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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 18 Oct 2017, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Malaysian Debate Now Turns To Muslim Women and Hair Salons

Princess Reema Bint Bandar Bin Sultan, president of the Community Sports Union, in the opening of the newest Studio 5 gym in Jeddah. (Video grab)



Pakistani Women Use Hashtag to Expose Scale of Sexual Abuse

Princess Reema Opens New Gym for Women

A Saudi Arabian first: Spokeswoman at Kingdom’s US Embassy

Canada’s Quebec Province Passes Law Banning Niqab and Burqa

21 Jamaat Female Student Activists Held In Dhaka

Saudi Women to Take Rightful Place in New Ports Authority: Minister

Muslim Women Perform Aarti of Lord Rama in Varanasi

Oman Tourism Event Highlights Women’s Great Potential

Iran: Young Women and Runaway Girls Experience Mental Disorders

Belgian MP Nele Lijnen Addresses Situation of Women in Iran

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Malaysian debate now turns to Muslim women and hair salons



KUALA LUMPUR • Just as the controversy over a "Muslims-only" laundrette is cooling down, social media has zoomed in on a little-known preacher in Penang who said Muslim women cannot have their hair cut in non-Muslim hair salons.

In the 2015 video, preacher Shahul Hamid Seeni Muhammad says women cannot have their heads touched by non-Muslims, let alone have them cut their hair.

The issue was picked up by the Malaysian news media in recent days as it followed the huge storm over a laundrette in Muar, Johor, that had a signboard saying it was open only to Muslims.

These issues highlighted growing Islamic conservatism in Malaysia, but is also a reflection of the power of social media in quickly pushing a matter into mainstream debate.

In the laundrette issue, the shop owner has apologised and opened up his washing machines to everyone after being criticised by the Sultan of Johor for his "extremist" stance.

A preacher employed by a government agency, Zamihan Mat Zin, later criticised the Johor ruler for this as he claimed clothes worn by non-Muslims were soiled by pork and alcohol, among other things.


Any edict issued by individuals, even if they hold the status of ulama (cleric) or preacher, remains a personal opinion without any legal authority. Respect the Islamic authorities and stop issuing strange individual fatwa (religious edicts) that only causes confusion, muddy things up and cause polemics.

DATUK ASYRAF WAJDI DUSUKI, Deputy Minister in charge of Islamic Affairs, on the hair salon controversy.

Johor's Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar last week called the preacher "an empty can and brainless".

On Monday, Selangor's Sultan revoked the preaching credentials of Mr Zamihan in a rare royal intervention, barring him from speaking on Islam from mosque pulpits and at public functions in the state.

Mr Zamihan, who is being investigated by police for sedition, has apologised to the rulers.

In the hair salon controversy, the deputy minister in charge of Islamic affairs, Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, said only muftis - a state's most senior Islamic official - could issue edicts on the religion, not those "who became famous via reality television shows".

"Any edict issued by individuals, even if they hold the status of ulama (cleric) or preacher, remains a personal opinion without any legal authority," Dr Asyraf said in a statement yesterday.

"Respect the Islamic authorities and stop issuing strange individual fatwa (religious edicts) that only causes confusion, muddy things up and cause polemics."

The mufti of the Federal Territories, Datuk Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, wrote in a Facebook post that there was nothing in Islam banning women from having their hair cut by non-Muslims.

Penang's Islamic religious affairs committee chairman, Datuk Abdul Malik Abul Kassim, said the preacher Shahul Hamid is known for his "critical and aggressive approach" in his sermons.

But he reassured Penang residents that there will never be "Muslims-only" hair salons in Penang, according to The Malay Mail Online news site yesterday.

In Malaysia, official edicts, or fatwa, are issued only by the state-appointed mufti or the National Fatwa Council.

But even these could be ignored by local Muslims as they are not legally binding, as happened with the 1995 National Fatwa Council ruling that smoking is "haram" - banned in Islam - or the 2008 edict that yoga is haram.



Pakistani women use hashtag to expose scale of sexual abuse

October 18, 2017

Ramsha Jahangir

Thousands of women across the world, including Pakistan, have put up a brave front against sexual assault and workplace harassment in a monumental precedent set by a powerful hashtag on social media.

The hashtag, “MeToo”, translated into a viral movement on Tuesday as an increasing number of posts started to appear on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, after Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano posted a screenshot on Twitter calling upon women to speak up “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet”.

The movement comes days after Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of rape and sexual assault by a number of A-list actresses.

