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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 16 March 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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‘Art Is Halal’ Posters by Saudi Arabian Female Artists Ignite Debate

New Age Islam News Bureau

16 March 2015

 ‘Art Is Halal’ Posters by Saudi Arabian Female Artists Ignite Debate

 Woman Gets 70 Lashes for WhatsApp Insult in Saudi Arabia

 ‘Saudi Arabia Provides Equal Opportunities for Men and Women’: Lubna A. Al-Ansary

 Rocking the Casbah: The Gig of a Lifetime That Put Iranian Women Back On Stage

 Malaysian Ministry to Reprimand Schools That Prevent Non-Muslim Students from Wearing Baju Kurung

 Contemporary Islamic Views Support Reform In Favour Of Women

 Princess Reema on Leading Saudi Women: 'Keep Walking,' They Will Follow

 ISIS Fighters Dress Up Like Women to Flee Iraqi Battle Zone

 Iran's Female MPs Show Mixed Record

 Niqab-Clad Woman Arrested For Armed Robbery in Abu Dhabi

 Abu Dhabi Researcher Unveils Views on Hijab

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




‘Art Is Halal’ Posters by Saudi Arabian Female Artists Ignite Debate

16 March 2015

Three female artists from Saudi Arabia launched a daring “Art Is Halal” poster campaign designed to get people talking about the limitations on freedom of expression in the majority Sunni Muslim Kingdom. More than 400 posters declaring “Art Is Halal” have been pasted across the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Middle East Eye reports. The birthplace of Islam is regulated by an unforgiving legal code and is notoriously conservative — but the poster campaign comes at a time when the progressive Saudi art scene is arguably gaining ground against the odds.

“The expression ‘art is Halal’ was chosen with the aim of urging the viewer and public at large to ask questions, and even to denounce and criticise [the slogan],” Ayesha al-Barqi, one of the women responsible for the project, told news site al-Balad (as translated by Middle East Eye). Al-Barqi and her collaborators Boshra al-Ouda and Majd al-Harbi are students at Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh—a recently completed campus housing the largest women’s university in the world.

Halal is an Arabic word meaning “permissible“ — identifying what is acceptable according to Quranic law. Al-Barqi told al-Balad:

We want people to have a discussion about the concept of art and to look deeper into its meaning the limits of “Halal” and “Haram.” We are not men of religion who can issue legal judgements and Fatwas, but we dealt with the issue from an artistic perspective… The posters are just part of the campaign. What the public does and how they react to it will become part of the project.

Applying the word Halal to art in the Saudi Arabian context is somewhat audacious, given that the country has a remarkably rich history of art censorship. The project is rendered even more daring, perhaps, by the identity of its organizers. In a country where imagery of women is frequently blanked out and female citizens live under increasingly harsh restrictions, al-Barqi, al-Ouda, and al-Harbi are taking to the streets, pasting the contentious posters across Riyadh, and documenting themselves while they’re at it.

The photographs of their exploits have been splashed across social media, and have generated a hashtag that is seeing plenty of (Arabic-language) traffic. Middle East Eye translates several of these tweets, which evidence a divided response: “Photography is art, drawing is art, singing is art, dancing is art #ArtIsHalal” writes @dafshona, while @e_alosimi is less congratulatory: “Where is the art in distributing leaflets!! It’s random and a distortion, as well as an assault on the property of others, which they are using to spread their campaign! #ArtIsHalal.”

The latter quote may be a rebuke to politicized public art, but the practice is by no means a foreign concept to Saudi citizens. In 2012, graffiti artist and graphic design graduate Sarah Mohanna Al Abdali took her feelings about the overdevelopment of Mecca to the city’s streets. “I didn’t want it to be a beautiful artwork, I wanted to create debate,” she told CNN, of her spray-painted works.

The next year, artist and garbage collector Omamah Ghassan Alsadiq embarked on a project — starting in Saudi Arabia — to cover the world’s walls with 300 painted and stenciled camels. The project quickly spread across the globe. “It’s been a kind of proof that young Saudi women — whether artists, lawyers, doctors, teachers, designers, or anything else — can stand out and do things,” Alsadiq told Mashallah News.

