Thursday 23 July 2015

The Cairo streets where girls pretend to be boys

 The wide-eyed, bewildered face of a small boy being held by his young mother
Society’s permissive attitude to domestic abuse is also a contributing factor to a child’s decision to run away. There are laws to deal with abusive parents, and hotlines to report them. But in a culture where many feel parents should have the right to deal with their children how they like, legislation isn’t always followed. “A man could beat his son to death in front of a police officer in the street,” explains Shaimaa, an in-house psychologist at Hope. “But nobody would intervene because it was his son.”
As a result, the street may literally become the only avenue left to abused children. And once there they become fair game for adults other than their parents.
It is 9.30pm and long past dark. Shaimaa, the psychologist, is in northeast Cairo, walking the streets of an upmarket suburb. Wealthy locals sip coffee at tables lining the pavements, or queue to buy ice cream from one of the city’s fanciest parlours.
But Shaimaa is not here to meet them. As she often is, Shaimaa is searching for a missing teenager. Sarah was abused by her parents, became a prostitute, and ended up sold by her pimp to men from the Gulf who kept her in a flat in Cairo. Somehow she escaped, and later started turning up at a drop-in centre, where Shaimaa first met her. But now Sarah has disappeared again, and Shaimaa wants to find her. Some of the other street girls said she might be here in Korba.
It is often dangerous work, doing what Shaimaa does. Founded in 1988 by an expat Brit, Richard Hemsley, Hope Village now runs several day-centres and long-term shelters that aim to gradually rehabilitate street children back into mainstream society. Many of the girls Shaimaa coaxes into the shelters can’t stand the imposition of a routine – so, like Sarah, they sometimes disappear. One of Shaimaa’s jobs is to find them.
But finding them is tough. Coaxing a girl back to the shelter might disrupt a prostitution ring. In any given area, Shaimaa needs the blessing of the local street leader – otherwise she might get attacked. “If I’m going out to get a girl that I know is being used by a group of men, then I’m a target,” Shaimaa says. “I’m taking a source of income from them.”
Sometimes the attackers come to the shelters themselves. At one drop-in centre, four men once entered with machetes and said if a certain girl wasn’t returned to them, they’d cut everyone’s heads off.
And, occasionally, the threat comes from the girls themselves. In a fit of self-loathing, one teenager staying at a shelter stormed out of a group meeting, took out a blade and began to cut herself, slashing Shaimaa when she came near. As a matter of course, Shaimaa and her colleagues at Hope Village have bi-annual check-ups and immunisations against various diseases. Some of the girls they work with are HIV positive, or suffer from hepatitis C.
In such a thankless job, many of those who work at Hope Village have particular memories that keep them motivated. For Shaimaa, it is the image of one of her first patients: a nine-year-old who came to a drop-in centre after being gang-raped on the street.
“All these years later, that girl is still what keeps me going,” says Shaimaa, who thought the job wasn’t for her until she saw the nine-year-old playing at the centre. “I can’t forget her sitting so innocently on the swing as she was still bleeding from the rape.”

Monday 20 July 2015

Celebrating Muslim Women Leaders in Islam

HEROINES: Here are 6 women trying — against all odds — to build a future for Gaza


Madeleine Kulab grew up by Gaza’s glistening blue sea, watching the waves crash into the strip’s 25-mile Mediterranean coastline. But at 13, when her father, who suffered from a form of palsy, could no longer fish, Kulab took the helm and became her family’s breadwinner.
Now 21, she says becoming Gaza’s first and only fisherwoman was not easy, both because she is a women and because she lives in a society whose dysfunctional relationship with Israel takes a daily toll. “Even the sea isn’t free here,” Kulab says. “People always looked at me and teased or scolded my dad … they didn’t take me seriously. But we ignored them.”
Today, one year after last summer’s war with Israel in which 2,100 Palestinians were killed — most of them civilians — vast devastation can still be seen across the Gaza Strip’s scarred landscape.
For many, Gaza is a cemetery of aspirations never realized. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world — home to about 1.8 million Palestinians, roughly a third of whom live in UN-funded refugee camps. The territory is riddled with poverty and its local economy strangled by a blockade which Israel imposed in 2007 to weaken the Islamist Hamas government.
UN figures show about 80 percent of the population receives aid. According to the World Bank, unemployment in Gaza is the highest in the world at 43 percent. Youth unemployment hovers over 60 percent. Few ever obtain the proper permits to travel through the territory’s tightly controlled borders.
Since Israel imposed its land and sea blockade, families have suffered. On the water, if fishermen exceed a six-mile limit imposed by Israel, they risk being shot at by the Israeli Navy. “We are given small swimming zones to fish where there isn’t any good fish,” Kulab says, noting her boat has been shot at in the past. “It’s a cage.”
Zakaria Bakr, head of Gaza’s Union of Agricultural Workers, says Kulab is one of the best on the sea. “Living in Gaza taught her to be brave,” he says. “Both physically and mentally. This isn’t always easy here … few men are as strong.”

