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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 16 Oct 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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MIAMI: Why women choose the hijab

Women Never Forced to Wear ‘Niqab’: Grand Mufti of Dubai

Burka should be woman's choice

Lucknow, India:  Muslim Women Workout At Gyms

Indian Muslim women for empowerment

Lucknow: More women in Muslim body sparks row

Azerbaijan gave voting right to women in 1918: conference

Malaysian women: Islam, secularism, ethnicity debates continue

Afghan Women's Freedom In Jeopardy

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



Why women choose the hijab

Oct 15, 2009

MIAMI: Growing up in Davie, Fla., Sahar Ullah remembers the awkward interactions, confused looks and frequent questions about her hijab, the head cover she chooses to wear, and her religion, Islam.

There was the boy in high school who would playfully jostle her between classes before realizing that she avoided touching nonrelated males as a matter of Islamic modesty.

There was the University of Miami staffer who, expecting drunk students at his building's door during a football game, was perplexed to instead find Ullah and a friend looking for a place to pray.

And there was a Catholic friend who did graduate work in Middle Eastern Studies with her at the University of Chicago and asked the common question: "Why do you wear it?"

"After listening to yet another one of my stories about life as a Muslim-American who wears the hijab, he said, 'You know what? We need hijabi monologues,'" says Ullah, 26.

"Hijabi Monologues," a three-woman production, describes the experiences of young Muslim women who wear the veil. Ullah staged the hourlong show, which takes its name and attitude from Eve Ensler's "Vagina Monologues," three years ago in Chicago. It's also shown in Los Angeles and Washington.

In 11 monologues based on stories Ullah has heard through acquaintances as well as a few pulled from her own life, the women on stage share experiences that range from comic to sober.

One is about the type of men who hit on hijabis -- slang for women who wear the hijab. Another is about a teenager whose father is arrested on charges of terrorism. A story that often gets a response is about a Muslim teenager who gets pregnant, a taboo topic in many Muslim communities.

"Where Ensler takes something private and personifies it by giving it a voice and puts it in your figurative faces," Ullah says, "we've decided to take something public, something which everyone seems to have an opinion about, and push it out of your figurative faces by giving the entire woman a voice."

Ullah, who recently returned to South Florida after two years of Arabic study at the American University in Cairo, is working full time to take "Hijabi Monologues" on a national tour, which includes a November show at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

For each performance, she involves local Muslims, such as South Florida performer Jamarah Amani.

"When I read the script, it came to life for me. I said, 'Oh yeah, I've seen this happen to me,'" says Amani, 29, a midwifery student at the Miami Maternity Center.

"Being Muslim is not about what you externally represent, but that's how people superficially reduce it. The beauty of this show is that it represents so many different voices and backgrounds."

"Hijabi Monologues," a small production organized largely by Ullah, has an extended cast that's growing, much like its popularity in Muslim circles. The show is being organized along with a monologue-writing workshop at the University of Miami, as well as a service day for Project Downtown, a Muslim-organized effort that distributes food, toiletries and clothing to the homeless.

For May Alhassen, a Syrian-American who first attended the show in her hometown of Los Angeles a year ago and now flies around the country to perform in it, the show is about exposing non-Muslims to Muslim experiences and "confronting the fact that I have had my own Muslim-American stereotypes that I carry."

"We hope that the non-Muslim audience can see a common human bond in the stories and can start to question what they see around them," says Alhassen, 27, an American studies doctoral candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles.


Women Never Forced to Wear ‘Niqab’: Grand Mufti of Dubai

Ahmed Shaaban, 13 October 2009

DUBAI — The Grand Mufti of Dubai has refuted allegations made by some quarters that ‘niqab’ is linked?to extremism.

“Niqab is never related to fanaticism or terrorism as some have wickedly alleged,” Dr Ahmed Al Haddad told Khaleej Times in an exclusive meeting ?on Sunday.

He said that banning or seeking a ban on ‘niqab’ restricts women’s freedom.

“Muslim women have never been forced to wear ‘niqab’,” he pointed out.

He added that some of the Muslim women wear ‘niqab’ out of faith, but forcing them to abandon the ‘niqab’ would be “utter disrespect to her and to her creed, culture and traditions.”

