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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 22 Jul 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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And The Mirror Cracked From Side To Side

New Age Islam News Bureau

22 Jul 2012 

 Woman minister gets wolf whistles in French parliament

 Pakistani Woman Columnist praises Iran’s strong stance against US policies

 Egyptian channel with veiled women launches broadcast

 Standing up on her own From Edinburgh to Stockholm, Paris to London, San Francisco to Pakistan

 Muslim women face special challenges during Ramadan fast

 6 Female Olympians To Watch in London

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

Photo: French Housing Minister Cecile Duflot



 ‘And the mirror crack’d from side to side...’

Jul 22, 2012 | DC

The 12-year-old Muslim girl sat in the advocate’s office in Rajajinagar, with her parents and her three-month-old son. Yes, that's right, her son. And yet, when you walk into the room, your first impression is one of slight bewilderment, your first thought - 'where's the 12 year old?' For holding the baby is a woman. A young, tragically jaded young woman whose innocence has been squeezed out of her like paste out of a tube in the hands of a careless child. At one go, life stole her innocence, her childhood, her idealism and the future she hoped to have. And we're all to blame for that.

This is not the story of one disastrous rape case. This is definitely no moral commentary on whether or not she gave her consent and or a high-flown opinion on legality. The situation, which will be explained to you now, is just a microcosm showing you, in the harshest possible light, the greatly flawed society of which we are a part.

In September 2011, Shabnam (name changed) was raped by Rasheed (name changed), her father’s apprentice and distant relative. Rasheed lived in the house along with Shabnam, her parents and her three siblings. The glaring glitch in this situation needs hardly to be pointed out. “Since he was staying in the house, he saw her changing her clothes one day and took advantage of her,” said Mr Ramananda, Shabnam’s advocate while he briefed the journalists before the actual interview. Poverty and financial constraints may have caused the situation, of course and the consequences went either unforeseen or ignored.

The rape and the pregnancy caused an uproar in Shabnam’s community. “The local rowdies told us to take her out of school and want us to marry our daughter off to the man who raped her,” said Shabnam’s father. “Would you leave your house open to a burglar just because he has robbed your house once? So why should I marry my daughter off to the man who raped her?” he demands.

In this grim situation, which would have meant definite ostracism otherwise, Shabnam is lucky to have her father. A man of exceptional courage, he is determined to shield his daughter from any harm or discrimination. “I’ve four children and with the little boy, I have five,” he says. “My daughter is the only educated girl in the family, she helps me with the accounting work in my shop. I consider her my male child, I cannot rely on my son the way I rely on her.”

The case was fought bravely to the finish. When Justice Ram Mohan Reddy angrily said the school should function even if Shabnam is the only student there, it seemed like a triumph. Only the battle was won. The media swarm was to be expected, as were their depressingly predictable views. Shabnam was quoted in a leading daily, saying she was in love with Rasheed and wanted to marry him and that her father was only in the way. Society, from the barely literate religious bigots to the well educated middle class said Shabnam was a willing participant. Little regard and compassion was shown for the 12 year old whose life hung in the balance.

In 2007, 24 states in the US and DC introduced a new bit of legislation – the HPV (Human Papillo Virus) vaccine was made mandatory for school girls. In the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, the controversy following this mandate was discussed. The vaccine, which is said to prevent cervical cancer is to be administered to girls between the ages of 9 and 25. That the hype surrounding the HPV vaccine condoned and even encouraged sexual activity in pre teens was an oft-made argument. On July 17, an article titled ‘Why 6-year-old Girls Want to Be Sexy (STUDY)” appeared in the Huffington Post.

An actual bit of research claims girls as young as six are beginning to think of themselves as sex objects. According to the January issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine, research shows that women who used oral contraceptives may be vulnerable to excess amounts of testosterone flow, “potentially leading to continuing sexual, metabolic and mental health consequences.” The side-effects of contraception have been long-established by science. Few teens know that. Most of them have seen the popular contraceptive advertisement on television, however, of a mischievous looking girl with dishevelled hair popping a pill to compensate for her promiscuity.

