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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 15 Dec 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Al-Huda: Pakistani institute that ‘radicalised’ thousands of women

New Age Islam News Bureau

15 Dec 2015 

Photo: This undated file photo, provided by the FBI, shows Tashfeen Malik. A religious conservative who lived previously in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Malik joined her American-born husband Syed Farook in donning tactical gear, grabbing assault weapons and slaughtering 14 people in southern California. (AP Photo)


 Woman with siblings tortures husband to death

 Conway woman vows to wear hijab to support Muslim women in America

 More gender inequality in India than Pakistan, Bangladesh: United Nations

 First women political leaders in Saudi Arabia - Role of women in Islamic societies!

 Muslim Women: Hijab Wearing Issues Faced By Americans

 ISIS is an Islamic problem, time for women to advocate for health care access | Letters

 Saudi women win EU prize for promoting human rights

 I never dreamt of romancing girls younger than my daughter: Naseeruddin Shah

 Barisal woman commits suicide First tries to kill daughter

 Female labour force rising rapidly in Bangladesh

 Fear of stigma forces women to use aliases on social media

 Victory or loss, women rejoice

Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau




Al-Huda: Pakistani institute that ‘radicalised’ thousands of women

Dec 15, 2015

Long before Al Huda Institute shot into the limelight for its links with Tashfeen Malik, one of the shooters in the San Bernardino killings, the conservative school was blamed by some in Pakistan for radicalising thousands of women -- including wives of civil and military officials.

Malik, 29, enrolled for an 18-month course on the Quran at an Al Huda centre in Punjab province in 2013. After she and her husband Syed Rizwan Farook shot and killed 14 people in California, Pakistani investigators named Al Huda for having played a role in Malik’s radicalisation.

Karachi-based Al Huda is run by controversial cleric Farhat Hashmi, who founded the organisation with her husband Idrees Zubair in 1994. Both are PhDs from Scotland’s famous centre of Islamic learning, the University of Glasgow.

Hashmi insists she is pursuing a moderate version of Islam but her detractors say Al Huda has had a role in radicalising thousands of women because of its conservative views.

Hashmi hails from Sargodha in Punjab province, where her parents were members of the Islami Jamiat Tulaba, and she is steeped in the “dars” (studies) of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Like the Jamaat-e-Islami, Al Huda too has the support of Pakistan’s military establishment and it is unlikely its followers will be questioned about their activities.

Read | Pak woman’s role in California shooting sparks ‘jihad brides’ fear

“It is unclear whether any investigation will be undertaken against Al Huda because the wives of a number of senior military officers are members of this group,” said analyst Khaled Ahmad, who has written about the organisation.

Al Huda has branches in many cities of the US and Canada, where thousands of adherents pursue their brand of Islam unhindered. It also has a branch in Bengaluru.

Hashmi migrated to Canada some 10 years ago to expand her network from there. Her followers are known for their hardline views and wear an all encompassing burqa of the type banned in parts of France.

In the past, activists linked to al Qaeda were apprehended from the homes of people allied to the Jamaat-e-Islami, and observers now fear that educated Pakistani women radicalised by organisations such as Al Huda could drift towards groups like the Islamic State.

According to a book on Hashmi, women members of Al Huda are turned against both the West and India. The belief that a denouncement of cultural practices and disapproval of Westerners and Indians helps women redefine their own identity as Muslims is part of the group’s teachings.

In her speeches, Hashmi has said she thinks Osama bin Laden is an Islamic warrior. Women were told that tens of thousands of Pakistanis died in the 2005 earthquake because they were involved in immoral activities and had left the path of Islam.

Read |Pakistani security seeks to dampen reporting on California shooter

Questions linger about the activities and funding of Al Huda but Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have refused to conduct any inquiries.

“We are at this point not looking at religious organisations or their source of funding,” said interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. It was his ministry that refused to arrest Maulana Abdul Aziz, the imam of Lal Masjid who earlier this month declared a jihad against Pakistan’s democratic forces.

Aziz, and his wife who heads the Jamia Hafsa madrassa, pledged allegiance to the IS through a much publicised video in 2014.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has questioned the government’s motives for cracking down on international NGOs while staying silent on those funded by the Saudi Arabia and other Gulf state governments. Banking officials privately say organisations such as Al Huda and the Quran Academy, founded by cleric Asrar Ahmad, receive millions of dollars in funding from overseas Pakistanis.

In response to criticism, Hashmi said her institute cannot be held responsible for the acts of students. But former followers describe Al Huda and similar organisations as cults.

Al Huda adherents drastically change once they enrol in the institute’s classes and gradually reject their earlier set of friends and their way of life. They shun the companionship of more liberal and moderate Muslims. This happened in the case of Tashfeen Malik, whose friends at Bahauddin Zakarya University said she changed radically after she started attending Al Huda’s classes while studying for a degree in pharmacology at a university in Multan.

