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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 16 Jun 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Iranian Veil Site Gets Half Million 'Likes' And State TV Rebuke

New Age Islam News Bureau

16 Jun 2014

Photo: Iranian Veil Site Gets Half Million 'Likes' And State TV Rebuke


 Four Women, One Man Killed For ‘Honour’ In Afghanistan

 Egypt Sex Attack Victim Wishes ‘God to Take Vengeance’ On Culprits

 Indonesia Takes On ‘Dolly’ Red-Light District

 UN Women Releases Blue-Print to Help Conflict Related Sexual Violence

 Maids Win Cases against Their Saudi Sponsors

 Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Launches Institution to Facilitate Youth Marriage

 Australian Muslim Women Tackle Domestic Abuse

 Iranian MPs Tell Rouhani: Stop Women from Breaking Islamic Dress Code

 First Indonesian Woman MMA Fighter Wins in Her Debut at ONE FC

 For Illegal African Women in Saudi Arabia, Garbage in Dumpsters Means Money

 ‘Hidden Heart’: Secret Muslim Love Lives Decoded In UK Film

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Iranian Veil Site Gets Half Million 'Likes' And State TV Rebuke

16 June 2014

(Reuters) - When Masih Alinejad posted a picture of herself online jumping in the air in a sunny, tree-lined London street, the journalist hoped to cheer up readers weary of her stories of grim human rights cases in her native Iran.

She did not expect what followed: a Facebook phenomenon that gained half a million followers in a month and scathing, personal criticism by Iranian state television, accusing her of drug addiction, perversion and insanity.

Inspired by Alinejad's photo, taken in a public place with her hair showing without the Islamic veil that is obligatory in Iran, thousands of women inside Iran uploaded their own self-portraits to a page she hastily set up and called: "My Stealthy Freedom". (

"To me, it was like a virtual demonstration on my Facebook page," the 37-year-old told Reuters in an interview, seeming genuinely astonished to find herself the figurehead of a campaign against Iran's restrictions on women's dress.

A political journalist who already had 200,000 Facebook followers before posting her selfie, she set up the separate "My Stealthy Freedom" to prevent her own page becoming swamped by women wanting to share their pictures.

"Look," she says, opening her laptop at a London cafe to show the most recent photo uploaded. "That was posted four minutes ago, and already has 439 likes and 11 shares."

Born two years before the Islamic Revolution that brought down the Western-backed Shah in 1979 and ushered in Iran's hybrid of democracy and religious rule, Alinejad is too young to remember her country before women were obliged to wear the veil.

As then, she says, many people underestimate the importance of the obligatory veil, saying there are far more pressing political issues. But she maintains that forcing a woman to cover her hair is the state's way of stamping its authority.

"When I was in Iran, my hair was like a hostage of the Iranian government."


Her Facebook followers agree. Many photographs show women standing in front of signs reminding women of their duty to respect the Hijab, the Islamic dress code, holding their headscarves in their hands.

The photographs are unremarkable to a Western eye, but have outraged parts of the Iranian establishment which have hit back.

The state TV news channel IRINN, on a clip still available on YouTube, reported that Alinejad had been raped by three men, in front of her son, on the London Underground after she took her own clothes off while high on drugs.

The popularity of the page, and the vitriolic reaction, have made it the focus of one of the most prominent challenges to President Hassan Rouhani, a self-proclaimed moderate.

Like the arrest of six young people last month who posted a video of themselves - the women unveiled - singing along to the Pharrell Williams pop song "Happy", "My Stealthy Freedom" has shown the yearning of liberal-minded Iranians, many of whom voted for Rouhani, for greater personal freedoms.

"#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviours caused by joy," Rouhani wrote on Twitter after the "Happy" arrests.

He also appeared to agree that social rules - in a country where morality police patrol the streets to detain women they deem to be showing too much hair - should be eased, saying: "We can't take people to heaven by force and with a whip."


But reformist Iranians say those words have not been followed by policy changes. "All the nice words have expired," Alinejad said.