If all these reports are to be believed, the number of sexually active pre-teens is alarmingly on the rise. Shabnam learnt the hard way. Young, impressionable and bombarded with information she doesn’t know how to disseminate, if Shabnam went willingly, she can hardly be blamed. An excess of information combined with a lack of education has led to disastrous consequences, not just for this girl, but for countless others like her, whose stories go unheard. This is a good time to introduce sex education, we ventured hopefully to the headmistress of Shabnam’s school. We received no reply, save for her horrified expression.

Whether Shabnam was forcibly used or whether she gave her consent is not a point of contention for us, the middle class perched safely on our moral high grounds. Honestly, who knows how we might have done, in her situation? All Shabnam needs is education and awareness, for, all said and done, a human being’s life is in her young hands and his welfare must be seen to as well. After all, the greatest lessons to be found in this story are the ones that she will learn.



Woman minister gets wolf whistles in French parliament

London, July 21, 2012, (IANS) : A 37-year-old woman minister, who wore a knee-length floral summery dress and high heels to parliament, faced a barrage of wolf-whistles from male MPs when she stood up to give a speech.

Housing Minister Cecile Duflot also faced yells of "Phwoarr" Friday as she tried to make a speech to the National Assembly in Paris, The Sun reported Saturday.

She began, "Ladies and gentlemen... obviously, more gentlemen than ladies", but her words were drowned out.

After the howling, the minister said: "I have worked in the building trade and I have never seen anything like that. This tells you something about our MPs. I just think of their wives."

Duflot was a former town planner who once wore jeans to a cabinet meeting.

Members of the Union for a Popular Movement, the party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, were widely blamed for the abuse, The Sun said.

A video of the incident caused an outrage, with many people saying it highlighted the shortcomings of the political class.

MP Patrick Balkany, a close friend of Sarkozy, said Duflot put on the knee-length dress "so we wouldn't listen to what she was saying".

Women's Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said: "Sexism has no frontiers. We should set a better example."



Pakistani Woman Columnist praises Iran’s strong stance against US policies

Islamabad, July 22, IRNA – A Pakistani columnist on Saturay said that Islamic Republic of Iran has always taken a strong position against the American hegemony in the world.

 Talking to IRNA Ayesha Masood Malik praised the role of Iran for brining unity in Muslim Ummah.

Recalling her experience of participating in the international conference on Women and Islamic Awakening in Tehran, she said the arrangements were very good and the whole event was well organized.

She said that the purpose of her visit was to share her ideas with the women of Islamic world. “I was impressed by the way Iranians have conducted the event,” Ayesha Masood Malik.

She thanked for the hospitality of the Iranian people. The columnist said that the conference had provided her an opportunity to share experience with the women of 80 countries.

“We have to move forward from what we have achieved in the conference,” she viewed.

Some 1,500 Muslim women from around the world attended the two-day event which was a platform for them to express their views freely and without fear of retribution.

Praising the role of Iranian women Ayesha Masood Malik said that woman of Iran is confident and is playing an active role in the society.

She noted that Iranian woman is performing her duties in all walks of life. “We went to Qum, Mashhad and Isfahan and saw Iranian women playing active role in Iran,” said the columnist.

She said that it is because of the Islamic Revolution that Iranian woman is actively participating in the society.

Expressing her views Ayesha Masood Malik said that Iran is a strong country and has been playing vital role for bringing unity in Muslim Ummah.

“We the Muslims have to shun our differences and unite for the prosperity of Muslim world,” the columnist viewed.

She was of the opinion that presence of US forces in Afghanistan is the real challenge for this region.

Ayesha Masood Malik admired the simplicity in the lifestyles of Iranian leaders. “Life style of the Iranian leadership is inspiring for other countries and they are setting good examples for the people around the world,” said the journalist.

The analyst said that Islamic Republic of Iran has taken a strong stance against the American hegemony in the world. She said that Iran has always voiced against US led drone strikes and aggression against Muslims.

