New Age Islam News Bureau
9 Apr 2018
This claim makes the British monarch a distant descendant of Prophet Muhammad. (Photo: AP)
• Islam Is A Feminist Religion - Denmark’s First Female Imam
• Winking Forbidden In Islam, Says Fresh Plea in SC against Priya Varrier Song
• Malala Is Building More Schools In Pakistan. That’s not Likely to Reduce Support for Extremism.
• UN Women Delegation Calls on Ombudsman
• Nigeria: 149 Women and Children Rescued From Boko Haram
• Africa: Sudanese Football Team Coached By a Woman
• Saudi Women Occupy 38% of All Jobs in Riyadh: RCCI
• Saja Kamal: the woman tackling football in Saudi
• Top Five Health Concerns Plaguing Women the UAE
• New Radio Series Features Afghan Women Working To Change Their Communities
• Women Push For Rights in Bangladesh’s Fashion Factories
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Queen Elizabeth Related To Prophet Muhammad?
Apr 7, 2018
A new shocking study sees historians saying that the UK Queen is a descendant to the founder of Islam - after tracing her family tree back 43 generations.
This claim makes the British monarch a distant descendant of Prophet Muhammad.
The findings were first published in 1986 by Burke's Peerage, a British authority on royal pedigrees.
However, having been largely forgotten, the claim has recently resurfaced after a Moroccan newspaper said it had traced the queen's lineage back to the Prophet.
According to their findings, Elizabeth II's bloodline runs through the Earl of Cambridge in the 14th century, across medieval Muslim Spain, to Fatima, the Prophet's daughter.
While disrupted by some historians, genealogical records of early-medieval Spain also support the claim and it has also been verified by Ali Gomaa, the former grand mufti of Egypt.
Notably, Burke's publishing director wrote to the-then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1986 calling for increased security for the royal family where he said that the royal family's direct descent from the prophet Mohammed cannot be relied upon to protect the royal family forever from Moslem terrorists.
Recognising the connection would be a surprise to many, he added, 'It is little known by the British people that the blood of Mohammed flows in the veins of the queen. However, all Moslem religious leaders are proud of this fact.'
Burk’s Peerage was the first study to officially suggest that the Queen was connected to Prophet Muhammad, claiming that she descends from a Muslim princess called Zaida, who fled her home town of Seville in the 11th century before converting to Christianity.
Zaida was the fourth wife of King Al-Mu'tamid ibn Abbad of Seville. She bore him a son Sancho, whose descendant later married the Earl of Cambridge in the 11th century.
However, Spectator points out Zaida's origins are 'debatable'. Some historians believe she was the daughter of a wine-drinking caliph descended from the Prophet. Others say she married into his family.
The reaction to the Queen's reported links to the Prophet have been mixed, with Abdelhamid Al-Auouni welcoming the news in his piece in Moroccan newspaper Al-Ousboue, writing: 'It builds a bridge between our two religions and kingdoms,’ while another person on internet forum Reddit rubbished the claims however, writing: 'This is just propaganda used by the British monarchy to appease the growing number of Muslim subjects.'
Islam is a feminist religion - Denmark’s first female imam
9 Apr, 2018
Islam in Europe has long been viewed with suspicion by the majority, accused of not representing European values. Is that really true and can it be changed? We asked Sherin Khankan, Denmark’s first female imam.
Sophie Shevardnadze:Sherin Khankan, Denmark’s first female imam, welcome. It’s really great to have you with us, I am really excited to ask you all the questions that I want. Now, you call yourself an Islamic feminist being Denmark’s first female imam. Do you think a woman could ever lead a mixed mosque in prayer in Islam, not just female-only? And would you like that to happen?
Sherin Khankan: Actually, I had the vision of a mosque with female imams many years ago back in 1999. I was inspired when I did my thesis in Syria in Sufism and Islamic activism and back then I visioned a mosque with female imams leading the prayer actually for both men and women because I’ve always prayed together with men and women. So it is very natural to me, I was always working against the segregation within different spheres. So when I started the mosque we recruited other people for our team for the theme imam group and, like any group, like any community, you have to vote as it is a democracy and the majority of the community voted for a women’s mosque only. So I had to accept that and I think now, when I look back, I am really happy about the decision because I realised that having a mosque where women or female imams lead the prayer for only women is not controversial at all. So we are actually able to do other revolutions that I consider more important because when you pray it is about....
SS:But do you feel like your vision of having a mixed mosque could ever come true? Is this something you would want to see in the future?
SK: It is already happening because we are the first mosque in Scandinavia with female imams, but there are mosques all over the world - in China since the 1820s, in the U.S. and Canada, in Germany. And especially in Germany and Canada and the U.S. there are mosques with mixed prayers, so it is already happening in many places in the world. I do hope that in the future we could have a mosque with both male and female imams and I hope that in the future we could have mixed prayer also, because we have so many young men who tell us: “We would also like to come to the Mariam Mosque and to pray with you, we would like to come as a family with our children”. So I think it will happen maybe in the future. But right now I am quite happy about a women’s mosque.
SS: So Islamic State’s extreme take on Islam still attracted a lot of women to go and volunteer and join its cause. You, as a female spiritual leader, how do you explain that? Why would people, why would women volunteer to be so horribly oppressed? By ISIS, I mean.
SK: I think that people tend to become radicalized or attracted to radicalized communities because they don’t feel a part of the existing communities that they live in. Often if you don’t feel a part of the existing community, you have nothing to lose and you try to seek other communities where you feel at home and where you feel that you are validated. So, unfortunately, these communities that are very extreme, they focus on all these political issues of today and they use all these political tensions in order to recruit very vulnerable young people, who maybe do not feel at home in the existing European communities or where they might live. That is why it is so crucial that we try to include our minorities in the existing countries in order for everybody to feel at home and to feel a part of the community.
