Muslim women participate in the Eid Ul Fitr prayer on September 10, 2010.ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
Two British Teens on Their Way to Syria Arrested At Heathrow on Terrorist Offences
Women Lead Way for First Mosque for Natives in Panama
Women in Jeddah Demand More Places To Exercise
Child Bride’s Husband, Family Face 18 Years
Afghan Taliban's Use of Girls to Carry Out Attacks Condemned
Schoolchildren in S. Kyrgyzstan Learn About Journalism
SC: Online Sexual Offenses Are Just As Harmful To Minors
Implement Stringent Penalties for Sexual Harassment: Study
Brazil Trans Women Detained in Dubai for 'Imitating Opposite Sex'
Nigeria: The Meaning and Significance of World Hijab Day
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
New generation of Muslim-American women inspire change in mosques
Jan 25, 2014
As stories of gender exclusion in mosques emerge, some young Muslims have begun to call their places of worship into question to encourage reform. According to a 2013 Hartford Institute study, 63 percent of mosques scored "fair" or "poor" on a 'women-friendly' scale.
Hind Makki, a Chicago-based blogger, was inspired to take a stand after she began to notice that Muslim women were being pushed out of sanctuaries in her community.
She started a blog called Side Entrance, which serves as an open forum for Muslims to show the perspective and experiences of women and their prayer spaces in mosques. The description for the blog reads: "We show the beautiful, the adequate and the pathetic."
In an interview with The Stream, Makki recalled a friend's experience praying in the basement of a mosque during Ramadan. "The space smelled of mold and was not air-conditioned, prompting several women to pray in the main sanctuary behind the men," she explained. The imam interrupted their prayer and threatened to call the police if they did not leave.
Makki's story is not an isolated one. In the following clip from the documentary "UnMosqued," a woman shares concerns about her mosque:
Edina Lekovic, director of policy and programming at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said she began to notice a generational shift towards female inclusivity in mosques a few years ago. "For younger generations of women, their prayer space carries more meaning symbolically than older generations," she said in an phone interview with The Stream.
She pointed to the new space at University of Southern California as a positive example of gender inclusion. "The Muslim Student Association called for a space where men and women could pray side by side. To see USC make that move, really bodes well for how things are changing."
But according to Rukshanda Majeed, a 23-year-old mother who resides in Chicago, women praying behind men in the same room is not a symbol of inequality, but rather a way to focus on worship and not face any distractions from prostrating in front of men.
Majeed described her personal experience in an interview with The Stream: "I actually have never had an experience where I felt excluded. In Oklahoma City, for example, which is a small community, it has an amazing women’s facility. They have the doors open so you can see the imam, and the doors are closed whenever you want to have a women’s gathering to talk about Islam and Islamic knowledge."
Yasmin Mogahed, a prominent Muslim-American speaker and writer, added that many Muslim women do not mind praying separately from men, especially for mothers who want a private space with their children to avoid interruptions during prayer.
Mogahed points to certain cultures where women traditionally pray at home. "As women become more integrated and attend mosques more, the mosques have adjusted. This movement is framed as a reform movement, but it’s more of a revival movement. The example of the Prophet was very inclusive."
The blog Side Entrance speaks to only a small piece of a much larger issue. Although the vast majority of mosques in America have women serving on their board, there are still mosques that bar women from leadership roles.
Lekovic says women are getting mixed messages. "They’re being groomed to be leaders and to become young professionals at home, but then not getting the same validation in mosques.”
According to the Islamic Society of North America, advocates are pushing to recruit more women for leadership roles in Islamic centers and mosques.
Makki said that when mosques neglect the concerns of their female constituents, women and families are less likely to attend. Mosques with women on the board boast congregations with an average of 20 percent female attendance, while mosques without women on the board have only a 13 percent female attendance rate.
Men, too, offer differing opinions with regards to female inclusivity in mosques. Older generation Muslim men and imams, according to Makki, have been giving her positive feedback. She says that younger men, on the other hand, worry that Makki's call for change is only giving fodder to "Islamophobes," and "demonizes young Muslims."
"I'm incredibly sensitive to Islamophobia and what it has done to our community, but it's not reason enough to ignore the fact that mosques aren't doing a good job of welcoming women," she said.
