Wednesday 30 May 2012

Nazir Afzal: 'We tackled grooming gangs. Now we have to confront forced marriage among Travellers'

The pioneering prosecutor behind the Rochdale abuse case tells Jonathan Brown that communities' problems can't be ignored
Until recently, many of the crimes encountered by Nazir Afzal rarely troubled a British courtroom. The perpetrators went unpunished and the women and children who were the victims of abuse were disbelieved. But the mood has changed. Since the conviction of nine men for raping and trafficking white teenagers in Rochdale earlier this month, the issues raised by the case and by Britain's most senior Asian prosecutor have risen to the very top of the policy agenda.

Now the time has come when no minority communities should be allowed to offer refuge to men who commit crimes against women, he says. Mr Afzal, who has become the public face of the legal system's determination to stamp out honour-based violence, forced marriage and grooming, admits there are areas where there is still work to do. He cites the Traveller community, where children are still married off against their will.

In an interview with The Independent the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North-west says he is determined to name and shame groups who refuse to acknowledge the existence of exploitation within their midst. "I understand this sensitivity that certain people have but I don't have it. There is no community where we should not be ensuring the victims are safe," he said.
As a first generation British-Pakistani he admits that some groups he works with can often feel more comfortable in his presence than someone they might consider an outsider. "There are some communities where we have feared to tread, and by 'we' I mean every agency. I am hopeful that no longer exists. It no longer exists as far as I'm concerned, and the last bastion for me is the Traveller community, he said.

Public shock surrounding the Rochdale case is beginning to have a "cathartic effect" on the people of the former mill town, he says. But as the taboo is confronted in the South Asian communities, others are only just being challenged. "I have become aware of massive issues of forced marriage in the Traveller community. It is widespread," he said.
Mr Afzal was appointed head of the Crown Prosecution Service in the North-west last year. His first decision was to reopen the Rochdale case after a series of mistakes and poor decisions by police, social workers and his department nearly led to the gang evading justice.
Turning the spotlight on the Traveller community is a typically bold action by Mr Afzal. He is currently assisting representatives of the community who are working to raise awareness of forced marriage and women's rights, advising them on government strategy. In the meantime he has had to deal with problems closer to home. In the North-west half a dozen exploitation cases have focused attention on Asian immigrant groups.

But while the public debate has centred on the ethnic background of offenders, he insists no nationalities or social groupings are entirely blameless. "Every community will have its violence every community will have its child abuse, every community will have the attitudes and poor treatment of women," said Mr Afzal.
The issue, he believes, is one of male control rather than culture. "The vast majority of paedophiles and child abusers in this country are white British – 95 per cent," he said. "The one thing these men have in common with the vast majority, with virtually all paedophiles, is that they are men. We have got to focus on what the real issue is.
"This is a gender issue. It is about men and their attitudes to women: men thinking they can control women in any way they want. Men determining what is feminine, what is womanly ... that somehow they can be manipulated and controlled," he added.
Since leaving London and taking over his position in Manchester it has been a spectacularly busy time. Soon after moving from his post as CPS director in West London, he found himself required to rule on a spate of killings by householders defending their property against intruders. The subject immediately found itself on the Government's radar, with interventions from the Prime Minister.
In all cases Mr Afzal chose not to prosecute. "Those decisions were easy to make," he says. "The line is: don't be a vigilante. But by all means protect yourself, protect your family, protect your property, but don't go out there looking for offenders," he added.

In August, Manchester and Salford saw violent looting and 300 arrests. The cities pioneered the use of night courts and community impact assessments, bringing the first successful prosecutions. Yet despite the severity of some of the punishments meted out – such as a 16-month jail term handed down to a drunk who stole a box of doughnuts from a looted bakers – he believes the judges acted proportionately.
"In the context of the disorder we had in August of last year it was absolutely right that deterrent sentences were handed out," he said.

Later he ruled that charges should be dropped against the nurse Rebecca Leighton in connection with alleged poisonings at Stepping Hill hospital in Stockport, a case that was described by the Greater Manchester Police chief Peter Fahy as "like murder on the Orient Express with 700 suspects".
Then on Boxing Day the shooting of the Indian postgraduate student Anuj Bidve as he and a group of friends made their way to the sales in Manchester city centre prompted international concern over the safety of Britain as a destination for overseas students.

It was a highly sensitive case which sparked an uncharacteristic reaction from Mr Afzal, a father of four. "He came here to make the most of the opportunities we have in this country.
"I met his parents when they were over here and it's very rare for me to cry, but I did cry in their presence. They sent their eldest son over here to study and they were coming to collect his body and that to my mind is extremely tragic," he recalls. It is possible that the Bidves' plight stirred emotions linked to his own immigrant experience.

A man accused of killing the young student is due to go on trial next month.
The Afzal family originate from Pakistan's lawless North-west frontier around 30 miles form where Osama bin Laden was shot dead.
They served the British Army as caterers – a family link he shares with President Barack Obama – moving around British India to Cyprus before settling in inner city Birmingham. There Mr Afzal grew up among a close-knit Pakistani community but one that was at the sharp end of 1970s racism and urban decline.
"I was bullied at school," he recalls. "On many occasions I remember coming home with bits of my clothing torn and hiding it from my parents because there a real sense of pride – that you don't want them to know."

Meanwhile, his father and brothers moved with the army to Northern Ireland. In 1974 a cousin was loaded into the back of a van by the IRA and shot dead for the "crime" of serving squaddies tea and biscuits in the mess. A younger cousin witnessed the shooting. "He was told: 'This is a message to all of you – get out.' My father decided to stay for another 15 years – that was his response," said Mr Afzal.
Back in Birmingham Mr Afzal's mother was busy challenging community assumptions about women. "If she became aware that a 16 -year-old girl from down the street was being married off early she would walk down there in her early 80s or late 70s and say, 'What the hell are you doing? Don't you realise she is allowed to have an education. Give her a choice.'"
Mr Afzal's response to the bullies was to study and later stand up for victims, although he concedes that by the time he intervenes it is already too late.
"Criminal justice response is almost like a failure. Whatever it is that has happened shouldn't have happened in the first place. This is about prevention; this is about changing attitudes.
"Part of our role is in prosecution because we send out very strong messages through robust and strong prosecutions, fully supporting victims through the process. The sentencing sends out a message of deterrence," he said.

"People talk about miscarriages of justice when people who are not guilty go to prison. Thankfully that is rare. To my mind the greatest miscarriages of justice are those who are perpetrators who are not brought to justice. There are many, many more of those."

Tough talk: the prosecutor on...
... the Traveller community
"There are some communities where we have feared to tread, and by 'we' I mean every agency. I am hopeful that no longer exists. The last bastion for me is the Traveller community."

