New Age Islam News Bureau
21 Sept 2013
Photo: Relatives of 16-year-old Tunisian girl posted a video online saying she was kidnapped by jihadists and taken to Syria
• Yemeni 'Child Bride' Questions Renew Calls for End to Practice
• Cyber-Blackmailers 'Abusing Hundreds of UK Children'
• French woman Gets Suspended Sentence over Son’s Jihad T-Shirt
• Women Teachers Harassed On Road Medina
• Fundamentalists hamper women’s progress in Bangladesh
• Media’s role in Bangladesh to stop violence against women stressed
• Trafficking Case against Saudi Princess Dismissed
• Malawi Muslims Champion Girls' Educations
• Indonesia: Women fill top positions in city government
• Maria Toor becomes first female Nash Cup champion
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
'Jihad An-Nikah' Attracts Maghreb Girls
21 September 2013
Young women in the Maghreb are lured into becoming jihadists willing to offer up their very bodies to al-Qaeda fighters in Syria.
How they make the transition from innocence to jihad in foreign lands is the work of persistent recruiting efforts by extremists, according to one young victim in Tunisia.
"An-Nikah marriage" is not new, but it went from being a discreet practice to a social media sensation with the Syria conflict.
Using religion as a lever, mysterious groups with even more obscure funding sources persuaded young women from Tunisia, Morocco and elsewhere to engage in '"temporary marriages" to Mujahidat.
The girls call it their jihad.
"No one has uncovered the parties standing behind these networks and funding them, despite the arrest of many girls who admitted that they were involved with these groups," says Bassel Torjman, an expert in Maghreb affairs and specialist in Islamic movements.
"The unfortunate truth is that dozens of girls and women of different nationalities were tricked into going. They were engaged in prostitution in the name of religion," he tells Magharebia.
"The practice known as an-Nikah marriage is just a barbaric act by which Maghreb girls, who were deceived by criminal gangs in the name of religion, are being used," agrees Dr. Tarba Mint Amar, a researcher of Islamic history.
Aicha was 20 years old when she was first approached by "the recruiter".
In a video aired by Attounsia TV, the young Tunisian talks about how she ended up in the hands of people who wanted to send her to Syria. The recruiting was done at her university through Dawah, Aicha says on camera, her face intentionally blurred to protect her from retribution by angry jihadists.
"A woman wearing a Niqab visited the university every day to talk with female students about Islam, reminding them of punishments for not following a strict path."
Once a group of "susceptible" girls was identified, the female recruiter would get more aggressive about the need to wear Niqab and Hijab. Between the campus and other areas, she was able to recruit 13 girls. The youngest was 10. The girls started attending regular meetings at mosques or houses.
The woman would ask them: "Why die for a country of Kuffar while you can go to Syria to fight and go to paradise?"
"The girls' fight," she said, was "an-Nikah marriage", to please the jihadists in Syria.
"My mother saved me," Aicha says, by reminding her about the real meaning of Islam.
"After I changed my mind and refused to continue with the group, the lady threatened me. She said that they will kill me," Aicha says. According to the young woman, groups recruiting for Syria also use social media.
"They have a recruiting page on Facebook, where they also share instructions on how to become a kamikaze" and execute lone wolf style operations against their own people, Aicha adds.
For the first time, Tunisian authorities recently acknowledged the existence and the dismantling of a "jihad an-Nikah" cell.
The group was based in Jebel Chaambi, the rugged mountain region along the Algeria border where allies of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) butchered 8 Tunisian soldiers in July.
Ansar al-Sharia, which has been labelled a terrorist organisation by Tunisian authorities, "was recruiting female elements, particularly veiled, underage girls", public security Chief Mustapha Ben Omar said on August 28th.
A fortnight before his public statement, a girl was arrested for recruiting an-Nikah marriage candidates for Jebel Chaambi.
She admitted to "deliberately seeking girls to accompany her to Jebel Chaambi in order to support elements of the armed organisation, in the framework of jihad marriage", the security chief said.
