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

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Court Clears Way for Zunera Ishaq to Become a Canadian Citizen with Her Face Covered By a Niqab

New Age Islam News Bureau

16 Sept 2015

Zunera Ishaq can wear a Niqab while taking her citizenship oath, in Ottawa on Tuesday, September 15, 2015.


 Nigerian Army Rescues Dozen Women, Children from Boko Haram

 Femen's Topless Condescension towards Muslim Women Only Helps Sexism

 British Muslim Mums Are Key to Stopping Their Daughters Becoming 'Jihadi Brides'

 Women Moving Independently ‘Being Stabbed’ In Sahiwal, Pakistan

 Saudi Female Student Attacked In Dublin

 Divorce Rights Still Elusive for Afghan Women

 Saudi Women Artists Throw Light on Their Work at Jeddah Event

 ‘Saudi Diplomat’s Wife, Daughter Abused Gurgaon, India, Police’

 Afghan Women 'Gaining Skills' In Creative Writing Project

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Court Clears Way for Zunera Ishaq to Become a Canadian Citizen with Her Face Covered By a Niqab

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press | September 15, 2015 5

OTTAWA — A Federal Court of Appeal panel has dismissed a government appeal over a ban on face coverings at citizenship ceremonies in what amounts to a major policy rebuke of the Harper government.

The three justices ruled from the bench, saying they wanted to proceed quickly so that Zunera Ishaq, the woman who initially challenged the ban, can obtain her citizenship in time to vote in the Oct. 19 federal election.

Ishaq, a 29-year-old woman with devout Muslim beliefs who came to Ontario from Pakistan in 2008, refused to take part in a citizenship ceremony because she would have to show her face.

The swift ruling left Ishaq speechless, although she said she looks forward to casting her ballot.

One of her lawyers, Maryls Edwardh, said the Immigration Department would be contacted this week so she could attend a citizenship ceremony — accompanied by her lawyers “just in case.”

The Harper government’s rule banning face coverings at such ceremonies was earlier found unlawful by the Federal Court.

Justice Department lawyer Peter Southey argued unsuccessfully that the lower court justice made errors in his original decision to overturn the ban.

Appeal Justice Mary Gleason said the court had no reason to interfere with the earlier ruling.

The ban on face coverings sparked a bitter debate in the House of Commons when it was first announced.

At Tuesday’s half-day hearing in Ottawa, a Justice Department lawyer told court that the government never meant to make it mandatory for women to remove their face coverings for citizenship ceremonies — a position that left both the judge and Ishaq’s lawyers scratching their heads.

The admission appeared to be a climb-down from the Conservative government’s past position on the issue.

The controversial edict was a regulation that had no actual force in law, Justice Department lawyer Peter Southey told a Federal Court of Appeal hearing.

“It indicates a desire in the strongest possible language,” Southey said — an argument that appeared to come as a surprise to Justice Johanne Trudel.

“I cannot see how this is not mandatory,” Trudel said during the hearing.

Southey later told the court that the immigration minister was conceding that he “could not impose a mandatory rule in a guideline” for the purposes of this appeal.

Lorne Waldman, the lawyer for the woman at the centre of the case, dismissed Southey’s argument, saying everyone from former immigration minister Jason Kenney , his successor Chris Alexander and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper have said in public they see it as a mandatory policy.

Reading from internal government emails, Waldman told court there was not “one iota of discretion” within the policy.

“Everything says mandatory, no discretion — that’s the facts of the case.”

The controversial case focuses on whether a Muslim woman should be required to remove her face covering to take the oath of citizenship.

Outside court, Ishaq questioned the federal government’s new line.

“If it’s not mandatory I would simply say, why they are fighting for it? Just let me go,” she said.

I can’t even make sense of the statement — what the lawyer said about it that it’s not mandatory. If it’s not mandatory, so why that all this fuss is for?”



Nigerian Army rescues dozen women, children from Boko Haram

September 16, 2015

London: The Nigerian Army has rescued at least 12 women and children captives from Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, said officials.

According to The Guardian, military spokesman Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman said that the army cleared the camps of the militant group in north-eastern state of Borno.

