Friday 30 March 2012

HADITH: 99 names of ALLAH

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Allah has ninety-nine names, one hundred less one. He who memorizes them all by heart will enter Paradise." [Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 489]

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Bangladesh's ''teenage'' brothels hold dark steroid secret

Seventeen-year-old prostitute Hashi embraces a Babu, her "husband", inside her small room at Kandapara brothel in Tangail, a northeastern city of Bangladesh. Many young and inexperienced prostitutes have "lovers" or "husbands" who normally live outside the brothel, occasionally taking money and sex from them in exchange for security in this male dominated society. She earns about 800-1000 taka daily ($9.75 - $12.19) servicing around 15-20 customers every day. Hashi is one of hundreds of mostly teenage sex workers living a painful life of exploitation in the brothel.
(Reuters / Andrew Biraj)

TANGAIL, Bangladesh, March 19 (Reuters) - Their faces painted heavy with make-up, teenage girls in short, tight blouses and long petticoats loiter in squalid alleys, laughing and gesturing to potential clients who roam Tangail town's infamous red light area in the early evening.

There is no shortage of men looking for "company" in Kandapara slum, a labyrinth of tiny lanes - lined cheek-by-jowl with corrugated iron shacks - a few hours drive northeast of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.

But with rates as low as 50 taka (60 U.S. cents), the need to attract as many customers as possible is desperate - prompting a rising, yet dangerous, trend of steroid abuse among adolescent sex workers to "enhance" their appearance.

"There is a huge difference between my appearance now and the malnourished look of my childhood," says Hashi, 17, who was lured into the sex trade by a trafficker when she was 10 and sold to Kandapara's brothel, where she began taking steroids.

"I am healthier than before and fit to serve a lot of customers in a day. Sometimes up to 15," she says, placing a large black bindi, or dot used by Hindu women, between her perfectly shaped eyebrows.

She sits in her tiny room with a bed, a cooking stove and posters of Bollywood stars taped across the wall.

Hashi is one of around 900 sex workers - some as young as 12 - living a painful life of exploitation in Kandapara, not only bonded by debt and fear of stigma, but compelled to take the steroid, Oradexon, which brings more income but leaves dangerous side effects.


Also known as Dexamethasone, Oradexon treats inflammation and allergies in humans and is used by farmers to fatten livestock.

Charities say the over-the-counter drug is taken by 90 percent of sex workers in Kandapara and the other 14 l egalised brothels across this impoverished South Asian nation.

The girls are first forced to take it by their madams, or "sardarnis", who run the brothels.

It increases their appetite, making them gain weight rapidly and giving the appearance that these poorly nourished teens are in fact healthy and older - attracting clients who prefer girls with "curves".

It also helps sardarnis keep the police away. The legal age for sex work in Bangladesh is 18.

The girls then continue to consume it, saying that it keeps them "strong and healthy", which in turn will help them get more clients in a day so they can earn enough to survive.

"My sardarni forced me to take a tablet. She beat me up and stopped giving food. She threatened me and reminded me about my loans," says Hashi, who has a four-year-old son staying with relatives, whom she has not seen for two years.

"In this brothel, customers always look for healthy girls. I take Oradexon. I need customers so I can pay my bills and loans. If I don't get any customers one day, I cannot eat in the next day. I wish to save some money for my son."

The story is the same with most of Kandapara's teenage sex workers, or "chukris".

Sold for as little as 20,000 taka ($245) by their poor, rural families to traffickers, they are then traded on to brothel sardarnis, who are former prostitutes themselves and keep the teenagers in bonded sex work.

The girls speak of being with up to 15 men in one day, but say their earnings are pocketed by their sardarnis, who tell them they have to work to pay off the money paid for them.

Many girls have been in Kandapara's brothel for years, yet due to their illiteracy, they have no idea whether their debts have been cleared and what their rights are.

Others, who have been left by their sardanis because they are too old or not-profitable, are in principle free to leave but choose not to, fearful of the social exclusion they will face in the conservative, Muslim society outside of Kandapara.


Oradexon, they say, keeps them going, even though there are known risks associated with its long-term use.

The steroid can cause diabetes, high blood pressure, skin rashes and headaches and is highly addictive, according to social activists.

It also weakens the immune system and leaves patients more susceptible to illnesses. There have been reports of young sex workers dying from over-use of the drug.

The small white pill is easily available in Kandapara's slums. It is sold without prescription for 15 taka (18 U.S. cents) for a strip of 10 at the tea and cigarette stalls blaring Bangladeshi pop music that populate a maze of open-sewer lanes.

"Steroids are life-saving as well as life-destroying drugs which are used by sex workers in poor countries," said Shipra Gowshami, a lawyer and human rights activist w h o works with sex workers in brothels in the central Bangladeshi town of Faridpur.

"A lack of awareness, easy availability and malpractices of quacks are some of the prime causes of why these drugs are being abused," Gowshami said.

In 2010, ActionAid Bangladesh began a campaign to promote awareness of the drug among sex workers. But they say they are facing a long fight in persuading not only the brothels to stop using it but also authorities to regulate it.

"There have been attempts to raise awareness on the negative impact of the use of such medicine but brothel owners, madams and pimps are a long way from withdrawing such practices," said Farah Kabir, country director for ActionAid Bangladesh.

"We have an uphill battle, yet it can be won. There needs to be greater regulation in the sale of such drugs. Government and the state must play an active role."

(Writing by Nita Bhalla; Editing by John Chalmers and Paul Tait) source

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Headscarved woman works in Germany then rejected in Turkey

A woman wore a headscarf while she studied and worked in Germany has said she was not even allowed to fill out an application in Turkey because of her headscarf.
A. Gülfidan, who studied civil engineering at Ruhr University in Germany, told Today's Zaman she was the only student who wore a headscarf in class and was praised and respected by both her friends and teachers. After graduating and entering the workforce, Gülfidan said she even found wearing a headscarf to be advantageous.

The owner of a German company for which she had applied to work saw a photo of Gülfidan in her headscarf and hired her because he reasoned she must have high self-confidence to do so. She went on to work in Germany for seven years.

She later married Nazım Gülfidan and moved to Turkey, where she wanted to apply to the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects' Chambers (TMMOB) for a job. However, she was not permitted to submit an application because of her headscarf.

Gülfidan, who at the time was pregnant and trying to adjust to her new life in Turkey, said she had studied and worked for years in a predominantly Christian country wearing a headscarf with no problem. It destroyed her, she said, that she was not able to even apply for a job in her native Muslim country.

“They could have at least taken my application and submitted it to the center. I angrily tore up the documents and threw it in front of the officials. I left in tears,” she said.

Nazım Gülfidan wrote to the Ministry of Trade and Customs, the General Directorate of Craftsmen and Artisans and other relevant ministries, requesting an explanation. He was told that these were public institutions and, therefore, headscarves and beards were prohibited.

A. Gülfidan found the responses absurd. She said she just wants to work for an organization that will allow her to do her job without compromising her identity. “In Germany there are such organizations,” she said.

Monday 26 March 2012

Mother of Morocco suicide victim speaks out

Morocco: Escape for 16-year-old Amina Filali from her marriage came in the form of a pill of rat poison she bought in the market for 60 cents.
Pressured by a conservative rural Moroccan society, a judge and her own mother to marry the man she said had raped her at 15 and then abused her for the rest of her marriage, she could only see one way out: Suicide.

"I had to marry her to him, because I couldn't allow my daughter to have no future and stay unmarried," said her mother Zohra in an interview with The Associated Press in their tiny village in northern Morocco, a week after her daughter killed herself.
The Justice Ministry suggests Filali was consenting and not a victim. But her death has called attention to - and prompted outrage over - an article in the penal code absolving the perpetrator of the rape of a minor if he marries the victim.

Activists and social workers are calling for its repeal. On Saturday in front of parliament in the capital Rabat, some 300 people waved signs and chanted slogans calling for a revised penal code that specifically outlaws violence against women.
Zohra Filali said she found her daughter being attacked in the forest after hearing she had been waylaid by a man with a knife. She immediately took her daughter to the family home of the man, who was 10 years older, and demanded they marry.
In many conservative societies, a family's honour rests with the women and intercourse outside of wedlock brings a deep shame that can only be remedied with the girl's marriage.