Habiba Yunus, once a follower of Al Huda, said adherents believe in conspiracy theories and students are led to believe Muslims are perfect, and this in turn means they are not taught how self-assessment as a Muslim is important. “Students are told the world is bad and Muslims are the best and that the former needs to reform itself,” she said.

“You cannot confuse their organisations with the Taliban or other militant groups,” said politician and activist Jibran Nasir. Organisations such as Al Huda and Quran Academy draw their strength from educated middle class Pakistanis who have turned radical and are considered born-again Muslims, he said.

“One day you see a couple in Western or Pakistani clothes and a normal middle class family, and the next day they have changed into growing beards and wearing burqas,” recalled a person whose said his friends transformed overnight.

A number of Al Huda and Quran Academy followers have found jobs in the West. “Many of them lead professional lives in the West but at the end of the day what they learn and believe in is in direct contradiction with the society they live in,” said Muhammad Arshad Husain, a professional who lives in Canada and has worked alongside some of these families.

One analyst described Al Huda and Quran Academy followers as “time bombs” in the West. There are fears that some will follow in the footsteps of Tashfeen Malik if more educated and middle class Pakistanis drift towards the IS after their radicalisation.



Woman with siblings tortures husband to death

December 15, 2015


A woman along with her brother and sister allegedly tortured her husband to death in Bhoay Dassal Wal in the remit of Ferozewala Police on Monday. The woman Iqra Rani had quarrelled with her husband Ali Raza over some domestic issue. Meanwhile, the woman called her brother Aziz Ullah and sister to her house. The three siblings after exchange of harsh words with the victim, allegedly tortured him to death. The police on the complaint of the deceased’s mother Razia Shoaib have registered a case against the alleged killers.–Staff Reporter



Conway woman vows to wear hijab to support Muslim women in America


The nationwide conversation on whether or not to accept Syrian refugees is still being debated. A Conway woman is taking the debate a step forward.

Nancy Allen educates people daily at the Faulkner County Library. Allen's new lesson is a bit different.

"My goal is support American Muslim women who may be facing fear and discourtesy, discrimination and support of religious freedom of expression," Allen said. "I'm not usually a big statement-maker but I was moved in a negative way by the xenophobic comments that are coming down the pike."

Although she is a Christian and an active member of Saint Peters Episcopal Church, Allen is wearing a hijab to bring awareness and show support for Muslim women. Allen told Channel 7 she felt led to make the strong statement.

"Good points have been brought up. 'Why are you doing this specifically? Why with so much to care about and worry about in our nation is this the thing you focus on?' I can't answer specifically for that but I can say everybody is called to do something. We are not all called to do the same thing. So when you get that call you do what your spirit leads you to do," Allen said. "On Tuesday I ordered it [the hijab]. Saturday at lunch it came and I put it on and I went 'Oh! Oh! Not bad!' I have been wearing it ever since."

Allen says she was warned that she might inadvertently offend members of the Muslim community so she reached out to Muslim women she knew.

"I reached out to a blogger, I reached out to a store that sold Muslim clothing and a friend of mine who lives in Malaysia. The response was 100% positive. They said it was a sweet and kind gesture," Allen said.

Allen told Channel 7 News those around her have had mixed reactions.

"I wore it to church yesterday. Our verger came and gave me a great big hug and a number of people did. People who think I am nuts just politely and discreetly ignore me," Allen said. "I am learning so much. This is what, day three? I am already learning things about commitment, what it means to have your own hair as a veil. What it means to my sense of identity and health."

With the holiday season in full force, Allen said it's time for solidarity.

"There was a poem that went something like, 'First they came for the Jews and I didn't say anything, and then they came for the gypsies and I didn't say anything, and then they came for the Catholics I didn't say anything, then they came for me and there was no one left to speak up,'" Allen said.

Allen just ordered four more hijabs and she said friends have agreed to join her efforts.

"I knew when to start so I will know when to stop," Allen said.



More gender inequality in India than Pakistan, Bangladesh: United Nations

by Shalini Nair

December 15, 2015

India ranks 130 out of 155 countries in the Gender Inequality Index (GII) for 2014, way behind Bangladesh and Pakistan that rank 111 and 121 respectively, according to data in the United National Development Programme’s latest Human Development Report (HDR) 2015.

Among South Asian countries, India fares better than only Afghanistan which is at 152.

The index captures inequalities in gender-specific indicators: reproductive health measured by maternal mortality ratio and adolescent birth rates, empowerment quantified by share of parliamentary seats and attainment in education, and economic activity measured by labour market participation rate.

Pakistan and Bangladesh have a lower Human Development Index (HDI) than India and yet perform better on gender equality as measured by GII. India is placed 130 out of 188 on the Human Development Index (HDI) with Bangladesh at 142 and Pakistan at 147.

But with respect to each parameter on the gender index, India lags behind both its neighbours. Consider this:

* Merely 12.2 per cent of parliamentary seats are held by women in India as against 19.7 in Pakistan and 20 in Bangladesh.

