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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 26 Jun 2017, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A Fatwa against Sexual Violence: The Story of a Historic World Congress of Female Islamic Scholars

New Age Islam News Bureau

26 Jun 2017

Photo: One of the religious deliberation sessions. Photo: Dr Nur Rofiah.


 Israel Freezes Plan For Mixed-Sex Jewish Prayer Site At Western Wall

 Muslim Worker Ordered To Change Hijab Due to 'Terrorist Affiliation'

 Muslim Woman Afraid To Leave Home after Car Is Torched In Hate Crime Attack in England

 Woman Who Crashed Car into Crowd of Muslims on Video Saying: 'I Tried To Brake'

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




A fatwa against sexual violence: the story of a historic world congress of female Islamic scholars

26 June 2017

Yet, if one asks a Muslim today: have you ever asked a woman for an interpretation of Islamic law?, the answer from Dakar to Dhaka, from Sarajevo to Cape Town, from Jakarta to Ann Arbor will usually be “no”.

Women are not asked to interpret Islamic law, and few expect them to do so. Very often, this is because women are not sufficiently trained for this work. If they are, they tend to be consulted only on so-called ‘women’s issues’ such as child rearing, a wife’s duties towards her husband and towards others in the family, household organisation, and hygiene.

In recent years, however, Muslims in different parts of the world have started to address gender imbalances in juristic expertise. In India, Turkey and Morocco, programs have been set up to train women as muftis (jurists who can issue fatwas or expert legal opinions). Judicial bureaucracies in Malaysia and the Palestinian Authority have begun to hire female judges in their sharia courts.

Recently, Indonesian organisations also joined forces to convene the Muslim world’s first congress of ulama perempuan: women Islamic scholars.

This historic event, held in late April in Cirebon, West Java, was nothing short of a breakthrough in terms of re-establishing the long-lost juristic authority of women to produce Islamic legal recommendations and rulings. It concluded with the issuance of three historic fatwas – against sexual violence, child marriage, and environmental degradation exacerbating gender inequality. 

Between us, we have studied Islamic authority and gender for decades. We interviewed several of the women scholars, as well as some of the male attendees, involved in the event to learn more about it and the deliberations process. We have also been able to analyse some of the copious explanatory material issued by the congress.

It was nothing short of a breakthrough in terms of re-establishing women's juristic authority

Women’s juristic authority was squarely on the agenda. Such authority can manifest itself in Islam in several ways including by leading prayer, reciting the Qur’an, delivering a sermon, transmitting a hadith (a saying of the prophet). The pinnacle of this authority is the ability to interpret Islamic sources to make recommendations of behaviour in the here and now.

In most contemporary Muslim societies, this is exercised in two main ways. The first is by issuing fatwas. These are legal recommendations based typically on interpretations of the Qur’an and hadith. (Different sects in Islam regard different hadiths as authentic, and therefore the specific source material differs from sect to sect.)

A person trained to issue a fatwa is called a mufti, with the feminine form in Arabic muftiya. Fatwas are only recommendations and they are not binding. But they can carry great weight. In some countries, policy makers take fatwas of leading Islamic authorities into account when, for example, considering reforms to family law, inheritance, Islamic finance or food and medicines regulations. 

The second way this authority is exercised is by serving as a judge in an Islamic court. This requires deep engagement and expertise interpreting religious sources, and the needed erudition and experience can take decades of study and training to acquire.

In Indonesia, for instance, family courts for the Muslim majority apply Islamic law (non-Muslims are subject to civil family law). Since the 1950s, judges for these courts have been trained in the country’s Islamic state institutes.

Although female judges of Islamic law were unheard of at the time – and remain a minority – admission to these institutes was not restricted to men. And so women also completed this advanced training and, from the 1960s, some have been appointed judges in Indonesia’s Islamic courts.

In 1970, Sudan also appointed women as judges in courts applying what’s known as “non-codified” Islamic law (under which judges must interpret original sources, as there is no codified text issued by the state, like a statute or book of law).

However, it would take another 35 years before women would be appointed to Islamic courts in other countries. Malaysia did so in 2005, the Palestinian Authority in 2009, and Israel just a few months ago appointed the first woman judge to its Islamic courts.

