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Taliban School Poisoning: Nearly 100 Girls Fall Ill in Herat, Afghanistan

New Age Islam News Bureau

31 Aug 2015

Several of the girls remain in a critical condition after the latest suspected attack on women in education


 Saudi Woman Denied Custody of Breastfed Orphan

 Ghulam Fatima: Bonded To Her Cause

 In First, Hijab-Wearing Woman Named Minister in Turkey

 African Superstars, Bono in Campaign to Empower Women

 Call for Female Quota in Saudi Municipal Elections

 Thai Woman, Unknown Man New Suspects in Bangkok Bombing Probe

 Women Drive Success of Somali Mall in Minneapolis

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Taliban School Poisoning: Nearly 100 Girls Fall Ill in Herat, Afghanistan

By Fazul Rahim & F. Brinley Bruton, August 31, 2015

KABUL — Nearly 100 Afghan schoolgirls fell sick on Monday, prompting officials in the western city of Herat to investigate whether they were poisoned by Taliban militants.

"Our initial finding shows some kind of spray was used by some of the students to freshen up the classrooms," provincial police spokesman Col. Abdul Rauf Ahmadi told NBC News. "Our investigation is ongoing to determine if it was an act of sabotage or poor quality spray."

Forty of the 94 sickened girls from a minority Shiite neighborhood were admitted to hospital after feeling ill at school, Herat's police chief Gen. Majid Rozi told NBC News. All were were feeling better and in good health by Monday afternoon, he added.

Fundamentalist Sunni Muslim Taliban militants have a history of targeting both girls' schools and the Shiite Muslim minority in Afghanistan. However, the group did not immediately claim responsibility for Monday's incident.



Saudi woman denied custody of breastfed orphan

31 August 2015

YANBU: Like many Saudi women, Amani dreamt of becoming a mother, but was unable to have children of her own after many years of marriage. Therefore, she decided to spend her time taking care of orphans with special circumstances in Makkah.

However, things took a turn for the worse when she came across seemingly unfair difficulties in adopting one of the children she had been caring for at the orphanage.

Since her very first visit to the center, Amani spent her days nursing orphan babies. When the time came for her to try and adopt a child for her and her husband, she was asked to present personal identification papers and a salary slip for herself and her husband, and did just that. A committee came to the house to double-check her circumstances, and after six months she obtained approval to foster a boy named Rami.

Shortly after this, she tried to foster another girl, called Raneem. Amani prepared herself and her home to receive Raneem. She bought her new clothes to join her foster brother, Rami, but she was surprised when the center refused to assign her the girl. She then complained to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Amani said that before she adopted Rami, she saw Raneem and asked to nurse her at the center with the intention of adopting her eventually, but said that the staff told her to nurse Rami first and to then begin with Raneem. Nonetheless, Amani said: "I was able to feed the girl five times with the presence of witnesses, and with the proper breast feeding technique. I filed for her custody with the social office in Makkah, and after the application, the society prevented me from nursing Raneem, and instead told me to continue with my application to adopt Rami, first. Subsequently, the society decided to give Raneem to another family at this time, but the family brought her back to the society anyway."

"After the family brought Raneem back, I breastfed her upon the society's request again. I stayed in the society from eight in the morning until midnight to finish feeding her. I got ready for Raneem's arrival in my home, only to discover that she had been given to a single woman," she added.

Amani received specialists in her house to follow up on Rami's progress, who was only 15 months old. "I remember them telling me at the time that they would follow up on awarding Raneem to me, and I called the administration. They told me they were waiting for the ministry's response to my case," she said.

Amani demanded the return of Rameen, especially after she found out that the girl had been given to a single woman, and requested that the ministry review her case in addition to looking into her breastfeeding history with the child, which was undertaken according to Shariah procedures.

Amani's complaint was filed to the chairman of the board, Hussein Saeed Hussein Bahri, who confirmed that according to the Ministry of Social Affairs, giving two children to one family in less than two years violates their regulations. He confirmed that Amani already has custody of a boy who isn’t yet two years old, and therefore recommended the awarding of the girl to a family that did not yet have a child. He further said that Raneem will not be awarded to another family until Amani is fully aware of the ministry's rules in this regard.