The practice dates back to the Old Testament and takes place in conservative or tribal parts in the Muslim world, such as Afghanistan.
In the story told by Amina's parents, it becomes clear that the mother was the primary force behind her daughter's marriage, which was then sanctioned by a judge and the law which permits underage marriages to "resolve" rape cases.
Morocco updated its family code in 2004 in a landmark improvement of the situation of women, but activists say there's still room for improvement. In cases of rape, the burden of proof is often on the victim and if she can't prove she was attacked, a woman risks being prosecuted for debauchery.
The French version of Article 475 of the 1962 penal code says that the "kidnapper" - a term that can refer to an attacker or rapist - of a minor cannot be prosecuted if he marries his victim.

The Arabic version refers to the one who "kidnaps or deceives" a minor. Whatever the wording, the article is cited in justifying the minor's marriage.
An online petition calling for a change to the law has garnered about 3,500 signatures and a protest was held on Thursday in front of the courthouse of the nearby town of Larache.

After at first remaining silent about the case, the Justice Ministry issued a statement Friday saying the judge acted correctly and followed the law in accordance with the wishes of both families and the victim.
"The victim had relations with the man who (later) married her during which she lost her virginity with her consent," said the statement, which did not address concerns about the nature of consent between a 15 and a 25-year-old.
The parents, poor farmers in Morocco's fertile coastal region, maintain Amina was raped. The Associated Press generally doesn't generally identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but in this case her family agreed that she could be identified.
Amina's husband and his family could not be reached for comment on what happened to her. When the family of the man at first refused to marry Amina, her mother took her to a doctor to get a medical certificate saying she had been raped.
The doctor informed Zohra that her daughter had lost her virginity earlier and did not confirm that a rape had occurred. "She finally told me that he had first raped her more than a month ago," the mother said.

Regardless of how it happened, said her mother, a small woman in a light blue headscarf who kept her eyes downcast until the subject of the family honour came up, her daughter had to marry or her life would be over.
"We would be the laughingstock of our neighbors," she said, with a rising voice, her eyes flashing fiercely. The societal pressures on young women are fierce in rural Morocco, where an estimated two-thirds of women are illiterate.
In this village alone, four young women have attempted suicide, according to the local chapter of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights. Two were successful, including an unwed pregnant teenager who also took rat poison.
"Women are the first victims of people's social and economic situation," said Fathiya Al Yaakoubi of the AMDH, as the human rights group is known by its French initials.

"Poverty pushes families to marry off their underage girls." She also holds the state responsible for allowing these underage marriages to take place, despite an official minimum age of 18.
Amina's father, Lahcen, was finally informed of the attack on his daughter and he went first to the nearby town of Larache and then north to the port city of Tangiers seeking justice.
There he said the prosecutor pushed them to marry his daughter to the man, whose family had finally agreed to the match, in the face of his imminent prosecution.
"I was against the marriage from the beginning, but when the state wanted to marry them, what could I do against the will of the state," said Lahcen, who has six other children ages ranging from 5 to 23.

He said at first he refused to do the paperwork, but said his wife pushed for it to be completed. "The law allowing judges the authority to allow marriage in the case of rape has to be canceled," said Al Yaakoubi, the activist.
"Marriage is not the solution for a rape, which is a crime that should be punished."
According to the mother, the forced marriage did not go well, as neither the groom nor his family, also quite poor, welcomed the new addition. Amina lived with her unemployed husband in a small shack next to his family's home and was reportedly beaten regularly by him and his mother.
"She came home a lot because she was scared and she said they hit her," said Zohra Filali about her daughter, her composure cracking as she told the story. "I didn't tell my husband because I was hoping it would improve."
It didn't and on March 10, three and a half months after a judge authorised the marriage, Amina poisoned herself. She lingered in the hospital for several hours and the last time her mother saw her was through a glass window when she said she was feeling better and asked for a yogurt.

Three hours later she was dead. Amina is buried on a simple hilltop cemetery of white tombstones. Her grave is marked by a cairn of stones covered with palm fronds with a view of the beautiful rolling hills and nearby forest.
On Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, her family recited the opening verse of the Quran over her grave, breaking into tears. "I thought she would have no future, no marriage, but now it would have been better if she had just stayed home," her mother said.

Friday 23 March 2012

France is a deeply racist country, and Toulouse will only make that worse

Barely had Mohammed Merah leapt from his bathroom widow in Toulouse yesterday, still blasting away with his gun, than politicians and experts were analysing just what it might mean for the President and the other candidates in the coming election.

It's unseemly. It's obscene. It has precious little to do with the facts of the case, the question of religion or the future of society in France. But it is what politics is now about, as much in France as the US.

And, of course, it does matter in electoral terms. Think back only two days when the gunman was thought to be a man of the extreme right, very probably a dismissed soldier, who was as eager to take his revenge on Muslims and blacks as Jews. Then it seemed as if the loser might be Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, and the question was whether Sarkozy could draw some of her support to him or whether the Socialists, under Francois Hollande, would reap the benefit.

Once the assassin was fingered as a Muslim with allegedly al-Qa'ida connections, however, the whole focus changed. Now it is Le Pen, despite the halt to campaigning during this time, who is on the offensive again with a rallying call to "fight this war against these politico-religious fundamentalists who are killing our Christian children, our young Christian men", and Sarkozy, already tacking hard to the right, who is caught trying to catch up.

On the one hand, he needs to be statesmanlike and, as President, above it all; on the other hand, he wants to garner the emotions and the votes of those who want to use this as a good reason for reducing immigration and putting Muslims within France in their place.

There doesn't seem much doubt which way Sarkozy, ever hyperactive, will turn. Even without an election, he has long been fierce in his opposition to immigration and his rejection of multiculturalism. As Interior Minister during the riots of 2005, he dismissed protesters as rabble. As President, he has urged new laws restricting the veil and halal meat.

For all the public statements over the past few days on the need for national unity, France remains a deeply racist country. The threat of Muslim terror has allowed the French to transfer their resentments away from the Jewish population to the Arab one, and to feel the better for it. But the sentiments are exactly the same and made only the worse by rising unemployment and slowing growth.

Mohammed Merah's trail of death will only serve to make such prejudices more publicly acceptable. Even the liberal left in France will find it hard to make him into a martyr for racism. They shouldn't be too thrown. Mohammed Merah's name may be no help, but his case is peculiar. It's not the kind of grand attack on society in the manner of the July bombings in London and which al-Qa'ida would normally seek to arouse.

Instead, there remains something very personal about these killings which would belie generalisations. Had the killer survived, the right could have continued to play on the statements and information which would have come out over the coming weeks of campaigning.

As it is, Merah wasn't taken alive, as the police had planned, but died in a peculiarly cinematic and unsatisfactory (for the authorities) way. The questions which will now surface will be as much about police incompetence as his support.

How, given that he was on the radar of the intelligence and security forces, was he not stopped sooner? Why were the police unable to capture him in the end? Why was the knowledge of his time in Afghanistan not joined up with suspicions about him at home? It is right that these questions are asked.

There is far too much talk about grander themes of race relations, ethnic differences and religious motivations, and far too little acceptance of the simple fact that these cases are uncommon, they have always occurred through history and society's best defence remains good policing, not draconian legislation.

Mohammed Merah should have been caught even before his first murder. Whether you blame the failure to do so on Sarkozy as head of government, the police or Muslim extremists will no doubt be the stuff of the election in the coming weeks.

It probably won't make that much difference. It will be economics, as always, not race which will probably determine the outcome. The nearest parallel to events in Toulouse is not the July 7 bombings here in the UK, but Norway.

Anders Behring Breivik, who killed over 90 people in a murderous spree last summer, is a right-wing fanatic from the opposite end of the spectrum to Merah. Yet Norwegian politicians and the media made little of this in the aftermath or even during his arraignment. Instead, they worked to bring the nation together in a solemn moment of mourning.

Sarkozy has the opportunity to do the same in France if he wanted to step back and up to be the voice of the French people in the way that President Clinton managed after the Oklahoma City killings in the US. One can't see him doing it. The temptations of electioneering are just too great.

It can't be said that it would be any different here.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Is this Britain's first white honour killing victim? The happy but headstrong girl, 17, whose love across the racial divide had a tragic end

Laura Wilson was just 17 years old — a happy but headstrong girl whose love story across the racial divide would have a tragic ending.
‘She was feisty — if she had anything to say she would speak out,’ her mother Margaret says, as she showed me a picture of a smiling, mischievous teenager.
Laura’s Asian boyfriend, Ashtiaq Ashgar, also 17, was born in Britain but when Laura challenged his family’s traditional cultural values by confronting them with details of their relationship, she had to be silenced.
One night in October 2010, Laura was lured to the banks of a canal in Rotherham in South Yorkshire, where Ashtiaq attacked her before throwing her into the water.
He was subsequently arrested and found guilty of Laura’s murder last June and sentenced to 17 years in prison.
So does this mean that Laura was the first white victim of an honour killing in Britain?

