Friday, 22 March 2019

New Zealanders observe Muslim call to prayer: 'We are one'

Islamic Way of Dealing with Death | Dr. Shabir Ally

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Halal holiday bookings soar as Muslims opt for the Med

Driven by a rapidly expanding global population and a burgeoning middle class, overall Muslim lifestyle spending – including food, fashion, cosmetics, media and recreation – was worth an estimated $2.1tn in 2017.

The report – produced annually by analyst Thomson Reuters – says that the halal travel sector is “spreading its wings through offering cultural, historical, religious and beach tourism. Muslim-friendly beach resorts are proving particularly popular.”

Muslim spending power has never been stronger – and hoteliers on the Turquoise Coast have been quick to respond. Some have converted existing hotels to be halal-friendly; other purpose-built resorts are springing up. Their restaurants serve halal food. The premises are alcohol-free. They provide prayer rooms and mosques, and broadcast the call to prayer over public address systems.

Most resorts have screened-off women-only pools and beach areas, in which women can sunbathe in bikinis without fear of being seen by men. Boys over the age of five or six are banned, along with cameras and mobile phones. Spas and gyms have separate opening times for men and women. Organised entertainment is “family-friendly”.

Basma Kahie, a fashion blogger, said she had previously had doubts about taking holidays because of the difficulties facing Muslim families. But after visiting a halal-friendly resort in Antalya last year with her husband and daughter, she was planning another holiday, this time with friends.

“It was amazing not to have to worry about things that might compromise my religious beliefs,” she told the Observer.


Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Mothers send sons to Somalia to avoid knife crime

British teenagers are being sent by their parents to Somalia, itself recovering from a series of terror attacks, because of concern that the police cannot protect them from knife crime.

Representatives from north London’s Somali community say hundreds of children have been flown to Somalia, Somaliland and Kenya because of rising concerns over drug gangs and county lines, the criminal networks that use children to transport drugs from cities to the provinces.

In a series of interviews, Somali mothers who arrived in London after fleeing their country during its 1990s civil war told the Observer that many of their sons had asked to leave the UK because of drug gangs and the threat of violence.

Rakhia Ismail, Islington deputy mayor, said: “Sending them away has become the only way they can be safer. This issue of safety has been repeatedly raised by the community but nobody has listened. So many children have gone abroad. Two weeks ago, there was a stabbing and a child was taken back home two days later.”

The revelations follow a week of heated debate over the causes of and potential solutions to Britain’s knife crime epidemic. Seventeen people have died after attacks in London alone since the start of 2019. On Saturday, there were reports that three people were in hospital after an attack at a nightclub in Birmingham, a city reeling from three knife fatalities within days last month. And a 15-year-old boy was charged with murder after the stabbing of 17-year-old Ayub Hassan, in west London, on Thursday afternoon.

The supermarket Asda made a surprise intervention on Saturday into the issue, announcing that it will stop selling single kitchen knives.

 Another 15-year-old was recently sent away after his friend was stabbed to death in Islington and he was told 'you next'
The high levels of violence facing parts of British society are evident in the testimony of Islington’s sizeable Somali community. Representatives say 50-70% have been directly affected by county lines and knife crime.

Sadia Ali, treasurer of Islington Somalia Forum and founder of Minority Matters, said: “Hundreds of youngsters have been taken to Somalia, Somaliland and Kenya, some taken all the way to the rural areas. Parents feel they have no choice if they want their son to be safe.”

Ali, a mother of seven, sent her 15-year-old son to Somalia to protect him from gangs and said many of her friends now have children on two continents. Another 15-year-old son was recently sent to Somalia after his friend was stabbed to death in Islington and he was told “you next”.

Recently, Somalia has suffered a number of terror attacks. A car bomb in the capital, Mogadishu, killed seven people and wounded several others on Thursday, following. It followed another the week before which killed 29 people.

On Friday, a north London Somali mother flew to Mombasa, Kenya, to dissuade her 19-year-old son from returning to the UK after gangs asked him to return: “I am very scared what the gangs will do if he comes home.”


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Educating brothel children in Pakistan should be a priority

The call to prayer echoes across the ancient walled city of Lahore. Worshippers hurriedly make their way towards the centuries-old Badshahi Mosque, and in its shadow thrives a trade older than the grand mosque itself.

Condemned by the devout and exploited by the elite, the sex workers of Heera Mandi, Lahore’s infamous red-light district, earn their living on the margins of society. Open doorways offer a fleeting glimpse into the realities of the women who live here, most of whom face a daily struggle to make ends meet.

Each has a different story to tell. Some were born into the trade while others were trafficked from rural villages and poorer parts of the city; lured by men with the prospect of marriage or employment and then sold off to brothels.

A winding alleyway leads to a small, concrete building with green doors. An unexpected chanting of nursery rhymes can be heard. Inside, a cluttered, makeshift classroom equipped with wooden desks, an alphabet-strewn blackboard and walls plastered with colourful drawings. The voices belong to the children of Lahore’s sex workers.

They are the forgotten by-product of Pakistan’s undercover sex trade; spending their days on the streets and returning at night to sleep on brothel floors. They face malnutrition, physical and mental abuse and are prime targets of trafficking.

According to Sahil, a local NGO, child sexual abuse cases in Pakistan have increased from nine cases per day in 2017 to 12 cases per day in 2018. Between January and June 2018, 2,322 child abuse cases were reported from all four provinces of Pakistan. The data revealed children between the ages of 6 and 10 were most vulnerable and, of the total cases reported, the majority of victims were girls.

Like shameful secrets, society prefers to keep them hidden and, to the Pakistan government, most of these children don’t exist. Since many are without fathers – a prerequisite to obtaining a birth certificate – school enrolment is not only difficult but nearly impossible.

“Every child deserves an education regardless of their background,” says Lubna Tayyab. “These children have dreams to become artists, teachers and doctors – to be respected members of society – and nobody has the right to deprive them of that.”

Born and raised in the red-light district herself, Lubna was taunted at school and made to feel like an outcast. Determined to provide an education for children who no other school seemed to want, she founded her project, Apni Taleem, which in Urdu means “Our Education”.

In 2011, Lubna converted the ground floor of her home into a classroom and began offering free schooling to the children of sex workers in her neighbourhood. She went door to door, engaging mothers in discussing the importance of education and encouraging their kids to attend. It wasn’t easy – most mothers were reluctant since their children were expected to contribute to the family income by begging on the streets, but Lubna persisted.

She made a special effort to recruit girls, who were less likely than their brothers to attend, and began offering free school meals. A dozen turned up, and today over 70 children are being taught a range of subjects, including literacy, numeracy and religious studies.

Apni Taleem operates on a budget of roughly £20,000 a year. Local donors show no interest in funding a school for the children of sex workers so UK-based Muslim Charity has stepped up; contributing towards the cost of rent, teacher’s salaries and educational resources.