And although Saudi women are still unable to vote, there are suggestions that female artists in the kingdom are managing to overcome the limitations imposed on them, to international applause. As The Telegraph reports, two sisters from Mecca were chosen to represent the country at the 2011 Venice Biennale, and in 2012, Riyadh saw the inception of a new arts center powered by women. The founder, creative director, and chief curator of Alāan Artspace are all female. “Alāan’s name — which means ‘now’ in Arabic — reflects the energy of the art scene in Saudi Arabia, and the feeling in Riyadh that spaces like ours have been long overdue,” Director Neama Alsudairy told Re-orient Magazine, at the time of the opening.

Nevertheless, the kingdom, ruled by the Al Saud family, is far from an artistic utopia in terms of freedom of expression. Associated with the Wahhabi religious establishment (a severe form of Islam), the Saudi regime has a notoriously harsh penal code, and the government tends to hold a tight rein on cultural expression in the public sphere. “A lot of cultural events are organized by the government, and the government puts a lot of restrictions on what can be done,” an unnamed Saudi blogger told CNN in 2012. That same year, another blogger, Raif Badawi, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a thousand lashes for setting up a website promoting freedom of expression. He was charged with insulting Islam.  

Currently, the Saudi Art Council is holding an exhibition to examine the kingdom’s contemporary arts scene. Called “Fast Forward,” the show contains works dating from the 1960s and will be open in Jeddah through April 22. Last year Amine Kabbaj, director of the Marrakesh Biennale, expressed enthusiasm and hope for the country’s burgeoning arts scene. “We are seeing art being displayed more frequently in Saudi Arabia,” Kabbaj told BBC. “The number of people who are interested is a clear indication that there is an appetite for art. The Kingdom is opening up gradually through culture.”

And Nasreen Raja, a U.K.-based Saudi artist, assured Middle East Eye that the art boom has not been confined to galleries — in fact, socially conscious street art in the style of the “Art Is Halal” project, is, she said, “something of a trend right now.” Let’s hope it keeps on trending.



Woman Gets 70 Lashes for WhatsApp Insult in Saudi Arabia

March 16, 2015

Manama: A court in Saudi Arabia has handed a woman a fine of SR20, 000 (Dh20, 000) and 70 lashes for insulting and defaming a man on messaging application WhatsApp.

A source at the criminal court in Al Qatif in Eastern Saudi Arabia said the verdict was pronounced after it found the 32-year-old woman guilty of tarnishing the reputation of the complainant through the application, local daily Okaz reported on Monday.

The case had been filed by the Saudi man following an argument with the woman whose nationality was not mentioned, but the source did not explain the nature of the disagreement.

The defendant admitted she had insulted the man, but she reportedly rejected the court ruling.

Under Article Three of the Saudi Anti-Cyber Crime Law, a person who commits who defames or inflicts damage upon others through the use of various information technology devices “shall be subject to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year and a fine not exceeding SR 500,000 or to either punishment.”

In July last year, two women in the Red Sea city of Jeddah were sentenced to 10 days in jail and 20 lashes for insulting each other using WhatsApp.

The judge issued the verdict after he saw the messages exchanged by the two women who are reportedly cousins.

The case reached the judge after one of the women sued the other for allegedly insulting her and slandering her reputation.

Even though the judge sought to end the dispute between the two cousins amicably, neither woman wanted to apologise.



 ‘Saudi Arabia Provides Equal Opportunities for Men and Women’: Lubna A. Al-Ansary

16 March 2015

The Kingdom’s regulations aim to provide equal opportunities for men and women, observed a Shoura Council member at a women’s day event in Riyadh on Sunday.

Lubna A. Al-Ansary, a professor of family medicine and member of the Shoura Council, delivered a lecture at a function held at the French Embassy to mark International Women’s Day.

Hosted at the French ambassador’s residence by Maud Besancenot, wife of Ambassador Bertrand Besancenot, the event was organized by the wives of heads of mission in Saudi Arabia, led by Sabine Farra, wife of the Argentinean ambassador.

As many as 40 wives of heads of mission, in addition to around 80 Saudi women were present to celebrate the day.

Al-Ansary talked about challenges women face in accessing health care in Saudi Arabia, underscoring efforts made by women members of the Shoura Council to strengthen legislation related to the wide definition of women’s health.

She joined the Shoura Council in January 2013 as one of the first women members and is the current deputy chairperson of the Health Affairs and Environment Committee. She recalled that health legislation in the Kingdom is based on the premise of equal provisions for men and women.

Al-Ansary’s speech was followed by an open discussion with the members of the audience, where participants shared their views and experiences in various aspects of women’s life in the Kingdom.

Among other issues, Besancenot underscored the significance of the role of women in tackling pressing environmental issues.