However, none of the 219 girls abducted in April 2014 from a school in Chibok were among those rescued.

Hundreds of hostages have been freed from the captivity of Boko Haram in 2015. (ANI)



Femen's Topless Condescension Towards Muslim Women Only Helps Sexism

16 September 2015

In an old parable, some people gather in a dark room in which there’s an elephant. They’re asked to describe it. One, who can touch only the elephant’s trunk, argues the elephant is like a tree branch. The one who can only feel its tail claims the elephant is like a rope. The people begin to argue amongst themselves about what is correct, and the parable reveals its wisdom when someone lights a candle and all see the elephant – and their incomplete perception – for what it really was.

Such judgements, that are as adamant as they are ignorant, are nothing new to humanity. But they play out with startling frequency when discussing Muslim women.

The latest antics of Femen at a French Muslim conference allegedly discussing wife-beating and proper womanly pursuits are a case in point. Running on stage in front of the two shocked male speakers after tearing off the abayas they had worn as a disguise, they stripped to the waist with slogans such as “I am my own prophet” and “no one subjugates me” scrawled across their naked torsos. They then shouted at the crowd until they were forcibly removed by security.

What is most troubling about this event is not the outrageously condescending attitude of Femen, nor the reported appalling sexism of the some of the Muslims involved: it is that these two voices are once again propped up as the only two in the conversation. It is as if one can only be either a Muslim who loves misogyny as a religious duty, or an orientalist feminist who hates Islam. There is no other option.

Forcing the discourse into such a binary is not only myopic, but factually incorrect. I’ve researched the way Muslim women fight sexism within the Muslim community, and to the shock of many non-Muslims, my research showed that far from being a recent practice borrowed from the west, Muslim women had been standing up for themselves since the advent of Islam.

Aisha, the prophet’s wife, lacerated her male contemporaries with, “You make women worse than animals?!” for believing (wrongly) their prayers were nullified if a woman walked in front of them during worship. It was a woman who challenged, and beat, the second Caliph in a debate in the mosque about women’s financial rights in marriage. And today, lawyers like Asifa Qureshi use blisteringly strong sharia arguments to fight against rulings that punish rape victims in Pakistan and call for the stoning of women in Nigeria.

Far from seeing Islam as a barrier to liberation, a majority of the women in my investigations use Islam to help them in their fight against sexism and shockingly, many named Muslim men (husbands, fathers, teachers) as some of the biggest supporters of their endeavours.

When I’ve told non-Muslims about my findings, they were often baffled, even infuriated. The belief that women can pursue advancement and emancipation as Muslims will be dismissed by many as a kind of “false consciousness”, so certain are they that there is only one way to understand the issue.

But this is simply a function of people’s own fumbling in the dark over a small piece of elephant, all the while trumpeting their grasp of absolute truth.

Of course the scourge of sexism exists within Muslim communities and societies, just as it does in every community. The very fact that there are Muslim women fighting against it proves that we are not in denial. Yet Femen, for all its self-righteous stripping and screaming about women’s rights, is actually in the same ideological camp as the misogynist Muslims they rail against.

Both reinforce the idea of a “real” sexist Islam, an idea to which the broader public conversation so often unquestioningly gives support.

But the stories of Muslim women, in my research and beyond, show there is a third way, and there always has been. It’s a belief in an Islam that is egalitarian and empowering to women, and is strongly rooted in authentic, classical interpretations of the faith.

It isn’t just the Islam of a lucky few women who grew up in the west in the last 50 years, but women and men through Islamic history in countless Muslim communities across the planet who firmly believed that gender justice was a divine mandate. And if people actually spoke to Muslim women, instead of about them, as the incident at the conference in France perfectly encapsulates, this would be known.

And so while the fable about the elephant raises an important point about opinions based on limited information, I have to wonder: what if instead of someone lighting a candle but still ultimately relying on their own opinions, the people asked the elephant: tell me who you are?



British Muslim Mums Are Key to Stopping Their Daughters Becoming 'Jihadi Brides'

16 Sep 2015

The number of women arrested for joining Islamic State from Britain has reached a record high. All the more reason why countering extremism should begin at home.

