New Age Islam News Bureau
29 Sept 2013
Al-Qaeda ordering Syrian schoolgirls to wear Islamic clothes (File photo: AFP)
• Driving Damages Ovaries, Causes Birth Defects - Saudi Cleric
• NGO: Qaeda Tells Syrian Schoolgirls to Wear Islamic Clothes
• Girl Saved By Hero of Kenya Mall Massacre, Abdul Haji
• First Woman Stands For Tajik President Backed By Islamic Party
• Pakistan Women Forced To Have Unsafe Abortions: Study
• Miss Philippines Crowned Miss World amid Muslim Anger
• Lebanon Women Need Media Visibility – And Quotas – For Next Elections
• Rape Laws under Scrutiny in Karachi
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Kidnapped Syrian Women Forced To Make ‘Sexual Jihad’ Claims on State TV
29 September 2013
Syrian women, whose families said were kidnapped by security forces, have appeared on state TV recounting stories of how they were either raped by rebels or how they joined al-Qaeda-affiliated groups to fulfill the fighter’s carnal needs in what has been described as “sexual jihad.”
“My father told me to go and take a shower. While bathing, a man came, he looked older than 50 in age, he was only wearing his underwear. He pulled my hair and took me to the room. I was screaming and my father was hearing me, but he didn’t do anything,” Rawan Qadah, a girl under the age of 18, said on screen. She added that her father had sold his “honour” to the rebels.
Unedited versions of the Syrian television videos show how the girls were directed by men in the background to read their statements.
But, according to the Qadah’s family, their daughter was kidnapped by the Syrian security forces after returning back from school last November in her southwestern hometown in Deraa.
Her disappearance has led to the creation of a petition campaign on the global civic campaigning website Avaaz.
Sarah Khaled al-Alawo from eastern Deir al-Zour is another woman who spoke on state TV.
Alawo was described as a member of the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. She stated that she catered to the rebels’ sexual demands as a “sexual jihadist.”
But the Alawo family stressed that their daughter was arrested from Damascus University campus after she expressed opinions in support of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“Sexual jihad” or Jihad al-nikah, permitting short marriages to allow for sexual relations with multiple partners, is considered by some hardline Salafists as a legitimate form of holy war.
In another video obtained by Al Arabiya before screening, a Syrian girl was asking people behind the camera to verify “18th of the month?” The date when she was allegedly raped by the rebels.
Recently, the Tunisian women’s ministry said it would come up with a plan to counter the growing number of women allegedly travelling to Syria to sexually comfort militants.
Meanwhile, Tunisia’s Interior Minister Lotfi ben Jeddou told the National Constituent Assembly that Tunisian women had gone to Syria where “they have sexual relations with 20, 30, 100” militants in a speech on Sep. 19.
“After the sexual liaisons they have there in the name of ‘'jihad al-nikah’ they come home pregnant,” AFP quoted him as saying to lawmakers.
Driving Damages Ovaries, Causes Birth Defects - Saudi Cleric
29 September 2013
Riyadh: One of Saudi Arabia’s top conservative clerics has said women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems, countering activists who are trying to end the Islamic kingdom’s male-only driving rules.
A campaign calling for women to defy the ban in a protest drive on October 26 has spread rapidly online over the past week and gained support from some prominent women activists. On Sunday the campaign’s website was blocked inside the kingdom.
As one of the 21 members of the Senior Council of Scholars, Shaikh Saleh Al Lohaidan can write fatwas, or religious edicts, advise the government and has a large following among other influential conservatives.
His comments have in the past played into debates in Saudi society and he has been a vocal opponent of tentative reforms to increase freedoms for women by King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, who sacked him as head of a top judiciary council in 2009.
In an interview published on Friday on the website sabq.org, he said women aiming to overturn the ban on driving should put “reason ahead of their hearts, emotions and passions”.
Although the council does not set Saudi policy, which is ultimately decided by King Abdullah, it can slow government action in a country where the ruling Al Saud family derives much of its legitimacy from the clerical elite.
