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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 14 Feb 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Baghdad Red for Valentine’s Day, Najaf Shuns It

New Age Islam News Bureau

14 Feb 2015

A passerby walking through the streets will see giant teddy bears, crimson roses, balloons and scarlet cushioned hearts. (AP)


 Saudi Anchor Claims Channel Sacked Her for Being ‘Ugly’

 Divorce Stigma Scares Pakistani Women to Stay In Marriage

 All-Women’s Extreme Sport Rolls into Abu Dhabi

 Harper Vows to Appeal Court Ruling Allowing Women to Wear Niqab During Citizenship Oath, Calls It ‘Offensive’

 Indonesian Muslim Clerics Angered by Valentine’s Day, Issue Fatwa against the Sale of Condoms

 Saudi Women Drivers Hathloul and Alamoudi Released: AFP

 Former Egyptian Diplomat Cites Progress on Women's Rights

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Baghdad red for Valentine’s Day, Najaf shuns it

14 February 2015

In Baghdad, red symbols of Valentine’s Day are markedly evident as the passerby walking through the streets of the Iraqi capital will see giant teddy bears, crimson roses, balloons and scarlet cushioned hearts.

“Baghdad is now red,” Hameed Qassim, director of news at the local Al-Sumaria Channel, told Al Arabiya News.

“Preparations to celebrate the occasion started two weeks ago with shops selling red teddy bears and flowers. Red became the overriding color in Baghdad,” Qassim explained.

Some people on social media criticized those who are celebrating Valentine’s Day since Iraq is a facing a ferocious battle to defeat extremist militants seizing parts of the country. However, others decided to enjoy the occasion.

“Iraqis, like any other people of any other nation, they want to live, they already have suffered enough,” Qassim said.

He added: “Iraqis sent a clear message that they want to relish life when they defied the Iraqi authorities and the curfew and stayed till the morning to celebrate New Year in Baghdad.”

Despite persistent violence plaguing the country, Iraq on Feb. 8 ended night curfews, which were in place since the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

In southern Basra, Iraq’s third largest metropolis, celebration is on the way.

“Just like last year, a group of volunteers will give the passerby at the Al-Huriya Square and Basra Corniche flowers, Iraqi flags and will recite poetry marking the occasion,” Louay al-Khamisi, head of the Basra-based NGO “Peace and Love Association,” told Al Arabiya News.

“People even started celebrating yesterday [Thursday] till 11 p.m., reciting poetry at the square,” he said.

“A Basra individual is a loving person,” he described, adding “unfortunately there is an intentional lack of media coverage for this occasion, because people in power fight such occasions since they want to appear more religious.”

For some conservative Muslims, Valentine’s Day is seen as an unwanted Western influence contrary to their tradition.

“Religion is about humanity, loving each other,” countered al-Khamisi.

“People – despite the ill-infrastructure of the city - will still go out visit parks, and gift reach other red teddy bears and red roses,” he said.

But Iraq represents a a wide spectrum with some cities like the capital Baghdad seen as the most progressive while others do not celebrate Valentine’s Day as intensely, according to some residents.

Haidar Mohammed, who hails from Nasiriya city, 370 km southeast of Baghdad, has been married for nine years and is ready to celebrate Valentine’s Day and for one whole week.

However, Haidar, 35, said only the “progressive elites” celebrate Valentine’s Day at home while “in rural areas and villages, the hegemony of the religious clergy limits the occasion.

“The clergy denigrates celebrating the day to these people; they try to make it shameful,” he explained.

“One can see Valentine’s Day only at the shops [selling Valentine’s Day gifts] and homes,” he said.

Famous Iraqi singer Hussian Ni’ma, who is a proud Nasiriya native, wanted to entertain the city’s residents with a concert two years ago, but “he was threatened. He cancelled the concert,” Haidar claimed.

In Najaf city, the story is similar.