The Pakistan government has also been reluctant to help. “They insist the children can attend government schools, but that’s not feasible,” says Lubna. “Government schools are meant to be free but in practice they’re not. Uniforms, textbooks and exam fees are costs sex workers can’t afford.”

The school is more than just a facility; it is a safe haven protecting vulnerable children from the harsh realities of street life. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, Pakistan does not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of sex trafficking but efforts to carry out more prosecutions are underway.

Last year, it reported investigating 6,376 alleged sex traffickers and prosecuting 6,232; an increase from 2,979 investigations and 2,021 prosecutions from the previous year. Pakistan also approved the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act 2018, which seeks to safeguard the rights of human trafficking victims. Overall efforts to combat trafficking remain inadequate compared to the scale of the problem.

Meanwhile, the safety of sex workers and their children remains a real concern. Local police do not provide adequate protection, so violence is a daily occurrence in their lives. Some of the children at the school have already been sexually exploited and their protection remains a key, underfunded priority.

Noor is determined her daughter gets a decent education. “She loves to learn,” she says. “Before the school, she was on the streets while I worked. I was constantly terrified not knowing where she was and what could happen to her.” Despite the challenges these women face, they remain resilient and spirited. Their eyes show hope for a better future and this small school is a big catalyst for their children to discover their full potential.

Lubna Tayyab unexpectedly passed away last month. Her husband and daughter, Fiza Tayyab, are committed to keep her project running. “This school was my mother’s dream and I’ll do everything I can to keep her dream alive,” says Fiza.

Irfan Rajput, director of international programmes at Muslim Charity says: “We are saddened to hear of Lubna’s death. She was a true humanitarian who fought passionately for the rights of women and children in Pakistan. We will continue to support the school in whatever way we can.”

 If you would like to support Lubna’s legacy and educate some of the most vulnerable children in Pakistan, please donate


Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Islamophobia driving belief in myths about Muslims in British society, MPs say

Harmful myths and lies about Muslims are now believed by a large section of the UK's population, contributing to discrimination across employment, housing, the criminal justice system and other areas of public life, a new report by MPs has found.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims found that “prevalent” Islamophobia was driving division, hate crime and even terror attacks.

“British society at large, by virtue of normalised prejudice against Muslim beliefs and practice, have come to imbibe a panoply of falsehoods or misrepresentations and discriminatory outlooks,” its report said.

Academic research has consistently shown that British Muslims face considerably high levels of economic disadvantage than other groups in Britain."

While a report by market research company Ipsos Mori found that the majority of Muslims believe Islam is compatible with the British way of life, a separate survey of the wider population by polling firm YouGov, found that 46 per cent thought there was a “fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society”.

A separate study recently found almost a third of British people believe the myth of “no-go zones” where non-Muslims cannot enter, while the MPs took aim at false and misleading news stories.

They include the “Winterval” myth that claimed Christmas celebrations were being suppressed and a story that wrongly interpreted research to say one fifth of British Muslims had “sympathy for jihadis”.

MPs said that corrections published by newspapers “pale in comparison to the damage done to perceptions of Muslims in British society”.

A report concluded that Islamophobia has far surpassed the “dinner table test” espoused by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi in 2011 and is now prevalent in society.

MPs said that because there is no commonly agreed definition of Islamophobia, it has been allowed to “increase in society to devastating effect”.

“The detectable shift from overt to subtler or respectable, manifestations of Islamophobia - the normalisation of the prejudice to the extent it is rendered almost invisible to many - warrants a definition that can arrest and reverse its present trajectory,” their report said.

“There has been no attempt to adopt a definition of Islamophobia by government despite recognising the significant impact the problem has on British Muslim communities.”

After a six-month inquiry taking evidence from Muslim organisations, legal experts, academics, MPs and other groups, the APPG called on the government to adopt the definition: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

Anticipating criticism from far-right and populist groups, MPs said the definition did not aim to curtail free speech or criticism of Islam as a religion.

“From hate crimes motivated by anti-Muslim feeling, buttressed by stereotypes and racist caricatures prevalent in social and media discourse, to policies which perpetuate discriminatory outcomes for Muslims, a definition of Islamophobia is vital,” the APPG concluded.

MPs highlighted terror attacks and plots targeting Muslims, including the Finsbury Park attack and the attempted murder of a Sikh dentist in Wales.

They said that rising hate crimes had affected both Muslims and those wrongly thought to be part of the religion because of their appearance, including an Italian man who was badly beaten in London.

The APPG cited research showing that Muslims are disadvantaged across employment, housing, education, the criminal justice system, social and public life and in political or media discourse.

Its report warned that Islamophobia also increased feeling of disengagement, disenfranchisement and disaffection with the state.

Wes Streeting MP, co-chair of the APPG for British Muslims and Labour MP for Ilford North, said: “Islamophobia is a form of racism and it is growing in our society. To tackle it, Islamophobia must be accurately and fully defined and that’s why this inquiry centred around the discussion on a working definition.”

“This landmark report brings about a working definition of Islamophobia for the first time, which will allow us to tackle this prejudice head-on. The adoption of this definition by political parties, statutory agencies and civil society organisations will allow us to turn a corner to move forward towards a fairer society.”

Anna Soubry MP, co-chair of the APPG for British Muslims and Conservative MP for Broxtowe, said Islamophobia was a “very real problem” throughout the UK.

“Muslims or people assumed to be Muslims are subjected to abuse, discrimination and criminal acts against them for no other reason than their faith or perceived faith,” she added. “It is equally obvious that overwhelmingly Islamophobia is rooted in racism and therefore is, racist. This definition recognises this truth and I hope it will now enable the serious work that needs to be done to tackle Islamophobia.”

A government spokesperson said: “We remain deeply concerned at hatred directed against British Muslims and others because of their faith or heritage. This is utterly unacceptable and does not reflect the values of our country.

“We know that some have suggested establishing a definition of Islamophobia could strengthen efforts to confront bigotry and division. Any such approach would need to be considered carefully to ensure that this would have the positive effect intended.

“Following the recent publication of our Hate Crime Action Plan, we look forward to discussing steps to confront hatred, bigotry and division with the Government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group.”


Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Child marriage in Niger is a cultural issue, not an Islamic one

Islam, for me, is a way of life and the core of my world. As a Muslim woman I have always been encouraged to be who I want to be.

I get frustrated when people say: “Why do you wear a hijab? Isn’t that a sign of women’s oppression?” I choose to wear a hijab; I choose to be an educated and liberated woman and I choose to follow Islam.

Islam states that a woman’s purpose for existence is not to serve any other human beings or be subjugated by any other person.

I recently visited Niger, where up to 98% of the population is Muslim. The country also has the world’s highest child marriage rate, with three out of four girls married before the age of 18. Key drivers for this are poverty, local customs, tradition and lack of education.

Niger is the fifth poorest country in the world, and I saw for myself acute signs of poverty. I spoke to families who told me how they gave up their daughters for early marriage because they were struggling to feed or protect them, let alone send them to school. Girls suffer more than boys. Only 15% of women in Niger aged 15 to 24 are literate, compared with 30% of men.

