Tough cookie: Azi Ahmed (Picture: Mark Richards)
Syria Women Prisoners Are a ‘Weapon of War’
A Muslim Girl, Azi Ahmed, With the SAS: Special Forces Get the Feminine Touch
Meet Daughter of the king of Saudi Arabia – Adlah bint Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz Al Saoud
Bushra Ansari's Fab Website Is a Much-Needed Tribute to Pakistani TV's History
'Miss Muslimah' Photos Show Just How Outdated Western Views of the Muslim World Really Are
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Mixed-Gender Workplaces Must Not Be a Stigma for Saudi Women
June 25, 2015
I have grown up in a society where tons of illogical rules, customs, and traditions are set for women to follow in order to be considered decent, respectable, and God-fearing. One of these rules is to avoid working in a mixed-gender environment. A lot of women who work in such places are considered depraved and disreputable because they work with the opposite sex. It is as if a pure woman would lose all the good morals she possesses once she sees a man. How can a man trust a woman who works with different men on a daily basis? How can he make sure that she is virtuous? And how can he know if she is going to abuse the freedom she is given? All of these questions are asked by most of my society, including my tribe. I believe that women must not be stigmatized for their basic daily communication with men.
What makes a woman virtuous or not is her deeply seated beliefs, principles, morals and ethics, not her workplace, as long as it is proper. A woman of good morals can work with millions of men and know how to keep her relationship with them respectful, and proper. She knows how to act properly and decently. Also, she knows how to stop anyone if he tries to cross any of her red lines. Personally, I see this type of women every day.
However, there is the antithesis of such women; a woman who doesn’t mind having a friendly relationship with her male co-workers. However, her interaction with them borders on indecency. She tries to come up with easier ways than hard work to achieve what she wants. Needless to say, this woman doesn’t need to work in a mixed-gender environment to act improperly, because she can so if she works in an all-female workplace or even if she sits at home all day; as they say, where there’s a will there’s a way. Furthermore, there is nothing on earth that can force a woman to adhere to any morals if they are not deeply instilled in her mind.
Ironically, most of the men who think that women who work in mixed-gender environments are indecent usually have many extramarital relationships with women. If they come across one woman who flirts openly with them, they readily form the opinion that all women are easy to pursue. Forgive me, dear reader, for pointing out what I have assumed is already obvious: if a man has some female colleagues of this type, there is absolutely no need to expect all women to be the same.
But I do have to ask: Who gets to judge the virtue of a woman We were not born to judge people, all people - including women. So who gave men the right to doubt a woman’s morals only because she works with men? Personally, I am surrounded by great respectful women who work with men on a daily basis, but they never step out of line. This is because deep down they believe in the importance of having excellent morals. They choose to move up the ranks through sheer hard work. People should stop assuming that female employees who work in mixed-gender environments are immoral and untrustworthy. They must also learn how to respect women for their contribution to society, and their great accomplishments rather than view them as creatures of inherent sin, wherever they go and whatever they do.
Syria women prisoners are a ‘weapon of war’
June 26th, 2015
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that more than 200,000 people, including thousands of women, are held in Syrian regime detention centers. — Archives
Women prisoners in Syrian government jails are used as a “weapon of war,” a network of rights groups said in a report Monday, documenting sexual abuse and torture of detainees.
The report published by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) documents what it describes as “arbitrary” detentions and contains testimony from dozens of former prisoners. “Women have been increasingly weaponized in Syria’s ongoing bloody war, with dire repercussions for the country’s social fabric and the prospect of ending the conflict,” it wrote.
EMHRN released the report on the eve of a meeting in Geneva on Tuesday of the UN Rights Council which is expected to address the rights situation in Syria.
The 42-page report, entitled “Detention of Women in Syria: A Weapon of War and Torture,” documents the cases of pregnant women held in jail and of mothers imprisoned with children under the age of 18.
The report details “horrendous violations perpetrated against women by the Syrian government... in a widespread and systematic manner, as well as the use of women as bargaining chips in hostage exchanges with anti-governmental armed groups.”
