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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 6 Sept 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan Religious Scholars and Ulema Call For Curbing Swara Marriages

New Age Islam News Bureau

6 Sept 2015

Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolia. PHOTO: AFP


 Pakistan Religious Scholars and Ulema Call For Curbing Swara Marriages

 Iranian Photographer Newsha Tavakolian To Share Prize Money With Syria Refugees

 From Stuffy To Selfies: Elizabeth II Tries To Change With The Times

 Dutch Journalist Says She Has Been Arrested Again In Turkey

 Indonesian City May Ban Teen Dating After Dark

 Palestine's Only Female Taxi Driver Has Big Plans

 Bangladesh Gets First Lesbian Comic Strip

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Pakistan Religious Scholars and Ulema Call For Curbing Swara Marriages


 MINGORA: The religious scholars and Ulema here on Saturday termed the forced and Swara marriages against Sharia and asked the authorities concerned to ban such practices once and for all.

They were speaking at a seminar about ‘early and forced marriages’ organised by the Awakening, an organisation working for the women’s rights, and for social and cultural development. Iftikhar Hussain, a representative of Awakening, said that owning to frequent forced and early marriages it was deemed necessary to tell the society that such practices were against Sharia.

“Taking opinion of Ulema and religious scholars about the early and forced marriages is an important factor in our campaign. The common people understand the ulema well. The religious scholars can easily motivate the communities to shun the practice of swara,” he said.

Religious scholar Mufti Abdul Wahab said that swara or forceful marriage of a girl to resolve conflicts between two rival families was an anti-Islamic act. He said that Islam gave freedom to a girl and boy for marriage and the Islamic state was responsible to ensure, food, security, shelter, education, health and even Nikah in a proper way to a person. He said that swara or forced marriage was also against Pakhtun traditions.

Mufti Khalid Khan said that under Islamic values the parents were bound to seek the consent of a girl and boy before their marriage. He said that swara was an honor-related issue in which one family, for taking revenge and restoring its honour in society, demanded for marriage in the rival family and then inflicted violence on the girl.



Iranian Photographer Newsha Tavakolian to Share Prize Money with Syria Refugees

By AFP: September 5, 2015

TEHRAN: Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian has said she will donate part of a Dutch award of a 100,000-euro ($112,000) to charity, including Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

“It is hard for me to enjoy this prize as much as I would like to, seeing the region where I work and live in flames and tens of thousands seeking refuge in faraway lands,” Tavakolian said on her Facebook page.

The 34-year-old self-taught photographer considered as one of the first professional female photojournalists in Iran, said she would be donating 15,000 to an organisation helping Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

“I have worked in both their countries and want to give back to all the kindness Iraqi’s and Syrians always welcomed me with, despite the dire circumstances they live in,” she said.

The Amsterdam-based Prince Claus Fund dedicated to culture and development said on its website Thursday that it had awarded its Principal 2015 prize to Tavakolian.

“Newsha Tavakolian is a self-taught photographer who combines photojournalism and art to offer new insights into the lived experience of people in Iran and the wider Middle East region,” it said.

“One of the first professional female photojournalists in Iran, her work ranges from bold reportage of political events to sensitive portraits and evocative series on subjects such as the insecurity of middle-class youth, female Kurdish fighters or the impact of sanctions on individual lives.

“The aesthetic and intellectual qualities of Tavakolian’s stills, videos, installations and photobooks question stereotypes and inspire young photographers across the Middle East,” said the Prince Claus Fund.

Police direct migrants as they wait to be registered by the police at the Lesbos Port on September 4, 2015. Cash-strapped Greece, which has just accepted a huge third international bailout, has seen more than 230,000 people land on its shores this year, many of them Syrian refugees. PHOTO: AFP

During a recent trip in the Middle East, Tavakolian took pictures to illustrate the struggles of Kurdish women fighting the jihadist Islamic State group in northern Iraq.

Tavakolian said 13,000 euros of her prize money would be given to Sheed Award, an independent documentary photography award in Iran.