Two teenage schoolgirls were arrested over suspected terrorism offences after police believed they were trying to fly from Britain to Syria to fight in the civil war, it was revealed today.
The 17-year-olds from London were grabbed at Heathrow airport this month amid concerns they had been radicalised and were going to become jihadists.
A senior Scotland Yard officer has also revealed 14 young Britons have been held on charges linked to the Syrian conflict in January, compared to 24 for the whole of last year.
Counter-terrorism Commander Richard Walton warned today there are growing numbers of young 'boys and girls enticed' towards jihad, and some could target Britain next.
'We’ve had a number of teenagers both from London and nationally who’ve been attempting to go to Syria,' he told the Evening Standard.
'That’s boys and girls unfortunately. It’s not just the odd one. It’s shocking that they are such young people.'
The two teenagers held at Heathrow were later released, but Commander Walton added the chaos in Syria 'has all the ingredients' to produce terrorists also willing to try to kill people in the UK.
It came as two women accused of trying to smuggle cash from Britain to Syria to fund terrorism appeared in court.
Naval Masaad, 26, and Amal El-Wahabi, 27, allegedly tried to take 20,000 Euros on a flight to Istanbul, Turkey.
Masaad was arrested at Heathrow airport and found to have the cash wrapped in cling film stashed in her underwear.
The two women wept and hugged each other in the dock when they appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court today.
Mother of two El-Wahabi waved and blew kisses to her family in the public gallery while Masaad's mother Zora Alla ran weeping from court.
Masaad, of Holloway, and El-Wahabi, of Willesden, are both charged with becoming concerned in an arrangement as a result of which money was made available or was to be made available to another, and they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect that it would or may be used for the purposes of terrorism.
They were both remanded in custody to appear at the Old Bailey on January 31 for a preliminary hearing.
Neither indicated a plea to the charge.
Women lead way for first mosque for natives in Panama
World Bulletin / News Desk
The people of the Central American Republic of Panama have began construction work on the country’s first ever official mosque for natives, as more and more Panamanians turn to Islam.
The first bricks of the Al Haqq Mosque are now being laid, after a 9 year campaign led by Muslim converts Josefina Bell-Munajj and Khadijah Jackson to get building permission.
Josefina Bell-Munajj and Khadijah Jackson also hope the mosque will be a center for Islamic education in the future. The two women have already been providing Islamic classes for Muslim women in a room borrowed by a local Muslim dentist since 2011.
Having started off as just a group of ten, there are now around thirty women attending classes with them. "We started feeling the urgency to get a new space because we were bursting out the room,” Bell-Munajj told Religious Patches magazine on Wednesday.
Although Muslims migrants who have settled in Panama from other countries have already set up a number of mosques, Al Haqq Mosque will be the first set up by native Panamanian Muslims.
Islam has been part of Panama from as early as the mid-16th century, brought over by Africans who were shipped over as part of the slave-trade. The twentieth century also saw migration of Muslims from the Middle-East and South Asia.
Approximately 24,000 Muslims are believed to be residing in Panama today, comprising 1% of the overall population.
Women in Jeddah demand more places to exercise
JEDDAH – Every day around 5 p.m. Nihad Al-Ghaleb leaves her home. Draped in an abaya and hijab, she puts her phone and keys in a pouch that hangs around her waist and walks to the Corniche where she jogs.
Al-Ghaleb, a slim lady in her forties, is not the only one there. Starting with a small number of pregnant women going for a daily stroll around the many walled empty lands in the city, which aptly came to be known as ‘Pregnant Ladies Walk’, awareness of the necessity to exercise has been growing steadily over the years. However, for women in particular, the options to stay fit are limited. There are only a handful of gyms for them and exercising in public is still frowned upon by many – both men and women. But can we blame the lack of facilities for the Kingdom’s ever-growing obesity rate, estimated by some to be effect 70 percent of the adult female population?
Al-Ghaleb thinks we cannot. “If you want to exercise outdoors you can manage. Put your abaya on and do it, regardless of the weather.” She thinks having more gyms is not the solution since many women sign up simply to socialize or be part of a certain activity because it’s considered stylish.