Margaret Wilson has never spoken publicly before, but she told me she is convinced her daughter was murdered because she challenged the code of honour which some ethnic communities still follow in the UK.
‘I honestly think it was an honour killing for putting shame on the family. They needed to shut Laura up and they did,’ she says.
In today’s multi-cultural Britain, the majority of young people from immigrant communities are well-integrated. Yet in many households, old traditions are still a powerful force.
In south Asian and Middle Eastern communities, controlling the behaviour of women is seen as key to the family’s honour.

Refusing to consent to marry the husband chosen for you or leaving an abusive marriage is often seen as dishonouring the family.
As I found when investigating the issue of ‘honour killings’ for BBC1’s Panorama, women are suffering in silence.
Behind closed doors, beatings, kidnap, forced imprisonment, rape and even murder are being committed in the name of honour.
The Government admits it does not know the true scale of the abuse. The latest survey of police statistics show that 2,823 honour crimes were reported in 2010.
But a quarter of police forces could not provide the figures and many crimes go unreported, meaning that the real tally is much higher.

Laura Wilson’s murder had the brutal hallmarks of an honour killing.
She lived in Ferham Park, an Asian and white community in Rotherham.
Although only a teenager, Laura already had a baby by an Asian man, Ishaq ‘Zac’ Hussein, a 20-year-old.
However, he refused to recognise the child and Laura was really in love with his friend, Ashtiaq Ashgar.

Her mother says: ‘Ashtiaq was her first love, she adored him.’
But stung by Zac’s rejection of her and their child, Laura decided to confront the men’s families and told them she’d had sexual relations with both men.
Sheffield police believe this was the trigger for a plan to kill Laura.
Detective Superintendent Mick Mason told me that Laura’s decision to go round to the families and to confront them was not welcomed in the Pakistani community.
He says: ‘An argument broke out — one of the mothers tried to hit Laura with a shoe.
Police know from analysing records of the two men’s phones that after the heated exchange they held several meetings. There were even text messages about buying a gun.

DS Mason, now retired, took me through the desolate industrial area where Laura took her last walk after Ashtiaq texted her three days after she confronted the families. He had asked her to meet him by the canal.
Police believe Ashtiaq began a frenzied knife attack on the girl before throwing her, badly wounded, into the canal.
‘I have seen many murders in my time,’ said DS Mason, ‘but this was the worst.’
The two men were arrested and tried for her murder. The pathologist in court revealed that Laura had been stabbed in the top of the head repeatedly as she tried to struggle out of the water.

Ashtiaq was found guilty and sentenced to 17 years in prison and Zac was acquitted.
‘I think it was all about shame,’ DS Mason told me. ‘In their eyes, Laura had brought shame on the family by coming round. Their son had also brought shame on the family.’
As Laura’s mother lays flowers on her daughter’s grave, she cannot forget the face of the accused in court: ‘He never showed remorse.’
Laura’s tragic case is made unusual by the colour of her skin — but her experiences are mirrored by those of young south Asian women who fall foul of their families’ sense of honour.

The suicide rate among women of south Asian descent is three times the national average as many women take what they see as the only way out of abusive family situations — by killing themselves.
Jasvinder Sanghera, a British-born Sikh, took me round the streets of Derby, where she was brought up and where her parents tried to force her to marry a man she had never met.

She was only 14 at the time but she was imprisoned in her room and when she ran away she was disowned by her family.
‘Girls are taught from a young age that cutting your hair, wearing make-up and having a boyfriend are all dishonourable acts,’ she says. ‘You understand that if you engage in this behaviour, you put yourself at risk. It can be a trigger for a forced marriage or even murder.’
Following her experience, Jasvinder decided to campaign against honour crime and set up Karma Nirvana, which runs the UK’s helpline for victims. Calls have doubled in the last four years.
‘The 500 calls we receive every month are just a drop in ocean,’ says Jasvinder.
‘There are hundreds of thousands of women out there we have yet to reach.’
At the helpline centre I met Neina, a British-Asian volunteer who was a victim of honour crime.
She was beaten by her husband and her own father and mother took his side, blaming her and refusing to help her. Neina fled to a refuge and her family cut all ties with her.
Nationally, the police response to honour crime has been patchy and serious mistakes have been made because of a failure to understand the risks women and girls face.
Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode, of the Metropolitan Police, is involved in training other officers about honour crimes.
She says: ‘Every single one of these cases involve extreme violence because the murders are committed to send a message to the wider community.
'Often there is a high degree of organisation often precipitated by a family meeting.’
DCI Goode spent four years investigating and bringing to justice four men, all relatives, who were involved in the case of Banaz Mahmoud, a 19-year-old Kurdish girl who was murdered at her family home in South London in 2006.
DCI Goode pursued two of the suspects to Iraq and they were extradited back to Britain and tried in court. Banaz’s fate was sealed when she was spotted kissing her boyfriend outside Morden Tube Station in South London.
She had been allowed by her family to leave her violent husband but when she started seeing someone else, it was too much for their honour.

Her father first tried to kill her after her murder had been sanctioned at a meeting of the extended family. That attempt was unsuccessful and Banaz ended up in hospital.
DCI Goode said Banaz recounted her terrible ordeal to the police.
She said: ‘The officer simply did not understand or believe what she was being told and had no knowledge of honour-based violence.

The detective showed me a letter Banaz wrote and sent to the police in which she named the relatives she believed were out to kill her. But Banaz was terrified and refused to press charges. With no where else to turn to she went home.
Less than a month later, Banaz was killed on the floor of her own living room in the most shocking and violent way involving rape and strangulation.
Two of her relatives were arrested and taken into custody where they were secretly recorded boasting that they had hidden her body more than 100 miles away.
‘Banaz’s body was buried six feet under a house,’ DCI Goode.

‘They had gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure we did not find her.’
A ccording to Nazir Afzal, of the Crown Prosecution Service and who is the lead prosecutor on honour crime, there are between ten and 12 honour killings a year in Britain.
‘But we don’t know the true figure, how many unmarked graves there are,’ Mr Afzal admitted.
He described a conversation he had recently had with a 20-year-old man.
‘He told me that in his society, a man is like a piece of gold, a woman is like a piece of silk. If you drop gold in the mud, you can clean it. But a piece of silk is ruined.’
At the national helpline for honour crime victims, many of the calls involve Asian girls afraid of being forced into marriage.
I listened as staff tried to arrange protection for a frightened 15-year-old taken out of school by her parents and beaten after they found a text on her mobile they believed was from a boy. She was terrified she was about to be taken to Pakistan and married off.
The Coalition government is now considering making forced marriage a criminal offence on the basis that many experts say it is the root cause of honour crime.
Many believe that the key to preventing honour abuse in the long term lies in education.
Yet Jasvinder Sanghera approached more than 100 schools before finding one that was prepared to let her talk to pupils about forced marriage and honour-based abuse.
She says: ‘The schools all say the same old thing — we don’t want to offend communities.’


Tuesday 20 March 2012

Symbols of tolerance in India's Ajmer

It was sometime in the 1560s, a band of wandering minstrels was exhorting Moinuddin Chishti to be their guiding star, when the great Moghul emperor Akbar heard the strains of the melodious music … he knew he had to go to Ajmer.
From then on, every year, for years to come, Akbar wound his way to Ajmer in Rajasthan to pray at the shrine of the Sufi saint and distribute alms among the poor. Whether it was to celebrate a battle or pray for a son, the emperor looked to Moinuddin Chishti. Sometimes he would undertake the journey of 300km from Agra, other times from Fatehpur.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's father did not want him to follow in his footsteps and become a qawwal (devotional singer). Instead, he saw visions of his son being a doctor. But Nusrat had other dreams — they painted another picture. The child did not understand why a white shrine appeared before him as he shut his eyes at night. His relative explained why, and Nusrat knew instantly his calling had come. In 1979, the mighty qawwal Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan realised his dream: he sang at the dargah (shrine) of Moinuddin Chishti.

In early 2011, Bollywood's emperor-in-waiting Shah Rukh Khan travelled to Ajmer. He asked nothing for himself because God had given him enough, but prayed for family and friends. A few weeks later, the emperor, Amitabh Bachchan, journeyed to Ajmer after a 40-year-old wish was fulfilled.