Unlike previous instances when campaigns against sexual assault had little impact in Pakistan, the “MeToo” lobby gained an alarmingly high traction in the country. Women from all walks of life took to social media to admit they had suffered too.

Nighat Dad, a lawyer and digital rights activist, tweeted, “#MeToo Countless times! First sexual assault happened when I was in grade one. Still remembers, each and every bit of it.”

In a societal set-up where women are faced with harsh criticism for having experienced instances of unwanted sexual advances, the movement has, in fact, brought out the magnitude and universality of the matter.

Journalist Reham Khan regretted the country’s treatment of harassment discourse in a tweet on her official account: “In Pakistan women will not be believed if they talk about sexual harassment. Their own family & in-laws will blame them instead.”

In recent years, efforts against sexual harassment culminated in the enactment of the landmark Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010 but given the cultural barriers that restrict harassment discourse, victims have remained tight-lipped for too long.

Echoing the distress of having remained voiceless despite being a victim, Lahore-based actress Nadia Jamil joined the movement and tweeted on her official account: “I was too young when it first happened. It went on too long. Too much anger. Too much violence. Too much hurt. Too much silence. So over. #MeToo.”

Journalist Rabia Mehmood expressed similar views in her contribution to the online movement: “#MeToo. As a child and as an adult. Took me hours and whatsapp/fb chat reassurances from friends to be able to post this. Still not easy.”

The hashtag, which was among the top trends on Twitter for three consecutive days, also saw widespread outrage on other social media platforms.

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. My timeline is already full of people who shared this,” classical dancer and women rights activist Sheema Kermani posted on her Facebook page.

Although it is too early to assess whether the online movement would yield a permanent solution to the grave issue, women have embraced MeToo as a ‘monumental’ slap on their assaulter’s [feeds].



Princess Reema opens new gym for women

18 October 2017

JEDDAH: Princess Reema Bint Bandar Bin Sultan, president of the Community Sports Union, has opened the newest Studio 5 gym in Jeddah, which is based on electronic registration and scheduling sport sessions.

The princess seeks to encourage women to exercise in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Studio 5 is the latest women’s gym in Jeddah. It is based on choosing the time of classes through electronic registration. The gym offers its subscribers a special electronic account for each participant in which they can monitor the number of classes they participate in and determine the appropriate dates and times.

On October 13, Turki Al-Sheikh, president of the Saudi Olympic Committee, issued a decree appointing Princess Reema Bint Bandar as president of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports, as the first woman to head a sports federation in Saudi Arabia.



A Saudi Arabian first: Spokeswoman at Kingdom’s US Embassy

19 October 2017

WASHINGTON: As Saudi Arabia feverishly portrays itself as ready to join the ranks of modern, tolerant societies, the Kingdom has turned to a once-unlikely messenger — one of its daughters — to make its case to the West.

On Fatimah Baeshen’s first day as the Saudi Embassy in Washington’s official spokeswoman, a royal decree was issued to lift a ban on women driving, starting next summer.

Baeshen, the first woman to hold embassy post, is no stranger to life behind the wheel of a car. The Saudi-born Baeshen spent years living, working and studying in the US, affording an easy fluency in the routines of American life that many Westerners see as irreconcilable with the country she represents.

“I’m a byproduct of the longstanding Saudi-US relationship,” Baeshen said in an Associated Press interview. “For years, Saudi students have been coming to the US to study. There are several Saudis that are like me, that are very comfortable and are able to fluidly go back and forth between cultures.”

For Saudi Arabia, Baeshen’s appointment reflects an opportunity to try to revise a narrative that is sharply at odds with the kingdom’s ambitious plan to transform itself for the future. In addition to sweeping economic changes, “Vision 2030” calls for easing social restrictions as a younger generation prepares to take the helm.

The Kingdom’s economic overhaul also means bringing more Saudi women into the workforce, with an eye toward creating more two-income households and weaning Saudis off of reliance on government perks. The official plan calls for increasing female participation from 22 percent to 30 percent.

“Women across the board deal with different issues, regardless of where they are,” Baeshen told the AP. She said the driving issue shouldn’t obscure the fact that Saudi women have been productive members of society for decades. “The myopic focus of this element I think deters the larger perception of what Saudi women have really been able to contribute.”

After attending the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, she wrote a thesis on Islamic financial regulation in secular markets while a graduate student at the University of Chicago. She worked in the Saudi Ministry of Labor and at the World Bank before joining the embassy.