Dr Al Haddad said the ‘niqab’ is also a symbol of modesty for the Muslim woman. A Canadian Muslim organisation had urged the Canadian government on Thursday to ban the ‘niqab’, claiming it was a “medieval and misogynist symbol of extremism.”

The same day, Dr Shaikh Mohammed Saeed Tantawi, head of Egypt’s Al Azhar University, a centre of religious learning, said the institution will bar students and teachers from wearing ‘niqab’ in female-only classrooms.

A university statement, quoted in reports, said the institution did not oppose the veil, but was against “imprinting it on the minds of girls.”

The statement said only a few Islamic scholars consider it an obligation.

Al Haddad said various Islamic scholars referred to different parts of the Holy Quran to interpret as to what extent Muslim women should cover their faces and whether the ‘niqab’ should be worn. While Shafiei and Hanbali schools of thought believe the veil is compulsory, Maliki and Hanafi do not think so. “Both parties, having authentic and meaningful evidence, make the issue optional, that the followers of each school may not ask or force the other to adopt or abandon any of the two explanations.”

Refuting allegations that the ‘niqab’ is connected to slavery or discrimination against women, Dr Al Haddad said Islam has honoured women and fully emancipated them.

“The woman, representing half of the society, stands on an equal footing with man in terms of religious, financial, social, political and family rights and duties. She is seen as a gem protected against any disgrace, and ‘niqab’ is Islam’s fundamental means to that end,” he said.

“Despite wearing ‘niqab’, she is effectively working in educational, health, military and civil fields in Islamic and Arab countries, particularly in ?the Gulf.”

Iraqi news anchor Suhad Ibrahim believes that people are free to wear whatever they think is suitable for them.

“Though I am not veiled, I am against any ban on ‘niqab’. I believe it is up to the people to decide what to wear,” ?she said.

Egyptian teacher Walla Nader said she felt better after wearing ‘niqab’. “No one has ever forced me to wear ‘niqab’ as it is optional in Islam,” she pointed out.



Burka should be woman's choice

Thu Oct 15 2009

Re:Muslim lobby group urges

Ottawa to ban burkas, niqabs, Oct. 7

Canadians, being known for our diversity, should know by now that the burka – which is different from the hijab – is not a symbol of Islam but of the Arabic culture. Islam does not force women to wear the burka. Clearly, it's a choice that lies with women and women alone.

The Muslim Canadian Congress had no right to call the burka "medieval" and "misogynist" because it's a part of someone's culture, of someone's identity. Women choose to wear the burka to cover themselves. Why should that be banned?

If wearing the burka is a part of the Arabic culture, then Arabs, or others, should not be stopped from wearing it. Women want to wear it because it's a part of who they are and no one has the right to take it away from them.

And I fail to see how the burka promotes gender inequality when the burka ban in France led to women, not men, protesting.



Muslim Women Workout At Gyms In Lucknow, India

October 12, 2009

Not compromising with their faith, Muslim women workout in gyms wearing veils in Lucknow, say reports.

The desire to remain fit and healthy is driving these Muslim women to workout at gyms.

"We come here in veil so that nobody objects our coming to the gym. Basically, we want to keep ourselves fit and healthy, that's our main motive. We want to move ahead like others in this modern age," said Shakila Anam, a woman.

Anwar Hasan, a fitness trainer expresses happiness on seeing health conscious Muslim women moving ahead in life.

"In Islam women do wear veils. It is nice to see women moving ahead in our religion," said Anwar Hasan, a health trainer.

A Muslim cleric, Mulana S. Hasan Raza Zaidi, also supports women going to gyms to keep themselves fit and healthy provided they go in 'burkha'.

"Nobody should have any objection to it. Islam doesn't oppose it, if women are going to gyms wearing a veil. Islam allows things that are done to keep oneself fit and healthy," said Zaidi,

According to Islamic faith, a veil and an abaya must be worn by a Muslim woman to cover her body.



Bhartiya Muslim women for empowerment

October 12th, 2009

Favouring women in India, with more empowerments and their wider role in nation building the Muslim women have also initiated their secular way of reaching to the Government of India and to their society to enter ambit of their empowerment in big way.

