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Caliphate Attracts Women from the West

New Age Islam News Bureau

15 Jul 2014

Birthday celebrations: To mark her 17th birthday, Malala blew out candles on a cake with Nigerian activists


 Kurdish Teenager's 'Honour Killing' Fades To Memory As Iraq Violence Swells

 Nuns and Young Chaldeans Detained In Mosul Have Been Freed

 Lankan Muslim Women Begin Wearing Coloured Abayas

 Malala Calls to Free Schoolgirls As She Marks Her 17th Birthday with Trip to Nigeria

 Pakistani Woman Calligraphs Quran in 15 Years

 Women of War: Syria Photos Win Top Paris Prize

 Syria’s Forgotten Women Face Attacks from All Sides

 I'm Glad Pakistani Shows Have A Positive Impact On India: Sanam Saeed

 Fighting With The Pen: Swat’s Education Activists Back Malala Day

 London Mayor Sells Police Station to 'Medieval' Muslim Women's Group

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Caliphate Attracts Women from the West


15 July 2014

LATE last month the mother of Salma and Zahra Halane discovered her twins had gone — and taken their passports. The 16-year-old sisters had hoped to become doctors, but ran away to join the so-called caliphate established by the Islamic State in parts of Iraq and Syria. Police believe they followed their older brother.

Why would two intelligent British girls join a medieval religious sect in an unknown country? Some answers lie online.

Thousands of Western-born Muslims have become radicalised through internet preachers or through social media. So far this has been mainly a male phenomenon, but experts say Islamic State “fangirls” are taking on a more active recruiting role, urging young women to help build a civil society within the caliphate. Up to 40 “fangirls” are active at a time on social media, according to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College London.

Women who have gone to the jihad “set-up on Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram and answer questions such as ‘What’s life like out there?’ or ‘Are you seeing any fighting?’ They say they’re making house or getting married and trying to establish a community network inside the Islamic State.”

Experts are not keen on the term “jihadist bride”, which they see as a media construct to describe a tradition of women going to support their convert husbands.

Usama Hasan, a Cambridge PhD and theologian, cautions that women have always been drawn in equal numbers to men to Islamic extremism. “Back then, women who took up the call did not fight; they did fundraising, or humanitarian convoys, but primarily cooking and cleaning, looking after the men,” he said.

However, since 2011, Dr Hasan has seen more expressions of sympathy for the jihadist brothers from women. Yet the extreme doctrine embraced by the Islamic State is medieval — not just in its attitudes to beheadings but also in its ideas about women. The first the twins are likely to see of their husbands is on their wedding night, after a segregated ceremony. Dr Hasan warns the girls o will be expected to wear the niqab and risk ending up as sex slaves.

“In Syria, Alawite women and Shi’ites, who are seen as non-Muslims by the extremists, are being used as sexual slaves,” he says.

Why are Western-born girls susceptible to the jihadist cause? Many may suffer a profound and understandable identity crisis.

At the inner-city British school where I am a governor there are many Somali girls. Some wear a hijab from the time they are in the nursery. I have often thought how hard it must be for them to live in two immensely different worlds.

Some girls rebel by embracing more Western norms when faced with the idea of an arranged marriage but can be ostracised by their communities. Others respond to the perceived “decadence” of the West. They can then be brainwashed into believing that joining the caliphate or becoming a suicide bomber is the way to be true to their new calling.



Kurdish Teenager's 'Honour Killing' Fades To Memory As Iraq Violence Swells

15 July 2014

DOHUK, Iraq — The child’s body was found lying beneath the trees on the outskirts of Shekhan village. Her young, once beautiful face was missing its right eye; her left breast was cut open.

Dunya, just 15 years old, had been shot nine times with an AK-47 assault rifle. Blades of grass were matted in her blonde ponytail. Dunya’s crime? Her 45-year-old husband suspected she was in love with a boy her own age.

“Dunya was very timid. She wasn’t very social and she didn’t care about fashion,” said her mother Sahom Hassan when asked to describe her daughter, found dead on May 24. “On the day she was killed she called me and said, ‘This is the last time you will hear my voice.’”

In many parts of the world, such a brutal and premeditated slaying is not called murder, but “honour killing.” The perpetrators can be husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles or sons. The ‘crime’ can range from sexual relations outside of marriage, to inappropriate dress or having any kind of contact with a man outside the family.

The term “Honour killing” stems from the belief that a family’s Honour is dependent on the sexual purity of its female members, exempting such crimes from being classified as murder. And in many countries across the Middle East, North Africa and West Asia, the law agrees. While murder is punishable by life imprisonment or execution, there is no minimum charge for Honour crimes in some penal codes and the maximum can be as low as six months.

The United Nations estimates around 5,000 such killings are committed each year worldwide, but data is scarce and women’s rights workers believe the real number to be around four times higher.