So what pulls one of history's greatest conquerors, one of qawwali's (genre of devotional music) finest exponents and two of Bollywood's biggest giants to Ajmer? What possibly could Akbar, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan have in common? One craved for land, wealth and power, the other longed to be lost in the love of the Almighty through his song and the other two seek to enthrall millions around the world. But then again, what brings the billions of Muslims, Hindus and Christians of India each year to Ajmer?

Moinuddin Chishti was born in 1138-39 in Sistan in Persia. His parents died when he was 15 or 16. The boy inherited an orchard and a millstone to eke out a living, but he was drawn towards spirituality after meeting a dervish Ebrahim Qandoozi. The young Chishti set out to find a guide and was led to Osman Harouni, a scholar of great repute. He stayed with his teacher for many long years, mastering religious studies. And when the time was right, Harouni and Chishti left for Haj and then proceeded to Madinah. It was there that a longing was born to settle in Ajmer.

Rajasthan or Rajputana, as it was then known, was a treasure. Kings and conquerors desired Rajputana. But Chishti wanted nothing of kings and conquerors: he wanted to serve the poor, the hungry, the wretched, the unwanted, the widow, the orphan.
He settled on a hill close to Ana Sagar Lake. Chishti was about 50 then; Rajputana was ruled by the formidable Prithviraj Chauhan; the people of the barren land were suspicious of a fakir, who they did not know was a scholar, a philosopher, a man who had paid obeisance to the greatness of another Sufi, Abdul Qader Jeelani of Iraq. The plot had only begun to unfold.

History is full of stories of how Prithviraj Chauhan grew suspicious of this fakir, and even asked one of his councillors Ajai Pal, supposedly the master of magic, to neutralise him. The fakir won over both king and councillor — not through magic or violence but through his undeterred belief in peace. The path of non-violence and love was the essence of his thought. He was steadfast in his conviction that bringing happiness to the heart was the supreme prayer. No one would go hungry from his doorstep as food was prepared all day. Chishti himself fasted regularly and ate sparingly. And because of his complete devotion to the poor and hungry, he is called Garib Nawaz or ‘helper of the poor'.

Chishti's philosophy is simple: you must be as generous as the river, as warm as the sun and as hospitable as the earth. He set up the Chishti order in India, said to be founded by Abu Ishaq Shami of Syria who introduced Sufism to the town of Chisht, a little distance away from Herat in present Afghanistan
The Indian subcontinent in the 12th century was a cauldron of political tumult. The raids by Mahmud of Ghori, the resistance of the Rajputs and battle for Delhi — the land was turbulent. But Moinuddin Chishti spurned politics, had little time for king and courtier. His sole mission was to soothe human pain. The soul was to be fed through prayer, tolerance and love. Devotional music was an avenue to realise the Almighty. If there was no humanity, no compassion, no understanding, no consideration, there was no life.

Streams of people came to him every day, some looking for spiritual healing, some for emotional sustenance, and some were just plain hungry. Chishti sheltered them all: he healed wounds and fed empty stomachs. For about 40 years, he devoted himself to the people of Ajmer and surrounding areas, and as he grew old, the question was who would fill the void that would be left behind by this larger than life man. Delhi was to be the next stage. Another great Sufi and his favourite disciple — a courtier humoured by his kings, a man of words, a poet with a love of music — were to change the course of history.

Chishti passed away in 1230 and was buried in his prayer room. For centuries later kings, courtiers, leaders, people from all faiths have flocked to Chishti's grave in Ajmer. Two massive cauldrons were presented to his shrine — one by emperor Akbar and the other by his son and successor Jahangir. One of the cauldrons can cook 4,800kg of food, while the other 2,400kg. All the food (langar) is distributed among the poor. In 1911, the British government built a roof over the water tank to commemorate Queen Mary's visit to the shrine.

Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki of Delhi carried on the work of Chishti and he handed the baton over to Baba Farid or Ganjshakr of Pakpattan in Pakistan. Baba Farid believed in the same principles inculcated by Chishti, but as he spread tolerance, love and compassion among his people, he waited for someone to come.
Nizamuddin's affluent family was based in Bukhara, but they had to flee the land because of the constant Mongol raids that grew in ferocity and ruthlessness. They moved to Badaun in central India. Nizamuddin, born in 1238, lost his father when he was a boy and was brought up by his mother, Bibi Zulaikha, a deeply religious woman, who instilled piety in the child. They were impoverished — for days there would be nothing to eat. When Nizamuddin would return from school hungry, he would ask his mother what there was to eat. And she would reply: "Today, we are the guests of God." Nizamuddin knew then there was not a morsel at home.

And just as emperor Akbar had heard of Chishti after a band of minstrels was exhorting him, Nizamuddin heard of Baba Farid through one such singer. He knew he had to go to his master. And when the time was right, he travelled to Ajodhan to see Baba Farid. He stayed with him for months, imbibing the principles of tolerance, love of all human beings across all faiths and compassion. Nizamuddin healed the human heart. His principle was simple: if an enemy places thorns before you and you place thorns in his path, there will be thorns all around. There could be no room for hate.

Nizamuddin finally settled in Ghiyaspur in Delhi on the banks of the Jamuna River. Like Chishti, he led an austere life and propagated the purity of thought. The root of the word Sufi is traced to Safa — Arabic for purity. Some believe it means wisdom, while others say Suf was the woollen cloak worn by ascetics.
Food flowed aplenty as people gave generously. The kitchen of his home was busy through the day, feeding the poor and hungry. He, like Chishti fasted all day and ate very little. Food would not go down Nizamuddin's throat if someone had gone to sleep hungry. His days were spent in prayer and healing the hurt.
He abhorred the politics of Delhi and had little time for kings and emperors. Though several expressed their desire to see him, Nizamuddin would not entertain them. He wanted nothing of king and courtier, save for one: Amir Khusro.

Nizamuddin, like Chishti, Kaki and Baba Farid, believed in Sama, a Sufi practice of listening to music, as a form of prayer. The birth of Sama is credited to another great Sufi Rumi, who also lived in the 13th century. But Khusro was to give Nizamuddin something special — the qawwali. Derived from the Arabic word Qual meaning utterance of the Prophet, Khusro wrote Qawwali in Persian and Hindavi, languages spoken in India in the 13th century. Khusro spoke of divine love — where the lover longed for union with her maker. He once wrote of Chishti: My courtyard is blessed as my love has come home. If two lovers spend the monsoon together, the night is blessed for the bride. The monsoon in which my love doesn't come home, let that monsoon be set on fire.

Nizamuddin was indulgent towards Khusro, who made him his master at the age of eight. Of Turkish descent, Khusro served his political masters, but his heart was with Nizamuddin. Khusro was away in Bengal on a campaign when Nizamuddin passed away. On hearing the news, he rushed back to Delhi and went to his master's grave. Stricken by grief, he said: The fair maiden lies on a bed of roses; Her face covered with a lock of hair; Let us O' Khusro, return home, the dark dusk blankets the four corners of the world.

Such was the love between master and disciple that Khusro passed away of grief within six months of Nizamuddin's death in 1325. They are buried a few metres apart in a shrine in Delhi in an area named Nizamuddin, what was once called Ghiyaspur.
The picture was now complete. Nizamuddin and Khusro were testament to what Chishti professed — the complete love between human beings, no matter what difference there might be. Nizamuddin was an impoverished fakir, who spent day and night in prayer, in healing hearts, in shunning what kings and courtiers pined for — power. Khusro was a courtier who served king after king, and yet there was a primordial bond. There was a meeting point: the love of the Almighty and the love of humanity.
Both Chishti's and Nizamuddin's death anniversaries are celebrated as Urs [an Arabic word meaning wedding celebration] as there is no grief at death because the disciple is finally reunited with his maker. The lover's longing for the Almighty sees fruition. And that is ultimate joy, the Sufi's dream.

So why do the millions of Indians — Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs flock to Ajmer? Why do they stream into Nizamuddin's dargah? Why do the rich and the famous, leaders and politicians, make it a point to visit Chishti's grave? Do these shrines soothe troubled souls? Do these shrines fulfill dreams? Do these shrines answer prayers? Perhaps, they do. But what is certain is that the shrines are homes to humanity. The convictions and beliefs of two men born centuries ago are alive and provide refuge to the poor, the hungry, the wretched, the widow and the orphan. Eight centuries on, no one goes hungry from their doorsteps.
The lamps in the shrines will always glow because they are symbols of unity, of religious tolerance. They are symbols of kindness and compassion. They are testimony to hope.