Monday 13 July 2015

Afghanistan: No Country for Women

Under the Taliban women were banned from going to school and working. They were not allowed to leave their homes without a male relative or be seen in public without a burqa. For defying the regime's repressive laws, women were openly flogged and executed.
But 13 years after the fall of the Taliban, and despite the influx of billions of dollars in development aid, many Afghan women are still living in terror.
A report by Global Rights estimates that almost 90 percent of women experience physical, sexual or psychological abuse or forced marriage. Overwhelmingly, it is their families who are committing these crimes.
"It's a question of control and power," said Sima Samar, a prominent women's rights activist and chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. "You use religion, you use culture, you use tradition, you use gender to keep the power, to keep control."
When Mariam, 25, got married five years ago, she never imagined that she would end up in a shelter.
"When I first saw my husband I thought he was the right man for me," she said, sitting on the floor of the shelter with her head covered in a black scarf.
"I thought I'd have someone to share my pain and my secrets with. I'd have children and live a happy life."
But she says the abuse began almost immediately. Without warning, her husband would erupt into violent rages, at times threatening her with a loaded gun or dragging her by her hair through their home.
When she tried to seek help from the police, they released her husband after a few hours. Even her parents refused to help her, returning her to her in-laws after assurances that she would not be beaten.
Mariam says her husband was diagnosed with a mental illness and prescribed medication. But the torment continued.
"I thought about killing myself but I couldn't go through with it because I was pregnant. I was so tired. Most of the time I didn't even have the energy to defend myself and nobody was there to defend me," she said, showing no emotion.

Friday 10 July 2015

Ramadan in Kenya

Ramadan in Kenya meets Muslims living in Mombasa, Kisumu and Nairobi and captures their lives and culture in their homes, at work and in their places of worship.
They talk about what aspects of Ramadan mean the most to them.
Aseef Akram is a 25-year-old halal butcher living in Mombasa. He talks about the "spirit of Ramadan" in the city, the culture of openness towards those who are fasting, and about breaking that fast with the coconut dishes of the region.
"For me [during Ramadan], I tend to be most spiritually connected to my God, my creator," says Akram.
In the western city of Kisumu, Fauza Asya Kombo picks and sells bananas for a living and is raising five children on her own after her husband died.
Although earning a livelihood can be a struggle, she says, "When we've finished [iftar], we give any leftover bread to our neighbours. Food doesn't go to waste ... Wasting leads to non-belief."
Arafat bin Talebis, a sixth grader at a shelter for orphans, talks about the peace he gains from his Quranic studies and the importance of his faith in his life.
"To me, the month of Ramadan acts like a guide. If I've made mistakes before Ramadan, I'll avoid making them once Ramadan starts," he says.
From the Quran memorisation competitions which attract children studying in madrassas in Tanzania and Uganda - to Akram's family using the opportunity to eat together to break their fast, Ramadan in Kenya experiences the spirituality, traditions and significance of the holy month through the eyes of individuals who observe it.

Thursday 9 July 2015

Filmmaker Wants To Stop Fathers From Giving Up Their Daughters

She fights for the rights of women by telling stories about heroic men.
"The struggle to end violence against women has always been carried out by women activists," says Samar Minallah Khan, who makes documentaries about gender-based violence in her native Pakistan.
"Women have worked very hard to bring awareness, but it will never be enough." That's why she brings men into the picture. And her approach has won acclaim from both men and women.
Khan is one of five women honored with a Global Leadership Award by Vital Voices, a group founded by Hillary Clinton after the World Conference of Women in Beijing in 1995. At the presentation ceremony, held at the Kennedy Center last month, a packed house of women gave her a standing ovation when she dedicated the award to the men in her life: "my amazing supportive and loving father, my husband, my brothers and my son."
Khan's films focus primarily on the practice of swara, where a daughter is given away as compensation for a crime. Swara happens mainly in poor, rural areas.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Did Prophet Muhammad Warn Us of ISIS?