“In our societies they look at women as just sex and children. We are not equal in law or in society. We are number two,” said Bahar Muzir, coordinator of Zhyan (meaning ‘Life’ in Kurdish) a group that was formed to lobby the government and the public to end Honour killing in Iraqi Kurdistan and press for justice for victims like Dunya.

Dunya's case became a household topic in Northern Iraq in the weeks following her murder. But as Iraq stands on the brink of a civil war, cases like Dunya’s have faded into the background. In June, a Sunni extremist group now known as the Islamic State seized control of a large chunk of Iraq stretching from the Kurdish borders in the north to the outskirts of Baghdad. Dunya’s case, once prominent, has become buried in the onslaught of violence, as the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq vies for independence.

“Everyone is silent now,” Hassan said in regard to her daughter’s death.

On June 8, two weeks after Dunya’s death, her husband released a video message unashamedly confessing to her murder, saying it was necessary to protect his Honour and adding that anyone in his position would have done the same.

Lawyers for Dunya’s case told GlobalPost they believe three of Yunis’ brothers and his father were also involved in her brutal murder.

Failures of justice

Dunya’s husband, Sleman Zyab Yunis, 45, already had a wife and nine children. His marriage to Dunya, which took place just after Dunya’s 14th birthday, was the result of a family deal.

Relatives and friends of Dunya said that throughout her nine-month marriage she had endured physical and verbal abuse from Yunis, his wife and his children, most of whom were much older than she was.

Her mother said Dunya had once run away from her husband, but after he implored the family to send her back promising things would be different she returned to her deplorable marriage.

“The underlying issue is a lack of equality,” said Muzir as the Zhyan group convened to discuss Dunya’s case last month. “In our society, a woman is seen as the property of her family and then her husband. They are under the control of the males of the household – to give or sell in marriage, to control their conduct and movements. While progressive families may allow more freedom within the home, society does not tolerate women who make their own choices.”

Laws in the Middle East frequently lay down a separate system of justice for men and women. In cases of murder, exemptions are often issued based on the gender of the perpetrator.

For example, Article 418 of the Moroccan Penal Code states that in cases of adultery, "murder, injury and beating are excusable if they are committed by a husband on his wife as well as the accomplice." Under the same legal system, a wife who kills her husband after catching him with a mistress can face charges of first-degree murder.

In Syria, Article 548 states that “he who catches his wife or one of his ascendants, descendants or sister committing adultery or illegitimate sexual acts with another and he killed or injured one or both of them benefits from an exemption of penalty.”

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of these laws do not stem from Islamic Sharia law but rather date back to the Napoleonic Code, which included an exemption for what is frequently termed in the west as a “crime of passion.”

Influence of Napoleonic laws spread throughout the world via colonization.

“These laws come from the perception — that was only recently overcome in our society — that a woman belongs to her family or to her husband,” said academic and national security scholar of the Middle East and Islamic world Sherifa Zuhur.

Some similar exemptions also derive from the Ottoman Code, which has its base in Sharia law. Although sexual crimes such as adultery are punishable by death, according to Islamic law the perpetrator must be tried, accused by four witnesses and the execution carried out by the state.

While legal exemptions to murder were intended for crimes committed in the heat of the moment — much like a crime of passion — cultural beliefs have led to their usage to absolve families in cases of premeditated Honour killing.

In 1990, Saddam Hussein brought this notion directly into the Iraqi penal code by introducing Article 128 that states that murder charges are commutative if committed to “clear the family name or as a response to serious and unjustifiable provocation by the victim."

In 2008, the Kurdish region of Iraq rejected Article 128 along with several other articles used to exonerate men who kill women with Law 14, which states that these articles can no longer be referred to “as a pretext for the clearance of one’s family Honour through act of murder.”

For Dunya, this means that her killers should legally face murder charges. But in reality, the new laws have proved difficult to implement.

“Sometimes customs and tribal laws are stronger than national laws,” said Falah Muradkan-Shaker, a lawyer and project coordinator for women’s rights group WADI. ”In this society it is very difficult. There is not enough awareness, enough knowledge, and enough capacity. These traditions have been practiced for hundreds of years and now overnight it becomes a crime.”

Shaker, who also works as a lawyer representing victims of Honour crime, said obstacles include a lack of investigation by police, judges who still have a tendency to acquit perpetrators and an unwillingness of witnesses and family members to testify against a perpetrator in Honour crimes.

Even with a successful conviction, most are released by pardon decrees within months of their sentencing.

Shaker — who previously spent five years investigating the Iraqi prison system publishing three books on prison conditions and prison reform — said no man has ever served more than a year in Iraq for femicide.

“During my prison research, all the prisoners told me the easiest crime you can commit and get away with is killing a woman,” he said.

While the introduction of these laws is a step in the right direction, Shaker said, due to lack of implementation they are not being taken seriously.

