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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 25 Jun 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Muslim Women Have Right to Seek Divorce: Indian Muslim Seminary Bareilly Markaz

New Age Islam News Bureau

25 Jun 2012 

 Women’s Rights in Kurdistan at a “transformative” Stage

 Saudi Arabia to Allow Women to Compete In 2012 Olympics

 Religion Is Not the Biggest Enemy for Arab Women, Poll Finds

 UK: Help, Listen, but Don't Take Sides

 Iraq 'friendly fire' widow fights MoD over quality of kit and training

 Syria Woman-Only ‘Battalion’ Aims to Train Women to Use Weapons for Protection

 Meet Four-Year-Old Rojan, Victim of UK's Frosty Relations with Iran

 Malaysia’s Sisters in Islam Want Lifting of Book Ban Maintain

Complied by New Age Islam News Bureau

Photo: Women’s Rights in Kurdistan at a “transformative” Stage




Muslim Women Have Right to Seek Divorce: Indian Muslim Seminary Bareilly Markaz

Jun 24, 2012

NEW DELHI: Muslim women, who are victims of domestic violence, have the right to end their marriage by seeking divorce or separation from her husband through 'Khula', the leading Islamic educational institution Bareilly Markaz said here today.

President of the All-India Muslim Women Law Board Shaista Amber hailed the verdict and said in Islam women have been given the right to decide about their life.

While issuing the 'fatwa' in response to a question, Mufti Syed Kafeel Ahmed of Darul Ifta said, "Muslim women have the right to end their marriage if they are the victim of domestic violence and oppression. Islam has given this right to them."

Darul Ifta is the fatwa section of the Bareilly Markaz (centre) based in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh.

Bareilly Markaz represents the Barelvi sect of Islam. Khula is a separation initiated by wife and Talaq is a separation initiated by husband.



Women’s Rights in Kurdistan at a “transformative” Stage



ERBIL, Kurdistan Region -- Four afternoons a week, after the children have left for the day, 60 women take their places at the Mar Qardakh Elementary School in the Ainkawa district of Erbil, a cool, airy building brightly painted in a style that owes a lot to Piet Mondrian. The women have come to learn English and computer skills to prepare themselves for Kurdistan’s newly booming job market.

“Kurdish women are in a transformative stage,” says Zheela Rashid, program coordinator at the women’s social development organization START, which implements the trainings. “We’ve passed that stage where we need awareness campaigns about women’s rights. This stage is the empowerment stage, giving women the tools.”

That’s the goal of the Kurdistan Economic Empowerment Program, or KEEP, says Safin Ali, Director of START:

“The idea of KEEP is to help them stand on their own two feet, to depend on themselves. The aim is to empower them by teaching them these new skills and to enter the job market with confidence.”

And it’s working, says 21-year-old Ranit: “The computer and English language training course is very good and gives us an advantage. I couldn’t do Word or PowerPoint before – I only used the computer for Facebook; but now, yes, I can do it.”


Half of the students are Internally Displaced People – Christians from other parts of Iraq who have sought asylum in Ainkawa; the other half are economically vulnerable women from Erbil – orphans, widows and victims of domestic violence.

“They are marginalized groups,” says Ali. “They’ve been forgotten by the authorities, so we are bringing them back to the community.”

And being prepared to take advantage of the region’s rapidly developing economy, he says, will help more than just their pocketbooks:

“With the stabilized political situation and the economic boom, more and more women are participating in economic life, so their voices are being heard.”

Rawa, a 26-year-old woman from Erbil, is one of the women participating in the KEEP program. She already has a job but is hoping to get a better one by improving her skills. Not all women are as lucky, she says:

“There’s a problem here in Kurdistan. Many women can’t work because their husbands won’t let them have a job or have money. But they want to work, to have money; they want to own their own lives.”

Rawa’s classmate, 52-year-old Khlas seconds that statement. “I want to get a job so I don’t have to ask my husband for money,” she says.