Ayesha Masood Malik is a renowned columnist. Her columns regularly appear in major newspapers.



Egyptian channel with veiled women launches broadcast

By IANS, Muslim World News

London:21 July 2012, Maria TV, a new satellite news channel that only features women wearing the full Islamic veil, has been launched in Egypt. Men are banned from the show, a media report said Saturday.

Stationed in a small apartment in the working class district of Abassiya in the capital city of Cairo, Maria TV will be broadcast for six hours a day on the al-Ummah channel, a religious station run by orthodox Salafi Islamists.

Wearing veils and dressed in black from head to toe, only women are employees of Maria TV.

Men are banned from the show, even on phone-ins. All women staff, including those behind the camera, wear veils.

Female preacher El-Sheikha Safaa Refai, who heads Maria TV, said the channel's existence showed how far the country had come since the uprising that ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

On the subject of wearing a veil to read the news, she said: "I was told that it won't work because of the body language. Well, the tone of my voice can convey my emotions and reactions."

She said she hoped that by appearing on TV in full Islamic dress, she could show people "that there are successful women wearing niqab".

The Daily Mail said the channel is is named after a Coptic Christian woman from Egypt who was married to Prophet Mohammad.

Abeer Shahin said she graduated from the prestigious American University in Cairo but struggled to find a job because of employers' aversion to her full Islamic veil.

But now she has found a job she hopes will change how Egyptian society views niqab wearers. She is going to work as a TV anchor.

"It's unfair to deal with veiled women as a standard religious housewife. No, she can be a doctor, a professor and an engineer," said Shahin, wearing a loose black robe and a black head scarf that revealed only her eyes.



Standing up on her own From Edinburgh to Stockholm, Paris to London, San Francisco to Pakistan

July 22,2012

From Edinburgh to Stockholm, Paris to London, San Francisco to Pakistan, Shazia Mirza is every bit the global star. “Humour is universal in itself,” states the confident comedian.

She maybe a new voice among the many who have gone around the comedy circuit a few times, but that doesn’t make Shazia a newbie by any means. Her humour is raw, direct, and at the least, wickedly funny.

As a Birmingham-born Asian, Shazia Mirza started with writing comedy and part of the course was to perform what she had written. “I found that I loved performing what I’d written, it was even more thrilling to express what I’d written, and once I started, I couldn’t stop.”

In case she hasn’t already made it abundantly clear with her jokes, she’s a female Muslim stand-up, credentials which she seems to think, “imbue everything I utter with a shock value that negates the need to add anything more.”

She swears. She talks about sex. But while it may be highly unusual for a Muslim woman, it’s pretty standard fare for a comic, isn’t it?

Much of Shazia’s material draws on her experiences as a British, Muslim Asian, who, she jokes, Muslim men “don’t like” because “I...speak!”

This 34-year-old comedian began her comedy career just after the 9/11 attacks and has opened many a show with the line, “Hi, my name is Shazia Mirza, at least that’s what it says on my pilot’s license.”

It was a shocking opener that won the rookie comic a lot of headlines. Evidently, she’s not one to stay away from speaking her mind or making fun of everything that’s considered “taboo”.

“I was born in England, which is a democracy where we believe in the freedom of speech. I have never been censored in Europe or America, but I have been in Dubai, Pakistan, and in India, previously, I was told to ‘tone it down’ as the audience were quite conservative apparently.”

Punchy gags

Switch to the present day and her onstage routine is packed with punchy gags that leave the audience in stitches.

Much of her fodder is recycled from her personal life. But unlike popular acts like Russell Brand and Russel Peters, she gives the racism a miss, and handles her lines with directness, something that her peers are yet to try out. She often mixes in a generous dose of self-deprecating jibes about her identity and puns on religion, sexism and more.

“I have never seen myself as a female comedian. Don’t worry, I’m not a transvestite. I just see myself as me — a comedian. I never worry about the audience — what will they think of me? Will they like me or not? Will they laugh? I just worry about being myself, and being funny. I’ve had many struggles and the least of them have been being a woman.”