... the murder of Anuj Bidve
Mr Afzal said the Indian student killied in Salford on Boxing Day had come to Britain "to make the most of the opportunities in this country".
"I met his parents when they were over here," he said. "It is very rare for me to cry, but I did cry in their presence. They sent their eldest son over here to study and they were coming to collect his body, and that to my mind is extremely tragic."

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Manal al-Sharif: 'They just messed with the wrong woman'Manal al-Sharif: 'They just messed with the wrong woman'Manal al-Sharif: 'They just messed with the wrong woman'

She was the plucky young woman who, in splendid defiance of one of the world's most repressive societies, steered a car through the streets of the city of Khobar, railing as she went against the misogyny of laws that make it illegal for women in Saudi Arabia to drive.

Manal al-Sharif was arrested for her pains and spent nine days in jail on suspicion of a crime called "incitement to public disorder". She emerged, almost a year ago, to worldwide fame: an eight-minute film of her protest drive, shot on a friend's smartphone, spread across YouTube, in various iterations, at a rate of a million hits per day.

Since then, Ms Sharif has used her notoriety as the "Saudi Girl Driving" to pursue radical change. She has led mass "protest drives", filed lawsuits against her nation's chauvinistic traffic laws, and recently started a feminist pressure group, My Right to Dignity, which aims to undermine the conservative excesses of an Islamic state which treats women as second-class citizens.
Her struggle hasn't all been plain sailing, though. For all the plaudits (she recently joined Barack Obama and Pippa Middleton in Time magazine's list of the world's "100 most influential" people), she is subjected to daily death threats, and fears for the safety of her parents and her six-year-old son. "I measure the impact I make by how harsh the attacks are," she says. "The harsher the attacks, the better I am doing."

[Following sentence updated:] A few months ago, Saudi "sources" convinced several media outlets that Ms Sharif had been involved in a fatal car crash that was the subject of a report carried by the news agency AFP. "The whole idea was to say 'see, God is punishing her; women really shouldn't drive!'," she recalls. She soon rang her family, before informing her 90,000 Twitter followers that rumours of her demise were "rubbish".
This month, Ms Sharif has suffered the ultimate sanction for any single mother: the loss of her livelihood. The oil company Aramco, her employer for more than a decade, told her she faced the sack for daring to stick her head above the political parapet.

We meet in Norway, where she has just given a barnstorming speech to the Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual gathering of global human rights activists. A film of her extraordinarily moving presentation, which received an ovation, hit YouTube last week. A quarter of a million people have already watched.
"After I was invited to speak here in Oslo, I asked for four days off and my company refused," she says of her sacking. "My boss called me and said, 'If you are going to talk at another conference, you could lose your job. You are not allowed to go. We don't want our name to be associated with you'."
Ms Sharif went anyway and, at 33, now finds herself jobless and homeless (her flat was owned by Aramco). A lesser woman might feel ground down by that pressure but, looking impressive and poised in her very un-Saudi business attire, she seems energised instead. In a hotel lobby, she angrily rattles through the daily indignities of life in a country which, despite her university education and high-flying CV, forces her to live according to a set of ultra-conservative Islamic protocols which hark back to the Dark Ages.

The lot of Saudi women is shaped by Wahhabism, the most unbending form of the Muslim faith, she explains. The Koran is effectively her nation's constitution and gender apartheid is a cultural obsession. Shops, restaurants, schools and workplaces are sexually segregated, while strict rules, enforced by shadowy religious police, govern every aspect of a woman's existence.
"I'm a single mother and I'm 33 but it's hard to even rent my own apartment without getting my father to sign a piece of paper saying he gives permission," she says. "I went to renew my passport the other day and they told me to come back with my male guardian. That is life, for a Saudi woman; wherever we go, whatever we achieve, we are the property of a man."
A Saudi woman who is beaten or raped by her husband and goes to the police must bring that husband along to formally "identify" her, she adds. Saudi women are forbidden from playing competitive sports and are not due to get the vote until 2015.
The irony of Ms Sharif's life is that she has a deeply conservative background. Born in 1979, she grew up in Mecca, the holiest of holy cities. Her working-class home had separate entrances for men and women. As a child, she remembers burning her brother's pop cassettes in the oven after mullahs told her music came from "Satan's flute".

Later, at university in Jeddah, her class of 60 women was taught computer science in a segregated campus, by professors lecturing from remote locations via closed-circuit television. In keeping with convention, she wore a vast black niqab and long gloves.
Her life changed, almost overnight, on 9/11, orchestrated by her countryman Osama bin Laden. "The extremists told us it was God's punishment to America," she recalls. But on the news that evening, she was sickened by footage of office workers jumping from the twin towers. "I said to myself, 'something is wrong. There is no religion on earth that can accept such mercilessness, such cruelty.'"
Ms Sharif began questioning literalist aspects of her faith. "I realised it is impossible to live with the rules they give Saudi women," she says. "Just impossible. You trying to do everything by the book but you can never stay pure."

After leaving university, she gained further independence by landing a job in information security for Aramco, which had been US-owned. It was a lucky break: of Saudi Arabia's five million women graduates, only about 500,000 are employed. At 24, she got engaged to a co-worker and at 25 they married.
It didn't work out. While Ms Sharif is reluctant to dwell on the details, she says that the kingdom's staggeringly high divorce rate of 60 per cent is rooted in tensions surrounding gender inequality. "My father's generation of Saudi men are more liberal than the men of my generation," she says. "But with women it's the opposite. Women are much less conservative than the men now, and that leads to clashes."
After her divorce, she spent a year in family courts. She won custody of her son but has no legal recourse to maintenance. The experience further convinced her that Saudi women must stand up for their rights. "I cannot make him pay, and this is one of the things we are fighting for," she says. "To have family courts and family laws which protect women and children from abuse."
In 2009, Ms Sharif's employer sent her temporarily to its US office, in Boston. "I remember just thinking it was so incredibly normal," she says. "There were no complications. I could just live a normal life. I could go and look at apartments and sign a contract myself. I went to the bank, and opened an account."
Most importantly, she drove a car. "I thought, 'This is how life should be'."
Not long after returning home, Ms Sharif took her now-famous car journey. It was the start of a long campaign that she says will end only when women in Saudi Arabia become the equals of men. It is a tall order, but she is adamant that it can be done.
"You know what?" she tells people who ask the secret of her success. "They just messed with the wrong woman."

Fight for rights: Worst places to be female
Rated the worst of 135 countries for women by the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report 2011. With limited access to education, Yemeni women take only two per cent of skilled jobs. Around 14 per cent of girls are married before the age of 15, and some are forced to marry as young as eight, Human Rights Watch says.
Three times as many men are enrolled at university as women in the central African country, one of the poorest nations in the world. From 2005-11, Chad closed only 52 per cent of its gender pay gap – the lowest out of all countries surveyed.
Women have greater than average political empowerment in Pakistan (which came one place above the UK in the ratings), but health, education and economic participation are areas of inequality. The nation's labour force is made up of four times as many men as women.
Women are treated as second-class citizens in Mali, where more than half are married by the time they are 18 and 69 per cent of women aged 15 to 24 are illiterate, according to Unicef. Under the new Family Code law adopted this year, which had been heralded as a step forward, women's rights have been set back to the original 1962 Bill, which rules a woman must obey her husband.