SS:You believe that the Koran at its basics considers men and women equal. So all the patriarchal oppressive parts of the traditional Islamic societies - where do they come from, if not religion?
SK: In the Koran there are 114 chapters and more than 6600 verses. There are six verses that could be interpreted as discriminatory against women, but they could also be interpreted or re-read differently with a focus on women’s rights and gender equality. That is actually what we are trying to do in the Mariam Mosque. We try to re-read these verses in order to create gender equality. This is actually happening all over the world, we have male and female scholars who try to re-read the Koran in our times and our societies. Within Islam, we have a patriarchal structure within religious institutions and that patriarchal structure, of course, has affected the interpretation of the Koran. So this is also what we would like to challenge – this patriarchal structure, these patriarchal readings of the Koran – and I think that female imams have something to contribute in that context because we have a specific focus on gender equality and we are in need of that.
SS:So you are not wearing a hijab. Should a head or face cover be a choice? Is it a sign of oppression? What do you think?
SK: Of course, I mean, we are born free, so all humans should choose for themselves how they want to live their life. Muslim women have different interpretation of what it means to be a modest woman. This is my interpretation of modesty: to me the scarf is a metaphor for sincerity towards God and sincerity in the relationships that you find yourself in – it could be a friendship or a marriage or whatever. But I also respect women who choose to wear the hijab and see it as a part of their Islamic identity. We have to accept and respect that women have these different interpretations of what it means to be a modest woman. In the Koran there are two verses concerning the scarf and concerning the covering. One of the verses is specifically related to the wives of the Prophet and the other verse is more universal.
SS:So, like you said, hijab to burka, it is all based in the requirement to be modest for a woman in Islam. Don’t you see that as another vestige of the patriarchy that you are resisting, like and woman has to think about how a man sees her and worry whether she is judged modest or not by a man?
SK: That is not my interpretation of modesty, I use the term more in a sense that you choose how you want to present yourself in a sense of a more spiritual sincerity. So I have the same respect for a woman who is wearing a miniskirt and a woman who is fully covered. I mean it is up to any woman to choose how she wants to dress and how she feels comfortable. It is stated clearly in the Declaration of Human Rights that any human being has the right to practise his or her religion in the private sphere and in the public sphere, so we cannot decide that women should not wear the hijab. It is a human right, it is a freedom of religion, and freedom of religion is just as important as freedom of speech. Of course, what happens in Iran where women are forced to wear the scarf - I condemn that and I fight against that and I would fight for any woman’s right...
SS:But do you also condemn whatever is going on in Europe right now where countries are trying to ban full hijabs on women in the streets?
SK: Of course, if a woman chooses to wear the hijab or the burka it is her own individual decision and we should not fight against that. We have to support any person’s right to practise his or her religion. I mean, we signed the contract, we signed the Declaration of Human Rights, so it is actually stated there very clearly that this is a possibility. So I will fight for any woman’s right to wear the hijab and not to wear the hijab. It’s a matter of personal decision.
SS:You are quite an interesting mix of an absolute European democrat and a spiritual leader in Islam. When you try to fight Islamophobia and open up your religion, open up Islam from a different angle, how do your fellow believers see you? Do you think you are a true Muslim in their eyes, in the eyes of clerics from Egypt and Iraq? Or maybe you don’t even care what they think?
SK: Actually, I do not seek the recognition of other people; I seek the recognition of God. But, of course, it means something to me what people think. Actually, we had a visitor - it was the grand imam from the third largest mosque in Indonesia, Jakarta. It is called the Istiqlal Mosque. The grand imam has 200,000 Muslim visitors every Friday for his Friday prayer. He came to the Mariam Mosque in Copenhagen, he prayed in our mosque and he blessed our mosque and he blessed the concept of female imams. He even quoted one of my favorite inspirational sources which is Ibn Arabi – he lived from 1165 till 1240 – and he said: “The perfect man is a woman”. So we have great Muslim spiritual leaders who support the mosque, but we are also met by the opposition, because when you change a patriarchal structure you change the power balance, and people will become upset. It is natural and it is expected.
SS:What is harder in your everyday reality? Dealing with the nationalist Islamophobic right-wingers or religious Islamic fanatics?
SK: I think both. I mean, they are very similar on both sides. Both sides tend to generalize, they are manipulating dichotomies between them and us, between being a Muslim and being a secularist, between Muslims and Jews, Muslims and Christians. All these manipulated dichotomies – you will find them on both sides. And this is actually what I try to fight against, what we try to fight against or challenge. We try to deconstruct all of these manipulated dichotomies showing the world that Islam is a religion and it is a peaceful religion. It is possible to be a practising Muslim to believe that the Koran is the word of God and at the same time to be a member of secular societies. It is possible.
SS:Sherin, in Morocco the council of Islamic scholars is allowing women to officiate interfaith marriages, in Saudi Arabia women have been allowed to drive. There are steps forward in more traditional Islamic countries, but do you understand that from a Western point of view this is not really impressive? These are very basic things that should not have been banned in the first place.
SK: Yes, I agree with you totally. In the Mariam Mosque we have constructed a new Islamic marriage contract that gives Muslim women a right to divorce. Actually, today in the world Muslim women do not have the basic right to divorce, it’s the right of the husband. But actually it is an Islamic principle – a right to divorce. We have constructed a new marriage contract giving women the basic Islamic right to divorce. If polygamy is forbidden in our contract, if mental or physical violence occur then marriage is annulled, and the woman has the right over the children in case of a divorce. We also conduct inter-religious marriages in the Mariam Mosque as the first ones in Scandinavia. We believe that any person has the right to choose her partner for life and it should be a very basic thing. But unfortunately, today one of the biggest dilemmas, not only in the Muslim world, but also in Europe, is interfaith marriages and the concept of the interfaith marriages.