She highlighted the importance of climate change as France is organizing the 21st world climate summit, in December this year, and urged everyone to help raise awareness on this issue.

France was officially appointed host country to hold the conference (Paris Climate Conference – COP21) during the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw (COP19).



Rocking the casbah: the gig of a lifetime that put Iranian women back on stage

Alexis Petridis

16 March 2015

Three years ago, the Iranian singer and composer Sara Najafi came up with the idea of hosting a concert in Tehran, her hometown. It was a plan so audacious, it seemed slightly nuts. The concert would be “a festival of the female voice” featuring solo singers – not just Iranians, but artists from France and Tunisia, too. Nothing like it had been attempted in Iran for 35 years: after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, women were banned from singing solo in public.

What’s more, Sara was inspired by the Green Movement, which grew out of the mass protests at Iran’s 2009 presidential election result. “It brought me to a new idea of music,” she says. “Basically, I wanted to make music for that movement.” Some choices of performer seem to have been designed to provoke the authorities, not least Emel Mathlouthi, the Tunisian singer whose song Kelmti Horra became a protest anthem during the Arab Spring.

Sara’s brother, the film-maker Ayat Najafi, offered to help organise the show and make a documentary about it, but his presence proved a mixed blessing. Based in Germany, he says he “wasn’t that welcome” in Iran, as a result of his 2008 documentary Football Under Cover, about an attempt to stage the first female soccer match in Iranian history. He was forced to shoot covertly, using a small camera. During Sara’s many visits to the Iranian Ministry of Culture, he couldn’t shoot at all – instead, while pleading her case, his sister wore a wire to record conversations. “That’s a good thing about a hijab,” he says. “You can hide a microphone in it. For the first time, we could use the headscarf in a positive way.”

What happened over the ensuing months is captured in No Land’s Song, a film that weaves a history of female singers in pre-revolutionary Iran (including the exceptionally ballsy Qamar-ol-Moluk Vaziri, who in 1924 became the first woman in Iran to perform without a hijab in front of men) around Sara’s struggle to get her gig off the ground.

The film is often drily funny: Sara’s mordant expression as she listens to an Islamic scholar explain why a group of women singing together can’t inflame men’s desires, but a solo female singer can, via an extended metaphor involving cheese; the exasperation of the Iranian musicians when their French counterparts appear to be scared off from coming to Tehran by the worsening situation in Syria (“Let’s scare them more when they arrive. Turn up late to the rehearsals, shout ‘Allahu Akbar!’ and let off an explosion”).

Occasionally, it’s hugely depressing. It depicts a society not just fearful of the authorities (a street-seller repeatedly insists he has no CDs by the Iranian singer Googoosh until he’s certain Sara isn’t in the secret police), but also struggling against Kafka-esque bureacracy. “Does anything have a clear answer in this country?” demands a government official during one of Sara’s meetings at the ministry. “A lot of things have no reason.”

Still, Sara keeps at it, navigating her way through endless pettifogging about how many women can sing on stage, at what volume, and whether they can move their bodies while singing. When the government refuses to issue the foreign musicians with work permits, they contemplate arriving as tourists and playing anyway – before the 2013 election ushers in the more moderate Hassan Rouhani as president and the visas are suddenly issued. For all her tenacity, Sara says there were times when she thought the plan was doomed. “After every meeting at the ministry, I said, ‘OK, it won’t happen.’ But then she’d have a meeting with her Iranian singers – some old enough to have performed before the revolution, others too young to remember a time when women were allowed to sing at all – and decide to fight on.

Tunisian singer-songwriter Emel Mathlouthi and French singer-songwriterJeanne Cherhal in No Land's Song Facebook Twitter Pinterest

Tunisian singer-songwriter Emel Mathlouthi and French singer-songwriter Jeanne Cherhal in No Land’s Song

Even after the visas were issued, the government retracted permission for the show, demanding the musicians perform only “a workshop” in their rehearsal studio before a tiny audience from “the arts scene”. They only relented when the French musicians threatened to go home without performing. “They didn’t want to give a bad impression to foreigners,” says Ayat. “It was right after the election, and the new government really wanted to present a new side to the world.”

Meanwhile, Sara was besieged with threats. “There were two kinds. First, there are two very conservative news agencies, one linked to the militia, the other very close to the former president Ahmadinejad. Both said, ‘Look, they are planning a revolution in Iran – let’s stop them.’ There were telephone calls, we don’t know who from, but they definitely belonged to those kind of people. And then there were people from the ministry saying, ‘Look, we are under pressure from the right wing, what are you doing? They have brought their water-cannons and they are ready.’ So there was direct and indirect pressure.”