The number of women arrested for attempting to join the Islamic State from Britain has reached a record high.

Some 35 were arrested under terrorism laws last year, meaning figures have almost doubled in just two years.

Most were suspected of trying to join the terror group in Syria as jihadi brides, helping others to flee or were arrested after being stopped for entering the country.

Earlier this year, three schoolgirls ran away - Amira Abase, Shamima Begum and Kadiza Sultana - from Tower Hamlets after being lured by Isil propaganda, reportedly on social media.

But there are other ways in which young women are being radicalised too.

Just this week, we read about 15-year-old girl Lisa Borch in Denmark who stabbed her mother to death after being influenced by an Islamist boyfriend twice her age and with whom she watched Isil beheading videos.

This growing trend of girls, young women and mothers with young children wanting to become part of Islamic State has alarmed police, community leaders and members of the world’s first counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation, where I am a researcher.

Studies on why women find terrorism appealing have previously focused on religious ideology, romance, online recruitment, and political grievances.

But an area for further examination is the role of the family. To understand this, we have to deconstruct how much of this radicalisation is shaped by a lack of identity.

For young girls, this is rooted in self-worth and self-esteem – the feeling that they don’t fit into the societies they live in, and are not understood by their families or by the religion they are supposed to practice.

The idea of waging jihad in the Middle East gives these individuals an increased sense of agency over their own lives.

Propaganda used by the Islamic State touches on this. The appeal of joining the global jihadist movement and an ‘Islamic utopia’ is conflated, on social media, with a sense of adventure. Propaganda narratives include elements such as brutality, mercy, victimhood, belonging and apocalyptic utopianism.

By entwining these together, Isil can call for women to join a state-building project, where they can serve as mothers and wives in their new ‘home’ - one which they can control completely.

The reality does not match expectation.

• British girls join Islamic State and we dismiss them as ‘jihadi brides’

From left: Kadiza Sultana, Shamima Begum and Amira Abase going through security at Gatwick airport

From left: Kadiza Sultana, Shamima Begum and Amira Abase going through security at Gatwick airport  Photo: Metropolitan Police/PA

A manifesto released by all-women police force set up by Isil - the Al-Khanssaa Brigade - and translated by Quilliam, explicitly states that women are not to be participants of war or perpetrators of violence.

Many jihadi brides have arrived in Syria from Britain only to find that things aren’t as they expected.

Only this week, Islamist jihadist Omar Hussain – formerly a supermarket guard from High Wycombe – complained that his fellow Isil member didn’t know how to queue, ate like children and stole his shoes.

“Arabs as a whole have a unique culture, which differs dramatically from the western lifestyle,” he wrote on a blog.

If those things are 'annoying' imagine what young British jihadi brides are faced with.

It is awareness of this mismatch between reality and fantasy that we must promote among young people at risk of radicalisation.

In understanding that in seeking to join terrorist organisations, many women and girls are simply seeking control over their own lives, we need to stress to them that they also have the ability to inspire positive change in their families and communities by countering extremist ideologies.

• British Muslim girls: 'We’re sick to death of these 'jihadi brides’ going to Syria – it’s disgusting'

Nasser Muthana, centre, in the Isis propaganda video released last week.

Nasser Muthana, centre, in the Isis propaganda video released last week  Photo: REUTERS

A recent report by Women without Borders found that mothers are aware of the sources and dangers of radicalisation – but they are left alone in dealing with the and have little trust in institutions.

We must build on that – so that these mothers are given the authority to intervene within their family and to speak out in public. They need to be encouraged to wield power within their own families.

Establishing a new role for them will then encourage their daughters to do the same.

We must focus on female-based activism: on increasing empowerment, knowledge, and skills to better protect women against extremism - to offer alternatives and build self-confidence.

There is a role for women in community spaces - either within schools, in implementing toolkits, or in extracurricular activities. We need experts to train mothers and other famly members to be able to spot radicalisation and understand what they can do about it.

The aim is to help children in distinguishing between Islam and Islamism - between fact and propaganda. To help them overcome issues of identity and belonging.