SS:Yes, I am going to come to that. But before we speak about that, I’ve met Arab Spring activists, women from Yemen and Libya. They work on women’s rights while looking at theological foundations, ways of interpreting the Koran, finding the right hadith, etc. Can women’s rights ever work outside religion in Islamic communities? What I mean is that, for instance, feminism in the West is not tied to religion, feminists don’t go to St. Luke or St. Paul, they don’t turn to the Bible and ask if women have rights too. So I am asking if secular feminism is even possible in Muslim culture?
SK: Of course, it is possible. It is happening all the time. In many Muslim countries you have a population that is secularist and they are not even occupied with religion. But I am occupied with reform within the religion; I am occupied about how can we re-read the Koran with a focus on gender equality. But the secular feminism is present all over the world and also in the Muslim world.
SS:So when you say “down with polygamy, down with oppression of women, you could be a good Muslim and not wear a veil”, but I’d imagine your religious opponents would say: ‘Wait, well, this is not Islam at all’. Is Islam really an all-you-can-eat cafeteria where you can pick and choose what you like and discard what you don’t like?
SK: Actually, I believe that, as a Muslim spiritual leader, we should not judge people, we should listen to people. In the Mariam Mosque we have female imams with and without the scarf and in that sense we are reflecting reality as it is. I am very confident and happy about that.
SS:Now interfaith marriages - you conduct them in your Mosque, and people come from all over Europe to get married by you saying that it is possible to find imams elsewhere who’d do it. But if other imams don’t do it that means that your religion is against that. So is this technically cheating?
SK: Actually, Tunisia is the first Muslim country in the world that has changed the law in December 2017. Now they made it possible for Muslim women to marry non-Muslims. I think that that could create a domino effect in the rest of the Muslim world, not now, but maybe in the future because someone has to take the first step. We are actually not the only mosque that conducts interfaith marriages; it is happening in different places in the world. Officially it is not stated that it’s happening, but I know that it is happening in different places.
SS:I don’t mean to offend, but I need to get down to the core of things and ask you whether there are double standards in everything that we are talking about here. Maybe someone would even tell you that clinging to the religion in such a way is really paying a lip service for it. What I mean is that if Islam doesn’t accept hypothetically interfaith marriages, and if I want to marry a Hindu and I am a Muslim, then maybe Islam is just not for me if it calls me to be a sinner for it, right? And if I am gay and the Catholic Church doesn’t want me at prayer, then maybe Catholicism is not for me? What is the point, if you simply do not fit?
SK: I do believe that interfaith marriage is legitimate also according to Islam as a religion. In the Koran it is stated clearly that a Muslim man can marry a Jew or a Christian, but it is not stated clearly that a woman can marry a Jew or a Muslim. And it is not stated that she cannot. But in the Koran it is stated clearly that both men and women should seek devoted secrets of the One God. We find the legitimacy in the Koran and we do believe that the right to choose your partner is a basic human right. If you believe that the Koran contains an essence on gender equality - ‘what goes to a man, goes to a woman’ - this is actually what we come from and what we believe in.
SS: I wonder if you have any ties with woman clerics of other religions like female rabbis or female Christian priests, is there any kind of gender solidarity that is crossing religious lines?
SK: In the Mariam Mosque we corporate with other communities, we are very inspired by the Jewish, the progressive Jews in Denmark. I’ve also recently met Delphine Horvilleur in France; I’ve met the French President recently in the company of Delphine. We are really inspired by what they do because female rabbis are doing the same thing as we are doing within Islam. I think, we have a lot to learn from each other.
SS:You know we hear many top political figures in Europe saying that Islam does not belong to Europe. You live in a country where the government is strongly against Islam. Does it make it hard for you to get your message across? Or the rhetoric on the politicians’ level doesn’t really reflect what ordinary people think and how they treat you?
SK: I think, it is a myth to state that the government in Denmark is against Islam. That is not the case. We have a growing Islamophobia, a growing anti-Islamic rhetoric and propaganda in Denmark, but it is in the right-wing parties. The government, in general, they do accept Islam as a religion like any other religion, so at the state level it is accepted and I do not experience any kind of anti-Islamic rhetoric at the state level. But, of course, at the right-wing parties on a daily basis you experience an anti-Islamic rhetoric and propaganda. And we try to challenge that.
SS:There is a push from Muslims in countries like England, Canada and France to create a separate Shariat legality for them, since those laws are the way of the faith. Do you think that Muslims in non-Islamic societies should have a separate legal system for themselves?
SK: No, I do not think so. I think that Muslims all over the world and in European countries should accept and be a part of the constitution that is existing in those countries. It is also stated clearly in the Koran that Muslims have to submit themselves to the existing constitutions in the countries that they live in, so it is actually very basic. And I do believe that the Western educational system is quite good. We also spoke about what would it be like to have female imam education in Denmark, and I think that Western educational system is quite good and it lays quite a good foundation for being a female imam.
SS:So the cultural clash in secular societies gets violent sometimes if we remember the Danish cartoon of the Prophet, Charlie Hebdo or the American Muhammad movie, and how many people died as a result of all of that. What should come first here – the right of Europeans to draw any cartoon they wish, or the religious sensibility of Muslims?