Monday 19 March 2012

British Muslim women willing to share husbands as they struggle to find good men

As they struggle to find suitable husbands, successful British Muslim women have shown a willingness to become second or third wives reports the British newspaper The Daily Mail.

The UK-based charity, Islamic Sharia Council, said that it is receiving a high number of queries from Muslim women struggling to find suitable partners, the newspaper reported Sunday.

In addition to the demographics working against Muslim women, the Daily Mail said that many of the women prefer to keep their high-profile jobs than look after their husbands.

Mizan Raja, 35, who organizes Muslim marriages around the world, told another British newspaper, The Sunday Times, that he has received hundreds of calls in the past six months from women asking about becoming second wives.

“The demand for these relationships is led by the women, not the men. In one generation women have become educated, entrepreneurial and professional.
“The Muslim community is struggling with this, how do you cope with women who wear trousers?” he said.

He added that many Muslim men just wanted a “homemaker”, to come home to a clean house and a plate of food on the table.

A report by The Guardian newspaper in January also collaborated how Muslim women in the UK were struggling to find suitable husbands. The paper described demographic imbalance where women outnumbered men, making the task of finding a partner that much harder.

While polygamy is illegal in the UK, Muslim men are allowed to take up to four wives.

Islam allows men to marry women from the Abrahamic faiths but Muslim women are not allowed to do the same unless the prospective men are willing to convert to Islam.

The Guardian said that Muslim men can marry women from their countries’ of origin whereas for Muslim women, “marrying men from their country of origin is rarely considered an option as they tend to want social, economic and intellectual equals or superiors.” source

Sunday 18 March 2012

Hadith of the day

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "Our Lord descends each night to the earth's sky when there remains the final third of the night, and He says: Who is saying a prayer to Me that I may answer it? Who is asking something of Me that I may give it him? Who is asking forgiveness of Me that I may forgive him?" [Hadith Qudsi 35]

Saturday 17 March 2012

Moroccan girl commits suicide after being forced to marry her rapist

A 16-year-old Moroccan girl has committed suicide after a judge ordered her to marry her rapist, according to Moroccan media reports.

Last year Amina al-Filali’s parents filed charges against their daughter’s rapist, a man 10 years older than her but it was only recently that a judge in the northern city of Tangier decided that instead of punishing him, the two must be married.

The court’s decision to forcibly marry Amina to her rapist was supposed to “resolve” the damage of sexual violation against her, but it led to more suffering in the unwelcoming home of her rapist/husband’s family.

“After I filed a complaint against him, he said he will marry her. And when he married her and took her to his family's home he mistreated her, beating her and leaving her starve with no food,” Zahra Mallim, Amina’s mother told the Morocco's 2M TV.

Traumatized by the painful experience of rape, Amina decided to end her life by consuming rat poison in the house of her husband’s family, according to the Moroccan daily al-Massae.

According to the newspaper, this type of forced marriage is rooted in local rural traditions to safeguard the honor of girls who are raped.

Moroccan penal code exempts a rapist from punishment if he agrees to marry his victim.

“When the judge said they will marry, I did not agree, but I could not challenge the law. I wanted that man (the rapist) to go to prison,” Lahsan al-Filali, Amina’s father, told the 2M.

“At first I did not agree to this marriage, but when the court of family affairs called me and pressured me, I agreed,” he added.

Feminists have long demanded an amendment to this article.

Hafida Elbaz, director of the Women’s Solidarity Association told a-Massae that the article provides an opportunity for a perpetrator to avoid punishment.

The story has widely spread on Twitter and on Facebook with many in Morocco demanding action against the judge who issued the ruling.

Tuesday 13 March 2012


Ruqayyah is the second daughter born to Prophet Mohammed ﷺ and Lady Khadejah (RA). She and Um Kulthoom, the third daughter, were very close as Zainab was a bit older than them and Fatima was much younger. These two sisters grew up as if they were twins and shared almost everything.

Ruqayyah and Um Kulthoom got engaged at the same time to brothers, who just happened to be the sons of Abu Lahab. Abu Talib, the Prophet’s ﷺ uncle, came to him and asked for his daughters’ hand in marriage on behalf of Abu Lahab. Prophet Mohammed ﷺ asked him for some time so that he can go ask his daughters. They had a small family meeting with the girls and Khadejah (RA), who was hesitant because she knew how heartless and cruel Abu Lahab’s wife was and didn’t want her to be the mother in law to her daughters. Nevertheless, they all agreed to the proposal and the marriage contracts were signed in an environment of extreme anxiety on everyone’s behalf.
Soon afterwards, the Prophethood descended upon Mohammed ﷺ and everything changed for them. Khadejah (RA) became even more worried about the fate of her daughters as Abu Lahab and his wife started to show extreme cruelty to the Muslims. However, fate worked in their favor when Abu Lahab, in order to punish Mohammed ﷺ, ordered his sons to break off the marriage (which had not yet become official) to Mohammed’s ﷺ daughters. The girls went home to their parents in great distress.
However, the disbelievers did not get the satisfaction they were looking for because Mohammed ﷺ taught his daughters that everything happens for a reason and there is something good that will come out of a bad situation. So the entire family took it really well and put their trust in God.
Sure enough, someone great did come along by the name of Uthman ibn Affan, one of the most dignified, gracious, righteous, bashful, noble, wealthy men of all of Quraysh. Uthman was very well known in Quraysh for his lineage and wealth but he was also the most loved man. He was so loved, that the mothers in Quraysh would sing a lullaby to their children that went, “By Allah, I love you, as the Quraysh love Uthman.”

There was once a story reported by Az-Zubayr that the Prophet ﷺ had sent a man with a gift to Uthman and Ruqayyah and the man came back late. The Prophet ﷺ told him, “Do you want me to inform you about what delayed you?” The man nodded. “You stood there looking at Uthman and Ruqayyah, admiring their beauty,” replied the Prophet ﷺ.
When the persecution of the Muslims started to get too intense, Prophet Mohammed ﷺ allowed whoever could to migrate to Abbysinia where there was a king who would protect them and wouldn’t allow anyone to be wronged in his presence. This king was Negus. Uthman and Ruqayyah were among those who decided to migrate but Ruqayyah found it so hard to say goodbye to her family and was crying and scared.
The trip to Abysinnia was long and difficult. They had to go through two deserts, a deep sea and the African jungles, all in the scorching heat. First they went from Mecca to the Jeddah coast where they boarded a ship that took them to the Abbysinian coast. From then, they traveled inland until they reached palace of the king and informed him of their migration to his land.
Back in Mecca, it wasn’t long before the Quraysh found out about the migration and sent some delegates who knew the king with gifts to persuade him to turn the migraters over to them. Once the delegates arrived though, there was nothing they could say to convince the king to surrender the refugees. So one of the delegates claimed that these people were saying negative things about Jesus and Mary. This made the king angry and he sent guards to the Muslim camp to bring them to the palace.

The Muslims became very worried that they were summoned but Ja’far stood up and said that he will speak on everyone’s behalf. The king questioned Ja’far about leaving the religion of their forefathers. Ja’far answered that they were people that lived in ignorance and corruption until Mohammed ﷺ came among them and brought light and commanded them to worship Allah. Then the king asked them what they say about Jesus and Mary. Ja’far answered that they believe that Jesus was a messenger of God and recited the first few verses of Soorat Maryam. Upon hearing this, the king declared that he would never turn these people over to Quraysh. The delegates tried appealing to the king through other church members but they were not successful and went home empty handed.

The Muslims lived in Abbysinia for months and some of them years. They took up jobs according to their professions and were not a burden on the king or his people. There were times of stress, like when the king almost got overthrown by his nephew who hated the Muslims, but overall, the time they spent there was peaceful. However, they were all still thinking about home, and none more than Ruqayyah, who was yearning to see her sisters and parents. Then news came that Hamza and Umar bin Al Khattab had accepted Islam and some saw this as a good time to come home. They thought surely if these two great men had become Muslims then they would be safe. Ruqqayah and Uthman were among the first group to leave Abbysinia.
When they arrived in Mecca, they were disappointed and stunned to see the extent at which the brutality against the Muslims had gotten. Ruqqayah immediately went to her family’s house and kissed her sisters and father. She then asked about her mother only to learn that she had passed away while Ruqqayah was in Abbysinia. This broke her heart and she wept profusely. She prayed for her mother and resigned her fate to Allah.