Women held in Syrian government prisons are subjected to “various forms of deprivation, threats, solitary confinement, as well as different forms of torture, including rape and sexual harassment,” it said.
Their ordeal continues long after they are freed, it said, citing people sacked from their jobs, others who were rejected by their families or forced to divorce their husbands.
Laila, a 38-year-old activist and mother of two jailed in 2013, recalled her interrogation “in a cold room full of rats” saying she was made to stand naked and was menstruating at the time.
Another prisoner, Sawsan, said she was raped by 10 members of the security forces — the first time in front of her 16-year-old son.
Other women said they were forced to make false confessions and to say they had practiced “jihad sex” with rebels fighting the regime.
EMHRN president Michel Tubiana urged the international community to exert “intense efforts” to help such women.
“Intense efforts need to be made at international level in order to provide women who have been exposed to grave violations with adequate rehabilitation and protection mechanisms,” he said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that more than 200,000 people, including thousands of women, are held in Syrian regime detention centers. — AP
A Muslim Girl, Azi Ahmed, With the SAS: Special Forces Get the Feminine Touch
25 June 2015
Back in the days before the developers and their bulldozers ransacked the top end of King’s Road, the shabby old Duke of York’s Barracks stood, with its equally shabby yellow and green advertising hoarding for the Territorial Army. To the casual eye, that’s just what it was — a rundown TA barracks of no particular significance. Azi Ahmed made an unlikely recruit to fight Her Majesty’s enemies in Chelsea — a Muslim girl from up North who was an art student at St Martins.
Craving more excitement than the unglamorous existence of student life in a Tooting hall of residence, she joins the TA at its SW3 barracks. Except that, rather like Alice walking through the looking glass, Ahmed gets more than she bargains for. After a couple of curt interviews and a medical — where her biggest fear is her hairy legs — she becomes part of a little-known experiment to see if women have what it takes to join 21 Special Air Service — a part-time relation to the regular SAS regiment.
The brainchild of an enlightened Special Forces colonel, the plan — which was eventually abandoned — sees Ahmed and an ever- decreasing number of female candidates try to pass the process known throughout the armed forces simply as “selection”.
What follows is a graphic, hilarious and moving account of being run ragged in Hyde Park; rolling in dog muck while being teased by the directing staff (male, obviously) for having a “fat arse” (she didn’t); and losing her rifle in a river in Wales — so requiring all the men in her section to jump in and search for it. As Ahmed highlights, her lack of stature and height compared with the men on selection frequently led to awkward situations. At one point on the Pirbright assault course, she is left hanging upside down by her knees with two directing staff casually informing her “this is not a circus”.
As if the challenges of the 400m track at Chelsea Barracks — where recruits for 21 SAS frequently collapsed vomiting — and the tear-inducing marches over the Brecon Beacons while carrying the equivalent of a fridge on her back aren’t character-testing enough, Ahmed also has to return to her family in the North to play the good little Muslim girl. Here, her parents (blissfully unaware of their daughter’s military aspirations) parade her in front of a cast of unsavoury would-be suitors in the hope that she’ll agree to marry one.
The balancing act between her religious life and her forces life is perfectly illustrated with a sorry description of having to eat a squashed cheese sandwich pulled from the bottom of her Bergen rucksack in the middle of godforsaken Wales while her comrades chow down on hot rations containing pork. Looking at her bedraggled, un-militarylike appearance, one instructor asks rhetorically if she would not be “better off at home baking cupcakes”.
Meet Daughter of the king of Saudi Arabia – Adlah bint Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz Al Saoud
June 26th, 2015
Daughter of the king of Saudi Arabia – Adlah bint Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz Al Saoud, is a modern women, who calls for the freedom of women and who believes that “Al Niqab” is more of a tradition, while the scarf is more of what Islam calls for!
Adlah sat in for an interview with the French newspaper “Le Figaro” and shared her views about marriage, Hijab, work for women and social media.
Don't be surprised, but the daughter of the King of Saudi Arabia is a beautiful, modern woman, who doesn't mind going out in public wearing only a scarf on her head and showing a bit of her hair!