 In Loga, 140km east of the capital Niamey, I met Mariama*, who was given up for marriage at the age of 12. Traumatised, she escaped on the night of her wedding and fled to the house of Maimouna Djibrila, a volunteer working with Islamic Relief. She of all people understood what Mariama was going through. She too had been given away for early marriage to a cousin, and had a very difficult time.

Maimouna worked with several organisations, Mariama’s school, the police and both families to get the marriage annulled. Unfortunately, two years later (a month before our visit), her father was trying to marry off Mariama again.

Early and forced marriage is a contentious subject in Niger. The country has signed up to international treaties that set a minimum age of marriage of 18. However, the legal age of marriage is 15 for girls and 18 for boys. There have been ongoing discussions in parliament to make sure that the national law respects the international treaties, but this has not yet happened.

Even if the law changes, it is unlikely that child marriage will stop overnight. It is entrenched in the culture in Niger. I want to be clear on this: this is not an Islamic issue, but a cultural issue.

For any change to happen, it has to happen at community level. Islamic Relief is training community and faith leaders, such as Imams and village chiefs, about the importance of women’s rights and child protection.

Imams are vital in this campaign. I witnessed imams preaching about the rights of women and children in their Friday sermons, known as khutbas. They pointed out that the Qur’an states it is not lawful for men to inherit their wives by force, or for parents to let their children be harmed in any way. And how a successful marriage according to Islam promotes love, tranquillity and mercy between husbands and wives.

The latter is particularly important, given the high levels of domestic violence in the country. An estimated 15.6% of women experience some form of sexual violence or harassment.

I met Adama in Loga, who was raped by an extended family member when she was 15 and then ostracised by her family for giving birth to his child outside marriage. She was kicked out of the house while pregnant. Maimouna convinced Adama’s mother to help her, and now she too is being ostracised by the family. It was heartbreaking listening to Adama. She told me that she has been reduced to begging for food and is insulted every day. I could see the pain in her eyes as she recounted her story.

It infuriated me to see Adama treated in this way, and to see so many young girls being forced into early marriage. Allah commands us to protect the honour of women, and the Qu’ran clearly states that violence against women and girls, in any shape or form, is not acceptable. It is not acceptable in the UK; it is not acceptable in Niger.

Adama’s story and many others I heard in Niger have fired me up in support of Islamic Relief’s #HonourHer campaign, which is working towards a global Islamic declaration of gender justice – a call to action against gender inequality from an Islamic faith perspective – to be launched later this year. I will use my voice to play an active part in this.


Monday, 11 March 2019

Hadith of the day

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "If you guarantee me six things on your part I shall guarantee you Paradise. Speak the truth when you talk, keep a promise when you make it, when you are trusted with something fulfill your trust, avoid sexual immorality, lower your gaze (in modesty), and restrain your hands from injustice." Al-Tirmidhi

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Egypt al-Azhar imam warns against polygamy an 'injustice' for women

The grand imam of Egypt's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar, has said polygamy can be an "injustice for women and children".

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Sunni Islam's highest authority, said the way it is often practised comes from "a lack of understanding of the Koran".

He made the comment on his weekly television programme and on Twitter.

After sparking debate, al-Azhar clarified that the cleric was not calling for a ban on polygamy.

He reiterated that monogamy was the rule and polygamy the exception.

"Those who say that marriage must be polygamous are all wrong," he said. The Koran, he added, states that for a Muslim man to have multiple wives, he "must obey conditions of fairness - and if there is not fairness it is forbidden to have multiple wives".

Sheikh al-Tayeb also advocated a broader revamp of the way women's issues are addressed.

"Women represent half of society. If we don't care for them it's like walking on one foot only," he said on Twitter.

Egypt's National Council for Women responded positively to his comments.

"The Muslim religion honours women- it brought justice and numerous rights which didn't exist before," said Maya Morsi, the council's president.The grand imam of Egypt's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar, has said polygamy can be an "injustice for women and children".

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Sunni Islam's highest authority, said the way it is often practised comes from "a lack of understanding of the Koran".

He made the comment on his weekly television programme and on Twitter.

After sparking debate, al-Azhar clarified that the cleric was not calling for a ban on polygamy.

He reiterated that monogamy was the rule and polygamy the exception.

"Those who say that marriage must be polygamous are all wrong," he said. The Koran, he added, states that for a Muslim man to have multiple wives, he "must obey conditions of fairness - and if there is not fairness it is forbidden to have multiple wives".

Sheikh al-Tayeb also advocated a broader revamp of the way women's issues are addressed.

"Women represent half of society. If we don't care for them it's like walking on one foot only," he said on Twitter.

Egypt's National Council for Women responded positively to his comments.

"The Muslim religion honours women- it brought justice and numerous rights which didn't exist before," said Maya Morsi, the council's president.


Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Thanks to this Afghan woman, 6,000 imams have taken gender-sensitivity training

 “I became very happy. When I got to school, it was my whole world,” she says.

Afghani was in fifth grade when the fighting between the mujahideen and the Soviet Union became so fierce that her family left Afghanistan for Pakistan. In Peshawar, she enrolled in master’s-level classes in Islamic studies and began learning Arabic. Once there, she came to see an Islam that was not what she had been familiar with.

“When I started learning Arabic and studying by myself, I found out that Islam is totally different from what my family was saying, what my environment was teaching,” she says.

“Everything was always a discrimination in our family,” says Afghani, who observed how her brothers behaved with their wives. “They were educated women, but my brothers stopped them from continuing their education and working,” she recounts. “I thought, if [my brothers] can go outside, why not my sisters-in-law?”

After 2001, when the Taliban were ousted from power in Afghanistan, scores of refugees started returning to the country, Afghani among them. She began setting up women’s centers where literacy was taught.

But when the project was taken to Afghani’s native Ghazni province, she ran into problems with the community – especially the imams of the mosques. She decided to invite one of the imams to her center, but he was embarrassed to meet a woman and said he wished nobody would find out. Afghani couldn’t believe his attitude: “I thought, my God, what is this?” But she chose to take a respectful approach and explained that she was educating women about Islam. “I said, ‘If you can find a single verse from the Quran or the hadith that education is bad, then I’ll stop right now and hand over the key of this center to you.’ ”

Slowly, she says, the imam became impressed with Afghani’s knowledge of Islam, and he started encouraging men to let their wives and daughters go to the center. Suddenly, the space was crowded with women hungry for education.

In 2008, Afghani was invited to a conference in Malaysia organized by the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE), a network for Muslim women. There she learned about a Filipina woman who was writing Friday sermons for imams about women’s rights. This gave Afghani the idea about gender-sensitivity training for imams. With the support of WISE and female Muslim scholars, “we developed a manual for the training,” she says.