Familial and social pressures can be major obstacles for women’s emancipation in Kurdistan and Southern Iraq, says Nona Svijdic, a women’s rights activist from Bosnia-Hertzegovina, but they’re not the only ones.

“They are fighting for political participation, justice, security, education, economy – everything. The aggravating circumstances that they have, which we don’t have, are the tribal communities, the huge impact of religion on different aspects of life, and civil democracy on the other hand. We have only one battlefield, the civil battlefield – there are no other elements.”

Svijdic was in Erbil for a conference organized by the Swedish Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation that brought together women living in post-conflict areas.  Another significant difference between Bosnia and Kurdistan, Svijdic says, is that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) hasn’t yet implemented many of the international resolutions on women’s rights.

“Do you think the men in Bosnia are gender sensitive? Of course not, but they are wise. So Bosnia-Herzegovina has accepted and ratified all international documents, all conventions – everything to please the European Union and the international community. They would choose not to but they are politically correct so [these laws] have to be applied, and that’s a great tool for us.”

The international conventions might not be in place, but Kurdistan last year passed a homegrown initiative that outlaws domestic violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) – a practice that is still all too common in the region.

“The importance of the new law cannot be underestimated,” Falah Moradkhin, Iraq Projects coordinator for the women’s empowerment group WADI, said in a press release on the first anniversary of the law’s passage. The law, he said, “is an opportunity for the KRG to demonstrate that the region is taking a very positive, important, and modern step forward.”

But he warned that simply putting the law on the books is not enough: “In theory, the KRG has a law against domestic violence. In practice, however, it has not been implemented within the past year.”

Safin Ali of START says that part of the reason is that the judicial system and the culture of the KRG conspire to prevent the law from being put into effect.

“A woman’s community, her neighbors, might try to prevent her from lodging a complaint against her husband because they look down on women that act like that, that put their husbands in jail. So the woman will be outcast, she’ll be politically incorrect. [And if you do go to court,] the judge could say, ‘I don’t recognize this law; I don’t believe in this law, I don’t like it,’ and let the man go.”

Both START and WADI single out the importance of creating special courts that deal specifically with cases of domestic violence, and provision is made for such courts in the 2011 bill.

“Special institutions to support this law are very important,” says Safin Ali. “The personnel working in these institutions should be trained, should know the details of this law. It’s a matter of convincing the executive powers and authorities that they should implement it. We need all the forces, all the efforts to bring this in.”


One vital force that women need on their side, says Nona Svijdic, is religion.

“I’m a Muslim, but my life differs very much from the lives of Muslim women in this area,” she says. “When I compare my life as a Muslim, I have a lot of freedom. First of all, the school I go to, when I marry, who I marry, when I have my children, if I have my children; I have the freedom to spend time with whoever I want, to travel when I want. The women here face different practices, like honor killings, or genital mutilation or forced pregnancy. This is not the Islam that I know or the Islam that I am practicing.”

How Islam is practiced in Kurdistan is evolving says Mullah Basher Al-Hadad, head of the Endowment and Religious Affairs Committee at the Kurdistan parliament.

“I support the idea that our interpretation [of the Koran] should be different from 50 years ago. The texts are sacred but the interpretations are not. There are scholars who are bound to the old interpretation of the sacred texts and are not able to give them a new interpretation, but a lot of our scholars nowadays have a better understanding of the texts that’s in keeping with the principles modern life; Islam should cope with modern life and all the principles are found in our religion.”

And indeed the 2011 Anti-Domestic Violence Law explicitly cites as part of its justification the fact that domestic violence is “in contrast to what divine religions and principles of human rights dictate.”

“If a mullah says domestic violence is OK,” says Mullah Basher, “he doesn’t understand religion at all. We would ask the ministry of Religious Affairs to take away their license because violence is not part of Islam – Islam is against domestic violence. People [need to] distinguish social customs from religion and eliminate those cases from the society”

Religion can be an obstacle, says Safin Ali, but START’s philosophy is ultimately pragmatic:

“This is an Islamic society and you have to work under the ceiling of that. Let’s think about how we work under that ceiling, to not let this society go to the far right, or towards fundamentalist Islam, as some scholars try to do. Let’s work under this ceiling and make women aware of how to use the positive sides of religion in their favor.”