As news emerged about young girls being convinced to participate in temporary marriages with extremists at home and in Syria, citizens voiced their shock.
"Since then, I've been monitoring closely the movements of my daughter and calling her regularly by telephone," says Miriam Ben Nasr, an executive in a private institution. "I became afraid of any absence from home, even if it was only for an hour."
Sameh Belhadj, a Tunis resident in his forties, tells Magharebia, "I think that what is happening to a number of our daughters is brainwashing, via enticements."
"They are supposedly pleasing God, but in the end they will discover they were victims of white slavery," he adds.
When an-Nikah marriage issue first gained notoriety last spring, the former Grand Mufti of Tunisia spoke out against the practice.
"Sixteen Tunisian girls were lured and sent to Syria for jihad an-Nikah," Sheikh Othman Battikh said on April 19th.
"The so-called jihad an-Nikah is prostitution and moral corruption. Tunisian girls are conscious and chaste, protecting their honour and struggle to gain knowledge and science," he said.
Soon after Battikh made his public statement, Tunisia's Islamist-led government dismissed him from his position.
The phenomenon is not limited to Tunisia. Thanks to the media firestorm, the entire Maghreb is on alert.
Algerian TV director Aicha Talhaoui is among those criticising methods used by radical groups to seduce girls – sometimes in the name of religion, sometimes under threats - to send them to battlefronts in Syria to meet militants' physical needs.
"Women are not a commodity to be sold and bought," she tells Magharebia.
The idea of a temporary marriage varies by group, whether it is AQIM, jihadists in Syria or armed Islamists in Mali, analyst Ahmed Ould Idoumou tells Magharebia.
"As the situation in the Sahel is different from that of Syria, the formula of marriage in the desert is also different, due to local habits and traditions," he says.
"In Syria, there are battlefronts, but also urban areas; something that makes it easy to find a woman for an-Nikah marriage without being known to all," he adds.
It all began when a Wahhabi cleric in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Mohamed al-Arifi, presumably issued a fatwa that permitted fighters to marry girls as young as 14 for just a few hours.
"When news first emerged about young people going to Syria for jihad, many slandered the media and the figures who called for attention to this point, and accused them of lying," Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) Vice- President Balkis Mechri-Allagui told Magharebia.
"We are now facing a scary ogre snatching our youth because we did not address the topic from the beginning," the Tunisian rights activist added.
The issue gained notoriety thanks to the Syria conflict, but the phenomenon has spread and needs to be addressed, Mechri-Allagui noted.
Yemeni 'child bride' questions renew calls for end to practice
By Mohammed Jamjoom and Hakim Almasmari, CNN
September 20, 2013
(CNN) -- The story was horrific: An 8-year-old girl died from internal injuries suffered on her wedding night with a 40-year-old man. It caused outrage -- and numerous calls to end child marriage in Yemen.
Authorities have denied the claims, saying she was neither married nor injured, and they held a news conference and paraded a girl they claimed was "Rawan," accompanied by a man they described as her father.
Despite the conflicting reports between local residents and government officials, some say, the story sheds light on the issue of child marriage.
"We do not want the government's denial on this case to halt the international efforts to pressure the Yemeni government to end child marriage," said Hooria Mashhour, Yemen's human rights minister. "The efforts need to continue until a law is passed to end this practice."
"The story of Rawan was completely fabricated. After investigating, we came to a conclusion that she was alive and healthy," said Mosleh Ezzi, head of prosecution in the northern town of Haradh, where the incident reportedly happened.
"She attended the press conference with her father and friends who all supported her in these tough times," Ezzi told CNN, adding that "medical tests proved that Rawan is still a virgin and was never married."
Yemeni national security chief Ali Hassan Al-Ahmadi said he directed local authorities to find the girl and identify her.
"I can ensure that she had indeed suffered no harm," Al-Ahmadi said.
When reports emerged last week that she died a few days after being married off to a 40-year-old man, Yemenis were horrified.
International outrage quickly grew as the alleged incident highlighted once again the controversial issue of child marriage in the nation, where the practice is still legal.