The congress in Indonesia aimed to raise awareness about these developments and strengthen local initiatives to promote women’s juristic authority in Islam. Importantly, it showed that it’s not only women who stand behind this struggle. Male scholars, while a minority, were also among the speakers and attendees.

It’s not only women who stand behind this struggle. Male scholars were also at the congress.

At the congress’s core was “musyawarah keagamaan” (religious deliberation) to formulate fatwas. In many Muslim countries fatwas are associated with individual Islamic leaders, but Indonesia has a long tradition of fatwas issued by Islamic institutions’ ‘fatwa commissions.’

The women ulama at the congress issued three fatwas. This in itself was historic as fatwa issuing has long been monopolised by male clerics. (There are, for example, only seven women ulama out of 67 members of the fatwa commission of Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) – a prominent Islamic organisation, set up by the government in the 1970s).

The first fatwa issued focused on sexual violence. It emphasises that such violence including within marriage (marital rape) is forbidden under Islamic law (haram). It also distinguishes zina (adultery and fornication) from rape. It emphasises that victims must receive psychological, physical and social support – not punishment.

The second fatwa concerns child marriage. It says these practices bring harm (mudarat) to society. The ulama’s accompanying commentary calls for raising the Indonesian legal marriage age for girls from 16 to 18 years. Importantly, as most child marriages are not registered with the state in the first place, the fatwa also tells ordinary Muslims and imams that it is obligatory (wajib) to prevent them.  

The third fatwa links environmental destruction and social inequality. It describes environmental degradation for economic gain as haram and says it has in recent decades in Indonesia exacerbated economic disparity with women the most affected. It notes how drought, for example, adds to the burdens of rural women typically responsible for preparing food and fetching water.

Participants told us that deliberations on this fatwa also touched on issues of land and forest governance, and how deforestation affects women in particular. It demanded that the Indonesian government should impose strict punishments on perpetrators of environmental destruction. Among other things, the discussion noted illegal deforestation campaigns in Indonesia to make space for vast palm oil plantations.

Like the best judges in any society, the women ulama are also experts in diverse contemporary issues.

The women ulama based their religious interpretations on four sources: the verses of the Qur’an, hadith, aqwal ‘ulama (views of religious scholars), and the Indonesian constitution. They used a methodology called “unrestricted reasoning” (istidlal), with stated aims to maximise maslaha (public interest) and reduce mudarat (harm) to arrive at rulings.

The three fatwas show that women ulama also have the ability and the expertise in Islamic sources to formulate these recommendations. They also show that the ulama perempuan do not restrict themselves to the Qur’an, hadith, other classical Islamic texts, and talking about the past. Like the best judges in any society, they are also experts in diverse contemporary issues.

Indeed, Nur Rofi’ah, an expert in Qur’anic and gender studies who took part in the congress, told us that it produced more than fatwas, which usually consist of only a few pages of argumentation. The congress considered a larger range of sources during its deliberations, including evidence of conditions and challenges faced by women. It also produced far longer and more in-depth textual explanations.

Some Indonesian gender rights activists, and Indonesian fatwa committees themselves, use the term sikap keagamaan (religious views) for recommendations that come out of this more complex deliberation process and outcome.

But whether one calls these fatwas or sikap keagamaan, their significance was clear: This congress was a historic step towards reestablishing the long-lost juristic authority of women to produce Islamic legal recommendations and rulings.



Israel freezes plan for mixed-sex Jewish prayer site at Western Wall

June 26th, 2017

JERUSALEM: Israel’s government formally suspended plans on Sunday for a mixed-gender prayer space at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, bowing to opposition from Orthodox Jewish politicians to reforms at one of Judaism’s holiest sites.

The decision will put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at odds with the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism that have large followings outside Israel but will smooth his relations with ultra-Orthodox parties in his ruling coalition.

The wall is revered as a vestige of Judaism’s two ancient temples and access to it is segregated by gender. Most religious rites take place in the men’s section in accordance with centuries-old Orthodox standards that hold sway in Israel.

The government has faced calls by more progressive Jewish movements in Israel and abroad to add an egalitarian section along the wall and in 2016 voted 15-5 to do so, over the objections of ultra-Orthodox cabinet members.

But in the face of opposition from the two ultra-Orthodox parties in Netanyahu’s coalition, the plan never got off the ground. Last week, the two parties proposed rescinding the 2016 decision.