Monday 28 May 2012

Citizen Alya Al-Ghamdi

EVERY DAY we hear of heart-wrenching stories of divorced or separated women whose rights have been blatantly denied. Perhaps the most regretful is the tendency of former husbands to deny a woman’s natural right to see her children.

Alya Al-Ghamdi, who has allowed her real identity to be published, is one of those mothers with a deeply disturbing story. Previously married to a Saudi, Alya was divorced after a few years with three children. Subsequently she married a British Muslim working in the Kingdom.

Her woes started when her former husband denied her the right to see her children for a whole year on the pretext that her British husband will molest her daughters, although Islamic Shariah law accords the status of Mahram (male legal guardian) to a step-father over his wife’s daughters born in a previous marriage.

To stop Alya from meeting her children, he included conditions that her present husband should not be present when she met the children. He also changed his telephone number so that she would not be able to contact the children. When she tried to meet her daughters at their school, the school principal threatened her that she would call the police as their father did not want the mother to have any contact with them.

The desperate mother’s next attempt was to meet the children on the sly at their father’s house when the man went out. But once the ex-husband discovered that, he changed the entry door lock to prevent the children from letting their mother in while he was away.

As a last resort, Alya would wait hidden nearby until he left the house. She would then throw small stones at the first floor apartment windows. Her six-year old son would open the window and thrust out his body saying that he would eat plenty of food so that he will grow up fast and be with his mother.

This ordeal continued for three more years until her oldest daughter was 14. It was this daughter who cooked for and looked after the other two while their father was away. Later the mother was finally allowed to meet the children but only the daughters. She noticed that the eldest girl had cut off her long hair. When Alya asked her to let her hair grow like other women, the girl’s reply was that she had shortened her hair like boys because a woman had no public existence.

Following the death of her father and with meetings with her children becoming more difficult and rare, Alya left the Kingdom with her husband engulfed by the dream to see her children whenever she wanted and without any restrictions. The former husband’s justification for his denial of her rights was that she is not eligible to meet the children. But what eligibility is weightier than a mother’s unrestricted right to see her children?

The primary right of a mother to her children is unequivocally affirmed by a well-known statement of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that “paradise lies under the feet of the mother”.

I pray to the Almighty to return Alya’s children to her just as He returned Moses (peace be upon him) to his mother. I also request the Minister of Justice to grant Alya the right to see all her children in the company of her present husband who is her and all her children’s Mahram, whenever she feels to see them or whenever they yearn for their mother’s embrace.


Thursday 24 May 2012

A woman gets her nose back after 32 years

For 32 years, she has been breathing through her mouth. From the age of 19 when her husband cut her nose with a shaving razor, Allah Rakhi wore a two-by-two-inch bandage around it, just like a pirate who wears a patch around his damaged eye.
“I never imagined something so heinous could ever happen to me. I never thought he would ever hurt me so badly,” said Allah Rakhi, who now looks everyone in the eyes as she passes by people in the streets and no longer covers her face with a shawl.
Feeling her ribcage on the right, the 51-year old simpleton explained how her surgeon took a tiny piece of her rib and some skin from her forehead to make her a new nose – that is almost as good as if she had never lost it. She does, however, need one or two more surgeries so that doctors can refine it.
“It’s a miracle,” said Allah Rakhi, her eyes filling up with tears. Married off as young as 13 in 1974 and with a little boy and a girl six years later, her husband used to beat her black and blue, she said bowing to show a scar in the centre of her head where he had given her 18 stitches.
He needed a reason – it could be anything – and he would reach for whatever he could grab to hit me with,” said Allah Rakhi adding how he would also threaten to turn her out. “As I left him one afternoon in 1980 for my parents’ home, he stopped me in
the street, held me down to the ground, cut my nose and slashed my right ankle that he almost severed.
“For six years I could not walk without a stick,” she said explaining how in the beginning she used to hide her face from her own son who was then only knee high.
Even then she wanted to return home because the thought of being away from her children hurt her more. Her husband was out of the jail after six months. A year after when he knew he was off the hook, Allah Rakhi was divorced.
A bus driver married her with whom she lived for many happy years and saw her two children married off. She lost him to a road accident eight years ago.
Three years ago, Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) that usually helps burn victims took her in as special case. In-charge of nursing care and rehabilitation unit, Balqees Shehzad has been by her side since then. But later some top plastic surgeons of the country declined to operate her because they were either unwilling to do charity work or feared contracting Hepatitis C that she had.
“But then she met Dr Hamid Hassan who is a Burn and Reconstructive Surgeon at the Benazir Bhutto Hospital Rawalpindi. He put Allah Rakhi on top of his patients’ waiting list and went on with operating her. After two surgeries (one in March and the other in April this year), the second one lasting seven hours, Allah Rakhi could look in the mirror without feeling bad,” said Balqees Shehzad.
“This was not the first time such a case had come to us. But she certainly was one of the worst victims with cut noses. There was nothing in place of her nose and she was also a Hepatitis C patient.
“We will refine the nose further as soon as she is ready for the next operation,” said Dr Hamid Hassan who has been affiliated with the ASF since 2007 and has conducted (with his team) 340 surgeries on burn victims besides arranging camps for such patients every year – all without charging a single penny.
Allah Rakhi is one of the innumerable victims of this centuries-old brutal practice against the women of lower socio-economic strata in the region.  Allah Rakhi’s son, now in his mid 30s with children of his own, took her back home in Gujranwala where she takes joy to see her grandchildren run around.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Repentance- The Solution

Malik ibn Dinar, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated:

I read in some of the books of wisdom that Allah Most High says: "Indeed, I am Allah, the King of kings. [The kings] hearts are in my Hand. So whoever obeys Me, I will put in the hearts of those who rule over them mercy and compassion [upon the people that they rule over], and whoever disobeys me, I will put in the hearts of those who rule over them wrath. So do not busy yourselves with insulting the kings, but instead, repent to Me [tuboo elayy], and I will put in the hearts [of the leaders] compassion and sympathy for you." [Safwat at Tafaseer, V.1, p.419]

Lesson: Let's stop complaining and blaming. Let's turn back to Allah and repent to Him, work on our individual relationships with Him, and insha'Allah we'll see the fruits of that tawbah on an ummah-wide scale.