Adlah sat in for an interview with the French newspaper "Le Figaro" and shared her views about marriage, Hijab, work for women and social media.
Adlah is an active woman in Saudi Arabia. She participates in welcoming foreign delegations, she attends plays and events, she poses for photos with young women and men.
Adlah sees that there’s a real problem with underage marriages and calls for setting the rules straight and setting an age for marriage. She also sees no problem in women and men working side by side, as long as there’s mutual respect and laws that indict harassment. What do you think? Does she make for a good model for the Saudi women? Is there still hope for the liberation of the Saudi woman in her own country? (via World Observer Online)
Adlah is an active woman in Saudi Arabia. She participates in welcoming foreign delegations, she attends plays and events, and she poses for photos with young women and men.
Adlah sees that there’s a real problem with underage marriages and calls for setting the rules straight and setting an age for marriage.
She also sees no problem in women and men working side by side, as long as there’s mutual respect and laws that indict harassment.
What do you think?
Does she make for a good model for the Saudi women?
Is there still hope for the liberation of the Saudi woman in her own country?
Bushra Ansari's fab website is a much-needed tribute to Pakistani TV's history
June 26th, 2015
‘Golden period.’ It’s an easy, catch-all turn of phrase.
It's also a concise alternate for ‘the good old days of the PTV', a neater way to say 'the Waheed Murad era of cinema’ and a quick acknowledgement of the greats that preceded today’s stars, even though we may not be terribly familiar with all their past achievements.
So we blanket our ignorance with the necessary nod to times gone by, and move on. Isn't it a pity that we aren’t better acquainted with our history?
Our experience of the ‘golden period’, for those of us who have actively sought it out, is formed by slow buffering Youtube videos, the occasional screening of a classic, or the one-off exhibition of film buff Guddu Khan’s vast collection of memorabilia. We hurray at these scattered opportunities, hail them as ‘much-needed’ (which they undoubtedly are), but they're no substitute for a proper cultural archive — a concrete, cohesive, comprehensive collection of records that document our history and make it readily available to the public.
That’s what Nariman Ansari, a 35-year-old photographer and visual artist based in Toronto and the elder daughter of iconic actor-comedian-writer Bushra Ansari, set about to create.
Rescuing the contents of a cardboard box that held photographs, articles and other records of her mother’s life on and off screen — documents once endangered by their proximity to the sea in Bushra’s former residence — and scouring the internet for everything else she could find, Nariman decided to put it all together and make public an archive of her mother's life and work. Two and a half years later, the result is bushraansari.com.
We lack a centralized archive devoted to Pakistani TV and cinema's glory days. Isn't it a pity we aren’t better acquainted with our history?
Rich in content, this is a website that also looks beautiful, and one can’t say the same about many other celebrity websites in Pakistan. Since it’s a first, the star in question was a tad skeptical about her daughter’s labour of love, but ultimately agrees that it was a good project to undertake.
"It'll make it easy for me introduce myself to other people," the household name Bushra Ansari had said to Dawn.com, in all seriousness.
Bushraansari.com lets fans get to know her a little more intimately. For instance, you can view photographs of her time as a young star on Kaliyon Ki Mala, catch a glimpse of her wedding shoot and admire her magazine covers on the site's timeline.
You can also watch now-obscure video clips of her earlier comedy sketches and listen to recordings of her songs in the Archives section. It is the latter feature of the website that is Bushra's favourite.
"The collection of old songs on the website revived a lot of old memories. I joined PTV as a singer, I never rated myself as a proper singer, but they're so many songs that aren't with me anymore, so I'm glad some were preserved."
“This sort of thing is new for our kind of people,” Bushra told Dawn.com of her contemporaries, “We never promoted ourselves, always underestimated what we did, I still don’t think I’ve done anything outstanding. But the new generation is different. They realise the value of things. Moin (Akhtar) was a much bigger star, as are people like Anwar Maqsood and Uzma Gillani. An initiative like this should happen for them too."
“This sort of thing is new for our kind of people,” Bushra told Dawn.com of her contemporaries, “We never promoted ourselves, always underestimated what we did, I still don’t think I’ve done anything outstanding. But the new generation is different. They realise the value of things."