Redefining Honour

In Jordan, recent efforts to change laws pertaining to Honour crimes have done little to change public attitudes toward the practice. A survey conducted among teenagers in Amman last year revealed almost half of the boys and one fifth of the girls believed Honour killing is justified under certain circumstances.

Other nations including Turkey, Egypt, and Lebanon have also either amended laws pertaining to Honour crime or established specific laws that criminalize Honour killing. However, in all of these countries Honour killings continue at an alarming rate. According to Turkey's Human Rights Directorate, there is one Honour killing every week in Istanbul and an average of 200 Honour killing cases reported throughout Turkey annually, accounting for half of the country’s homicides.

“Honour crimes are increasing not decreasing all over the world. Are they being reported more diligently? We don’t know because no one is cross checking with morgues, or investigating disappearances. But clearly the legislation that is in place is ineffective,” Zuhur said during a Skype interview from Cairo.

As women’s rights have increased worldwide, so have Honour killings. Zuhur explained that widening educational opportunities for women globally have increased interaction between the sexes. Social media has provided a further avenue for contact outside the family.

“Families are not able to isolate their daughters in the way they used to,” she said. “This means that women are able to escape the total family control they were subject to years before, but it also means that the families trust them less.”

Greater suspicion has led to accusations and cases of women being killed simply for having a mobile phone or chatting on Facebook. Zuhur referred to an incident in Gaza where a woman was bludgeoned to death by her father because she secretly purchased a Cellphone, which he suspected she was using to talk to a man. The official number of Honour killings in Palestinian territories more than doubled last year to 27 despite numerous protests and public awareness campaigns on the rights of women.

In some countries, the criminalization of Honour killing has simply changed the methods. Zuhur said Honour killings are often staged as accidents or suicide. In some families the task is assigned to minors who will likely serve a minimum sentence if convicted.

In Egypt, families usually act in large groups, Zuhur said, citing one case where 10 male relatives killed a woman and her two daughters for alleged relations outside of marriage and threw their bodies into the Nile. These group murders make a case harder to prosecute, she said, while involving the extended family in the murder reduces the chance of anyone testifying against the perpetrators.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, suicide by self-immolation has replaced Honour killing in many cases. Most often the decision is made by a woman herself either to escape a life of misery or shame, or due to pressure from her family members. The majority of these are reported as accidents. Dunya’s sister-in-law died three years ago in one such incident.

WADI estimates around 10,000 women have burned to death since the Kurdish region gained autonomy in 1991. Just how many of these were suicides is unknown as such cases are never investigated, Shaker said.

But changes in law are also slowly beginning to wield their influence in the courtroom.

Last month, WADI’s Shaker served as prosecutor in the trial of Osman Ali Mohammed who killed his wife in front of their children. Decades before, when Mohammed himself was still a child, his own mother had been killed in a slaying orchestrated by her brothers.

On May 20, he was convicted to 15 years imprisonment for the crime, a breakthrough for women’s rights in Kurdistan.

As Mohammed was removed from the court, he turned toward a small gathering of women, among them Bahar Muzir and other members of Zhyan. He spat threats and abhorrent insults at the women vowing he would not serve his time, and would exact revenge against each of them.

His words were a harsh reminder that despite this successful sentencing, women’s rights in the Middle East have a long road ahead, and for the brave women of Zhyan, it is a life-threatening struggle.

“Every time after these cases we receive calls. We don’t know who these people are but we get threatened many many times. They say they will kill us, rape us, everything,” Muzir said.

Within two hours of a recent television interview Muzir gave on women’s rights, she said around 1,000 posts were made on social media of her picture condemning and threatening her. But despite the danger, the women say the work they do is crucial.

“Sometimes it is scary, but we are a big group and I think if we stand together we can protect each other,” said Shanga Rahim Karim, a courageous young member of Zhyan, who continues to lobby for justice in Dunya's case.

“If I am killed, then I will die for an important cause, and I know this group will make a big noise and make awareness for all women on my behalf.”



Nuns and young Chaldeans detained in Mosul have been freed

15 July 2014

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - "I am overjoyed at the release of the two sisters and three orphans" because it is "finally some good news" in a context of war, violence and division, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church Mar Louis Raphael I Sako tells AsiaNews.

He was commenting on the news of the release of Sister Atur, Sister Miskinta and the three young children who were seized on June 28 last. Their captors were linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, Sunni jihadists linked to al-Qaeda), which now declares itself the army of the Islamic caliphate.

The two Chaldean nuns belong to the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate which ran a foster home for abandoned and orphaned children in Mosul, near the Chaldean Archbishopric.

Speaking to AsiaNews His Beatitude confides his "joy" at the "good news".  The Patriarch explains that "contacts were established by the people of the city", who helped "in obtaining their release".  The sisters and the orphans, adds Mar Sako, were held "in a house in Mosul, but they were treated well, they were all together. The sisters feared for the safety of the girls, but there were no problems".