* India is also beset with a high maternal mortality rate of 190 deaths per 100,000 live births as compared to 170 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 births in both Bangladesh and Pakistan.

* In percentage of women receiving secondary education, Bangladesh at 34 per cent far outperforms India at 27 per cent.

* On labour force participation rate for women, Bangladesh is at 57 per cent, India is at 27 per cent.

* In all the above indexes, India’s performance is way below the South Asian average.

The only parameter where India fares slightly better is the adolescent birth rate, which is the number of births per 1000 women aged 15 to 19 years. A lower adolescent birth rate indicates a female population that is more in control of its choices when it comes to marrying and conceiving late.

On this scale, India’s figures are much better than that of Bangladesh as well as the South Asian average, though Pakistan’s record is marginally better than India’s.

UNDP officials state that over the last couple of years, India’s GII values have improved slightly from 0.61 to 0.563. This is mainly due to improvements in maternal mortality rate and women’s representation in parliaments in this period though other indicators have remained stagnant.

The HDR 2015, which is focused on the issue of work, also documents a global drop in female labour force participation rate, which is the proportion of working-age population in paid employment or looking for paid work. “This is owing mainly to the steep reduction for India, from 35 per cent women in 1990 to 27 per cent in 2013, and China from 73 per cent to 64 per cent in the same period,” said Yuri Afanasiev, UNDP resident representative in India.

According to Renana Jhabwala, national coordinator, Self-Employed Women’s Association, women’s workforce participation, by virtue of its invisibility, is largely under-counted in much of the government surveys.

“For instance, these surveys fail to capture details on large number of women in agriculture since land is in the name of the man. Due to this invisibility in official data, such women are often bereft of benefits such loans or seeds which the land-holding men are eligible for. This creates in India what we call a ‘sticky floor’ situation where a majority of women cannot rise above a certain level of earnings, skills and benefits. It is the opposite of the what the West refers to as ‘glass ceiling’,” said Jhabwala.



First women political leaders in Saudi Arabia - Role of women in Islamic societies!


Saudi Arabia, the most important nation in West Asia, has successfully conducted local elections in municipalities to strengthen the truly democratic roots of the kingdom, enabling women to contest and win polls.

Women have been elected to municipal councils in Saudi Arabia for the first time after a ban on women taking part in elections was lifted. As a historic development, Saudi Arabia is pushing for electoral reforms in a striking manner by allowing women candidates for municipal elections and as a result, 19 women candidates have been declared elected, for the first time in the history of Saudi kingdom, to Saudi municipalities, polls for which were held on December 12.

Of course, elections of any kind are rare in the Saudi kingdom - Saturday was only the third time in history that Saudis had gone to the polls. There were no elections in the 40 years between 1965 and 2005. The decision to allow women to take part was taken by the late King Abdullah and is seen as a key part of his legacy. In announcing the reforms, King Abdullah said women in Saudi Arabia "have demonstrated positions that expressed correct opinions and advice". Before he died in January, he appointed 30 women to the country's top advisory Shura Council.

There were 2,100 council seats available in Saturday's vote. An additional 1,050 seats are appointed with approval from the king. A total of 978 women registered as candidates, alongside 5,938 men. Women competed for the seats on the councils—the only popularly elected bodies in this kingdom. Officials said about 130,000 women had registered to vote in Saturday's poll, compared with 1.35 million men. The disparity was attributed by female voters to bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of transport. Until now, female candidates were also not allowed to address male voters directly during campaigning.

Women were elected in Mecca, Jawf and Tabuk.. Women also won in several other regions in the country, including Jeddah and Qatif, reports suggested. Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi was named as Saudi Arabia's first elected female politician, after winning a seat on the council in Madrakah in Mecca province. She was running against seven men and two women.

One-third of council seats are appointed by the municipal affairs ministry, leaving women optimistic that they will be assigned some of them.

Electioneering was low key, with rules preventing photographs of candidates applying to both men and women. But win or lose, the female contenders said they were already victorious. As soon as news of some women candidates winning municipal council seats from Makkah region came out, there was celebration by voters on Sunday.

The women, who won hail from vastly different parts of the country, ranging from Saudi Arabia's largest city to a small village near Islam's holiest site. According to Saudi officials, Saturday's municipal poll, which was hailed by many as historic, saw a turnout of about 47 percent. Women competed for places on 284 councils whose powers are restricted to local affairs including responsibility for streets, public gardens and rubbish collection.

Women are banned from driving and must cover themselves in public in the conservative kingdom, which was the world's last country to give its women the right to vote. Many women saw the election as a turning point in this absolute monarchy where the political system remains firmly in the hands of the royal family, and women are still deprived of many basic rights—such as driving or traveling abroad without the permission of a male relative.