SK: I think that, of course, freedom of speech is a universal and fundamental value, and it is not a Christian or Western value. It is a universal value, which is shared by people all over the world. To me as a Muslim, freedom of speech is an essential value. At the same time I have another essential value, which is the belief that the Koran is the word of God. I do believe that it is important for us as human beings to have this freedom of speech, but it is not a freedom to discriminate other people. Always with freedom of speech there comes responsibility, and everybody is responsible for how we talk and how we meet people. We have to ask ourselves: “What is the purpose of the dialogue, what do we want to use our freedom of speech for?” If we want to have a dialogue with people who think differently, it is not a very good strategy to speak really badly about these people. We have to ask ourselves what do we want to use the freedom of speech for and what is the purpose of freedom of speech. On both sides, everybody has to be aware and responsible when we have the power to express ourselves. With that power comes responsibility. As a spiritual Muslim leader I know that I have a certain responsibility, and when you have a power you have responsibility too. I think we should reflect on that theme when discussing freedom of speech because it is really very important.
SS: Sherin, thank you very much for this wonderful interview. We wish you all the best of luck. We were talking to Sherin Khankan, Denmark’s first female imam discussing whether Islam and European values can co-exist. That’s it for this edition of SophieCo. I will see you next time.
Winking Forbidden In Islam, Says Fresh Plea in SC against Priya Varrier Song
Apr 09, 2018
A fresh application has been filed in the Supreme Court objecting to the popular wink scene in a song from the upcoming Malayalam movie, Oru Adaar Love, saying the act of winking is forbidden in Islam.
Filed by two Hyderabad-based parties, the application refers to the verses in the Holy Quran Sharid and wants the court to hear the petitioners before giving a decision on actress Priya Prakash Varrier’s petition to quash criminal charges registered against her in connection with the wink song that went viral on the social media within hours of its release.
Earlier in February this year, the Supreme Court had stayed all the pending first information reports (FIRs) filed against the song and the movie.
The stay was granted in response to a petition filed by the director, producer and the actor.
One of the applicants had previously lodged an FIR against the song in Hyderabad.
The other applicant professes to be a person “engaged in preserving the rich Muslim culture and values.”
In their application, the applicants have raised the issue of certain objectionable picturisation, “which when superimposed with the sacred lyrics of the song can very well be categorised as an act of blasphemy”.
“The 30-second clip shows a young schoolgirl and a schoolboy exchanging smiles, eyebrows wiggles and winks from across the way. It has completely captivated audiences but with a wrinkle on the face of religious Muslims,” reads the application.
Teachings of Sahih Muslim also forbid the act of winking, the applicants have claimed.
Malala is building more schools in Pakistan. That’s not likely to reduce support for extremism.
By Madiha Afzal
Apr 09, 2018
Last weekend, Malala Yousafzai visited Pakistan for the first time since she was shot by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) more than five years ago. That she was able to visit — albeit amid exceptionally tight security — is a testament to how much safety has improved in Pakistan. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 748 civilians and security personnel died in terrorism-related incidents in Pakistan in 2017, a drop from 3,739 such deaths in 2012.
Since the Taliban targeted Malala for her advocacy for girls’ education, she has become known globally for promoting girls’ schooling around the world, for which she won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. Last month, the Malala Fund opened a new girls’ school in her home town in the Swat valley, built with her Nobel money.
But will increasing access to education actually decrease support for the kind of extremism that led to the TTP’s attack on Malala? The answer is far from clear. Here’s why.
Education doesn’t always reduce extremism
It is true that Pakistanis with more formal education see extremist groups much more unfavorably. For example, in 2013, Pew surveyed 1,201 Pakistanis in a nationally representative sample, excluding only areas of instability in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan.
Of respondents with no schooling, 17 percent said they viewed the Pakistani Taliban favorably, 45 percent unfavorably, and 38 percent had no opinion. Among those with a university degree, 15 percent saw the group favorably and 69 percent unfavorably. The same pattern holds for the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda.
But more education does not mean less support for strict Islamist policies. Take the issue of blasphemy. In the mid-1980s, Pakistan’s military dictator Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq added laws to the penal code making blasphemy against the Koran and the prophet Muhammad criminally punishable by life in prison or death respectively.
Before Zia’s amendments, only 14 blasphemy cases had ever been recorded in Pakistan under the old colonial penal code, which included offenses against any religion and carried a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison. But between 1987 and 2014, more than 1,300 blasphemy charges were lodged with the police, including those brought by ordinary citizens against other citizens. And those are just the accusations made officially. Last April, dozens of university students in Mardan, Pakistan, dragged a fellow student, Mashal Khan, out of his dorm and beat him to death after he was accused of posting “anti-Islam” content on social media.
In a 2011 Pew Research Center poll on religion that surveyed 1,512 adults across Pakistan, 75 percent of respondents said they believed the blasphemy laws were necessary to protect Islam. A similar percentage said they favored the death penalty for converts who “leave” Islam.
Even more striking, support for the death penalty for apostasy does not depend on one’s formal education. Between 70 and 80 percent of Pakistanis at each level of education, from no schooling to university degrees, support the death penalty for leaving Islam.
Why isn’t education a consistent force for religious tolerance?
As I show in my new book, “Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State,” the Pakistani legal and educational system has been deeply affected by the government’s goal of Islamizing the country.
Naturally, one can see this agenda in Pakistan’s religious seminaries or madrassas, many of which were created or repurposed to train mujahideen for the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s, funded largely by the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United States. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, some madrassas’ textbooks explicitly state that apostates should be prosecuted or even killed. It is difficult to tell how pervasive this is, but their curricula tend toward extremism. While madrassas account for less than 1 percent of Pakistan’s educational enrollment, their graduates often become influential as mosque prayer leaders or teachers of public schools’ compulsory Islamic studies.
But madrassas are not the only source of Pakistan’s Islamic education. In 1981, Zia’s government told textbook authors of Pakistan Studies, a core course from high school through university, to design texts “to guide students towards the ultimate goal of Pakistan — the creation of a completely Islamized State.” That goal remains.