Nevertheless, the show went ahead – and, judging from the footage in No Land’s Song, it looks like the authorities’ worst nightmare. The music is utterly spellbinding. In full flight, with voices and traditional instruments soaring over acoustic guitars and a French drummer playing in a distinctly jazz-influenced style, one singer after another gets up and performs what sounds like a call to arms: “Get involved! Take risks! Destroy the house of tyranny!”

How did they get away with it? “Getting permission for songs is supposed to be a long process,” says Ayat. “But with the French threatening to go home, the authorities forgot to ask us what we were going to sing. We knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The night before, I talked to everyone and said, ‘No fear! Do what you want to do!’ There was shock in the audience, I tell you. They couldn’t believe it.”

Apart from a brief heartstopping moment when the police turned up backstage (it turned out they were there to protect the French ambassador, who was in the audience), the concert passed without incident. Indeed, outside of the venue, it passed without notice, ignored by the Iranian media. “We never made any big noise about the concert apart from the Facebook page,” says Ayat. “I wanted to be safe, I wanted Sara to be safe, I wanted to leave Iran with the footage. I thought, ‘The movie will get the reaction.’”

The film has yet be shown in Iran. “Officially, we know that won’t be possible,” says Ayat. “Unofficially, maybe.” But one of its screenings at a foreign film festival was reviewed positively in an Iranian magazine. The siblings hope it will at least provoke debate in Iran about female singers. At the concert, Sara made a speech, saying: “From now on, I hope it well be easier to hear the female voice more often.”

Sadly, though, she says that the situation has actually worsened. “In recent months, we had these reactions against music concerts that actually got permission from the Ministry of Culture, not with female solo singers, but just with female backing singers – and they were cancelled. The conservative parts of society are still very strong. One election cannot change that.” Sara has made a new album, but she never sings solo on it, always with a male vocalist, “just in order to have an album”. But the reaction that No Land’s Song has received at film festivals has motivated her: “The fight will continue.”

• No Land’s Song is at the Curzon Soho, London W1, 20-22 March, as part of the Human Rights Watch film festival.



Malaysian Ministry to Reprimand Schools That Prevent Non-Muslim Students from Wearing Baju Kurung

16 March 2015

The Education Ministry will reprimand schools and teachers who disallow non-Muslim students from donning the baju kurung uniform, following a recent furore after a Cheras school sent a student home for wearing the uniform.

Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said there are no rules barring non-Muslim students from wearing the baju kurung uniform as stated in the ministry's circular on school uniforms.

"The ministry will reprimand and give advice to schools and teachers who barred non-Muslims students from wearing baju kurung to schools, in line with circular 3/1983 on school uniforms," he said in a written reply to Chua Tian Chang @ Tian Chua (PKR - Batu).

According to reports, the Sarawakian student was told by the authorities of a school in Cheras that she should wear a pinafore instead of a baju kurung as she was a non-Muslim.

The Form Three student was then sent home for failing to comply with the school's ruling.

Muhyiddin had said in January that there was nothing wrong with non-Muslims wearing the baju kurung as the traditional Malay dress for women was regarded as a national dress.

He urged the school concerned, SMK Seri Mutiara in Cheras, to rectify its dress code to avoid turning the problem into a racial one.

"I don't think it is right. The ministry will ask the school to correct this because a matter like this has now become construed as a racial problem.

"We don't want to make it racial. It may just be a misunderstanding or a decision made that is not in line with the ministry's stand," he had said then. – March 16, 2015.



Contemporary Islamic Views Support Reform In Favour Of Women

Ali Mamouri

16 March 2015

In the 20th century and until its peak in the 1970s, religious feminist movements based on nonpatriarchal interpretations of holy texts started appearing in the world. These movements were different from the prevalent secular female currents in the West in that they opted for a religious discourse founded on the texts of clerics, using religious reasoning within the framework of theological and jurisprudential discourse.

This phenomenon, which was not limited to Muslims but included Christian and Jewish communities, among others, came to be known as feminist theology.