As a director at the Arabia Foundation, she wrote in Time Magazine earlier this year: “The change-through-confrontation approach is counterproductive to achieving our collective goal; force is too often met with the strongest of cultural resistance.”

“Empowerment is about access, choice and control. Saudi Arabia has made tangible strides in the spheres of access and choice,” Baeshen said. “There are elements to be improved with respect to control.”



Canada’s Quebec province passes law banning niqab and burqa

October 19, 2017

The Canadian province of Quebec has passed a law banning face coverings which prohibits public workers from wearing the niqab or burqa and bars citizens from wearing a veil when riding public transit or receiving government services. IT is believed to be the first such law to have been passed in North America, reports The Guardian.

The law which came into effect on Wednesday has been slammed by critics who claim it targets Muslim women and will fuel the province’s simmering debate on identity, religion and tolerance.

The law was introduced by the province’s Liberal government to address the issue of state neutrality. Defending the ban, Philippe Couillard, the premier of Quebec province, told The Guardian, “We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face.”

“We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It’s as simple as that,” he added.

As per reports, the law was initially meant to ban face coverings for those offering or receiving services from government departments and provincially funded institutions, such as universities. However, in August, the legislation was amended to apply to municipalities, school boards, public health services and transit authorities, raising the possibility that women wearing a niqab or burqa in Quebec would not be able to take the metro or ride on the city bus. “As long as the service is being rendered, the face should be uncovered,” said Vallée.

The legislation does no provides for an exemption for all those who provide spiritual care or religious instruction, as well as those who are forced to cover their faces due to nature of their working conditions or occupational hazards.

Noting that there is widespread confusion as to how the new law would be applied and who it would affect, Vallée says the province would now work with municipalities, schools and public daycares to establish clear guidelines.

While accusing the provincial government of targeting Muslim women in order to curry votes ahead of next year’s provincial election, critics have cited a 2016 survey that suggested that just 3 per cent Muslim women in Canada wear the niqab.

“It seems like a made-up solution to an invented problem,” said Ihsaan Gardee of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “We don’t have a big issue right now with hordes of Muslim women in niqab trying to work in the public service or accessing public services with difficulty.”

Causing further confusion amongst those affect Quebec politicians say the legislation does not mention when the ban on receiving services while wearing a face covering would come into effect immediately, as the implementation of the law is likely to be hindered by the many questions that remain.

“We don’t know how this is going to be applied and how it will be enforced,” said Gardee. “It’s deeply troubling.”



21 Jamaat female student activists held in Dhaka

October 18, 2017

Police has detained 21 leaders and activists of Jamaat-e-Islami’s female students wing Islami Chhatri Shangstha from a house in Kodomtoli area of Dhaka.

Kodomtoli Police Station Officer-in-Charge (OC) MA Jalil told the Dhaka Tribune that acting on a tip-off, police carried out a raid on Wednesday evening and detained them.

The house belonged to the late Jamaat leader Moazzem Hossain. From initial information, police believe that the women were meeting in that house to discuss anti-government activities, he said.

The OC said two elderly women were brought to the police station along with the student activists. They have told the police that they came to visit the house. Their statements are being verified.



Saudi women to take rightful place in new ports authority: Minister

19 October 2017

RIYADH: The Saudi Ports Authority will be a welcoming place for Saudi women to work, Transport Minister Nabil Al-Amoudi announced at the organization’s official launch event at the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh.

Al-Amoudi confirmed that women’s empowerment is one of the goals of Vision 2030 and, as such, the ports authority will give them their due place.

The minister, who is also chairman of the Saudi Ports Authority, on Monday, launched the organization’s new identity in the presence of a galaxy of key state officials, representatives from international ocean liner operators, freight forwarding agents, and investors in the Saudi ports.

Al-Amoudi expressed his sincere thanks to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the decision of the Council of Ministers approving the change of title from Saudi Ports Corp. to Saudi Ports Authority and also approving its articles of association.

The minister added that the historic move reminded him of another decision by the Council of Ministers 43 years ago, when Saudi Ports Corp. was incorporated as an independent public organization whose chairman reported directly to the Prime Minister. That decision was made in anticipation of the key role to be played by the ports during the 1970s in meeting the requirements of the comprehensive development witnessed by the Kingdom during that era.

He said: “The Saudi Ports Authority now aims to market its services to all countries on a larger scale with a view to building new partnerships with international companies who specialize in the ports business, and enhance the trust it has with all its customers.”