The Chaldean Patriarch said that the sisters spent "17 days of captivity praying for their release and for peace in Iraq." According Mar Sako money was not paid in exchange for their release, but the Islamists " just took their car, a new pick-up". "The sisters are relieved and happy - says His Beatitude - they have taken their personal belongings and returned to Dohuk," in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they found refuge on having to flee their convent.

In recent days, the Chaldean archbishop of the city, Msgr. Shimoun Emil Nona, had launched an appeal for their release, while calling for extreme caution to safeguard the lives of the hostages. From the of - Mosul was the first to fall - at least 500 thousand people, Christians and Muslims, have fled Iraq's second largest city under  creating a serious humanitarian, economic and political crisis. The bishop has confirmed that, for the release of the hostages, "no ransom was paid."

The news of the release of the nuns, however, comes amid a climate of war, divisions and violence. Parliament is seeking a difficult mediation between the various fronts, but aspirations for autonomy - particularly in Iraqi Kurdistan - are becoming stronger.

UN sources report that, in the month of June alone, at least 2417 Iraqis, including 1513 civilians, have died "in acts of violence or terrorism." Over one million people have fled their homes because of fighting between the army and Islamist militias. It is the worst crisis since December 2011, when U.S. troops left the country; the death toll does not include those of Anbar province, in the hands of Sunni militiamen.,-%E2%80%9Cthey-are-well-31622.html



Lankan Muslim women begin wearing coloured abayas

By Frances Bulathsinghala

15 July 2014

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Muslim women are beginning to give up wearing the black abaya in favour of the garment of other colours.

Early this week the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL) began a campaign to distribute coloured abayas.

“There has been a positive response to our project to give abayas of different colours in exchange for black abayas. Within a short time, 1200 abayas have been exchanged. In another week, we hope to cross 2,000,” said Hilmy Ahamed, vice president of the council.

The project is currently confined to Colombo and other urban areas.

Since the rise of powerful anti-Muslim organisations like Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) in 2010, Lankan Muslim organisations have been trying to negate the anti-Muslim feelings, generated at least partly by the Muslims’ adoption of Arab culture in place of local culture.

The Muslim council denies that men are imposing colourful abayas on orthodox women and states that the idea of switching to other colours came from Muslim women during recent consultations on steps to take to encourage ethnic harmony.



Malala Calls to Free Schoolgirls As She Marks Her 17th Birthday with Trip to Nigeria

15 July 2014

Malala Yousafzai has marked her 17th birthday by visiting Nigeria to call for the release of the 219 schoolgirls still in the grip of Boko Haram militants.

The Pakistani teenager has also persuaded Nigeria's president Goodluck Jonathan to meet the girls' parents for the first time.

'My birthday wish this year is "Bring Back Our Girls" now and alive,' she said, three months after the extremist group abducted almost 300 women and girls in the northeast town of Chibok.

Malala became an international figurehead for women's rights in the face of hard-line Islam after surviving a Taliban assassination attempt in 2012.

It is the first major international summit on the matter since former prime minister Gordon Brown visited Abuja in May.

Now, she is using her position in a bid to free the 219 girls still missing.

Visiting some of the few who have escaped their captors, Malala appealed directly to Boko Haram.

'Lay down your weapons. Release your sisters. Release my sisters. Release the daughters of this nation. Let them be free. They have committed no crime.'

She added: 'You are misusing the name of Islam... the Quran teaches brotherhood.'

Malala, who is now based in Birmingham with her family, also spoke against the custom of child brides in her home country, a tradition common in Nigeria, too.

Boko xaram has threatened to sell some of the girls as brides if its fighters are not freed.

'Protect girls from cruelty,' she said in her annual Malala Day speech, saying girls should not be forced to marry or to leave school to become brides 'when they should be girls,' or to give birth to children 'when they themselves are children'.

Today, Malala met with Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan and told reporters that the president 'promised me that the girls will be returned as soon as possible.'

She also appealed to the Nigerian government to dedicate more money to education and to drastically reduce the hundreds of thousands of children who are out of school throughout the country, not just in the area targeted by Boko Haram.

The group's name means 'Western education is sinful'. Boko Haram wants to enforce an Islamic state in Nigeria, whose 170 million people are almost equally divided between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north.

Describing an emotional meeting with some of the girls' parents on Sunday, she said: 'I could see tears in their eyes. They were hopeless. But they seem to have this hope in their hearts,' and they were asking if they could meet the president.

Jonathan has not met with any of the parents, though some regularly make the dangerous drive from Chibok to join activists who have held daily rallies in Abuja.

When the activists tried to march peacefully to the presidential villa in May, they were blocked by soldiers and police.

Jonathan cancelled a planned trip to Chibok that same month.

On Monday, he told Malala that criticism that his government is not doing enough 'is very wrong and misplaced,' according to a presidential statement.