Friday, 22 February 2019

Uighurs fled persecution in China. Now Beijing’s harassment has followed them to Australia

Alfiraa Dilshat and Rashida Abdughufur were picnicking in the small seaside town of Victor Harbor in late December when Abdughufur got a video call from her mother.

With Abdughufur living in Adelaide, a city in southern Australia, and her mother in the Xinjiang region of China, it was a rare chance for the two to connect. At first, Abdughufur said, she was excited because she hadn’t talked to her mother in a long time.

Then came “disaster.”

Abdughufur’s mother appeared on the screen in handcuffs, sitting next to a police officer. “They started interrogating me,” Abdughufur said. Fearing for her safety, she complied, sharing sensitive details and documents the police demanded from her, including her Australian driver’s license.

When Abdughufur finished the call, “her face was pale,” her friend Dilshat remembered. Shortly thereafter, an audio message from Abdughufur’s mother arrived. “These people will look for you,” it said. The WeChat account used to contact Abdughufur was disconnected soon after. Abdughufur hasn’t heard from her mother since.

This was the kind of danger that she and other Uighurs had hoped to escape. In the past few years, China has conducted a sweeping campaign to suppress Uighur identity and restrict the practice of Islam. As many as 1 million Uighurs and members of other minority groups — mostly Muslim ones — are being held without charges in brutal internment camps, according to the United Nations. It is just the latest episode in a decades-long history of tension between Uighurs and the staunchly secular, Han Chinese-dominated government in Beijing.

Abdughufur herself fled Xinjiang in 2017, when China intensified its crackdown. Shortly after moving to Australia, her younger brother and father were sent to internment camps.

After months of denying the camps existed, China switched last year to justifying them. Beijing insists it is merely providing job training and “de-extremism education” in a region that is poor and steeped in fundamentalism. “As a result of the vocational education and training, the social environment of Xinjiang has seen notable changes, with a healthy atmosphere on the rise and improper practices declining,” said Shohrat Zakir, the de facto No. 2 official in Xinjiang, in October.

The Chinese embassy in Australia did not respond to requests for comment.

On Friday, Uighurs across Australia rallied in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide to highlight the plight of their communities in China, but also to protest against their treatment by Beijing abroad.

Uighurs in Adelaide said efforts to infiltrate their community go back more than a decade. One man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still has family in China, said that during a visit to China in 2005, he was offered what was then an average wage in Australia if he agreed to spy on his community. Another woman, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her family, said she was approached with a similar request as recently as 2011.

Open intimidation on Australian soil is a much more recent concern. It has taken the form of WeChat messages or phone calls, often from individuals claiming to be Chinese officials. They may ask for a call back regarding passport or visa matters, or claim a package has arrived at the embassy for the person they are calling; many of them demand sensitive personal information that Uighurs believe Chinese authorities would already have because of prior visa requests.

That pattern, said Michael Clarke, who researches the treatment of Uighurs at Australia’s National Security College, is “consistent, not just with incidents in Australia, but also in other places around the world.”

Some researchers caution that there is no statistical evidence of such tactics, but Uighur community leaders say complaints about calls, messages and video chats have proliferated as Adelaide’s Uighurs have become more politically active over the last two years. Uighurs say the calls began in March, just hours after the community staged its largest-ever protest in Canberra, Australia’s capital, to highlight the plight of China’s Uighurs.

“After the protest in Canberra, even young kids who were born here got the phone calls,” said 37-year-old Adam Turan, who said his 80-year-old father died weeks after being released from an internment camp in Xinjiang in the fall.

A spokesman for Australia’s Department of Home Affairs told The Post that “the Australian Government takes seriously its responsibility to protect our sovereignty, values and national interests from foreign interference" and highlighted the passage of a stringent new espionage and foreign interference law last year.

The calls and messages have taken a heavy toll. The tightknit Adelaide Uighur community of about 170 families has watched helplessly as an increasing number of their relatives in China have been taken to the internment camps. Many think their activism has led to such imprisonments — and, in some cases, deaths. The community’s growth has also trickled to a standstill as leaving China has become harder and harder for Uighurs.

“Because we live here, they suffer,” Turan said. As he sat in a Uighur restaurant in central Adelaide and recalled his own father’s death, he was interrupted by the restaurant’s owner, who approached the table to share details about his own family’s disappearance.

Police officers walk alongside two women in Kashgar, in the Xinjiang autonomous region, China, on Nov. 8, 2018. (Bloomberg/Bloomberg)
All of the Uighurs interviewed for this report said they had experienced depression or anxiety following the detention of their relatives and continuing harassment. “Sometimes I want to kill myself,” said Almas Nizamidin, 28, a construction worker who says his wife is being detained in a Chinese internment camp and who has lobbied Australian lawmakers unsuccessfully to raise the issue with Chinese officials.

“We all have psychological issues here,” Turan agreed. “At work, I try not to cry.”

For him, the questions he used to fear most began early in the morning, at the breakfast table with his children. “Do you have parents?” his 5-year-old son repeatedly asked. “Why are they not here?”

“Even the children go through this trauma,” Turan said. “That’s the hardest part.”

China is Australia’s biggest export market, putting Canberra in an awkward position. Australia’s government is a vocal critic of the treatment of Uighurs; it joined the United States as recently as November in calling on China to close its camps. But Nurmuhammad Said Majid, the president of the East Turkistan Australian Association (“East Turkistan” is the term used by Uighurs to describe Xinjiang), believes that Australia’s increasing dependence on China has made it made it more difficult for his community to have their complaints heard.

“We’re paying a heavy price for what we do here,” Majid said.

While sitting for an interview at Southern Australia’s State Library in Adelaide, Majid noticed red lanterns outside the library, announcing a new exhibition on ancient China. Such exhibitions and other intercultural exchanges have become more frequent in recent years, despite Australia’s criticisms of China’s human rights record.

“When I see those lanterns,” Majid said, pointing to them, “I see the blood of our families.”


Wednesday, 20 February 2019

‘It was definitely about the Benjamins’ — former campaign staffer details AIPAC’s far-reaching financial power

Ady Barkan, a Democratic progressive activist who is dying of ALS, just put up this thread on Twitter in response to Ilhan Omar’s powerful tweet of last night about AIPAC. He tells the story of how AIPAC reached out to a candidate he was working for, and the candidate’s compliance was “definitely about the Benjamins.” He describes the importance of Omar’s intervention in calling out AIPAC, a “pillar of the occupation,” and the refusal to discuss the lobby’s financially-driven power to do “terrible things.”

Barkan wrote:

A thread on @IlhanMN, anti-semitism, and my personal experience with @AIPAC’s money.

In 2006, I was the first real staffer on a long-shot Democratic Congressional race in deep red Ohio. My boss was a hippie doctor with a lefty perspective on international affairs. . . .very skeptical of military force, opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, etc.

A month after winning the Dem primary, we were struggling to gain attention or money. Nobody gave us a snowball’s chance to win. But one political action org proactively reached out to us.
It wasn’t Emily’s List, although we were fiercely prochoice. Wasn’t a doctor’s lobby or an enviro or labor org. It was AIPAC.