He added that the society deals with an independent center that is supervised by Modi Baterjee, called "Bidaya (beginning)" that specializes in stimulating barren women to breast feed when they wish to adopt a child. This is done in one of two ways: the first is by natural means such as herbs, and the second is done by using mechanical tools to stimulate milk. The second method was approved according to a recent fatwa, which means that the child can grow in a family environment and can become a son or daughter to new parents. He added that the society has awarded 40 children in this manner so far.



Ghulam Fatima: Bonded to her cause

Waqar Gillani 

August 30, 2015

In a rundown meeting room comprising an old wooden table and broken chairs sits a simple-looking and straightforward Syeda Ghulam Fatima. She is the general secretary of Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF).

But wait. She has already been introduced to the world in more powerful words by the globally-known photo journalist Brandon Stanton, who blogs and publishes his work under the name of Humans of New York (HONY): “Meet Syeda Ghulam Fatima. Described as a modern day Harriet Tubman, Fatima has devoted her life to ending bonded labour. She has been shot, electrocuted, and beaten numerous times for her activism. Quite literally, she places herself between the workers and their owners. The organisation she leads, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, is small but determined. It is working to set up Freedom Centers throughout rural Pakistan so that every bonded labourer has access to advocacy and legal aid. Fatima operates on a very small budget. So as we learn her story over the next few days, anyone wishing to help empower Fatima can donate to Bonded Labour Liberation Front…”

Stanton concluded his Pakistan visit highlighting Fatima’s work and appealing to the world to help her eradicate bonded labour in Pakistan. What followed after this call for help was phenomenal to say the least.

In an unexpectedly extraordinary response, people from all over the world collectively donated more than 1.2 million USD to the BLLF in a matter of 48 hours or so. “This was motivated by nothing else than genuine compassion and a desire to empower a woman who has devoted her life to freeing people trapped in modern slavery,” says Stanton, explaining the reason for his appeal on his Facebook page timeline.

What he had stated earlier in the post to generate the response was this: “Throughout rural Pakistan, illiterate and desperate labourers are tricked into accepting small loans in exchange for agreeing to work at brick kilns for a small period of time. But due to predatory terms, their debt balloons… If the labourer dies, the debt is passed on to his or her children. The practice is illegal. But due to the extreme power and wealth of brick kiln owners, the law is often unenforced in rural areas. It is estimated that well over one million men, women, and children are trapped in this modern feudalist system.”

He was spot on. Sitting in her office, Fatima says she and her friends had not hoped for such a huge grant. “We took that photographer as a routine visitor and appreciated him for highlighting the cause with no expectation. Our mission is not to get huge grants but continue to highlight bonded labour.”

Forty-seven-year-old Fatima, daughter of a trade-unionist and small-scale railway employee Syed Deedar Hussain, was motivated by her father. Earlier, as a college student, she used to go with her friends to the kilns to teach the workers voluntarily. In 1991, at one kiln where the owner detained her colleague, they picked up a fight with the owner that led to a big dispute ending up in lodging of police cases and firing at her family in 1991.

“My brothers and I were going home when they fired on us. My brothers were badly injured. One brother was disabled forever while I received bullets in my legs,” she recalls the bad day of 1991 that led her to commit herself to bonded labour. “My legs still can’t bear my weight. I am unable to move freely,” Fatima says, talking of the days when she was attacked, beaten, harassed.

“For me, red brick represents blood — of the kiln worker who makes it. Bricks make finest buildings but its maker earns nothing.”

According to Fatima, the total estimated number of kiln workers in Pakistan is around 4.5 million while the total number of kilns is not less than 20,000. In Punjab alone, the largest province of the country, there are around 2.5 million kiln workers and the number of kilns not less than 10,000.

The movement against bonded labour was started by left-leaning activists in this city. BLLF operates from an old building named Freedom Campus for Bonded Labour at Lawrence Road Lahore, in the same premises as the ideological magazine Viewpoint. It has a history of almost four decades. It started working under the name Bhatta Mazdoor Mahaz (BMM), established by a group of trade unionists. It was renamed BLLF after the September 18, 1988 landmark judgement of Supreme Court of Pakistan which prohibited bonded labour. The judgement was a result of public interest litigation by Darshan Masih, a bonded labour victim and the main petitioner who, through a telegram, urged the court to take up the issue.