'The great challenge in rescuing the Chibok girls is the need to ensure that they are rescued alive,' he said, insisting his government is 'very actively pursuing all feasible options' to achieve their safe return.

Branding the crisis 'Africa's Dunblane', Gordon Brown berated world leaders for failing to act quickly to retrieve the Chibok girls.

Mr Brown met with President Jonathan and the governors of state where the girls went missing.

He said: 'Nigeria is facing a moment of truth, when terrorists are trying to engineer a civil war and seeking to prevent girls from ever going to school under their theme that western education is a sin.'

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau put out a new video Sunday in which he repeated demands that the government release detained insurgents in exchange for the girls' freedom.

'Nigerians are saying "Bring Back Our Girls", and we are telling Jonathan to bring back our arrested warriors, our army,' he said in the video, which was obtained by the AP through similar channels used for previous messages.

Jonathan so far has refused, despite pleas from the parents.

Boko Haram attacks continued over the weekend.

Witnesses claim the group bombed a major bridge on a northeast Nigerian highway that further limits access to its base camps in the Sambisa Forest, where it is believed to be holding some of the girls.

Gunmen destroyed most of the bridge on the road between Maiduguri and Biu on Saturday night, making it impossible for vehicles to cross.



Pakistani woman calligraphs Quran in 15 years

15 July 2014

LONDON: A Pakistani woman has made history by writing the Holy Book of Quran with her hands in beautiful calligraphy to send a message of peace and spirituality in response to the rising level of Islamophobia and racism.

Farkhanda Pervaiz, who is originally from Pakistan, has been living in London since 1992. She decided to write the Qur’an al Kareem with her hand to indulge herself into spirituality and to get a closer connection and feel with the Holy Book as well as the Creator.

It was a sad turning in her life when her husband died over 15 years ago and not only left a vacuum in her life. She was left on her own to deal with lots of issues including raising up three young children without any help. In times of turmoil, she took solace in turning to the Holy Book and decided to start writing the Quran with her own hands in spare time to produce a deeper relationship with the Holy Book.

Farkhanda Pervaiz is a practicing Muslim and her work challenges the stereotype of the Muslim woman as portrayed in the media in general and especially the narrative that has been set about Muslim women all over the world. A Pakistani woman who defied many challenges thrown her way, she is an inspiration to all Muslim women who have found it difficult to deal with the societal pressures.

Her two sons live and work in London and have helped their mother in the accomplishment of her work.

“It took me almost 15 years to complete writing the Holy Book of Quran. This was a project that I loved with my life and I didn’t need to rush it as there was no pressure. It was something between myself and my Allah. It was my desire to write the Holy Quran but I would like to say that it is entirely blessing from the Almighty Allah,” she told The News in an interview.

She said she did not face any problems at all during these years.

“That was my peaceful, spiritual time I enjoyed very much during that period. I had faced many problems when my husband passed away but all my problems were resolved when I turned to the Holy Book. Allah is the best of all helpers and it is through connecting with the Holy Quran that we can have all our problems resolved in the best possible manner.

The hand-written Holy Quran weighs over 20 kilograms and has been adorned in beautiful colours. All pages have been protected with transparent covers. Farkhanda Pervaiz has set up a separate small room where the Holy Book has been kept in safety.

Now she wants to send the Holy Book to Madina in Saudi Arabia. “It is my desire and request to my Almighty Allah that help me to send it to Saudi Arabia. That’s where it belongs to and I will be very relieved once it has been taken there.”

She says that every human should obey the law of their creator Almighty Allah and his all messengers “who came with true laws for the humanity for peace and harmony in this world.

Her passion to write the Holy Book was fuelled when she saw the extremely negative portrayal of Muslims in the western media and society, especially after the blasphemous cartoons were printed and negative articles were written about the last Prophet (PBUH). But instead of becoming negative or turning to pessimism, she went on to embark on a spiritual journey.

“Everywhere in this world there is a negative portrayal of Muslims because Muslims have turned away from the teaching of their Lord and their Holy Book Quran. This is our fault. We cannot blame others for our own shortcomings.”



Women of War: Syria photos win top Paris prize

15 July 2014

In March last year when photographer Sebastiano Tomada braved his chances and travelled to Aleppo, the heart of the uprising against the Assad regime, the world was astounded at what he had discovered.

At the core of this bloody civil war in the centre of the conservative Islamic Middle East, an exclusively female Kittiba - Arabic for battalion- had taken up arms against the regime, The Daily Mail reported on Monday.

The photographs he captured were front-cover news throughout the West. And now, almost 18 months later, his efforts have been acknowledged with the Medaille d’Or from the Prix de la Photographie Paris.

Tomada held a rendezvous with the women fighters, some of them clutching their children, in an undisclosed command post inside Aleppo.