It is unclear whether Al Lohaidan’s strong endorsement of the ban is shared by other members of the council, but his comments demonstrate how entrenched the opposition is to women driving among some conservative Saudis.
“If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards,” he told Sabq.
“That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees,” he said.
A biography on his website does not list any background in medicine and he did not cite any studies to back up his claims.
US diplomats in a 2009 Riyadh embassy cable released by WikiLeaks, describedAl Lohaidan as “broadly viewed as an obstacle to reform” and said that his “ill-considered remarks embarrassed the kingdom on more than one occasion”.
The ban on women driving is not backed by a specific law, but only men are granted driving licences. Women can be fined for driving without a licence but have also been detained and put on trial in the past on charges of political protest.
Shaikh Abdul Latif Al Shaikh, the head of the morality police, told Reuters a week ago that there was no text in the documents making up Sharia law which bars women from driving.
NGO: Qaeda Tells Syrian Schoolgirls to Wear Islamic Clothes
29 September 2013
An al-Qaeda front group in Syria says girls in a village it controls will not be allowed to attend school unless they wear Islamic clothing, a monitoring group said Saturday.
In Tweihineh, “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant... has forbidden girls in primary education and above from attending school unless they wear fully Islamic clothing including an abaya (gown), gloves and a veil,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Citing activists in the ISIL-controlled northern village, the Britain-based Observatory also said boys were told to dress in what the extremist group considers Islamic clothing.
They must wear “traditional Pakistani clothing and a cap,” said the Observatory, which relies on activists, doctors and lawyers across Syria for its information.
The news comes just two days after ISIL fighters torched statues and crosses inside churches in northern Syria.
The main opposition National Coalition condemned ISIL’s “aggression” against the churches in the city of Raqa.
It said the jihadist group “is outside the Syrian revolution and does not at all represent the Syrian people’s aspirations.”
Activists in opposition-controlled areas have reported escalating abuses by ISIL against local rebels and civilians, including kidnappings and public executions.
Despite fears of retaliation, there have been anti-ISIL protests.
On Saturday, amateur video distributed online showed activists in Raqa staging an anti-ISIL demonstration and carrying a large cross that the jihadists had torn down.
“The Syrian people rose against (President) Bashar al-Assad because they aspired for freedom and to rid themselves from dictatorship, not to replace one form of oppression with another,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
By committing abuses “and war crimes” in rebel-controlled parts of Syria, “ISIL is doing Assad’s regime a great service,” he added.
“For hundreds of years, people in Syria have lived side by side with each other, and we believe in freedom of religion.”
Extremism is not the only obstacle to education in Syria.
The U.N. agency for children said this month that nearly half of Syrian children are not in school.
More than 3,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed in the 30-month conflict, and nearly 900 are being used to house displaced families, UNICEF said.
Of more than two million Syrians forced to flee their country, some half are children, and only a minority are in school this year.
Girl Saved By Hero of Kenya Mall Massacre, Abdul Haji
29 September 2013
Nairobi: It was one of the most moving images of Kenya’s Westgate Mall terror attack — a little girl running in terror across an empty corridor to the outstretched arm of her rescuer.
Portia is the four-year-old daughter of American expatriates Katherine and Philip Walton, both IT workers.
The man who saved her along with her mother and two sisters is Abdul Haji, a Somali Muslim and the son of a former security minister in the Kenyan government.
Faced with a long afternoon trapped in the house with her five children last Saturday, Katherine decided on a quick excursion - a trip to Nairobi’s popular mall.
Her two teenage boys went ahead with Katherine following shortly after with her three daughters including Portia.
Four hours later, the family lay pinned to the ground opposite the supermarket where they did their weekly shop as gunmen hurled grenades and sprayed bullets just yards from them.
“We were just going to meet my two older boys in the supermarket when we heard an explosion,” said Katherine, 38, from North Carolina who moved to Kenya with her family two years ago.
“I grabbed the girls and started running. A woman pulled us behind a promotional table opposite. I could see the bullets hitting above the shops and hear the screaming all around us.”