Religion is elastic, he says, and you have to pull it and push it the way you want.

“Some Islamic scholars are against FGM, some are for it,” he explains. “Women’s organizations push the Islamic Union to issue a fatwa against FGM, but in our campaign against FGM, we brought a mullah with us to argue against it – with what? With the verses of the Koran and the sayings of Mohammed. So you have to be smart; you have to approach these issues in a way that helps women.”

At the end of the day, he says, you have to remember what you’re fighting for:

“What do we want for women? To have equal rights, equal job opportunities in the workplace, in education, in politics; to marry who they want, and so on. We don’t want everyone deciding their future for them. So we can work on that – by bringing some Western ideas, some Islamic ideas and some Kurdish ideas.”



Saudi Arabia to allow women to compete in 2012 Olympics

Ben Quinn

24 June 2012

Saudi embassy statement reveals country's Olympic commitee will oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify

Saudi Arabia has announced that it is to allow female citizens to take part in the Olympic Games this summer for the first time in the country's history.

The move comes only months after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) faced calls to ban the country from London 2012 after the Saudi Olympic chief appeared to rule out sending women athletes to the Games.

However, a statement released by the Saudi embassy to the BBC said that the Saudi Olympic committee will "oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify".

The decision, backed by the Saudi ruler, King Abdullah, was taken 10 days ago but the announcement was delayed due to the death of the Saudi heir to the throne, Crown Prince Nayef, according to the BBC.

The Saudi regime, which closed private gyms for women in 2009 and 2010 and severely limits women's ability to undertake physical activity, has been under mounting international pressure to adopt a more liberal approach.

Tessa Jowell, the former culture secretary and Olympics minister – who is now a member of the Olympic board – said in February that the Saudis were "clearly breaking the spirit of the Olympic charter's pledge to equality" with their attitude to women in sport and the Games.

Jowell spoke out after a report by Human Rights Watch highlighted the way in which Saudi Arabian women and girls are denied the right to sport.

An equestrian jumping contestant, Dalma Malhas, 18, is likely to be Saudi Arabia's only female athlete to qualify for this summer's Games in London which get underway on 27 July.

As recently as February, the Saudi Olympic committee president, Prince Nawaf bin Faisal, said he was "not endorsing" female participation in London as part of the official delegation.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei have all never had a female athlete at the Olympics although Qatar has already announced it will send a three-woman team to London.



Religion Is Not the Biggest Enemy for Arab Women, Poll Finds

By Moni Basu

June 25, 2012

CNN) -- In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize last year, Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman thanked women of the Arab world for her medal. Without their struggle to win equal rights, she would not be there, she said.

The greatest challenge in that quest is not religion but the lack of economic and social development and a dearth of perceived security, said a Gallup Poll released Monday.

"The idea that coming in with a secular liberal social program as the solution to fixing how societies view women isn't supported by the evidence," said Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.

She said the women in the Middle East have very much the same priorities as women in America. They want to lead prosperous lives.

"The research shows that human development and overall education and economic empowerment are the most important interventions we can make to help women's rights," Mogahed said.

The Gallup report urged policymakers to allow Arab women's own priorities to guide efforts at gender equality.

Gallup conducted multiple surveys of 1,000 people each time in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya.

The data was collected between 2009 and 2011, before the the escalation of violence in Syria this year. In Libya, the surveys began in February 2010 and were restricted to eastern cities and did not include Tripoli.

The survey found that both women and men rate their lives worse now than it was before the Arab Spring but believe they will be better in five years. The exception was in Egypt, where women and men rated their futures higher now than under Hosni Mubarak.