The Repentance of Malik ibn Dinar
Malik ibn Dinar used to be of the most oppressive people. He was unjust, was involved with riba (interest), and was a regular alcoholic drinker. He also had a little girl whom he loved intensely. When she died at the tender age of three, Malik, distraught and engulfed with sadness, drunk until he knocked out. That night he had a dream that he was witnessing the hereafter, and that a horrendous snake was chasing him. Terrified and finding no way to escape, Malik saw no one but an old man and ran to ask him for help. The old man was too weak to help him, but pointed Malik towards another direction. Malik ran and found himself at the edge of a cliff- a cliff which led to the hellfire.
Horrified, Malik ran back to the old man and begged to be saved. The old man cried and told him, I'm weak, just as you see, I cannot help...and he told Malik to run towards another direction. And so Malik ran, and as the snake was about to seize him, suddenly he saw his young daughter. She came and rescued her father from the snake.
Overjoyed, and yet still in severe fear from what had just taken place, Malik took his daughter's hand and sat with her as they used to sit together while she was alive. His daughter then asked him, "O my father, O my father, Has not the time yet come for those who believe that their hearts should be submissive for the remembrance of Allah..."
So Malik said, "O my daughter! Tell me about this snake!" And his daughter told him, "Those were the evil deeds which you did so much of to the point that they almost ate you. Do you not know, o my father, that the work you do in the world will return embodied on the Day of Judgment? And that old man, that was your good deeds. You made them so little and weak, and so they wept for your situation, not being able to help you at all...and if you had not bore me, and if I had not died while I was young, your good deeds would have been too medium to help you in any way.

Malik then woke up screaming, crying out, "O my Lord! Right now! [I repent] right now my Lord! Yes," So he got up, made wudu (ablution), and headed out to pray Fajr in the masjid, seeking to repent and to come back to Allah.
So Malik entered the masjid, and he found the Imam reciting the very same verse."
Indeed, Allah is well aware of those who want to turn back to Him, and out of His Mercy, gives them continuous opportunities to seek His Forgiveness.
After his repentance, Malik was known to stand in prayer, weeping to Allah throughout the night, saying,
"O Allah, you are the Only One Who knows the inhabitants of Paradise and the inhabitants of the Hellfire, so whichever of the two men I am, o Allah, make me of the inhabitants of Paradise, and do not make me of the inhabitants of the Hellfire."

Malik ibn Dinar went from someone who was known for his oppression, for the fact he used to drink, for his negligence in his relationship with a major Scholar with the likes and in the times of big names like Hasan al Basri (may Allah be pleased with them all). He went from someone the people used to hate to someone the people- until today- love and ask Allah to have mercy upon. He went from an individual whose actions merited hellfire, to, insha'Allah we pray, an individual who will inhabitant Paradise eternally.
That was who Malik was, and through the simple act of tawbah [repentance, turning back to Allah], look at who -he became.
So what about you and I? Who are we now? Who will we be? And the real question is: when will we, with Allah's Help, make that happen?
Has not the time yet come for those who believe that their hearts should be submissive for the remembrance of Allah...(Surah Hadid, 57:16)


Monday 21 May 2012

The dignity of the feminine in Islam: Against Zizek's Orientalism

Just when we thought it had finally breathed its last, that it had been given its funeral rites and properly buried in the graveyard of yellowing history books, Orientalism - that Western imaginative construction of the East, which intellectually underwrote the colonialist projects of the great European powers - is resurrected once again to distort Islam into a mirror for the Western gaze.

Orientalism influenced great thinkers like Hegel, Marx, Jung, Nietzsche, Weber and Geertz - and yet the way they invoke Islam tells us much more about European angst than it reveals deeper truths about the youngest of the Semitic faiths.

One of the most glaring distortions of Orientalism, discussed by Meyda Yegenoglu in her Colonial Fantasies: Towards a Feminist Reading of Orientalism, is how the Orient is itself feminised and penetrated by the Western observer. It is no coincidence that so many are affronted by Muslim women's veils: they symbolise the last refusal of Islamic cultures to be stripped bare and consumed.

It is precisely because Western Orientalists were refused access to the inner sanctum of the harem that they made up the most fanciful tales, and that the feminine in Islam is still the most poorly understood and misrepresented of all femininities.

For example, writing at a time when English women had very few legislated rights (including suffrage) and were largely reliant on men for financial support, and if they did have to support themselves they were mostly confined to working as domestic servants, teaching small children, or nursing, this Christian missionary seems almost disappointed that Muslim women were not suffering more in their oppression:

"The English-speaking race, accustomed to greater freedom for its women than any other on the face of the earth perhaps, would find it hard to be shut up in an Arab house, taking no long country walks, joining in no outdoor games, knowing nothing of the pleasures of shopping expeditions, having no literary pursuits, and meeting no men outside the circle of their relatives; and indeed it is a sadly narrow life. But we must remember that our Moslem sisters have never known anything better, and the majority are perfectly contented with things as they are."
But lest readers presume that this almost hilarious caricature of the Other's women belongs to a bygone era, one need only look to the United States where a number of states - Kansas being the most recent - are in the process of passing legislation to ban shari'a law from being legally recognised, partly under the pretext of protecting women's rights. Yet, at the same time, American law-makers are passing bills that force women to undergo invasive medical procedures, subjecting them to a twisted form of conservative Christian morality in what can only be described as a type of state-mandated rape.

This is not to say that feminism has no place in the Muslim world - far from it. From the earliest days of Islam, women and their supporters have been battling misogyny and oppression, from both within and without.

Despite this, it can feel like hard-won victories have to be fought again and again. While the Prophet Muhammad freed prisoners-of-war who agreed to teach women and children how to read, today the Taliban are shutting down girls' schools in Afghanistan.

Nor is modern feminism necessarily a Western "import" into the Muslim world. The brilliantly inspiring Nana Asma'u (d.1864), for example, initiated a massive campaign of education and female leadership in northern Nigeria. And while second-wave Western feminism only really captured the attention of secular elites in the Muslim world, there also exists a strong Muslim feminist movement that reclaims the right to draw inspiration from Islamic textual and historical sources, to challenge patriarchal strictures on their lives.

Powerful female archetypes have always existed in Islamic mythology and history, despite Slavoj Zizek's claim that Hagar, the founding matriarch of the Arab story, has been "erased from the official history." Western Orientalism doesn't recognise Islamic feminine archetypes and the "tao" of gender-relations, not because they are absent, but because Orientalism's "Islam" is the reflective pool into which the Western Narcissus gazes.

The number of times a human personality is named in the Qur'an does not indicate their level of importance and influence. If that were the case, Moses would come out tops with 136 references. Muhammad, by comparison, is specifically named four times (plus one reference to a variant on his name), while the obscure pre-Islamic Arabian prophet Hud has five times the number of Muhammad's references.

The reason for this is because, unlike many parts of the Bible, stories involving prophets, saints and sinners are not told as part of a historical narrative. Instead, the primary purpose of the scripture is to orient its audience towards God - all myths and stories are told to service this aim.