Najaf, which is about 160 km south of Baghdad, is home to the Imam Ali Shrine, making it especially highly revered by Shiite Muslims who come in their millions as pilgrims on an annual basis.

On Wednesday, Najaf’s provincial council ordered the police to follow up with the “negative activities” expected to spring from Valentine’s Day, dubbing the celebration as an insult to the province.

Member of the council Razaq Sharif said in a statement: “Celebrations of Valentine’s Day include wrong practices that violate the reputation of the holy city.”

He warned “not to repeat what happened on New Year’s Eve when immoral practices were practiced by some individuals in Al-Rawan Street [in Najaf].”

Ahmed Sameer, a Najaf resident, told Al Arabiya News that the city’s youth in the past two years started becoming eager to celebrate light-hearted events “to escape violence and destruction witnessed in the country.

“Young people started embracing new ideas, and shops started selling hearts, flowers to young men and women” Sameer said.

When asked what the “immoral practices were,” Sameer said the conservatives considered dancing and expressing phrases pertaining to Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve publicly as “immoral.”

However, cities like Baghdad are likely to feel the love as citizens prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day with their loved ones.



Saudi anchor claims channel sacked her for being ‘ugly’

14 Feb, 2015

RIYADH — The General Court in Riyadh is considering a case filed by a Saudi woman who worked as a TV newscaster and program presenter.

The woman claims she was sacked from her job on an Arab satellite channel because she was ugly.

Quoting a court source, the Makkah Arabic daily reported on Wednesday that the woman was fired from her job because she was "not presentable and her looks were not appealing".

The unidentified woman said she received an offer from the satellite channel to work from their office in Riyadh as a news anchor and program presenter.

"I signed a contract and when I arrived in my office to take over my job, I ran into one of the managers who did not hide his surprise over my appointment as a news caster and program presenter," she said.

The source said the manager rejected her appointment and used insulting and hurtful language.

"Your appearance is not good enough for a TV anchorwoman," he allegedly told her.

She said the manager asked her to interview for other positions that would not require her to appear before the camera but she refused.

"I will not work as an administrator, a correspondent or do any other job behind the camera," she was quoted as saying.

The woman alleged that her dismissal was unfair because the contract she had signed did not mention a three-month probationary period.



Divorce stigma scares Pakistani women to stay in marriage

14 Feb, 2015

Sidra Jabeen was forced to accept her husband’s second marriage to avoid poverty and the social stigma that divorced women face in Pakistan.wpid-divorce-marriage-the-trent-795x519.jpg

The 28-year-old mother of two learned about her husband’s secret marriage three years after their own wedding.

“By then it was too late for me to seek divorce,” she said, “I had two daughters and was afraid for their future if they have to live without a father. So compromise was the only option.”

Divorce is a personal decision, but in Muslim Pakistan it may come with a lot of religious strings attached.

A body of clerics is recommending changes in Muslim family laws to deny the right of divorce to women whose husbands remarry without their consent.

“Islam allows a Muslim man to keep up to four wives at a time and women should accept this,” the Islamabad-based Council of Islamic Ideology said.

The council is an official institution empowered by the constitution to recommend legislation emanating from Islamic practice.

It comprises dozens of clerics and has often been criticized by rights groups for its endorsement of polygamy and child marriages.

“A husband’s polygamy should no more be grounds for a woman to seek divorce,” council chairman Maulana Mohamed Khan Sheerani said.

Existing British-era law in Pakistan allows women to seek divorce in court if husbands remarry without their consent, said Rizwan Khan, an Islamabad-based lawyer.

But the law is often abused in a male-dominated conservative society biased in favour of men, Khan said.

In most cases, the state endorses polygamy, according to women’s rights organization Aurat Foundation.

“The problem exists in its ugliest form among rural communities where women heavily depend on men for both financial and social security,” lawyer Khan said.

The Islamic council has also recommended changes to laws dealing with divorce on religious grounds.