At its weekly meeting on Sunday, the cabinet voted to formally freeze its implementation, the officials said, and Netanyahu instructed a minister from his Likud party to formulate a new proposal.

“Today’s decision signifies a retreat from that agreement and will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world together increasingly more difficult,” Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a main outreach group to Jewish communities abroad.

The mixed-gender section was to have been located at a separate expanse of the wall that, when seen from the plaza looking toward the wall, stands to the right of the current Orthodox-administered compound where men and women will still worship separately.

More liberal streams of Judaism, which outside of Israel have larger followings than Orthodoxy, chafe at the restriction. The wall is officially administered by an ultra-Orthodox rabbi.



Muslim worker ordered to change hijab due to 'terrorist affiliation'

Mon, 26 Jun 2017

A Muslim woman is suing her employer for discrimination after she was allegedly ordered to remove her black hijab because of its "terrorist affiliation".

The estate agent, who has not been named, worked at Harvey Dean in Bury, Greater Manchester, for around a year. Her managers took issue with her hijab when she was moved to a public facing office.

A complaint filed at the Manchester Employment Tribunal, said that the woman was told that moving from a back office into public view meant "that it would be in the best interest of the business for her to change the colour of her hijab, due to the supposed terrorist affiliation with the colour black" – The Independent reports.

A colleague allegedly claimed that the predominantly non-Muslim community would "feel intimidated and scared if they saw the claimant".

The woman, who wore a black headscarf that left her face uncovered since starting at the estate agent, was quoted as saying that she was not prepared to change her attire for the reasons given. She refused in a phone call and a meeting held the following day with her male manager, who allegedly brought in coloured hijabs for her.

Hours after the meeting, she said she was reprimanded for sending a text message on her lunch break, according to the complaint. Her manager then “went on a tirade accusing the claimant of not working. The claimant informed him that she was on her lunch break but he told her that he did not care (and) then proceeded to tell her to: 'Get the f*** out of here’.”

The former housing sales negotiator left the office and heard nothing from her employer. The following week, she submitted a letter of resignation.

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She told The Independent that her objections to the order “fell on deaf ears” and she was shocked at the reasons her employer gave. The former housing sales negotiator said she felt “singled out” as the only Muslim woman in the office and claims the company discriminated against her on the basis of both religion and gender.

The tribunal complaint argues that Harvey Dean’s treatment of her created an "intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment", and is seeking a written admission that she was subjected to unlawful discrimination.

The case could result in Harvey Dean paying "aggravated damages" and compensation covering loss of earnings, holiday pay and legal fees, according to the report.

A European Court of Justice ruling states that companies can ban employees from wearing the Islamic headscarf - only as part of prohibitions including other religious and political symbols.

However, the court ruled that: “In the absence of such a rule, the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer's services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination.”

The complaint alleges that the company had no such rule in place, and the staff handbook stated that it “does not seek to inhibit individual choice as regards appearance.”



Muslim Woman Afraid To Leave Home after Car Is Torched In Hate Crime Attack in England


A Muslim looked on in horror as her car was deliberately set on fire in a hate crime attack.

The woman has been left afraid to leave her home in Basildon following the incident in which petrol was poured under the car before being set alight.

Police have confirmed that they are treating the attack as a hate crime after the victim told them it was religiously motivated because she is the only Muslim living in the street.

An Essex Police spokesman said a fire service investigation found the blaze was deliberate. Initial enquiries were carried out and officers from Basildon CID are now investigating.

Sidra Naeem, an Islamic adviser for Essex Police and the fire service, said the woman was now afraid to leave her home.

“Petrol was put under the car and it exploded in front of her eyes,” she said. “It was reported by a couple of people to the police, the fire brigade also know, all the neighbours know and the race hate panel was also notified.

“She was the only Muslim person in that whole row of houses. She hasn’t come out of her house ever since — she’s too scared and worried.”

The attack happened at about 10.45pm on Wednesday, June 7.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil  Pudney said: “We will not tolerate hate crime in any form.

“If you are a victim of hate crime — whether that offence takes place online or in the street — it is important that you report that to us so we can help you.

“Anyone carrying out hate crime in any form will be dealt with robustly, investigated and prosecuted.”