Many of them felt compelled to fight in vengeance of husbands killed in action, many chose to fight to regain their humility following the injustices dealt out by the regime and loyalist troops.

According to the Daily Mail report, one of them, Om Ahmad, a 72-year-old mother-of-three, told him how she had fled with her children to Aleppo after her home in Dara'a was destroyed by bombers.

'I chose to pick up a weapon and fight the regime,' she said.

For another woman among the fighters, Benifet Ikhla, a 27-year-old widowed by the fighting, her motivation was equality for women. 'I fight for life and freedom, I fight to prove that woman and man are equal,' she said.

A third, Fadwa, a widowed mother-of-three aged just 20, was more fatalistic. She said: 'My husband died on the front lines, I will die on the front lines, may God help us.'

In March around 150 women had enlisted with the katiba, according to a monitoring group they were playing a key role in the fierce fighting around the city, The Daily Mail reported.

During spring 2013, the rebels looked like they may have a decisive victory over regime forces in Aleppo. But the absence of unity among various rebel battalions, who extended from the generally secular Free Syrian Army - with whom the women were affiliated - to the outwardly Islamist al-Nusra front, made cooperation and unified resistance difficult.

When the regime, augmented by fighters from the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, threw its counter-attack in late March, divisions amongst the rebels became hard to gloss over, while atrocities committed by more extremist-leaning groups erased their public backing.

Last month the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that as many as 7,000 people have been killed in rebel infighting since January alone, including some 650 civilians caught in the crossfire.



Syria’s Forgotten Women Face Attacks from All Sides

15 July 2014

With over 100,000 casualties, 2.6 million refugees and 6 million people internally displaced, Syrians attempting to escape violence have discovered a life of meager wages and hardship. However, for the women of the Syrian conflict, life has become exponentially harder, with threats of physical violence, sexual assault and even death becoming increasingly common.

A new Human Rights Watch report details the lives of 17 Syrian women affected by the ongoing regional war. For many, they face a double-edged sword. Hundreds of thousands of men have been arrested, killed or have gone off to fight the government, leaving the women responsible for providing for their families–yet clampdowns from all sides have made it increasingly dangerous for women to do so.

One woman interviewed by Human Rights Watch known as Layal describes her detention by Bashar al Assad’s Special Forces, and how she escaped to a camp which offered a fresh set of dangers.

During her detention, she was stripped, tortured in stress positions, molested and forced to perform oral sex more than once. When she was finally freed during an Iranian prisoner swap, she fled the country. In the refugee camp she tried to speak out about her experience, however she was soon silenced by the women around her who warned that her past assault could mark her as an already ‘ruined’ target for sexual violence.

Part of the problem stems from the extreme Islamist factions that feed off vulnerable men and women in the camps. One woman called Berivan speaks of moving to a camp in Southern Damascus called Yarmouk. Along with a friend, they opened a pharmacy and started providing medical assistance to those hurt during intra-government fighting. However, when extreme Islamist groups began to gain power in Yarmouk, militants began pestering Berivan for not wearing a hijab (headscarf), not being married, and being out on the front lines stitching up men by herself.

When she refused to stop Liwa’ al-Islam, a local Islamist group, took her captive. She was held for 10 days, and only let go after a hunger strike turned into violent illness. After her release she begun wearing the hijab, but even that wasn’t good enough for extremist groups. She recalls ISIS threatening her for not wearing an abaya (a long loose fitting dress), promising to hang her if they found in western clothes again. She fled to Turkey soon after to escape these militants. However, she laments that, “the worst part is, it wasn’t even the regime who arrested me”. She had spent her time stitching many of these men’s wounds only to have them turn on her in the end.

Another humanitarian named Roula who took up residence in a Turkish refugee camp would cross the Turkish-Syrian border on a daily basis to bring education and help to women and children in need. After the takeover of ISIS her job became especially precarious, due to their strict Islamic interpretations. However, Roula was clever enough to use their logic against them. “I said, ‘in the camps there are women and children without men. It is improper for you to go and talk to them. Let us do it.”

ISIS agreed, but continued to impose harsh penalties on women, forcing them not only to take hijab but full niqab (the face covering). Most women in Syria didn’t dream of wearing niqab before the war, and non-hijabis were common in cities such as Aleppo and Damascus. But after the ISIS take-over, strict dress codes were enforced under threat of violence and even death.

ISIS has also instituted rules stating no woman can go out alone without a close male family member, a law that never existed in Syria before. For women who have lost their entire family, they must find a way to evade ISIS rules while still providing a livelihood for themselves.

In refugee camps, women often take on roles as caretakers, teachers and nurses. However, as much as their assistance is needed, the danger associated with these humanitarian actions has put their lives at risk. Facing attacks from the Government and extremist Islamist groups alike, Syrian women have become just another forgotten casualty in this ongoing struggle.