In a chat with Nariman, the site's creator revealed what how she stumbled upon the idea to create this archive.
Dawn: This question is a tad redundant, but let’s start with it for some context: What inspired you to create a digital archive of your mother's life and work? As in, not every celebrity's daughter or son does it. And many celebrities seem to consider it to sufficient to engage with their fans over social media, so why build an interactive website to host the archive?
Nariman Ansari: It was Moin Akhtar's death that inspired me to act on my frustration at the lack of interest shown to artists and Pakistani art history by institutions.
I realized as I saw footage of his brilliant work from the ‘80s being shown on television during the coverage of his death, how children born after the 'satellite invasion' probably knew him only as the guy on Loose Talk. So many of them may be seeing that footage of his amazing work in the ‘80s as Rozy and Showtime for the very first time. It made me realize how the same generations would know very little of the amazing work done by artists like Roohi Bano, Anwar Maqsood, Talat Hussain, Shafie Muhammad, and even my mother, who is known more nowadays for her work as Saima Chaudhry. Would these people know of Aangan Terha? Or her famous parodies of Salma Agha, Noor Jahan?
I was privileged to be born into a home where I saw these people around me, and witnessed their work up close. But how unfair it is that Pakistanis don't have serious documentation of their cultural history. And it made me confront the fact that I was in a position to start with the artist in my own home. I knew my mother had been saving photos and news clippings in a giant cardboard carton. Having a design background made me realize how interesting it could be to display those things. Having seen some amazing exhibits on movie stars on our visits abroad and beautifully designed biographies, I knew these things help to define the story of culture. So I spoke to my mother about it, and I realized that even though a book would be lovely, it would not offer the level of accessibility that a website would.
"I wanted to build something that would be like an expansive archive of her [Bushra Ansari's] life," says Nariman. "Maybe students of media could find it useful. Her story is also the story of television in Pakistan in a way."
I wanted to create a 'web museum', something that would give a real experience of how she started and all that she has achieved. I wanted to build something that would be like an expansive archive of her life. Maybe students of media could find it useful. Her story is also the story of television in Pakistan in a way. She started soon after television was launched in Pakistan, and she is still working and reinventing herself.
Dawn: Could elaborate on the process of creating this website? We understand that it's been years in the making and was your collaborative effort with many of your friends.
NA: I realized the first step was digitizing the images and articles. So I called a friend of mine who had just graduated from Indus Valley to see if he would be interested in doing it for me. Nadir Shahzad and Bemisal Iqbal both would come over to my place and sit and scan and photograph and download images and articles at my place over the course of two months in 2012.
I immigrated to Canada so I then had to put things on hold. I then tried to find the best way to work on this website. I was hoping to find someone who would manage the production of the website and build a team to put it together. Shehram Mokhtar was recommended to me by an old friend. He is currently managing the Media Sciences program at SZABIST, and has a Masters in Communication and Society from University of Oregon. I thought he would be well qualified to handle such a project, and I got in touch with him online.
I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the website to be. It needed to engage people, and not just be a bunch of pretty pictures. It had to reflect the expanse of her career. And be contemporary and colourful.
I always wanted to have illustrations as a strong element of the website so when Shehram suggested Shariq Chhapra, I was thrilled. He is a brilliant illustrator who has created some amazing work for the magazine XTRA in the past, as well as album covers for various musicians including Ali Azmat. He also happened to be my teacher at Indus Valley. Anyway, they brought in the web developer Aaftab Ahmed, and got to work.
There was an immense amount of information to organize on the site. I also wanted to not create dense biographies and testimonials, etc., since this wasn't my aim.
Structurally, there were two components for me, the archive and the timeline. The Timeline that we have built is essentially a story of her life. I wanted to give people a way to see her journey and achievements in the way that they may read an interactive book.
This was the biggest challenge as far as the web development was concerned and caused the main delays for us. I know the archive section is quite detailed, and may be more suited for serious fans, but I also wanted to build something that would introduce younger fans or new fans to the way she had become who she was, so they may discover aspects of her work that they may be unaware of.