Residents told local media that Rawan died of internal bleeding, believed to be the result of sexual intercourse that tore her uterus and other organs.
But confusion surrounded the case from the start, with residents telling CNN that she had died, while officials insisted she was alive and well.
Mashhour, the human rights minister, said growing anger over the case presents an opportunity to enact laws to end child marriage in the nation once and for all.
She said the push has faced many hurdles.
"Unfortunately, many factions in the government today are fighting our efforts to end child marriage, and that is why international pressure is needed," she said.
Yemeni child rights advocate Ahmed Al-Qureshi, who'd investigated the case for more than two weeks, said that while no evidence showed Rawan had been married and had died, child marriage remains a crisis in the nation.
"This case was fabricated, but many other cases of child marriage are true and tragic," Al-Qureshi said.
In deeply tribal and conservative Yemen, the issue of child marriage is complicated.
Human Rights Watch says more than half of all young girls there are married before age 18. About 14% are married before age 15. Many Yemenis say they are forced to sell off their girls to older, wealthier men.
When reports of Rawan's case began making headlines, the group issued a statement urging Yemen to protect girls by setting 18 as the legal minimum age for marriage.
"The current political transition and drafting process for a new constitution offer a unique opportunity for the Yemeni government to enact laws protecting the rights of girls," Human Rights Watch said.
Yemen should step in to end the practice, the group said.
"Thousands of Yemeni girls have their childhood stolen and their futures destroyed because they are forced to marry too young," said Liesl Gerntholtz from Human Rights Watch. "The Yemeni government should end this abusive practice."
In 2009, the Yemeni parliament passed legislation raising the minimum age of marriage to 17. But conservative parliamentarians argued the bill violated Islamic law, which does not stipulate a minimum age. The bill was never signed.
Activist groups and politicians are still trying change the law, but more than 100 leading religious clerics have said restricting the age of marriage is "un-Islamic."
Over the past few years, several Yemeni child bride cases have left the world stunned.
In 2008, Nujood Ali, 10, became an international sensation when she went to a Sanaa court and asked a judge for a divorce. After a highly publicized trial, she was granted one.
Two years later, a 12-year-old Yemeni bride died of internal bleeding following intercourse three days after she was married off to an older man, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.
Over the summer, a video of Nada Al-Ahdal, 11, accusing her parents of trying to marry her off in exchange for money, was uploaded to YouTube and quickly went viral.
Her parents denied the story, and children's rights activists questioned the veracity of her claims. But the video was still viewed by millions of people.
Cyber-blackmailers 'abusing hundreds of UK children'
20 September 2013
Hundreds of British children are being blackmailed into performing sex acts online, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre has warned.
Abusers posing online as children talk victims into sexual acts or sharing of images, then threaten to send pictures to the child's family and friends.
Ceop said in 12 cases over two years, 424 children had been blackmailed in this way - 184 of them in the UK.
Deputy chief executive Andy Baker said the abuse "escalates really quickly".
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that it could take as little as four minutes "to go from, 'Hi, do you want to get naked?', to self-harming".
Seven victims have killed themselves, including a 17-year-old in the UK.
Another seven seriously self-harmed, of whom six were from the UK.
Mr Baker said: "We're talking about a very small dark percentage of [the internet] and this is what we need to police".
Daniel Perry, from Dunfermline, Fife, took his own life in the summer after blackmailers demanded thousands of pounds having tricked him into thinking he was chatting with a US girl.
He was told that his video conversations would be spread among friends and family unless he paid cash. Other victims have been told their activities would be shared unless they performed more extreme acts.
In the 12 cases highlighted by Ceop, the abusers came from four continents and in five cases the criminals were based in the UK.
Children as young as eight had been forced to perform "slave-like acts", said Mr Baker. As well as the performance of sex acts, the abuse sometimes involved being forced to self-harm and there had been a few attempts to extort money.
Experts highlighted the accessibility of the English language and foreign abusers' perceptions about the liberal nature of UK society as reasons for the targeting of British children.
Mr Baker said thousands of British children could have been approached in attempts to instigate abuse.