In separate attacks last week, ISIS terrorists killed 39 tourists at a beach resort in Tunisia, and close to 30 worshipers at a Shia Mosque in Kuwait. The onslaught came shortly after the group called on its militant Jihadi sympathizers to expand operations in the month of Ramadan.
ISIS has demonstrated an unflinching determination to take out anyone who dares to disagree with it. Its members have slaughtered Yazidis and Christians, but the vast majority of its victims have been Muslims who resist it and refuse to acknowledge its authority. ISIS has even executed Sunni clerics who refused to swear allegiance to it, and Muslim women who did not submit to its worldview.
This feature is shared across all terrorist groups operating in the name of Islam. The vast majority of the victims of the Taliban, for instance, are also Muslims. Hundreds of Shia Muslims have been killed just in the last few years. And I have lost many close friends in similar attacks on the Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and even in America.
So when some anti-Islam critics keep doggedly associating the faith of us Muslims with the acts of our tormentors, we call them out for their insensitivity.

Thursday 2 July 2015

SCOTUS Marriage Decision and Faith by Suhaib Webb

The Women Who Guard the Prophet's Mosque

To be in the city of the Prophet is a blessing in itself, but to be there during Ramadan, that is a whole other story. Women surround me as I make my way towards the gates of Masjid-E-Nabawi (The Mosque of the Prophet Muhammed P.B.U.H), stopping a few feet from the doors to remove their shoes. They then line up, holding their bags out for inspection.
At the entrance of each gate are two women covered in black from head to toe. They stand tall, even wearing black gloves. Nothing can be seen of them except their eyes. One by one, they look through the contents of each bag. I see one taking out a bar of chocolate, stating that food isn't allowed in the mosque, while another confiscates a juice box. They toss items aside, relentless, and usher worshippers -- including myself -- into the mosque.
They are called Mursheeda, "those who guide." They aren't just security guards; they are scholars of Islam, women with a purpose. While some worshippers may not even pay attention to them, others have had their fair share of unpleasant encounters with the Mursheeda. These women are stern, and they have to be. Thousands pour in and out of the mosque around the clock, and they are essential to establishing crowd control.
The Mursheeda aren't all necessarily employees of the mosque; some are volunteers. They stand tall, scattered throughout the mosque on the lookout for any suspicious or illicit activity. I see a woman using her cell phone to take a picture of the beautiful interior. Almost immediately, I see a Mursheeda moving towards her. She takes the phone, deletes the picture, hands it back to her and walks off without explanation.
Even inside the mosque, I note that the faces of the Mursheeda are covered. It is because women may take pictures of them and show them to their husbands, brothers, or even worse, upload them on social media. This is why cell phones with cameras are not permitted in the holy mosque. The Mursheeda are extremely devout Muslims, and apart from other women, only show their faces to immediate male family members.
They are striking, even though they can hardly be seen. It's in the way they stand, with a greater purpose. They are the guardians of the Mosque of Muhammed P.B.U.H, the greatest man to have ever lived, according to Islam. I note how one has a perfect winged liner, and catch a glimpse of a sparkly watch on the wrist of another. It reminds me that beneath their stern demeanor, their rigid backs and strict voices, they are also simply women.
I see two other Mursheeda guiding women towards seating areas. "Yallah baji," one says loudly, motioning as traffic police would, towards two elderly Pakistani women who seem overwhelmed by the crowd. 'Yallah' roughly translates to 'come on' in Arabic, while 'baji' is an Urdu word used to address older women. It intrigues me, their use of multiple languages. "Asseyez-vous," I hear another instruct, telling a group of women to sit down in French. I later learn that the mosque employs women of a number of different nationalities including, but not limited to, Pakistani, Turkish, Egyptian, Algerian and Moroccan. The mosque attracts people from the world over, so it is essential to hire employees who speak different languages.
Each member of this carefully-selected force of women must fulfill two requirements. She must live in Medinah, and she must be able to speak Arabic fluently. If you look closely, you will note that the Mursheeda can be distinguished by one of two things, either a pink card stuck to the front of their burqas, or a green and white seal on their sleeves. A Mursheeda with a pink card is in training, and is currently serving as a member of the guard. A Mursheeda with a seal on her sleeve has completed her training and is at a higher rank. She is an Islamic scholar, and can be approached with regard to any religious questions you may have.
Masjid-E-Nabawi is anything but simply a mosque. It includes a number of offices, a lost and found, a library, a clinic and a school specializing in the teaching of the holy Quran. Most importantly, it is the resting place of the Prophet Muhammed P.B.U.H, who I have come to visit and pay my respects to. These women have led me to him, and for this they shall be greatly rewarded.