Conventions,seminars and regular meets are held by the NGO’s, educated women to cultivating more awareness for higher education,play a higher role in growth of the family,society and community.

Muslim community are well aware if the fact that the education to girl and her rights are more important in the rapid changing globe in which the economical freedom do play an important role for the society to progress in holistic way.

Zakia Sonam speaking to Nksagar outside Anhad seminar in New Delhi said Muslims youth with lack of education,poverty in the community a reason for the poor and uneducated muslims becoming sacrifical goats and to be soft target. She said on economic exclusion NGO too need to underatke educations of Muslim youth by opening insitutions exclusively for youths specially girls education.

On the occasion of third national convention of the “Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan” held in state capital Lucknow on Sunday resolved,

The equal rights,

To have right to education,

To have right to jobs,

The right to personal safety,

The right to security,

The right to proper health care, immediate stop of harassment from the police.

Most of the sepaker at the at the convention asked the government just one question in one voice, “When will we become full citizens?”

BMMA Movement believes that solution of these problems is in creating a society where there is social, economic and political justice, establishment of human rights, equality and peace.



More women in Muslim body sparks row

Deepak Gidwani, October 15, 2009

Lucknow: Mention reserving seats for women in any organisation and it is sure to stir up a controversy. A proposal for reserving 30% of seats for women in the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), put forth by vice-president Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, has earned the renowned Shia cleric bouquets and brickbats.

Lamenting the poor presence of women in the AIMPLB, Kalbe had recently said that reserving 30% membership was "the only option left" to ensure that women got their due in modern society. At present, of the 251 AIMPLB members, only 25 are women.

Muslim women activists have hailed his proposal while some senior clerics have described the move as "impractical" and "meaningless". Lucknow's Naib Imam and AIMPLB member Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangi Mahali said the proposal is against Islamic tradition. He also claimed it would be virtually impossible to find Muslim women qualified to handle the responsibility. "The Maulana (Kalbe Sadiq) seems to be raising such unimportant issues only for publicity in the media," he said.

Another board member Zafaryab Jilani said it would have been more appropriate if Kalbe had raised the matter at an AIMPLB meeting. "Increasing the number of women will not help the cause of Muslim women... numerical strength in the board itself can't ensure better status for them in so0ciety," he said and added that very few of the current women members turn up for the board's meetings.

However, the Shia cleric has found support among Muslim women activists. Naish Hasan, founder-member of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), said, "Those ridiculing the importance of numerical strength should remember that in a democracy, it is the numbers game which makes and breaks governments and ensures victory of members of parliament and the legislative assemblies."

Shaista Amber, who had formed the All India Women's Personal Law Board to seek greater representation for women in the AIMPLB, said Kalbe's proposal was a good start.



International conference “Woman in Islamic world: traditional values and modernism” takes place

14 Oct 2009

Baku. Kamala Guliyeva – APA. State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Problems organized an international conference “Woman in Islamic world: traditional values and modernism” within the framework of “Baku – Capital of Islamic Culture - 2009”, APA reports. The letter of president of Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mehriban Aliyeva was read at the conference. Following this, chairperson of the state committee Hijran Huseynova said the aim of the conference is discuss the development of the international cooperation by using the practice of foreign countries in the field of women’s rights in Islamic world.

“Alongside with the achievements, there are a number of problems in ensuring women’s rights in the entire world, including Azerbaijan. Therefore, Islamic women need extend their relations and exchange experience,” he said.

Huseynova mentioned that Azerbaijan gave voting right to women in 1918, earlier than some Western states and for the first time in the East. Woman policy is one of the priorities of the state in Azerbaijan,” she said.

Chairman of the State Committee for Religious Organizations Hidayat Orujov said the role of mothers and women is highly appreciated in Islam.

“Islam recognizes all rights of women in economic sphere. Mother and father are equally responsible for children in Islam,” he said.

According to Orujov, freedom of religion has been fully ensured in Azerbaijan and expedient policy is pursued to regulate state-religion relations.

South Caucasus Director of the UN Population Fund Peer Sieben said though Islam gives equal rights to women and men, women have property and political rights, in a number of countries these rights are restricted.