While only a handful of children will respond, thousands are exposed to the risk, he said.
Ceop operations manager Stephanie McCourt said: "First of all it's the English language. They are able to threaten the children if they can communicate to them. English is a really popular universal language.
"Second of all, the offenders have actually said that because they perceive the UK as a very free and open and liberal society, they think that they will have more success in targeting UK children."
The biggest case, known as Operation K, involved 322 children around the world being blackmailed, including 96 in the UK.
The victims were mainly boys aged 11 to 15, who were targeted by a gang from a non-European country. The suspects are due to stand trial in the coming weeks.
The gang used more than 40 fake online profiles and more than 40 different email addresses to carry out their abuse.
The network of abuse was exposed after a social networking site noticed suspicious activity and a British child told their parents.
Set up in 2006 in affiliation with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, Ceop is a police agency dedicated to protecting children from sexual abuse.
Ceop said warning signs that a child was being subjected to online abuse could include them becoming aggressive, withdrawn, or self-harming.
But in Daniel Perry's case it appears there were no warning signs.
His mother told reporters after his death: "He was a happy laddie, not depressed and the last type of person you would think would take their life... We're a very close family and I just wished he had come to me and said something."
The apprentice mechanic had been having online conversations with someone he believed to be a girl around his own age.
Just before his death, he was warned by the blackmailers that he would be better off dead if he did not transfer the cash. Less than an hour after replying to the message, he fell from the Forth Road Bridge.
Scott Freeman, the founder of cyber bullying charity Cyber smile, told the BBC it was important for parents to educate themselves and their children about the internet - particularly online privacy settings and the procedures available for reporting incidents.
He said: "Don't talk to people you don’t know, don't move from the platform onto more private platforms."
Internet providers could do more to tackle abuse, Mr Freeman said, but he added: "We've started to see some of them take responsibility now and they've started to put procedures in place so hopefully things are moving in the right direction."
French woman gets suspended sentence over son’s Jihad T-shirt
21 September 2013
A French court of appeal on Friday handed a suspended sentence to a mother who sent her infant son Jihad to kindergarten in a T-shirt marked “Jihad, born on September 11” and “I am a bomb.” Jihad’s mother, Bouchra Bagour, and his uncle Zeyad, sponsor of the T-shirt, were convicted of being apologists for crime over the apparent reference to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, French radio reported.
The court in the southern town of Nimes gave the mother a one-month suspended sentence and a €2,000 ($2,706) fine.
Her brother received a two-month suspended sentence and a fine of €4,000.
A defence lawyer labelled the verdict “severe” and said the siblings were considering an appeal.
A lower court had cleared the pair in April, saying that dressing a child in a provocative T-shirt did not necessarily make someone an apologist for terrorism.
Jihad was, as the T-shirt stated, born on September 11 in the year 2009.
His mother, a divorced secretary, told judges in April 2013 that she “didn’t think” when she dressed him in the T-shirt in 2012. The garment was a gift from her younger brother.
“For me it’s his name and his date of birth,” she said.
Her brother’s lawyer argued that Jihad was a common first name in the Middle East that had become subverted by fundamentalists. Jihad translates broadly as leading a holy life, but it is also used by Islamist radicals to denote a holy war.
As for the “I am a bomb” phrase, the lawyer pointed out that many shops sold T-shirts with the slogan, which is slang in France for an attractive person.
But state prosecutors were unconvinced by their explanations, believing they set out to “trivialise a terrorist act” and demanding a retrial, which was held in July.
Women Teachers Harassed On Road Medina
21 September 2013
MADINAH — A group of men have been arrested after they tried to stop the driver of a car full of female teachers by force, according to Madinah police spokesman Col. Fahd Al-Ghanam. They pursued the car and tried to make the driver pull over but the latter called the police immediately. They fled the scene when they saw the driver using his cell phone. However, police officers arrested them later.
Fundamentalists hamper women’s progress in Bangladesh
Say Mahila Parishad leaders
September 21 2013
Fundamentalists and vested quarters are trying to put setbacks on the progress of women who came out of their houses to turn the economy’s wheels and contribute to the nation’s growth, said Bangladesh Mahila Parishad leaders yesterday.