With Rouhani pushing for a nuclear deal with the West to lift crushing economic sanctions, and civil wars raging in Iran's regional allies Syria and Iraq, personal freedoms and women's rights are unlikely to be high on his agenda.

But Alinejad doubts Rouhani would ease the hijab rules even if he were able to in a system where the ultimate say lies with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

And Alinejad does not trust Rouhani's invitation for all Iranian expats to return to Iran, where she fears she would be arrested due to her reporting on human rights in Iran that is carried by British and U.S.-funded broadcasters.

"I love my country and I never want to stay in England even for one single day if I am allowed to be safe in my country and cover the news that I cover from here," she says.

In response to the TV report of her drug taking and rape, Alinejad posted a video of herself, standing on the platform of the London Underground, singing a song in Persian about "my homeland", as people walk by, unfazed by her hair or her song.

"My real revenge was to use what the hardliners are most petrified of: singing a song without a veil, in London," she said. "Can you publish this video on Iranian TV? No. Would I be safe singing on the Tehran subway without a veil? No."

The state TV reported on the video - although it did not broadcast it - saying Alinejad had lost her mind due to the "rape".



Four Women, One Man Killed For ‘Honour’ In Afghanistan

16 June 2014

MULTAN: Five people were murdered in so-called honour killings and four were murdered over property.

In Khanewal, a man killed his brother and sister-in-law, accusing the latter of having an extramarital affair.

Police said Amir shot Zubaida* and his brother when he tried to save her. Two cousins who were present at the time were also injured.

They were taken to Khanewal DHQ Hospital where doctors later said their condition was stable.

The police have arrested Amir in a raid.

In Multan, 28-year-old Omar Khalid shot his 23-year-old sister for honour. She died on the way to Nishtar Medical Hospital. Khalid is still at large.

In Rajanpur, a 31-year-old woman was shot and killed by her father.

Police said he also shot and injured his younger daughter and fled. He was later arrested and confessed to the shootings. In Cheechawatni, a man cut his wife’s throat after he accused her of having an affair. Ghaziabad police have arrested him and he confessed.

He told the police in a statement that he had a right to kill his wife because she had embarrassed him. Separately, in Cheechawatni, a man killed his older brother over a bag of fertiliser. Police said on Friday Zubair had bought a fertiliser bag from his younger brother Talha. On Saturday, Zubair refused to pay Talha for the bag. They said Talha shot him in retaliation. Kasowaal police arrested him.

In another incident, two cousins were killed over a property dispute that has gone on for 28 years. Police said some men shot four cousins while they were working in the fields. They said one of them died on the spot while another died at the hospital. They said the other two were in a critical condition.

In Sahiwal, a man was killed over a property dispute and two others were injured. Police said 32-year-old Saqib was shot thrice and died on the way to the hospital. Police said their family told them he had an inheritance dispute with some cousins.



Egypt sex attack victim wishes ‘God to take vengeance’ on culprits

16 June 2014

Activists circulated a video that showed the Egyptian woman who was sexually assaulted earlier this month in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, in an attack seen by thousands on video-sharing site YouTube.

The video showed the woman being visited by Egypt’s Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali, and Heath Minister Adel Adawi

Traumatized and barely able to talk, the woman described the incident – which took place during a celebration of the inauguration of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi - which shocked many Egyptians.

“I have a newspaper called “Eyes of the Nation,” she said, “I was out doing some reporting,” before she was attacked.

The woman, a widow, said she was the sole breadwinner of her family.

“I wanted to go out and take care of my family,” she said, add that she wished that “God could take his vengeance on the culprits.”

On Tuesday, the newly sworn-in president visited the woman in hospital, and was pictured handing her a bouquet of roses.

Sisi told her that he was “sorry” over what happened, and vowed that the country’s law will give her justice.



Indonesia Takes On ‘Dolly’ Red-Light District

June 16, 2014

SURABAYA: Sex workers in skin-tight outfits sit in shop windows, ignoring the call to prayer that blares from mosques across the heart of one of Southeast Asia’s biggest red-light districts.

The series of narrow alleys in Surabaya’s “Dolly” district on Indonesia’s Java Island teem with prostitutes touting for business, smiling through the windows and doorways of dingy clubs and bars housed in crumbling buildings.

While foreign tourists may first think of places such as Thailand when it comes to Southeast Asian red-light destinations, one of the largest has been challenging assumptions in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country for decades, largely undisturbed by authorities.

But now a crusading mayor – credited with regenerating Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-biggest city after the capital Jakarta – is making a determined push to close down the notorious brothel network despite fierce resistance and warnings that it could push sex workers into destitution.

“We have to lift our people from oppression,” said Tri Rismaharini, a female mayor who wears the Muslim headscarf and whose stewardship of Surabaya has led many to predict she could have a future role in national politics.

While the city says the plan is its own, Islamic leaders are also claiming credit after pressuring authorities for years over Dolly, which is thought to take its name from a Dutch madam who ran a brothel in the city during the Netherlands’s colonial rule of Indonesia.

Now Rismaharini has set a date of June 18 to close the brothels in Dolly and a neighbouring area called Jarak, which have a largely local clientele.

Authorities are offering each of the estimated 1,400 prostitutes around five million rupiah ($420) and training in new professions that are expected to replace prostitution there, such as baking or handicrafts.

While many have welcomed the move, the plan has stirred strong opposition from sex workers and others whose jobs depend on Dolly, such as taxi drivers and street vendors who contribute to the area’s estimated nightly income of between 300 and 500 million rupiah ($25,000 – $42,000).

‘I really need this work’

Sex workers and residents have been staging protests in recent weeks, with hundreds of prostitutes marching through Dolly earlier this month.

“I am not going to accept the government offer because I really need this work,” said Mawar, who gave only one name, sitting on a faded old sofa in a club in Dolly.

“I would never be able to find another job because I did not even finish elementary school.”

The sex worker, who earns between 10 million and 13 million rupiah a month ($850 to $1,100), said it would be hard for her to support her two children, aged five and eight, if Dolly closes.

On a recent evening, there were crowds of people and hordes of cars and motorbikes thronging the streets, including many prostitutes and pimps. There were also couples out for a stroll and children playing, and the atmosphere was peaceful.

The area appeared to be operating normally in recent days, apart from regular protests during the day time, an AFP reporter said.

According to local reports, the mayor will issue a declaration on Wednesday evening, saying that Dolly and Jarak are closed and police will move in to shut it down.

The prostitutes will have to leave the same day and will receive training for the next seven days, according to officials. Those who came from villages outside Surabaya will have to return to them.

For some members of the public, this will be a welcome move.

“I want Dolly to be closed – this place brings shame on Surabaya,” said Siti, a 46-year-old teacher who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

“The people who go there for girls are sexually unstable.”

Fighting back

But Lilik Sulistyowati, from NGO Yayasan Abdi Asih which works with prostitutes in the area, warned that the workers were unlikely to go quietly.

“They will fight the closure,” she said, and blamed the government for trying to push through the plan in such a short time, saying authorities should have aimed to shut it within five years after retraining the sex workers.

Despite concerns in some quarters, for local Muslim leaders the closure will be a huge victory after years of campaigning.

“The closure of Dolly must be highly praised,” said Abdusshomad Buchori, local head of the country’s top Muslim clerical body, the Indonesia Ulema Council.

“As the world’s most populous Muslim country, it is not too much to demand that Dolly be closed. What they are doing is not a job. Selling one’s body is immoral and inhuman behaviour.”



UN Women releases blue-print to help conflict related sexual violence

16 June 2014

UN Women along with OHCHR has launched the UN Secretary-General’s Guidance Note on Reparations for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, a blueprint for promoting gender-sensitive approaches to the design and delivery of reparations for victims of conflict-related sexual violence.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women’s executive director, presented the newly adopted guidelines against the backdrop of this week’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, the largest so far gathering of the international community to focus on ending sexual violence in conflict, and called for the urgent need to focus on reparations, which are the most victim-focused, and yet most underfunded justice tool in post-conflict countries.

Global outrage has grown as grim reports from northern Nigeria, Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Afghanistan and other crises points pour in daily detailing the horrors of conflicts that affect women.

Highlighting that the conviction of perpetrators, while essential, does not address the root causes of violence or deliver the redress due to victims, the Guidance Note makes a strong call to the international community to usher in transformative reparations for individuals and communities affected by sexual violence in conflict.

Reparations, most often overlooked in access to justice processes, are of great importance for women as direct victims and as widows, wives, mothers and caregivers in settings where there is social and economic discrimination.

Ranging from specialised healthcare and education programmes for victims of violations to land restitution, formal apologies and victim commemoration days, reparations can provide acknowledgement of survivors’ rights as equal citizens and crucial resources for recovery.

“Stronger action is the need of the hour, and sexual violence in conflict is a front line concern for us.

“Reparations are routinely left out of peace negotiations or sidelined in funding priorities, even though they are of utmost importance to survivors.

“We need to move this agenda forward in order to ensure real change in the lives of survivors who have seen the horrors of sexual violence in conflict up close,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

“UN Women stands ready to support the international community in delivering on the promise of reparations as a means for substantive change in the lives of women and men, boys and girls affected by conflict and to reflect the needs of victims for both courtroom justice as well as comprehensive redress.”

The Guidance Note is the result of extensive consultations and research, and seeks to distill experiences across the globe into actionable principles to inform access to justice policy and programming in post-conflict societies.

Studies show that often policy and laws are in place, yet implementation and gender-sensitive delivery of reparations programmes continue to lag behind.

To address these challenges, UN Women and OHCHR developed the guidance for the UN system, with principles applicable to all parties, including Member States and civil society actors who are developing, supporting, and implementing reparations policies and programming.

Underlining the need to invest in gender equality as a foundation to ensure societies with lasting peace, the principles call for long-term, in-depth solutions, such as, not just a once-off cash payment, but access to land and inheritance rights for the wives of the disappeared; land restitution for those affected, coupled with land redistribution and access to credit, skills and means to transform that land into a source of livelihood; and providing fistula surgery to rape victims, as well as income-generating skills to help them build a future.

Key principles in the Guidance Note include:

Urgent need for reparations to be transformative in impact. Transformative reparations mean redressing both the single violation as well as the context of inequality that renders women vulnerable to violence and informs the consequences and impacts of this violence.

In the spirit of UN Security Council resolution 1325 and the six resolutions that have followed, the Guidance Note calls for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to be at the centre, as agents of reform. Survivors must be meaningfully involved and consulted in the mapping, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of reparations programmes.

Human rights violations impact men and women differently and in multiple ways, and there is an urgent need to develop reparations programmes that acknowledge and respond to this reality and to men and women’s different needs.

Key recommended actions include:

Awareness-raising activities and outreach campaigns are essential, and must make victims aware of their rights in a language they understand. Equally important are transport provisions and childcare facilities so women can register as beneficiaries; and confidentiality measures to create safe environments for those coming forward.

Effective consultation with survivors of sexual violence requires building better processes and systems. Being transformative requires moving beyond business as usual.

The Guidance Note also highlights the need to promote comprehensive reparations programmes which include different forms of reparations with individual and collective reparations complementing and reinforcing each other.



Maids win cases against their Saudi sponsors

16 June 2014

The domestic workers security center of Riyadh Police has told two citizens to pay their domestic workers 111,800 Saudi riyals in outstanding wages.

The two Indonesian employees had complained to their embassy that they had not received their salaries for years.

The embassy referred the two workers to the domestic workers security center, which set up a committee to investigate the matter.

The committee verified the workers’ claims and detained the two citizens.

One of the employees said she worked for two years with a sponsor, who paid her on time, before he transferred her sponsorship to one of his relatives, for whom she worked for six years and accumulated SR70,200 in unpaid wages.

The other worker said she worked six and a half years with her sponsor and accumulated SR41,600 in unpaid wages.

She led police to her sponsor’s residence. The sponsor admitted to not paying up and claimed that he did not have the money. He was detained until he can pay her.

The two workers expressed happiness that they will finally get their dues and said they are thankful to the authorities for their intervention.

Last year the Kingdom announced new rules to protect the rights of domestic workers.

The new rules require employers to pay workers the agreed monthly salary without delay, and give them a day off each week.

Employers are also required to provide domestic workers with suitable accommodations, as well as granting them time to rest for at least nine hours each day.

Under the new guidelines, workers are entitled to paid sick leave and a one-month paid vacation after putting in two years of work as well as end of service compensation equal to one month salary after four years.

But employees must also respect Islam and its teachings… and obey the orders of the employers and their family members concerning getting the agreed work done.

A domestic worker does not have the right to reject a work, or leave a job, without a valid reason.



Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Launches Institution to Facilitate Youth Marriage

16 June 2014

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani launched an institution over the weekend to help young Muslim couples get married and assist them with securing the furniture for their future homes.

The director of the institution, Hani Balaa, told The Daily Star that the Mawada and Rahma Institution, operating under Dar al-Fatwa, was established at the mufti’s initiative and had already begun its activity a few months previous.

“We already provided assistance for some twenty couples and we are accepting applications from young men and women seeking help,” he said.

Balaa explained that institution receives donations from relevant traders and provides the furniture, home appliances and electronics, for young couples.

“Some couples remain engaged for more than two years sometimes because of their inability to furnish their home, especially in light of the tough economic conditions, so we decided to help,” he said.

“The mufti is keen on preserving the values of Islam and marriage is one of them,” he added.

The institution was launched during a dinner ceremony in Dar al-Fatwa Saturday attended by several businessmen and religious figures.

“Helping young men who seek marriage is a religious obligation, especially in light of the difficult economic circumstances Lebanon is experiencing,” Qabbani said.

He added traders can fulfill their duty to charity either by directly donating furniture and home appliances, or even by offering money to the institution.

Lebanon’s Dar al-Fatwa, the top Sunni religious authority in Lebanon, is experiencing divisions, as a spill over of politics imposes the risk of ending up with two muftis in the country.

Since the end of 2012, disputes between Qabbani and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement have split the Higher Islamic Council into two.

The crisis has been expanding ever since.



Australian Muslim Women Tackle Domestic Abuse

16 June 2014

AUSTRALIAN Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights executive director Joumanah El Matrah says people often assume language is the most significant obstacle when working with women from immigrant backgrounds on issues of domestic violence.

“In fact the difference is more around what has happened to women before they’ve got here,” she said, launching a guide to “Working with Muslim women on the effects of family violence and child sexual abuse” at the new Islamic Museum of Australia in Thornbury, Melbourne, on Friday. “While one cannot easily say that culture and religion create ­violence, historically certain cultural and religious understandings have worked to entrench, normalise and (downplay) the effect of violence against women and children.



Iranian MPs tell Rohani: Stop women from breaking Islamic dress code

16 June 2014

In the face of the Iranian president's attempt at reforms, along with the sproutings of fashion rebellion by women, two-thirds of Iran's parliament members have written to Hassan Rohani urging him to enforce the Islamic dress code for women and resist Western cultural influences, AFP reported Sunday.

"One of the main areas of cultural invasion is in trying to change the way of life of Iranians regarding the veil. We ask that you give the necessary orders to enforce the law," wrote 195 members of the 290-strong parliament to the president.

Women's fashion is at the heart of the culture clash taking place in Iran. Law in the Islamic republic requires women of all religions to observe hijab: covering the hair and wearing loose-fitting clothes when outside. Yet instead of wearing the traditional chador that drapes the head and body, many Iranian women are pushing the boundaries by wearing a thinner head scarf, leggings and shirt.

Hundreds of women have posted photos of themselves dressing in violation of hijab on a Facebook page, "Stealthy Freedoms of Women in Iran," started by an Iranian expatriate woman in London. And in October, Rohani upset hardliners when he criticized the excesses of the "modesty police," saying, "We cannot take people to heaven by using whips."

But the reactionaries are pushing back. At the start of this month, Tehran police fanned out on major boulevards and stopped women in their cars and checked to see if they were obeying the dress code. And in the past two months, at least two demonstrations demanding strict adherence to hijab were held in the capital.



First Indonesian Woman MMA Fighter Wins in Her Debut at ONE FC

16 June 2014

Jakarta. Desi Rahayu shrugged off her nerve and took first win in her professional debut as she defeated Malaysia’s Ella Tang in unanimous decision at ONE FC: Era of Champions at Mata Elang International Stadium in Jakarta on Saturday night.

Desi made the best of her judo background to dominate her opponent in ground fight and almost took the submission win in the first round.

“I got kicked in my stomach by Ella in the first round, and I didn’t want it again. So, I tried to take her down. But my technique wasn’t perfect, and she could get away,” Desi said after the fight. “But I’m happy to win the fight. Before the fight, I could barely talk, and now all my burden is gone.”

In the second preliminary fight, Indonesia’s Zuli Silawanto lost to Mohammad Sotounzadeh in a knockout.



For Illegal African Women in Saudi Arabia, Garbage in Dumpsters Means Money

16 June 2014

Piles of household waste in dumpsters, which include cartons, tin cans and metal and glass items, are a lucrative source of income for many illegal African women. They collect the waste materials to sell in the scrap market for a profit despite the efforts of the Jeddah Municipality to stop the trade which is spoiling the look of the city.

Garbage-picking is a daily practice where illegal African women sift through the waste in garbage dumps picking up recyclable materials such as metal, glass and paper to sell later. However, the phenomenon has given rise to environmental problems especially in Jeddah’s southern districts where the waste is often stored in vacant lands or in nooks and crannies of crumbling walls.

Some women have been at the job for 30 years despite the Jeddah Municipality’s efforts to put an end to the practice. In fact, the number of illegal women involved in garbage picking has increased.

Abdulaziz Al-Ghamdi, Jeddah Municipality spokesman, told Arab News in an interview earlier: “Garbage dumpsters will soon disappear from Jeddah’s streets.”

A project estimated to be worth more than SR80 million seeks to drastically reduce the number of containers and garbage compactors on Jeddah’s major streets and small alleyways.

“The new decision will be implemented by next year pending extensive study and this will hopefully eradicate the phenomenon of garbage-picking. The move will also enhance the garbage collection system from the city to the outskirts,” Al-Ghamdi said.

Most of the African garbage collectors come to the Kingdom for Umrah or Haj and then stay back following the expiration of their visas. They prefer the southern districts of Jeddah. Owing to lack of jobs in the Kingdom for unskilled labour, the women take to garbage-picking to meet the daily cost of living which some of them say, is better than begging.

They work every day from six in the morning to two in the afternoon roaming the roads and streets looking for recyclable garbage in the numerous dumpsters in the city. They store their haul in certain areas in south Jeddah to be sold to scrap stores later.

“The problem is that the Jeddah Municipality has not paid attention to the cleanliness and development of south Jeddah giving rise to all the negative activities in that area,” Adel Hassen, a south Jeddah resident, told Arab News.

Social activist Ali Awad said: “The southern districts of Jeddah like Al-Nuslah, AL-Hindawyah, Al-Sabeel among others harbor a lot of illegal expats, especially African nationals with no residency permits.

"There are other districts where the African expats are wanted by security authorities especially in areas bordering the industrial city of Jeddah. Many of them prefer to work as beggars or garbage-pickers creating security and environmental problems.

"There need to be concerted efforts to clean the city and organize the southern Jeddah districts.”

Meanwhile, these districts continue to witness garbage sprawled on the streets and African women and their children are seen elsewhere rummaging dumpsters for things that can be retrieved and sold.

Several residents of the southern districts have demanded the Jeddah Municipality take action against the garbage contracting firms which are not paying enough attention to cleaning the streets.

Some months back, Jeddah police issued a statement saying patrols continue to arrest illegal expats in south Jeddah during labour inspection campaigns which began in November last year.




 ‘Hidden Heart’: Secret Muslim love lives decoded in UK film

16 June 2014

A documentary film that explores the emotional and familial relationship challenges faced by British Muslim women who marry outside their faith and culture, is this week being shown at the Sheffield Documentary Festival based, here in the UK. "Hidden Heart", a production by Zara Afzal and Christopher Hird, chronicles the joys, hardships and sorrows of UK-based Muslim women who find love outside their own culture or faith. What emerges from the personal accounts of backlash and ostracism is a challenge to their notion of community and the forging of a new cultural identity.

Zara Afzal, a British filmmaker and Director of ‘Hidden Heart’, believes that it is the film's subject that plays an important role in Britain’s "multicultural society" and forms part of some of the "challenges that first and second generation Muslim women face" in the UK. She is hoping the film becomes part of a movement that overturns the "hidden" nature of an often stigmatized love through humanized accounts.

Whilst it is legal in the UK for couples across different faiths to marry, the focus on interfaith marriage in the film - the marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man is often considered unthinkable and the "ultimate taboo" for most Muslims. The documentary has already provoked a polarizing debate.

Speaking to Al Arabiya News, Mizan Raja, who has been running a UK based Muslim matrimonial service, for over 13 years explains:

"Very few Muslim women, if any, marry non-muslims and those who do, faith has never been determinant factor. There is general consensus from Islamic tradition of women not marrying non- Muslims, and 99% who do, faith plays a non-existent role besides the wedding day or death of spouse of parents.

“All it is reflecting people who are confused with the faith, life and purpose. It’s their choice, and shouldn’t make a song and dance about their personal choice and expect a community which is getting more conservative to give them a red carpet for their actions.”

Tehmina Kazi who is an Executive Producer of the documentary and Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, explains that she is supporting the film because "too many Muslim women, and it is usually women, who receive opprobrium for marrying outside their religious or even ethnic communities so it is important to raise awareness of the challenges they face, in a non-preachy way which foregrounds their personal stories through less theological debates."

It was recently reported in the Independent News that a few UK based Imams are increasingly seeing a rise in interfaith marriages. The challenges associated with this include pressure to convert, a deficiency in tolerance amongst family members or not enough pastoral care. This inspired the Christian Muslim Forum in 2012 to launch its Interfaith Marriage Guidelines at Westminster Abbey, in co-operation with the Inter-Faith Marriage Network and the Muslim-Christian Marriage Support Group.

They featured case studies of Muslim women who are married to men from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. They also reproduced statistics from the 2001 census, which recorded 17,163 Christian women married to Muslim men and 4,233 Christian men married to Muslim women. According to the news report: “estimating the number of people in mixed-faith marriages is difficult...the 2001 census suggests 21,000 but demographers believe the figure is considerably higher” according to an Independent News report.

The screening of the documentary coincides at a time when there has been an increasing spotlight on the prohibition of Muslim women marrying outside their religious fold; either as part of ongoing discussion by British Muslims on why Muslim men and women in their 30s and 40s are finding it difficult to find marriage partners, or by Western media during the recent Sudanese death penalty case.

‘Hidden Heart’ is expected to be completed later this year. For Zara: “the best chance of making the film with the sensitivity it deserves, is to make it independently, outside of television and then distribute it through festivals and independent cinemas to build a following for the film.” The film, which is currently still under ongoing production, has already received support from a prominent British News Broadcaster Jon Snow, who has donated to the film’s crowd funding appeal towards its completion and outreach campaign.