In the coastal city of Jeddah, the atmosphere inside a girls’ school used as a polling station was jubilant. Women posed for pictures behind the ballot box and yelled “Mabrook,” Arabic for congratulations, to one another as they exited. Among the winners was Rasha Hefzi, a social worker who secured a seat in the coastal city of Jeddah. “It’s very difficult because it’s the first time—and we are competing against men,” she said before the results were announced. “But people are thirsty for change.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera hours before polls opened, several women said they felt excited and positive that women were participating, with the hope that society as a whole would benefit from more diversity in public affairs leadership. " Saudi women here are doctors and engineers - it's not like women aren't there," Lama al-Sulaiman, a candidate in Jeddah, told Al Jazeera. "The international media sometimes has narrow views; they only report the bad stories. We have them, we have weaknesses and every citizen goes through challenges - those shouldn't be belittled. "But to think that 50 percent of the population is going through those challenges is also ridiculous." "Recognising women's votes in decision-making is a step towards equality," she said. "There are people who see women voting and running in the election as another step towards Westernization. They dislike seeing women in public-facing roles. But I don't think they are in the majority. The majority is either neutral or accepting."

A female voter, Najla Harir, said: "I exercised my electoral right. We are optimistic about a bright future for women in our homeland." Hatoon al-Fassi, Saudi women rights activist and writer, said in a tweet: "This is a new day. The day of the Saudi woman!

People in Saudi Arabia are hoping this is a significant step on the path towards having a more inclusive society, not only for women but also for youth because the voting age has been reduced from 21 to 18. The vote is being seen as a landmark in the conservative kingdom. However, the councils have limited powers.

The nationwide election was a milestone —the first in which women were allowed to both vote and run for office. For the first time in the history of Saudi Arabia, women were allowed to vote and stand as candidates in municipal elections. Women in Saudi Arabia went to the polls for the first time on December 12 and it was a small gain for women's rights in this staunchly Islamic (conservative) kingdom where Islam was born some 1400 years ago.

Limitations on women's rights in Saudi Arabia make it the only country where women are not permitted to drive and western countries, seeking open culture in all respects for Arabs, want Saudi king to let women to shed their veils meant for protection from evils also drive, if possible drinking alcohol. They insist the Arabs must share western demoralized values.

Saudi Arabia differs from other modern Muslim countries in being the only state "to have been created by successfully fighting the enemies (jihad), the only one to claim the holy Quran as its constitution", and one of only four Muslim countries "to have escaped European imperialism. Its Hejaz region and its cities Mecca and Medina are the cradle of Islam, the destination of the hajj pilgrimage, the two holiest sites of Islam.

Saudi Arabian dress strictly follows the principles of hijab (the Islamic principle of modesty, especially in dress). The predominantly loose and flowing, but covering, garments are suited to Saudi Arabia's desert climate. Most women cover their head in respect for their religion.

Virtually all Saudi citizens are Muslim (officially – all), and almost all Saudi residents are Muslim Estimates of the Sunni population of Saudi Arabia are somewhere between 75–90%, with the remaining 10–25% being Shia Muslim The official and dominant form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia is commonly known as Wahhabism, (proponents prefer the name Salafism, considering Wahhabi derogatory and is often described as 'puritanical', 'intolerant', or 'ultra-conservative' by observers, and as "true" Islam by its adherents. It was founded in the Arabian Peninsula by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the eighteenth century.

According to estimates there are about 1.5 million Christian workers in Saudi Arabia. While a 2015 study estimates 60,000 Muslims converted to Christianity in Saudi Arabia. According to Pew Research Center there are 390,000 Hindu workers in Saudi Arabia came from India.

Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is an Arab state in Western Asia constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia is a desert country encompassing most of the Arabian Peninsula, with Red Sea and Persian Gulf coastlines. Known as the birthplace of Islam, it is home to the religion’s 2 most sacred mosques: Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca, destination of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, and Medina’s Masjid an-Nabawi, burial site of the prophet Muhammad. Riyadh, the capital, is a skyscraper-filled metropolis.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud. He united the four regions into a single state through a series of conquests beginning in 1902 with the capture of Riyadh, the ancestral home of his family, the House of Saud. The country has since been an absolute monarchy, effectively a hereditary dictatorship governed along Islamic lines. The Wahhabism religious movement within Sunni Islam has been called "the predominant feature of Saudi culture". Saudi Arabia known as "the Land of the Two Holy Mosques" in reference to Al-Masjid al-Haram (in Mecca), and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (inMedina), the two holiest places in Islam has a total population of 28.7 million, of which 20 million are Saudi nationals and 8 million are foreigners.

Saudi Arabia has an oil-based economy with strong government control over major economic activities. Saudi Arabia possesses 18% of the world's proven petroleum reserves, ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum, and played a leading role in OPEC for many years. The petroleum sector accounts for almost all of Saudi government revenues and export earnings. Most workers, particularly in the private sector, are foreigners.