She remembers only fragments of the hours that followed which she spent huddled under the table, but, according to Mr Walton, 39, she saw enough of the attackers to be able to describe several of them in detail afterwards.
“She heard them talking to people, telling them to stand up followed by gunshots,” he recalled.
During their ordeal, the couple’s three daughters, aged four, two and 13 months, were shielded and calmed by an injured Kenyan woman and two Indian women who hid with them. “They were so still and quiet,” Katherine said.
“My baby was screaming when there was shooting but between that, she just slept. In one lull in the fighting, my two-year-old and the baby were playing together with my phone. I couldn’t understand how they could be acting like everything was fine.”
Yards away from them she saw a man with a pistol who was shooting at a heavily armed young jihadi in a bandana who was taunting him to come closer. That man was Abdul Haji, who had rushed to the mall after getting a text message from his brother who was trapped inside.
“We saw a lot of dead people. Very young people, children, old ladies, you cannot imagine,” Haji told the Kenyan television station NTV.
“From what they were doing, you could tell that these were not normal people. The fact that he was making a joke out of this whole thing made me much more angry and determined to engage them, and to shame them.”
Haji said his father taught him to use a gun to protect their cattle from bandits when he was growing up.
Last Saturday (September 21), he used his skills to provide fire cover for the Kenyan Red Cross workers and, over a period of three hours, help to evacuate some of the 1,000 people who escaped the mall in the initial stages of a siege that would last three days and leave at least 72 people dead.
As he stood with a fellow rescuer crouched outside the Nakumatt supermarket, Haji said he noticed the women hiding under the table.
“Just a few minutes ago we were exchanging fire with the terrorists and these people were right in the middle of it, in the crossfire. We regrouped and we started to strategise on how to get them out of there,” he said.
He asked the women to move towards them but they indicated they had children with them and could not all run together.
Haji said he asked Katherine if one of the older children could be encouraged to run towards him. Portia emerged and ran across the deserted corridor. The moment was captured by a Reuters photographer, Goran Tomasevic, in a dramatic image that was beamed around the world.
Walton, who during the siege was 9,000 miles away on a business trip to the United States, said he reacted in disbelief when he first saw the photograph of his daughter striking out alone across the mall.
“She’s not normally the kind of girl that would run to a stranger, particularly one with a gun,” he said.
His wife added: “I don’t know how she knew to do it but she did. She did what she was told and she went.”
Seeing the little girl running towards him gave Haji fresh impetus to continue helping people out.
“This little girl is a very brave girl,” he said. “Amid all this chaos around her, she remained calm, she wasn’t crying and she actually managed to run towards men who were holding guns. I was really touched by this and I thought if such a girl can be so brave... it gave us all courage.”
One by one, the Walton family emerged and ran with Haji and other rescuers until they reached the police lines outside the mall.
There, Katherine was reunited with her teenage boys who had been trapped with another family in the basement of the mall but also had escaped.
“As we went out, it was so quiet and we started to get upset because we realised we were almost there,” Katherine said.
“They soothed us, told us we were OK, we were safe and to stay calm. They did a wonderful job.”
Looking at the photograph now, Katherine says she can see the fear etched on her daughter’s face.
“I was worried about family in America seeing it because we haven’t really shared the whole story with them yet,” she said. “For me, I know the story behind it and that it ends well. I think I owe Mr Haji a hug or two.”
Since he has been identified, many Kenyans have hailed Haji as a hero but he disagrees. “I think I did what any Kenyan in my situation would have done to save lives, to save other humans regardless of their nationality, religion or creed,” he said.
Portia and her big brother have since been sent back to school in an attempt to establish “a new normal”, Mr Walton said.
“Our two-year-old cries a little bit more and Portia wants to stand a little closer but really they are doing exceptionally well considering,” his wife added. Mr Walton said there was no question that they would now be leaving Kenya.
“There will always be bad people in the world but it’s the comfort of knowing that there are good people; that matters,” he said. “The way this community drew together and responded was just incredible. It’s an honour and a privilege to be able to live among such good people.”
