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Three Hindu Girls Ace Madrasa Exam in Bengal's Burdwan

New Age Islam News Bureau

22 May 2019

Residents of Ketugram, while rejoicing in the girls’ achievements, are not surprised that Hindu students have excelled in an exam on Islam




 Trump Names Woman as Head of US Air Force

 Iran's Judiciary Backpedals On Banning Cycling For Women

 First Female Muslim Mayor in the U.S. Calls This N.J. Town Home

 Ford Driving Skills for Life Saudi Arabia Hosts Men and Women at the Same Time

 First Female Emirati Specialist in Aviation Medicine: Dr. Nadia Bastaki

 Afghan Women Journalists Train in Chennai to Bring Change

 Yazidi women still fear ISIS months after their defeat

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Three Hindu Girls Ace Madrasa Exam in Bengal's Burdwan

By Abhijeet Chatterjee


Three Hindu girls studying in a madarsa in a Muslim-dominated area of East Burdwan have scored over 90 per cent in the West Bengal High Madrasah Secondary Exam (Madhyamik standard), bolstering the Mamata Banerjee government’s efforts to help such institutions shine the light of education in backward areas.

The results were declared last week in the midst of one of the most communally charged campaigns during which BJP chief Amit Shah had questioned the Bengal government’s allocation on madarsa education.

Piupiya Saha, Sathi Modak and Arpita Saha — who secured 730 (91.25 per cent), 730 and 739 (92.38 per cent) out of 800, respectively — study in Agordanga High Madrasah at Ketugram, which has a high concentration of Muslims.

Apart from securing cumulative scores that are among the highest in the district, the three students have done exceedingly well in Islam Parichay or the fundamentals of Islamic history, a subject unique to the madarsa board. Piupiya, Sathi and Arpita have scored 95, 92 and 93, respectively, in the subject.

Residents of Ketugram, while rejoicing in the girls’ achievements, are not surprised that Hindu students have excelled in an exam on Islam.

“Muslims study in schools that are not madarsas, so why should I have an issue with my daughter studying Islam Parichay?” said Rameswar, Piupiya’s father and a ration dealer.

Piupiya said: “The teachers here were very helpful and cooperative.”

Arpita, who topped her school with 739 marks, said that studying Islam had helped her broaden her horizons rather than being an academic burden.

“Being a Hindu, I am already quite accustomed to rites and rituals, but studying about another religion in detail helped me see the parallels,” the aspiring nursing student said.

Ketugram, situated on the banks of the Ajay river on the Birbhum border, has a 46.77 per cent Muslim population. The far-flung village has a recorded literacy rate of 68 per cent. The literacy rate in Bengal is 76.26 per cent, according to the 2011 census.

Residents said the distance of the nearest higher secondary school — 6km away — deterred them from enrolling their daughters there.

“I would be worried if my daughter had to make that long a commute,” added Rajeswar, father of Arpita and a private tutor.

Nearly 60 per cent of Agordanga High Madrasah’s 900 students are Hindu.

At a rally in Alipurduar in March, BJP president Shah had indicated that the Trinamul government was engaging in vote-bank politics over its education budget.

“Mamata didi has a budget of Rs 4,000 crore for madarsas. We do not have a problem with that. But the entire budget for higher education is lower than Rs 4,000 crore,” he had claimed.

An official in the Bengal minority affairs and madarsa education department said the state government spent Rs 250 crore on madarsa education annually.

“The department has a budget of around Rs 3,000 crore for the 2019-20 fiscal. So, there is no question of spending Rs 4,000 crore on madarsas,” the official said.

Many pointed out that the fact that Hindu girls in backward areas were studying in madarsas proved that the state government’s spending was helping the spread of education.

“The trend of non-Muslim students studying in madarsas is increasing in Bengal — which is a good indicator of communal harmony in the state. Except for Islam Parichay, the syllabus is the same as the Madhyamik board,” said Abu Taher Kamruddin, president of the

West Bengal High Madrasah Board.