It was not long before Ruqqayah became pregnant and gave birth to a boy, Abdullah. The baby filled their life with joy after so much hardship and sorrow. When Abdullah was two years old, Ruqqayah, Uthman joined those that migrated to Madinah.
However, as all believers go through trials, Ruqayyah was about to endure another very difficult trial.
{Who has created death and life, that He may test you [to see] which of you is best in deed} [Quran 67:2]

One day Abdullah was sleeping in his cradle when a rooster pecked him in the eyes. This led to an infection that claimed his life a few days later. Ruqqayah was so distraught by the death of her son that she became very ill. Uthman lovingly and affectionately stood by her and took care of her while she was sick, but eventually she passed away. As Uthman was kissing her forehead, the announcement was made in the city of the Muslim’s victory in the battle of Badr.
Prophet Mohammed ﷺ came back stunned to find his daughter dead. He and Fatima wept for her and stood by consoling each other and Uthman.
The Prophet ﷺ sorrowfully performed the funeral prayers. He returned to his home after burying his daughter carrying his struggle with him and continued to deliver his message. Uthman later married Um Kulthoom because she was so close in character to Ruqqayah. May Allah be pleased with all of them.

Monday 12 March 2012

Legacy of great Muslim women leaders of the past needed today

Muslim women are steeped in stubborn stereotypes as meek, oppressed and in need of rescue. Recurring images beamed into our homes and phones from abroad of Muslim women being denied access to education, the ability to drive or even the right to cast a vote or run for political office only serve to reinforce such widely held misconceptions; examples of empowered Muslim women (particularly those donning the hijab) living here or overseas seldom enjoy the same quality air time. As such, our views remain skewed on the subject.

Further, such pervasive generalizations about Islam’s inherent oppression of Muslim women are not only offensive but ultimately also unhelpful to the female subjects they purport to describe. This is because secular Western feminist notions, often viewed as the cure-all remedy for alleged misogynistic practices in the Muslim world, are frequently met with suspicion and rejected by Muslim men and women alike. They may view such ideas as unwanted foreign intrusions into their domestic, religious and family affairs.

Where Islam continues to hold political, social and religious currency in society, the human rights agenda can be effectively advanced through re-education initiatives regarding “proper” Muslim women roles through a new yet sound Islamic jurisprudential lens.

Specifically, Muslims can further the human rights agenda by re-examining the lives of the very first Muslim women who lived during Islam’s formative period as more than historical figures but as modern Islamic models to be emulated today. Indeed, these women embody viable political, social and financial models with modern applicability.

This point cannot be overstated.

While many Muslims around the world learn about such Muslim women in grade school, their relevance to contemporary time is frequently overlooked. Yet, by learning about and celebrating their examples, men and women can better understand and build upon notions of “proper” Muslim women roles while using a culturally authentic paradigm.

Indeed, Islam can empower women as is evidenced by numerous instances of religiously observant Muslim women who strive towards and achieve professional, financial and social success in accordance with their understanding of religious strictures. As for those Muslim women who are deprived of similar opportunities, Islamic law can be used to empower them.

Consider, for example, Aisha bint Abu Bakr who was a female scholar of great eminence and a voice of authority in Islamic jurisprudence almost 1500 years ago. By way of background, Aisha was the daughter of Abu Bakr, one of the Prophet Muhammad’s closest companions, one of the first converts to Islam and the first to assume leadership as Caliph over the Muslim community following the Prophet Muhammad’s death. During her marriage to the Prophet Muhammad, the couple developed a close relationship and it was in Aisha’s arms that the Prophet Muhammad died in 632 CE.

This is to say that Aisha bint Abu Bakr is accorded a highly deferential status in Sunni Islam.

Now consider this: Prophet Muhammad fostered Aisha’s education and nurtured her intellectual pursuits. She was considered more knowledgeable than most of her male contemporaries in matters related to Qur’anic interpretation, poetry, medicine and history and men and women alike studied under her instruction. Aisha also rendered legal decisions (fatwa) and delivered speeches publically, powerfully and eloquently.

During the Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime, Aisha participated in the early battles fought by the new Muslim converts against the Arab pagans who persecuted members of the fledgling faith community. During the Battle of Uhud, for example, she distributed water bags to the Muslim combatants on the battlefield.

Following the Prophet Muhammad’s death, Aisha’s role became increasingly important. When the third Caliph Othman ibn Affan was assassinated, the Muslim community’s underlying political system was jeopardized by internal division and conflict. Aisha raised a leading and quite public voice against Ali, the fourth Caliph, in 656 CE. She delivered a public address at a mosque located in Mecca where she swore to avenge the murdered Caliph’s death.

As a result, she garnered the support of many Muslims across Arabia, and eventually led an army into the Battle of the Camel. The speeches she delivered during the battle were noted for their force and candor. Following her ultimate defeat on the battlefield, she engaged in intellectual pursuits and religious instruction.

In point of fact, Aisha’s life represents a powerful model for Muslim women’s excellence in scholarship, political engagement and even military leadership. She excelled in public speaking, commanded an army on the battlefield and instructed both men and women in Islamic jurisprudence.

For those Muslims weary of Western feminism and where Islam continues to hold political, social and religious currency in society, Aisha’s standard provides a culturally authentic paradigm for Muslim women seeking a leading role in the political, judicial or religious spheres. Her standing as the Prophet Muhammad’s beloved wife and the daughter of the first Caliph is incontrovertible among Sunni adherents as is her predominant role in government, academia and the law.

There is also Sumiyyah bint Khabbat: one of the first people to believe in the monotheistic message concerning the One God of Abraham, Jacob and Joseph which was being propagated by the Prophet Mohammed. She did not enjoy the benefit of wealth or political stature. In fact, she lived with her husband and son under the control of an influential pagan family.

As such, her then pagan owners demanded she renounce her newfound faith and she refused. As a result she was systematically tortured and eventually killed by a spear through her heart. The story of Sumiyyah’s sacrifice is well known to Muslims and undermines misconceptions — in the East and the West — of women as weak beings.

We should perhaps reflect upon Ramlah Umme Salim whom the Prophet Muhammad stationed with the army during the early Muslim battles against the Arab pagans. She helped supply water to the soldiers and nursed the wounded. In this manner, she participated in the Battles of Uhud and Khyber.

Further, Nusayba Umme Amara is credited with being the first female Muslim soldier during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Nusayba fought in the Battles of Uhud, Hunain, Yamama and Hudaibiyah. Initially, she accompanied the Prophet Muhammad to battle to provide assistance in a similar manner as Aisha and Ramlah, described above.

However, during the Battle of Uhud, the Prophet Muhammad’s archers deserted their posts. In response, Nusayba physically defended him with her own sword. In a famous tradition Prophet Muhammad is recorded as saying that when he turned to his left, he saw Nusayba; when he turned to his right, he saw Nusayba. She in fact sustained a deep wound to her shoulder as a result of combat in that battle.

During the governance of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, Nusayba fought alongside her son in the Battle of Yamama where she lost one of her hands in addition to receiving 12 wounds. Nusayba’s contribution to Islamic history as a capable female soldier on the battlefield is in stark contradistinction to patriarchal assertions that a Muslim woman’s sole rightful place is exclusively within the confines of her home.

Finally one would be remiss to ignore Shafa Bint Adwiya who was an intelligent woman skilled in politics and respected for her wisdom (some 1500 years ago). Prior to converting to Islam, she used to administer medical treatment to patients. Following her conversion, she asked the Prophet Muhammad if she could continue and he encouraged her to do so. The Prophet Muhammad also asked Shafa to teach one of his wives how to read and write.

Thus time and again, the Prophetic position on Muslim women’s education and professional contributions was a positive one. This lesson is particularly relevant for the female population of particular Muslim countries where low literacy rates and poverty continue to be a problem. The Prophetic model also stands in contradistinction to contemporary messaging by certain minority extremist groups against the education of women.

Shafa’s skills were not limited to teaching and medicine exclusively. The second Caliph Umar ibn Khattab, who is accorded great deference in Islamic tradition, highly valued Shafa’s opinion and consulted with her.

Further, he placed her in a leadership position by entrusting her with the administration of the marketplace in Medina. As such, she was responsible for ensuring that all business transactions were in accord with the law. She protected consumers against fraud and other unsavory practices.

It is worth noting that Shafa was so successful in this post that the Caliph decided to appoint another woman (Samra bint Nuhayk) to oversee the market in Makkah as well. The significance of these appointments is underscored by the central role that the market or bazaar played in Arabian economies at that time. Shafa’s contributions create another leadership model for Muslim women today.