According to Islamic shariah, or Mohammedan jurisprudence, a divorce can come into force either at once or over the period of three months in phases.

The preferred mode of three months is to give couples a chance to reset their relationship after they make the initial decision, lawyer Khan said.

Sheerani said the council has recommended punishment for those who seek immediate divorce.

Once again, the recommendations have enraged rights groups.

“Clerics are overstepping their mandate by trying to micromanage personal lives,” Islamabad-based activist Rakhshinda Perveen said. “Their recommendations are always biased in favour of men.”

“Why do they discuss such issues when there are bigger problems to deal with in Pakistan?” she said.

But another member of the council said it was concerned about the rising trend of divorce in Pakistan.

“The divorce rate has been going up in recent years. It was the need of the hour for the council to make the process difficult,” Maulana Tahir Ashrafi said.



All-Women’s Extreme Sport Rolls into Abu Dhabi

14 February 2015

ABU DHABI // Played with full contact at high speed, flat-track roller derby is an extreme sport that’s all set to take off in the capital.

A mix of speed skating and ice hockey, the game involves two teams hurtling around an oval track, battling for points in a series of two-minute bouts, all of which can take up to an hour to fight out.

Canadian lawyer Tracie Scott, a former figure skater, became obsessed with the sport in 2010 as a stress-buster. She has lost about 30lbs since taking up the game. “After a match, you feel like you’ve done a full cardiovascular workout mixed with a strength and conditioning session,” said the 37-year-old, who will help host a boot camp for the Abu Dhabi Roller Derby league to recruit new players this month.

“The sport is fast and exciting and good for spectators. There is always something happening. Because it is new here, we explain to anyone watching how it is played.”

Roller derby involves two teams of five skating in the same direction around the track. Game play consists of a series of short matchups, in which both teams designate a scoring player, or “jammer”, who scores points by lapping members of the opposing team.

The teams attempt to block the opposing jammer while assisting their own, so all players are acting in both offence and defence.

Ms Scott, from Edmonton in Alberta, hasn’t been put off by the sport’s physicality. “My job was pretty stressful so I was looking for something to get into that would help relieve that. This is perfect,” she said. “You can play it almost anywhere, in a parking lot or a warehouse.”

Roller derby has 1,250 amateur leagues worldwide, and is growing in popularity here. Dubai has an established league, while Abu Dhabi will stage tryouts. It is hoped the two sides will match up in a one-off clash in April.

The tryouts will take place at Du Forum on February 27, from 9am until 5pm. The programme is open to the public and includes a skills practice, a cardio workout and a full-scrimmage practice.

English teacher Milene Bizaki, 35, took up roller derby in 2013. “We are a new team but the idea of a boot camp is to get more players to take on the Dubai roller derby team,” said the Brazilian, who now lives in Abu Dhabi.

“It is a new sport for the area, and we are mostly expats from Canada, Australia and America, so a lot of us are learning every time we go out to play.”

Knee and elbow pads, a helmet and mouth guard are compulsory, and players use the more stable quad-skates. Although there are junior, male and mixed roller derby leagues in other countries, ADRD has an all-female league only at the moment.

For more information, email or visit the ADRD Facebook page.



Harper Vows to Appeal Court Ruling Allowing Women to Wear Niqab During Citizenship Oath, Calls It ‘Offensive’

14 February 2015

The federal government will appeal a court ruling allowing a Muslim woman to wear a Niqab while taking the oath of citizenship because it is “offensive” to shield your face at the moment you are being sworn in, the prime minister said Thursday.

Zunera Ishaq, the Toronto woman who challenged the government’s policy forbidding the wearing of facial coverings during the swearing-in part of citizenship ceremonies, said Thursday she was upset by the prime minister’s remarks but vowed to continue fighting through the court process.

“I’m not frustrated,” she said. “I’m determined.”