The 1988 judgement also proved instrumental in moving Kailash Satyarthi, noted Indian rights activist who shared Nobel Peace Prize with Malala Yousfzai, to help one of the co-founders of BMM to look at the larger picture of bonded labour including carpet weaving and other sectors.

The root cause of bonded labour in Pakistan is paishgi (advance payment). “It is this paishgi because of which the never-ending exploitation of bonded labour begins,” says Fatima. “Until and unless the state does not strictly applies the law of minimum wage in all sectors, particularly on kiln workers and tenants, this issue is not going to be addressed properly.”

Fatima feels the realisation to get freedom and rights is gradually growing among the bonded labour because of this long struggle of a number of local and global groups. “Challenges also increase with awareness as owners of kilns and landlords start applying different tactics when workers raise voice for their rights.” Fatima believes that lack of political will, bureaucratic and administrative hurdles (mainly from police), and disinterested parliamentarians are the major reasons behind the exploitation of bonded labour “despite the laws and policies”.

BLLF relies on membership fee, monthly subscriptions, donations and grants. The organisation aims to utilise its money, property and income solely to realise the objectives of the organisation. No portion of its money shall be paid or transferred directly by way of dividend, bonus or profit to the members of the board of the organisation. BLLF Pakistan aims to empower bonded labour and give them access to advocacy and legal aid. The mission of BLLF is to eradicate bonded labour, injustice, illiteracy, inequality and poverty in Pakistan.

BLLF came to the notice of Stanton through a documentary aired on HBO last year. Fatima received a call from Stanton’s team this July. On his arrival, he also visited some kilns in the suburbs of Lahore.

The huge public money BLLF has been promised, would come to them through an account of HONY. “There are no conditions on how to use it but we assure everybody that these donations would be spent for the cause in a transparent manner. We have been criticising government for its badly-implemented projects to eradicate bonded labour and now when we have huge money we are open to any question regarding utilisation of this grant,” says Fatima.

She runs the organisation with only one regular paid staff and her husband Mehar Safdar who is the programme officer. The staff is hired on a project basis while there are hundreds of volunteers across the province. The organisation is supervised by an executive committee.

“We want to spend this amount on rehabilitation, counselling and empowerment of kiln workers in Pakistan,” says Fatima. “The response of people across the world highlights the importance of this subject — of how much this form of labour is hated and rejected. This message is an endorsement of our view. This response is a loud and clear message to Pakistan, its government, administrative machinery, brick kiln owners and civil society.” She is utterly thankful to HONY and people across the world who have helped in any form with the victims of bonded labour.

Influenced by late Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, a prominent women rights activist who donated her husband’s property where the Freedom Campus or the operational office of BLLF is housed, Fatima appears a strong and brave woman. She seems determined about her goals after getting this extraordinary response from the world and confidently claims that now BLLF should be able make significant progress towards eradicating bonded labour.



In first, hijab-wearing woman named minister in Turkey

Aug 31, 2015

Ankara — For the first time in the history of Turkey, a Muslim but secular country, a woman who wears an Islamic headscarf has been named as a government minister.

Aysen Gurcan, a 52-year-old academic, was appointed Friday to be the minister in charge of family and social policies in the provisional government of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that will run the country until November 1 elections.

The mother of three is also a member of the board of the Foundation for Youth and Education (TURGEV), of which Bilal Erdogan, a son of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is an executive.

The NGO was at the centre of a corruption scandal involving Erdogan, who was then prime minister, as well as his family and political entourage.

Over the past two years, the Turkish government has lifted bans on women and girls wearing headscarves in schools and state institutions, moves denounced by opponents as undermining the basis of the country’s secular society.

Erdogan, who co-founded the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), called new elections after Davutoglu failed to form a coalition government with the opposition after June polls. — AFP



African superstars, Bono in campaign to empower women

August 29, 2015

LAGOS — African stars joined U2 frontman Bono on Friday in a campaign to use music to help empower women around the world.

Bono and top African male musicians D’banj, Diamond and Banky W announced that they will be included in a remix of the song “Strong Girl,” a rallying cry for women’s empowerment which features top African female talent.

Bono, whose ONE advocacy group is the creative force behind the campaign for women’s empowerment, said music can create awareness and help shift policies because politicians are driven by popular things.

“Politicians in the end have to be elected, and what is popular drives all of their decisions. It’s that simple. So if the subject is popular among the electorate, then it suddenly dawns on politicians that this is a subject they, too, feel strongly about,” Bono told reporters.

Sipho Moyo, Africa executive director of ONE, said the campaign hopes to create structural and policy changes globally that will ensure women are empowered. The ultimate goal is to eradicate extreme poverty in 2030, Moyo said. — AP



Call for female quota in Saudi municipal elections

August 30, 2015

Caption: A Saudi businesswoman said that a quota system should be introduced in the upcoming municipal elections to ensure the success of some female candidates.

Faten Bandakji attributed her call to the “lack of experience of Saudi women as voters and candidates in municipal elections.”

“Such a support, particularly from society, will boost municipal work and consolidate development achievements,” she said, Saudi daily Okaz reported.

Several businesswomen and social activists have signed up to run in the elections, the first in which women are allowed to run and vote. The first two elections were an all-men affair, but the late King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, often seen as a champion of women’s rights in the conservative kingdom, decided that women should have an active role starting with the third elections that will be held in December.

The registration process was launched last week and voters and candidates have up to 21 days to ensure their names are on the lists.

According to Okaz, Luma Al Sulaiman, a businesswoman, Hala Hakim, a legal consultant and former media figure, Zabi, a social activist and a consultant, Rasha Hifdhi, a social activist, Amal Al Abadi, Basma and Zainab Al Attas are among the candidates in Jeddah.



Thai woman, unknown man new suspects in Bangkok bombing probe

Aug 31, 2015

Thai police issued two new arrest warrants and released images Monday of more suspects, a Thai woman and a foreign man of unknown nationality, in the widening investigation into Bangkok’s deadly bombing two weeks ago. During a televised statement, police broadcast a photograph of the woman’s Thai identification card showing a young woman in a black headscarf and a sketch of the man whose nationality was unknown. The development came after police arrested a man from an apartment in Bangkok’s outskirts on Saturday and seized bomb-making equipment that included detonators, ball bearings and a metal pipe believed to be a bomb casing. More bomb-making materials were discovered in a second apartment during a raid Sunday in a nearby neighborhood, national police spokesman Prawuth Thavornsiri said Monday. He said the second apartment, in a neighborhood known as Min Buri, was rented by the Thai woman identified as Wanna Suansun and 26 years old. Prawuth described what police found as “important bomb-making materials such as gunpowder, urea-based fertilizer which can be used as explosive powder when mixed with other substances, a remote-controlled car with its controller which can be used as a detonator, nuts and bolts, small light bulbs and digital watches,” among other things. The man, whose face is shown in a police sketch with short brown hair and a light beard and mustache, is believed to have lived in the apartment, said Prawuth, adding that his nationality was not known. Arrest warrants were issued for both the woman and man on charges of possessing unauthorized explosives, Prawuth said. Saturday’s arrest marked the first possible breakthrough in the investigation into the Aug. 17 blast at the Erawan Shrine, which killed 20 people, more than half of whom were foreigners, and injured more than 120 others. Much remains unknown about the suspect, including his nationality, his motive, his relationship to the alleged bombing network or if he was plotting an attack, Prawuth said, adding that another attack was “possible” because police found 10 detonators. “We still have to work out the details,” he said. “But we are very certain he’s part of the network” that carried out the bombing. On Sunday, Prawuth said police were working with “a number of embassies” and interpreters to try to establish the man’s nationality, adding that he did not speak Thai but spoke some English. Authorities have dodged questions about whether the suspect is believed to be Turkish, saying that he was traveling on a fake passport. Images circulated online after his arrest of a fake Turkish passport with the apparent suspect’s picture. The Turkish Embassy in Bangkok could not immediately be reached for comment. A Turkish government spokesman contacted over the weekend in Istanbul said he had no information on the suspect or any possible Turkish link to the attack. The blast at the Erawan Shrine was unprecedented in the Thai capital, where smaller bombs have been employed in domestic political violence over the past decade, but not in an effort to cause large-scale casualties. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, sparking a variety of theories into who might be behind it. Possible suspects include parties seeking to avenge Thailand’s forced repatriation of ethnic Uighurs to China. Uighurs are related to Turks, and Turkey is home to a large Uighur community. Other theories included Muslim separatists from southern Thailand, opponents of Thailand’s military government and feuding factions within the security services.