Saudi oil reserves are the second largest in the world, and Saudi Arabia is the world's leading oil exporter and second largest producer. Proven reserves, according to figures provided by the Saudi government, are estimated to be 260 billion barrels (41 km3), about one-quarter of world oil reserves. Petroleum in Saudi Arabia is not only plentiful but under pressure and close to the earth's surface. This makes it far cheaper and thus far more profitable to extract than oil at many other fields The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 92.5% of Saudi budget revenues, 90% of export earnings, and 55% of GDP.

Another 40% of GDP comes from the private sector. An estimated 7.5 (2013) million foreigners work legally in Saudi Arabia,[18]playing a crucial role in the Saudi economy, for example, in the oil and service sectors. The government has encouraged private sector growth for many years to lessen the kingdom's dependence on oil, and to increase employment opportunities for the swelling Saudi population. In recent decades the government has begun to permit private sector and foreign investor participation in sectors such as power generation and telecom, and acceded to the WTO. During much of the 2000s, high oil prices enabled the government to post budget surpluses, boost spending on job training and education, infrastructure development, and government salaries. More than 95% of all Saudi oil is produced on behalf of the Saudi Government by the parastatal giant Saudi Aramco, and the remaining 5% by similar parastatal companies as of 2002. In 2000, 100% foreign-owned businesses were allowed in the kingdom.

The government has sought to allocate its petroleum income to transform its relatively undeveloped, oil-based economy into that of a modern industrial state while maintaining the kingdom's traditional Islamic values and customs. Although economic planners have not achieved all their goals, the economy has progressed rapidly. Oil wealth has increased the standard of living of most Saudis.

Petroleum was discovered in 1938 and Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil producer and exporter, controlling the world's second largest oil reserves. The kingdom is categorized as a World Bank high-income economy with a high Human Development Index and is the only Arab country to be part of the G-20 major economies. However, the economy of Saudi Arabia is the least diversified in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Education in the kingdom is free at all levels. A large part of the curriculum at all levels is devoted to Islam, and, at the secondary level, students are able to follow either a religious or a technical track. The rate of literacy is 90.4% among males and is about 81.3% among females. Higher education has expanded rapidly, with large numbers of Universities and colleges being founded particularly since 2000. Institutions of higher education include the country's first university, King Saud University founded in 1957, the Islamic University at Medina founded in 1961, and the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah founded in 1967. Other colleges and universities emphasize curricula in sciences and technology, military studies, religion, and medicine. Institutes devoted to Islamic studies, in particular, abound. Women typically receive college instruction in segregated institutions

Saudi Arabia has the fourth highest military expenditure in the world, and in 2010–14, SIPRI found that Saudi Arabia was the world's second largest arms importer. Saudi Arabia is considered a regional and middle power. In addition to the GCC, it is an active member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and OPEC.

Even as Saudi kingdom moves towards civic freedoms in adopting gradual electoral reforms, there are some problems the nation is facing. Estimates of the number of Saudis below the poverty line range from between 12.7% and 25%. Press reports and private estimates as of 2013 "suggest that between 2 million and 4 million" of the country's native Saudis live on "less than about $530 a month" – about $17 a day – considered the poverty line in Saudi Arabia. In contrast, Forbes magazine estimates King Abdullah's personal fortune at $18 billion.


Saudi society's objective of being a religious Islamic country, coupled with economic difficulties, has created a number of issues and tensions. A rare independent opinion poll published in 2010 indicated that Saudis' main social concerns were unemployment (at 10% in 2010) and corruption, a serious crime followed even in Islamic world.

Juvenile delinquency in practices such as Tafheet (illegal racing), drug-use and excessive use of alcohol are getting worse. High unemployment and a generation of young males filled with contempt toward the Royal Family is a significant threat to Saudi social stability. Some Saudis feel they are entitled to well-paid government jobs, and the failure of the government to satisfy this sense of entitlement has led to considerable dissatisfaction.

Saudi Arabia has announced plans to invest about $46 billion in three of the world’s largest and most ambitious petrochemical projects. These include the $27 billion Ras Tanura integrated refinery and petrochemical project, the $9 billion Saudi Kayan at the Wayback Machine, petrochemical complex at Jubail Industrial City, and the $10 billion Petro Rabigh refinery upgrade project.

Together, the three projects will employ more than 150,000 technicians and engineers working around the clock.[34]Upon completion in 2015–16, the Ras Tanura integrated refinery and petrochemicals project will become the world’s largest petrochemical facility of its kind with a combined production capacity of 11 million tons per year of different petrochemical and chemical products. The products will include ethylene, propylene, aromatics, polyethylene, ethylene oxide, chlorine derivatives, and glycol.

Saudi Arabia had plans to launch six "economic cities" (e.g. King Abdullah Economic City, to be completed by 2020, in an effort to diversify the economy and provide jobs.

It is not enough women are given the right to vote, elect and get elected; they should be empowered in Islamic way in order to uphold and strengthen Islamic values. Women’s role in this sphere is critical.