These textbooks describe a world in which Muslims are the victims of the non-Muslim world, especially India and the West. In the Punjab textbooks from the 2000s, the word “evil” was repeatedly used to describe other religions. Millions studied those books. The word was removed after new textbooks were issued in 2013 following President Pervez Musharraf’s curriculum reform, but biases against other religions remain.
The vast majority of Pakistani students — those in public schools or in low-cost private schools — study this government curriculum and are often trained to memorize it. A tiny elite minority study a different curriculum, run by the British Cambridge education board.
At the height of the Pakistan Taliban insurgency in 2013-2014, I interviewed high school students and teachers in Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province. The majority blamed the terrorist attacks on India and the United States. This sometimes took the form of a conspiracy theory — that the United States and India had sent attackers to Pakistan or trained them because these countries were “out to get” Pakistan.
More often, students told me that the Taliban was only retaliating against U.S. drone strikes or against the Pakistani government’s alliance with the United States. A significant minority told me that the Pakistani Taliban was engaging in terrorism only to establish “an Islamic system” in Pakistan, implying that goal was justified.
The educational approach doesn’t appear likely to change
In December 2014, the TTP attacked a Peshawar school and killed more than 130 schoolchildren. In response, the Pakistani government compiled a National Action Plan that said the state would regulate seminaries and eliminate extremist literature.
But there’s been little enforcement. In fact, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government has increased funding to the most radical of these seminaries, the Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khattak, where Taliban leader Mohammad Omar reportedly studied.
In the mid-2000s, Musharraf’s government tried to remove biases and reduce religious content from curricula. That largely failed, defeated by conservative textbook authors and education department officials. As of 2010, the provinces control educational curricula — and Pakistan’s provincial governments are often quite conservative, unlikely to pursue reform.
And without reform, expanding educational opportunities is not likely to reduce Pakistani support for extremist policies.
UN women delegation calls on ombudsman
Apr 09, 2018
KARACHI: A four-member delegation of UN Women led by Jamshed Qazi, Country Representative, UN Women Pakistan called on Provincial Ombudsman Sindh Asad Ashraf Malik who is also the Regional President Asia of International Ombudsman Institution, in his office.
The delegation discussed matters of mutual interest including holding of joint seminar with Provincial Ombudsman regarding his role in administration of essential services to survivors of atrocities.
It was decided that a 24/7 telephone help line for women will be set up in Ombudsman Office and a women complaint cell/Desk will be establish at Ombudsman Secretariat. It was also decided to launch a joint communication campaign of awareness through Print and Electronic Media.–INP
The delegation UN Women Pakistan was present during the meeting and the country representative of UN women Mr. Jamshed Qazi thanked the Ombudsman Sindh for extending cooperation to UN Women.
Nigeria: 149 women and children rescued from Boko Haram
Apr 09, 2018
The Nigerian military says it has rescued 149 women and children abducted by the armed group Boko Haram in the country's northeast.
Onyema Nwachuku, army spokesman, said on Sunday the freed captives included 54 women and 95 children, according to the NAN news agency.
"The rescued hostages are currently receiving medical attention," he said in a statement, adding that they would be "profiled after the medical screening".
The rescues took place during a raid on a Boko Haram hideout in the community of Yerimari Kura on Saturday. Soldiers killed three fighters during the operation and captured five others suspected of belonging to the group, Nwachuku said.
His statement did not specify when the women and children had been abducted.
Al Jazeera's Ahmed Idris, reporting from Abuja, capital of Nigeria, said the number of people Boko Haram had kidnapped in Yerimari Kura "demonstrated the group's resilience", despite losing significant swaths of territory to the Nigerian army in recent years.
Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to "Western education is forbidden", has waged a nearly 10-year armed campaign to create an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria.
The conflict has left at least 20,000 people dead and displaced more than 2.6 million.
At its peak, the group effectively controlled large areas in the Lake Chad region, but the Nigerian military, with assistance from Chad, Cameroon and Niger, has pushed Boko Haram fighters out of a number of provinces.
However, "Boko Haram has adapted by splitting into smaller groups, infiltrating communities, launching attacks here and there and continuing to make statements that they are very much around", said Idris.
In March, a Boko Haram attack on the northeastern town of Rann left at least two aid workers, a doctor and eight soldiers dead.
In February, Nigerian and Cameroonian troops freed 1,130 civilians kidnapped by the group in the Lake Chad region.
Boko Haram gained international notoriety after its fighters kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok in April 2014. About 100 girls are still missing.
In February, the group's fighters attacked another school in the northeastern state of Yobe and seized more than 110 schoolgirls. A month later, the government said 101 had been freed.
Africa: Sudanese Football Team Coached By a Woman
8 APRIL 2018
El Gedaref — Salma El Majidi is the first Arab and Sudanese woman to coach a men's football team in the Arab world.
"I became a coach because there is still no scope for women's football in Sudan," El Majidi told an AFP reporter in eastern Sudan's El Gedaref where she trains players of the El Ahly El Gedaref club.
Daughter of a retired policeman, Majidi was 16 when she fell in love with football. It came about as she watched her younger brother's school team being coached. She was captivated by the coach's instructions, his moves, and how he placed the marker cones at practice sessions, the AFP report reads.
"At the end of every training session, I discussed with him the techniques he used to coach the boys," El Majidi said. "He saw I had a knack for coaching... and gave me a chance to work with him."
Soon she was coaching the under-13 and under-16 teams of El Hilal club in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum. Later she coached the Sudanese second league men's clubs of El Nasir, El Nahda, Nile Halfa and El Morada.