Another 10,000 euros will go to Mahak Foundation, an Iranian charity supporting children with cancer, and 7,000 euros to local organisations supporting and protecting animals.

Tavakolian’s pictures have been published by Time magazine, the National Geographic and Magnum Photos.

In 2014, Tavakolian returned a 50,000-euro prize from the Carmignac Gestion photojournalism award citing a dispute with the French foundation over her right to artistic freedom.

She later changed her mind following negotiations with the jury.

The Prince Claus awards are given to individuals, groups and organisations based mainly in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.



From Stuffy To Selfies: Elizabeth II Tries to Change with The Times

By Reuters: September 6, 2015

LONDON: When Queen Elizabeth came to the British throne more than six decades ago, her first prime minister was Winston Churchill, a man who had served in the army of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.

By the time the current holder of that job, David Cameron, was born in 1966, she had already been monarch for 14 years.

“The first time she saw (Cameron) he was playing a rabbit in a school production in which her son Prince Edward was taking part,” royal historian Hugo Vickers told Reuters. “He is the man from whom she now takes formal advice.”

The contrast between those two politicians epitomises the huge change that the monarchy and the country have undergone during Elizabeth’s reign, which becomes the longest in British history on Sept. 9 when she overtakes Victoria’s 63-year stint.

Elizabeth, now 89, ascended to the throne in 1952 at the twilight of British empire, with Britain slowly emerging from the ravages of World War Two.

The monarchy was a distant institution that presided over a country where food rationing was still in place and social classes clearly distinct.

Over the next few decades, the royal family went from being something the public would only glimpse in newsreels and at official occasions to releasing family photos on Twitter, and even “photo bombing” other people’s “selfies”.

Queen Elizabeth II appears to have ‘photobombed’ two members of the Australian hockey team as they posed for a selfie. PHOTO: TELEGRAPH

“You would never have guessed at the beginning of the reign the queen would take part in a stunt in which she appeared to jump out of a helicopter with James Bond,” said royal biographer Robert Lacey, referring to her performance at the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Evolution Not Revolution

The changes have been more evolution than revolution, but they were not always smooth.

A 1969 fly-on-the-wall TV documentary “Royal Family” was viewed by commentators at the time as damaging to the monarchy’s mystique, and the queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, later said it was a “rotten idea”.

But another innovation the following year, the royal “walkabout” with the crowds, became a regular occurrence.

“The walkabout … in a way symbolised not only classlessness and informality but a sense of public affection for the institution,” Professor Philip Murphy, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

“They certainly quickly stepped back from the fly-on-the-wall ‘we’re just an ordinary family’ way of presenting the royal family.”

The celebration of her silver jubilee in 1977 and the national joy at the wedding of son and heir Prince Charles to Diana Spencer, and the birth of their children in the 1980s, gave way to tribulations in the 1990s, when “the firm”, as the royal family is nicknamed, was at its lowest ebb.

The marriages of three of her four children collapsed, most notably that of Charles and Diana, in the full glare of Britain’s tabloid media, prompting changes aimed at showing the public that the royals were more than just a privileged, dysfunctional family.

They agreed to start paying taxes on their income and in 1997 Elizabeth bade farewell to her much-loved royal yacht, Britannia, and the newly-elected Labour government refused to sanction paying for a replacement. She cried, the only time she has shed tears in public.

Just a few months later, Elizabeth faced the greatest crisis of her reign when the hugely popular Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris, after which the media criticised her for staying at her Balmoral home in Scotland in the immediate aftermath.

Among the flowers left for Diana, one bore the message: “You were a rose among a family of thorns”.

“The only time as far as I know when the queen’s hand was forced (was) when she came to London a day earlier than she intended to,” Vickers said.

The 1997 upheavals and questions about the monarchy’s future coincided with a landslide election victory by Tony Blair’s Labour Party and a period of new confidence in the country which earned the moniker “Cool Britannia”.