Addressing a conference they organised for women workers in the capital’s Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh, they urged the women to wage a movement against those who try to segregate them from ongoing development activities.
The conference was titled, “Resist communalism and fundamentalism for strengthening democracy and establishing good governance”.
The leaders also demanded a stop to sexual discrimination in pay schemes and sexual harassment by colleagues and superior officers, adherence to working hours as per the labour law, and female-friendly work environments, especially separate toilets at mills and factories.
Sharing her experience, construction worker Pyara Begum said, “I have to toil from 8:00am to 8:00pm only for a daily wage of Tk 200 while male workers receive Tk 400.”
Readymade garment factory worker Kulsum Begum, hailing from Savar, said, “As a helper I receive a monthly wage of only Tk 3,000 with which I have to pay house rent and conveyance and purchase food. This is unbearable for me.”
The parishad President Ayesha Khanam said the lowest monthly wage for a worker should be at least Tk 6,000 to Tk 7,000.
She said the parishad handed over a list of demands for women workers’ wellbeing to the prime minister and the authorities concern and hoped that those would be implemented soon.
Among others, the parishad General Secretary Maleka Banu also spoke at the event.
Media’s role in Bangladesh to stop violence against women stressed
September 21 2013
Mass media can play a vital role to create awareness among people to stop violence against women, said speakers in a colloquium organised by Watchdog Bangladesh, an NGO.
They stressed family values and religious education to reduce such heinous acts. Rights activist Nuruddin Ahmed, Abdul Malek, principal of Nayabazar Degree College, Enamul Haq, headmaster of Kalatia High School, and Aman Ullah, headmaster of Bhawal High School, also spoke at the event moderated by Md Liaquat Ali, principal of Kalatia Degree College and chaired by Prof Sadek Ali. Begum Bedora Ali, teacher of the Kalatia college, presented keynote.
Trafficking case against Saudi princess dismissed
21 September 2013
Santa Ana: A human-trafficking case against a Saudi princess in the US has been dismissed.
The surprise announcement came on Friday as 42-year-old Meshael Al Ayban was to face arraignment on a charge that could have fetched her as many as 12 years in prison.
The charge was filed after a Kenyan maid alleged Meshael had taken away her passport and forced her to work long hours without pay.
Prosecutors now say further investigation did not corroborate the allegations.
The maid escaped from Meshael’s condo in July, got on a bus and told a passenger her story, authorities said. The passenger helped her contact police.
Meshael and her attorneys likened the issue to a contract dispute and said the maid and her counterparts were treated well.
But District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said the circumstances were closer to slavery.
Meshael had been free on $5 million in bail posted by the Saudi consulate.
Malawi Muslims Champion Girls' Educations
21 September 2013
LILONGWE – Expressing concern over reports about Muslim girls drop-out from schools, a galaxy of Malawi Muslim leaders have intensified their efforts to break cultural and societal norms and misconceptions leading to the worrying phenomenon.
“Education for girls has gone through years of neglect in Malawi among Muslim communities. As a result, this has led to high rate of illiteracy among Muslim women. Culture has played a major role in aggravating the situation,” Sheikh Dinala Chabulika, National Coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau (IIB) told OnIslam.net.
“Societal and cultural norms have dealt a severe blow to the advancement of girls’ education in Muslim communities in the country.”
The worrying phenomenon was first revealed in media reports indicating the high rate of Muslim girls drop out from schools.
Later on, the leaders of the leading Islamic group, the IIB, decided to interfere to fight wrong cultural and societal norms about girls’ education in Islam
“Most of our children (girls) in the rural areas have failed to make it in life to cultural influences which are impacting negatively on their education,” Chabulika said.
“It is now that we are realizing how much damage has been caused to the society by denying the girl child access to education, which is her right. Society has robbed that right, thereby pushing the child to the margins of society where she continuously wallows in extreme poverty”.