That the highly revered Umar ibn Khattab, commonly described by devout Muslims around the world as “rightly guided,” appointed women to leadership posts should serve as a powerful narrative in opposition to those who misunderstand women’s engagement in governance as shameful or improper.

The women described above are representative of many others who lived, fought, learned, worked and led during Islam’s foundational period, and beyond. Their male companions, and the Caliphs who assumed Muslim rule following the demise of Prophet Muhammad, treated them with respect, admiration, appreciation — and, as equals.

Indeed, the Qur’an which is considered by Muslims to be the literal word of God explains that the sole factor rendering one person better than another is her or his character or piety – not, for instance, gender, race or socio-economic status.

Moreover the lives of the first Muslim women represent valuable models transcending time and physical boundaries. Aisha bint Abu Bakr’s life contributions illustrate the tremendous impact women can have in the areas of governance, military, academia, religion and the law. Sumiyyah bint Khabbat sacrificed her life rather than her heartfelt convictions, and as such serves as a steadfast testament of the potential of women’s inner strength. Additionally, Shafa bint Adwiyya presents a leadership model for women in elected or appointed office, government and commerce.

As noted above, such Islamic models can serve as powerful, culturally authentic tools in advancing the human rights agenda towards increased female empowerment in the political, social and economic spheres within Muslim societies and communities.

Notably the contributions of these women to the Muslim community are undeniable and to some may even appear almost mythical. Some may mistakenly subscribe to the erroneous notion that contemporary Muslim women cannot attain such great stature and that these are just the tales of Muslim legends without modern day applicability.

But, they would be wrong.

In marking the one year anniversary of the populist uprisings in the Middle East and in anticipation of next month’s commemoration of women’s contributions to society, it is worth noting one singular fact: from Muslim women’s pivotal roles in the Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan, and other revolutions to leading American Muslim female voices in U.S. law, religion, medicine, academia and a myriad of professions, a number of contemporary Muslim women are the modern realization of the continuing legacy of strong Muslim female leadership. They may, in fact, include your colleague or neighbor. Indeed, it is past time for us to view Muslim women with new eyes – they are not necessarily the stereotyped victim, they can also be the heroic protagonist much like they were some 1500 years ago.

The first Muslim female pioneers are more than mere history lessons: unlike persistent stereotypes about Islam’s oppression of Muslim women, their lives provide viable tools to help empower Muslim women in so many ways.

Friday 9 March 2012

Shaping the Eyebrows

As-Salamu `alaykum. Is it wrong to shape one’s eyebrows if they are too broad?

Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Dear questioner, thanks a lot for your question, which reflects your care to have a clear view of the teachings of Islam. Allah commands Muslims to refer to people of knowledge to become well acquainted with the teachings of Islam in all aspects of life.

As for the issue of shaping one’s eyebrows, it is controversial among Muslim scholars. Some scholars consider it permissible to shape or trim one’s eyebrows if they are excessively long or thick for the purpose of appearing neat and tidy.

Responding to your question, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:

There is a difference of opinion among scholars regarding whether one is permitted in Islam to shape or trim one’s eyebrows.

According to a group of scholars, shaping one’s eyebrows is considered forbidden, and they cite the following statement of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him): “Allah has cursed women who tattoo their bodies, wear false hair, those who pluck their eyebrows, and those who artificially widen gaps between their teeth.” They say that shaping the eyebrows or trimming them falls under the same rule.

As opposed to the above, other scholars consider shaping eyebrows or trimming them to be permissible. They say that the prohibition in the above hadith specifically refers to plucking eyebrows, and it is prohibited because it is akin to mutilation, and also it is more likely to result in defaming one’s face. As opposed to this, shaping the eyebrows if they are excessively long or thinning them if they are excessively thick, is enhancing Allah’s creation rather than mutilating it. Its analogy, therefore, is to trimming the mustache or cutting hair, and so on, which are not only permissible but may also be recommended.

In light of the above, according to these scholars, it is considered permissible to shape or trim one’s eyebrows if they are excessively long or thick for the purpose of appearing neat and tidy.

Allah Almighty knows best. source

Tuesday 6 March 2012

From a child tutored by eunuchs to a Quran teacher: The story of Jameela

Jameela, born a transgender in 1941, has never felt comfortable in her entourage in Pakistan.

Her mother died when she was four years old, and her father sent her to live with her stepmother in Karachi.
At her all-girl middle school, Jameela was constantly teased for her looks and style.

So when a eunuch named Pasham Fakir came to her house and asked her stepmother to hand her over to him, and despite being refused, Jameela went without telling anyone.

Pasham took the 10-year-old girl to his house in Garhi Yaseen near Shikarpur where she began her ‘training’ as a eunuch.

Jameela recalled that period to The Express Tribune newspaper in Pakistan: “I lived with him for three years but I wanted to get away because I didn’t like his company. Luckily, the fakir (spiritual guru) took me to Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s shrine for the annual Urs celebrations, where eunuchs come together from every part of the country.”

This is where Jameela met her new guru, Fakir Ameer Zadi, also known as Saboo, who adopted her after paying Rs5,000 to Pasham.
Saboo took Jameela to Sukkur. With his permission, Jameela purchased a house at Takkar Muhalla in 1970.

One day, Jameela learned from the newspaper that her brother had been killed in a robbery. “His death was a turning point in my life. A female neighbor taught me how to read the Holy Quran. With Allah’s grace, things just fell into place for me after this,” she told Sarfaraz Memon from the Express Tribune.

Jameela began teaching her neighbor’s child the Quran and soon the number of students grew day by day.

Today, she has a total of 450 students, who she teaches in seven different shifts without any charge, reported the Express Tribune. “A student’s mother sends Jameela two meals a day and offers to wash and iron her clothes. Since she teaches her students free of charge, their parents give her money and clothes as gifts. Jameela said she was lucky enough to perform Hajj four times and Umrah once,” writes Memon.

“Allah created me the way I am, but nowadays being a eunuch has become a profession,” she said with regret, adding, “teenage boys turn into fake eunuchs by taking hormonal injections and this is a big sin” she said.

Jameela’s story raises many concerns about the conditions, rights and treatment of sexual minorities in Pakistan.

In a recent article published in The Nation, Shahnaz Khan wrote that eunuchs “are one of the most marginalized groups, not only ostracized by society, but also abandoned by their own parents at a young age.
Under these circumstances, recent news of the Supreme Court taking notice of this situation gives some hope that their lot is about to change. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has directed that the department that handles national identity cards, NADRA, create a column on the registration card where they can list their sex as she-male. Also, parents abandoning transgender children and gurus forcing them into prostitution will face criminal charges."

Last year, Reuters reports that orders went out from the Supreme Court to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to enroll eunuchs as voters, a development that accords the basic right to a much mistreated community. It is estimated there are between 80,000 and 300,000 members of the transgender community, locally referred to as hijras, in Pakistan.

Monday 5 March 2012

The face of the Gujarat riots meets his 'saviour'

How does it feel, I ask World Press Photo award winning photographer Arko Datta, to meet the subject of his best-known picture for the first time?

Ten years ago, Arko's picture of a tailor named Qutubuddin Ansari became the face of religious riots which left nearly 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead in Gujarat.
In the picture, Mr Ansari, then 28 years old, is standing on a narrow veranda. He is wearing a light checked shirt stained with dried blood. His faintly bloodshot eyes are glazed with fear. His hands are folded in an expression of obeisance, hiding a mouth agape. It's a disturbing study of fear and helplessness.
"An Indian Muslim stranded in the first floor of his house, along with a few other Muslims and surrounded by a Hindu mob begs to the Rapid Action Force (Indian paramilitary) personnel to rescue him at Sone-ki-Chal in Ahmedabad, March 01, 2002," said the caption of the picture put out by Reuters news agency, for whom Arko worked at the time.

The Gujarat riots were among the worst in India since Independence. The Hindu nationalist BJP state government, led by Narendra Modi, was accused of not doing enough to bring the violence under control.
Ten years later, Arko and I are standing under the same veranda of an awkward looking two-storey building in a crowded lane, running alongside a busy highway in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's main city.
Next door, literally risen from the ashes, are a motorcycle showroom and a sooty garage. A rebuilt madrassah, which was gutted during the riots, is packed with cheery students.
A new flyover loops over the highway, offering the only change in a drab landscape of squat homes and grubby shops.
The photographer and his subject have just met. There has been a limp shaking of hands and both have hugged each other hesitantly. Arko told him how glad he was to see him. Mr Ansari had smiled shyly.
Now, Arko is telling us that the meeting is bringing back a lot of memories, some good, others bad.
The unchecked rioting had entered its second consecutive day when Arko and a bunch of fellow photographers found themselves outside the building where Mr Ansari was trapped on the morning of 1 March 2002.
Earlier they had hitched a ride with a van full of soldiers trying to bring the city under control.
When the van entered the highway before midday, Arko says, the sky was black with smoke from the fires and the road was strewn with bricks and stones. The military van moved with its headlights on.
"It was darkness at noon. There was frenzy all around. The city had gone mad."
Mobs armed with swords and stones from Hindu neighbourhoods across the highway were crossing over and attacking and setting fire to Muslim shops and homes on the other side. People watched this grisly show from their homes across the road.
The van sputtered on past the building where Mr Ansari stood when Arko looked back for a moment and saw his subject for the first time. He looked through the telephoto lens, and clicked, "three or four shots possibly, all in a fraction of a second".

'Defining image'

Then he turned around and asked the soldiers to stop the van.
"Looking through the fog of smoke, we spotted the group of people trapped on the balcony of a burning house. We told the soldiers that we were not moving until they rescued them," says Arko.
I pick up the rest of the story from Mr Ansari, who is listening carefully. A curious crowd collects around us.
"We were trapped on the first floor for over a day, and we couldn't go down because fire was raging below.

"And when I saw the military van pass by, I thought, 'This is our last chance'. I began shouting Sahib! Sahib! to the soldiers and folded my hands, and when I did that they looked back and returned," he says.
A few soldiers were immediately positioned outside the house, and later in the day, as the fires below ebbed, Mr Ansari and his friends came down a stairwell built outside the house.
Next morning, Arko's picture of Mr Ansari had made it to the front pages of newspapers around the world. They called it "the defining image of the Gujarat carnage".
The problem was Mr Ansari didn't even know about it until a week later, when a foreign journalist hunted him down in a relief camp for riot victims, carrying a newspaper with the picture across an entire page.

"Then my life went into a tailspin. The picture followed me wherever I went. It haunted me, and drove me out of my job, and my state," he says.
He ran away to Malegaon in neighbouring Maharashtra to live with his sisters and had been working there for a fortnight when a co-worker walked into the shop with a newspaper carrying his picture. His boss didn't want any trouble and fired him immediately.
Next year, he left for Calcutta, but returned after a few months when he heard that his mother had a heart problem.
Over the next few years, Mr Ansari lost half-a-dozen jobs as people recognised him and journalists hounded him relentlessly. Political parties used the picture to woo Muslim votes. A group blamed for dozens of bomb attacks across India used the picture in an e-mail claiming to have carried out an attack. Muslim organisations freely put out adverts using the picture.

The picture brought a few happier moments. The owner of a clothes shop in Calcutta recognised him and gave him a discount on a T-shirt. An officer pulled him out of a queue for picking up papers to vaccinate his mother for her trip to Saudi Arabia for Haj, arranged for her inoculation quickly, and remained in touch with him. A resident of Poona wrote to him, giving him all his contacts and asking him to get in touch with him if he ever needed any help.
"I feel very bad, very sorry to hear that my pictures caused so much problems for you. I apologise," Arko tells Mr Ansari, as we settle down in his home in a slum, not far away from the house with the veranda.

Mr Ansari is sitting opposite him, and his eyes drop to the floor for a moment.
"Nobody is to blame, brother," he tells Arko. "You did your job. I was doing mine, trying to save my life. Your picture showed the world what was happening here. What happened to me eventually was kismet, destiny."
"And as things stand, my life is on the mend. I have a beautiful family, I have work, I have my own little home."

A few years ago, Mr Ansari bought a two-room tenement with a small tailoring shop for 315,000 rupees ($6,400; £4,000) from his paltry savings and loans from friends and family. It is a modest home with a raised bed, a television, a few utensils, a shiny red refrigerator and a washing machine tucked away behind a curtain. Upstairs, he and his co-workers stitch more 100 shirts a week, and he earns up to 7,000 rupees ($142; £90) a month.
Moving on
His family has grown to include an eight-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter. The eldest daughter is now 14 and wants to become a teacher.
Arko has also moved on - he quit Reuters after nearly a decade of rich work, including covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and began a photography school in the city of Mumbai.
Now Arko tells Mr Ansari of a personal tragedy that marked his coverage of the riots.
He says he was sent to cover the riots even as his mother was in the last stages of cancer. His wife had called him every day during the time he was taking pictures of the mayhem, imploring him to return to be by his mother's bedside.
"By the time I returned, she had slipped into a coma. I never got to speak to her. Three or four days later, she died. I have no siblings, and my father died when I was one. And I couldn't even exchange a last few words with my mum," he says.
Silence descends on the room.
Then Mr Ansari speaks.

"I can understand your pain. Allah sent you to save us, brother. You did a greater good," he says.
One event, two lives, both bookended by personal tragedies.
"It feels strange. I have mixed feelings," Arko says, as we take leave.
"On one hand, Qutubuddin was empowered by my picture. On the other, he lost his privacy and a bit of his life."
"I just hope he remembers me as a friend. We met as strangers as I think we parted as friends."
"I now want to remember him as a smiling, happy man. Not the frightened man on the balcony."

Sunday 4 March 2012

PAKISTAN: Abducted and forced into a Muslim marriage

Comment: What a disgrace!!

Sixteen-year-old Ameena Ahmed*, now living in the town of Rahim Yar Khan in Pakistan’s Punjab Province, does not always respond when her mother-in-law calls out to her.

“Even after a year of `marriage’ I am not used to my new name. I was called Radha before,” she told IRIN on a rare occasion when she was allowed to go to the corner shop on her own to buy vegetables.

Ameena, or Radha as she still calls herself, was abducted from Karachi about 13 months ago by a group of young men who offered her ice-cream and a ride in their car. Before she knew what was happening, she was dragged into a larger van, and driven to an area she did not know.

She was then pressured into signing forms which she later found meant she was married to Ahmed Salim, 25; she was converted to a Muslim after being asked to recite some verses in front of a cleric. She was obliged to wear a veil. Seven months ago, Ameena, who has not seen her parents or three siblings since then and “misses them a lot”, moved with her new family to southern Punjab.

"The abduction and kidnapping of Hindu girls is becoming more and more common," Amarnath Motumal, a lawyer and leader of Karachi’s Hindu community, told IRIN. “This trend has been growing over the past four or five years, and it is getting worse day by day.”

He said there were at least 15-20 forced abductions and conversions of young girls from Karachi each month, mainly from the multi-ethnic Lyari area. The fact that more and more people were moving to Karachi from the interior of Sindh Province added to the dangers, as there were now more Hindus in Karachi, he said.

“They come to search for better schooling, for work and to escape growing extremism,” said Motumal who believes Muslim religious schools are involved in the conversion business.

“Hindus are non-believers. They believe in many gods, not one, and are heretics. So they should be converted,” said Abdul Mannan, 20, a Muslim student. He said he would be willing to marry a Hindu girl, if asked to by his teachers, “because conversions brought big rewards from Allah [God]. But later I will marry a `real’ Muslim girl as my second wife,” he said.

According to local law, a Muslim man can take more than one wife, but rights activists argue that the law infringes the rights of women and needs to be altered.

Motumal says Hindu organizations are concerned only with the “forced conversion” of girls under 18. “Adult women are of course free to choose,” he said.

“Lured away”

Sunil Sushmt, 40, who lives in a village close to the city of Mirpurkhas in central Sindh Province, said his 14-year-old daughter was “lured away” by an older neighbour and, her parents believe, forcibly converted after marriage to a Muslim. “She was a child. What choice did she have?” her father asked. He said her mother still cries for her “almost daily” a year after the event.

Sushmat is also concerned about how his daughter is being treated. “We know many converts are treated like slaves, not wives,” he said.

According to official figures, Hindus based mainly in Sindh make up 2 percent of Pakistan’s total population of 165 million. “We believe this figure could be higher,” Motumal said.

According to media reports, a growing number of Hindus have been fleeing Pakistan, mainly for neighbouring India. The kidnapping of girls and other forms of persecution is a factor in this, according to those who have decided not to stay in the country any longer.

“My family has lived in Sindh for generations,” Parvati Devi, 70, told IRIN. “But now I worry for the future of my granddaughters and their children. Maybe we too should leave,” she said. “The entire family is seriously considering this.”