The tale of Hagar is told through Islamic traditions and her search for life-saving water is re-enacted and celebrated by every Muslim who completes their life-time's obligation of performing the hajj. It is perhaps the only example of a woman-initiated ritual from any of the world's great religions that is obligatory for both men and women.

According to Islamic belief, Hagar is buried within the precincts of the Ka'ba (Islam's most sacred site, and the direction towards which all Muslims turn when praying) and the gift of zam-zam water - which Hagar specifically bequeathed, not to a single tribe, but to all humanity - is treasured by Muslim pilgrims who drink it and bring containers of the blessed water back home for loved ones. Ali Shariati has described Hagar's position thus:

"Here was a woman who was not honored enough to become a second wife to Ibrahim yet Allah connected the symbol of Hajar's skirt to His symbol, Kaaba. The skirt of Hajar was the area in which Ismail was raised. The house of Hajar is there. Her grave is near the third column of Kaaba ... Those who believe in monotheism and those who have accepted Allah's invitation to go to Hajj must touch this skirt when circumambulating the Kaaba. The grave of a black African maid and a good mother is now a part of Kaaba; it will be circumambulated by man forever!"
Hagar is not the only female role-model to which all Muslims, men and women, look for inspiration. There is Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba, who makes liars out of those who claim Muslim women cannot be leaders (Qur'an 27:23-44).

The Yemenis claim Bilqis as their own, along with the much-beloved Queen Arwa (d.1138). The latter, known as a wise and just ruler, is as fondly recalled today as ever before, something I discovered for myself when I visited Yemen in 2002.

There is Jochabed, the mother of Moses, who was given divine inspiration and strength from God (28:7-13).

There is Asiya, long-suffering wife of Pharaoh, who adopted and protected Moses. She was tortured and finally martyred by Pharaoh, but given a paradisiacal reward by God (66:11). Islamic tradition holds her as one of the most holy women in human history.

Then there is the pre-eminent Mary, mother of Jesus, after whom a whole chapter (19) of the Qur'an is named. She was brought up in the holy of holies, under the guardianship of Zechariah, and miraculously supplied with provisions (3:35-37).

In the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, his wives and female followers played extremely important roles. Not just Khadija who, as Zizek correctly noted became the first Muslim by affirming belief in his prophethood, but 'A'isha too. The latter's place in Islamic history - as a pivotal figure in the holy household, as a narrator of a sizeable proportion of prophetic traditions, as one of the earliest interpreters of sacred law, and indeed as one of the most famous women in human history - cannot be overestimated.

Then we have Rabi'a al-Adawiyya (d.801), one of the greatest Sufi teachers of all time, known for developing a theology of selfless love for God; Imam Shafi'i's teacher Nafisa (d.824), who was so highly respected and honoured, that the eponymous founder of Islam's second-largest school of law asked her to perform his funeral prayer; and the various women that inspired one of the greatest Islamic thinkers to have lived - Ibn 'Arabi (d.1240).

And these are just the beginning - I feel as though I have done a grave disservice to Muslim womanhood by limiting myself to just these few.

Despite the all-too real misogyny that exists in various parts of the Muslim world, in Islamic cosmology neither the masculine nor the feminine - neither the father nor the mother - are sublimated. Both play essential and complimentary roles as Sachiko Murata points out in The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought.

God is transcendent and without gender. But males and females are created partners and protectors of each other (9:71). Writes Ibn 'Arabi:

"Everything that exercises an effect [mu'aththir] is a father, and everything that receives an effect [mu'aththar fih] is a mother."
The goal of the pairing between fathers and mothers is the corporal and spiritual creation of new human life, as the ultimate goal of the cosmos. Thus, rather than being "orphanic" - as Zizek claims - Islam places respect for parents second only to monotheistic worship! Why is this? Because, as 'Abd al-Razzaq Kashani (d.1335) explains in his explanation of Qur'an 17:23-24:

"God places being good to parents next to tawhid [monotheistic worship] and considering Him alone as worthy of worship because parents correspond to the Divine Presence in the fact that they are the cause of your existence. And they correspond to the Presence of Lordship in the fact that they nurtured you when you were a helpless and weak infant, without power and motion. They were the first locus of manifestation within which such attributes of God as bringing into existence, lordship, mercy, and kindliness became manifest in relation to you. With all that, their rights need to be observed, while God is independent of that. Hence the most important obligatory duty after tawhid is being good to them and fulfilling their rights to the extent possible."
The ultimate father and mother archetypes are, of course, Adam and Eve. We are thus united, not just as believers (the ummah of Islam), but as brothers and sisters of one global family - the ummah of humanity.

Rachel Woodlock is a lecturer, researcher and doctoral candidate at the Centre for Islam and the Modern World, in the School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University, studying the social attitudes of religious Muslims in Australia. Source.

Rachel Woodlock is a lecturer, researcher and doctoral candidate at the Centre for Islam and the Modern World, in the School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University, studying the social attitudes of religious Muslims in Aus

Wednesday 16 May 2012


"God will never change the condition of a people until they change that which is within themselves."
The Holy Quran, 13:11

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Asian grooming: why we need to talk about sex

When it comes to sex, Alyas Karmani is a plain-speaking man. For a Muslim imam he is breathtakingly so. "Oral sex and anal sex are taboo in the British Pakistani community," he announces matter-of-fact way over gosht palak in his favourite curry-house just up the hill from Bradford University. "Sex is seen as only for procreation and only in the missionary position. More so if your spouse is from abroad."

He is addressing the question of whether a disproportionate number of British Asian men are involved in grooming underage girls for sex. He thinks the answer is "Yes" – which is also very plain-speaking on a subject around which the British policing, political, academic and social work establishment dances with over-sensitive diplomacy.

Yet Imam Karmani is no maverick. As well as being an imam, he is a psychologist with more than 20 years of practical experience in youth and community work. He is a former adviser to the Department for Education on youth empowerment and a one-time head of race equality for the Welsh Assembly and is now co-director of Street, a project whose name stands for Strategy to Reach, Empower and Educate Teenagers.

One of its key projects is running courses to change the attitude of young British Pakistanis which, Alyas Karmani believes, underlie the cultural assumptions which have led a number of Asians to become involved in the on-street grooming of schoolgirls for sex. Eight men of Pakistani heritage, and an Afghan, were were convicted at Liverpool Crown Court this week of offences including four rapes, 11 charges of conspiracy to engage children in sexual activity and six of trafficking children for sexual exploitation.
"Many British Pakistani men live in two worlds," he begins. "The first is encompassed by family, business, mosque. It is a socially conservative culture where there is no toleration of sex outside of marriage, and little emphasis on sexual gratification."
Many are emotionally browbeaten into preserving their family honour by marrying a cousin from their family's village in north-west Kashmir, the part of Pakistan from which the forefathers of Bradford's Asian community originally migrated.