Shazia likes to jokingly refer to herself as the “white sheep” of her Pakistani, Muslim family. Her columns in The Guardian hold testimony to that. Here, she freely wrote about her upbringing, the culture shock she experienced every time she left the threshold of her home in Birmingham, her parents and their need to get her married off as soon as possible.

“My column in The Guardian was specifically about relationships and family. But I always write with humour. There are always jokes and punch lines. I can’t get things across without humour; I always see the funny side.”

So, to keep her straight-laced parents happy, just like any other average Pakistani child, she unwittingly chose to study Biochemistry and began teaching Science in elementary school but would moonlight as an amateur theatre artist.

She claims that it was drama school that eventually freed the comedian in her, out of the closet. “I never wanted to be a teacher. I did it as an ‘acceptable job’ like being a doctor, dentist or if you’re a woman — a newsreader. I always wanted to be on stage, I wanted to be an actress, but I sort of fell into stand-up comedy, now I realise there’s nothing else I could have possibly done. When I was teaching, they didn’t want to be there and neither did I. So I told them jokes to keep them and myself interested.”

Witty one-liners

Her one-liners are often swung out, in-between a long routine, whipping up the audience into a frenzy. She’s abrasive onstage, one critic wrote, about her style behind the microphone. But there’s always a smile backing every single one of her lines too. “I love comedy.” Her favourite topics are her family, their antics, religion, cultural agendas and George Clooney. “You can’t go wrong with Clooney. He’s universal,” says a beaming Shazia.

This young comedian always attempts to stick to the truth, adding that it never fails to get a roar from the audience. “I can’t write or do comedy about things I don’t care about.”

Is there a difference between the Shazia in real life and the Shazia who performs stand-up? “I’m the same person everywhere. My comedy comes from real life. So I am the same on stage as I am off it.”

Shazia, who is more than familiar with bagging awards now, has also courted some controversy throughout her career while breaking down stereotypes of  women tearing at the fringes of a politically-correct society, or at the expense of producing genuinely hilarious material.

But after having caught her videos on Youtube and scouring her numerous humour pieces on the Internet, I can confidently state that she performs with a distinct comic voice that can put her contemporaries to shame.

Yet, despite her finding money, fame and recognition on her own and living her life on her own terms, Shazia’s Asian parents still hesitate to make noise on her behalf. “They couldn’t give a toss. They couldn’t care less if I was a stripper. They just want me to get married,” she adds nonchalantly.

(Follow Shazia Mirza on Twitter @shaziamirza1.)



Pakistan female athlete runs for dead friend

July 22, 2012

Pakistan runner Rabia Ishaq will be motivated by the memory of a dead friend and colleague when she appears as one of her nation's two female athletes at the London

The 20-year-old, who competes in the 800 metre heats on August 8, fondly remembers Mubeen Akhtar -- one of the country's top sprinters who died in June.

"I am not a medal contender I know that but I want to dedicate my Olympic appearance to Mubeen who was a close friend and who always wished to compete in the Games," Rabia said.

Mubeen, Pakistan's fastest female sprinter in the national championships this year where she won the 100 and 200 metre, died after a freak accident at her home.

Her family said she tripped down the stairs and sustained serious head injuries and died later in hospital after being put on a ventilator.

"She was overjoyed when I got a wildcard entry for the Olympics," Rabia recalled.

"Mubeen is the motivation for me to try to do well in my event. I want to make her, my coach Bushra Parveen and my country proud of me."

In a country known for its conservative values, female athletes rarely get opportunities to compete at international level.

Apart from the successful men's hockey team who have won three gold medals, three silver and two bronze, Pakistan have won only two bronze medals in the Olympics.



Muslim women face special challenges during Ramadan fast

By Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

July 22, 2012

Zarinah El-Amin Naeem isn't sure she'll be able to fast throughout Ramadan this year.