Blair, the youngest prime minister of the 20th century, chimed with the public mood over Diana, famously describing her as the “the people’s princess”.

“The death of the Princess of Wales was a most extraordinary period in British national life,” said Simon Lewis, who became the queen’s communications secretary in 1998 when the royals were still bruised from the fallout over Diana.

Lewis, who left the queen’s service in 2000, said the Windsors had understood they always had to adapt.

“What struck me was that essential view that the institution was as solid as a rock but it needed to evolve,” he said.

Buckingham Palace has been opened to visitors, some two million have attended garden parties hosted by the queen there, and there is greater visibility around financing and what the public pays for.

Those around the queen have changed too, exemplified by Lewis himself, educated at a north London state school and with a background in the private sector.

“I think these have been really quite significant changes that we now accept but at the time they were quite significant leaps,” said Lewis.


While the monarchy worked hard to repair its image, the British public was falling out of love with Blair and elected politicians. As disillusionment grew and lawmakers were embroiled in a scandal about their expenses, the queen’s slowness to change morphed from being a weakness into a strength.

“Whatever the queen’s personal rating it’s better than the … political leaders’,” Professor Murphy said.

“When you get past trauma of Diana’s death into the last 10, 15 years or so, in a way there’s a new kind of creeping respect for the way she’s stayed the same, always done her duty, still keeping the show on the road.”

For those looking for modernity, the queen’s photogenic and charismatic grandsons William and Harry look like princes at ease with ordinary Britons.

“The institution has redeemed itself successfully by an expensive but clever use of PR,” said lawmaker Paul Flynn, one of the few self-professed republicans in parliament.

“They are symbolic, there is a great wave of popularity for the younger royals and clearly the institution is secure for the immediate future but it is very much thanks to the personality of the queen and her reluctance to get involved in matters that do not concern her.”

Biographer Lacey said the queen’s great skill in changing the monarchy was knowing when to make concessions.

“Even tragedies and mistakes like Diana have been turned to the advantage of the monarchy,” he said.

“Monarchy is only ever as good as the people doing the job. None of the family did the job very well as recently as the 1990s. Look at the depths to which it sank and the price they had to pay in terms of paying tax, getting rid of the royal yacht, eating humble pie.

“But they did it.”



Dutch Journalist Says She Has Been Arrested Again In Turkey

By Reuters: September 6, 2015

AMSTERDAM: A Dutch journalist and author who write about Turkey’s Kurdish minority said she was arrested on Sunday, the second time this year she has fallen foul of the Turkish authorities.

“I’m in custody in Yuksekova,” Frederike Geerdink said via her Twitter account. She had been travelling with a Kurdish protest group whose members were all also taken into custody, she wrote.

A report by the Dutch ANP news agency said Geerdink had been arrested on suspicion of “travelling in a forbidden area.”

Turkish authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

A freelance journalist based in the mainly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Geerdink was arrested in January and accused of posting messages on social media in favour of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Her arrest was decried by human rights and press freedom groups. She was acquitted of propaganda charges in April. .

A spokesman for the Netherlands’ foreign ministry said on Sunday the Dutch embassy in Ankara was “monitoring the situation.”

Last week a Turkish court freed two Vice News journalists arrested in the southeast of Turkey on charges of having links to a terrorist organisation. The court freed the two British journalists but ruled to keep their Iraqi fixer in custody pending investigation.

The arrests caused an uproar from rights groups and raised concerns about Ankara’s record on press freedoms at a time when Turkey is cracking down on Kurdish militants and taking on a bigger role in the US-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria.

Kurdish militants having been clashing almost daily with security forces in southeast Turkey since July, when a two-year ceasefire between the PKK and the government collapsed, with both sides blaming each other.

Officials say that more than 70 members of the security forces and hundreds of Kurdish militants have been killed.

Geerdink authored a book in Dutch on Turkey’s Kurds and publishes an English language blog called “Kurdish Matters.”