Only then will we help young women at risk of extremism create a home of their own, right here in Britain.



Women Moving Independently ‘Being Stabbed’ In Sahiwal, Pakistan


September 16, 2015

SAHIWAL: In at least sixth such incident during the last two weeks, a woman was attacked with a sharp-edged weapon while she was alone on the street.

The latest incident occurred on Monday evening when the wife of Ghulam Husain, a resident of Scheme No 3, was returning home after jogging in Ladies and Children Park in Farid Town.

Like the previous incidents, a motorcyclist intercepted the woman and stabbed her in the chest with a sharp-edged weapon. She received deep cuts and had to be taken to the hospital for dressing and treatment. Out of the six women who were attacked, three would regularly jog in the park.

Farid Town police said no such case was reported.

These attacks have created panic among the women, especially the working ones, the students, regular walkers and those who have to frequently visit markets for buying grocery and shopping alone.

Ms Rasheeda, a regular evening walker, said many women felt threatened because of these incidents.

According to the data gathered by Dawn after contacting the family members of five women in Barki Street, Bilal Colony, Tariq Bin Ziyad Colony and Farid Town areas, the pattern of all attacks was similar.

In all the cases, except one, those attacked were housewives. So far only one student has been targeted.

Those discussing these incidents in local social circles are of the opinion that the attacks could be work of a psycho, a jilted lover or some fanatic associated with some sectarian outfit. Many local women rights activists say these incidents are further curtailing the independence of women who are already under pressure because of various social and cultural taboos.

“Already women have to face many cultural taboos while moving out (alone) but such attacks on them are enough to force them to stay home,” says Ms Asifa Asif, the field coordinator of a Lok Sujag, a body working to highlight social, cultural and rights issues.

Despite gravity of the issue, the local police are making no efforts to trace the culprit(s). Similar incidents had been reported in Chichawatni last year but no tangible results could be achieved by the police because of various factors, including their lack of interest.

Chichawatni police record shows six such attacks on women were reported there.

Police sources admitted that though one or two guys were interrogated in this connection but these turned out to be isolated incidents motivated by personal grudge.

“Many are convinced we (police) failed to arrest or trace the right guy,” a police insider admitted seeking anonymity.

Concerned circles claim that more than 60 such incidents occurred in Chichwatni but the victims and their families chose not to report to police for fear of being stigmatised.

Rao Shafiq, a former educationist, says: “Male members or heads of family prefer not to report such matter to police in a patriarchsociety.”

The women who regularly jog or walk in the Ladies and Children Park demanded while talking to Dawn that police should not wait for victims to report and ply a proactive role in nabbing the culprit(s).

“Threat has been created in the community. Now it is time to respond effectively,” Naeem Naqvi, a political worker, said.

“Many of the regulars have stopped jogging in the park. Now it is our duty to respond to the critical situation instead of waiting for more victims,” Ms Saima Ahmed of Y-Block said.

Ms Naheed, a bank manager, apprehended that the pattern of attacks on women could be used to settle personal scores.

“It’s already established the attacker will not be arrested,” she added.

Mr Sabah Masood, a feature writer of a local news website, said: “What if the victims are not daring to report the matter to police. The community at large knows this is regularly happening around us. Is it not enough for law enforcing agencies to respond and restore the depleting confidence of women who move alone,” he argued.

According to sources, out of five victims, the family of only one dared to report the incident to Farid Town police and got registered an FIR (624/15) on Sept 5.

Investigation Officer Muhammad Arif said no progress could be made in the case.



Saudi Female Student Attacked In Dublin

September 15, 2015

JEDDAH — A Saudi female student fears for her life after she faced a racially motivated attack in a Dublin bus last Tuesday.

Mashael Khayyat, who is pursuing a PhD at the Computer Science Dept. at Trinity College, said she boarded bus No. 7 at the Trinity College bus stop heading to Cabra Road to pick up her daughters from school.

Suddenly an Irish man approached her and started making racial comments. He then hit her on the shoulder, saying: “I hate Muslims.”

Khayyat, who was wearing the hijab, ran to the bus driver and asked him to call the police. “The police came and registered a case,” she said.