The 32-year-old Redford Township woman looks forward to the Islamic holy month, which began Thursday night for many Muslims who seek spiritual renewal during Ramadan and fast. But because she is nursing her 1-year-old son, Isa, she's not sure if she can safely do so. Islam doesn't require fasting during Ramadan if it harms one's health.

"For my friends who are nursing or pregnant, it's a topic of discussion: 'Will you fast? Are you going to try?' " she said.

Naeem's dilemma is just one example of the challenges women face during Ramadan, when Muslims believe their holy book, the Quran, was first revealed to their prophet, Muhammad. While the obligations of Ramadan, such as abstaining from food and water from sunrise to sunset, are the same for men, women often find themselves in situations -- from raising children to cooking big Ramadan dinners -- where fasting can be especially difficult.

Not everyone is required to fast during Ramadan.

Young children, elderly people, those with illnesses, women who are pregnant or nursing, and travelers are all exempt from fasting, said Imam Mohammed Elahi, religious leader of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights.

Naeem is "thinking about trying to fast, as long as my son is OK. ... If my milk supply doesn't drop really low, I will do it, but if it does," she won't, though she will cut out things "like sweets, desserts."

If Naeem doesn't fast, per Islamic custom she will pay to feed poor people: She might bring food to her mosque, the Muslim Center in Detroit, that will be given to needy people.

For Naeem, Ramadan is "a time to learn self-restraint and discipline, learning that your body is stronger. Your mind is stronger than your physical needs. If you can get through Ramadan -- especially from 4:30 to 9 p.m. -- you can get through anything."

Also exempt from fasting are women who are menstruating. But, during Ramadan, some women take birth control pills to regulate their menstrual cycle so they can continue to fast, said Naeem.

"It's interesting that women want to fast so much -- even though they don't have to -- that they would go to the length of having birth control during the month," she said.

Cooking, too, can be a challenge. During Ramadan, meals known as iftars bring together families and friends; for women who are fasting, that can mean long hours preparing meals. Some also have to feed children -- who are exempt from fasting -- while avoiding food themselves.

"It's an extra level of discipline that's required when you have kids," Naeem said.

Zeinab Chami, 28, of Dearborn agreed. "Women do a lot of cooking -- and they're around food. That's not easy."

But the women say there's a sense of satisfaction in putting together meals during a holy season that puts an emphasis on spiritual reflection.

"You're shifting your focus," said Chami. "You're quenching your spiritual thirst as opposed to your physical thirst and hunger."

Ramadan starts 10 days earlier every year because it's based on a lunar calendar; that makes it more of a challenge this year because summer days are long, forcing observant Muslims to go 15 hours (about 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.) without food or water. Record temperatures this year make it even more of an effort.

"It's very difficult during the summer" to fast, said Chami, a high school teacher.

Lucky for her, Ramadan falls during her vacation so she can adjust her schedule. "I get to flip my days," she said. "I will stay up all night and sleep during the daytime.

"It's still difficult, though," she added, because the "thirst is overwhelming in the summertime. ... The thirst is more of an issue than hunger."

But compared to what others around the world face, most Muslims in metro Detroit can't complain, Chami said.

Many "have AC at home and at work; we're not doing any strenuous activity," she said.

Women also watch their health in the weeks leading up to Ramadan.

Most of the year, Zahra Zaarour of Dearborn enjoys three cups of regular coffee a day.

But at the beginning of this month, Zaarour switched to half-decaf and half-regular, and a week ago to all decaf. Zaarour knew that unless she kicked her caffeine habit, she would be faced with a throbbing head.

"I learned my lesson last year," said Zaarour, 26, a social worker. "You can't go cold turkey or else you get those unbearable headaches."

For Fadia Farhat, 43, of Dearborn, the hardest part of the day comes in the afternoon. She works, but also is raising her children and cooking iftar meals.

"In the morning, you're OK, you don't feel like eating," said Farhat, who works at a recreation center. "But by midday, your body starts to want fluids, caffeine."

Like Zaarour, Farhat sometimes gets "that caffeine headache, a migraine."

Though fasting all day can make someone grouchy, it's considered un-Islamic to use Ramadan as an excuse for bad manners.