Woman who crashed car into crowd of Muslims on video saying: 'I tried to brake'

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A female driver who crashed her car into a crowd of Muslims leaving Eid prayers in Newcastle has been filmed saying she "tried to brake".

The woman, who was arrested after crashing her car following Eid celebrations with her family, has been released on bail.

Six people, including three children, were taken to hospital following the accident in Newcastle on Sunday morning.

Police said the collision is not thought to be terror-related.

Footage shows the woman being comforted by police as angry worshippers accuse her of running people over.

She can be heard sobbing and shouting: "I tried to brake."

Dramatic footage from the scene showed members of the public running towards the scene of the crash amid the sound of shouts and screams.

Northumbria Police said four people remained in hospital on Monday where they were being treated for "various injuries".

"Police inquiries continue as we try to establish the circumstances around the collision at Westgate Sports Centre on Sunday June 25," the force said.

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"The 42-year-old local woman arrested by police has now been released on conditional bail pending further investigation.

"Of the six people injured during the incident, four remain in hospital receiving treatment for various injuries."

Yesterday, Assistant Chief Constable Darren Best said: "At approximately 9.14am we received reports that a car had collided with pedestrians outside of Westgate Sports Centre, in Newcastle city centre. At that time a large number of people were in the area celebrating the religious festival Eid that is held to mark the end of Ramadan.

"What we have established is that a 42-year-old female has been celebrating Eid with her family, she then got into her car and has collided with six people in the crowd. We have no information to suggest this is terror-related, however, this is a serious collision with multiple casualties and extensive inquiries are ongoing to establish the circumstances around this tragic incident."

Mr Best said extra officers are on patrol around communities in the area to answer any questions or concerns. Specially trained family liaison officers are working with the affected families.

A statement from the nearby Newcastle Central Mosque said the collision happened as people were leaving the area following Eid prayers.


 chi onwurah ? @ChiOnwurah

So sad, I was at the prayers earlier & there were so much joy & unity. Thinking of those affected by what I am told was terrible accident. …

3:34 PM - 25 Jun 2017

  30 30 Retweets   46 46 likes

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Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Central, tweeted about the incident after attending the mosque.

She wrote: "So sad, I was at the prayers earlier and there were so much joy and unity. Thinking of those affected by what I am told was terrible accident."



ISIS’s “Science” of Slavery: How ISIS Justifies Enslavement of Yezidi Women with Islam

June 26, 2017

By Johanna Higgs and Amal Ben Hadda

Slavery, possibly one of the worst human horrors occurring on this earth at this time. In 2014, ISIS invaded the small town of Sinjar in Northern Iraq and began to carry out what has now been described as genocide against the Yezidi people. Thousands of young women and girls were dragged off to be sold as sex slaves in markets. 

Yezidi women who have returned from captivity have described a system of organized rape and sexual assault, sexual slavery and forced marriage. Guidelines for slavery have been established and they have repeatedly used a narrow and selective interpretation of the Quran to justify their barbarous acts of sexual violence.

According to Amnesty International, it is estimated that there are still as many as 3 800 girls being held as slaves by ISIS.

In a small makeshift IDP camp in the centre of Erbil Bese Qawal, Hana Xwededa and Fayza Haji, three Yezidi women who fled their homes in Sinjar when the violence with ISIS began to unfold. They had spent over a year living with another small group of Yezidi’s in a few ramshackle buildings with little certainty as to what the future would hold. As they sat in their small home they quietly described the horror that forced them to flee,

‘When the first assaults started, ISIS tried to stop us from fleeing. They wanted to kill the men and take the women. They tried to capture us but we managed to escape into the mountains. They burned our home, we came here with nothing,’ said Qawal as she leaned back against the wall. All three women sat somberly in the room as small children darted in and out.

‘They wanted to take the women as slaves. Our family is safe but we know some of the girls who were captured. They are selling girls as young as 8 or 9 years old in markets.’

When asked why they believed that ISIS was targeting the Yezidis, Qawal looked at the ground and replied quietly, ‘by god I don’t know. We are poor people.’

The Yezidi’s have been persecuted by the surrounding Muslim communities for many centuries. A minority in the region the Yezidis constitute only 1.5 percent of Iraq’s estimated population of 34 million. Of Kurdish descent, the Yezidis are generally considered to be a pre Islamic sect with an oral tradition as opposed to written scripture, though there is several ideas as to where the Yezidi culture originated.