These new wives can bring with them "an unhealthy attitude towards sex and sexuality". It is not Islam which induces that, he says, but a traditional rural Kashmiri culture.
"The second world in which British Pakistani men live," he continues, "is the over-sexualised, material and lust-driven English lifestyle, where women are scantily clad, binge-drinking is a mainstream form of entertainment and porn is a massive factor." You might have thought that, as time passed, British Asians would have found middle ground between these two worlds.
But that has not been happening. "Patriarchs and matriarchs within families have huge influence," says the imam. "Conservatism is maintaining its grip. Around 60 to 70 per cent of British Asians, men and women, are still virgins when they marry."

For those Asians who work at night –such as taxi-drivers and takeaway workers – these two worlds collide dramatically in their workplaces which are filled with young women from a culture in which drinking to insensibility is commonplace. "Many of these men do not understand what is appropriate behaviour in wider society and what is not," he adds. "They are so lacking in social skills – because relationships between men and women in Pakistani culture are characterised by a real formality – that they can misconstrue an ordinary conversation with a white girl in their taxi and think she is indicating that she is open to a sexual advance when that is not what she means at all."
Others cannot resist the temptation aroused by women – and young girls – whose cultural assumptions are so alien from their own.

There are a number of ways, says Alyas Karmani, in which second and third generation British Pakistani men cope with the cognitive dissonance induced by living with two conflicting cultures.
Some give in to the temptations of Western life – which in an Asian urban context might mean celebrating values embodied in gangsta music and films. "It links sexual violence with gang lifestyle and glorifies it through rap and videos which degrade a man to 'pimp' and a woman to 'bitch'," Karmani says. Others turn their back on that and embrace religion, sometimes in a puritan or even jihadist way. But many are conflicted into living a double life.

They do that in a variety of ways. "Some have a wife from Pakistan and an English girlfriend by whom they may also have children," he says. "In some cases the English girlfriend predates the wife; some relationships go back to schooldays. Sometimes the arrangement is open – the wife knows about the other family but says nothing. Sometimes even the man will marry the girlfriend under Islamic law, though not under British law, obviously. Some of these relationships are exploitative, others are consensual.
"Some of these men with double lives, who lack the social skills to go out and chat up a white girl of their own age, use prostitutes for sexual gratification," he continues. "But a few abuse the sexuality of vulnerable young girls they come across as taxi-drivers and in takeaways. It's important to stress that this grooming behaviour is not an endemic pattern among Pakistani men; overall there is only a very a small minority of Pakistani men involved in grooming and sex gangs."
Some in the Asian communities resent even this very qualified criticism. Iftikhar Ahmad, of the London School of Islamics Trust, has complained that "native Brits have double standards and are hypocrites [who] don't mention the fact that the majority of men who go to countries in east Asia looking for under-aged sex are white European men".

But generally condemnation from religious and community leaders in the Asian community has been slowly growing over the past two years as a succession of cases has reached the courts in which men from the Asian community have been convicted of crimes involving the sexual exploitation of underage girls.
Expressions of shame, however, have outnumbered attempts at analysing whether there are specific qualities in ethnic minority culture which nurture the attitudes from which abuse springs.
Six years ago, Mohammed Shafiq, who runs the Ramadhan Foundation, a small Muslim youth organisation in Manchester, spoke out about the involvement of British Pakistanis in underage sex abuse crimes. He was roundly vilified by his own community. "I was accused of doing the work of the BNP," he recalls. "I had excrement through my door. I received death threats." His offence was to insist that "to say that ethnicity is not a factor in these crimes is a lie".

Members of Asian grooming gangs, he said, thought "that white girls are less valuable than girls from their own community, which is sick and abhorrent". This grew, he declared, from an assumption among some members of the Muslim community that "white girls have fewer morals".
More recently, up the road from Bradford in Keighley, a youth worker named Shakeel Aziz has spoken out, declaring sexual grooming to be "an extension of other criminal activity, specifically gang association and drug selling. It's really a jigsaw of different problems and issues in society that enforce one another," he said. And last year the broadcaster Adil Ray, a DJ and comedian with the BBC Asian network, set out another hypothesis in a BBC Three investigation into on-street grooming. He asked whether there was something particular about the Kashmiri culture that nurtured abusive attitudes.
Ray, who is from a Pakistani community in Birmingham, interviewed Yasmin Qureshi, the former specialist sexual offences lawyer who is now MP for Bolton South East. He noted that most of the cases of grooming by Asians occurred in the North and Midlands, which is where in the main immigrants from Kashmir settled to work in the factories and mills. The MP concurred. "In the south... there's more integration between communities," she said. "You very rarely find a school that has 80 per cent of one nationality. The people who came and settled in the south came from a much more educated, literate background... You can't take away from the fact that a lot of people come from Kashmir where some of the communities are culturally quite traditional."

This is not so far from the claim made in 2003 by Ann Cryer, then Labour MP for Keighley, that Pakistani men were exploiting local children because they had married, or been promised in marriage, "to someone they've never met, some cousin from their village in Mirpur who is almost certainly illiterate and hasn't got anything in common with them".
Alyas Karmani agrees with Mohammed Shafiq about the dissonance caused for British Pakistanis caught between two cultures. And he agrees with Shakeel Aziz that there can be an interplay between grooming and drug and gang cultures. But he does not accept the idea that Kashmiri culture is somehow more backward and thereby to blame.

"That's a flawed analysis. It's not about education. It's about access and opportunity," he says. "These men – and it's worth stressing that only a very tiny minority have deviated in this way – are not targeting white girls specifically but going for those who are most easily accessible and vulnerable, and that is by definition mainly white girls as young Asian teenagers are within the protection of the home at that time of night.
"The issues around ethnicity and sexuality are complex," he continues. "Some powerful gangsta types have white girlfriends as status symbols. They would not dream of sharing them with anyone.
"But other 'big men' think it adds to their status and kudos if they pass their conquests around to their 'brothers' under biradiri – the system of clan loyalty which has been brought here from Kashmir. That is often the case with those who abuse young girls. They involve brothers or cousins or friends from their clan."
That observation is confirmed by academic researchers working on child sex exploitation. Analysis by Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley at University College, London's Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science shows that abusers' networks were "tightly knit and characterised by strong social bonds predating the abuse, such as kinship".
Gangs did not develop around a shared furtive interest in child sex abuse. Rather, abuse was introduced into pre-existing social networks.