Women drive success of Somali mall in Minneapolis

By Adam Belz

AUGUST 31, 2015

A tax preparer in a shirt and tie dropped in on Bulbulo Mohamud’s cafe last week and said he believes it’s better for women to stay home and take care of children.

Mohamud, a mother of three in a red and black headscarf whose husband travels for work, poured a drink and looked at the man sideways. He was half-grinning, goading her. A European soccer game droned on a TV in the corner.

“You’re trying to make me mad,” she said.

It was an odd venue to argue for stay-at-home motherhood. Women who own businesses are driving the growth of Karmel Square at the corner of Pillsbury Avenue and Lake Street. The mall is probably the largest collection of Somali businesses in the U.S.

What began as a warren of stalls and storefronts in an old machine shop has grown into a second, four-story building along the Midtown Greenway. Inside are 175 clothing shops, hair salons, henna shops, restaurants and even a mosque. All but 25 are owned by women.

The mall is the scene of a rich paradox in Somali culture. The women who run the shops cover their heads, and many of them believe it is a man’s responsibility to pay bills for the family. Yet they are aggressive businesspeople, cherish financial independence and preside over a microeconomy at the core of the Twin Cities’ Somali community.

“Our man does not control us as people think. It’s not like that. We are free to do anything,” said Mohamud, who opened her cafe there four months ago. “If we decide to achieve something and make it clear, we can.”

Ubah Diriye grew up in Seattle from age 4, where her family settled in public housing in the 1990s. “It was very hard for my mother and father,” she said. “We started from the bottom.”

She dressed like a Westerner before moving to Minneapolis three years ago. Now she wears a headscarf and designs and sells clothes that aim to blend modesty and fashion. It’s a small shop and she has no regular employees, but she creates her own designs and has them manufactured in China. She supports herself with the shop and is looking for other businesses to start.

“I’m after the American dream,” she said.

A business mind-set

The owner of Karmel Square, Basim Sabri, barged through the maze of corridors spilling over with dresses, shoes and fabric, and proudly announced the owner’s gender at each shop he passed.

“Woman, woman, woman, woman, woman!” Sabri said.

He charmed his way past tenants and their customers, pressing shoulders, dishing out compliments, always moving. He told a father his young daughter was beautiful, called older women “Mama” and fended off conversations with shop owners. “They’re very aggressive,” he whispered.

A woman stopped him outside her clothing store and asked for another window onto the corridor.

“OK, sister, it’s on the list,” Sabri said. “It’s not a top priority. Look, you got a beautiful glass, you need a little more glass? We’ll take care of it. Don’t worry. Insha’Allah.”

“OK, OK,” she said.

When Sabri first bought the building 15 years ago, a young Somali man walked in and asked Sabri if he could open a coffee shop there. Sabri liked the man’s face and said yes. The next day, a group of women showed up seeking to open stalls to sell clothing to other Somalis.

So many women were interested that he had them draw numbers out of a bucket to decide who went where. Most of the original tenants remain in their spots.

“In my opinion, they’re the smartest businesspeople in Africa, probably the smartest in the Middle East,” Sabri said. “Women play a big role in Somali business doing.”

An entrepreneurial culture

The state’s strong job market and the self-reinforcing attraction of the Twin Cities area as home to one-fourth of the U.S. Somali population have created a cycle of population growth. More Somalis, like Diriye, arrive from other U.S. cities each year.

Census estimates put Minnesota’s Somali population at 39,000 in 2013, but that figure is probably low, because the Somali diaspora in the U.S. is still so new and fluid. In 2012, few had been in Minnesota for more than 10 years, many didn’t speak English well and the population was growing fast. Nearly half — around 16,000 — of the estimated population depended on welfare of some kind, according to the Minnesota demographer’s office.