A local Dem volunteer leader of the Cincinnati AIPAC group came over and said they would like to donate the PAC max (I believe $5000) and would also like to see Vic take a public stance on two issues that, I thought, were relatively obscure: an Iran sanctions bill and something else I can’t recall, perhaps about continuing arms sales to Israel. Suffice to say, these were not hot button issues in the race.

Vic and I both thought of ourselves as pro-peace, not pro-Israel. (Note: I am an Israeli citizen, have many family there, have lived there & visited perhaps 20 times). We both felt a bit icky about doing it, because it was too hawkish and too quid pro quo but we were desperate for cash and so we put online a statement about how Vic supported a two-state peace agreement and AIPAC’s two pet issues of the cycle.

It was definitely about the Benjamins. Never would have done it otherwise. AIPAC’s power is also about great organizing (they sent a local Dem volunteer emissary) and about diligence (they paid attention to us before anyone else and were happy to donate to both us and the pro-Likud incumbent). But money is the lubricant that makes the whole machine run.

@IlhanMN is right to point this out. AIPAC is a central pillar of the occupation. Without Congressional support, the Likud/anti-Palestine/pro-occupation project would be radically undermined. AIPAC is the anchor of that support, and its money and Sheldon Adelson’s money are indispensable to the work.

We have a growing anti-semitism problem in America. @IlhanMN is not part of it. @lindasrsour is not part of it. They are allies of mine and of Jews across this country who are fighting for peace, racial justice, immigrants’ rights, and the defeat of fascism. I am deeply disappointed in @SpeakerPelosi for her failure today.

When AIPAC and its army try to silence criticism of the immoral, illegal, inhumane occupation by screaming about anti-semitism and claiming that nobody may ever talk about how the Israel lobby uses money to build power, don’t fall for their bullshit. They are doing terrible things in the name of Jews and of Israel, and it behooves the American Jewish community to resist them, resist their agenda, stand up for Free Speech, and stand up for justice.


Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Why Lynchings Have Become A Substitute For Communal Riots

Indeed, lynching has replaced the age-old communal riot as a means of polarization. Lynching comes without the burden of guilt that used to accompany riots. It is more effective, lethal and sinister. It strikes at the very identity of the community. It is far more demoralizing than the traditional communal violence, but serves the same purpose as riots did in the years gone by: to engender a climate of distrust and fear. 

On one side are Hindus who begin to look at any Muslim, particularly those with conspicuous manifestation of being one, with distrust. In their mind, all Muslims are beefeaters. And, maybe, even cow slaughterers. Nothing wrong with that if you are in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and vast stretches of the Northeast, but often a fatal flaw in north and west India. To those Hindus denied the benefit of education and economic cushion, a Muslim is one who deliberately provokes Hindus by eating beef. They do not know the reality or the history of beef eating in their own religion. For such a misled vigilante, the Muslim is the ‘other’ who must be shown his place. For him, a Muslim is what the latest video, real or fake, on WhatsApp shows him to be. Also, a Muslim is to be tackled, again, in the way those hooligans do in the lynching videos. That brings us to Muslims. With each lynching incident, the community slips deeper into fear, and into its own shell. And a community which is often told to join the mainstream slips further away.

Muslim traders in Ghansali town of Uttarakhand’s Tehri Garhwal district said on Wednesday they are wary of opening their shops, two days after a man from their community was beaten up by a mob when he was found with a minor Hindu girl, sparking calls for their ouster.

Around the same time came another media report wherein young men and women in Delhi revealed that they call up their parents and grandparents not to offer namaz (prayer) on a train for the fear of being identified. This in a country where it was not unusual for people to make space for Muslim travellers to offer namaz as a train halted at the railway station, or even on the train itself. Writing in The Wire, Apoorvanand stated,

A friend narrated his experience of offering namaz at the railway platform while waiting for his train. On earlier occasions, it had always been normal for him and others to pray in public. But this time, he was extra alert. A shout, a loud voice made him strain his ears. Was it for him? We who used to make space for namazis in train, in our homes, offices, and even offer a prayer mat to them have gone silent. Goondas have become our voice. This silence will drown India if we allow it to spread.


Friday, 15 February 2019

Lawmaker who changed Jordan’s rape law takes on child marriage

A Jordanian lawmaker praised for her role in abolishing a law that let rapists off the hook if they married their victims has set tackling child marriage as her next challenge, reported Reuters.

Nearly 10,500 girls in Jordan were married before reaching their 18th birthdays in 2017, according to the most up to date figures from the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

Girls in Jordan can be married from age 15 with a judge’s approval, even though the legal marriageable age is 18. Lawmaker Wafa Bani Mustafa said that even raising it to 16 would reduce the numbers.

“This is not an exception. This is something that is happening every day, and too many young girls are getting married,” the 39-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during a recent visit to Beirut, adding:

I am very optimistic child marriage will decrease if we change the age to 16. It doesn’t matter if they are Jordanian or Syrian – we need to protect all girls.

A significant proportion are believed to be Syrian girls after an influx of refugees from Jordan’s war-ravaged neighbour, with families marrying off daughters young to give them financial security and protection from sexual violence.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled their homeland since the war started in 2011 and there are now more than 670,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan according to the United Nations.

“If you are not old enough to vote or drive a car – how can you open a house and build a family,” said Bani Mustafa, one of only 20 women in Jordan’s 130-seat House of Representatives.

“We need to first change the culture by raising the age of exceptions to 16 – then slowly maybe this will be the first step to making it to 18 with no exceptions.”

In 2017 Jordan’s parliament voted to abolish a law that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims after a years-long campaign led by Bani Mustafa.

Now she is seeking a change to a section of the law governing inheritance, arguing that it disadvantages women.

As things stand, the children of a father who dies before his own parents will inherit the assets he would have received had he survived them, while the children of a mother who dies before her parents will not.

“If we push changing women’s rights through law it will change the culture of the society to accept women’s rights. The law helps change our society’s mentality,” she said.

Globally, 12 million girls marry before age 18 every year, according to Girls Not Brides, a coalition working to end child marriage.

In Jordan, Bani Mustafa said there were legal provisions to protect child brides – including a maximum 15-year age gap and the requirement that they be allowed to continue their education – but they were not being adhered to.

“I will keep fighting for Jordanian women – nothing will slow me down. We deserve better lives and equal rights to men. It is not easy, but we have to keep fighting,” she said.

“I think women’s rights are slowly changing in Jordan.”



Thursday, 14 February 2019

Joram van Klaveren: 'I Want to Explain Islam with all My Love'

Former PVV (Freedom Party) politician in Netherlands, Joram van Klaveren (39), made tough Islamic criticism for seven years. Now he is Muslim himself.

On October 26, 2018, he officially joined what Muslims call the Umma , the community of believers. Joram van Klaveren (39) who for seven years in the Lower House of Netherlands did hard anti-islam politiek on behalf of the PVV. This man is now Muslim himself. He is converted. "Because that is actually what you do," he explains, "if you pronounce the shahada - La ilaha illa llah, moehammad rasoolu llah."  He speaks the creed from memory. But that evening in October, at his publisher's home, Imam Mhamed Aarab, he spoke the words and said after him.

It is very strange to hear this former confidant of Geert Wilders speak like that.  It is the man who use to say 'Islam is a lie' and 'the Koran is poison'. Who did not get tired of repeating that Islam is an ideology of terror, death and destruction.  He initiated the so-called 'Moroccan debate' in the House of Representatives, calling attention to the high proportion of Moroccan-Dutch boys to crime.  He finally broke up with the PVV in 2014 when Wilders made his notorious 'less, less, less' statements. "I thought that went too far." He remained, in the very anti-Islam politicians - Van Klaveren / Bontes Group.

The unexpected conversion of Joram van Klaveren, formerly Protestant Reformed, appears to be the end of a long search for religious meaning. Looking back, you could say that it started at the age of 12 or 13, says Van Klaveren. We speak to the now Muslim former PVV in the Marriott Hotel in The Hague. His publisher accompanies him. The atmosphere is cheerful.

It all started with the intention to write an ánti-Islam book. When he and Louis Bontes did not come to the Lower House with the new party VoorNederland (VNL), Van Klaveren decided to leave politics. Finally he had time to write a book. Not just an anti-Islam book. He intended to show all Muslim misery - violence, Jews who must be beheaded, contempt of women, homophobia - is justified by faith. So that Muslims could no longer ignore it.

It was different. Halfway through his research, now he was deep in the Islamic tradition, he had to rewrite. The outcome of his search is called, Apostate: From Christianity to Islam in Times of Secular Terror. No Islamic misery. It was precisely a refutation of objections that non-Muslims have against Islam.

You write only one sentence about what you felt when you made the creed: "I noticed a certain personal joy and peace."

People whom have read the book said to me: you are very dry. But I'm not that extravagant, I'm not going to hype when the Netherlands wins a match at the World Cup. It did not rain gold after the shahada and I did not suddenly think, wow, why does the world look different?

It was not really a happy moment for me either. I thought: if everything I have written so far is correct, if I believe all that, then I am de facto a Muslim. If I felt something, it was disgust. I looked at my Bible in the closet, on the table in front of me were books about Prophet Muhammad. In previous years I had developed a great aversion to Islam. If you then have to conclude that you were not right, that is not fun. But as a God seeker I always felt a certain unrest. And that gradually disappeared. It felt a bit like coming home, in a religious sense.

How did your relatives react?

My wife accepts that I am a Muslim. If you are happy about that, she finds, I do not stop you. Incidentally, she never felt the repugnance I felt for Islam. She was not so happy that I was with the PVV. But it is your journey, she said. She does not feel the need to go with that. My daughters are still too young to talk about this.

And your family?

Not everyone knows it yet. My brothers and sister reacted alternately, from positive to indifferent. My mother was not very happy with it. I understand that. Such a turnaround is not common.

Do you not fear the reactions from the PVV corner?

Many people will not react enthusiastically. Undoubtedly it will be violent, GeenStijl might break me down, De Telegraaf will dedicate an article to it. But it is what it is. Even when I was with the PVV, I did not worry about what others thought of me. I had a conviction and then you go for it. That is also true now.

Who helped you in your search?

With Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad [a British Islamologist at the University of Cambridge, also a convert, ed.] I have had a solid mail exchange. That proved very valuable. And Mohamed Ben Hammouch, my publisher. It was funny how I ended up with him. I was actually looking for an ordinary publisher, I came across the Kennishuys. I did not know at first that they were Muslim. That old-Dutch way of writing, that immediately attracted me. Intuitively I chose them.

Do you see the hand of God afterwards?

Haha, no, rather the hand of Google.

What is actually changing in your life now? Do you pray five times a day? Will your name change?
No, I do not feel the need to change my name. I also do not feel that I have been sworn from God. Furthermore, I am fresh from the press, I still have to make it my own. Until now it was mainly a rational exercise. So I still have to practice praying. Alcohol, I did not drink that much anyway and I ate mainly chicken. I only know two Suras [chapters of the Qur'an, ed.], Al-Fatiha and al-Ikhlaas, the shortest ones. I bought a small book, it is called 'I learn the Koran' and it is actually for children up to 10 years old, a nice pink book.

And your children, are they Muslim?

They really need to know that for themselves. I have agreed with my wife that if the children need answers, they will receive them from us. They are also not deliberately baptized. I did not want to impose Christianity, so I will not do that with Islam either.
Earlier you once said that your daughter can come home with a Muslim if that were her choice. If he was kind to her and would not forbid her to go outside. Can she now come home with a non-Muslim?

It is ultimately her own decision. If the man takes good care of her and makes her happy, fine. His faith did not matter to me then, nor will it now.

Jew-hatred, women's oppression, violence, one by one you break the prejudices against Islam until nothing but a beautiful faith remains. Do you suddenly find Islam an enrichment for the Netherlands?

I discovered that many of these negative stories originated in medieval Europe. Christians saw Islam as a competitive religion and did everything to disqualify it.  Actually, my biggest obstacle was Mohammed.  There are a lot of lies spread out about him. In my book, I quote the nineteenth-century historian Thomas Carlyle: "The lies that well-meaning believers have poured out over this man Mohammed, only shame on ourselves." Only when I discovered that, I could say that I was a Muslim.

So an enrichment for the Netherlands? Yes, I think so. But I also write that much of Islam that you see now is colored by Wahabism from Saudi Arabia. Very unfortunate, because that is a very puritan view of Islam, extreme in the eyes of many people. The big bite of Dutch Muslims is of course not Wahabitian. They do not withdraw from social life and do not think that everyone who is non-Muslim is wrong or scary. There are so many prejudices about real Islam.

Eh ... until recently you have contributed to it

I know, but I've only noticed it since my conversion. I suddenly get questions like: do you hate gay people now? Are you going to Syria now? Can you still pet a dog? I have contributed to maintaining and nurturing a poor image of Islam, but you can not imagine how these prejudices work until you deal with them yourself.

Don't you feel guilty?

Yes, of course, I have a responsibility in that. I can not brush that away. It is not something I cheerfully look back on, but I can not do anything about it. Except now share my findings. It would be nice if the PVV supporters also read my book.

Do you understand if many Dutch Muslims do not immediately support you?

Yes. I know. But I did not do this for Muslims, I did this for myself. I think that everyone deserves a second chance, that is also an Islamic principle. So it would be nice if people support me in this but if that is not the case: so be it. My feelings and ideas do not change.

How is your relationship with Christianity now?

I still think it's a beautiful belief that has contributed a lot for the development of humanity. Only in dogma such as the crucifixion, the original sin and the trinity I can no longer believe. And if I do not believe that anymore, then I can no longer call myself a Christian.

