagara Falls, Ontario.

The prosecution alleged it was a case of premeditated murder, staged to look like an accident after it was carried out. Prosecutors said the defendants drowned their victims elsewhere on the site, placed their bodies in the car and pushed it into the canal.

The Ontario superior court judge Robert Maranger said the evidence clearly supported the conviction.

"It is difficult to conceive of a more heinous, more despicable, more honourless crime," Maranger said. "The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honour ... that has absolutely no place in any civilised society."

In a statement following the verdict, the Canadian justice minister, Rob Nicholson, called honour killing "barbaric and unacceptable in Canada".

Defence lawyers said the deaths were accidental. They said the Nissan car accidentally plunged into the canal after the eldest daughter, Zainab, took it for a joy ride with her sisters and her father's first wife. Hamed said he watched the accident, although he didn't call police from the scene.

After the jury returned the verdicts, Muhammad Shafia, speaking through a translator, said: "We are not criminal, we are not murderer, we didn't commit the murder and this is unjust."

His weeping wife, Tooba, also declared the verdict unjust, saying, "I am not a murderer, and I am a mother, a mother."

Their son, Hamed, speaking in English said: "I did not drown my sisters anywhere."

Hamed's lawyer, Patrick McCann, said he was disappointed with the verdict. His client would appeal and he believed the other two would as well.

The prosecutor, Gerard Laarhuis, said: "This jury found that four strong, vivacious and freedom-loving women were murdered by their own family in the most troubling of circumstances.

"This verdict sends a very clear message about our Canadian values and the core principles in a free and democratic society that all Canadians enjoy and even visitors to Canada enjoy," he said to cheers of approval from onlookers outside the court.

The family had left Afghanistan in 1992 and lived in Pakistan, Australia and Dubai before settling in Canada in 2007. Shafia, a wealthy businessman, married Yahya because his first wife could not have children.

Shafia's first wife was living with him and his second wife. The polygamous relationship, if revealed, could have resulted in their deportation.

The prosecution painted a picture of a household controlled by a domineering Shafia, with Hamed keeping his sisters in line and doling out discipline when his father was away on frequent business trips to Dubai.

The months leading up to the deaths were not happy ones in the Shafia household, according to evidence presented at trial. Zainab, the oldest daughter, was forbidden to attend school for a year because she had a young Pakistani-Canadian boyfriend, and she fled to a shelter, terrified of her father.

The prosecution said her parents found condoms in Sahar's room as well as photos of her wearing short skirts and hugging her Christian boyfriend, a relationship she had kept secret. Geeti was skipping school, failing classes, being sent home for wearing revealing clothes and stealing, while declaring to authority figures that she wanted to be placed in foster care, according to the prosecution.

Shafia's first wife wrote in a diary that her husband beat her and "made life a torture", while his second wife called her a servant.

The prosecution presented wire taps and mobile phone records from the Shafia family in court to support their honour killing allegation. The wiretaps captured Shafia spewing vitriol about his dead daughters, calling them treacherous and whores and invoking the devil to defecate on their graves.

"There can be no betrayal, no treachery, no violation more than this," Shafia said on one recording. "Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows ... nothing is more dear to me than my honour."

Defence lawyers argued that at no point in the intercepts did the accused say they drowned the victims.

Shafia's lawyer, Peter Kemp, said after the verdicts that he believed the comments his client made on the wiretaps may have weighed more heavily on the jury's minds than the physical evidence in the case.

"He wasn't convicted for what he did," Kemp said. "He was convicted for what he said."

Friday 3 February 2012

Asad Leopold Weiss: A prominent scholar

He was a journalist, a writer, a linguist, a thinker, a reformer, a diplomat, a political theorist, a scholar and translator of the Holy Qur'an. The intellectuals are perplexed. How so many qualities could be centered in one soul. He was born a Jew in a religious family, then converted to Christianity and finally to Islam.

There he found peace and there he gained strength. It is said that he was one of the "most powerful European convert" to Islam of the 20th century. His story of the Journey to Islam, which he entitled as "The Road to Mecca" is a challenging book of the century. He was a great scholar. He received religious education and was proficient in Hebrew from an early age, as well as familiar with Aramaic. He studied the Old Testament, the text and commentaries of the Talmud, the Mishna and Gemara, also delving into the intricacies of Biblical exegesis and the Targum.

He went to Cairo where he tried to learn Arabic and spent some time with Shaikh Mustafa Maraghi (who later became the Shaikh of Al-Azhar). He wanted to gain a fuller picture of Islam. Subsequently he became perfect in English, Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic and German languages to explore the depth of the three Revealed religions.