Chabulika added that there has been a long held belief among some parents and communities that education for girls was a “sheer waste of time and resources.”
“But it is now that, this belief is working against them.”
“In some communities, some people have been hiding behind religion to deny girls their right to education. But there is nothing in Islam preventing girls from accessing education. Those who disapprove girls’ education are not speaking from a sound religious perspective.”
Islam is the second largest religion in Malawi after Christianity.
Muslims account for 12 percent of the country's 14 million population. But MAM puts the number at 36 percent according to the census it conducted a few years ago.
Along with cultural factors, Chabulika said lack of role models in some Muslim communities has also contributed to the high drop-out rates among girls.
“Some communities have no educated Muslim women who could motivate the girls to work hard in their education pursuits and also influence parents to invest in the education of girls,” Chabulika said.
“As a result, girls see no reason of furthering their education and at the same time, parents see no reason to educate the girl child. This has increased the number of girls dropping out of school.”
Traditional Authority Chitera, who is widely recognized in the country for championing girls’ education in her area, said some parents were not willing to educate the girl child “feeling it is a waste of resources.”
“Most Muslim communities in my area and indeed elsewhere in Malawi were not forthcoming in large numbers to send the girl child to school, because they feel it was a waste of resources,” Chitera told OnIslam.net.
“The situation was very bad a few years ago, but with the sensitization meetings, which I have been conducting alongside organizations which are stakeholders in education, people’s mindset is changing. However, there are still some pockets of resistance in some ares, but we are getting there.
“Culturally, a boy has more opportunities for education, than a girl. This attitude has cost our girls numerous opportunities to access education. But through our initiatives, we are slowly breaking these cultural barriers to give the girl child education.”
To reverse the trend, Chabulika said his organization alongside traditional leaders has launched a drive to encourage Muslim communities to educate the girl child, by offering scholarships.
“Much as we cannot expect instant success, there has been an improvement in the number of girls attending school. We are prepared to invest much towards the education of girls in this country. Our Sheikhs are also taking the lead in the rural areas to civic educate the communities on the need to provide education to the girl child. This is done through the Mosques and it is beginning to change people’s attitudes.”
Meanwhile, activists lauded the move taken by the Muslim leadership, describing it as a “landmark” in achieving the Education for All (EFA) goal.
“The move taken by the leadership in the Muslim community is in this regard is quite commendable,” education activist Benedicto Kondowe told OnIslam.net.
“Indeed, the figures of girls dropping out of school in the Muslim communities are very depressing. This has to be reversed in line with the Education for All (EFA) goal. This is a landmark development towards the attainment of the EFA goal.”
For the leaders of IIB, the move was urged to correct misconceptions about Islam and girls’ education.
“The danger is that if we don’t rise up and take the challenge to address this trend, it would eventually be universally accepted that the teachings of Islam prevent girls from accessing education,” said Chabulika.
“We would like to break any barrier to the attainment of education by girls in this country. We will not rest until we see that the situation has improved tremendously.”
Indonesia: Women fill top positions in city government
September 21 2013
Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo swore in Sarwo “Yani” Handayani as deputy governor for spatial planning and Sylviana Murni as deputy governor for culture and tourism at City Hall on Friday.
During the ceremony, Jokowi asked the two officials to work professionally and maintain their integrity in their state tasks.
The officials also pledged to prioritize the state’s interests above their personal or communal needs.
Yani, the former Development Planning Board (Bappeda) chairperson, said after the inauguration she would try her best to fulfill her new duties.
“We have to make sure development runs in accordance with the planning that has been designed beforehand,” she said, adding the most important thing was enforcement.
Meanwhile, Sylviana, previously assistant to the city secretary for administration affairs, had lots of plans to boost tourism in the city.
“We will host the Royal Heritage Festival at the end of the year and it will be very good for tourism promotion,” she said, adding the city would focus on cultural tourism.
Sylviana said there would be lots of cultural carnivals and festivals next year.
“The governor has also ordered his subordinates to accentuate Betawi culture in many of the city’s features, like buildings and clothes,” she said.