State-wide, nearly 12 per cent of those who took the West Bengal High Madrasah Secondary Exam this year were Hindus — a 4 per cent increase over last year.

In Ketugram, 62 students appeared for the madarsa board exam this year. Of them, 45 were girls.

Piupiya and Sathi say they want to become civil servants. Arpita plans to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.



Trump Names Woman as Head of US Air Force

22 May 2019

President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday he had nominated Barbara Barrett, a former ambassador and Arizona businesswoman, to lead the US Air Force.

Barrett, 68, served as the US ambassador to Finland from 2008 to 2009 under the George W. Bush administration. She also chaired an aeronautics research and development center, The Aerospace Corporation, until 2017.

“She will be an outstanding Secretary!” Trump tweeted.

A former lawyer and test pilot, Barrett is also a board member at the Rand Corporation, a think tank that provides research and analysis to the US armed forces.

She and her husband Craig, the former CEO of American technology giant Intel, are major Republican donors. Barrett ran for governor of Arizona on the GOP ticket in 1994, the first woman to do so, but she failed to secure her party’s nomination.

If she is confirmed, Barrett will succeed another woman, Heather Wilson, in the position of secretary of the air force.

Wilson’s name had come up as a potential replacement for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned in December because of differences over Trump’s policies on Syria and other issues.

Wilson stepped down in March, the highest level Pentagon departure since that of Mattis, once it became apparent that interim Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan would stay in that post.



Iran's Judiciary Backpedals On Banning Cycling For Women

May 22, 2019

The Islamic Republic judiciary spokesman says that the order issued by the city of Isfahan' prosecutor to ban cycling for women has been misunderstood.

Speaking on Tuesday, Gholam Hossein Esmaeili reiterated that women’s cycling is not banned, provided the religious rules are respected.

Earlier on May 14, the prosecutor in Iran's third largest city had announced that women had been banned from cycling in public, saying it was "haram," or prohibited under Islam.

Ali Esfahani had gone further by warning that police would confiscate the bikes of those who resisted, adding that repeat offenders would be subject to "Islamic punishment," without elaborating.

Based on the law and fatwas issued by senior Shi'ite clergies, Esfahani had argued, "Women are banned from riding bicycles in public places."

Although Esfahani had not referred to any exceptions, judiciary spokesman insisted that Isfahan's prosecutor had not meant to completely ban women from cycling.

Women in Iran had long assumed that they could ride bicycles in public if they respected Iran's strict dress code, which requires women to cover their hair and fully body in public.

In 2016, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared to crush the notion with a fatwa explicitly banning women from cycling in public, but it was not strictly enforced.

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the clerical establishment has enforced Islamic laws denying women equal rights in divorce and inheritance, prohibiting women from traveling abroad without the permission of a male relative, and attending men's sports events.

Meanwhile, Iran has a women national cycling team that competes in public places.

As recently as April, Iranian cyclist Ms. Somayeh Yazdani became the first Iranian woman to win the bronze medal in the Asian Cycling Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.



First Female Muslim Mayor in the U.S. Calls This N.J. Town Home

May 21, 2019

Sadaf Jaffer has always felt drawn to public service, but she didn’t think that would ever lead to a term as mayor of her hometown, Montgomery Township.

She is now the first female South Asian mayor of a New Jersey municipality and the first female Muslim mayor in the state. She is also believed to be the first female Muslim mayor, female Pakistani-American mayor and first female South Asian-American mayor first in the nation, according to

Jaffer, 36, grew up in Chicago and was raised by her parents — her mother an immigrated from Pakistan and her father from Yemen. Jaffer and her husband moved to New Jersey after they both got jobs working at Princeton University, where she studies South Asian social media as a post-doctorate fellow and teaches courses about Islam in South Asia and South Asian American film and literature.