In the Muslim world particularly, although feminist theology remained controversial and dubious to secularists, it has left a positive impact on society in the past decades. The religious feminist movement's internal convictions and changes come from within Islamic thought and are not influenced by the West, which would stir sensitivities in non-Western societies. Some religious governments, like Iran's, adopted many reforms that stemmed from the religious vision of feminist movements for women’s rights; while other religious governments, like that of Saudi Arabia, showed strict resistance to any sort of reform to improve women’s position in society.

Islamic feminism aims to fulfill three objectives. First, it seeks to criticize the masculine discourse that dominates Islamic theology and literature in general. Second, it aims to present a suitable interpretation and explanation of the equal rights of women from the Quran and Islamic traditions. Third, it works to criticize and rectify Sharia interpretations that persecute women and undermine their rights.

The history of Islamic feminism was detailed by Amina Wadud, the Muslim researcher of American origin who published “Quran and Women” in 1992. In 2005, she famously led Friday prayers in the Anglican Church building in New York after mosques refused to host the event, sparking controversy among some Muslims. Although Wadud is the best-known figure in this current, she was preceded by a number of feminist researchers and activists with Islamist inclinations in the Muslim world.

Dozens of prominent female Muslim figures are currently promoting Islamic feminism, including Iranian researcher Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Iranian activist Zhila Shariat Panahi and American Aysha Hidayatullah, among others.

Qurratu al-Ayn Tahirih (1817-52) is one of the oldest figures in contemporary Islamic history in the field of religious reforms in favor of women. Tahirih studied at Shiite seminaries in Iran and Iraq, and she memorized the Quran. She was also highly knowledgeable in Shiite theology and jurisprudence, but she believed that the road to reform was a complete departure from Islamic Sharia. She adopted Babism instead, a religious movement founded by Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi in 1844 in Iran. She took off her veil publicly in 1848 and declared her rejection of the old rules and teachings. She later became a source of inspiration for several Western feminist movements.

Long before the Baha’i faith made its way to the West, Europeans were inspired and fascinated by Tahirih. Lord George Curzon described her life as “one of the most affecting episodes in modem history.” The gifted Austrian poet Marie von Najmajer heard of Tahirih in 1870 and was inspired to write her greatest poem on Tahirih ’s life. Marianna Hainisch, the mother of an Austrian president and founder of the New Woman Movement for Austria, claimed to have been inspired that same year. She stated in 1925, “The greatest ideal of womanhood all my life has been Tahirih. … I was only 17 when I heard of her life and her martyrdom, but I said, ‘I shall try to do for the women of Austria what Tahirih gave her life to do for the women of Persia.’”

Remarkably, there were several clerics in the traditional religious scene whose opinions about feminism formed the core of movements demanding women’s rights. In 1995, traditional cleric Mohamad Baqer Mojtahed Kamarei wrote several articles in favor of women’s participation in parliamentary elections in Iran since 1953, at a time when most political elites, even in secular circles, were opposed to this idea and considered it against social norms and virtues.

Several prominent clerics are currently demanding the amendment of religious laws that persecute women. Those include Ayatollah Ibrahim Jannaati, a prominent religious scholar in the Qom seminary who believes that there is nothing in religion that forbids giving women social and political positions. They can, he believes, even occupy leading judicial, religious and political positions in the country.

As for Najaf seminaries, Sheikh Ishac al-Fayad, one the four prominent religious authorities in Najaf, published a book two years ago about women’s rights in Islamic law, titled “The position of women in the Islamic system.” He recently defended women’s right to handle diverse political and leadership tasks in different fields and to drive vehicles. He noted that women’s testimonies are equal to men’s before the judiciary and strongly criticized religious stories according to which women lack men’s various humanitarian virtues, dismissing them as inaccurate historical assumptions.

These opinions left a gradual positive impact on Iranian society. The marriage of girls under the age of 13 was banned, and women were granted the right to divorce in some cases, like when the husband goes missing for four years, and a lot of Iranian woman currently take advantage of that right. Women are also able to demand half of the money they helped their husbands earn during their marital life.

Nevertheless, women’s rights activists from all secular and religious currents are working hard to make progress in various other fields to end all discrimination and persecution against women. According to several reports and studies, the situation of women in Iran is considered better than that in some Middle Eastern societies and even in some societies that are not governed by a religious system, like Pakistan. One of the main reasons explaining the lack of reforms in some Middle Eastern countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is that reform and change never appeared in the first place or never had a remarkable presence in the religious system of these societies. Since Middle Eastern societies are still greatly affected by religion, any positive or negative change within the religious institution leaves a trail on their social, political and legal systems.