I'm Glad Pakistani Shows Have A Positive Impact On India: Sanam Saeed

15 July 2014

Pakistani model and actor Sanam Saeed said she was glad that Pakistani shows were having a positive impact on people in India – which was the same effect they had on people in Pakistan.

In an interview with the Times of India, Saeed, who was has been associated with Pakistan’s entertainment industry in various avatars, said she did not understand why India and Pakistan were considered different nations when there was so much of similarity between the two countries stressing that both countries were indeed one nation.

The 29-year-old was grateful and happy that Zindagi Gulzar Hai, the drama where she enacted the role of a girl from the lower middle-class, was the first serial which broke the ice across the borders in recent times.

"India uses Bollywood, rather cinema, to tell its stories. It is one of the largest filmmaking nations in the world and so your talents get to tell stories about politics, love and drama through films. In Pakistan, our medium is the small screen.

"We don't make many films, and hardly have theatres. A majority of people seek entertainment while sitting at home and TV gives it to them, so we excel on that part," Sanam said.

The British-born actor, who shifted to Karachi at the age of six, also said that she selected roles which showcased a woman’s struggle.

Elaborating on how the people in Pakistan only had TV as a form of entertainment, she said she tried to do shows which had inspirational value and enacted characters that could be role models for young girls and help change people’s perspective.



Fighting with the pen: Swat’s education activists back Malala Day

15 July 2014

MINGORA: Education activists in Swat vowed to join Malala Yousafzai’s campaign to promote schooling for girls in the region and announced July 14, 2014 as the day they would renew their efforts.

July 14 is being celebrated as Malala Day worldwide and is being called a ‘day of action on girls’ education and girls rights’.

Corresponding with The Express Tribune via email, Asfandyar Mir, on behalf of the Malala Fund, said that awareness campaigns for girls’ rights would be launched on July 14 in areas where they are most ignored.

Ahmed Shah, the President of Global Peace Council, called Malala a symbol of peace and women’s education around the world. “We feel proud that a young girl from Swat has taken the responsibility of all the girls in the world. We follow Malala in her aim of saying no to weapons, extremism and terrorism and yes to literacy, education and peace in the entire world,” he said.



London Mayor Sells Police Station to 'Medieval' Muslim Women's Group

15 July 2014

London's Metropolitan Police has sold one of its disused stations to an organisation run by a hard-line Islamic scholar with what her critics call a "medieval view of human rights and women's place in society".

Dr Farhat Hashmi, who has PhD in Hadith Sciences from the University of Glasgow, founded and runs Al-Huda International, which operates Islamic education programmes for young Muslim women across the world.

Hashmi and her organisation say they are progressive feminists who empower Muslim women by helping them to understand and interpret the Quran in order to use it to assert their rights under the Islamic faith.

But those who have experienced classes taught by her organisation, from Canada to Pakistan to the UK, claim she advocates an outdated and oppressive form of Islam that incorporates the likes of jihad, polygamy and subservience to husbands.

Boris Johnson, under the auspices of The Mayor of London Office for Police and Crime (Mopac) has sold a former police station in Chadwell Heath, Redbridge, northeast London, for £1m to Al-Huda Welfare Foundation, the UK branch of Hashmi's global organisation, which it said will be used for "education/community" purposes.

When the claims were put to a representative of Al-Huda, they told IBTimes UK that Hashmi's critics have misinterpreted her teachings.

Shazia Nawaz, a regional coordinator at Al-Huda, said Hashmi is not using the definition of jihad that of religious warfare commonly understood in the West.

"If she talks about jihad, it's mainly in context of struggling against evil, which lies within ourselves to become a good human, a disciplined person, a civilised citizen and to struggle to revive the humanitarian spirit in people and community around us," Nawaz said.

And in the past Hashmi has denied promoting polygamy per se. Instead she said she teaches the word of the Quran, which is that if "a man has relations with a woman outside of marriage, the Quran orders him to marry her".

Mopac had not replied to IBTimes UK's request for comment on why it had sold off a public asset to the controversial Al-Huda.

"My gripe with Hashmi is that she is spreading a very retrograde and obscurantist brand of Islam," said Farzana Hassan, a columnist for the Toronto Star in Canada.

Hassan is also a former president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, an organisation that had previously raised concerns about the influential scholar, and she has also attended some of Hashmi's lectures.

"Women gravitate towards her because they are either disillusioned with their life in the West, or they want their daughters to be protected from what they perceive to be the moral laxity of the West," Hassan said.

"Her network is large and growing because her graduates then go out and spread the word to other recruits. I am very upset because many Muslim women here are defending a medieval view of human rights and women's place in society."

Graduates of the one-year Al-Huda diploma are encouraged to go out into the world and set up their own hubs and spread the organisation's reach. Founded in Hashmi's Pakistan home in 1994, it now operates in around 200 sites.

Hashmi insists that she just teaches what it says in the Quran and allows her students to draw their own conclusions without any coercion.