“I am not hurting people with my hijab. I went to my daughters with full of fear because I saw his anger and hate with no reason,” said Khayyat, who taught as a lecturer at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz University (KAU).

“I don’t feel safe now... Please do something to stop this. We do not want the case of the killed Saudi student (who was veiled) in the UK to be repeated here in the peaceful land of Ireland,” she said in a written statement, referring to the killing of Nahid Almanea in Essex last year.

Khayyat, a scholarship student, is in the final year of her postgraduate studies. She has been living in Dublin with her husband and two daughters for the past three years.

There have been several cases of racial attacks on Saudi students abroad. Scholarship student Raed Al-Bugshi was found dead in Michigan last October.

The same year Hamad Saleh Al-Yami, another Saudi student, was attacked in Birmingham. There are more than 150,000 Saudi students currently studying in 30 different countries.



Divorce Rights Still Elusive for Afghan Women

15 Sep 15

By Mina Habib

Rising divorce rates may indicate that women are increasingly aware of their rights, although the law is restrictive and unevenly applied.

Lailuma waited to speak to an advisor in the Kabul offices of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). She had tears in her eyes, and bruises from a recent beating were clearly visible on her face.

She had come to seek advice on how she could divorce her husband, whom she was forced to marry four years ago, when she was 16 and he was 45. He now beat her daily, and Lailuma said that family life had become unbearable.

“As well as taking drugs, my husband also has affairs with other women and spends his monthly income on them. When I try to stop him from doing things like that, he beats me. I can’t stand this cruelty anymore. I want to get a divorce from my husband, but nobody wants to help me.”

Although it is easy for men to initiate divorce under both Islamic and civil law systems, there are numerous obstacles for women seeking a separation. Conservative social attitudes mean that divorce is seen as profoundly shameful. Nevertheless, advances in rights since the fall of the Taleban government in 2001 mean that women now have greater recourse when it comes to seeking a divorce.

Observers say the situation is slowly changing, particularly in urban areas. Parwin Rahimi, who works on women’s rights at the AIHRC, says the number of recorded cases is on the increase. She argues that domestic violence, aggravated by poverty, is a major factor in marital breakdown.

“Arguments start when a family is in a fragile economic position and the man is unable to provide for his family’s needs and meet his wife’s requirements. This can lead to violence and cause family disintegration,” she said.

Fahim Sultani, legal adviser at the ministry for women’s affairs, said that while poverty and unemployment did contribute to domestic abuse, there were also other deep-rooted social causes for violence against women.

“Unless society is reformed, more attention is paid to people’s livelihoods, and the law is applied fairly to everyone, violence against women is not going to decrease,” he said. “It is violence that causes the disintegration of family life.”

Rahima Rezai, a judge at Kabul province’s family court, sees the increase in divorce cases as a sign that women are more and more aware of their rights, and that public institutions are supporting them.

Imamuddin Musaheb, a lawyer, explained the circumstances under which Afghan civil law allows a divorce application.

“If the husband is suffering from a chronic, incurable disease, if he is unable to feed his wife or if he is absent for over three years for reasons unknown, a woman can then get a divorce,” he said. “Otherwise she can’t.”

Islamic law also sets out many constraints. Maulavi Keramatullah Sediqi, head of Islamic studies at the ministry of hajj and religious affairs, listed the circumstances in which a woman could get divorced.

“From the perspective of shariah, a woman can get a divorce if her husband agrees to it; if the husband is unable to feed his wife or has a long-term, incurable disease; if the husband forces the woman to perform immoral acts; if the husband takes a lengthy trip against his wife’s will or without her knowledge and does not support her financially in his absence; and if a husband refuses to sleep with his wife for four months. Then she has the right to divorce him,” he said.

Sediqi emphasised that while divorce was permitted by Islam, it was very much frowned on. He blamed rising rates of divorce on the influence of popular culture.

“The broadcast of vulgar foreign serials on private television channels has had unpleasant impact on Afghan social attitudes. People consume these soap operas unthinkingly,” he said. “The messages they send go against the culture and tradition of our society, and this leads to family breakdown.”