-        Asian Tribune –



Muslim Women: Hijab Wearing Issues Faced By Americans

Dec 14, 2015

Many Muslim women in America are facing issues regarding whether they should wear their traditional headdress, the Hijab. The issue has acquired a lot of urgency, especially after the Paris and San Bernadino incidents. Not surprisingly, opinion has tended to vary across different Muslim women on the place that they should accord the Hijab in their lives and practices.

Many Muslim women in their native and traditional societies have grown up wearing the Hijab. Muslim women that have migrated or otherwise moved to America with that kind of background have continued to wear the Hijab themselves. Often, they also raise their daughters and daughters-in-law in much the same way. Hence, a number of such women have grown up wearing it, according to the entertainment magazine Reel Life with Jane.

The recent events in Paris and San Bernadino have injected a new urgency to this issue. For the newer generation of women from Muslim families that are growing up as second-generation Americans, the current events surrounding it have been virtually unprecedented. They have very rarely been subjected to the kind of scrutiny, attention and - sometimes, abuse - by their fellow Americans as they are facing today.

When someone chooses to use or abuse a Hijab to express racist or xenophobic behavior - the American Muslim woman is caught in a quandary. Should she stop wearing the Hijab entirely out of fear of such attacks recurring? Several Muslim women certainly feel that this is right, that they should prioritize their own self-protection and perhaps not wear the Hijab anymore, to stop such attacks from recurring.

However, several other Muslim women have argued that the wearing of the Hijab is a part of their cultural identify, and therefore that it would not be correct for them to stop wearing their Hijabs under any circumstance. Indeed, they argue that racist and xenophobic behavior must be confronted with the positive affirmation of their own identities by the wearing the Hijab, according to the Associated Press.

It is clear that Muslim women in America are going through some very testing times, and how they respond will shape the way their communities will evolve in time.



ISIS is an Islamic problem, time for women to advocate for health care access | Letters

December 14, 2015

Finally, President Barack Obama has publicly recognized that ISIS is "a perverted interpretation of Islam" and that "this extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities." Since "they are a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world," as Obama claims, I wish he had issued a clarion call to Muslim countries to marshal their resources and their armies to excise this "cancer" of unspeakable brutality.

Sadly, the solution will not be forthcoming unless we go beyond ISIS and examine the state of Islam in several Islamic countries wherein theocratic authoritarianism reigns supreme: women are subjugated; barbaric forms of punishment are meted out to free thinkers and apostates; infidels are barely tolerated, more often persecuted; intolerant versions of Islam are exported and financially supported; and hatred for the other, especially Western civilization and Jews, is inculcated from youth.

Unless these Islamic states subscribe to "religious tolerance, mutual respect and human dignity," as the president obliquely recognized, we can expect other ISISs with another name to sprout from this intolerant "soil." It is an Islamic problem which demands an Islamic solution.

Mervyn D'Souza


Time for women to advocate for health care access

Last year, the Supreme Court decided in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that for-profit employers can use religious exemptions to avoid paying for contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Soon after the decision was handed down, pro-choice protestors descended upon the grand opening of a Hobby Lobby store in New Jersey. Some of the seasoned protestors held their original and dog-eared NOW (National Organization for Women) signs.

Here we are in 2015 still fighting for equal access to health care for all women. For many years, women's health-care providers have faced a barrage of anti-access legislation at the state level, including restrictions on medication, abortions, bans on private insurance coverage and unduly burdensome doctor and clinic regulations. Many providers have been forced to close their doors making it increasingly difficult for women to access health care. As evidenced last week in Colorado, anti-choice extremists will go to frightening lengths to limit choice.

Supporters of equal access to women's health care must set aside complacency and join forces with women like those who held their NOW signs in the 1970s and who still hold them today. We cannot assume that the right to control our own reproductive destiny or to access affordable and quality health care is a given.

Mandi Perlmutter is Coordinator of Advocacy and Community Engagement for the National Council of Jewish Women.



Saudi women win EU prize for promoting human rights

15 December 2015


RIYADH: The head of the European Union delegation to the Kingdom Ambassador Adam Kulach has said that the election of 20 Saudi women in various part of Saudi Arabia was a cornerstone achievement for women’s initiatives not only in the Kingdom but for

the whole region.

He said their election made the initiative “truly successful.”

Ambassador Kulach made his observation at awarding ceremony on Monday for the annual Chaillot Prize for the promotion of human rights in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region in 2015.

The winners for the local civil society organizations went to Baladi Initiative, a Saudi women’s group which works for women empowerment and was actively engaged in the just concluded municipality election.

The other winner was Thulatha Cultural Forum, while the lifetime achievement award was given to Ibrahim Al-Muqaiteeb for his active role in the peaceful promotion of human rights.

The winners represented public or private institutions as well as individuals for their efforts in promoting general awareness of human rights and the rights of vulnerable groups in the GCC region.

“Human rights is the core of our values from the very beginning,” Ambassador Kulach said in his speech, adding that because the EU was created just after World War II at a period where there was no human rights bodies and such bodies should be the utmost solution to many human rights violation.

Speaking further, he said, the EU has chosen the winners for their role in defending human rights and devoting their life to promoting it.

He said Baladi Initiative was not only empowering Saudi women by speaking in their voice but also promoted women’s activities in different fields and the most recent of this was their active engagement in the municipal elections.

The Chaillot prize, named after the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, is awarded to organizations to acknowledge and further encourage their remarkable efforts and work for the promotion and protection of human rights. It took place in Riyadh this year to mark the human rights day observed by the international community every year on Dec 10.

The prize is presented annually by the delegation of the European Union in Riyadh which covers GCC members states to civil society organizations, public and private institutions, campaigns and projects which support human rights awareness, promotion and protection in the GCC region.

Norwegian Ambassador Rolf Willy Hansen said that civil society activists are doing a very important work. Human rights is vital element of the EU foreign policy to which Norway gives great importance. “We are happy to see the recipients today being recognized,” he said.

The election of 20 Saudi women in various municipalities is a welcome development, he said.


I never dreamt of romancing girls younger than my daughter: Naseeruddin Shah

December 15, 2015

Naseeruddin Shah likes to say it like it is.

So, at the recent Osianama festival in Mumbai, he talked about his 'unconventional career' and admitted that he never saw himself as a 'hero'.

“I never dreamt of being a commercial hero. I never dreamt of romancing girls younger than my daughter,” he said, according to Indian Express. His remark is a clear reference to Bollywood's tendency to pair young actresses with old A-listers. For instance, Sonam Kapoor played Salman Khan's interest in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, and Shah Rukh Khan is due to romance Alia Bhatt in Karan Johar's next.

The plainspeaking actor also remarked that it was hard to be friends with other actors: “Actors are insecure people including me. It is not possible to be friends with other actors. I can’t really claim that I am friendly with other actors. The friends who I have are not from the profession of acting.”

He went on to dispense solid career advice for aspiring actors and other artists. He said he never felt any fear of failure as an actor while starting out. “You could call it self confidence or madness but I was perfectly convinced this is what I wanted to do and so there was no point thinking about what will happen if I don’t succeed.”



Barisal woman commits suicide First tries to kill daughter

December 15, 2015

A woman committed suicide by hanging herself from the ceiling after she tried to kill her five-year-old daughter in Kawnia Branch Road area of Barisal city yesterday.

The deceased Lipi Biswas, 20, wife of Binod Biswas, was mentally sick, said police.

Locals said they rushed to Lipi's house hearing her daughter Barsha's scream as Lipi was trying to hang the child with a rope.

When they went outside the house after rescuing the girl, Lipi killed herself.



Female labour force rising rapidly in Bangladesh

December 15, 2015

With a greater number of women getting involved in economic activities, the country's female labour force will account for more than one-third of the total workforce by 2021, according to a census of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

Female labour force increased to 5.5 million in 2011 from 2.7 million in 2001. Given the growth rate, it will be 33.5 million of the entire workforce of 82.4 million by 2021, shows the Population and Housing Census 2011 of the BBS.

In 2011, female labour force accounted for a little more than one-seventh of the total workforce of 41 million.

The BBS launched the census report at a ceremony in the capital's Sonargaon Hotel yesterday. The census data is available on the BBS official website.

The number of youths aged between 15 and 29 now stands at 44.4 million, which will go up to 50.8 million by 2026. The growth rate will gradually decline, and the number will drop to 40.2 million in 2061, according to a BBS projection.

It observes the country has not yet been fully successful in reaping the benefits of demographic dividend, and that investment is needed in education and human capital development.

The BBS projects that the country's population could be 251.45 million or 223.39 million or 209.42 million in 2061 under high, medium and low variant fertility assumption. 

In 2011, the population was 149.8 million, which will reach 160.2 million next year, it says.

“A sharp increase of urban population has been depicted in all three scenarios, more specifically, urban population in 2061 will be more than twofold from that of the base year 2011,” says the BBS, stressing the need for a plan to handle the growth.

The BBS compared the 2011 census data with the previous ones to weigh up what challenges population density and vulnerability will pose to the country's sustainable development.

Bangladesh's most densely populated district is Dhaka followed by Narayanganj. Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet, Rangpur and Mymensingh are highly vulnerable because of high density, shows BBS analysis.

The BBS also made an observation on nuptial age. “Although the legal age of marriage in Bangladesh is 18 years, but this study found that almost half of all marriages take place before the legal age,” it says.

The BBS says poverty significantly retards international migration and suggests that the government play an active role in this regard.

The census revealed that the prevalence of disability is higher among the elderly than the young and in males than females. Disability contributes to a higher divorce rate in addition to being an impediment to marriage.

The BBS monograph shows that significant disparity exists between urban and rural areas in terms of literacy rate, among different administrative divisions of the country and between the poor and non-poor.

In another monograph, the BBS indicates that the fertility rate in the districts of Chittagong and Sylhet divisions are higher than other districts. These divisions have high number of population in the lower age group (0-4 and 5-9).