Just a day earlier, Ishaq, the mother of three, had expressed how excited she was at the prospect of becoming a citizen after a federal judge had deemed the niqab ban — introduced by former immigration minister Jason Kenney in 2011 ­— unlawful.

Judge Keith Boswell said the policy didn’t jive with the government’s own regulations, which require citizenship judges to administer the oath with “dignity and solemnity, allowing the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation thereof.”

But Stephen Harper told reporters Thursday that covering one’s face during the swearing-in ceremony is “not how we do things here.”

This is a society that is transparent, open and where people are equal

“I believe, and I think most Canadians believe that it is — it is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family,” he said.

“This is a society that is transparent, open and where people are equal, and that is just, I think we find that offensive; that is not acceptable to Canadians and we will proceed with action on that.”

Ishaq, a Pakistani national and devout Sunni Muslim, says her religious beliefs obligate her to wear a Niqab. She has said while she has no problem unveiling herself in private so that an official can confirm her identity, she draws the line at unveiling herself at a public citizenship ceremony.

About 100 niqab-wearing women are affected by the policy each year, according to evidence presented to the court.



Indonesian Muslim Clerics Angered by Valentine’s Day, Issue Fatwa against the Sale of Condoms

14 Feb, 2015

Indonesia’s top Islamic clerical body threatened to issue a fatwa against the sale of condoms following reports that the contraceptives were being sold together with chocolate to mark Valentine’s Day.

Pictures of chocolate bars packaged with condoms have been published in newspapers and circulated on social media in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country in recent days.

The Indonesian Council of Ulema’s chairman Ma’ruf Amin said that the body was investigating the reports, adding that it was against the sale of condoms as they “provide opportunities for people to engage in pre-marital sex”.

“The sale of condoms has led to prostitution and free sex,” he told AFP.

“We have long rejected the condomisation of our society.”

He added that if the reports were true, “it is very possible that we will issue a fatwa restricting the sale of condoms freely in this country.”

A fatwa is a legal opinion handed down by Islamic leaders.

Reports said that shops in Malang, on the main island of Java, were selling the condom-chocolate offerings, and authorities in other cities launched raids on stores in search of the items.

Muslim clerics across Indonesia have warned against celebrating Valentine’s Day, which falls Saturday.

They regard it as a Western celebration that promotes sex, alcohol and drug use.

Around 90 percent of Indonesia’s 250 million people are Muslim, but the vast majority practice a moderate form of the religion.



Saudi women drivers Hathloul and Alamoudi released: AFP

14 Feb, 2015

Two Saudi women who tried to defy a ban on female driving, have been released after more than two months in jail, news agency AFP reported.

“Yes, Loujain is free,” said a campaigner who spoke with Loujain Hathloul after she left prison.

Hathloul “just said that she’s released and she’s happy,” said the activist, who did not give a name.

Maysaa Alamoudi, detained at the same time as Hathloul, has also been let out of jail, her family confirmed, according to the activist who spoke with AFP.

“Peace be upon you, good people,” Hathloul tweeted late on Thursday.

She and Alamoudi had been held since December 1, after Hathloul tried to drive into the kingdom from the neighbouring United Arab Emirates.

Alamoudi, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, arrived at the border to support Hathloul and was also arrested.

Upon ascending to the Saudi throne on 23 January, King Salman ordered a general amnesty to prisoners of ‘public rights.’ Since then, a number of detained prisoners have been released including activist Suad al-Shammary, who co-founded the Saudi Liberal Network discussion group with blogger Raef Badawi.

Saudi Arabia is unique in its ban on women driving, a topic which is widely debated in the Kingdom’s local media, Shura Council and social circles.



Former Egyptian diplomat cites progress on women's rights

14 Feb, 2015

It takes a certain amount of fortitude to defend the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Washington these days, given the widespread criticism here of his record on human rights.