The couple settled in Montgomery Township in 2012 — a Somerset County town of about 23,000 residents, 33% of whom are Asian.

Jaffer began attending Township Committee meetings regularly and she quickly realized that she wasn’t seeing herself in the elected officials that were supposed to be a proxy for her voice on local issues.

“I wasn’t seeing my values represented in politics very much, and that’s when I started to think about running for office,” Jaffer said of the then exclusively Republican governing body.

Jaffer began to take her interest in politics more seriously after attending the inaugural Emerge New Jersey conference, run by a nonpartisan organization that seeks to help get women elected to office. Jaffer credits the conference with teaching her the ins and outs of running for political office and helping her make many valuable connections.

She launched a write-in campaign in 2016, and despite being unsuccessful that year, she tried again the following year on the Democratic ticket and won. In 2019, she was appointed to the position as mayor by her fellow committee members.

“I’m so happy to be an example of how our system is very democratic and if you run you can win,” Jaffer said.

In the short amount of time she has been involved in Montgomery politics the committee has gone from having its first Democrat elected to the committee in eight years to being controlled by the Democratic party, with three Democratic committee members and two Republican members.

Jaffer credits this change to a swath of grassroots momentum that occurred during the 2017 election. That year, voter turn out increased by 20% from the previous year’s election, and had doubled since the last midterm election, Jaffer said.

“Since Marvin (Schuldiner) and I won decisively in November, thereby taking the majority of the township committee and appointing Sadaf as mayor for this year, she has done a good job representing what the Democratic majority on the committee wanted to accomplish,” said Deputy Mayor Catherine Gural.

When Jaffer was first campaigning in 2017 she noticed that a lot of the people in the township were unmotivated or didn’t know about the local election process.

During the campaign, she was also the subject of a negative mailer that called her ideas “dangerous” and “extreme.”

Jaffer said their strategy backfired. Many of her supporters defended her and she was able to focus on how people were happy to see someone from a new, under-represented group in office.

She used this challenge as an opportunity to dig into one of her favorite elements of civic engagement, education.

“I really just wanted to get people engaged and feeling empowered,” Jaffer said.

Her biggest hope is that township residents have felt that their votes have mattered and have seen the importance of participating in the electoral process. Jaffer now regularly hears from residents on new initiatives taking place in town.

She started the Montgomery Mosaic project, a monthly group discussion where residents can come together to talk about different topics.

In the past, the group has discussed Islamaphobia and racism, but the group has also had more lighthearted events like intercultural holiday parties.

Jaffer is working on creating more business development within town and trying to increase the transparency in government, holding open office hours so residents can stop by with their questions and concerns and working to create clearer communication from town hall.

“Part of the reason why I wanted to get involved in politics is because people are very cynical about politics and it doesn’t have to be that way,” Jaffer said. “Absolutely normal people can be involved in politics. Politicians are just supposed to be your neighbors and you should hold them to that level.”



Ford Driving Skills for Life Saudi Arabia Hosts Men and Women at the Same Time

May 21, 2019

Say what you want about Saudi Arabia. No, really. Please. Go ahead. There’s a ton you can dive into about its cruel, barbarous regime. But you have to admit that the KSA government has, to some teensy-weensy extent made, an effort to move the country in a more progressive direction with its Vision 2030 plan. Part of that plan involves the gradual allowance of women’s rights, including granting them to right to drive in June of last year.

Ford has been there for a large part of the way, helping grant the dreams of women who wished to own Mustangs, offering to pay women’s licensing fees, and offering training and instruction through its Ford Driving Skills for Life program. Fittingly, the recent Ford Driving Skills for Life session at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal marked a new first in the country. The event saw, for the first time ever, men and women participating in courses on the same campus at the same time.

Now before you go getting all excited about the idea of men and women being able to learn alongside one another harmoniously, it should be said that they merely shared proximity. Newly licensed male drivers took part in the Driving Skills for Life course proper while women took part in an adjacent DSFL for Her course. But, hey: baby steps! Next stop, not mass-executing 37 civilians, most of whom belong to a religious sect that is heavily discriminated against by the regime in power, after extracting confessions primarily via torture!