"Sometimes money changes hands," says Imam Karmani. "But not large amounts. Most of the girls are enticed into relationships with the smallest of gifts – a £5 top-up for their mobile phone, a free kebab or bag of chips. Any girl who is unprotected can be targeted. It's not racist; it's opportunistic. They are usually girls from damaged or dysfunctional backgrounds, who are out on the streets at all hours."
So it is not about race, he insists, though it grows out of cultural presuppositions. "These men disrespect all women, but these white girls are more vulnerable. They objectify women, just as white footballer rapists do," he says. "Porn," he adds, "plays a big part in it."

What can be done about all this? Wendy Shepherd, of the children's charity Barnardo's, is one of the UK's most experienced on-the-ground experts on child sexual exploitation. She has a checklist of necessary improvements. It coincides almost entirely with that of Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley from the Institute of Security and Crime Science.

The improvements include better police training and strategies, so that prosecutions do not simply fail because there is no evidence beyond the word of the victim against the abuser; greater co-operation and information sharing between police, social workers, doctors, nurses, teachers and charities; more direct help for victims, including those who don't know they are being abused; and more work with children in schools to raise awareness of the risk.
But vital to the list, says Wendy Shepherd, is that the younger generation of men needs to be educated in better attitudes towards women.

That is precisely what Alyas Karmani has begun to do. All across the country – but mainly in Bradford, Blackburn, Manchester and London – he runs courses aimed at three key groups. "We run From Boys to Men courses for 11- to 13-year-olds to talk openly about puberty, bodily changes, sexual attraction and Islamic teaching on there being no sex before marriage," he explains. "Many have had no conversation with their fathers, because sex is an embarrassing and even shameful activity in traditional Pakistani culture.

"Sex education in schools does not address real life issues and challenges," Karmani adds – and a lot of the boys had been removed from sex education classes at school on religious grounds. "So all their information is from their peers, the streets or the internet. They have no understanding of sex in a loving relationship, or any understanding of what is permitted and forbidden in Islam. They confuse Islam with conservative Pakistani culture."
He runs run similar courses for 14-to 19-year-olds, which also deal with drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence. "Many of these kids just want an adult male to talk frankly with them. They have to learn the importance of self-respect and not being susceptible to peer pressure or older men who offer them alcohol or want to take them to the brothel. Teaching respect for themselves and respect for women is part of that. The sessions also deal with social networking and internet, violence and sex, honour killings and domestic violence, sex offending, grooming, statutory rape, "date rape" and indecent assault.
"We talk about what is abusive and what not – and about the need to respect white women and the damage that on-street grooming does to the victim, the man and the wider community," he says.
"We look at famous case histories, like Britain's youngest rapist, who was 13. We don't flinch from hard cases and will answer any questions whatsoever. And we do some hard-hitting aversion therapy using the filmed testimony of women who have been raped – who are someone's daughter and sister."
For adults, he runs a "Joy of Muslim Sex" course. "I talk to the men and my wife talks to the women," he explains. "What you have to understand is that these people are coming from a Pakistani culture in which no demonstration of affection is allowed between a married couple in public or in front of their children – not even a peck on the cheek or holding hands.

"That would be completely shameful behaviour. We try to teach them to overcome that and to be affectionate with one another, to create time and space. That's hard in a community where it's common for two brothers and their wives to live with the men's parents still.
"We talk about pre-play and foreplay, about the importance of hiring a hotel room once in a while for private space for prolonged pleasure, getting to know one another better. Sometimes the women, especially those who have come from Pakistan for an arranged marriage, need lessons on how to seduce their husbands. I told one woman that she needed to pay more attention to her husband and she paused and said: "I'll iron more of his shirts then". I had to explain that wasn't quite what I meant."
The course uses material from the 15th-century erotic Arabic sex manual The Perfumed Garden. "The men need to be told that sex for women is about emotional intensity more than the mere physical. The demand for all of these courses is huge," he concludes. "I could spend all my time doing nothing else. The need is massive."

Men like Alyas Karmani are trying to get the British Asian community to address a problem from which, he admits, it has been in denial. But it is not enough simply to point the finger at Asians, as Wendy Shepherd points out. Her long experience with Barnardo's shows that if you scratch the surface you'll find some pretty appalling attitudes towards women in the white community too.
"It's not that long ago that a man could get drunk on a Sunday lunchtime and go home and give his wife a beating and people would accept that as normal," Wendy Shepherd says. "The danger with saying that the problem is with one ethnicity is that then people will only be on the look-out for that group – and risk missing other threats."

Child sex abusers come from all backgrounds. Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood said after the Rochdale convictions that his force was investigating other cases of on-street grooming which did not involve British Pakistanis. "Our experience shows us that all communities need to be vigilant to this issue." Without that many more children will suffer at the hands of such men.

Friday 11 May 2012

Justice for Sahar Gul: Afghan family who tortured child bride jailed for 10 years

Three relatives of Sahar Gul, the child bride whose case caused worldwide outrage after she was rescued – tortured and starved – from a filthy basement in northern Afghanistan last year, have each been sentenced to 10 years in prison for human rights abuses.

The 15-year-old was found in a cellar in Baghlan province last December after her uncle tipped off police. Following an arranged marriage, Ms Gul's husband and his family kept her in isolation for five months, with barely enough food to survive, and tortured her because she refused to enter into prostitution.

In one of the most extreme examples of domestic violence exposed in Afghanistan, Ms Gul's in-laws pulled out her fingernails, beat her, broke her fingers and burned her body with hot pokers.
Ms Gul attended the sentencing, coming face to face with her husband's mother, father and sister for the first time since she was rescued. In court, she pulled off her headscarf to show the judge the scars on her scalp, face and neck inflicted during her ordeal. She asked the judge to punish her relatives by imposing the death penalty.

Ms Gul's representatives said the 10-year sentence handed down to each member of her husband's family was nowhere near long enough and they are appealing for harsher punishment.
"She said she was happy they were all put in jail," said Huma Safi of Women for Afghan Women, which runs the half-way house where Ms Gul was taken to recover after leaving hospital. She has since received intensive psychological counselling and physical therapy.
"I saw the happiness on her face – but also the fear," Ms Safi said. "The fear that in 10 years they will be able to leave jail. Ten years is not a long time. She said: 'Look how old I am. Ten years will go past very fast'."

Ms Gul's husband, a soldier in the Afghan army, and her brother-in-law fled when she was rescued and remain on the run. They were found guilty in absentia and presiding judge Sibghatullah Razi said the pair would be sentenced when they were caught.
Heather Barr, a researcher for Human Rights Watch Afghanistan, said the sentences were encouraging because they showed that "at least in this instance, the prosecutors have taken an act of violence against women seriously".