This view was dismissed by Masuda Karukhi, a member of parliament from Herat in the west of the country. She says misogyny is deeply-rooted in Afghanistan, and point to a law on the elimination of violence against women that was passed by presidential decree in 2009, but was then rejected by parliament in May 2013. It has been shelved ever since, with conservative parliamentarians claiming that it contradicts sharia law. (See Tackling Gender-Based Violence in Afghanistan.)

“A hatred of women is still part of the male belief-system,” she said. “Since politicians opposed the law on eradicating violence against women and wouldn’t allow it to be passed by parliament, how can we complain about [external influence from] others? That was an example of home-grown Afghan misogyny.”

Azita Rafat, deputy chair of the Truth and Justice Party, argues that both the making and implementation of laws in Afghanistan have been dominated by men for decades.

“Women demanding divorce is, in a way, a way of fighting for human rights,” she said, contrasting this with the default position of “putting up with psychological pressure, behaving as slaves, being seen as second-class, being insulted and ultimately remaining silent”.

“The violence used against women in various areas of life is proof that our laws on women’s rights need reform,” she added.

Some complain that even the limited divorce rights that women are allowed under civil and religious law are not upheld.

Nasrin, 17, a resident of the Jaghori district in Ghazni province, came to Kabul to file for divorce. She said that as her husband was impotent, she had the right under both civil and Islamic law to demand a divorce. So far, he had not agreed.

“Although I have a legal right to a divorce, the courts and women’s rights institutions in Jaghori district would not help me. I came to the AIHRC to get help from them, but it seems that no one here is going to help me, either,” she said.

Family court judge Rezai said that women frustrated by the lack of action on their cases often did not realise that the courts might be powerless to act.

“The law does not allow us to fulfill these women’s demands; we are unable to go beyond the limits of the law,” she said.

Musaheb, the lawyer, said the legislation governing divorce for women needed a major overhaul, although he too advises women to seek legal advice before going to court.

Meanwhile, many women remain in a kind of limbo, unable to resolve their situation.

Nahid, 29, said her husband used to hit her on a regular basis, but one day she was beaten so badly that she lost consciousness and relatives had to take her to hospital. After that, she said, “My husband took my four children to his mother’s home. He has been missing for the past two years. When I approached legal institutions to file for divorce, they told me I could not do so unless my husband was found.”

Complaining that women’s rights groups had been no help to her, she asked, “How long must I remain without a future? If this counts as law and justice, then to hell with it.”

Mina Habib is an IWPR contributor in Kabul.



Saudi Women Artists Throw Light on Their Work At Jeddah Event

16 September 2015

JEDDAH: More than 30 Jeddah art aficionados and cultural cognoscenti gathered at the US Consulate on Monday for a panel discussion on Saudi women in the arts.

The event was part of the ongoing public affairs series called “Friends of the Arts.”

The work and perspectives of artist/scholar Dr. Lina Kattan, painter/professor Samiah Khashoggi and photographer Suzan Iskandar were presented at the event.

Kattan, a graduate in Islamic Art Education from King Abdul Aziz University and a Ph.D. in Visual and Performance Arts from Texas Tech University, presented selections from her recent projects. Employing a unique approach known as collaborative art, some of Kattan’s works are a fusion of creativity from two or more artists. She also discussed pieces from her recent US exhibition.

Khashoggi, professor of interior design at Dar Al-Hekma College, has degrees from Kingston University and De Montfort University UK. Since 1990, Khashoggi’s life has been divided between her academic profession and an art practice. In 2005, Khashoggi founded Saudiaat, a women artists’ group diverse in their styles and techniques united by their gender and solidarity. She has extensive experience with digital art.

Born in Makkah, the artistic talents of Iskandar were discovered while she was in elementary school. She began her professional career in 2002 as a newspaper photographer covering events and official ceremonies. This past summer she was the featured artist at the Jeddah Festival, with a pavilion exclusively devoted to her images of the Two Holy Mosques and the surrounding region.

Following the formal presentations, the three Saudi artists fielded numerous questions from an inquisitive audience.

Responding to a query on her series of women’s face coverings, Kattan said: “Whenever I do artwork, I like to research the religious documents. I put it as an open statement to the spectators for them to judge for themselves about the idea.

Khashoggi has exhibited in numerous group shows. Her first solo exhibition, “Reflections” was held in 2000 at Al-Alamiya Art Gallery in Jeddah. Her art developed from conventional realism to a more stylized expressionist approach. Describing her recent work, she mentioned the collages as a process of “collecting textures” and incorporating collages. “I prefer that there is a bit of humanity and a bit of a personal touch in everything. The digital world is becoming too flat and too repetitive, computerized, robotic.”

Answering a question from the audience about the dominant, empty areas of her paintings of women in abayas, Khashoggi said: “You give space for the composition to breathe. If I complicate it, it will take away from the structure itself. The presence of ‘the ladies’ has to be the most important thing.”

Iskandar showed her recent book of photos of the Two Holy Mosques. She stated that photograph uses a language that is universally understood. One of her favorite experiences was how the viewing her photographs was a catalyst for a Chinese man convert to Islam. “My photographs convey an unseen message,” she said.



‘Saudi Diplomat’s Wife, Daughter Abused Gurgaon, India, Police’

September 16, 2015

The Gurgaon Police, in a report to the Ministry of External Affairs, said the wife and daughter of the Saudi diplomat abused them while trying to rescue the two Nepalese women, who have alleged rape by the diplomat.

As per the report, the team managed to rescue the victims “after a great deal of persuasion.” It said, while the investigation team and others accompanying them were waiting in the lobby, the women started beating up the Nepalese women to desist them from leaving the residence.

The police also mention that the diplomat’s daughter was the only person whom the victims knew by name.

The Nepalese women alleged that the diplomat used to rape, sodomise and assault them, while his wife often threatened them. The victims also told the police that the diplomat’s daughter never assaulted them.

Gurgaon Police also mentioned that they were unaware about the identities of the occupants of the apartment when they went there to rescue the two Nepalese women.

“We later realised that the residents could be Saudi Arabian nationals who may be holding diplomatic status in India. Their names could not be confirmed on spot but the male member is believed to be Mr. Majid, who is believed to be the First Secretary with the Saudi Arabian Embassy in New Delhi,” reads the report.

The report said the Gurgaon Police had received a letter — followed by a phone call — from the Nepal embassy asking the Commissioner to “rescue and repatriate” the Nepalese women.

Senior police officials said they were awaiting the Ministry’s response to the detailed report before taking any further action in connection with the case.



Afghan Women 'Gaining Skills' In Creative Writing Project


The initiative, entitled Afghan Women Spread The Word, aims to create an online archive of their experiences including audio interviews, short stories and poems.

Former BBC journalist Julia Paul, now a broadcast lecturer at Queen's University who developed the programme, said: “These women act as a glimmer of hope for others - perhaps they weren't previously visible in society, but are now gaining skills, confidence and jobs - it's been an amazing project to be part of."

The project was started in 2013 when Ms Paul travelled to Afghanistan.

She added: "Initially I went out to Kabul to establish connections between women from different ethnic groups and trained them to use handheld recorders to collect oral histories from women in their area.

"The second and now third stage involves working with these same women via Skype, concentrating on using the initial interviews as the catalyst to write a creative piece, a poem or story, ultimately leading to some kind of online archive for future generations."

Belfast's first poet laureate Sinead Morrissey has also been involved leading a three-day workshop, via Skype technology, for aspiring female writers in Kabul.

Ms Paul said: "Afghan women have a huge tradition of knowing poems by heart, and have such a passion and hunger for writing. They see people like Sinead, an influential woman, and are excited that she is interested in what they have to say.

"I think we can all learn a lot from each other, and how to heal through reconciliation.

"I love the idea that writing about trauma can be a therapeutic tool and help a society move forward."

The project has also been supported by the British Council in Belfast and Kabul.

David Alderice, director of British Council Northern Ireland said: " Creative and critical examination is fundamental to progress and I'm sure both countries will benefit from this wonderful initiative."