When comparing Iran to Saudi Arabia — since both follow Sharia — a pronounced difference appears. Women in Saudi Arabia are still fighting for their basic rights, such as the right to drive. It wasn’t until 2001 that they obtained the right to vote and run for the municipal council elections in a limited way.

The Saudi regime often tries to justify this situation by claiming that Saudi society is conservative and resistant to reform. However, Saudi activist Mai Yamani expressed an opposing opinion in her book “Feminism and Islam,” as she believes that persecution of women and discrimination against them comes from the Saudi religious and political institutions rather than society itself.



Princess Reema on leading Saudi women: 'Keep walking,' they will follow

16 March 2015

AUSTIN, Texas — Such is the nature of SXSW that one can wander among thousands of software developers and venture capitalists, not to mention corporate shills, straight into a keynote speech on feminism by a Saudi Arabian princess.

Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud drew a crowd of several thousand people to a Saturday talk at SXSW Interactive, detailing her efforts to empower women in her country, where she founded luxury handbag brand Baraboux and private-equity firm Reemiyah.

Princess Reema, as she is called, said she has hired many women to work at Harvey Nichols, the luxury department store she runs, something that was unheard of until just a few years ago, when laws in the country began to somewhat modernize.

“Six years ago,” she said, “the whole staff was male.”

She said women who want to work face many challenges, including opposition from people who believe they should stay home. She showed pictures of women working in her store, covered almost entirely, except for their eyes. She said she respects the decision women make to dress according to Saudi tradition, “as long as it’s a choice” for religious reasons, for example.

She said many Saudi women, like herself, choose a modern if modest fashion style. At SXSW, Princess Reema wore stylish but somewhat modest western-style clothes, including a scarf that covered her head but not her face. She told the audience she wears the head scarf on formal occasions.

She said she doesn't judge women who choose to dress more conservatively.

“I try to judge a woman based on her capability,” she said, referring to women working in her store. “These women actually get up in the morning and come to work. It’s very challenging.”

Transportation is a big obstacle, as Saudi Arabia bans women from driving — though some women in recent years have defied the custom. Reema said this has made it hard for women to get to work on time, so her store has offered stipends to pay for transportation.

Princess Reema, named the most creative person of 2014 by Fast Company, has also led efforts to raise awareness among Saudi women about the importance of screening for breast cancer. She said Saudi culture makes it difficult for many women to talk about things like breast self-examination, and this can lead to late-stage diagnoses.

She now aims to organize a gathering of at least 10,000 women for an event built around health and fitness. She said it would be the largest all-woman meeting ever in Saudi Arabia, and she said she recognizes that some conservative groups oppose her efforts.

“In every community you’ve got people that approve of things and disapprove of things,” she said. “If you stand still, you give them the power to push you down. But if you keep walking, they have to follow you.”

Princess Reema grew up in Washington D.C., where her father, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, served as Saudi ambassador to the U.S. She said that even though Saudi culture poses challenges for women and that she loved her life in the U.S., she has learned not to compare the two. She also loves many things about her native Saudi Arabia, she said.

“Don’t compare,” she said when asked to name the best advice she has ever gotten. “You will always find something that will make you miserable.”



ISIS Fighters Dress Up Like Women to Flee Iraqi Battle Zone

March 15, 2015

In a mad rush to flee the battle zone, one ISIS fighter dressed in a woman's clothing forgets to shave off his moustache. Eventually, he was caught by the Iraqi forces.

This was one of the many recent incidents in northern Iraq where the ISIS fighters were caught escaping the battle zone by Iraqi forces.

A bizarre series of snaps posted on Instagram shows a series of glammed- up freshly captured ISIS fugitives, the reported.

Many have shaved off their beards and moustaches and slapped on make-up. Some are even pictured wearing silk bras and dresses beneath their burkas.

Arabic captions suggest the pictures were taken in the Baiji area of northern Iraq.

Some of the captured ISIS escapees are seen being accompanied by senior ranking officers from the official Iraqi army.

The Instagram account also carries gruesome images of dead ISIS fighters and shows pictures of a poster boy on the front line fighting insurgents.

Iraqi Defence Minister Khaled al-Obedi said the battle to recapture the key city of Tikrit could be a turning point in the war.

ISIS is defending the area with roadside bombs and suicide attacks but a 20,000 Iraqi soldiers and militiamen continue to make gains, the report added.