Too liberal

Hashmi pitches herself as a progressive Islamic scholar and a feminist. Her supporters say she gives female Muslims the power to understand and interpret the Quran in order to use it to assert certain rights under their religion.

But her own interpretation of the Quran is criticised as ultra-conservative. For example, she believes that women Muslims must cover their hair and upper bodies entirely – such as with a hijab or a burqa – because they must hide their beauty from men.

So the rights assumed by her students can only work within the strict and traditionalist Quranic framework Hashmi advocates, which forbids many of the women's rights taken for granted across Western liberal democracies.

Hashmi has, however, faced criticism from both sides of the debate.

As a woman who has been educated through university rather than the madrassas – Pakistani Islamic schools from which students graduate as clerics – she is criticised by traditional male Muslim scholars for her background. They attack her interpretation of the Quran for being too liberal.

"She teaches peace, self-grooming, building strong family ties and strengthening of bond with spouse and children based on love mercy and compassion," said Al-Huda's Nawaz.

"Her teaching has given women empowerment to stand for herself, know her rights and fulfil them properly and tactfully with wisdom. She believes and teaches balance approach in families, like myself since me and my husband started listening to her lectures.

"Our married life became more stable and compassionate. We don't have kids but my husband is never interested in getting married again."

Hashmi has also defended herself in the past.

"I don't force anyone to do anything," she told Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail in 2005, when its reporter confronted her with the criticism of her teachings. "They don't have to listen to me if they don't want to."

According to a report in Canadian magazine Maclean's, Hashmi focuses on "young Westernised women from moneyed families who had hitherto preferred a pair of jeans to the hijab" and she "became famous [for] converting them to a stricter form of Islam".

'Old-fashioned Islamic traditions'

A former student of Hashmi, who studied at Al-Huda schools in Canada and Pakistan, told IBTimes UK that the Islamic scholar's pupils often became "obsessive" about her.

"I don't like the school at all. I never liked Farhat Hashmi. I didn't find her to be a sincere woman. She's arrogant," said Laylah, who lives in the UK and wanted to remain anonymous.

"In Pakistan, I've spoken to girls who have walked into their own houses and she's come around for tea and they're rubbing her feet.

"She does have very old-fashioned Islamic traditions and they do teach it all over London."

In one of Hashmi's books, Laylah said the theologian recounts some advice she had given to a Muslim woman with a marital problem.

The lady's husband would not let her look after her unwell parents and she wanted Hashmi's advice on how to handle the situation. Hashmi said she had to obey her husband's wishes.

On her personal website, there is a page that lists "Tips on how to be a successful wife". One of those is for wives to "Remember that your husband is the head of the family and as long as obedience to him does not entail any sin, it is your duty to obey him".

"She's really controversial in Pakistan. She is a traditionalist, so anything that comes underneath the tradition of Islam," Laylah said.

"The only difference between her and the male scholars is that she allows the female students to be able to teach it and to be able to interpret it to their own will. She is very masculine, if that makes sense. She is very patriarchal."

'Immoral activities'

Hashmi's teachings, issued in lectures beamed to classes all over the world, have created controversy before.

A 2005 article in The Globe and Mail reported comments made by Hashmi about a 2005 earthquake in Kashmir that cost the lives of 100,000 people.

"The people in the area where the earthquake hit were involved in immoral activities, and God has said that he will punish those who do not follow his path," Hashmi said during a lecture in Toronto, at which a reporter was present.

A recording of a separate lecture by Amina Elahi of Al-Huda, which is carried on Hashmi's personal website, echoes this worldview.

According to Elahi, Allah is the earth's landlord and the "only rent he asks for is that we thank him. That we acknowledge him. That we worship and obey him."

"When we fail to do this, when we turn our backs on him, when we forget him and thus forget ourselves, what happens is that we open ourselves up to calamity," she says.

"What's happening in the world today, environmentally, look at the global warming, look at the increase in hurricanes, increase in earthquakes, floods, and all these natural disasters.

"And what does this denote? That mankind was busy gobbling up the resources of the earth without thanking the landlord is now paying the price for this neglect.

"And Allah is showing us that if you don't want to pay the rent, then I don't need to maintain this accommodation. Wake up people."


In one online interview with Hashmi from 2001, she says the husband has the right to chastise his wife – even physically – if she has been unfaithful.

In the same interview, she also claims she has "no agenda to take away women's rights".

But she adds: "Peace in the home depends on the woman and that aspect should not be ignored at the cost of working outside the home. A woman's role as a home-maker should not be sacrificed at the altar of ambition."

And she said she does not propagate jihad to her students, though the reason is ostensibly because they are female and the time is not right.

"I have even been called a kafir [unbeliever] because I do not propagate jihad," Hashmi said.

"I teach women – are they going to go and fight? Anyway, there are many things that need to be done before thinking of jihad."