But in the area of gender equality, Egypt is making progress, according to Moushira Khattab, a distinguished former ambassador to South Africa and the Czech and Slovak republics who was instrumental in gaining passage of a law against female genital mutilation in Egypt in 2008.

Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on Feb. 10 and in a subsequent interview with Al-Monitor, Khattab pointed to the Jan. 26 decision by an appellate court to convict a doctor, Raslan Halawa, of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 13-year-old girl, Soheir al-Batea, as a result of complications following genital cutting. While Halawa's sentence was relatively light — two years in prison with hard labor — the conviction “was a big victory for women,” Khattab said, in a society where 66% of women still endure this practice.

According to Khattab, women’s rights regressed under the administration of President Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted in 2013 by the military backed by a popular movement. Sisi, Khattab said, has signaled his support for women by appointing one as his national security adviser, naming three women deputy governors and visiting the female victim of a sexual assault as his first act after taking office last June.

Sisi “spares no occasion to recognize the efforts of women,” Khattab said. “Women are particularly supportive of Sisi … and I think he’s determined to pay back women by restoring their rights.”

However, the woman appointed national security adviser — Faiza Abou el-Naga — has a record of suppressing independent human rights organizations, accusing them of being tools of foreign governments. Her appointment was also interpreted as a slap against the United States and an effort by Sisi to rebalance Egyptian foreign policy, as also evidenced by his welcoming of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Cairo on Feb. 10.

Moreover, it is hard to separate women’s rights from human rights and there, the Sisi record leaves much to be desired, said Michelle Dunne, an Egypt expert at the Carnegie Endowment who was expelled by Egyptian authorities when she arrived at Cairo airport to attend a conference last year.

While Khattab expressed hope that a large number of women would run in parliamentary elections this spring and that overall turnout would be robust, Dunne noted that several important Islamist and secular liberal parties — including the Dostour party, which is led by a woman — have decided to boycott the vote.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has been outlawed, although Khattab said Brotherhood supporters could still run as individuals. Under the current electoral law, 80% of the seats in parliament will go to individuals and 20% to party lists. While there is no overall quota for women, Khattab said that three women must be included on each party list. She predicted that women would comprise at least 9-10% of the next parliament and as much as 12-15%.

Major international organizations that usually monitor elections are going to be absent, however, and it is hard to imagine “a free media atmosphere,” Dunne told Al-Monitor, given the sycophancy lately expressed toward Sisi by the Egyptian press. She noted the growing polarization of Egyptian society between supporters of the government and those sympathetic to the Brotherhood and banned leftist groups that led the January 25 Revolution against President Hosni Mubarak.

Although Egypt recently freed an Australian working for Al Jazeera, two of his colleagues remain jailed along with thousands of other political prisoners. More than 2,000 people have died at the hands of police in Egypt since 2013 and the country has been plagued by terrorist attacks by Islamist radicals.

In one of the most shocking recent incidents, a young female poet, Shaimaa el-Sabbagh, was shot and killed Jan. 24 while walking to Tahrir Square to lay flowers in honor of those who died in the 2011 revolution and subsequent protests.

Following a public outcry, Sisi offered condolences to the young woman’s family and promised a thorough investigation. Press reports Feb. 10 said that police have identified Sabbagh’s killer but did not say who that person was.

“Whoever has committed this will be put on trial and brought to justice,” Khattab told Al-Monitor.

Asked about the high level of violence that has afflicted Egyptian society since 2011, including the increase in sexual harassment of women, Khattab said “every Egyptian asks this question” and conceded that the authoritarian nature of society under Mubarak may have bottled up much hostility and frustration.

“At the end of the day, it’s good to have everything out and deal with it rather than keep it suppressed,” she said.

Looking back over the wild swings in Egyptian politics over the past four years, Khattab said, “Egyptians now are drained” and are looking for a return to stability and law and order. “It’s a transitional period and life is still not 100% normal,” she told Al-Monitor. “We’re still living a revolution and it’s not over yet.”