Iran's female MPs show mixed record

Arash Azizi

16 March 2015

Nine out of 290 members of the Iranian parliament are women. This 3% membership puts Iran near the bottom of the international measures of female parliamentary representation. Women have never been more than 5% of the parliament, but they have always been among the key political players on both sides of the political divide in the Islamic Republic.

Eight of the nine women in parliament belong to the “Principlist” (conservative) side of the house. Three (Fatemeh Alia, Mahnaz Bahmani and Zohre Tabibzadeh) sit on the Central Council of the Principlist Caucus, which is the more hard-line of the two main conservative factions in the parliament. Another member, Fatemeh Rahbar, is on the leadership body of the Islamic Coalition Party, the oldest Islamist party in the country. Parliament members Laleh Eftekhari and Nayereh Akhavan are two other political heavyweights in their own right. This makes the all-female Women and Family Caucus an unlikely power center in the country.

One of the Islamic Republic's many contradictions is that it has always boasted both leading female members and laws that limit female participation.

“Unity of the people was among the slogans of the Islamic Revolution and this includes women,” Effat Shariati, a conservative member of parliament from 1996 to 2004, told Al-Monitor. She quotes Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, who said “women are developers of humans, just like the Quran.”

Shariati comes from a traditional family in Mashhad. Her father was among the clerics active against the shah, prominent enough to be buried at the shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth Shiite Imam. It was unimaginable for a woman from such a family to have that kind of public life before the 1979 revolution. Here we see a contradiction of the Islamic Republic: It is heavily premised on the clergy that are a traditionally conservative section of the society, but its Shiite revolutionary ideology has always encouraged female participation.

Perhaps unique among the Islamic denominations, one of the top five holiest personalities of Shiite Islam is a woman: Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad and the wife of Ali, the first Shiite imam.

Another emblematic woman in Shiite Islamist ideology is Zeynab, sister of Imam Hossein, renowned for her oratory during and in the aftermath of the Battle of Karbala and seen as a “symbol of resistance.” Not coincidentally, one of its key thinkers, Ali Shariati (no relation to Effat), was buried in the Shrine of Zeynab near Damascus, Syria, as he had wished.

The female members of parliament in the Islamic Republic might have been few but have always included key political players. For instance, there were only four of them in the first three parliaments (1980-92), but those parliaments included women such as Marzieh Hadidchi (Dabagh), a personal bodyguard of Khomeini during his year of exile in Paris who spent years training guerrillas in the Palestinian camps of Syria and Lebanon. After the revolution, she was the all-powerful commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the key western provinces that border Iraq and harbored a civil war between the nascent regime and Kurdish forces. In 1989, she was a member of the three-member high delegation that went to the Soviet Union to deliver Khomeini’s message to President Mikhail Gorbachev.

There was also Maryam Behroozi (member of parliament from 1980 to 1996), a political prisoner during the shah’s time who got state budgets with the personal approval of Khomeini to found an all-female political partly (Zeynab Society) in 1986.

But these female members of the establishment cannot be compared to the strong feminist movement in the country, who decry what they see as the gender roles and misogynist laws of the country. In fact, under the leadership of these female members of parliament, many of these laws have indeed been strengthened, often to the detriment of women's rights. Legalization of "temporary marriage," criminalizing contraception, gender segregation in the universities and many measures that seek to limit female entry into the workforce have all been supported by these conservative female members of parliament.

Sedigheh Shakeri, a Central Council member of the Isargaran Society (a hard-line party), explains the thinking behind this to Al-Monitor: “We believe that women should be active in fields where only women can be active. For instance in teaching, women can have a decisive role because of their emotional morale. But why should women get factory jobs and destroy the job opportunities for men who are breadwinners of their families? We shouldn’t forget that no job in the world is as precious as childbearing.”

But Zeynab Society-type politicians are not the only female members in parliament in the history of the Islamic Republic. In the sixth parliament (2000-04), you had what Leyla Alikarami, a lawyer and rights activist, calls a “turning point.”

Thirteen female members of parliament had made it to the Majles in the heyday of Reformism under President Mohammad Khatami. They were mostly Reformist. “From the get-go, they had some basic innovations,” Alikarami told Al-Monitor. “They wouldn’t wear the chador to work and they desegregated the parliamentary quarters. But, most importantly, they tried very hard to change the law to expand women's rights as they were committed to equality.” Relying on the Reformist super-majority in the parliament, they ended up passing more than 30 measures in favor of women, many of which (like Iran’s ascension to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) were vetoed by the Guardian Council. Still, about half were eventually passed by the intervention of the Expediency Council. These included banning child marriage and more rights for women in divorce and custody matters.