A majority of women in Arab nations said they should have equal legal rights and equal access to education and employment. A majority of men, though smaller, agree, Gallup found.

The biggest divide was in Tunisia, where 87% of women and 59% of men say women and men should have the same legal rights, "which is surprising because it is often hailed as the most progressive Arab state on gender issues," Gallup said.

Also surprising, perhaps, was that Arab women were as likely as their male counterparts to favor sharia or Islamic law as a source of new legislation.

In Egypt, where the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood dominated parliament before it was dissolved, women and men expressed similar support for Islamist parties and movements.

"The current fear of the rise of Islamists is important and we need to address that," Mogahed said. "So we attempted to look at how women feel about religion. There isn't a gender divide."

The Gallup report said male employment and education are linked to more progressive views of women's rights and how men view the role of religion in society had no correlation to their views on gender equality.

Among Arabs who said religion is important, 69% supported divorce initiated by a wife. Among those who did not consider religion important, only 49% supported such divorce.

However, Arab women differ on religion depending on where they are, Gallup found. In Egypt, women are more likely to support an Islamist candidate, for instance, than women in Tunisia, which for years has been a secular state.

Dalia Ziada, who heads a policy research center in Cairo, believes gender equality has to come from political leadership.

"Women's rights will change from the top down. It will not change from grassroots up," said Ziada, executive director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies.

"It's a grassroots movement that has been calling for freedom an economic rights but it did not call for women's rights," she said of the revolutionary movement in Egypt.

She agreed that economic prosperity and education are top priorities for Egyptian woman but the main challenge for women is to become an essential part of the decision-making process.

Ziada spoke from experience.

The 30-year-old activist and blogger marched in the Tahrir Square protests that ousted Hosni Mubarak, but when she ran for parliament last fall on the liberal Justice Party ticket, her male colleagues refused to let her head the ticket, which meant her chances of winning votes were lower.

They told her a woman could not win many votes, she said. She lost the election.

"Men don't envision democracy with women in it," said Ziada. "They say, go back home. It's not your time yet."

Gallup said a third of the protesters in the Egyptian revolution were women but many, like Ziada, feel left out of the nation's transition to democracy.

But Ziada, an observant Muslim, said she remains optimistic that the new president of Egypt will enact policies that empower women.

"That is the only way out," she said.

Some of the transitional Arab governments have recognized women's participation in fomenting change.

The Gallup survey said Tunisia required half of each party's electoral list to be made up of women in last fall's constituent assembly election. Women hold nearly 25% of the seats.

The poll also raised another troubling issue for Arab women: safety.

Women in all the countries surveyed said they feel less safe to walk alone at night after the revolution. The most significant drop was in Tunisia where 78% of women said they felt safe before the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and only 30% said they were safe last fall.

Women in Egypt have reported being sexually assaulted while protesting on the streets and there were accusations of rape and sexual violence used by Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's forces during that country's rebellion.

"The greatest barrier to women's participation in public life may be their perception of lack of safety and respect," Gallup said.

Ziada said she feels scared to be in crowds in Cairo.

"Sexual harassment is real problem that has been happening in Egypt for so long," she said.

The Gallup report urged national leaders to address the perceived lack of safety "to help increase women's confidence to participate in all aspects of life, including politics."

In her Nobel speech, Karman, had addressed many of the issues raised in Gallup's survey.

"The solution to women's issues can only be achieved in a free and democratic society in which human energy is liberated, the energy of both women and men together," she said.

"Our civilization is called human civilization," she said, "and is not attributed only to men or women."



UK: Help, Listen, but Don't Take Sides

Hugh Muir

24 June 2012

A group that supports bereaved people from Israel and Palestine has a simple message for the UK: help, listen, but don't take sides

The splendour of the Speaker's House at the House of Commons. All plush carpets, velvet curtains, wood panels and historic paintings. Recently, John Bercow celebrated the achievement of three of the four black parliamentarians first elected 25 years ago here. Today there's a reception for families bereaved in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Bercow slaps down the mouthier MPs and invites the righteous to share his quarters. What's not to like?