“There are countries that do not recognize these laws. Our task is to raise awareness in such societies concerning the international conventions and Islam legislation,” he said.



Malaysia’s Islam, secularism, ethnicity debates continue: Umno reforms meet inertia

By Shanon Shah

Khairy, Rosnah and Shahrizat (Rosnah pic courtesy of Merdeka Review)

THE 60th Umno general assembly has been touted as one in which the biggest political party in Malaysia will set much-needed reforms in motion. But if the party's Youth, Wanita and Puteri wings' assemblies on 14 Oct 2009 are any indication, it looks as though the party will have to wade through institutional and historical inertia before changes can even be attempted.

Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin's speech was much-anticipated, being his first since he was elected the wing's head in March 2009. Khairy did not disappoint. After starting with the requisite praises of leaders past and present, Khairy moved on to the obligatory opposition-bashing.

But to Khairy's credit, his attacks on the Pakatan Rakyat were quite measured. When he accused PAS of subjugating itself to DAP, he stayed clear of challenging PAS to introduce more Islamic laws. He merely said that for a party that previously espoused setting up an Islamic state as its primary goal, PAS was uncharacteristically eager to change its tune at the prospect of grasping federal power.

Similarly, his attacks on DAP steered clear of accusing the secular party of being anti-Islam and anti-Malay Malaysian. He merely said that for a self-proclaimed multi-racial party, DAP seems overrun by only one particular race of Malaysians.

And credit to Khairy, his attacks on PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim steered clear of degrading and insulting comments about Anwar's alleged homosexuality. But as restrained as he was, Khairy couldn't stop the Youth delegates from throwing in their two cents about Anwar's alleged sexual preferences.

Khairy (file pic)

Therefore, it was a stunning moment when Khairy cut short his rabble-rousing to get to the heart of his address: Umno, he said, had to ditch Malay dominance. Kepimpinan Melayu must replace ketuanan Melayu. So revolutionary was Khairy's vision in the realm of modern Umno discourse that the delegates sat stunned for what seemed an uncomfortably long time. They shifted in their seats, leafed through copies of Utusan Malaysia, and fiddled with their mobile devices. They certainly greeted Khairy with a standing ovation at the end of his speech, but it was unclear whether they even understood what he was really talking about. Indeed, during the debate of his speech, many Youth delegates resorted to the same old rhetoric of patronage and did not even address Khairy's call to ditch ketuanan Melayu.

But it was a moment nonetheless — watching an Umno leader take on the very ideology that fuels the party's grassroots. It might have even been the miracle many Malaysians were waiting for if not for the other two addresses delivered on the same day.

Rhetoric vs results

Newly-minted Wanita chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil also decided to up the ante with her address. She said that Wanita's three urgent priorities were:

bulletpointEnsuring women received justice under Islamic Family Law. Shahrizat, however, did not challenge the substance of the legislation, merely its application in the syariah courts. She talked about the importance of looking after Muslim women's welfare in cases of divorce, child support and maintenance.

bulletpointEmpowering women economically. Instead of going on a spiel that blamed women for their lack of economic empowerment, Shahrizat identified a few core barriers to women's participation in the workforce, for example, that so few employers offer childcare support for working women.

bulletpointIncreasing women's access to leadership. Here, Shahrizat hoped that the abolition of the party's quota system would allow for women's delegates to have more direct access to leadership even at the grassroots level.


In many ways, Shahrizat's speech was even better than Khairy's. She had numbers and figures to back her claims. She identified problems and issues. She provided solutions.

But perhaps Shahrizat needs to be evaluated against higher standards than Khairy. She is a former and current Women, Family and Community Development Minister. She should already know these issues like the back of her hand, and in fact she should have tried to solve them a long time ago. That she needs to raise them as Wanita chief again is actually problematic — does Shahrizat merely deliver on rhetoric, and not on actual results?

Smorgasbord of ketuanan rhetoric

Even so, Shahrizat's address shone with promise compared to that given by newly-elected Puteri Umno chief, Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin. To be fair, Rosnah tried to cover an ambitious amount of ground in her maiden policy speech. She had ideas on school education, facilities, urban poverty, language, foreign domestic workers and yes, even Islam. But if Rosnah's ideas on reform in these areas catch on in Puteri Umno, then multiracial Malaysia will have a problem.

