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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 14 Jan 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Female Imams: Searching for American “nu ahongs”

East Lancashire Muslim ladies in the TV driving seat

Islam's angry women, angry at their religion

Despite ban, French Muslim women will not betray tradition: Shada Islam

Muslim women embrace sorority without abandoning their faith and values

Alimony aid for Muslim women caught in divorce wrangles

RM15mil allocation for Muslim women who don’t get support

It will be a great help, says struggling single mother

Karzai praised for 3 women in Cabinet

Student backs Muslim women

'Only three women in Denmark wear burqa'

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

URL of this Page:“nu/d/2380


Female imams: Searching for American “nu ahongs”

By Zehra Rizavi

January 13, 2010

A quiet Muslim community known as the Hui that has long been buried among China's Buddhist majority has recently been receiving attention for its nu ahong - female spiritual leaders. While the spotlight is new, the concept is not. As early as the late Ming dynasty (around the 17th century), the faithful set up Muslim schools catering exclusively to young females and by the arrival of the late Qing dynasty in the 19th century, these schools had transformed into mosques operated by and serving women. In the coming decades, the practice of female Imams, if you will, permeated all Chinese Muslim societies.

Today the Hui, a traditional, unassuming community comprised largely of farmers, shopkeepers and craftsmen, continues to borrow from this egalitarian concept of both learned men and women piloting mosques. The Hui encourage their Muslim women to seek employment in mosques as nu ahong — the phrase is derived from the Persian word akhund, meaning “teacher.” Among these women are those who live in small apartments within the mosque or within an affiliated Muslim school and receive salaries, just as an Imam would, while a smaller number live with families and volunteer. Some nu ahong serve in mosques that are entirely separate from men’s mosques, but most cordon off and use rooms within men’s mosques.

In addition to presiding over nu si (women’s mosques), a nu ahong’s duties may include ritual guidance at marriages and funerals, preaching, resolving political and social disputes, and offering moral guidance and counseling. But perhaps her most important work, given how Islam values women as the first teachers of children, is that of educator of the Arabic language, the Qur'an and the Hadith.

The precise role of the nu ahong does not remain strictly defined or static, but rather varies greatly from mosque to mosque, school to school and region to region, depending on the needs of the community. A popular duty of a nu ahong is to provide girls from disadvantaged backgrounds a basic education, which opens the coveted door to a university education. Ambitious young women flock to the nu ahong to learn Arabic, partly for religious reasons, but also in hopes of landing a job as a private-sector translator, scholar or ahong. Although the newest positions as translators or interpreters in the blossoming Mideast–China trade can earn salaries of 3,000 to 10,000 yuan ($400 to $1400), the position of nu ahong remains a popular career choice as one that offers a measure of security and high community status.

Though the authority of nu ahong does not extend beyond the sphere of women and children (including young boys), it is nevertheless significant that Muslim women in China have such organized authority, training and separate facilities. Academic researchers like Shui Jingjun, a Hui sociologist and co-author of a history titled A Mosque of Their Own, tend to see an unspoken feminist agenda. "These women feel good and feel free at these mosques," she explains. "They may be smaller than the male mosques but they are much better organized."

The nu ahong occupy a unique position in the Chinese Muslim community as women who perform all the same functions and duties as a male Imam, but do so only for their female peers; as a result nu ahongs have successfully avoided criticism or harassment from their male counterparts and have carved out a niche for themselves as learned, respected leaders. Were nu ahongs to give lectures to a mixed congregation before Friday prayers or lead a mixed congregation in prayer, they would have likely been relegated to the margins of the community, dismissed as rebels who are deliberately thwarting the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

While the Qur'an itself does not mandate that only men may lead prayer, three of the four Sunni schools of thought, as well as the majority of Shia schools, bar women from leading men and women in prayer based the prohibition on the example of the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him). There are several hadith which report that Hasrat Aisha and Umm Salmah led congregations of women in prayer, as do today’s nu ahong, but we find no record of the mothers of the believers leading a mosque’s mixed congregation in prayer.

There is, however, evidence that the Prophet on more than one occasion allowed a woman to lead her household in prayer - although the household included men - when the woman was clearly the most learned in the faith, so the issue remains open for debate. However, because most Muslims are aggressively protective of the salat and the khutbah and consider the preservation of the exact manner in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) prescribed these rituals paramount, the nu ahong have wisely chosen to respect the views of the majority. By steering clear of reformulating these acts, nu ahong have garnered the affirmation and respect of their communities.

Some might argue that translating nu ahong to “female Imams” is a misnomer as these women do not lead mixed gender congregations in Friday prayers (a defining role of an Imam) but semantics are of secondary importance here. As trained spiritual leaders who educate, mediate and counsel, nu ahong are instrumental in keeping Islam alive among Chinese women and children and perhaps offer an example of female leadership that Muslim communities outside of China should consider.

Muslim women in the United States often complain of exclusion from their local mosques, citing inadequate space, male dominated governing bodies and poor access to the Imam - all of which make for a seemingly unwelcome atmosphere. By placing a learned female in a central position of leadership that allows her to interact directly with the mosque goers, Muslim American women will likely feel far more comfortable visiting the mosque and, more importantly, enrolling in Qur'an and hadith courses and seeking counsel when it comes to deeply personal issues such as discord in their marriage or rulings on menstruation. American nu ahongs will not only handle such concerns with greater tact and compassion, but in doing so will dispel myths of the submissive, ignorant female in Islam.

Zehra Rizavi is Associate Editor of Altmuslimah


East Lancashire Muslim ladies in the TV driving seat

By Tyrone Marshall

13th January 2010

MUSLIM women from East Lancashire have been captured on camera as they learn to drive.

Learners and instructors from Blackburn and Burnley are the stars of a BBC series following the fortunes of the women as they strive to pass their test and gain independence.

The six-part show, called Muslim Driving School, which started last night, follows learners in East Lancs, as well as further afield in Yorkshire.

The series has exclusive access to driving schools in East Lancashire that specialise in teaching Muslim women.

Producers said the prog-ramme was a “big-hearted, warm and funny documentary series”, that shows a community group that normally keeps itself quiet striving for independence as Muslim women get behind the wheel for the first time.

Blackburn driving instructor Salma Patel, who has run her own driving school for 15 years, features on the programme.

She said: “I was approached by the local association about the programme.

“And after speaking to the producers decided to go for it.

“I was interviewed about my experience teaching Muslim women and they followed some of the lessons I gave.

“We’re also hoping to film a test one of my pupils has coming up in the next few weeks.”

Mrs Patel, of Brookhouse Close, said she had specialised in teaching Muslim women since she started her business.

“It is a real challenge,” she said.

“The language barrier can create problems and sometimes you have to start with simple things like traffic lights and what to do, but we get there eventually.

“It gives Muslim women a real sense of independence and means they can do things for themselves rather than relying on the other half. It opens up so many avenues for them.

“I have seen the episodes I am involved in and I have to say it’s really good, there is a funny side to it as well, it’s well worth a watch.”

Muslim Driving School will show on BBC Two at 10pm every Tuesday until February 16.


Richard Handler: Islam's angry women, angry at their religion

January 12, 2010

The incidents are becoming too commonplace: a suicide bomber kills more than a hundred people at a volleyball game in Pakistan; another alleged attempt on the life of a Danish cartoonist by a disaffected Muslim.

I know these matters are complicated. They involve civil wars in Pakistan, convoluted national and tribal politics, not only in Pakistan but around the world in small countries, failed states such as Somalia where young men are easily recruited into Islamic radicalism.

Not to mention the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where foreign troops, including Canada's, are seen by militants as occupiers and enemies of Islam.

Still, it is right to wonder, in your heart and your mind, what's going on here? Or perhaps, as the debaters on were asked: Can Islam be reformed?

It is always a delicate question, particularly when you're dealing with more than a billion people worldwide and a religion split into branches, Sunni and Shia, in a 1,400-year-old conflict with each other.

Western leaders are always eager to assure their Muslim citizens and the world that Islam is a religion of peace.

Necessary though the platitude may be — and for the truth it expresses about hundreds of millions of peaceable Muslims — hearing the refrain can be puzzling when, in the words of the late Samuel Huntington, the "bloody borders" of the Muslim world are always aflame in some murderous conflict.

Angry folks

There are angry Muslim men around the world, surely. But there are also angry Muslim women, angry at their religion.

One is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken Somali-born author of Infidel, who had to flee Holland in fear of her life, among other reasons.

She is furious about the way she says her religion treats and, in some places, physically mutilates women.

In a meeting I attended last spring she said straight out that Islam cannot be reformed by those who run it, period. It is up to women to lead the fight from within.

Another opponent is Wafa Sultan, a Syrian-born psychiatrist who now lives in the U.S.; she is one of the FORA debaters.

I first came across her through her startling performance on Al Jazeera TV in 2006, a video that still has a significant following on YouTube.

She is one angry woman. She castigates Islam and the clerics who keep it in its medieval garb. She is disgusted by the treatment of women, by Sharia law and its violence against both men and women.

No soothing words

Like Hirsi Ali, Sultan does not believe Islam can be reformed. Nor does she believe in the possibility of a moderate Islam. On that point, she says, she is in full agreement with radical militants.

Her main job, she says, is to warn the West not to believe those Muslims who speak out of both sides of their mouth, first to a Muslim audience, then to a Western one to which they utter soothing words.

She also makes no distinction between Islam and Islamism, which is the political movement suffused with religion. She claims Islam is Islamism after all is said and done.

Islam, she tells us, is incompatible with Western values and, in her view, must be superseded by something different and modern. Though just what, she doesn't say.

She is also chilling in her condemnation of the Koran, which she says is a book filled with violence.

You can see why she calls her new book, A God Who Hates.

Over the top

Now, Wafa Sultan has her critics. Her petulant anti-Islam stance leaves no room for compromise and would seem to suggest endless, perpetual war with a religion of 1.4 billion people.

Even Judah Pearl, the father of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was gruesomely executed by extremists in Pakistan in 2002, says Sultan is "over the top."

Not for nothing does the L.A. Times refer to her as "Islam's Ann Coulter," after America's verbal bomb-slinging right winger.

Her anger seems to come out of some deep, personal core. She speaks of being "humiliated" by her religion. You don't have to be a psychiatrist to understand her fervid dislike of the way women are treated in much of the Muslim world.

On the other side of this "debate" was another contentious figure, Daniel Pipes, an American academic who heads a think-tank called the Middle East Forum and an online organization called Campus Watch, which critiques how Middle East issues are taught on many Western campuses.

Equally strident, Pipes has acquired many enemies over the years, including Muslim groups who feel he is too pro-Israel to be a dispassionate analyst.

But in the debate he was a puppy dog, essentially because this was an argument between allies.

A distinction

Still, Pipes profoundly disagrees with Sultan. His mantra, which he repeats again and again, has always been "Radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution."

Pipes notes that his PhD was in early Islamic history and that, in his study of Islam, he has seen changes occurring throughout its development.

Islamism, he says, is only 80 years old and resembles the totalitarian movements of the 1930s, which is when it also began to develop.

In the past 40 years, he says he has seen other changes, small ones, he acknowledges, but important.

For example, Turkish authorities have allowed men and women to pray next to each other at funerals. Even in Iran, a religious court allowed equal rights for a Muslim and non-Muslim in a divorce suit.

And, though he doesn't cite this, just last week 19 Canadian and American imams signed a public fatwa against the use of terror.

Be watchful

These changes must be encouraged by allies of moderate Islam, argues Pipes.

As for the Koran, it's a "supermarket," he says, quoting a Muslim scholar. There are warlike passages and peaceable ones.

Muslims, he says, can pick their favourite selections from the Koran, just like Jews and Christians can from the Bible, while they ignore others.

It is wrong, of course, to think an historical movement, a religion (even if you believe it is God-given), can't change. Human institutions are in perpetual transformation, even if the pace is not always to our liking.

Finally, Pipes offers this last point: "There is no alternative."

Pipes certainly has his critics but understands the alternative to perpetual war is patience, assistance and, yes, watchfulness towards enemies who threaten to destroy you.

In that sense, he said (before the attempted airline bombing at Christmas), he was going to say something he didn't like to say and nobody likes hearing: If you're going to be safe, you have to profile, be watchful.

Since then, as the U.S. government has put the citizens of 14 nations on a special list, newspaper editorials are saying versions of the same thing. And I suspect so are many ordinary people.


Despite ban, French Muslim women will not betray tradition: expert Shada Islam


France's legislative ban on wearing nigab and burqas - Muslim clothes that completely cover woman - will not lead the European Muslim women to refuse their traditional clothes, expert on the Islamic ideology in the West Shada Islam believes.

"Just law can not be adjusted to change the situation in practice," a researcher at the European Policy Centre in Brussels (EPC) Islam told Trend News over the telephone. "If these women want to wear niqab, they will do it. No matter how many laws the French Parliament will accept."

On Tuesday, the French Parliament introduced a draft law providing for a fine of 700 euros ($1,000) for wearing burqa or nigab in public places and streets (except social events and carnivals). The man who makes his wife to wear such clothes will be fined in more amounts.

Burqa (or paranja), distributed mainly in Afghanistan, is a veil with the hair mesh for the eyes which completely covers a woman from prying eyes. Niqab is a Muslim woman's headdress that covers the face, but leaves a slit for the eyes.

Leader of the ruling conservative faction of the French parliament - the Union for a Popular Movement - Jean-Francois Cope initiated the ban. He believes the adoption of the law would better ensure public safety.

However, observers believe that if the bill passes, it will be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights.

Shada Islam expects a heated debate in the French Parliament, believing that eventually the law of the fines will be adopted. However, she considered it difficult to predict what will be form and size of fines.

Last June the French Parliament established a special commission of 32 deputies, who have to gather information and figure out how to restrict the wearing of women's clothing that covers the figure from head to toe in six months. Then President Nicolas Sarkozy gave a speech in which he stated that the veil (burqa) is a symbol of the enslavement of women and undermines their dignity.

The prohibition law and fines will not solve the underlying problem - the integration of Muslim communities in European society, Islam believes.

"While attention is paid to minor issues, such important issues as the integration of Muslims, creating an inclusive society are being totally sidelined", she said, adding that education and employment are the key spheres that require the integration of Muslims.

The largest Muslim community in Europe lives in France, numbering about five million people. Every tenth Frenchman is Muslim. But the number of women wearing niqab or burka in France is very small. According to the Interior Ministry, the number of fully covered women all over France is around 2000 from the general population - about 62 million.

Thus, the authorities focus on minor problems that, according to Shada Islam, can be solved in a more harmonious way. The question of authority of women, women liberation, women in Islam can be discussed and resolved in a softer manner within the Muslim community.

The debates in France over Muslim clothes are not something unexpected. Six years ago, the Muslim community of France was shocked by the law prohibiting wearing headscarf at public schools. Together with hijab (headscarf) were also banned Christian crosses and Jewish bales.

In August last year French authorities banned Muslim women to swim in public swimming pool in "burqini" - a bathing suit, fully covering the body, resembling a bathing suit with a hood.

A tendency of dividing into "us and them" is very visible in Europe, said Islam. Mainstream Europe believes that Muslims are "strangers" in European society, that they have strange customs, strange garment, they are old-fashioned and conservative. To create an integrated, united and prosperous society where there is seat for everyone, it needs to change this discourse, making it more inclusive, she said.

"Two-way approach is necessary in this regard - we will adapt to you, and you must share our values, said Islam. - In fact, most of the values are totally common. There is no necessity to divide them into European and Muslim."


Muslim women embrace sorority without abandoning their faith and values

By Laura Diamond

January 11, 2010

Gamma Gamma Chi is first in country for followers of Islam. Members bond, hold fast to their beliefs.

The women who belong to Atlanta’s Gamma Gamma Chi sorority volunteer and participate in fund-raising activities across the metro area. They hang out and go to restaurants, movies, museums and cultural exhibits in town.

But the sisters won’t participate in some stereotypical components of Greek life — no drinking, partying or hooking up with men.

That’s because Gamma Gamma Chi Sorority Inc. is the country’s first Islamic-based sorority.

The sorority allows Muslim women to participate in a widespread college tradition without abandoning their faith and values. Many Muslim women do belong to sororities on college campuses across Georgia and the country, but leaders with Gamma Gamma Chi said it provides another option.

“As Muslims, certain things that go on in sororities and fraternities are not allowed,” said Wakilat Kasumu, president of the Atlanta chapter and a Spelman graduate. “We still do volunteer work and socialize with one another. Yes, we are Muslim, but we still have fun.”

The sorority started in 2005 and has five chapters in the areas surrounding Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, and the national headquarters in Alexandria, Va. Each chapter is regional rather than school-based and pulls from multiple colleges. Atlanta’s members have attended Spelman, Clark Atlanta University, Georgia Perimeter College and other institutions.

The Atlanta chapter has seven members — two are students at Clark Atlanta; the others are graduate students and professional adults.

College students have long found different ways to have a piece of Greek life. Fraternities and sororities have been formed around different groups, including students who are Hispanic, African-American or Jewish. Like most others, Gamma Gamma Chi is open to all women, including non-Muslims.

The sorority originated with a mother-daughter team after the daughter struggled to find a sorority where the practices didn’t go against her faith. They merged a sorority’s traditional values of volunteering, leadership and friendship with a way to promote and improve the image of Islam and Muslim women. They also wanted Muslim women to have the opportunity to build the lifelong bonds that develop among sorority sisters.

Chapters observe Islam’s holy days and other practices. The emphasis on volunteering and leadership makes Muslim women visible in the community, said Rasheeda Salaam, vice president of the Atlanta chapter and a board member for the national association.

“We want people to know who we are and that we are an active part of the Atlanta community,” Salaam said.

Photos from chapters show women wearing jeans and sweat shirts bearing the sorority’s Greek letters. Some women wear their hair loose; others wrap scarves around their heads. The group’s motto explains that members will honor Allah through “sisterhood, scholarship, leadership and community service.”

The sorority’s colors are lavender (meaning peace), green (Muhammad’s favorite color) and gold (representing true treasure), Kasumu said. Their flower is the lily because of its ability to grow and bloom no matter how challenging its surroundings, she said.

The sorority is working to increase public awareness and add chapters across the country. Salaam said people often stop her when they see her wearing a sweat shirt with the group’s Greek letters, wanting to get more information.

Kasumu, who is from Nigeria, said her family didn’t understand at first why she joined a sorority.

“I explained that I’m hanging out with people who allow me to be myself,” she said.

She remembered one night when they all went roller skating — something she had never tried before.

“I fell down, but they were there to pick me back up,” Kasumu said. “That’s what is so special. We support one another and have fun.”


Alimony aid for Muslim women caught in divorce wrangles

January 12, 2010

PETALING JAYA: Vicknani Nora Giok was divorced 16 years ago and never received a single sen from her husband.

Left to support her two children by herself, Nora, whose Muslim name is Nurasyikin Abdullah, started singing in a pub.

Women in similar situation like hers no longer need to suffer. The Government will come to their aid with loans.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom announced yesterday that the Government had approved an allocation of RM15mil for Muslim women who are undergoing divorce and have not been paid maintenance (nafkah).

Non-governmental organisations have cautiously welcomed the move, saying they wanted it to be implemented efficiently and fairly.


RM15mil allocation for Muslim women who don’t get support


January 12, 2010

PETALING JAYA: The Government will come to the aid of Muslim women who are going through divorce but are not being paid alimony (nafkah).

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom said the Government had approved an allocation of RM15mil to pay women caught in this predicament. He said the payments, which would be in the form of loans, was to ensure that their welfare was well looked after.

“Sometimes, the husbands refuse to provide alimony until after the court reaches a decision on the divorce case.

“The allocation is therefore given to the wives and children for their daily expenses,” he told reporters after the Malaysian Islamic Develop­ment Department’s (Jakim) monthly meeting here yesterday.

Jamil said the Malaysian Syariah Judicial Department (JKSM) was currently distributing the allocation to states nationwide.

“There are some states which have started giving out loans of RM100,000 and the allocation will add to the existing capital,” he said.

He proposed that JKSM quickly take the allocation so that the funds would not be exhausted. In an immediate reaction, non-governmental organisations and professionals said the move was a good one.

However, they wanted to see the decision implemented efficiently.

Sisters in Islam public education and communications programme manager Mas Elati Samani said that while the move was timely, a proper system and mechanism had to be employed to ensure the move fulfilled its purpose.

“It is a commendable move which has been proposed in the past but what is more important is how the allocation can fully help those who really need the money,” she said.

She said the Government had to ensure that the allocation reached the divorcees who genuinely needed financial help.

“Another aspect to consider is the proper form of channelling of the allocation through the right agencies,” she said.

Syariah Lawyer Saadiah Din said the Government needed to consider providing allocation for legal aid as many could not afford lawyers.

“There is no doubt that it’s a good move but what if husbands start taking advantage of the situation knowing that the government is providing this allocation?

“What about repayment of the loan? Does the wife or the husband have to repay the amount?” asked Saadiah.


It will be a great help, says struggling single mother

January 12, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR: Her husband divorced her 16 years ago and Vicknani Nora Giok @ Nurasyikin Abdullah has not received a single sen from him to support her and their two sons.

After her divorce, Nora has single-handedly provided for her family including her two teenage sons, aged 13 and 14.

When told about the announcement by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom on the RM15mil allocation to be used as an advance nafkah (maintenance) for those deemed eligible by the Syariah Court, Nora said it was long overdue.

 “Even if I’m not eligible as my case has been disposed of, I’m glad the welfare of people like myself will be looked after,” she said.

After her divorce, 34 year-old single mother from Papar, Sabah was forced to leave her hometown to make a living.

She became desperate because her former husband never bothered to send her any money.

In fact, he “disappeared” and up to now, she has no idea of his whereabouts.

Nora put her boys under the care of her mother and taking advantage of her musical talent, took a job as a singer.

She has been singing at various entertainment spots for the past 10 years. For local actress Wan Nor Azlin Wan Mohd Hussain – whose divorce case is still pending in the Kuala Lumpur Syariah court – the kind of aid suggested by the Government will greatly help take a huge burden off her.

She claimed that life had been difficult since her husband left in 2005 without providing any financial support for her and their three children.

Wan Nor Azlin, 38, had been raising her schoolgoing children by taking up acting jobs.

“Competition is tough in this line and there is little job security. I worry for my children, about how I can continue providing for them.

“With such aid, it is comforting to know there will be some money coming in, although it cannot solve all my financial difficulties,” she said


Karzai praised for 3 women in Cabinet

Golnar Motevalli


Jan. 12: Afghan women’s activists praised President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday for nominating a record three women to his Cabinet, and said it was now less likely that women’s rights would be hurt by negotiations with the Taliban.

Two-thirds of ministers originally proposed by Mr Karzai for his new Cabinet were rejected by Parliament in December, forcing him to re-write his list, which now contains three female nominees.

Almost two months after Mr Karzai’s inauguration following an election marred by fraud and widely criticised by the West, Afghans are still waiting to find out who will run their country. Leading women’s rights activists are hopeful the female nominees will be approved by parliament this week. "We are trying to lobby for them and we are hopeful that they will be passed (by Parliament)," said Sima Samar, head of Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission who was on a panel of leading Afghan women gathered in Kabul to discuss the presence of more women on Mr Karzai’s new list.

"I hope that men in Afghanistan will show that all the allegations that they are against women’s rights in their country can be removed and they would take action and vote for these women."

Mr Karzai has been under intense pressure by Washington and its allies to show he is dedicated to removing corrupt officials from his new administration. Mr Karzai has also pledged to reignite efforts to engage with the Taliban who are willing to lay down arms and are prepared to work with the government as part of counter-insurgency eff-orts to stabilise Afghanistan. The newly-named female candidates include Suraya Dalil, a Harvard University graduate nominated for the job of public health minister. The other two are Palwasha Hassan, a well-known women’s rights advocate offered the women’s affairs ministry, and Amena Afzali offered the ministry of martyrs and the disabled.

"It is probably ... the first time we have the right person for the ministry of women’s affairs and the right person for the ministry of public health, at least these I can assure you of," Orzala Ashraf, a leading women’s rights activist who was also on the panel said.


Student backs Muslim women

By Jenna Martin

January 13, 2010

When it came time to pick a senior project, Lakeside High School student Amala Sarvepalli chose to tackle an international issue.

The senior decided to research women's rights in the Middle East and organize a charity walk at her school to raise money for the Jordan River Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Amman, Jordan, that aims to empower women and children.

The cause of women's rights was a perfect fit for Amala, who plans to become an international civil rights lawyer.

"I knew when I started to do it that I didn't want to make it easy on myself," said Amala, who turns 18 this month. "I kind of wanted to make it a challenge."

A 5K run for adults and mini-run for ages 13 and younger will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 23 at Lakeside High's track.

Planning the walk was the second part of Amala's project. The first component involved extensive research on her topic.

Amala traveled to the University of Georgia in Athens to meet with her mentor, Dr. Sherry Lowrance, an assistant professor. Lowrance has researched Middle Eastern politics and political conflicts.

"She sat me down and we talked about all the aspects of Islam and all the aspects of the political lifestyle that I would never have thought about," Amala said.

After the meeting, she read several books, newspaper and magazine articles, and blogs pertaining to the subject.

She researched feminist translations of the Quran to determine whether women's rights was a religious or culture issue, she said.

"I found a lot of countries call themselves Islamic states, but they actually aren't," said Amala, who was born in Saudi Arabia. "They have made it into more of a cultural state, which is a far difference from what Islam really is."

Through her research, Amala said, she learned that many Middle Eastern counties, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, are beginning to change their perspectives and grant women more rights.

When it was time to plan her charity walk, Amala received help from her senior project adviser, Karen Field, who printed 200 fliers for Amala to distribute at the school.

"I certainly do value the rights that we have in this county," said Field, an English teacher at Lakeside. "I think that so many people do need to be informed that it's not something that's natural to every country for women to have that voice."

So far, Amala said, about 50 participants have registered for the walk. She hopes to have more than 100 people participate and raise about $3,000 for the organization.

Amala said she wants to raise awareness in the community on what some women face in other countries.

"I want them to know the difficulty," she said

The walk costs $12 to register, and businesses have pitched in to provide participants with brunch after the walk.

For information, contact Amala at (706) 877-0136 or


'Only three women in Denmark wear burqa'

January 13, 2010

AFP: Only a small number of Muslim women in Denmark wear the burka, a new study has found, as the government considers possible restrictions on Islamic dress in public places.

Only three Muslim women in the country wear the head-to-toe. Only three women in Denmark wear burqa, while between 150 to 200 women use the niqab, a full-length veil that allows an opening for the eyes, according to the survey by the University of Copenhagen, published in Tuesday's daily Jyllands-Posten.

Some 60 to 80 of these women are Danish converts to Islam, according to the survey that was conducted for a special commission looking into the contentious issue.

The liberal-conservative government is set to discuss the commission's report on Wednesday.

Denmark's 200,000 Muslims make up 3.5 per cent of the population and are the country's second largest religious community.

The conservatives in August had proposed banning the Only three women in Denmark wear burqa and niqab, which the liberals strongly opposed. The idea was eventually dropped because of constitutional and human rights concerns.

The issue now before the government is not an outright ban but whether there should be restrictions in some public circumstances.

"It is not a question of generally banning the burka or the niqab because that's against the kingdom's constitution," Naser Khader, a spokesman for the conservatives, told AFP on Tuesday.

"But there are situations where such a ban might be imposed, for instance, if one is giving testimony in a court or when taking a school exam or driving a bus," he said.

Denmark has experienced tense relations with the Muslim world following the publishing in 2005 of cartoons depicting Islam's Prophet Mohammed, considered blasphemous by much of the Islamic world. It triggered violent protests in Muslim countries.

And earlier this month a Somali man was arrested and charged with trying to kill the Danish cartoonist responsible for the caricature.

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