Asked what they would tell their children about the Westgate attack when they grew up, he said: “We will be truthful with them. “It defies logic that they survived but we’re a family of deep faith and take a lot of comfort from knowing that God protected them.”
First Woman Stands For Tajik President Backed By Islamic Party
29 September 2013
DUSHANBE, TAJIKISTAN: A woman is for the first time bidding for the presidency in Tajikistan after an opposition bloc including an Islamic party chose a respected female rights lawyer as its candidate in the majority Muslim country.
A 65-year-old lawyer and rights activist who does not wear a headscarf, Oinikhol Bobonazarova, has been nominated to stand in the November 6 polls against President Emomali Rakhmon by the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP).
It will be the first time that Tajiks are able to vote for a woman in a presidential race since the impoverished country’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Even more unusually, Bobonazarova will represent a moderate Islamic party in a country where 99 percent are Sunni Muslims.
The opposition Social Democratic party, which has no parliamentary seats, is also expected to endorse Bobonazarova as its candidate on October 6.
By Tajik law, she now has to collect 210,000 signatures from supporters to be able to stand.
“This is a unique case when a woman is standing as a candidate,” the veteran activist told AFP in an interview.
“I feel great. The thing is, this isn’t my first day in politics, but I have been doing it for the last 40 years. People support and welcome me and my choice. They wish me success and give me inspiration,” Bobonazarova said.
The IRP, the only legally registered Islamic political party in ex-Soviet Central Asia, won 8 percent in 2010 parliamentary polls, taking up two out of 63 seats in the lower house of parliament.
The women members of the party wear full Islamic dress, but Bobonazarova, who is a Muslim, compromised by wearing a hat at a party congress.
Incumbent Rakhmon, 60, who has held onto power since 1992, is expected to win a mandate for seven more years. The ruling party is set to formally announce his candidacy early next month.
Opposition forces are set to use the campaign to push for reforms and a crackdown on corruption in the country bordering Afghanistan where around 40 percent live in poverty.
Around 1 million Tajiks work as migrant labourers in Russia, sending home remittances that make up almost half the country’s GDP.
Bobonazarova heads an NGO called Perspektiva Plus which defends the rights of migrant workers, women and torture victims.
In the early 1990s she was one of the leaders of a post-Soviet democratic bloc and in 1993 the authorities accused her of taking part in a coup plot and put her under arrest before releasing her.
“We backed Oinikhol Bobonazarova as a single candidate for the reform parties, although it was not an easy choice for us,” the IRP leader Mukhiddin Kabiri said at a party conference on September 17.
“It’s not easy when an Islamic party supports the candidacy of a woman. Taking such a decision, we know what we are letting ourselves in for.”
At the party congress, Bobonazarova made no bones about the fact that she was not the most obvious candidate for the IRP.
“I said: I am what I am: a democrat, without a skullcap or a headscarf,” she told AFP, referring to clothing worn by Muslims in Tajikistan.
“They accepted me as I am. Only seven people voted against my candidacy.”
Bobonazarova’s links to the IRP go back to 1997 when it asked her to serve as deputy prosecutor-general in the difficult peace process after the civil war, but she refused the post, she recalled.
“We must find shared points where we meet: everyone should live well – supporters of the Islamic party and Communists and Democrats – and the laws should be the same for everyone.”
She pointed to women in leading positions in Pakistan and Malaysia.
Nevertheless, she said she had experienced some gender discrimination.
“Yes, people say things, we hear members of the public asking: can a woman really become president?”, she said, backing greater involvement of women in senior political roles.
“We have a democratic state. We must be more bold about nominating and appointing five or six women to ministerial posts.”
Tajikistan already has one female deputy prime minister as well as several deputy ministers and MPs. Rakhmon has backed measures to put more women in senior government posts.
Pakistan Women Forced To Have Unsafe Abortions: Study
29 September 2013
KARACHI: Nearly 700,000 women in Pakistan last year went to health facilities for treatment of complications resulting from spontaneous or induced abortions using unsafe methods or with the assistance of an unskilled healthcare provider, according to a report launched at a programme on Friday.