Mohammad Asad was born "Leopold Weiss" on July 2, 1900 to a Jewish family in Lemberg, which until 1918 was part of Austria and afterward until 1939 was part of the second Polish Republic (present day Lviv, Ukraine). Weiss was a descendant of a long line of Jewish rabbis. After abandoning university in Vienna, Weiss drifted aimlessly around 1920s Germany, working briefly for the expressionist film director, Fritz Lang.

Leopold's grandfather, an orthodox rabbi in Crzernowitz, Bukovina, had wanted his father to follow the family's rabbinical tradition, but he chose to be a barrister. One day, Leopold left home, shaved off his beard and side -locks and after drifting for a while, he arrived at Oxford. He graduated as a scholar, converted to Christianity, married a 'gentile' and sent a letter of divorce to his Jewish wife.

Leopold later moved to the British Mandate of Palestine, staying in Jerusalem at the house of his uncle Dorian Feigenbaum (a disciple of Sigmund Freud), his mother's youngest brother, who had invited him to Jerusalem to live in his delightful old Arab stone house.

But neither Dorian nor Jerusalem could stop Leopold from his wanderings. He became a correspondent for Frankfurter Zeitung reporting sometimes in Cairo, sometimes in Amman, back to Jerusalem; and on road again to Syria which then included Lebanon as well and Turkey. It was a moment at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, that he became aware how near their God and their faith were to these Muslim people. Weiss' assignments led him to an ever-deepening engagement with an understanding of Islam, which, after much thought and deliberation, led to his religious conversion.

The cobbler's advice: Islam had been revealing itself to Leopold in bits and pieces, but it was on a winter day in Afghanistan that a man, fixing an iron shoe to his horse, told him: "But thou art a Muslim, only thou dost not know it thyself. Why don't you say now and here: 'There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet' and become a Muslim, in fact as you already are, in your heart," said the man.

Later he traveled on: From Kabul to Ghazni, Kandahar and Herat. Early 1926, he was homeward bound, via Marv, Samarkand, Bokhara and Tashkent and thence across the Lurkoman steppes to Urals and Moscow.

Some time after September 1926, he sought out a Muslim friend of his, an Indian who was at that time head of the small Muslim community in Berlin, and told him that he wanted to embrace Islam. Elsa his wife, followed a few weeks later. Leopold had become Asad. People ask him about his particular attraction to Islam. Asad spoke of Islam thus: "Islam appears to me like a perfect work of architecture. All its parts are harmoniously conceived to complement and support each other; nothing is superfluous and nothing lacking; and the result is a structure of absolute balance and solid composure." It is not like a mirror whose one side is shining the other is dark. Islam is like a diamond with a bright shine on every face.

Early in 1927, he was received by King Abdul Aziz. He was impressed by the king and the king took a great liking for this new Muslim and he would send for him almost daily. Elsa died and Asad, now a little over 32, acquired a Saudi wife named Munira, and a library full of books on early Islamic history. Later Talal Asad was born to Munira who is now a leading anthropologist in the US.

Asad left Saudi Arabia and came to British India in 1932 where he met Muslim poet, philosopher and thinker, Muhammad Iqbal, who had proposed the idea of an independent Muslim state in India, which later became Pakistan.

When the World War II broke out in 1939, Asad's parents were arrested and, subsequently, murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Asad himself was arrested in Lahore in 1939. Asad spent three years incarcerated in a prison.

In 1947, Asad was given Pakistani citizenship by the newly established Muslim state of Pakistan and appointed the director of the Department of Islamic Reconstruction by the government of Pakistan, where he made recommendations on the drafting of Pakistan's first Constitution.

Asad wrote more than 30 books. His autobiography, The Road to Mecca is an account of his Middle Eastern travels and his conversion, as well as his thoughts on the growing Zionist movement.

He also wrote The Message of The Qur'an, a translation and commentary on the Holy Qur'an based on his own knowledge of classical Arabic and on the authoritative classical commentaries.

His first title on an Islamic theme, Islam at the Crossroads, published in 1934, proved to be extremely popular and was translated in several languages. Through his book he appealed to the Muslims to avoid a blind imitation of Western social forms and values, and to try to preserve instead their Islamic heritage, which once upon a time had been responsible for the glorious, many-sided historical phenomenon comprised in the term 'Muslim civilization.'

In his book he outlines his view that the Muslim world must make a choice between living by its own values and morality or accepting those of the West, in which case, they would always lag behind the West, which had had more time to adjust to those values and mores, and would end up compromising their own religion and culture.

Some of his publications are:

Jerusalem in 1923: The Impressions of a Young European; The Spirit of Islam; The Concept of Religion in the West and in Islam; The Spirit of the West; Sahih Al-Bukhari: The Early Years of Islam; Towards a Resurrection of Thought; Is Religion a Thing of the Past?; Towards an Islamic Constitution; The Road to Mecca; The Encounter of Islam and the West; Islam and the Spirit of our Times; The Message of the Qur'an.

The first volume of Asad's English rendering, from Al-Baqarah to Al-Tawbah, The Message of the Qur'an appeared in 1964. This is by far the most elegant and lucid of the English translations.

In his study of the Qur'an, Asad found that Islam gave "Yes to action, No to passivity. Yes to Life and No to asceticism." In its pages, he found an intense God-consciousness that made no division between body and soul or faith and reason, but consisted of a harmonious interplay of spiritual need and social demand.

Asad's last book, This Law of Ours and other Essays, was published in 1987 and he remained intellectually active until the last days of his life.

Toward the end of his life, Asad moved to Spain and lived there with his third wife, Pola Hamida Asad, an American national of Polish Catholic descent who had also converted to Islam, until his death on Feb. 20 1992 at the age of 92. He was buried in the Muslim cemetery of Granada in the former Moorish province of Andalusia, Spain.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Girl's fight for justice breaks silence on incest in Pakistan

After her father began raping her, Mariam felt scared, ashamed and vulnerable.

The Pakistani teenager, who was around 13 or 14 when the attacks began, couldn’t have known her case would lift the veil on an explosive issue long-shrouded in stigma and bereft of justice in her country – incest.

In 2009, the year the attacks began, a trio of human rights organisations took up her case: international group Equality Now, as well as Pakistani women’s rights organisations War Against Rape, Lahore and Nasreen Welfare Trust Legal Aid Services (NWT). Mariam* served as the inspiration for their report “A Struggle for Justice: Incest Victims in Pakistan,” issued on Jan. 24.

Incest isn’t even listed in the Pakistan Penal Code. It’s rarely discussed and even more rarely reported, according to the report. There are no statistics on incest and, often, little or no punishment for those who perpetrate it. Families typically cover it up and discourage victims from reporting it out of fear that the family honour will be tarnished.

“The kind of damage that this concept of honour can do to entire families is beyond belief,” Mehr Qureshi, programme officer at Equality Now and a lead researcher on the project, told TrustLaw.

The two-year research project breaks ground in an area that few have explored. No one knows the scope of the incidence of incest in Pakistan.

“I have not come across any credible numbers on this particular crime,” Qureshi told TrustLaw.

However, she said, anecdotal evidence from groups on the ground indicate that “it is quite widespread.”

The report highlights the obstacles that stand in the way of alleged victims of incest who want to pursue justice against their attackers. The chronology of Mariam’s experience illustrates these obstacles vividly.

After years of physical and sexual abuse by her husband, Mariam’s mother left her six children. Shortly after that, Mariam’s father began molesting and raping Mariam, threatening to kill her siblings if she complained.

But a vigilant teacher noticed her distress, learned about the sexual abuse and called Mariam’s mother. Her mother took her daughter to the police station, where officers expressed scepticism and encouraged the mother and daughter to drop the matter. Such behavior by police is typical, according to the report.

Undeterred, Mariam’s mother pressed the issue and registered the case. But the prosecutor assigned to the case was equally reluctant to proceed and attempted to get the case dropped. At that point, Equality Now and a lawyer from NWT took the case. They had the prosecutor suspended and the case reopened for investigation.

The medical examination Mariam endured was traumatic, conducted by a medico-legal officer who doubted Mariam’s story and referred her to a gynaecoloist, who misplaced the test results. The case proceeded, but with numerous delays instigated by the defence lawyer. That resulted in lengthy and costly waits for Mariam and her family in court waiting areas shared with her father.

When it finally took place, the trial also was difficult for Mariam. At the insistence of her lawyer, the court allowed her to testify behind a screen, carted daily from a nearby hospital, so she would not have to testify in sight of her father.

The prosecutor, who was supposed to defend her, harmed her case by noting that the medical exam showed no sign of bruising or other violence, raising questions as to whether the sex was consensual between father and daughter. Mariam’s lawyer objected and prevailed.

On July 22, 2011, the court sentenced Mariam’s father to death by hanging for raping his daughter. The judge found the defence case flawed and ruled that the absence of marks of violence did not support the defendant’s contention that sex was consensual. Her father has appealed the sentence and is currently in jail, awaiting the appeal hearing.

It was a rare victory in the history of Pakistani incest cases, which the report documents extensively.

In many cases, the report said, prosecutors may be bribed by wealthy defendants to either drop incest cases or mishandle them by suppressing summonses, failing to inform complainants of court dates or not representing the best interest of the alleged victims for whom they are supposed to advocate.

Eight of the report’s 33 pages are devoted to recommendations on legal and procedural reforms to improve reporting of incest and facilitate its prosecution in Pakistan. Included are detailed examples of best legal practices in this area, including many from other Muslim countries that have legislation on incest.

“We are planning to send this to members of the Law and Justice Commission in Pakistan, have them take a look at it and have them review it and see how they feel would be the best way to move forward on this,” Qureshi told TrustLaw.

The Law and Justice Commission is a federal body headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan and includes 12 other high-ranking members representing every province, including the chief justices of the superior courts, the attorney general, the secretary of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights and the chair of the National Commission on the Status of Women.

“The report advocates for reform of laws and procedures to guarantee that the rights of survivors are safeguarded and to ensure better implementation of laws through capacity-building of all stakeholders in the legal justice system,” Yasmeen Hassan, global director of Equality Now, said in a statement.

“It is our hope that this report will be utilised as a tool toward making the Pakistani justice system more victim-friendly which will encourage greater reporting of cases and simultaneously have a deterrent effect on perpetrators.”

*Name has been changed to protect identity

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Poor enrollment of Muslim women in colleges prompted her to embark on a mission

Some people are born with a mission. Others discover it along the way. A few develop it just about when others of their age are ready to retreat into seclusion, to spend their remaining days in contemplation and introspection, doing the little things of life – reading or gardening- that they were too busy to do earlier.

Prof. Hasnath Mansur’s life demonstrates that it is never too late to contribute to society. She started active social work after she retired, committing herself to improve the lives of Muslim women, “Education is their way out” she says.

Bangalore-based Prof. Mansur should know. For 23 years she was the principal of a girls’ college. Throughout her life, what struck her most were the dramatic absence Muslim women in higher education.

She had started her education in Salem, Tamil Nadu. In the local Sharada College, of the 2,000 students, only five were Muslim girls. In a college in Coimbatore where 1,500 students were enrolled, just four were Muslim.

She says “It was so depressing. These were big colleges getting huge grants from the government. But the visibility of Muslims was nonexistent. I started wondering what’s wrong with my community?”

Over the years, she discovered that acute poverty was the main culprit. Except for a few households, most Muslims in the area were dirt poor. Parents could not afford the fees. “One of the biggest and enduring myths is that it is our religion that stands in the way of Muslim women’s progress. But I can say with conviction that it is not Islam but poverty that is the root cause” she says.

It was disconcerting that many Hindus and Christians believed the myth that Islam imposed restrictions on women. “But far more disturbing” says Prof. Mansur “was that many Muslims too believe this myth.” There was very little that Prof. Mansur could do to break this myth as long as she was working. Life was too hectic. But when she retired, she felt the urge to do something for “the hapless, voiceless section” of her community.

If Islam did indeed forbid education for women, then here devout father, a district sessions judge, would not have educated her. The trouble was that poverty unfortunately kept the Muslim community not only poor, but backward, ignorant, superstitious and illiterate. Prof. Hasnath points out that this enabled a misguided section of the orthodox clergy to get away with their misinterpretations of Islam. The indisputable fact is that when it took root in the 7th century, Islam enshrined more rights for Muslim women than what were enjoyed by Jewish and Christian women at that time. But some self appointed male custodians of social more misinterpreted the Koran to accord religious sanction to the prevalent patriarchal, tribal and feudal traditions in Arabia. And that continues till this day. Thus in addition to poverty, ignorance and ill health, Indian Muslim women had to cope with the added burden outdated or incorrect interpretations of the Islamic Law (Shariah).

Prof. Mansur was clear on two things: First, that Islam guaranteed rights for women. And second, the Indian constitution also guaranteed rights for women. It became her mission to propagate these ideas to poor Muslim women so that they could improve their lives and the lives of their families.

However, the real problem lay in the fact that there is no universally codified legal interpretation of women’s rights in the Muslim Ummah (community). The challenge therefore lay in educated Muslim women like her coming to the forefront to ensure that the right of women under the Qur’an and Shariah are progressively interpreted, ensure that these rights are protected and create awareness among Muslims, especially the women, of these rights so that they are protected so that they do not continue to be legally, economically and socially undermined in a male-dominated society using religion as a pretext.

But Prof. Mansur was in a bit of a dilemma. She had retired and finally has time on her hands. But she didn’t know how to go about it. She says: “What can you do after retirement? I didn't want o join politics or sit in dharnas. I was too old for all that. This country is not for old people.”

But rather fortuitously, she connected with IFES, an international NGO committed to the spread of democracy and human rights. They had just set up shop in India and had started the Muslim Women’s Initiative to promote Muslim women’s rights. Her agenda coincided perfectly with the IFES, which had evolved a comprehensive tool kit, comprising information leaflets, posters, handbills and charts. Thus together, from2005, they started conducting a series of camps to spread the message.

Instead of people coming to them they went to the people with their message. Prof. Mansur recoils with horror as she remembers her first foray into a poor Muslim neighborhood in Bangalore.

Says she: “It was so horribly dirty and stinking. The smell was so foul, I couldn’t breathe. There were open, festering slimy drains all around, just think, children are born and die here.”

The local residents mocked her: “You can’t breathe this air for five minutes. But we live here.” Her heart broke but her eyes blazed with anger. “Everyone goes on about Bangalore being the Silicon Valley of India. Our authorities spend millions of Rupees beautifying Brigade Road and Commercial Street. But in localities like these, where no VIP ever visits even the basic civic amenities are missing. You become cynical.”

But rather than succumb to cynicism, the grim reality only strengthened her resolve to extricate her community out of this mess. Ultimately, women would get to know of their right and insist on securing them if they were educated.

In her camps, Prof. Mansur quoted from the Qur’an and the Indian constitution to inform the Muslim women about their rights. Recalls Prof. Mansur: “Words like Constitution are too big for them to comprehend. So one has to describe it in ways that they understand. It has to be relevant to their condition if they are to make sense of it.”

So she talked about the rights an Indian Citizen enjoyed under the constitution, the freedom and the protection guaranteed by it, the right to have food, clothes, house and work. The Muslim women were amazed when she quoted verses from the Qur’an that protected the rights of women.

She stressed the need to become literate. The Qur’an guarantees women the right to education, income and share in property. A marriage cannot be consecrated until girl has given consent. Mehr (dowry) is paid to the bride and it must be handed over to her before the marriage is solemnized.

Islam prescribed the hijab (head scarf) but not the niqaab or face veil that is more of an Arabic custom. The Qur’an emphasis is on women preserving their dignity and modesty so as to not reduce themselves to sexual objects. Prof. Mansur told them: “It doesn’t matter what your local Imam says. This is what our Hazrat (Prophet Muhammad) has said.”

The camps created a subtle but significant shift in attitudes. Till now, most Muslim activism was restricted to charity work, collecting money or relief materials and distributing to the needy. Says Prof. Mansur: “We were doing something for the first time. We are giving information. Facts and verses from the Qur’an. We are making them think.”

Significantly, the camps did not only address women. Men boys, students were also encouraged to attend. Some camps in fact were exclusively for men. Reveals Prof. Mansur: “We expected some resistance from the men. But we surprised. They were supportive, they were very impressed by the charts and kept telling us that they didn’t know this is what the Qur’an actually stated.”

In the beginning, the men were a bit diffident, not entirely forthcoming. “But” explains Prof. Mansur, “they were a bit withdrawn, not because of their gender but because they were uneducated.”

Inevitably, there were some illiberal sections of the Muslim community that viewed the camps with suspicion. Prof. Mansur calls them “subversives”. They threatened and warned, proclaiming they would urge people to boycott, pelt stones and disrupt the camps.

But Prof. Mansur and her team took it in their stride, remained undeterred in their mission. Eventually, nothing of the sort happened. Says Prof. Mansur: “It’s all a matter of traditional elite wishing to continue to exercise their power and control over the masses. They can do so only if the bulk of Muslims remain poor, uneducated and backward.

“They feed them with illusions of the after life so that they meekly endure the misery and injustices they suffer here on earth. When these elite see their power and control weakening, they hit back. They browbeat and threaten us. But we have to offer stiff resistance. Eventually, they will back off when their hold on the populace genuinely weakens. Education, especially for women, is the best way to ensure that this happens. It may take a generation, but it will happen.”