Al-Amoudi said an electronic wallet system has been implemented on an experimental basis at the Jeddah Islamic Port and King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam. This will enhance efficiency and facilitate the process of clearing goods in a timely manner in order to satisfy importers and exporters, he concluded.



Muslim women perform aarti of Lord Rama in Varanasi

Oct 18, 2017

VARANASI: While the UP chief minister Adityanath Yogi was celebrating Diwali in Ayodhya, a group of Muslim women too sang in praise of Lord Rama and performed aarti in Varanasi on the eve of Diwali on Wednesday.

"Ayodhya hai humare jiyaratgah ka naam, Rahate hain wahan Imam-e-Hind Shri Ram", (Ayodhya is the name of our pilgrimage, where lives Imam of Hind Shri Ram)," said the group leader Nazneen Ansari, who strongly believes in cultural and social amalgamation of Hindus and Muslims through such events. "Shri Ram is our ancestor. We can change our name and religion, but how we can change our ancestor," she wondered adding, "Singing in praise of Lord Ram not only bridges the gap between Hindus and Muslms, but also reflects the generosity of Islam."

With the "aarti thaal" she along with Nazma Parvin, Rubina, Shabana Bano, Taslima, Rizwana, Reshma, Kausar Jehan, Shehnaz and also Hindu women like Vibha Singh, Mridula Jaiswal, Punam Singh and others performed aarti of Lord Rama and recited Hanuman Chalisa and prayer at Varunanagaram colony, Hukulganj. The event was organised by Muslim Mahila Foundation and Vishal Bharat Sansthan to give a message of communal harmony.

The tradition of Shri Rama aarti has been continuing since 2006 when the Sankat Mochan temple was rocked by a terrorist blast. Since then Nazneen, the president of MMF, and her group members have been performing aarti and reciting prayers on occasions of Hindu festivals like Ram Navami and Diwali. These women believe that the message from Kashi can play a vital role in strengthening communal harmony in the society. Nazneen also scripted "Shri Ram Aarti", "Shri Ram Prarthana", "Durga Chalisa" and translated "Hanuman Chalisa" and "Ramcharitmanas" into Urdu.



Oman tourism event highlights women’s great potential

October 18, 2017

Muscat: The contributions of Omani women to the country’s economy and society were extolled and further equal opportunities for them highlighted as the Sultanate celebrated Omani Women’s Day on Tuesday.

The occasion was celebrated at the Ministry of Tourism headquarters under the patronage of Nada Bint Hassan Bin Mohammad Al Jamali, a female member of the State Council and a member in the Board of Directors of Dar Al Atta Charitable Society.

Speakers discussed the critical need to foster a cross-cultural dialogue on gender equality and women empowerment.

Highlighting the role of women in the country’s tourism sector, officials pointed out that gender equality could be encouraged through tourism entrepreneurship opportunities for women.

Speaking about challenges Omani women face, Lubna Al Mazroui, Studies Specialist, Ministry of Tourism, told Gulf News: “Gender discrimination, conservatism and patriarchy in the community pose challenges that deter women’s empowerment. There is great potential for women to showcase their skills in tourism entrepreneurship by honing their creative pursuits.”

Gulf News can report that less than 100 women in the Sultanate are involved in tourism entrepreneurship.

To raise the number, authorities have initiated several campaigns for greater awareness about tourism entrepreneurship through activities involving women’s skills in tour operating and guides, food, agriculture and handicrafts. These campaigns are expected to produce results soon, believe officials.

“Every woman will feel proud to be part of this country under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Saeed. We are proud of our female workforce,” said Najah Al Rashdi, ASG for Administration and Finance in The Research Council.

The achievements of Omani women formed the theme of a panel discussion involving members, officials and employees of the Oman Council. Held under the patronage of Dr Suad Mohammad Ali Sulaiman Al Lawati, Chairperson, State Council, the discussion’s topic was ‘Omani Women: Achievement and Aspirations’.

Speakers on the panel discussed topics relating to Omani women’s accomplishments and their goals with Maisa Zahran Al Ruqeshi, Public Prosecutor, emphasising legislations made in view of Omani women and their association with similar international legislations. In another panel discussion, Dr Wafa Salim Ali Al Harassi spoke at length on ‘Women’s Rights: Reality and Aspirations’.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social Development has organised the official celebration of Omani Woman’s Day under the patronage of Sayyid Mohammad Bin Sultan Al Busaidi, Minister of State and Governor of Dhofar, in the presence of Shaikh Mohammad Bin Suayed Al Kalbani, Minister of Social Development, officials and heads of Omani women’s associations from different wilayats of the Sultanate. As part of a slew of events planned by the ministry, the 6th Family Cohesion Seminar will be held on Wednesday under the title ‘Woman and Family Economy’.