The report titled “Post-Abortion Care in Pakistan: A National Study,” released by the Population Council was launched at a hotel. It points out gaps in the quality of post-abortion care following unsafe abortion procedures, societal stigmas and inequities in the healthcare system, the burden of post-abortion complications and the significant role of private and public sector hospitals in ensuring access to healthcare.
As an update to a study completed in 2002, this report provides recommendations for promoting safer post-abortion care, expanding access to high-quality and affordable family planning services and contraception, and building capacity among healthcare providers to help achieve these goals.
It said while safe procedures for post-abortion care were found to be more widely used in 2012 than they were in 2002, health facilities still relied on unnecessarily invasive procedures such as dilation and curettage (D&C).
Furthermore, many facilities did not have adequate equipment and supplies to provide quality care for complications and a majority of them were not equipped to provide round-the-clock services to manage severe complications.
Besides, the private sector played an important role in the provision of care, as more than 60pc of all cases were treated by private sector hospitals. The report said in Pakistan, 25pc of women liked to avoid or delay pregnancy, but were not using contraception, and therefore were at the risk for unintended pregnancy.
“As a result, many women resort to induced abortion to end unintended pregnancies. The current law in Pakistan permits abortion to save a woman’s life and provide necessary treatment,” said the report.
It said that due to legal restrictions and lack of clarity among women and healthcare providers in interpreting the law, women might be forced to seek abortion by untrained healthcare providers. “The resulting morbidity and mortality places a heavy burden on women, their families, communities and the national health system,” it said.
The study was funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and was conducted by the Population Council in collaboration with the Guttmacher Institute and the National Committee for Maternal and Neonatal Health.
Dr Zeba A. Sathar, Country Director of Population Council, and report co-author presented the study findings, along with Dr Susheela Singh, vice president, Guttmacher Institute and report co-author, who participated via videoconference.
The report authors reached consensus on some key recommendations and called for improving quality of post-abortion care and expanding the use of safer, World Health Organisation-recommended treatment methods, such as manual vacuum aspiration and medication abortion.
Besides, to ensure that health facilities in the public and private sectors were equipped with technologies they needed to provide full range of post-abortion care.
The speakers called for reaching a national consensus on healthcare provider training and capacity-building and promoting continued advocacy and guaranteeing facilities that provided post-abortion care and prepared to offer a full range of contraceptive services onsite, or in their immediate vicinity, 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
Experts said the post-abortion care protocols that were in accordance with the latest scientific developments should be developed and distributed widely to service providers.
The participants were informed that the Population Council and the Guttmacher Institute collected data through two quantitative surveys and several qualitative methods, including surveys of 266 health facilities and 102 healthcare professionals; in-depth interviews of 44 women who had an induced abortion in the past six months; and 10 focus groups involving women with at least three children to gain an understanding of community norms regarding abortion and post-abortion care.
Miss Philippines crowned Miss World amid Muslim anger
29 September 2013
AFP, Nusa Dua
Miss Philippines was on Saturday crowned Miss World 2013 in a glittering finale on the Indonesian resort island of Bali amid tight security following weeks of hard-line Muslim protests.
Megan Young beat five other finalists, including France and Brazil, to win the coveted title in a contest broadcast to more than 180 countries worldwide.
She thanked the judges for choosing her and promised to “be the best Miss World ever.”
The 23-year-old pledged to “just be myself in everything I do, to share what I know and to educate people.”
The decision to hold the pageant in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country had sparked hardline anger. Heavily armed police and water cannon were guarding the venue in Nusa Dua, southern Bali.
Thousands of hardliners had taken to the streets around the country to protest against the pageant in recent weeks, and radical group the Islamic Defenders’ Front had pledged to stage protests on Saturday against the pageant.
But in the end no demonstrations materialized, and the group limited itself to holding a mass prayer session in a mosque just outside the capital Jakarta to express their opposition.
Lebanon Women Need Media Visibility – And Quotas – For Next Elections
29 September 2013
BEIRUT: Professionals and media personalities discussed Friday the importance of promoting the visibility of female leaders and the need to establish gender quotas ahead of the next parliamentary election round.