"That's a positive – but I'm afraid it's atypical," Ms Barr said. "This case is unusual in the amount of publicity it received but not unusual in the type of horrible acts that were involved. The challenge is to make sure that the law on the elimination of violence against women is implemented in all cases of violence against women, not just the unusual cases that receive media attention."
Over the past decade, since the Taliban were ousted from power, the situation for women in Afghanistan has improved. As many as four million girls now attend school, and women are employed in a variety of jobs. Although she refused to consider it at first, Ms Gul is now thinking about beginning her education.
However, activists believe more work must be done to address issues such as underage marriage, "honour" killings and the use of women to settle debts. Although the legal age for marriage in Afghanistan is 16, the UN estimates that half of girls marry before they are 15.
Ms Gul's case was one of three instances of horrific violence against women that made worldwide headlines at the end of last year. In November, the plight of Gulnaz came to light. Although she had been raped and impregnated by her cousin's husband, Gulnaz was imprisoned for adultery.
In December, three men doused a 17-year-old girl and her family in acid, in revenge for her refusal to marry an ageing suitor. Perhaps the most notorious case in recent years, however, is that of Bibi Aysha, whose mutilated face appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Her husband cut off her nose and ears and left her for dead after she ran away from home.

4 million: Estimated number of girls now attending school. Education of girls was banned under the Taliban

Wednesday 9 May 2012

The top ten towering 'fatwas'

A spectre is haunting Muslims—the spectre of fatwas. All the powers of old Islam have entered into a holy alliance: to issue more and more fatwas, each as ridiculous as the other, and thus drown the Islamic earth in a pestiferous flood of fatwas. Muftis and Mullahs, on-line clerics and television preachers, bearded bovines and senseless Sheikhs—they are all at it.

So gather around, O believers! Here is a list of our all-time favourites.

1. The earth is flat

The top place must go to the former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Bin Baz. In April 2000, the Sheikh, an authority on the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, issued, after considerable study of the sacred sources, a fatwa entitled ‘The Transmitted and Sensory Proofs of the Rotation of the Sun and Stillness of the Earth’. The learned Sheikh declared that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it. Numerous Muslim scientists, who had measured the circumference of the earth correct to three decimal places way back in the eight century, immediately turned in their graves.

2. "Hello, can you hear me? I'm leaving you..."

The Mullahs in the Deoband seminary in India are never far behind their Saudi colleagues. They have, however, introduced an innovation, and are now involved in a ‘cash for fatwa’ scandal. The going rate is said to be 5000 rupees per fatwa. Literally dozens of fatwas are issued by Deoband every week, like pork sausages coming down a conveyer belt, on a variety of topics—ranging from the use of credit cards to watching films (both are haram, strictly forbidden, if you must know). But their divorce by mobile phone fatwa takes the biscuit. Issued in November 2010 by Darul Ifta, the fatwa department of Dar-ul Uloom, Deoband, it reads: ‘Talaq (the word ‘divorce’) uttered thrice over a cell-phone by a Muslim man will be considered valid even if his wife is unable to hear it due to network or other problems’. They could have added: ‘or if she is hard of hearing’.
3. Keep it short, in 160 characters!

But why bother speed dialling that number in the first place? You could send a text instead. In March 2007, the Grand Mufti of the UAE issued a fatwa urging the faithful to divorce their wives through SMS. ‘Divorce through modern facility does not differ from divorce written on paper’, the Mufti declared. He did not clarify whether you had to send three text messages or if simply one would do. However, he did emphasise that no one but the husband was allowed to send such a message. We hear that divorce by text has now become a popular pastime in Tajikistan.

4. Type no evil 

But make sure you don’t include those evil Emoticons in your text message. Emoticons, says Multaqa Ahl al Hadeeth, an Indian Internet forum for devout Muslims—that is, those who hate deviants and ahl bidah(people of innovation)—is the work of the western devils. The site, which describes itself as a ‘meeting place for students of knowledge’, asserts: ‘Emoticons are forbidden because of its imitation to Allah’s creatures whether it is original or mixture or even deformed one and since the picture is the face and the face is what makes the real picture then emoticons which represent faces that express emotions then all that add up to make them Haram’. That’s devout logic for you.

5. "Honey, you shrunk the kid!"

Devout husbands must be eternally vigilant and careful, lest they accidentally and unintentionally nullify their marriage. One way such misfortune could befall you is by accidently seeing your wife naked during sex. According to a fatwa issued in January 2005 by Rashad Hassan Khalil, one time Dean of Sharia at that great citadel of Islamic learning Al-Azhar, ‘being completely naked during the act of coitus annuls the marriage’. So cover yourself, O ye faithful!

6. Till death unite us again?

What if the wife is dead? Well, that shouldn’t stop you from having sex with her, at least according to the highly regarded Moroccan Islamic Scholar and a member of the country’s religious hierarchy, Abdelbari Zemzami. He justifies his ruling, issued in May 2011, through an age old source of "Islamic" law—analogy. ‘Since a good Muslim couple will meet again in Heaven, and since death does not alter the marital contract it is not a hindrance to the husband’s desire to have sexual intercourse with the corpse of his (freshly) deceased wife’. So stop mourning and get on with it. [Ed's note: a recent claim that Egypt was mulling such a law is false. Read report here.]
7. Thou shall not be a man

Dead or alive, do make sure that your wife is a real woman and not a ‘tomboy’. Women who wear trousers, or behave in a ‘manly manner’, according to an edict issued in October 2008 by the National Fatwa Council of Malaysia, are ‘tomboys’ and not women; and therefore haram (forbidden). So do make sure, O believers, that your wives do not have short hair, wear jeans, or speak too loudly.

8. ... or do yoga

Or do yoga. A month later, in November 2008, the National Fatwa Council of Malaysia identified Yoga as ‘an aberration’. The Iman (faith) of a Muslim is already too weak, declared Abdul Shukor Husin, the Chairman of the august Council, to stand the onslaught of Hindu spiritual elements and chanting. Yoga ‘can destroy the faith of a Muslim’ completely! The Council is now working on a ‘halal Yoga’ so that ‘more compliant Muslims would not be confused’. Presumably it involves halal necrophilia.

9. The 'breast buddy'

However, if your Yoga-practising tomboy of a dead wife wants to go out and work there is a handy solution to your problems. According to a fatwa by Ezzat Attiya, another genius from the Al-Azhar factory and head of its hadith department, issued in May 2007, the rules forbidding unrelated men and working together can be easily overcome. The women should breast-feed their male colleagues. That, on the authority of some hadith or other, would make them kin, nearest and dearest who can work and hang out together.

10. Woman, you don't belong in that seat

In the end, as in the beginning. We return to Sheikh bin Baz, the late, lamented Grand Mufti of the Kingdom of unsoiled Muslims with perfect faith. Thanks to WikiLeaks we now know that it was none other than the blind Mufti himself who decreed, in a famous fatwa in 1991, that women should not be allowed to drive. The Sheikh declared, reads a cable, that ‘allowing women to drive would result in public “mixing” of women, put women into dangerous situations because they could be alone in cars, and therefore result in social chaos’.

The man was right. The Islamic earth is really flat.