Rosnah wants the national language to be called "Bahasa Melayu", not "Bahasa Malaysia". After all, she says, why call it "Bahasa Malaysia" when only Malay Malaysians speak the language anyway while all the other races only want to defend their own native languages? She is also aghast at how much Malaysia is conceding to the demands made by Indonesian domestic workers. Why legislate a day off for them? Why raise their wages? They only run away, fall in love, and get pregnant out of wedlock anyway. Get workers from Cambodia instead, she says.


That Rosnah talks about all of this as part of her "reform" package is worrying. Her address, unlike Shahrizat's and Khairy's, uses the phrase "ketuanan Melayu" quite liberally. Perhaps what is even more worrying is that today's Puteri leaders are tomorrow's Wanita leaders. At least the problem with Shahrizat now is that she spouts beautiful rhetoric but does not deliver in substance. Imagine the kind of problems the party, and the public, will likely have with Shahrizat's heir.

And so, with the conclusion of the Youth, Wanita and Puteri assemblies today, the country may still not witness a giant leap for Umno. Khairy stuck his neck out, Shahrizat repeated a description of ongoing issues, and Rosnah merely regurgitated supremacist rhetoric.

If anything, however, it will be interesting to observe longer-term reactions towards Khairy's address. After all, it is Umno Youth that has often occupied the headlines for its defensive and exclusivist rhetoric in the past. Can Khairy single-handedly drag Umno Youth, and by extension Wanita and Puteri, into a new way of thinking and doing politics? Good thing he laid out his vision on public record — now, not only Umno Youth, but the entire country, can hold him accountable to this vision.



Afghan Women's Freedom In Jeopardy

Oct. 14, 2009

The Road Ahead: Lara Logan Reports on One Group that Absolutely Dreads a Taliban Resurgence

(CBS)  For Afghan women, the fall of the Taliban brought historic change, CBS News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Lara Logan  reports. More than two million girls are now in school. Some women are able to work - even in the most public of jobs.

Others can now enjoy the simple feminine pleasures they were denied. In the cities, a growing number of women cover only their heads - instead of their whole bodies. All of this would have been unthinkable under the Taliban.

CBS News Special Report: The Road Ahead

"Women couldn't move out of their houses, couldn't move around freely, and alone," said Dr. Massouda Jalal.

Jalal was jailed by the Taliban for her work helping women and children. She remembers their cruelty - women being publicly executed during the height of Taliban power.

After their defeat, Jalal became a symbol of how much had changed for Afghan women. In 2004, she was the first woman to run for president, finishing well ahead of most male candidates.

She was appointed Minister of Women's Affairs - then removed for pushing too aggressively for women's rights.

"We have provisions protecting women's rights and promoting women's rights within the constitution," said Jalal. "But, it's not translated into action."

Female prisoners in Kabul today seem to have no rights at all.

Kamela, is just 29 years old. A mother of two, she left her life in Canada to return to her homeland when the Taliban fell. All it took to put her behind bars for 3 years was her husband's word - he accused her of stealing from him.

"After I was imprisoned he got married to another woman," she says, "I think he wanted to get married so he put me here."

Even more disturbing: violent attacks against women and girls continue today.

Atifa Bibi lies in a hospital, her face badly burned. She and a friend were victims of an acid attack late last year as they walked to school.

Her wounds have healed - but she no longer goes to school. She told us she has nightmares almost every night.

"It cannot go away, every minute, it is with me," she said.

Rates of violence against Afghan women are among the highest in the world.

So is the maternal mortality rate. Three years ago we traveled to the remote province of Badakhshan because it has the highest maternal mortality rate ever recorded - that remains true today. 6,500 deaths per 100,000 births, compared to just 13 deaths per 100,000 in the United States.

The medical staff told us most of the women here are forbidden by their husbands from coming to this clinic or from seeing male doctors.

In spite of these barriers, there has been progress. The number of Afghan women with access to newly built clinics has risen in recent years. But so has the influence of the Taliban. As the fight for control of this country intensifies, the small, fragile gains achieved by women and their most basic human rights - are threatened.