With a moderate government in place, Reformists feel buoyed again and hope to win a majority in the parliamentary elections in February. Some of the female parliament members of the sixth Majles now head the Reformist Women Assembly, which was founded last year. They work closely with President Hassan Rouhani’s Women and Family Affairs Deputy Shahindokht Molawerdi (a Reformist).

One of their most senior figures who spoke anonymously to Al-Monitor said they harbor an ambitious legislative agenda, similar to the years of 2000-04.

Whether or not they're successful in increasing the number of female parliament members, some of the conservatives agree with a quota system to boost female participation. Shariati says it should be increased to “at least 30” (which seems to be in line with a plan being worked out by the Speaker Ali Larijani to mandate a minimum of one female member of parliament from each province). If passed, that would make it at least 31 female parliament members, three times the number they have now.



Niqab-clad woman arrested for armed robbery in Abu Dhabi

March 15, 2015

ABU DHABI // A woman in a niqab, armed with a replica gun and a knife was arrested after trying to hold up an Abu Dhabi currency exchange.

The woman, ALR, 33, from the Philippines, walked into the exchange and threatened to kill the staff if they did not hand over money.

She wore a niqab, an abaya and black gloves, and had a piece of cloth covering the gun so it would not be recognised as fake. When police arrived, they found the woman scuffling with staff. She was arrested without any of the staff suffering injury.

Col Rashid Bourshid, head of CID at Abu Dhabi Police, said the woman was an illegal resident and confessed to the attempted robbery, saying she was Dh140,000 in debt.

Police found a knife in her purse, which, she said, she intended to use if her gun was recognised as a fake.



Abu Dhabi researcher unveils views on hijab

Melanie Swan

March 15, 2015

BU DHABI // Though millions of women around the world wear veils and hijabs, it is still a topic of controversy and misunderstanding among many.

Dr Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi, a researcher at the Petroleum Institute, has started a project to explore the perceptions of the veil among Muslims and non-Muslims in the UAE and abroad. After writing her dissertation on the topic, she decided to take the research further.

She is collecting narratives from women of several world religions, including Amish, Hindu, Wiccan and Muslim.

“I was speaking to non-Muslim friends and they also wanted to have a say,” she said. “I realised that there is a much wider audience and perspective that needs to be addressed –issues like how veiling, which pre-dated Islam, and covering affect the women wearing it, but also how the men react and understand it.

“I would really like the narratives of Muslim men. In terms of the feminist literature, western literature equates it as a symbol of oppression but I’m having a difficulty getting men to contribute because they feel it’s a topic that belongs to Muslim women. For Muslim women, it’s often seen as the exact opposite of oppression, instead a version of Islamic feminism.”

Dr Louise Lambert, a psychologist and lecturer at the Canadian University of Dubai, has been among the non-Muslim contributors to the research. As a Canadian in Dubai, Dr Lambert said she has seen first hand what the hijab means to her students.

She said the research was an important topic.

“It’s there but nobody’s talking about it,” she said.

“Because of the media, the hijab has become a hot potato. It’s the most-politicised piece of clothing. It’s a piece of clothing but it has so much more significance than that.”

She said she did not even think about it until hosting visitors from abroad.

“The research is helping people to see each other through each other’s eyes,” she said. “There’s so much misunderstanding about the hijab, and when it’s women’s issues I find that western women dominate the conversation, when it’s got nothing to do with us, or else men dominate it when it’s got nothing to do with them either.

“We need to allow the women wearing hijabs or veils to speak for themselves so we know how we can support them and make it a conversation. It’s important to see where these perceptions and biases come from, to look at ourselves.”

She said that for her students, the hijab is a part of their identity – a fashion statement related to their religious beliefs blended into everyday life.

Alia Khan, chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion Design Council, said the organisation is supporting the research as Islamic fashion is an area which is growing rapidly around the world, and even in countries as unexpected as Mexico.

Not only is there a demand from Muslim women for more modest dress, but from Christian and Jewish women who find the mainstream market does not cater to them.

“It’s not just a religion but a way of life, so it’s important to see the ideology, the beliefs behind this culture,” said Ms Khan. “And what are people’s perceptions of others adhering to this way of life? It becomes politicised, though it is nothing to do with politics in general. It’s a wide topic and we need a lot of work to address the many facets of it.”

To take part in the research, email before June 1.