She also pointed out joint tourism promotion efforts among ASEAN members would also help the city boost its own tourism.
Jokowi said as both Yani and Sylviana had been promoted, the number of vacant positions in the city administration had increased.
“Many positions are vacant right now, including the top jobs at the Cooperatives, Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises and Trade Agency and the Parks and Cemeteries Agency,” he told reporters.
Other top posts still vacant are the provincial Disaster Management Agency head, regional secretary as well as the two positions previously held by Yani and Sylviana.
Some positions have been vacated as former officials have retired.
Jakarta Employment Agency head I Made Karmayoga said his agency was now in the process of selecting the officials.
“We will appoint them as soon as possible,” he said, adding the decision would remain in the hands of the governor.
Being asked whether having such top positions vacant affect the work performance of the agencies, Karma yoga said he was not worried about it.
“We’ve already established a system in every agency and department. Although they lack leaders, work will be continued,” he said.
Maria Toor becomes first female Nash Cup champion
Pakistan’s squash player Maria Toorpakai Wazir put her name in the history books by winning the first ever women’s event in the Nash Cup in Canada by beating Milou van der Heijden of the Netherlands 13-11, 11-3, 11-9.
The victory gave Maria, who hails from South Waziristan, the third title of her WSA career after she won the Southwest Squash Open and the Liberty Bell Open last year in the US and was another milestone in her journey of immense courage and perseverance.
“When I win a tournament, I feel that I am moving towards my goals. So winning today means a lot to me,” Maria said after winning the Nash Cup.
Maria who had faced stiff opposition in her native Bannu for playing sport, often posed as a boy to compete in matches in her conservative hometown. She moved to Peshawar in 1999 to pursue her love for squash.
Upon her move, Maria was immediately inducted into the Hashim Khan Complex, named after the first great player to emerge from a Pakistani dynasty of squash players which dominated the international game for decades.
It was in Peshawar where Maria’s father really began to realise the true potential his daughter had. Representing Warsak High School in Peshawar, Maria became the youngest ever winner of the National Women’s Squash Championship toppling top seed Muqaddas Ashraf of Punjab in straight sets in the final at Karachi Club squash court in 2004. She was 13 at the time and while the cash prize of Rs. 8,500 and a crystal trophy felt good, it was really the satisfaction of being better than everyone that was to accelerate Maria’s drive. She quickly swatted away her competition, winning an Under-15 tournament and then at 15 winning the Under-19 Hashim Khan National junior championship in 2005.
She scaled up the national rankings, Dunlop racquet in hand and Mohammad Ali-like confidence, often calling her self the world’s best squash player in some of her post-match press conferences. It was this self belief and great form that finally brought her to the world stage, joining the WISPA in 2006. She was immediately at ease on the international circuit as well, reaching the semi-final stage of the 2nd WISPA International Women’s Squash Championship at the POF Jahangir Khan Complex in Islamabad.
In early August 2007 she was given the Salaam Pakistan Award by the President of Pakistan, alongside tennis player Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and footballer Muhammad Essa.
The year 2009 saw her win her first international tournament when she beat the same opponent she had defeated as a 13-year-old. Muqaddas Ashraf once again succumbed to Maria’s power and agility losing the Chief of Army Staff International squash tournament.
But it was in 2011 that her fortunes really changed.
After learning of a job opening at Canadian squash legend Jonathan Power's National Squash Academy in Toronto, Maria wrote an emotional letter to Power about the difficulty of training freely in Peshawar and about her aspirations of following in the footsteps of Pakistani greats. Moved by the plea, Power immediately took the young talent under his wings and vowed to make her a world champion.
The academy in Toronto gave Maria “10 out of 10” as far as talent was concerned but a lack of proper training meant she had a long way to go before she could compete with the top stars in the world. Her grit and determination, however, meant that it wasn’t going to be long until that happened.
Two titles in 2012, qualification in the British Open main draw (a first for Pakistani female players) and now the Nash Cup. For Power, who was in attendance at the London Squash & Fitness Club in Ontario, Maria seems to be headed in the right direction.