Indonesian City May Ban Teen Dating After Dark

AFP | Sep 4, 2015

Parents had "thanked" him for reigning in their wayward children after they were caught on motorbikes, he said.

Dating just got harder for Indonesian teenagers in West Java, with a local leader on Thursday threatening to ban late-night trysts and marry off young couples caught out after dark.

If a new regulation goes ahead as planned on October 1, teenagers in Purwakarta, a local district about 100 kilometres from the Indonesian capital Jakarta, will be banned from visiting each other after 9pm.

To enforce the regulation Dedi Mulyadi, the head of Purwakarta district, said local patrols and new CCTV cameras would keep a watchful eye out for canoodling teenagers breaking the rules.

"Those who violate the rules will be summoned by the village cultural council for counselling," he told AFP.

"If they break the rules three times, the village council may ask for the parents to marry them."

It's not clear how the measure will be enforced — Indonesians under 16 cannot legally marry — but underage ceremonies do still occur.

Mulyadi claimed the regulation — which will only apply to youths under 17 — would help return his hometown to its rural roots.

This new provision would ensure teenagers were home in bed early and living a more traditional life, he added.

"I come from a village and back in the day, you could not visit a neighbour after 9pm because villagers would be in bed, preparing to wake up at dawn to till their paddy fields," he said.

Mulyadi said this new provision would also help enforce another of his schemes: banning underage, unlicensed drivers from zipping around on motorcycles.

Parents had "thanked" him for reigning in their wayward children after they were caught on motorbikes, he said.



Palestine's Only Female Taxi Driver Has Big Plans

Sheren Khalel | 05 Sep 2015

Hebron, occupied West Bank - Nadia Ahmad prefers to drive in manual. She laughs, motioning with one hand as if she is changing gears while the other one rests on an imaginary wheel.

Ahmad has been preoccupied with cars since she was a young girl, but she never thought she would end up making a living out of her love for being behind the wheel.

For the past two years, Ahmad has been driving a taxi through the streets of Hebron in the southern occupied West Bank.

While she never planned to make a political statement with her career, there is no getting around it: Ahmad is believed to be the only female taxi driver in all of Palestine.

Her floral-printed mauve headscarf and long black abaya stand out among the rows of bare male elbows poking out of the drivers' windows in the bustling city of Hebron.

She says that her husband, a professor of information technology at a local university, never challenged her dream of driving a taxi - but many others in the community were not as open to her unusual job choice.

"In the beginning, there was a lot of gossip. When my brother heard other drivers talking about me, about 'that woman who drives a taxi', he came home and was furious and demanded I stop at once," Ahmad told Al Jazeera.

Ahmad stopped driving for several months after that, but her husband urged her to continue.

The general director of ADWAR, Sahar al-Kawasmeh, says her organisation can eventually help raise funds for the all-female taxi company [Abed al-Qaisi/Al Jazeera]

Women account for only one-fifth of the workforce in the occupied West Bank, and many take on the roles traditionally seen as "female", such as teaching, nursing, or cleaning. Mothers who work while their children are home from school are sometimes frowned upon.

Nahid Abu Taima, who teaches a course on feminism in the media at Birzeit University, told Al Jazeera that women like Ahmad are trailblazers in Palestine, paving the way for an equal society.

"There's another woman like [Ahmad] in Gaza. She's a fisherwoman, I think. She's surely the only woman doing that job," Abu Taima said. "It's not easy, but these women are opening doors for other women to start work - not just in general, but in fields previously impossible. We will look back and see [that] these women who made the first jump into 'male' fields helped push us towards equality."

For Palestinian women to break out of the gendered roles in society, Abu Taima says they will have to be prepared for the same kind of backlash and community gossip to which Ahmad was initially subjected.

We will look back and see [that] these women who made the first jump into 'male' fields helped push us towards equality.

Nahid Abu Taima, professor of feminism in the media at Birzeit University

"Eventually, though, people will start to understand that there is no problem with what she is doing," Abu Taima said.