Both courses focused largely on the dangers of distracted and impaired driving, as a report from the Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization says that more than 160,000 crashes in Saudi Arabia result from distraction by mobile device.

“To reach Vision 2030’s target of a year-over-year decrease in road fatalities, road users need to have instilled in them the best safe-driving practices,” said Simonetta Verdi, Director, Government and Community Relations, Ford Middle East and Africa. “Ford Driving Skills for Life helps provide just that.”

Driving Skills for Life for Her provided training for more than 200 Saudi women in 2018.



First Female Emirati Specialist in Aviation Medicine: Dr. Nadia Bastaki

May 21, 2019

Abu Dhabi: Dr. Nadia Bastaki, the first Emirati woman to be registered as a specialist in aviation medicine, has achieved her lifelong ambition and has become involved in the UAE space programme, conducting medical tests for UAE astronauts.

"In partnership with the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre, I have participated in conducting medical tests for the team chosen to work in the UAE Astronaut Programme, where more than 100 candidates were screened for the programme until the finalists were selected," Dr. Bastaki told the Emirates News Agency, WAM.

Graduated in aviation medicine from the King’s College London, Dr. Bastaki has over 20 years of experience in aviation. She is currently working at Etihad Airways, with the country's first specialised centre in aeromedical medicine, which is accredited by the UAE Civil Aviation Authority.

She said that she had been motivated by the quote of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, that "Becoming number one is not impossible – the word impossible doesn't exist in our dictionary." This gave her confidence, she said, to "search for the competence through which I can achieve the first place and then serve my country."

She added, "The efforts of H.H. Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women's Union, President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, and Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation, to empower Emirati women have contributed significantly to building generations capable of giving in all fields."

Dr. Bastaki also said her parents had helped her to think of entering a unique field in which she could realise her family's aspirations and hopes. "I chose to study medicine," she said, noting that the death of her mother, a trainee doctor, led her to take up the challenge to become a doctor to help people.

She concluded by saying, "Emirati women have the will and the potential that will enable them to carry the banner of creativity and excellence in all fields."



Afghan Women Journalists Train in Chennai to Bring Change

May 22, 2019

CHENNAI: Prominent Afghan TV presenter Mena Mangal was gunned down in Kabul on May 11. Her assassination, which sent shock waves among the international media, is believed to be due to her dogged commitment towards journalism.

When the incident took place, 24 women journalists from Afghanistan's first all-women channel, ZAN TV, were halfway through an English training course at Chennai's National Institute of Technical Teachers Training and Research (NITTTR), as part of a joint initiative by their ministry of information and culture and India's ministry of external affairs. On Tuesday, they met at NITTTR to talk about blazing a trail in a country where a fairly young timeline of democracy (since Taliban's ousting in 2001), is clearing the mist of hardline rule.

Wida Saghary, 33, is the pioneer of this movement, and among the first generation of women journalists to have faced the camera in this new era of democracy. She entered journalism 12 years ago, but is still battling stigma associated with the job.

"More than 80% of my colleagues haven't been able to marry, because they are considered morally corrupt," she says. At work, Saghary has had to fight for pay parity and denial of top managerial positions despite her seniority, some of the other issues women journalists have to brace for. Nearly 3,000 women journalists have emerged in the war-torn nation, having to brave violent attacks, bombings and debilitating shaming to tell stories they want to. "It is we who should be talking about our need for equal pay and gender rights," says Tuba Sangar, a sports producer and cricketer.

In Kabul, foray of international faculty, institutions and relatively progressive media houses are at the heart of this change. For Pashtun girls from provinces such as Kandahar and Laghaman, Taliban strongholds, the challenges are much more varied.

Omina Omid, an investigative reporter from Ghor province, left home at 18 to fend for herself. "They would have forcibly married me off had I stayed back," she says. Now 24, she researches on issues faced by girl students. But many young girls at the forefront of this change are hopeful. The country's culture ministry with support from the US and Finland is helping to train and provide safety for young women journalists.

"Earlier, Afghanistan meant wars and Taliban. Today, the power of media has introduced cricketer Rashid Khan to India, opened up places like Bamyan to tourists and taken our rich handicrafts to the world," says a 22-year-old journalist.



Yazidi women still fear ISIS months after their defeat

May 21, 2019

In March, when the Syrian Defense Forces confirmed that ISIS lost its last stronghold in the eastern Syrian city of Baghouz, it seemed to confirm President Donald Trump’s declaration of victory over ISIS months prior, when the US also decided to withdraw troops from Syria.

The US has been a key partner to the Syrian Democratic Forces, helping to significantly diminish ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria since 2014.

But some analysts say the downfall of the ISIS caliphate doesn’t necessarily mean the end of ISIS, and US troop withdrawal has spurred anxiety over security among Yazidi minorities in the region. Security officials warn that ISIS remains a threat both regionally and worldwide even without a territorial caliphate.

As of early May, 1,000 US troops remain in Syria, less than half its numbers last year. The Pentagon plans to “assess” the situation every six months until its reduction to 400 troops (as Trump approved in February), which may not happen until 2020. The recent news that Trump administration has reviewed plans to send up to 120,000 troops to Iran further intensifies instability in the region.

Related: As US declares victory over ISIS, withdrawal from Syria proves perilous

In its most powerful days, ISIS targeted Yazidis as “infidels," one of several ethnic minority groups in Iraq and Syria. In 2014, ISIS attacked Mount Sinjar, the ancestral home of Yazidis in Northern Iraq, forcibly separating families, executing and kidnapping an estimated 9,900 people.

ISIS forced Yazidi children into military training camps or sex slavery, and they were disproportionately affected by the genocide. Since 2014, the majority of Yazidis have fled to displacement camps throughout Iraq and Syria as well as abroad, unable to return to Sinjar due to poor living conditions and ongoing regional insecurity.

Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for her work to end sexual violence as a weapon of war, explained that a US foreign policy misstep could undo the strategic balance that has taken years to establish in the region:

“Militias which we had hoped would either leave Sinjar territory or integrate into Iraq's national army would strengthen and continue to fracture our already traumatized and fractured society,” she said.

The withdrawal also raised the specter of Turkish aggression and security analysts predicted that a power vacuum could allow ISIS militants, many of whom have reintegrated back into civilian society, to seize on a moment of geopolitical uncertainty. “This would be a catastrophe for the world,” Murad added.

However, the Trump administration threatened to target Turkey’s economy in response to initial threats to Kurdish forces. Today, troops remain near the Syrian southern border with Turkey to monitor the fragile security situation.

'We've seen this happen before'

When Pari Ibrahim was a just a child, she and her family fled Kurdistan for the Netherlands after Saddam Hussein's regime persecuted the Yazidis in 1991. Following the 2014 attacks on Sinjar, Ibrahim founded the Free Yezidi Foundation, a nonprofit focused on rehabilitating Yazidi genocide survivors.

Trump’s foreign policy plan has drawn comparisons to an Obama-era decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq, which critics claimed allowed for the origins of the ISIS to emerge and grow.

“Why are we so concerned? Because we've seen this happen before,” Ibrahim said. She rebuked President Trump’s assertion that ISIS had been defeated in the region, stating that the number of ISIS fighters is likely higher than official estimates when taking into consideration those in hiding.

Some experts estimate more than 15,000 ISIS loyalists are still active throughout the region. In late April, notorious ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reappeared in an 18-minute video after a period of absence from the media, claiming that the recent church attacks in Sri Lanka were revenge for the Baghouz defeat.