She is acknowledged by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) as the first Arab and Sudanese woman to coach a men's football team in the Arab world.
"There are restrictions on women's football, but I'm determined to succeed," El Majidi said. She had to convince her family first before she could proceed with her dreams. She now dreams of coaching an international team.
Nowadays, Sudan has only one women's football team, the Women's Challenge Team. It was established by a group of young Sudanese women at the Comboni playground in downtown Khartoum in 2001.
The team played its first competitive match in 2006. Eight years later, in 2014, the members, divided into two teams, played a match in Khartoum. They women players were cheered by large numbers of fans, representatives of civil society organisations, and some foreign diplomats.
The team continues to lack recognition of FIFA. In 2012, in response to a question from FIFA regarding the feasibility of creating a women team, the Islamic Fiqh Council in Sudan issued a fatwa (a religious order) deeming a women's football team "an immoral act".
The coach of the Women's Challenge Team, Ahmed Babikir, told Al Jazeera in 2015 that Sudan used to have many women's teams in the past. "We need to go back to that," he said. "FIFA should not provide the Sudanese Football Association with any funding until they form more women's teams and support existing ones."
Saudi Women Occupy 38% of All Jobs in Riyadh: RCCI
Apr 09, 2018
RIYADH — Saudi women occupy about 38.5 percent of government and private sector jobs in Riyadh, according statistics released by the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI).
The RCCI report, quoted by Al-Watan newspaper, said about 72 percent of the government jobs in the Saudi capital are filled with Saudi men and women while non-Saudis occupy 72 percent of jobs in the city’s private sector. It said expatriates occupy about 2.6 percent of government jobs and 0.6 percent of jobs in the non-governmental organizations in Riyadh.
The report said Riyadh provides 31 percent of the government and private jobs in the Kingdom.
Riyadh has about 8.3 percent of the Saudi workforce all over the Kingdom while women are estimated to be about 38.5 percent of the manpower.
The chamber said the population of Riyadh has increased from 106,000 in 1953 to about 2.7 million in 1979 and to 6.5 million in 2018.
It said the Saudi citizens in Riyadh constituted about 64.2 percent of the entire population while the non-Saudis were 35.8 percent.
The chamber said the male population in Riyadh were about 52.5 percent male and 47.5 percent female.
Saja Kamal: the woman tackling football in Saudi
Ann Marie McQueen
April 8, 2018
In all the excitement over Saudi Arabia’s ambitious transformation plans when it comes to women’s rights – including being able to drive and to enter sports stadiums for the first time – it’s easy to overlook the reality of backstories like Saja Kamal’s.
Kamal has spent more than two decades nurturing and sustaining a dream to play on a Saudi women’s football team, but without any discernible way to achieve it.
With talk that a team could become a reality soon, a future that wasn’t previously possible is now tantalisingly close.
“People actually have an aim and have goals and work their way towards them, and I’m just kind of floating around trying to figure out what I can make happen,” says 28-year-old Kamal, speaking over the phone from her home in Riyadh.
Since falling love with the sport at the age of 4, Kamal had to play wherever she could, often on unofficial teams, scrabbled together, with coaches or without, not knowing whether any of her efforts would lead anywhere. She is joined by countless girls and women attracted to a variety of disciplines.
“It’s a lot of lost talent and shattered dreams,” she says. “It’s really sad because I get a lot of girls who message in and say, ‘Where can I play basketball, where can I go horseback riding, how did you get access to all these things, what do I do’? And I literally have no answer for them.”
Kamal, who works as a senior consultant for PwC Middle East in Dubai, but remains based in Riyadh, will today speak in the emirate about her experiences, as part of Ladies with Zest, a series of non-profit events and talks that celebrate entrepreneurs, activists, philanthropists, influencers and women who break boundaries.
Kamal got further than many women in Saudi because, growing up, her parents not only encouraged their daughters in education and travel but they supported her football ambitions from that first match.
“I remember feeling utter freedom the second the ref blew the whistle for the scrimmage,” she says. “And I could just run and be me for my game and not for what I looked like or what my gender is or how old I am.”
Growing up on an Aramco compound in the Eastern Province while attending a Saudi school, Kamal was torn between two cultures. Yet it was on those Aramco grounds that she could play the sport she loved freely – unlike her counterparts outside.
As a teenager, her father sent her and her sister to school in Bahrain, and during that time she endured a two-hour daily commute, but was able to join the Arsenal football school and become a right-forward.
After high school, she headed straight for the United States, spending five years studying for her bachelor’s and then a master’s degree – in politics and project management – and also playing her sport officially on the Northeastern University’s women’s teams.
When she returned, she spent five years working at Aramco, and even started her own team, but this fell apart after two years. There were other teams along the way that carried the Saudi flag, but couldn’t say the country’s name, gathered up ad hoc whenever there was an event to attend and an actual, official team to play.
“We played the first-ever GCC tournament in 2003; we played against the Jordan national team, the Iraq national team, the Palestinian national team even,” she says.
In recent years, Kamal has become involved with the NGO Equal Playing Field, which is focused on empowering girls and women to get involved in sport. That is how she came to be part of a 30-member crew of professional football players who trekked to 5,729 metres last year to set a Guinness World Record by playing the highest altitude football match in history. The pitch was composed of volcanic ash and marked out by flour – on top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
The 90-minute game, equivalent to six hours in regular conditions, was followed up this month by another destination game, this time at the Dead Sea in Jordan. Although a back injury meant she couldn’t play, Kamal supported her teammates and did the commentary for the match, which aimed to set a record for the lowest altitude game.
Kamal, who has also modelled and driven a race car, is nonchalant when she speaks about the whispers and judgements she has experienced.