In your book, a theme shines through absence: homosexuality

Because it did not really play for me personally. I do not know many gay people. My book is a theological search about things that touch me. Of course, I do not hate gay men all of a sudden, I think it's just as nice or annoying people as before.

Have you also looked at social issues differently since your conversion?

I have not suddenly turn Left if you mean that. I am still a supporter of low taxes and a small government. And I still think that we need to implement an immigration policy whereby you bring in people who can add something to society, such as Japan and Australia does. A total immigration stop for people from Islamic countries, I thought was pretty absurd before my conversion. And the idea that all Islam should be banished from the Netherlands, which I once submitted a motion for, of course I do not support that anymore.

And the Moroccan problem?

That was specifically about criminals. The analysis I made, namely that everything is the fault of Islam, was simply incorrect. But that was PVV policy: everything that did not work had to be linked to Islam in one way or another.

Okay, so you would resubmit the motion without a Islam component?

No of course not. There are many problems with Moroccan Dutch who are criminally active, no one denies that. Only, does it make sense to consistently refer to 'Moroccans'? I do not think so.

If there is now an attack in the Netherlands, how would you react?

If an attacker calls himself a Muslim and looks for legitimacy in Islam, then you can not say that it has nothing to do with it. Supporters of the khawaridj movement turned against the moderate Islam in the seventh century. They murdered their own leaders if they found it too stretchy. That principle has never disappeared. That is now IS.

It is not only the historical doctrine of Islam. It is important to explain that extremists are wandering. Again and again. That is difficult. People want bite-sized answers. Or have their judgment ready.

Most Muslims are tired of explaining

I am fresh, so I want to do that well in the coming years. With all the love.

You observe in your book that a lack of intellectual framework among Dutch Muslims causes problems. Can you explain that?

The small group of people who have a thorough knowledge of Islam, speak good Dutch and operate publicly, are very small. The extremes get the stage and that creates a one-sided image.

What is the solution?

Reading and teaching. If Dutch Muslims are educated from an early age in that historical context, then we become a community of the middle way. "


Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Women and the Mosque: Hadith

"A wife of ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb used to go to the mosque for the prayers of fajr and ʿishāʾ. It was said to her, "Why do you go out when you know that ʿUmar does not like it, and he feels jealous?" She said, "So what stops him from forbidding me?" It was said to her, "What stops him are the words of the Prophet (ﷺ) 'Do not stop women servants of God from the mosques of God.'"
[Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī]

Monday, 11 February 2019

Verse of the day: Quran, 18:45-46

"O Prophet! Give them the similitude of the life of this world. It is like the vegetation of the earth that flourishes with the rain from the sky, but afterwards the same vegetation turns into dry stubble that is blown away by the winds. God is the One Who has power over everything. Likewise, wealth and children are an attraction of this worldly life; yet honorable actions that last forever are better rewarded by your Lord and hold for you a better hope of salvation." The Holy Quran, 18:45-46

Wednesday, 6 February 2019


Hidra works at the Aïn Chock mosque, located in a busy, working-class neighbourhood of Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city.

Her domain is the women’s section: a long rectangle of a room above the men-only main sanctuary, where plastic chairs line the edges of the worn carpets, and a wall of shuttered windows face the qibla, a compass that points in the direction of Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.

Hidra has a doctorate in Islamic studies, and though the Quran prohibits women from leading prayers, her responsibilities are otherwise similar to those of an imam: she teaches lessons, offers counsel, consoles the sick and bereaved.

As a mourchida, her job is to promote the education and protect the rights of her female congregants, primarily by teaching them what scripture does and does not say about women’s status, but also by educating them about health care and legal rights, among other subjects.

'You really live [the women's] problems,' adds 33-year-old Fatima Ait Said, who works at the Makka mosque in Rabat. 'It’s not a simple job that you do just to earn money. It has to be a vocation.'

Then in 2005, the first training program for mourchidat (for women) and mourchidin (for men) launched in the cosmopolitan capital, Rabat. The 50 women and 100 men admitted were scrupulously selected—requirements included a bachelor’s degree and memorisation of half (for women) or all (for men) of the Quran, Islam’s central religious text.

Once enrolled, they studied theology and law, but also philosophy, history, comparative religions and psychology. The government guaranteed that all graduates would be placed in jobs at mosques around the country.

Since its launch, the number of women admitted annually to the program has doubled, and the school has been so successful that it moved from headquarters in a medieval madrassa on the edge of Rabat’s old city to a gleaming new campus by the university. The program, which now draws students from across Africa and parts of Europe, has proven wildly popular; nearly 2000 people — half of them women — applied this year for the 250 slots.

'Every year, two or three men drop out,' says Abdelsalam Lazar, the director of the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams and Preachers. 'But never any women. They’re more serious.'


Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Follow the Sunnah of the greatest Step-father!

I have never heard this topic mentioned in a khutbah or taught about in seerah classes I have attended. This is such a shame, over the years so many brothers I have known simply refuse spouses because they do not want the hassle of another mans children. AstaghfiruAllah! But are very happy to follow the Sunnah and marry second wives ....this needs to addressed!
An aspect of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam)'s life that very few people even think about is that he was a stepfather - a man who raised the children his wife had from her previous marriage.
Many cultures warn men against marrying widows or divorcees with children; insinuations are made that she could never be truly devoted to her new husband if she has her own children to care for. A bizarre, unhealthy rivalry is set up between the woman's child and her new husband.
When the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) sent a proposal of marriage to Umm Salamah (radhiAllahu 'anha), she told him, "I am a woman with many children!" His response was, "And I am a man with children as well. Your children will be mine."
Umm Salamah had several children by her previous husband, Abu Salamah (radhiAllahu 'anhu), who had died from his war injuries. She was either pregnant, or had just given birth to her daughter Zaynab, when her husband died.
Zaynab bint Abi Salamah (radhiAllahu 'anha) thus grew up with RasulAllah as the only father she truly knew. He, in turn, loved her as his own child. When RasulAllah would come to Umm Salamah's house, he would immediately ask for young Zaynab; he would play with her often.
Zaynab's uncle, Ammar, used to say, "She was the one who has come between RasulAllah and the rest of his family!" - meaning that he would spend a great deal of time with her.
Zaynab bint Abi Salamah (radhiAllahu 'anha) grew up to narrate many ahadith, in particular from her mother and from the other wives of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam). She also became known as a great jurist of Madinah, and was referred to as the most knowledgeable woman of her time.

Friday, 25 January 2019


 “…there are too many of our masajid that are unwelcoming to women. In some masajid, women are allocated the smelly basement or a tight boiler room. In other masajid, there is an absence of programs that can serve their needs. And then there are masjid that are plagued with belligerent attendees that receive women with harshness.

The Messenger of Allah said (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) , “Do not prevent your women from the masajid.” Preventing women from accessing masajid is not just when a husband keeps her in, it’s also when the masjid keeps her out…”

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Here’s Why the Rahaf Al-Qunun Narrative Is so Terrifying

In the wake of 18-year-old Rahaf Al-Qunun’s stirring social media pleas to escape the clutches of patriarchy and a possible death sentence this week, Al-Qunun has rightly kickstarted a lot of debate surrounding her situation.