The calls came at the conclusion of a training program entitled “Media Supporting Women Leaders: Women towards Parliament.” Andre Kassas from the Information Ministry presented more than 30 members of the media with awards for their participation in the program. The nine-month program, a joint effort by local advocacy organizations SMART Center and Women in Front, educated journalists and broadcasters about the importance of featuring professional Lebanese women in the media.
Women are often absent from public discussions, said representatives from several industries.
The root of the problem, says parliamentary candidate and director of the SMART Center Randa Yassir, is the media’s tendency to focus on male politicians, academics and business professionals. “This is giving the people and the public the idea that they can’t have confidence in a woman,” she said.
“It’s a mentality of the media in Lebanon,” said would-be parliamentary candidate and political activist Neamat Badreddine, one of the finalists on the Al-Jadeed reality show Al-Zaim, whose winner, Maya Terro, received the station’s backing in the next elections.
Badreddine is hopeful that the media’s male-oriented predisposition can change, however. “Through the media, we are trying to say to the Lebanese people that you have women, good women, that have all the qualifications,” she said.
And by encouraging the media to defer to qualified female opinion makers, the public will become more open to the idea of female politicians.
“We want to show that women really understand politics and that they are able to represent the people,” she affirmed.
Yassir hopes that with programs such as “Media Supporting Women Leaders” the media will be more open to featuring qualified females on their programs. “If you are going to have a discussion about oil or electricity, know that you have both male and female experts,” she said.
“Why not pick the female, because we’ve been giving the floor in the media to the male for a long, long time,” she added.
Others were more militant. “I want a live debate with a man in the government now,” said Josephine Zgheib, who says she plans to run for Parliament in the next election. “I want to show the people that he knows nothing!”
Zgheib, like many of those in attendance, supports a quota for female MPs.
“It’s the only way we can put ourselves in the government,” she said. “Even in France they did it.”
The SMART Center’s Yassir agreed: “Experience is proving that women can’t really get into the Parliament or into the government.” Only through a quota system, she believes, will women be represented meaningfully.
MTV presenter Walid Abboud, who was one of those who received a certificate for completing the program, agreed that the country would benefit from a gender quota “for a time,” he said, “so that women can succeed.”
Personally, Abboud said, he would try to feature at least one woman commentator in each episode of his show Bi-Mawdouiyyeh.
“It’s not just important for the women,” he explained, “but it’s important for us. We have to see new faces and new names.”
Rape laws under scrutiny in Karachi
29 September 2013
Karachi: The Sindh provincial government is contemplating classifying rape as a terrorist offence amid an alarming rise in sexual assaults in Karachi, with two girls being kidnapped and gang raped in the past two days.
Sources said that classifying rape as a terrorist offence would ensure rapid trials and maximum penalties.
There is the Hudood ordinance, an Islamic way of treating the crime, but the complexity of the law causes delays in prosecution.
Concerns rose among residents on Saturday following another reported kidnapping and rape involving a 15-year-old girl who had been missing since September 17. She returned home on September 19 and told her parents about the ordeal. The father registered a case with the police, who arrested two suspects.
In Orangi, townspeople cornered a man who allegedly sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl who was a student at a Madrasa. The people beat the man with shoes and punched and kicked him before handing him over to the police.
Sources said the girl had been gang raped.
Earlier, the body of a girl was found at Sea View beach. She was in her school uniform as she had been taken by a woman directly from her school in Azizabad. She was the only daughter of poor parents. Initially, it was considered a kidnapping for ransom but the postmortem suggested that the girl had been sexually abused before being killed.
The police have made headway in the investigation and the paternal uncle and aunt, along with a school teacher, were arrested.
Another such incident took place on Friday in Gujranwala, Punjab, where two school going sisters were shot and killed. Both had been raped, reports said.
In another incident that took place in Lahore, a five-year-girl was gang raped and left outside a hospital, with the scene being caught on CCTV camera. Even after 18 days since the assault the police are unable to arrest the culprits.