“You have to understand that in general, the whole Yazidi community does not have trust in anyone anymore — especially the survivors of the torture, the rapes, the abuse,” Ibrahim said.

The Free Yezidi Foundation women’s center is one of the key providers of psychiatric and rehabilitation care for women living in the Xanke Camp in northern Kurdistan. Women aged 20-35 currently participating in FYF’s programs shared how the US withdrawal of troops in the region has impacted them. Their names have been kept anonymous because of safety concerns. 

“Even though Daesh [ISIS] is defeated as a territory, there are many Daesh [ISIS] fighters and supporters [still in the region],” said one woman.

Another said, “As a Yazidi, I do not see very clearly a good future, and without external forces doing protection, it is difficult.”

“I don't think Yazidis think in terms about hope for the future, but just survival and doing the best we can to keep going,” said another woman at the camp.

Ibrahim worries that political tumult coupled with the dearth of rehabilitation services could thwart Yazidi survivors’ progress. “Just the idea of a US withdrawal is for them traumatizing again because they know what kinds of things can happen if there's no protection or security. They read this, they see this, and it has a huge effect on their rehabilitation.”

'A broader story of violence'

Yazidi women, in particular, were the focus of intense foreign media and policy attention after the Sinjar attack. This global attention brought the plight of the Yazidis to the world stage, but the media’s obsession with lurid details of rapes and kidnappings left some Yazidi women feeling exposed and without control over their own narratives.

Sherizaan Minwalla, a Baghdad-based human rights lawyer who has worked directly with Yazidi women, illuminates the challenges Yazidi women have faced since 2014. Minwalla researched how Yazidi women navigate complex relationships with foreign organizations as well as direct threats from regional authorities and military groups.

In her interviews with Yazidi women about their experiences with journalists covering ISIS violence, she describes a phenomenon called “patriarchal bargaining.” Originally coined by gender and development scholar Deniz Kandiyoti, patriarchal bargaining refers to strategic choices individuals make when they find themselves at the intersection of multiple power hierarchies, weighing the costs and benefits of engaging with each.

For Yazidi women, navigating the competing interests of foreign journalists, aid workers, local authorities, and terror groups like ISIS complicates their daily survival.

“There's a broader story of violence,” Minwalla said in a phone interview. “The focus has mostly been on the rape. But there have been so many other atrocities that have been less reported. It's hard to get people to cover the day-to-day struggles that people face: the lack of access to aid, getting medical care. But when [Yazidi women] talk about that and then they don't get covered, then I think they are frustrated.”

Pari Ibrahim agrees. “The Yazidi community has been in the media, has been in the spotlight, but let's be honest: A lot of government officials like to take photos with our survivors, but how much actually has been done?”

In late April, the United Nations attempted to pass a resolution to end sexual violence in conflict, during which Nadia Murad testified, but was watered down before it was passed to appease US pushback over reproductive rights language.

For both Pari Ibrahim and Nadia Murad, the pursuit of justice for the Yazidi community remains the utmost priority. This means convicting ISIS perpetrators for the crimes they committed.

Charging detained ISIS militants for specific charges of rape or murder would allow Yazidis to testify and participate in the process of legal accountability. This goal, Ibrahim points out, needs to be a multinational one, with Western governments prosecuting their own citizens who perpetrated crimes for ISIS.

This consideration bears weight as European nations continue to strip ISIS conspirators of their citizenships, leaving little hope for formal accountability.

British national Shamima Begum, for example, who married an ISIS fighter and moved to Syria when she was 15 years old, had her citizenship revoked on security grounds in late February this year. Her family is appealing the decision and her case raises critical questions on what to do with ISIS members now languishing in Syrian camps and prisons.

To realize justice for the Yazidi community, an eventual return to Sinjar is paramount. According to Yazidi activists, international partners like the US must demonstrate a meaningful commitment to the Yazidi community’s ongoing struggle for security — along with Iraqi and Syrian partners — on the ground.




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