And the event itself is an eye-opener. The Middle East is geopolitics: diplomacy, lines on maps. Enough of that, says Seham Abu Awwad, with quiet force. It should be about people. She's at the Commons as a spokeswoman for the Bereaved Families Forum, 600 Palestinian and Israeli families who work together for reconciliation. All, as the name suggests, have lost people. Seham's mother was an active member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. One brother was killled by an Israeli soldier. Another was injured. The heartache, she says, overwhelmed her mother, who died in 2006. And yet her message was reconciliation. There is pain, she says. "But if you travel with hopes and dreams, it will be easier."

Full report at:



Iraq 'friendly fire' widow fights MoD over quality of kit and training

Mark Townsend

 24 June 2012

Negligence claim over Iraq tank crew deaths could force scrutiny of army's battlefield preparations

At first Debi Allbutt was told her husband had died in an accident. Defence officials explained how he had been killed during the heat of battle, with a desert storm compounding the chaos during nocturnal manoeuvres outside the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

Debi Allbutt accepted their version of the "friendly fire" tragedy in which Corporal Stephen Allbutt's tank was fired on by another Challenger II on 25 March 2003, days into the invasion of Iraq. But questions soon began to surface. Stephen's friends returned from the conflict and the story changed. "They came to see me. They told me what had happened. I was angry, shocked," Allbutt said. Her husband's colleagues described being given inadequate equipment or lacking it, of not receiving night-time recognition training, and how firing boundaries were altered without telling troops.

Full report at:



Syria woman-only ‘battalion’ aims to train women to use weapons for protection

25 June 2012

SYRIA: In a move that has brought international concern and attention to the plight of the women of Syria under continued and intensified violence, a group of women from the city of Homs has formed a women-only ‘battalion’ to begin efforts to train women in the use of firearms for personal protection.

The group has also made a public statement saying they are not affiliated with any military organization.

The armed woman-only organization calls themselves the “Banat al-Walid battalion” named after Islamic military officer Khaled bin al-Walid who lived during the time of the Prophet Mohammad conveyed Lebanese news agency, The Daily Star.

“Earlier this week, a report from Human Rights Watch indicated that Syrian government forces have used rape and other forms of sexual violence against men, women and children during the Syrian uprising,” outlined The Daily Star.

Full report at:



Meet four-year-old Rojan, victim of UK's frosty relations with Iran

Saeed Kamali Dehghan

 24 June 2012

UK's diplomatic abyss in Tehran has stark consequences for nationals living in UK – and those who need life-saving help

Rojan Pirsalehi is a four-year old girl who desperately needs life-saving surgery on her oesophagus. But that is not the extent of her predicament. Rojan's biggest problem is that she is Iranian, and the hospital most likely to save her life is in the capital of one of Iran's great enemies: Britain.

At the age of two, Rojan swallowed a battery from her father's car radio remote control. The acid inside gradually damaged her entire oesophagus, her mother, Mozhgan Elmipour, said.

"When I realised what had happened, I instantly took her to the hospital but they refused to help her urgently," she told the Guardian. "We were told that it wasn't a serious problem but at the time when they found that the battery's acid had caused serious damage it was too late to save her oesophagus."

Full report at:



Malaysia’s Sisters in Islam Want Lifting of Book Ban Maintain

Alisha Hassan | 25 June 2012

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Sisters in Islam (SIS) have called on the country’s courts to maintain the lifting of a ban on a book it published in 2008. Their statement comes as a court of appeals is due to hear a case against the book next Monday.

The book, “Muslim Women and the Challenges of Islamic Extremism,” had been banned by the Home Ministry on July 21, 2008, on grounds that it would “threaten public order.”

The ban was challenged in court where High Court judge Mohamad Ariff Yusof overturned the government’s decision on January 25, 2010.

However, the government filed an appeal against the High Court decision on February 3, 2010, more than two years ago.

Full report at: