Pupils at a private Muslim school in Toulouse (France) wear veils and long skirts
Army Rescues 200 Girls, 93 Women from Boko Haram, but None Are Abducted Chibok Girls
Finally, a Podcast That Explores the Travails of Being a Muslim Woman in America
Tough Law Needed To Fight Crime against Women, Kids: Family Protection Society
Filipina Spared Indonesia Execution: Mother Hails ‘Miracle’
A Tale of 2 Sisters from Syria, Now Worlds Apart
Female Afghan 'Top Gun' Soars above Gender Barrier
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
French Muslim Student Banned From School for Wearing Long Black Skirt
29 April, 2015
A 15-year-old Muslim girl has been banned from class twice for wearing a long black skirt seen as too openly religious for secular France, in a case that has sparked an outcry.
The girl was stopped from going to class earlier this month by the head teacher who reportedly felt the long skirt “conspicuously” showed religious affiliation, which is banned in schools by France’s strict secularity laws.
“The girl was not excluded, she was asked to come back with a neutral outfit and it seems her father did not want the student to come back to school,” local education official Patrice Dutot told AFP on Tuesday.
He admitted that the student always removed her veil before entering school premises in the north-eastern town of Charleville-Mezieres, as is specifically stipulated by law.
According to the 2004 law that governs secularity in schools, veils, the Jewish kippa or large Christian crosses are banned in educational establishments, but “discreet religious signs” are allowed.
The student, identified as Sarah by local daily newspaper L’Ardennais, told the paper that her skirt was “nothing special, it’s very simple, there’s nothing conspicuous. There is no religious sign whatsoever”.
Her story was trending on Twitter in France with the hashtag #JePorteMaJupeCommeJeVeux, translated into English as “I wear my skirt as I please”.
“If it’s worn by a ‘white’ person, it’s hippy chic, if it’s a Muslim, it becomes conspicuous,” one user tweeted.
But the regional education office hinted in a statement that wearing the skirt could have been part of a concerted “provocation.”
“When it comes to concerted protest actions by students, which follow other more visible incidents linked for instance to wearing the veil, the secular framework for education must be firmly reminded and guaranteed,” it said.
According to the CCIF Islamophobia watchdog, about 130 students were rejected from class last year for outfits deemed too openly religious.
Army Rescues 200 Girls, 93 Women From Boko Haram, But None Are Abducted Chibok Girls
29 April, 2015
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – Nigerian troops rescued nearly 300 girls and women during an offensive Tuesday against Boko Haram militants in the northeastern Sambisa Forest, the military said, but they did not include any of the schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok a year ago.
The army announced the rescue on Twitter and said it was screening and interviewing the abducted girls and women.
Troops destroyed and cleared four militant camps and rescued 200 abducted girls and 93 women “but they are not the Chibok girls,” army spokesman Col. Sani Usman told The Associated Press.
Nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped from the northeastern town of Chibok by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram in April 2014. The militants took the schoolgirls in trucks into the Sambisa Forest. Dozens escaped, but 219 remain missing.
The plight of the schoolgirls, who have become known as “the Chibok girls,” aroused international outrage and a campaign for their release under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
Their kidnapping brought Boko Haram to the attention of the world, with even U.S. first lady Michelle Obama becoming involved as she tweeted a photograph of herself holding the campaign sign.
Boko Haram has kidnapped an unknown number of girls, women and young men to be used as sex slaves and fighters. Many have escaped or been released as Boko Haram has fled a multinational offensive that began at the end of January.
A military source who was in Sambisa told The Associated Press that some of the women rescued Tuesday fought back, and that Boko Haram was using armed women as human shields, putting them as their first line of defence.
The Nigerian troops managed to subdue them and rounded them all up, and some said they were forced to fight for Boko Haram, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Boko Haram also has used girls and women as suicide bombers, sending them into crowded market places and elsewhere.
A month ago the Nigerian military began pounding the Sambisa Forest in air raids, an assault they said earlier they had been avoiding for fear of killing the Chibok schoolgirls, or inciting their captors to kill them.
Two weeks ago, counterinsurgency spokesman Mike Omeri said a multinational offensive that began at the end of January had driven Boko Haram from all major towns in the northeast and that Nigerian forces were concentrating on the Islamic militant stronghold in the Sambisa Forest. Omeri said the military believed that the Chibok girls might be held there.
In Chibok, community leader Pogu Bitrus said townspeople were desperately trying to verify the identity of the freed girls and women. He said the town had learned of the rescue through social media, not from the military.
“We are trying to verify if there are Chibok girls among them. We are working hard to verify. … All we know is this number have been rescued,” he said. His comments reflected a distrust of the military, which has published many misstatements about the girls and once even claimed to have rescued some, though that proved to be untrue.
Unconfirmed reports over the past year had indicated the girls were broken up into smaller groups and had been forced to convert to Islam and that some were “married” off to their captors. Some witnesses said they saw the girls being ferried by canoe across Lake Chad and into neighbouring Cameroon.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau published a video in which he threatened to sell the girls as slaves.
A Muslim leader who had tried to negotiate their release told the AP that at least three had died — from a snake bite, dysentery and malaria.
But the military has reported that none of the girls they found as they freed towns were the Chibok girls, indicating Boko Haram fighters might have held on to their most famous assets and taken them with them when they retreated to the Sambisa Forest, a national game reserve.
Unknown hundreds of people have been killed as the extremists retreated, according to reports from recaptured towns.
On Monday, a local government committee reported the burial of hundreds of skeletons of children, women and men believed killed by Boko Haram in Damasak, a town on the border with Niger.
“I know that there was a large-scale atrocity, but I cannot tell you the precise number of dead bodies,” Senator-elect Abubakar Kyari told reporters in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital 180 kilometres (110 miles) southeast of Damasak.
Damasak was recaptured by troops from Chad and Niger last month and had been occupied by the Islamic extremists since November.
Boko Haram continues to attack isolated communities. The government of neighbouring Niger said a Boko Haram attack on Karamga island in Lake Chad over the weekend killed 156 militants, 46 soldiers and 28 civilians.
Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria. Associated Press writer Dalatou Mamane contributed to this report from Niamey, Niger.
Finally, a Podcast That Explores the Travails of Being a Muslim Woman in America
29 April, 2015
Zahra Noorbakhsh was 12 and attending Farsi school in California when a teacher told her that if she didn't start wearing the hijab, her mother might burn in hell. So she tried it. But a trip to Blockbuster proved mortifying: "Everyone was staring at me and I just kept speaking in English really loudly—'Hey, Dad, I want to get Monster Truck Bloopers!'—so I didn't sound like a huge, foreign freak."
"Everybody was like, 'Oh, you're going to get death threats.' No, actually just a lot of essays and wiki links from atheists telling me I'm confused."
That's one of the tales she revisits with cohost Tanzila "Taz" Ahmed in their new podcast, #GoodMuslimBadMuslim. Comedian Noorbakhsh befriended Ahmed, an activist and writer, on a road trip promoting Love, InshAllah, an anthology about the secret love lives of Muslim American women. They began teasing each other about which one was "the bad Muslim," took their discussions of cultural mores to Twitter, and later began recording them.
The resulting monthly podcast is a fun, sassy exchange, part Wayne's World, part Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul. You might catch the ladies issuing a fatwa against bacon, inventing cheesy Muslim pickup lines ("You've hijacked my heart"), and sharing tips on how to survive your "conservative, gun-toting, libertarian" in-laws. But jokes aside, they address the uniquely confusing contradictions of how Muslim American women are expected to behave. Noorbakhsh prays but drinks and eats pork, and admits to having had sex before her marriage—to an atheist. Ahmed won't touch booze or pork, but she seldom prays, and recalls her parents berating her for wanting to dye her hair pink and go to punk shows.
Just four episodes in, the podcast is earning press attention (NBC News called it "side-splitting") and praise from listeners looking for fresh voices. "For women from these backgrounds to be talking openly about private subjects is a big deal," notes the Iranian-born comedian Maz Jobrani, who once had Noorbakhsh on stage as a guest performer. ("I totally bombed," she recalls.)
The timing is apt, too, as horrors committed in the name of Islam fuel new resentments. Noorbakhsh, a self-declared "loudmouth," points out that unabashed conversations are key to busting stereotypes. With her comedy act and now the podcast, "everybody was like, 'Oh, you're going to get death threats.' No, actually just a lot of essays and wiki links from atheists telling me I'm confused. And celebratory email! So I'm doing a lot of reading, not a lot of dying."