As per the 2011 census, the percentage of the elderly is 7.7 in the total population, and among all divisions, the number of elderly is the highest in Barisal.

The BBS recommends that public programmes, including pension schemes and national healthcare systems, should be enhanced both in terms of size and coverage.

It has also updated upazila-level Small Area Atlas of 1984 and population details of the 2011 census.

Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal, Senior Secretary of Planning Commission Dr Shamsul Alam, Ambassador of European Union Pierre Mayaudon, UNFPA Representative Argentina Matavel Piccin, Secretary of Statistics and Information Division Kaniz Fatema and BBS Director General Mohammad Abdul Wazed were present at the launching ceremony.



Fear of stigma forces women to use aliases on social media

15 December 2015

ABHA: Many Saudi women hide their real identities behind fake names on social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, and use names that carry different connotations and give the impression that the owner of this account has a real suffering.

Social worker Latifa Salman said that there are reasons for the usage of aliases among Saudis, such as family conditions or for the mere thrill of entering a mystery world.

She indicated that 70 percent of women use aliases out of fear of social criticism, making them pose as other characters, looking for happiness through these fake characters.

Rola Al-Amri, a university student, says that many young Saudi women display only parts of their bodies, in order not to be identified, due to traditions in the community and caveats set by the family, which lead to these behaviors to get the long-lost freedom that may lead to bigger problems.

Dr. Khaled Jalban, a family and community medicine consultant at King Khalid University, said that hiding behind fake names on social networking sites is, unfortunately, a widespread problem between men and women.

He said that these names and characters carry different connotations, including grief, pain, illness and deprivation in a way that evokes sympathy, which is the main aim behind assuming these names.

Some characters lack social importance and suffer from marginalization and have no social role. These people create groups and are in charge to satisfy their need of self-importance, where these names help in establishing social relations to lure others, either financially, emotionally or sexually.

Sometimes people ask others to transfer a large sum of money and, unfortunately, some men seek to exploit women’s feelings and the use of aliases is often linked to sex more than emotions.

In some cases, the alias owner happens to have a psychopathic personality, where his behavior and personality are contrary to those around him.

As for the treatment of these cases, Jalban said that it depends on the type of role played by these characters. “For example, if the person is shy or deprived, we help him in getting attention and recompense the need for these feelings.”



Victory or loss, women rejoice

Dec 15, 2015

JEDDAH — A number of Saudi women candidates for the municipal elections who failed to make it this time did not regret the experience of running for the elections and said they would again run for the next elections four years from now.

They said the experience was fruitful regardless of success or failure.

“My candidacy was a dream come true. I was not disheartened by my failure,” said Miaad Sami Shaqra, a candidate who failed to win.

She said her defeat would not deter her from running for the elections next time. “The experience has motivated us for constructive participation in decision making and the shouldering of responsibility for the homeland and citizens,” she said.

Aisha Al-Rouqi, who also failed to secure a seat in the municipal council, said she had no regrets, rather she was feeling proud that she was no longer an idle spectator.

“It is true that I did not succeed, but this is not the end of the world. The participation of women in the elections is a great success for the Kingdom,” she said.

Al-Rouqi said Saudi women candidates and voters have proven to the entire world that Saudi women are courageous enough and qualified to enter all walks of life.

Haya Al-Atyani echoed Al-Rouqi  feelings. “I was not counting too much on success, but this is an experience which I proudly tried,” she said.

Nadia Bukhara, another candidate, said, “Regardless of the success or failure, Saudi women did not shy away from contesting.”

Abeer Fakira said she had gained a lot of experience from exchanging ideas with women voters. “I did not succeed this time but I will not be discouraged from contesting next elections,” she said.

Hatoun Fasi, the general coordinator of Baladi campaign in Riyadh which spearheaded the call for women participation in municipal elections, said that winning was a bonus for women as they had already succeeded when over 1000 of them managed to participate as candidates in the elections.

Manal Al-Sharif, a journalist from Jeddah, considers this a historic step.

“We were afraid of women participation. However, all negative thoughts have been defeated by the courage of female candidates, who presented professional campaign programs and showed concern on civic city issues.

Men too commended the women for their victory. Ali Al-Kushaiban, a writer in Al-Riyadh newspaper, said that he felt proud of his nation.

The United States welcomed Saudi Arabia’s first ever election open to female voters and candidates, calling it a historic milestone.

At least 20 women won municipal council seats in Saturday’s poll, far exceeding expectations in the Kingdom.

“The participation of women represents an important step forward in Saudi Arabia toward a more inclusive electoral process that will ensure all citizens are represented in a government accountable to all Saudi citizens,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

“As we have long said, the inclusion of all citizens in voting and governance is critical to the prosperity, stability, and peace of all nations, and we welcome this historic milestone.”

The 20 female candidates represent just one percent of the roughly 2,100 municipal council seats up for grabs, but even limited gains are seen as a step forward for women.




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