Yet, after studying in the US and living in Dubai, through consulting work that led to meetings with Saudi ministries, she became convinced that it would be better to get involved directly than watch things unfold from afar. “In the past, I did just want to be out of there so I could be me and not have to worry about all those limitations,” she says. “But now I kind of want to give back and see if we can make change.”
Top Five Health Concerns Plaguing Women the UAE
April 8, 2018
Dubai: Obesity and Vitamin D deficiency are among the top factors triggering major problems in women’s reproductive health in the UAE affecting child birth and also leading to other health complications such as cancer and cardio vascular diseases, said a top specialist ahead of an international conference being held in Dubai.
Dr Amala Nazareth, obstetrician and gynaecologist and secretary general of the Emirates Medical Association, as well as representative of the International Federation of gynaecologists and Obstetricians spoke to Gulf News about the major issues impacting women’s health ahead of the three-day conference being held from April 11-13.
Dr Nazareth said: “The biggest concern in UAE is obesity that is leading to infertility. Most women have a Basal Metabolic Index (BMI) of over 30, probably due to work stress, sedentary lifestyles, and improper eating habits. These trigger several factors such as Poly Cystic Ovaries Syndrome (PCOS), hypothyroidism, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance that contribute to infertility.”
The problems women face in the UAE are certainly different from those in the third world countries, where issue such as the lack of resources, poor maternal health, surgical expertise, poor access to training and protective equipment are bigger concerns. But the problems women face here regarding their reproductive health get complicated because of other stress and lifestyle factors.
One such issues is Vitamin D deficiency. Despite abundant sunshine, 90 per cent of the UAE population suffers from Vitamin D deficiency.
Alerting to the dangers of Vitamin D deficiency, US endocrinologist Professor Michael Holick in an earlier interview to Gulf News had cautioned “Vitamin D deficiency is a major health issue around the world and in the UAE. Adults require to have 2,000 units of Vitamin D per day. Pregnant women who have a Vitamin D deficiency have a higher risk of pre-eclampsia and premature delivery. Studies also indicate that children born to Vitamin D-deficient women can suffer from conditions such as schizophrenia, asthma and some forms of development disorders.
Dr Nazareth complemented that: “Research evidence suggest a strong relationship between vitamin D deficiency and infertility, especially with regards to IVF failure. The active form of Vitamin D — calcitriol — not just controls the oestrogen content in a woman, but many other genes that are involved in embryo implantation. During pregnancy, Vitamin D helps to fight infections, and its supplementation contributes to egg cell maturation in women affected by PCOS. Women who are Vitamin D deficient can face hormonal imbalance making them prone to miscarriage. Lack of vitamin D can also result in complications, such as gestational hypertension and diabetes.”
Lack of awareness about reproductive health issues as well as certain inhibitions are blocking the way of education on these topics among women said Dr Nazareth. “We need awareness campaigns at both big platforms and at individual level to educate women on how to avoid illness with wellness. Most women do not understand or realise the constant repercussions of daily stress of work, job and family life which can have a huge toll on a normally healthy individual,” observed Dr Nazareth.
She also added that women needed to be constantly updated and educated on the health concerns they needed to address. “Women need constant reminders vis-a-vis diet and exercise to counter the prevalent obesity problem. Incorporating the right diet in daily life and a healthy balanced lifestyle to keep the body mind and spirit healthy is of utmost importance in maintaining good health and avoiding diseases of any kind.”
The top five health issues impacting women’s reproductive health in the UAE:
1 PCOS: One of the biggest causes of fertility issues among women, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can be recognised by irregular or prolonged menstrual cycle. Besides infertility, PCOS can also cause gestational diabetes, miscarriage, Type 2 diabetes, endometrial cancer, sleep apnoea, anxiety and eating disorders, and depression.
2. Fibroids: While women with fibroids can conceive, the chances of fertility reduce. For example, fibroids can block Fallopian tubes or change the shape of the cervix, affecting the number of sperm that enter the uterus. When a women is pregnant, fibroids weaken the uterine cavity lining or decrease blood supply to embryo, potentially resulting in miscarriage.
3. Endometriosis: The relationship between endometriosis and infertility remains unclear; however the fact remains that a significant number of women with endometriosis face difficulty getting pregnant. This could be because endometriosis may obstruct the Fallopian tube, making it difficult for the egg to unite with the sperm.
4. Obesity and metabolic syndrome: Obese women can experience hormonal imbalance and irregular menstrual cycle, which can affect their ovulation, reducing their chances to conceive.
5. Cardio vascular disease and cancer: All the above four factors are triggers of cardiovascular diseases and cancer which are on the rise in UAE.
New Radio Series Features Afghan Women Working To Change Their Communities
08 Apr 2018
BAMYAN - A new UN-backed radio series is promoting Afghan women’s public participation and leadership responsibilities in the central highlands province of Bamyan.
Designed to promote discussion and inspire change, the radio series features the work of several high-profile women, who talk about their career challenges and successes in the interest of inspiring girls and young women to make similar vocational choices.
One such woman, and the first to be featured in the new series, is Hakima Alizada, a defence lawyer and the head of women’s affairs in provincial office of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
Speaking during the first episode aired by local broadcaster Nasim Radio to an audience estimated at 60,000 listeners in and around the provincial capital, Alizada called on young girls to pursue their education as an effective starting point that can enable them to aim higher in their career aspirations.
“In my early days, as the first female defence lawyer in Bamyan, I faced and overcame many challenges,” said Alizada, who described how she graduated from Herat University and then worked to defend women’s rights, litigating cases of domestic violence, discrimination and abuse.
She called on young people, especially girls, to be “agents of change” by getting involved in community initiatives, seeking out leadership opportunities and supporting peace-building and development initiatives.