"We desperately need a way to preserve our cultural history," says Nariman
Dawn: The archival process, we assume, wasn't easy. What other reasons do you think are behind the fact that few people in Pakistan concern themselves with archiving and more importantly, providing public access to those archives?
NA: I was completely and am still in awe of the work that the Citizens Archive Project is doing and has done. How important it is that we as a nation never forget how we came to be, through the stories of ordinary people. It made me realize even more how desperately we need a way to preserve our cultural history. I have also shared all these images and articles with the Citizens Archive in the hope that they may one day use them to educate Pakistanis about our culture. I do hope that more people and institutions will take the initiative to build archives on our artists, because culture is the soul of the nation. And we need to give it due respect.
Dawn: What do your parents think of the website?
NA: My mother still wonders if anyone will find this project useful. But in a way it’s my tribute to her. Not as her daughter, but as a fan. She has inspired women all across Pakistan for generations to be funny, to speak up, to laugh, and to think.
'Miss Muslimah' Photos Show Just How Outdated Western Views Of The Muslim World Really Are
Yes, there are a lot of differences separating Miss Muslimah, a Muslim beauty pageant in Yogakarta, Indonesia, from those broadcast across the Western world. Instead of bathing suits there are headscarfs, competitors pray five times a day, and the winner is chosen by a jury of orphaned children. However, after attending and documenting the competition in 2014, photojournalist Monique Jaques realized that the young women weren't that different from their Western counterparts.
"I believe that this idea that the West has that the lives Muslim women lead are so different from ours is outdated and naive," Jaques explained to The Huffington Post. "The girls had as much in common with any other young girl in America. They talked about makeup, television shows and friends just like [many] young women do."
Jaques discovered the competition online and was intrigued to see what shape the competition would take. "I thought the contradiction of a Muslim beauty pageant was so interesting and unique," she said. "In my work I'm always looking for ways to communicate the experience of young Muslim women to Western audiences. Much of the competition is similar to a pageant in America or anywhere in the West, just with headscarves."
Many competitors themselves seem to agree. "I think the only difference it has from a regular beauty pageant is the name," Dina Torkia told Al Jazeera during the 2014 competition. "And the fact that we are all wearing scarves on our head."
And yet this sole difference is hugely important, especially for the many young women whose careers and relationships are threatened by their decision to wear a hijab. "When you wear the headscarf in France, people have their own way of looking at you," competitor Fatma Ben Guefrache told Al Jazeera. "It’s a problem across Europe. People don’t distinguish between an ordinary Muslim and a terrorist."
The World Muslimah Award was established by Eka Shanty in 2011, after the former television reporter was removed from her position following a refusal to remove her hijab on screen. The competition, which enlists 18 young Muslim women from around the world, requires that participants don the symbol of modesty and faith. The event celebrates style and elegance along with religious piety, development of humanitarian intelligence and strength of character. Prizes include everything from pilgrimage trips to scholarships.
The process is grueling, with participants getting as little as three hours of sleep a night. A typical day consists of visiting impoverished slums and elderly homes, and speaking with corporate sponsors, all while praying five times a day -- and wearing heels. "We’re trying to find an excellent personality that can be a role model, an ideal figure to stand on behalf of millions of Muslim women in the world," Shanty explained. "Of course this is very challenging and stressful, but I think it’s worth it for them."
Throughout the pageant, challenges include reciting Quran passages, volunteering in nursing homes, debating Muslim values and touring impoverished communities. Although parts of the competition are controversial, including its sponsorship by skin-lightening products, Jaques has faith in the heart of the pageant. "I think it brings light to strong educated women who have goals and issues, and the hijab won’t deter them," she explained to Feature Shoot. "Many have faced prejudice for their religious beliefs; one was even denied admittance to a university in France. Together, they stand up for the rights of Muslim women around the world."
From Jaques' images and descriptions, the ambitious and dedicated participants of Miss Muslimah seem to be aspirational role models for women of any faith. "I absolutely fell in love with the girls in the competition," the photographer said. "It was such a wonderful collection of strong women with clear ideas about who they were and what they wanted to achieve."