Ahmad became interested in cars at a young age - but even then, she understood that it was not considered a "normal" interest for a girl.

She watched her cousins work on their engines when she was a teenager - never asking questions, but taking mental notes instead.

"I can work on my own car [now]. I watched and watched, [and] now I know about cars. I can take even apart the carburettor," Ahmad said.

Ahmad's daughter, who is married and lives in neighbouring Jordan, has followed in her mother's footsteps by obtaining a taxi driver's license as well - though she has not yet started driving professionally.

The support Ahmad has received from her family has pushed her to think of her career in a bigger way. She now wants to start her own business, and within the next few years, she hopes to run a small fleet of taxis driven by women, for women.

"The cars will be neon green," she said. "I want to distinguish the all-women taxis from the mainstream ones."

If her idea comes to fruition, customers would be able to request taxis by phone, so women would not have to flag down their ride on the side of the street. She also plans to provide car seats for children upon request - an option not available to women taking mainstream taxis.

So far, Ahmad has encouraged six other women to acquire government-issued taxi licenses. While all six have passed their test and are now licensed taxi drivers, they said that family pressure has kept them from proceeding further. Still, Ahmad remains confident they will eventually agree to join her fleet.

The Roles for Social Change Association (ADWAR), a nongovernmental organisation based in the occupied West Bank, is fully behind Ahmad, general director Sahar al-Kawasmeh told Al Jazeera. Much of ADWAR's work involves fundraising for projects that coordinators believe will help close the gender gap in Palestinian society, and Kawasmeh believes Ahmad's business model is a perfect match.

"When she gets a few more women on board with her idea, we can start an ADWAR project for her business and begin fundraising," Kawasmeh said.

In June, ADWAR recognised Ahmad with their Roles for Social Change Award in honour of her part in breaking social stereotypes and being a positive role model.

A representative from the Ministry of Transportation told Al Jazeera that as long as Ahmad was able to meet all the requirements of any new taxi company - including office space, insurance, licensed cars and drivers, and start-up cash - she would be allowed to open.

"We do not discriminate upon gender," the representative, who did not provide his name, told Al Jazeera. "Man, woman, whatever - there are standard procedural steps that have to be taken, that's all."

Additional reporting by Abed al-Qaisi.



Bangladesh Gets First Lesbian Comic Strip

06 Sep 2015

The comic tells the story of Dhee, a girl who is attracted to other girls and falls in love [Boys of Bangladesh Facebook page]

Bangladesh's first comic strip featuring a young lesbian discovering her sexuality has been launched in the capital to raise awareness of the plight of gays in the conservative Muslim-majority nation.

Boys of Bangladesh, the country's largest gay rights group, on Saturday night launched "Dhee", the Bengali word for intellect or wisdom.

"By creating Dhee, we want to shape perception of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people, because we should be free to choose whom to love," Mehnaz Khan, one of the four content developers of the comic, told the AFP news agency.

"It's about carrying the message to all."

Gays and lesbians suffer discrimination and worse in Bangladesh where homosexuality is a crime punishable by a maximum life term, although prosecutions are rare.

The comic, to be handed out at gay rights seminars and other events, tells the story of Dhee, a girl who is attracted to other girls and falls in love.

Facing intense pressure to conform, Dhee mulls her enormous challenges and asks readers whether she should consider suicide, marry a man to please her family, flee the country, or stay and follow her heart.

Several hundred people attended the launch at the British Council in Dhaka, although entry was carefully scrutinised in case of protests by conservative hardliners.

"We hope to take such events outdoors next time as we don't want to live our lives indoors and in secret," prominent social activist Khushi Kabir said.

Many gays and lesbians are forced to hide their sexual identity and live double lives for fear of reprisals in the deeply conservative country where 90 percent of the population is Muslim.

But in recent years, Bangladesh's young gay men have become increasingly assertive of their rights and have held low-key pride marches at the last two Bengali new year festivals.

Last year, the first magazine for homosexuals was launched with little opposition. Source: AFP