Tough Law Needed To Fight Crime against Women, Kids: Family Protection Society
29 April, 2015
Two prominent women social workers have attributed the increased incidence of violence against women and children to a number of factors including the absence of a deterrent law.
They said other reasons include non-clarity of penalties related to these crimes, ignoring psychologists’ guidance on child harassment cases, depending only on physical tests and insufficiency of services provided to abused and tortured women in the Kingdom.
Dr. Fatima Al-Aqeel, the Jeddah-based head of the Family Protection Society, expressed concern over the delay in the establishment of an independent administration for the protection of women and children in Saudi Arabia.
The number of cases of detected violence does not express the real number of actual cases, notably harassment cases of children, she told local media.
Amani Al-Ajlan, another social expert, said the system to protect against abuse, which was decreed last year, compels judges to assign tortured or sexually assaulted children to protection teams if suspicion arises.
She said there are 40 protection teams accross the Kingdom which are composed of doctors, social and psychological workers, legal advisers and security men.
Each team is supposed to prepare a report on a possible torture or violence case against children after a thorough and exhausted assessment, she said.
Filipina spared Indonesia execution: Mother hails ‘miracle’
29 April, 2015
MANILA: The mother of a Filipino drug convict reprieved at the 11th hour after facing execution in Indonesia told Philippine radio: “Miracles do come true.”
Mary Jane Veloso was spared after someone suspected of recruiting her and tricking her into carrying drugs to Indonesia turned herself in to authorities in the Philippines, MetroTV and the Jakarta Post reported in Indonesia.
The Philippine Foreign Affairs Department confirmed the reprieve.
“We are relieved that the execution of Mary Jane Veloso was not carried out tonight,” said spokesman Charles Jose. “The Lord has answered our prayers.”
Seven other foreigners and one local man were executed early Wednesday for drug offenses on a prison island after Indonesia defied international criticism and heartrending pleas from relatives.
“We are so happy, I can’t believe it. I can’t believe my child will live,” Mary Jane’s mother Celia Veloso told Philippine radio station DZMM. “We had no more hope. My (other) children were already in the island waiting to pick up her body,” she told the radio station in an interview from Indonesia. “We are all so happy. Her (Mary Jane’s) kids were all awake, yelling ‘Yes, yes, mama will live!’“
“I will tell her (Mary Jane Veloso) it is true what she said, if God wants you to live, as long as there is a minute left, he will save you.” Born to a poor family in the Philippines, Veloso, 30, is a single mother of two boys aged six and 12.
She insists she went to Indonesia for a job as a maid and was duped by an international drug syndicate.
She was arrested in 2009 with 2.6 kg of heroin sewn into the lining of her suitcase.
Veloso says she was first offered a job by a friend in Malaysia, but upon her arrival was told the work was actually in Indonesia so she immediately flew there. She claims the heroin was hidden in her suitcase in Malaysia.
Veloso’s mother, two children and two sisters had all gone to Indonesia to meet her before her expected execution.
A tale of 2 sisters from Syria, now worlds apart
29 April, 2015
BEIRUT — In a small town south of Beirut, Fawziyeh keeps her apartment immaculately clean despite its crumbling walls and the plastic sheets flapping across its windows. She shares the three-bedroom flat with 12 others including her five children — all, like her, refugees from Syria.
Almost every day she gets cellphone messages from her younger sister Rabab, in Germany.
They both fled their homeland three years ago, and their divergent lives capture the fates dealt to millions of Syrians forced from their country by its four-year civil war.
Rabab, a 42-year-old widow, and her two teenage children are among the few thousand Syrians selected by a rich European country for re-settlement. They live in a comfortable house and receive free education and health insurance.
Fawziyeh, 10 years her senior, was not re-settled. In Lebanon, she is one of more than one million Syrians with no legal right to work and little aid. She and her children cannot return to Syria, she said: Neighbors there told her the façade of their old apartment block was blown away.
Thousands of other Syrians have gambled on paying people-smugglers a few thousand dollars to board leaky boats that could carry them to a better life on the other side of the Mediterranean.
“I think about going to Europe ... but I don’t think about going in a boat because the life of my family is much more precious,” Fawziyeh says.
Last year 42,323 of the 170,100 migrants who arrived in Italy by sea were from Syria, according to the International Organization for Migration (IMO). So far this year, Italy says, nearly 2,000 have died.
The chance of a refugee winning official resettlement in a rich country such as Germany according to United Nations data is small: around 0.5 percent. Around 90 percent of the four million people in what the UN calls the worst refugee crisis since World War Two now live in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
The two most generous wealthy countries, Germany and Canada, have promised to take 30,000 and 11,300 refugees respectively but have yet to receive anything like that. The UK, which supports armed Syrian insurgents, has taken in 143. Russia, which supports the Syrian army, and Japan, the world’s third largest economy, have each taken zero.
In all, the UN refugee agency UNHCR thinks about one in 10 Syrian refugees in the region are, like Rabab, vulnerable enough to need resettling. That’s a total of 400,000 people. It has asked rich countries to help resettle one third of that number — 130,000 between 2013 and 2016. A UNHCR official described that goal as “ambitious.” The official said that asking to resettle all 400,000 was not realistic.
Rich countries have also promised cash. But the UN says it has received only 19 percent of the $4 billion it asked for.
That leaves people like Fawziyeh facing a tough choice: Forge a life in Lebanon, return to war, or risk the sea passage.
Fawziyeh shares Rabab’s blue eyes and soft croaky voice, and is thrilled that her younger sister is now in Europe. “She suffered a lot, I’m so happy for her,” Fawziyeh said.
The pair were so close as little girls that their family called them “the secret keepers.” Their regular contact today is a mixed blessing, Fawziyeh said. The contact reveals a stability she may never see.
“She is going shopping, getting stuff for her house. She is sitting at home, her children are going to school, her house is organized, she’s secure and provided for,” Fawziyeh said.
The sisters left their respective homes in 2012. Rabab, who lived in the now-devastated city of Homs, fled first; Fawziyeh, who lived amid farmland and orchards outside Damascus, left a few months later.
Like many Syrians, the women initially sheltered with their extended families in Syria. Then their money ran out. The conflict spread.
Rabab headed for Lebanon. Initially, she was refused entry and had to take the children back to Damascus to sort out the paperwork. While they were there, her son was wounded in an explosion.
Fawziyeh held on. Rebels took over the area and the government responded with air strikes. Later that year, the area was hit by rockets containing Sarin gas, a nerve agent.
By the end of 2012, both sisters had crossed into Lebanon.
Unlike Turkey and Jordan, which house half of Syria’s refugees, Lebanon has no formal camps. Various factions in the government have refused to let the UN and other aid agencies set them up, worried they could become permanent.
Many refugees live in rented housing, self-made camps or with local families. Lebanon’s media and some political figures accuse refugees of harboring militants. Others say they take jobs, undercut wages and overload hospitals. Lebanon, which suffered its own civil war from 1975 to 1990, brought in new rules this year that forbid Syrian refugees from working.
Rabab’s family lived in a damp, oily garage, with no water or electricity. “Life became impossible,” she said. The family had registered with the UN as refugees but she felt she had no rights.
Fawziyeh was luckier. She and her husband, a thin man with a thick silvery moustache, found work picking weeds from a farmer’s fields.
Rabab’s only hope of resettlement was with help from the UNHCR. The UN agency says it chooses people based on “acute vulnerability,” including those who have been subjected to torture and violence, women and girls at risk, the elderly, sick, or disabled.
As a widow with dependants, Rabab fitted: In February 2014 she was chosen. Weeks of interviews followed; finally, she applied for a German visa with UNHCR backing. Last Nov. 18, Rabab and her two children headed for Felsberg, a small town close to the French border.
“The reception in Germany was so great,” she said. “They gave the children toys and sweets.”
Rabab’s flat is furnished, has wooden floors and freshly painted walls. There are trees outside and an old church sits on a hill. Through her windows, she can see a playground and her neighbor’s neat flower garden. “It was like we were given a new birth date,” she said, sitting at a table in her kitchen, which has new blue cabinets.
Rabab’s daughter, 19, is working on her German and wants to be a journalist. She sits across from Rabab in a denim jacket with her 16-year-old brother. As their mother talks, they browse on a laptop and mobile phones.
“When Syrians have the chance to leave, it means they are getting a new life, they are getting a new hope,” Rabab said. “It wasn’t only my children. It’s the whole generation.”
Back in Lebanon, Fawziyeh uses an old Singer sewing machine to make dresses for fellow refugees. The rent on her fourth-floor apartment is $300 a month. She can barely afford medicine, she said.
She wishes she could join her sister. “It would have been a chance for my children to leave.” — Reuters
Female Afghan 'Top Gun' soars above gender barrier
29 April, 2015
KABUL: With a hint of swagger, Afghanistan’s first female pilot since the fall of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender norms to infiltrate what is almost entirely a male preserve.
Dressed in khaki overalls, aviator shades and a black headscarf, 23-year-old Niloofar Rahmani cuts a striking presence as she struts across the tarmac at the Kabul Air Force base, which is otherwise devoid of women.
“Ever since I was a child, when I saw a bird in the sky, I wanted to fly a plane,” she told AFP at the base, hemmed in by rolling dun-coloured hills.
“Many girls in Afghanistan have dreams… but a number of problems, threats stand in the way.”
Rahmani, who grew up in Kabul, enlisted for an air force training programme in 2010 and kept it secret from her relatives who believe a woman does not belong outside the home.
Two years later she became the first female fixed-wing aviator in Afghanistan’s history and the country’s first woman pilot since the ouster of the Taliban regime.
The once-unimaginable feat recently won her the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award – and earned her the sobriquet “Afghan Top Gun” on social media, after the 1986 Tom Cruise film about flying aces in the US Navy.
It is believed there were female Afghan pilots during the pre-Taliban Communist era, but details are scant.
Nearly 14 years since the Taliban government was toppled in a US-led invasion, Afghan women have taken giant strides of progress, with female lawmakers and security personnel now commonplace.
That marks a sea change in women’s rights, as previously women weren’t allowed to leave their homes without a male chaperone and were brutally consigned to the shadows.
But gender parity still remains a distant dream as conservative attitudes prevail.
Rahmani has received threatening calls and letters purportedly from the Taliban, warning her to quit.
The threats grew so menacing in 2013 that she was forced to leave the country for two months.
“They threatened to hurt me and my family,” she said over the roar of military transport planes.
“My only choice was to be strong and ignore them.”
Rahmani always carries a pistol for her protection and though she has grown accustomed to the ogling eyes of men, she never leaves the base in uniform, lest it make her a target.
“Simple things like walking in the streets, going shopping is no longer possible. My freedom has all gone,” she said.
But more than physical threats, it is pervasive conservatism that hurts the most, with Afghanistan stuck in what many deride as a medieval time warp.
Rahmani says she was heartbroken when a mob in Kabul savagely lynched a young woman called Farkhunda last month after an amulet seller, whom she had castigated, falsely accused her of burning the Koran.
“Animals don’t do this to other animals,” she said of the daylight murder which sparked nationwide protests.
“This wasn’t done by the Taliban. These were ordinary people, the young Afghan generation.”
Rahmani also recalled a flight mission when she defied orders from a superior who stopped her from airlifting wounded soldiers in a restive southern province.
Women are traditionally forbidden from transporting the dead or wounded in Afghanistan as “many believe that females have a small heart and are too emotional,” Rahmani said.
Upon completing the task, “I told my commander, ‘punish me if you think I did anything wrong’,” she recalled.
“He smiled and said: ‘you did good’.”
In order to be treated on a par with her male colleagues, Rahmani says she can’t afford to display jangled nerves.
“I have to be tough – so tough, showing no emotion,” she said.
But while Rahmani is pushing at the boundaries of change, she is cautious not to disrespect cultural norms in a country known for its strict gender segregation.
One recent morning, when a male colleague at the base reached out to shake her hand, she declined.
“Why not?” he said, disappointed.
Rahmani smiled politely and later told AFP she didn’t want to send out the wrong signal.
In conservative Afghanistan, even a simple gesture such as a handshake between men and women can sometimes be interpreted as a sign of bad character.
Rahmani is only one of three Afghan women who have trained to become pilots since the 2001 invasion, and one of them has since quit the air force.
When asked how long it would be before the air force has an equal number of men and women pilots, she was forthright.
“Not anytime soon. Maybe 20 or 30 years,” she said.
“But I have hope.”