"When you get hungry, you get cranky," Farhat said. "And I deal with people all day. I try to speak properly and avoid bad manners."

"God will not accept your fast if you're lashing out and snapping at people," Zaarour said. "He's trying to teach you self-discipline and self-control."



6 Female Olympians To Watch in London

By ThinkProgress, July 21, 2012

Written by Alyssa Rosenberg

The Olympics are a huge, sprawling event, and every time they happen, I struggle to decide what to make appointment television. But this year, I want to keep tabs on six women. Not all of them have shots at medals, though a number of them do. But I’m excited to see them compete, not just because they’re tremendous athletes, but because they’re sparking important conversations about women’s participation in sports in the first year that every country competing in the games will be represented by both women and men, and that the United States is sending more female athletes to the games than men.

1. Sarah Robles: We’re pretty psyched that online ad company Solve Media decided to sponsor Robles, the strongest woman in the United States. And as much as it’s unfortunate that Robles had to get by on $400 a month, the news that she was sponsorless sparked an important conversation about which Olympians get financial support and public attention, and why. Plus she’s funny and classy on questions of sexism and her career. But most importantly, she’s unbelievably, mind-blowingly strong. We can’t wait to see her overpower the competition.

2. Gabby Douglas: The 16-year-old from Virginia Beach has lived away from her family for two years to train for the Olympics. And while she isn’t favored for All-Around gold in London, she’s in the hunt, beating favorite Jordyn Wieber in the trials that got them both spots to the games. Olympic gymnastics have traditionally been dominated by American and Eastern European teams and individuals, and the number of women of color who have picked up individual gold medals in gymnastics is small: Chinese gymnasts He Kexin on uneven bars and He Wenna on the trampoline in 2008, Lu Li on the uneven bars in 1992, Ma Yanhong on the uneven bars in 1984, Hong Un Jong, who picked up North Korea’s first Olympic medal with a gold in the vault in 2008. No black woman’s ever taken home an individual gold medal in Olympic gymnastics (Douglas is the first African-American on the American women’s team since 2000), and it’ll be exciting to see if the immensely likable Douglas can be the first.

3. Sarah Attar and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani: Saudi Arabia’s done everything it can to downplay the fact that the International Olympic Committee required the country to send its two female Olympians — Attar in the 800-meters, Shahrkhani in judo — to the London games, including not reporting their inclusion on the team in state-sponsored media. And some commentators have suggested that the regime will use their participation as a distraction while it cracks down on women’s rights in other arenas of Saudi life. But the Olympics are about celebrating the best that every country has to offer, even if the country itself doesn’t recognize the talents and aspirations of its own people. We should cheer Attar and Shahrkhani as a way of praising a vision of Saudi Arabia where female athletes like them don’t have to pursue their dreams abroad.

4. Khadija Mohammed: Just 17 years old, Mohammed defied cultural expectations and history to become the first woman from a Gulf state to qualify for Olympic weightlifting, and the first woman from the United Arab Emirates to qualify for the Olympics without needing to receive an invitation from the IOC. Her family’s been publicly supportive, and unlike Saudi Arabia, so has the head of the UAE’s weightlifting federation. And while this has been a challenge in other sports, like soccer, Mohammed will be able to wear a one-piece uniform that covers her hair after the International Weightlifting Federation approved the new styles. It’s a nice reminder that participation is the key goal here, not participation on purely Western terms. Mohammed isn’t expected to contend for a medal this year, but it’s only the beginning of her career.

5. Yelena Isinbayeva: One of the reasons women’s gymnastics has met with some criticism is the youth of the competitors, and the fact their careers are over so early. Isinbayeva, who was considered too tall to be a gymnastic competitor, switched over to pole vault, where she’s broken her own world records again and again. Whether she can recover from two tough years on the competition circuit and a break is one of the big, exciting questions in the track and field competition this year. But whatever the results are, Isinbayeva is an astonishing athlete, and a reminder that young female gymnasts need not be stuck as little girls in pretty boxes.