For ISIS this makes them unbelievers of the worst kind, more so than Christians and Jews who are considered to have some limited protections according to their descriptions in Quran as ‘people of the book.’

It is for this reason, that ISIS has proclaimed their right to enslave Yezidi women.

ISIS considers their rules of enslavement as a ‘science that has been almost absent in modern Islamic jurisprudence,’ or what is known as fiqh. The word figh is an Arabic term meaning ‘full understanding’ and refers to the body of Islamic law extracted from detailed Islamic sources.

In a pamphlet released by ISIS, they highlight the need to practice this ‘science’ throughout the Islamic Caliphate, which they seek to establish throughout the world.

This pamphlet, through its questions and answers, uses interpretations of the Quran, as defined by various Sunni Islamic scholars to justify their acts of slavery. These scholars, using interpretations as defined by the exegesis, use the term ‘right hand possession’ as meaning ‘female slave’.

Some of the questions and answers of the pamphlet are as follows,

Question 3: Can all unbelieving women be taken captive?

There is no dispute among the scholars that it is permissible to take such women who are characterized by original unbelief such as the women from among People of the Book ie Jews and Christians.

Question 4: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female captive?

Allah the almighty said, ‘successful are the believers who guard their chastity, except from their wives or the captives and slaves that their right hands posses for then they are free from blame (Koran 23:5-6).

Note: the words “captives and slaves” don’t exist in the original version of Quran

Question 6: Is it permissible to sell a female captive?

It is permissible to buy, sell or give as a gift female captives and slaves for they are merely property.

The literal interpretation in Arabic of the term ‘right hand’ means any promise or commitment that must be observed and respected. So the term, ‘right hands possession’ semantically means the obligation to fulfill promises. This could be relevant to different contexts, particularly those regarding social commitments such as caring for orphans, marriage, and recently, this term was referred to in relation to surrogacy. In the Quran, both men and women are called to respect what their right hands possess.

However, when the word ‘possession’ is added, ISIS interprets this as female slave.

Through this traditional interpretation of Quran, ISIS has publically and officially sanctioned their use of slavery and rape. The ‘right hands possession,’ means for them that ‘religiously’ they can have sex with ‘unbelieving’ women, virgins and young girls, captured during war even if it is outside the institution of marriage. They consider this as a reward for their war efforts and is a motivator for soldiers to fight.

According to Human Rights Watch, ISIS policy of slavery disregards almost every universal law against slavery and rape.

For Hazna Qary, a young Yezidi woman who managed to escape ISIS’s invading forces and is now living in a makeshift camp on the outskirts of Erbil, life is difficult knowing what has happened to other Yezidi women. ‘We know that they are being raped everyday that they are being given as gifts to each other’ she says quietly.

‘I pray to god every day to get justice, they could burn our houses and take everything but they should not take our daughters,’ says Sari Ali, another Yezidi woman living within the camp.

In Lalish, the spiritual centre for the Yazidi people not far from Mosul, Luckman, a Yezidi man explained how young girls had also been victims of ISIS policy of slavery,

‘One 11 year old girl said that 20 men had sex with her in one night,’ he told us quietly.

It is believed in the Islamic tradition that the Prophet Mohammed married Aicha when she was 9 years old. There are a number of Islamic scholars who have argued that Aisha would have been at least 18 years old when she married the prophet. However, within the Islamic world there are still those who justify child marriage, including ISIS.

Question 13 of the pamphlet released by ISIS asks, is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?

The pamphlet answers

It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse however if she is not fit for intercourse then it is enough to enjoy her with out intercourse.

The brutality of war and the crimes that all women have endured at the hands of ISIS, are shocking. As we sit here, there are women and young girls, like your mother, like your daughter, like your wife, like your sister, who are being sold, tortured and raped, just because they are women of the ‘wrong’ faith.

As a global community, it is essential that we work together to speak out. All women and girls deserve to be respected and be free from threats of violence, intimidation and slavery, regardless of their cultural or religious beliefs. We must speak out, encourage our governments to take action because if we don’t, our silence makes us complicit in the incredible suffering being perpetrated against Yezidi women, and in fact all women and girls who are victims of slavery throughout the world.

When asked what she wants for her future Hazna Qary says, ‘I would just like to be safe.’





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