Reading her ordeal, one feels sympathetic towards her plight, as her story leaves a lot to be unpacked–of discriminative laws that leave her education, marriage, and travel at the mercy of her guardian in Saudi Arabia, her departure from the folds of Islam, her family allegedly posing a threat to her life, and the need to assess apostasy laws in practice in Islamic countries.

Likewise, it’s felt that Rahaf’s is a case of a family desperately seeking to control the life of an 18-year-old, to the extent of subjecting her to grave atrocities by using the law of the land to their advantage. tweet

As someone who understands and believes that Fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, is the work of scholars and not of laymen, I wouldn’t try to interpret the aspects of Fiqh that relate to this case. Scholars have had debates on apostasy, and what lies on the other side of it–blasphemy–what Islam prescribes regarding them, how various sects view them, along with the fatwas by different scholars, and the punishments associated.

However, it’s important to question the laws drafted by humans, and its execution in various countries. Likewise, it’s felt that Rahaf’s is a case of a family desperately seeking to control the life of an 18-year-old, to the extent of subjecting her to grave atrocities by using the law of the land to their advantage.

Drawing attention to the apostasy laws through the report in The Law Library of Congress, one realizes more than 20 Muslim-majority states have laws that declare apostasy by Muslims to be a crime. As of 2014, apostasy was a capital offense in Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. What is, however, extremely important to evoke is the fact that executions for religious conversion have been infrequent in recent times, with only four cases reported since 1985. So it would be fair to assume that rarely are the apostasy laws used to punish the actual abandonment of Islam. It is imperative to note that some predominantly Islamic countries without laws specifically addressing apostasy have persecuted individuals or minorities for apostasy using broadly-defined blasphemy laws. Hence, it would also be fair to conclude that apostasy and blasphemy have often been used on the back of one another, with little precision over their definition.

Rahaf’s Saudi Arabia, besides its capital laws on apostasy, also imposes stringent guardianship laws that restrict the basic rights of women, leaving these rights at the behest of their male relatives. And this is probably what set-off her fleeing, as Saudi women are required to get written permission for marriage, passport renewal, traveling without a guardian, seeking a job, and even applying for education.

Rahaf’s is a classic case of patriarchal clasping, and a vicious cycle of power systems where the patriarchy is conflated with religion, wherein the quest to the abandonment of one would lead to manacling from the other. tweet

What this essentially translates to is that not only are women being shackled by their male relatives under the garb of religion, but they face a possible death penalty for rejecting the supposed basis of these laws–the religion. Rahaf’s is a classic case of patriarchal clasping, and a vicious cycle of power systems where the patriarchy is conflated with religion, wherein the quest to the abandonment of one would lead to manacling from the other. Therefore, we must ask if one should stop questioning the patriarchy only because it is exercised in the name of religion? That hardly seems to be in the best interests of the victims of patriarchy.

“I shared my story and my pictures on social media and my father is so angry because I did this…I can’t study and work in my country, so I want to be free and study and work as I want.” – Rahaf Al-Qunun.

Rahaf told us that she fears serious physical violence and death threats from her family, while a Thai official was quoted as insisting that they are committed to maintaining  diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, and also Rahaf’s safety as well. As this statement came in light of the Saudi embassy intervening to seek repatriation of Rahaf to her home country at the behest of her family, we must wonder, and question, if diplomatic ties must supersede Rahaf’s pleas for safety from patriarchy.

Another important aspect of apostasy laws, as the report points out, is how they are often passed as broad laws that bring in various aspects of religion. Of the surveyed jurisdictions that do not expressly criminalize apostasy, many have laws that include broadly-worded provisions on insulting Islam or its Prophet, and blasphemy, which could potentially be used to prosecute persons for apostasy. This category of countries includes Algeria, Bahrain, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, and Syria. However, of the countries surveyed, Egypt is the only country known to have prosecuted apostasy in this manner. In 2007, a person who converted to Christianity was convicted under the country’s blasphemy laws.

Blasphemy laws seek to protect religious sentiments of people. The need to have these laws in place cannot be ignored, for even the EU recently ruled that criticism of Prophet Muhammad PBUH constitutes to incitement of hatred. With the ever-growing presence of Islamophobia, bigots have often resorted to blaspheming various important aspects of Islam to further their own agenda. At the same time, implementation in Islamic countries must be viewed under a microscope too.

…we must question the use of these laws to oppress minorities–a clear retraction from our Islamic values–and the ensuing rampage by men who claim to be the guardians of religion. tweet

Pakistan, a predominantly Islamic country that has specific blasphemy laws, saw a majoritarian Muslim woman embroil a Christian woman by the name of Aasiya Noreen in a blasphemy case that resulted in a death sentence. This case saw Aasiya held in custody for 8 years on flimsy charges of blasphemy over a domestic spat between the two neighbors. What Pakistan’s judiciary managed to do eventually was to interpret the Fiqh to principles of mercy and protection of minorities, and grant freedom from impending capital punishment for Aasiya. This may not have been the case with more conservatively-governed countries, hence it is vital to reassess how Islamic concepts like blasphemy translate to laws for civil societies, and more importantly, how judiciaries interpret them.

What followed the dismissal of Aasiya’s death sentence were thousands of religious patriarchs wreaking havoc in the country in protest of the judgment. Here, we must question the use of these laws to oppress minorities–a clear retraction from our Islamic values–and the ensuing rampage by men who claim to be the guardians of religion.

Consequently, it is important to call for varied female scholarship in all Islamic countries, free from the patriarchal pleats of the lawmaking system, as well basic freedom as was often the norm in the times of Prophet and Sahabah. tweet

In both the cases, we have women who have borne the brunt of laws formulated by men who stake claims over our merciful religion, often viewing the laws from a monolithic lens. It must be stressed that these countries are just that; countries and not religious jurisdictions. They form their laws on the interpretation of religion by scholars who are more often than not, men. This is not to say that men aren’t victims of this patriarchy, as a lot of scholars seek to reserve capital punishment in such cases for men. However, the inherent patriarchy of these human systems translate to leaving women like Rahaf and Aasiya reeling. Consequently, it is important to call for varied female scholarship in all Islamic countries, free from the patriarchal pleats of the lawmaking system, as well basic freedom as was often the norm in the times of Prophet and Sahabah.

As a last thought, I urge the systems in place to reclaim religious narratives so that Muslims, men and women alike, can stop fearing the hijacking of issues for politically-driven narratives. Only then can we ensure the freedom, dignity, and safety of women like Rahaf Al-Qunun and Aasiya from the clutches of Islamophobia and patriarchy.

I remind those in power that constitutional laws are by humans, and it is important to assess them to ensure we don’t have patriarchy and majoritarianism hijacking Islam as a religion.