But that was a small fraction of the 1.2 million Minnesotans who receive public assistance, and the Somali job picture is improving. Unemployment dropped from about 20 percent in 2010 to 6 percent in 2013, according to Susan Brower, the state demographer. Somali women have turned en masse to entrepreneurship in part out of necessity, said Osman Ahmed, who manages the Riverside Mall — where 37 of 44 businesses are owned by women — in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside area.

Some feel they can’t get hired by others because of cultural barriers. Others picked up skills going into business on their own before they moved to the U.S., during turmoil in Somalia in the 1990s.

“After the civil war, there were no jobs, the government collapsed, there was no money,” Ahmed said. “Somali women started helping the men more.”

The roots of female Somali entrepreneurship run deeper than the civil war, said Amallina Ali, the owner of a beauty salon that just moved into new space at Karmel Square.

In Somalia, women have long performed many of the same jobs as men — raising livestock, cultivating crops — even while caring for their children, she said. And a culture where polygamy was widely accepted has, for generations, pounded into women the need to be financially self-sufficient, she said.

“That’s in our head. We want to depend on ourselves,” Ali said. “Mothers will teach their daughters to do everything.”

Starting up without a bank

To do it, like business owners anywhere, they need money and they need to balance work and home.

Even a small clothing shop requires $20,000 in start-up cash, said Ahmed at the Riverside Mall, the building with the leopards painted on it next to a light-rail station.

Because of Islamic strictures against paying or earning interest, Somali entrepreneurs must find ways to raise start-up capital other than from a bank loan. Many rely on family members and their community.

Ali’s husband gave her some of the money she needed to start her business, and Sabri gave her a good deal after his own sister told him Ali’s concept was promising.

“I got a break for rent, designing the whole place on his expense, everything,” said Ali. “I know he’s a big guy now and he owns everything, but when things go heated, I always remember the beginnings. I’m always appreciative of that.”

Ali believes local banks are missing an opportunity by not tailoring finance to Muslim businesses. Views on what constitutes an acceptable financial product vary across the Muslim world, but to Ali it’s simple.

“If you have a fixed-rate loan, you can charge me whatever you want and precalculate it, and say because of this, this is how much money I’m making on this deal,” she said. “The banks could sell anything they want, at any price, just precalculate your thing and let me know.”

Mohamud, the new cafe owner in Karmel Square, came to the U.S. as a 13-year-old and landed in Memphis. She moved to Minneapolis in 2000, married and had children, and opened a clothing accessories store at the 24th Street Mall.

She learned how to make customers feel welcome, but the business was not successful. She let her mother take over, and she opened her own coffee shop instead. The business did better and, after Karmel Square expanded, she moved to a corner space in its new wing.

Managing all of her responsibilities is a challenge, she said, but her family helps by watching her children.

“If you don’t have a support group, you’re not going to succeed,” she said. “Every business you see has a support group of family.”

Somali in America

Mohamud is happy to run a business, and is protective of that. Still, she considers her husband the breadwinner and is happy to bow to that expectation of Somali life.

“It’s different in our culture and you guys’ culture. You guys, if you bring money to the house and she does, you pay things together, right?” she said. “Ours, no, unless he’s really broke. If there is a financial problem, he can’t provide, she will help him out, but always he’s the breadwinner. Always. It’s a good responsibility. It’s good to have that, because when he married you he took that responsibility.”

Ali, the salon owner at Karmel Square, said Somali businesses are growing in Minnesota because the state has been good to Somalis.

A few years ago she flew for a visit to Egypt, where her family first settled after fleeing Somalia. She shed tears of joy when the plane landed. But then something funny happened: Egyptian culture kept rubbing against her American expectations.

“The American in me is inside,” she said. “I want good customer service. I want justice.”

As she landed back in the U.S. on the return flight, her first thought was “thank God I’m home.” When she hears complaints about the unfairness of American society, it strikes her as odd, given the unfairness and injustice she has witnessed elsewhere.

“Why we are a superpower is the justice, equality. It does not exist anywhere. That’s why we do well here,” she said. “It might not be 100 percent, but we have the best on this planet. I don’t care what anyone says.”