She did however admit that gyms are important since many women do join for health reasons and awareness of the importance of staying physically fit.
Yasmin Gahtani, 34, agrees and goes even further: “I don’t like gyms for both genders. I think it’s an unhealthy, unnatural method to try to stay fit,” she said while using the word “industrial” to describe gyms. Like Al-Ghaleb, she believes in the adage “where there’s a will, there’s a way”.
“If you want, you can always come up with ideas to stay healthy such as rock climbing, cycling, running. There are outdoor tennis courts on the Corniche, a baseball field in Saudi City, Shoaiba where you can go swimming, off-road biking and join trekking groups. No one should blame the weather because the body can adapt,” said Gahtani, a mother of two who maintains an active lifestyle. She kite surfs, goes jogging on the walkway and takes her two boys to soccer classes on Tahlia St.
So, is the obesity issue among women purely caused by laziness and alternated food habits? Is it merely an excuse to say “we are obese because of our environment?” For some women, the lack of gyms or other proper sports facilities certainly is a problem.
Take Esraa Saad, a 25-year-old marketing student. She enjoys outdoor sports but that is not an option for her. “I can’t run with an abaya on. It’s weird, uncomfortable and not accepted.” Saad, who comes from a middle-class family who regularly travels abroad, said her family would call it a disgrace if she jogged in the streets of Jeddah. Although she wants to join a gym, there isn’t one near her home and the family’s driver who also has to drive her sisters and mother, is not always available.
“I think all of us women want to take part in sports but we can’t. We can’t because of the culture. When we travel abroad, we can do whatever we want. We can run in the streets without getting bad looks from people. It’s more comfortable to be active and play sports outside of the country than it is inside.”
And despite promises from the authorities to introduce physical education classes at girls’ schools, the gap between sports facilities at boys’ and girls’ schools is still immense. According to Saad, who studies at the College of Business Administration (CBA) in Jeddah, the same college’s Dahban Campus for men offers extensive sports facilities, including a swimming pool and soccer fields. Last year, the girls’ campus saw its first basketball court. Privately, students arranged a bus to take girls to a horse stable on the outskirts of the city. A female trainer at the stables teaches the tricks and skills of equestrian sports.
While the situation for women is slowly improving, running outside is still a distant dream for many Saudi women who live in a culture that rejects idea of women working out in public. Even Gahtani admits she felt a bit nervous the first few times she went for a jog outside. “People were looking at me,” she said, adding that she does not care anymore if people look. “No one can stop me, but I never get comments. People admire my courage.”
Al-Ghaleb, who describes herself to be “old enough” to have a “well-shaped personality” and to not care when being harassed, nevertheless used to go home crying when motorists stopped their car to take pictures, shout dirty comments, swear at and even insult her. And it wasn’t only the men.
“Even women sometimes stop asking God to forgive me. I heard it and thought, ‘What am I doing wrong? I am wearing hijab and an abaya.’ I regularly see how women suffer when they jog or walk outdoors,” she said.
Al-Ghaleb now wears headphones and ignores everyone around her. “Even if someone stops in front of me, I just push him away and continue. This sort of attitude toward women working out in public has to stop.”
Her friend Areej Mufti, 43, experienced the same kind of harassment and has stopped walking outside as a result. “Taxis stopped me every five minutes.
Even when I went walking with my kids I got harassed by motorists,” she said while recalling one evening a motorist embarrassed her in front of her kids. “My son was 10 years old at the time and asked me ‘mom, why is he saying that to you?’ So, I stopped taking them,” Mufti said.
When harassment or family members who do not like to see their wives or daughters going outside for a jog, stops many women from exercising outdoors, the gym – albeit expensive and far away – is often their only choice. But are these so-called health clubs the solution?
Mufti has been going to a gym for the past 13 years but faces several challenges. Outdated classes, lack of rules and last-minute cancellation of classes are some of the problems she listed. And then there are the comments from family and friends. “They say, ‘Why are you doing this? You don’t need it. Just modify your diet.’ For me, going to the gym is an investment for the future.”
Since she moved to an apartment complex that has its own gym, Mufti now works out at home. From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., the gym is reserved for women, while men can go the 21 hours before and after that. According to her, women residents had to fight for the three hours and the management said it had received several complaints and threats from men.
Having joined a number of gyms in town throughout the years, Al-Ghaleb considers herself a bit of a gym rat but three years ago, she decided to stop going and instead made the street her gym. “Why? First of all, the location: The few gyms I can go to are all far from where I live. Then there is the lack of parking; I’m going for one class and I don’t need the driver to go back home. I just want him to stay for one, one and a half hour. There aren’t parking spaces for drivers to wait in though.”
Another common challenge is gym fees, which many feel are too high. The gym Al-Ghaleb last joined charged an annual fee that ranged between SR7,000 to SR27,000. There is also the issue of a negative workout atmosphere and members who come to gossip more than they do to work out.
“It’s just gossip, gossip, gossip. Once you enter, all you hear is ‘why did you cut your hair?’ or ‘oh, you got divorced!’ I go to the gym to clear my mind and do something healthy, not to get slapped with gossip and social problems.”
Mufti agrees. “They don’t stop asking you questions about your private life. Or they socialize together on the treadmill. You hear all their stories and you get sick of it.”
So although gyms are not a solution to the obesity epidemic among women, better sports facilities – both indoor as outside – in addition to a change in mentality are necessary steps. This would also benefit the male population who also struggles with obesity rates nearly as high as women.
While suspicions over the death of a 14-year-old mother are still yet to be enlightened, an official lawsuit has been filed against the family of child bride Kader Ertem, her husband and the husband’s family, on charges of “deprivation of liberty” and “sexual harassment of children.”
The suspects, identified as Musa Ertem, Mehmet Atak, Suna Ertem, Tahir Atak and Sabriye Sivil, face 18 years in jail, according to reports.
Ertem was found dead with a gunshot wound in her home in the southeastern province of Siirt on Jan. 11, a few days after her newborn second child had died.
A complaint was filed to the local gendarmerie when Ertem gave birth on Sep. 12, 2013 because she was too young, Public Prosecutor Bayram Bayar has said, adding that a petition for investigation of the suspects had been delivered to the Pervari Public Prosecutors’ Office.
Bayar also said there were three separate cases into the death of Ertem, including a case into her marriage to her husband, Mehmet Atak, with a religious ceremony. The second case is into the village head who did not inform the authorities, despite knowing that Ertem was too young to be married while she was living with Atak under informal conditions. The third case is into the families of Atak and Ertem.
Atak’s family claims that Ertem committed suicide because she was depressed after her second child died. However, Ertem’s father said they was expecting further forensic tests that would see whether his daughter had gunshot residue in her hand, in order to enlighten the circumstances of her death.
“The documents given after the autopsy in Diyarbakır indicate that she was shot by a hunting rifle and not by a gun. I want light to be shed on her death,” the father said, noting that a hunting rifle was an unusual weapon to use in a suicide.
The husband, who was performing his military service at the time when the incident took place, said he believed his young wife had died as a result of an “accident.”
Afghan Taliban's use of girls to carry out attacks condemned
KABUL – On January 5, a young Afghan girl named Spozhmai donned a suicide vest and approached a security check-point in Helmand Province.
She was detained before she could detonate the explosives, and in the wake of being picked up, she has indicated to police and media that her brother – reportedly a Taliban commander – encouraged her to blow herself up.
"My brother told me to wear the black vest, go to the police check-point and press the button," Spozhmai said in Lashkar Gah January 6.
Spozhmai, who -- police say -- is 10, although initial reports said she was 8, is under the protection of the Afghan government. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that, once he receives necessary guarantees from the girl's family, he will hand her over to her family.
The case raises questions, not just with respect to what happened but also regarding the consequences for Spozhmai, whose father, Abdul Ghafar, said she would not last a night if she returned to Khan Nishin, the village where the events unfolded.
But regardless of whether the militants persuaded Spozhmai in this case, one thing is clear: Afghan citizens and parliamentarians are strongly condemning the use of children, especially girls, in suicide attacks, saying it's yet another example of how the militants defy the tenets of Islam and show little regard for cultures and human values.
Taliban's use of children is inhumane
Instead of contributing to education and recreation for children, the militants pursue their evil goals by killing innocent children, Afghans said.
"There is no way for the militants to defend such inhumane action," Rahmatullah, an Afghan citizen, told Central Asia Online.
If the militants call themselves Muslims and human beings, then they should realise that this practice neither is Islamic nor has any humane justification, Rahmatullah said.
Taliban militants have a history of "always victimising innocent people," Mohammad Saleem, another Afghan citizen, said.
The militants chant Islamic slogans, and yet few of their actions are in accord with Islam, he said. Instead of providing children with education and recreation, they brainwash them into thinking that a suicide attack is their ticket to paradise, Saleem said.
Masooda Karukhi, an Afghan parliamentarian representing Herat, shares that opinion.
"The militants do not respect humane or Islamic values, and they do absolutely anything in order to achieve their [criminal] goals," Karukhi told Central Asia Online.
Militants have history of using children to do their dirty work
Spozhmai is hardly the first child to say the Taliban got their hooks into her and somehow convinced her to commit a suicide bombing.
"The militants previously utilised children in suicide attacks, and this time around, they wanted to use a little girl in order to take the lives of dozens of innocent people," Karukhi said.
Indeed, Spozhmai is not even the first girl bomber. Children as young as 7 have been used as attempted suicide bombers, Human Rights Watch says. One victim the rights group cited was an 8-year-old girl in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan, who was killed in 2011 when a bag of explosives that militants had allegedly given to her exploded.
Such practices are neither Islamic nor in accordance with Afghan cultural mores, Dr. Nilofar Ibrahimi, an MP from Badakhshan, told Central Asia Online.
"This is a non-Afghan practice in which the hands of al-Qaeda and foreign terrorists were involved," she surmised, adding that everyone except terrorists rejects such actions.
Karzai, meanwhile, has strongly condemned the use of children in suicide attacks.
Children are the builders of the country's future, and as such they should enjoy compassion and should be provided the opportunity for education, he has said.
Schoolchildren in S. Kyrgyzstan learn about journalism
OSH – Schoolchildren in southern Kyrgyzstan are learning about journalism's power to effect change.
A festival at middle and high schools titled "I Cover the News" took place in Osh January 15-16, bringing together more than 100 schoolchildren and teachers from Batken, Jalal-Abad and Osh oblasts.
"The festival programme included master classes, video labs, a roundtable, some debates and a forum theatre performance, but the presentation of the best entries in a contest on writing school news became the main event," Foundation for Supporting Educational Initiatives programme co-ordinator Kanybek Eshmatov told Central Asia Online.
"Our goal was to help develop a media culture among schoolchildren in southern Kyrgyzstan," he said. "Last autumn, we held master classes in news coverage for 27 school media centres drawn together by youth initiatives, which resulted in ... 32 video reports on relevant social issues."
The authors of the best reports received prizes and souvenirs, but most important, young reporters had the opportunity to mix with their peers and professional journalists who want to change the world for the better, Eshmatov added.
Ulan Abdykaparov, a 10th-grader from Osh School No. 42, likes to spend his spare time browsing for news on social networks.
"I suggested to my teachers writing news about school life," he said. "One teacher helped me contact journalists at a local TV station, who then started teaching me and a few other interested schoolmates how to cover social issues."
His team's reports on school gangs and on fixed-route taxi drivers' unwillingness to transport children to school for a reduced fare caused broad public discussions after it was picked up by large media outlets, Ulan said.
"Schoolchildren, too, can have an impact on our city's life by taking a fresh look at problems that we adults sometimes fail to notice," Osh schoolteacher Elmira Tokoyeva told Central Asia Online. "A young reporter's eye-catching story on local TV can cause municipal authorities to acknowledge a problem and start working on it."
The teachers' task is to channel youth's energies into productive activities they enjoy, she said.
Making an impact
Other high-school pupils have found their coverage of local issues reaching influential readers and listeners.
"For many years, Osh High School No. 17, with the support of the older pupils' parents, published a newspaper called Leader," Tokoyeva said. "The young correspondents wrote about concerns of theirs, like shortages of textbooks and of technical learning aids (such as computers, printers), the sparse meals at the school cafeteria, the absence of a gym and so on."
"Their incisive stories helped solve those problems, encouraging us all," Tokoyeva added.
School administrations from across southern Kyrgyzstan have asked staff at the Osh Mass Media Resource Centre to help their young talent, the centre's executive director, Maksuda Aytiyeva, told Central Asia Online.
"In recent years, we have held workshops for young journalists on how to write news reports and how to conduct an interview properly," she said. "As part of the 'Youth Speak Out' project, 10 older pupils during 2011-2013 travelled around villages to interview residents and prepared 14 news reports that aired on ElTR [state TV]."
A local newspaper, Ariyet, published the youths' stories and press conferences followed, at which the oblast governor and local officials answered the young journalists' questions, Aytiyeva said.
"The 'I Cover the News' festival in Osh brought children from across southern Kyrgyzstan ... closer together: not only did participants in the master classes and debates discuss the role of school media – they shared their experience, in order to avoid making mistakes in the future," Eshmatov said.
It also helped build up the school media centres' potential and to strengthening neighbourly relations among schoolchildren from various oblasts, he added.
The High Court rejected the appeal of a 30-year-old male IDF soldier who posed as an 18-year-old female soldier over the Internet and sexually assaulted three girls.
The soldier blackmailed the girls, two of them 13 and one 16, to release their nude photos on the Internet.
“Little Red Riding Hood no longer wanders around the woods infested with wolves; she wanders around the Internet, where hunters and predators of a different kind lurk,” the court said in a statement.
The offender was originally sentenced to two years in prison and payment of compensation for the victims.
Upon appeal, he attempted to argue that since he only met with the girls and harmed them virtually, he should be granted leniency in sentencing.
Supreme Court justices Edna Arbel, Yitzhak Amit and Neal Hendel issued a ruling rejecting these claims, and left the original sentence unchanged.
“Women and girls do not have to walk warily with a shadow that follows their every step, not on a secluded street and not in the corridors of the [social] network,” the statement said.
According to the ruling, sex offenses conducted over the Internet are just as harmful if not more harmful to minors. The reasons for this, the justices concluded, is that in addition to the damage there remains the constant threat of posting pictures on the Web and the damage was done to the children when they were at home – a place that is supposed to be safe.
The court further said that this phenomenon of virtual sexual harassment and assault via the Internet is on the rise and it requires strict and deterring treatment.
Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, executive director of The National Council for the Child, welcomed the Supreme Court ruling, saying “All the pedophiles and the cowardly sex offenders hiding behind the anonymity of dialogue know that their fate will not be easier than that of other sex offenders.”
Implement stringent penalties for sexual harassment: Study
RIYADH – A recent survey issued by the Public Opinion Survey Unit of the King Abdul Aziz National Dialogue Center attributed the reasons for cases of sexual harassment in Saudi society to weak religious deterrent by those who carry out such acts. This is apart from not expediting implementing stringent penalties against the harassers, Al-Riyadh daily reported.
The study, whose results the center disclosed recently, revealed that 91 percent of participants believed that a weak religious deterrent is one of the major reasons for sexual harassment in society, while 76 percent said a lack of regulations on harassment leads to an increase in such cases.
Sexual harassment was defined in the study as any intentional action, conduct, word or deed that the person is aware of and is carried out aurally, visually or physically to reach sexual arousal. The center said the issue of sexual harassment has received ample attention from the media in the Kingdom and highlighted the disturbing trend of sexual harassment turning into violence and outright physical assault.
The phenomenon has numerous negative effects on members of society and if allowed to spread, can lead to the appearance of other forms of violence and the break down of dialogue between members of the opposite sex. The study included 992 people – men and women – representing a random sample that included age, gender, and geographical location of citizens from all 13 regions of the Kingdom. The percentage of male participants in the study was 47.7 percent while that of females hit 52.3 percent.
The study showed that Saudi society overwhelmingly holds the weaknesses in the mechanism for implementing penalties, directly responsible for the increase in sexual harassment cases, especially with the nonexistence of a clear Shariah text that specifies the exact punishment for each case. As for the opinion that “non-implementation of the regulations led to sexual harassment”, supporters of this view was 80.8 percent while 12.8 percent did not support it. Also, 80 percent of male and female participants in the study believe that the weakness of social responsibility towards members of the society and towards one another contributed greatly to the rise of sexual harassment.
The results of the study showed that 75.2 percent of Saudi nationals view weak efforts to educate the general public on suitable conduct to play a big role in the appearance of harassment cases. This is clear in the unavailability of signboards in public places such as markets and parks that educate people on bad conduct, regulations related to others’ rights or conduct in public and discretionary penalties for violators.
DUBAI, The United Arab Emirates -- Two transgender women from Brazil were detained and their passports confiscated while on vacation in Dubai.
Hairdressers 38 year-old Karen Mke and 33 year-old Kamilla Satto have been detained last month while attending a local nightclub with police charging them with the crime of 'imitating' women.
On Tuesday it was reported that the pair, who were on a tourist visit, are now awaiting an imminent trial with the possibility of imprisonment, fines and/or deportation to their home state of Amazonas in Brazil.
Mke and Satto attended, along with their friend Jean Campos, a hotel nightclub when they say they were accosted minutes later by its security men.
They reported that they were asked to submit their passports and when the security staff saw that their registered names were masculine they experienced abuse.
"We were well dressed, according to their culture and yet were accosted. We found the incident untenable and prejudiced.
"My friend [Campos] decided to call the police and it was the worst thing we did.
"When they arrived and realized we were trans, they placed us in a [police] car without saying anything, and we remained detained for two days," reported Mke and Satto.
The pair said that police informed them that they were detained because it is forbidden for "men to dress as a woman".
Dubai punishes the "imitation of women by men" under a law prohibiting "indecent acts" with fines, deportation and possible imprisonment of six months to a year.
The pair cannot leave Dubai as their passports have been confiscated by the authorities, and have now run out of money and forced to reside with a Filipino family.
"We just want to go back to Brazil and make clear that we merely came here to get to know the local culture, and not to attack Islamic laws and moral precepts," explained Mke.
Brazil's embassy confirmed the case and said the pair will have to wait for a court session to be held on March 23.
Abdulla, chair and founder of the UAE LGBT advocacy group criticised the Emirate's government: "The abuse and humiliation Karen Mke and Kamila Satto received during their stay in our country is deplorable, is this an example of things to come during the world expo to be held here in Dubai?
"Intolerance and hostility and more human right violations towards visitors that we should be welcoming?
"We call upon the government of the United Arab Emirates to move swiftly and resolve this case."
BY DISU KAMOR, 25 JANUARY 2014
A lot of people have wondered what it means to mark a World Hijab Day(WHiD). What is it for, what do Muslim women hope to achieve by observing it? Well, before I could come up with a convincing defense of it, our brother, Disu Kamor, the indefatigable executive director of Muslim Public Affairs Centre, rose to the occasion with this well-researched piece on the event, which is due on Saturday next week. Please read on.
Thousands of people across the world who would either be non-Muslims or Muslims who ordinarily do not don the hijab will wear it on the 1st of February, 2014 in solidarity with the "hijabis" everywhere. This annual solidarity event tagged the World Hijab Day (WHD) seeks to create better understanding and awareness of the Muslim head cover, at a time that the hijab has seen great assault, and when modesty of covering up is being ridiculed or associated with oppression and backwardness. The event will also highlight the fact that the hijab is religiously mandated, and that millions of Muslim women are making the free choice to follow God's legislation regarding the way they dress every single time that they step out of their houses.
Many Nigerian Muslim women will mark the occasion of the WHD to reflect on the situation that exists for them: the unwarranted hostility and discrimination they and their daughters have to suffer for making the free choice to put a piece of cloth on their heads. The hostility and discrimination that manifest in various places and ways: at the workplace, in schools and sadly, even in official quarters. Many Nigerian Muslim women endure untold hardship as a price they pay in order to meet this religious obligation.
For instance on October 28, 2013, the Nigerian embassy in Washington DC denied a Muslim sister wearing a hijab, who had gone for a biometrics appointment necessary to replace her Nigerian passport, any service on the basis that she had to expose her ears. Even when the victim informed the attendant that she was wearing the hijab for religious purposes and as such could not expose her ears, an immigration attaché at the embassy intervened and insisted that the victim had to "because it is the law of Nigeria that ears must show". Interestingly, the way and manner the victim donned her hijab at the Nigerian embassy in Washington was the exact way she dons it every day- common sense would have made it the best form of identifying her whenever she carries the passport.
This disturbing example fits into a pattern that is replicated at almost every immigration centre and other government agencies in this country. Thousands of Muslim applicants of Nigerian passport, the driving license and other forms of ID cards are being harassed to "show your ears" or to totally remove their hijab by state officials claiming to be enforcing the "law of the land". Officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service in Nigeria and their counterparts in several other government agencies, remain obstinate and maintain that they are enforcing a "law of the land" which none of them has been able to produce for verification.
Perhaps some of them assume that there is such a law, since no one above them has deemed it fit to clarify the official policy and create a better understanding of the Nigerian law as it pertains to the work they do. Ongoing request to the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Interior to clarify policies regarding the use of hijab in passport photographs taken for ID purpose have met with complete silence. Sadly, heads of the affected government agencies have also ignored earlier requests sent directly to them, in a show of lack of sensitivity or a sense of responsibility. Of course, official clarification and pronouncements would have stopped the needless misery that many Muslim women continue to go through.
The total abandonment of responsibility on the part of the senior officials, at these services, on this issue is clearly responsible for the continued misbehaviour of the officials who are let loose on hapless Muslim women. If they are employing world-class standards and best practices to run the services, it will be easier and better to publish unambiguous guidelines on the websites of these services. The equivalent of our own immigration service in the UK, in the United States and in Australia (all secular democracies) have user-friendly and clear guidelines which show that hijab (with ears covered) is allowed for passport and visa application.
More importantly, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards which the Nigerian machine-readable passport complies to specifically spell out that head covering for religious purposes is acceptable. As more people step into the shoes of the "hijabis" on the 1st of February, they will see how securing freedom of religious expression serves compelling national interests. The goodwill and flexibility in meeting both the religious needs of Muslim women and the legitimate needs of those service providers cannot be mutually exclusive. One wonders if Catholic nuns are asked to remove their habit or show their ears when taking pictures for ID purpose at immigration centres, at the Nigerian Identity Management Commission, and at driving license issuing centres etc - or is the 'bare your ears' only a "Muslim thing?".
The testimonies of many past participants of the World Hijab Day will help us to better understand that it takes more than lectures and reading to share the experience and real commitment of those wearing the shoes in any situation. Female staff and pupils at Pleckgate High School, Blackburn UK decided to step into the shoe and wore the headscarf last year. A participating teacher of the school had this to say: "A lot of the girls at the school already wear a hijab, and we have one as part of the school uniform. I asked the head if we could ask all the girls to take part and around a third of them did. We also had a number of staff take part. I think World Hijab Day helps us to understand how Muslim women feel and more about their beliefs and faith. A lot of the girls were excited about taking part and many saw it as a fashionable thing and quite light hearted, while still getting the message across." Pleckgate High School is a public funded school, and prides itself on the value it attaches to diversity.
It will be nice to get our public officials into the same mindset and make our public schools establish and promote a policy that would make every feel child priceless and valued equally- where every child will feel truly included. As things stands, an existing policy in Lagos State for instance, effectively bars any Muslim female student from wearing the hijab. Of course, the policy of discrimination sends a strong message of exclusion to all Muslims and posterity will surely judge this period as a time when the state forbids education to a child unless that child violates the tenet of her faith.
Sadly, Muslim students in public schools of similar ages as those depicted in the Pleckgate High School story above will finish their education in Lagos State with memories of bias, exclusion and discrimination. Perhaps the greatest lesson we all can take from an event like the WHD is that we actually do not know enough until we take the courage to step into other people's shoes. As the organizers of the event stated on the need for a day like this: It will be a day for everyone willing to experience what it's like to step inside the shoes of a Hijabi. We wish you will gain a wealth of knowledge and experience a slightly different definition of FREEDOM.