Organized by UNAMA’s Bamyan regional office, the radio series will feature many other role models, all of them Afghan women, and is part of a country-wide outreach initiative aimed at creating platforms for local communities to engage in dialogue on key issues.
Bamyan, well-known for its archaeological monuments, is also known for having a generally positive approach to women’s social and political participation. But certain harmful practices and a lack of awareness about women’s rights have hindered the province’s potential to be a standout champion for women’s empowerment.
The UN is committed to supporting efforts by the Afghan government and is working with a variety of institutions and actors to promote gender equality, help reverse inequality and support local programmes aimed at expanding opportunities for women.
UNAMA supports the Afghan people and government to achieve peace and stability. In accordance with its mandate as a political mission, UNAMA backs conflict prevention and resolution, promoting inclusion and social cohesion, as well as strengthening regional cooperation. The Mission supports effective governance, promoting national ownership and accountable institutions that are built on respect for human rights.
UNAMA provides 'good offices' and other key services, including diplomatic steps that draw on the organization’s independence, impartiality and integrity to prevent disputes from arising, escalating or spreading. The Mission coordinates international support for Afghan development and humanitarian priorities.
Women Push For Rights in Bangladesh’s Fashion Factories
Apr 09, 2018
DHAKA: When Ayesha Akhter walks into the factory where she works, the supervisor greets her with a smile and wishes her a pleasant day – a major change after years of physical and verbal abuse from managers in Bangladesh’s $28 billion garment industry. The seamstress said it is her biggest victory since being elected president in October of the workers’ union at Jeans Factory Limited in Dhaka, amid a push to improve conditions across the global fashion supply chain.
“In all these years, I have heard supervisors yell, verbally abuse, call us prostitutes and slap us behind our heads to work faster,” Akhter, who spends eight hours a day stitching pockets on jeans and shorts, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Then I became the union president and everything changed. Overnight, I became important.”
Akhter, 28, is among scores of women in Bangladesh standing up to head unions and negotiate with male-dominated management for more pay, safer workplaces and respect on the job. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest garment exporter with some 4 million people working in its 4,000-plus factories, nearly 80 percent of them women, campaigners say.
Poor working conditions and low wages have long been a concern in the sector, which suffered one of the worst industrial accidents in 2013, when more than 1,100 people were killed in the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex. Garment factory workers attempting to set up unions have encountered resistance across the region, with many losing their jobs or being suspended by managements that fear the power of unions, leaders said.
“Freedom of association and collective bargaining are the biggest challenges the industry faces today,” said Nazma Akter, a former child worker and founder of Awaj Foundation, which campaigns for labour rights. “Without that power, workers are just surviving, not leading normal lives, and it’s almost a crime.”
Young, dynamic women
Five years after Rana Plaza, one of the region’s strongest movements to organize workers and help them exercise collective bargaining has emerged – led by Bengali women. The number of registered unions in Bangladesh has increased about fivefold to almost 500 since 2013, according to Jennifer Kuhlman of US-based workers’ rights charity Solidarity Center.
“Many of them are being headed by young, dynamic women who are choosing to lead from the front to bring about change,” said Kuhlman, who heads its Bangladesh programs. Campaigners estimate that women make up about half of the new factory union leaders. Although women said their newfound union power had opened their eyes to their rights – from social security benefits to overtime – they fear losing their jobs.
Akhter remembers the “big fight” she had with her husband when she said she was considering standing for president. “He was mad and upset and clearly told me not to,” said the mother of two. “He was scared and worried about my safety. He relented but we always worry because of what we see and hear.” It was easy to unionize immediately after the Rana Plaza disaster but activists are now being harassed, workers fired and union meetings disrupted, said Babul Akhter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation. “It is difficult and workers are facing a tough time,” said Akhter, whose organization supports workers across 52 unionized factories.
The government cracked down on unions after garment workers in Ashulia, a suburb outside Dhaka, protested the death of a coworker and demanded more wages in December 2016, campaigners said. In the following four months, almost 40 union leaders were arrested and many union offices were shut down by the government, according to the Solidarity Centre. Many leaders were given bail but some cases are ongoing and workers fear the repercussions of formally joining unions, activists said. Bangladesh labor officials were not immediately available to comment although the department’s website lists some of the disputes between unions and factories that it has mediated.
The second floor of a nondescript building in Dhaka houses the office of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, which supports unions and organises and educates workers across the city, about 80,000 of whom attend its meetings. Nahidul Hasan Nayan, its general secretary, is buried in paperwork – helping workers submit applications to form unions.
“It is not easy,” said Nayan, adding that 30 percent of workers in a factory must apply for the government to register a union, which takes months. “Sometimes all it takes for the registration of a union to be rejected is one mismatched signature.” In another room, women quietly walk in and sit around a table for an evening meeting, after their shifts.
Among them is Shampa Begum, 30, who became president of her factory union a year ago, when workers began organizing themselves and asked her to lead them. “They all insisted and so I agreed,” she said quietly. “There were a lot of problems we were facing, from not enough fans to dirty drinking water.”
These problems have now been resolved, said Begum has spent nearly 15 years stitching zips on to pants and earns 7,500 Bangladeshi taka ($90) a month. Before the union was formed, Begum waited for hours outside the administrator’s office to resolve tiny problems. “They would ridicule us, asking if we thought we were big leaders, asking for facilities. Now, we are leaders and things get done,” she said.
The women said they have less time for their families but it is a price they are willing to pay to bring about change. Akhter wakes up at 5 am to cook and take her children to school, works an eight-hour shift, and returns home after dark. She spends all of her breaks doing union work and is constantly thinking about how to solve factory problems. “It is exhausting but God gives me the energy,” she said. – AFP
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