Omani Women’s Day was also celebrated with cultural and artistic programmes, such as art exhibitions and musical events. The Omani Photographic Society held a special exhibition for the eighth year in a row for Omani female photographers. Showcasing their aspirations and ideas 40 Omani photographers exhibited 50 works, all selected by a neutral jury. The exhibition, which opened on Tuesday, at the headquarters of the Omani Photographic Society in Al Khud under the patronage of Hujaija Bint Jaifar Al Said, will continue until October 31.

The Royal Opera House Muscat honoured Omani women, their role in nation building and their invaluable achievements in arts and music with performances by the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra Ladies Chamber Ensemble. The ensemble includes four women out of eight outstanding musicians from the Oman Oud Hobbyists Association. The audience was also enthralled by a guest performance by young Yemeni singer Balqees, who released her debut album, Majnoun, in 2013 and her second album, Zai Ma Ana, in 2015.

-Nickyta is a freelance journalist based in Muscat



Iran: Young women and runaway girls experience mental disorders

18 October 2017

Some 1000 run-away girls were admitted to welfare centers over the past year,” the deputy for social affairs in the Welfare Organization announced.

“The time limit of keeping run-away girls and women in the centers is about three to four months. Women whose families do not accept them would be kept until 8 months,” Habibollah Masoudi Farid added.

The official failed to explain what happens to these women after eight months, and did not say anything about the number of women who never refer to such centers. (The state-run Mehr news agency – October 16, 2017)

At the same time, Anoushirvan Mohseni Bandpay, director of the Welfare Organization, revealed that 37.9% of women in the capital, Tehran, are prone to mental disorders. Being a woman was among the reasons he mentioned for mental disorders in women. (The state-run Bazarnews website – October 16, 2017)

Lack of opportunity for social and economic participation accompanied by misogynous laws and policies have caused numerous problems for women in Iran.



Belgian MP Nele Lijnen addresses situation of women in Iran

18 October 2017

Following is the text of speech by the Hon. Nele Lijnen, member of the Parliament of Belgium, to a conference at the parliament on Human Rights in Iran.

Dear colleagues, Dear Friends,

I would like to focus on the situation of women in Iran. During the first 4 years of the presidency of Rouhani, at least 81 women were hanged. No other regime in the world has executed so many women.

I should point out that Iranian women have fought for their rights for many years and are in a different class than some of their neighbours.

Iranian Constitution defines the duty of a woman as to “give birth to children and raise them”.

This Constitution puts women at the disposal of men practically as a captive or a sexual slave. Girls can be deprived of education at the age of 13 and even younger, as her father is permitted to wed her to a much older man. Under President Rouhani, a new law was passed that even allows a man to marry an adopted step-daughter from the age 9.

Women are banned from studying in more than 77 college fields. Employers have set conditions on the marital status of women they employ and make them sign papers and agree to be fired if they get pregnant.

The Iranian regime’s laws deprive women from artistic activities as a source of income. Women are not allowed to sing in public nor are they allowed to play in orchestras and perform in concerts. They are not allowed into sports stadiums where men are playing.

The unemployment rate for young women under 30 years of age is 85.9 per cent.

Many women get university degrees and most of them cannot find jobs and become unemployed.

Prostitution has increased in Iran. Some women have to sell their body to provide for only one meal. According to some government sources, between 5000 and 15000 women in capital Tehran sleep in cardboard boxes on the streets.

Iran ranks first in the Middle East and third in the world in women’s suicide. That is because, women are under constant pressure for the way they dress or cover their hair; they are subjected to inequality and discriminated against; they are humiliated in various forms and they are deprived of job opportunities.

The women also have no real influence in politics, despite the fact that more than half of the country’s university graduates are women.  There is no female minister in the cabinet of Rouhani. He appointed only three women to non-minister posts to act as his own deputies and advisors. In the current Iranian parliament, there are only 17 women in a 290-seat parliament which make women’s participation 5.8 percent.

In these circumstances I am delighted that the Iranian opposition is led by a competent woman, Maryam Rajavi, whom I have met several times. I share her vision for a future democratic Iran and I have been supporting her movement for many years. So I am quite optimistic. But we have to support the Iranian opposition to be able to achieve a regime change in Iran and I encourage my colleagues to join us in this campaign.




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