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UK-Based Gulnaz Mahboob On the Healing Power of Calligraphy

New Age Islam News Bureau

22 August 2020

 • Gulf Women Entrepreneurs Overcome Pandemic Hurdle

• Ohud bint Abdullah Al Fares, Saudi Woman Educator Named to Oversee Distance-Learning

• Khor Fakkan Girl Takes Sheikha Fatima Award To The East Coast Of UAE

• Pakistan- First Woman MPA From Khyber Gets Membership Of 6 KP Assembly Committees

• Muslim Family on Trial for Shaving Girl’s Head Over Her Christian-Serbian Boyfriend

• British Schoolgirl, 16, Who Fled To Join ISIS With Her Twin Sister Is Moved To A High-Security

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



UK-Based Gulnaz Mahboob On the Healing Power Of Calligraphy


August 20, 2020


UK-Based Gulnaz Mahboob On the Healing Power of Calligraphy


LONDON: Gulnaz Mahboob’s search for a calligraphy master saw her land in Istanbul with “a clean palette,” she says. “I had no knowledge of the science behind it or who the masters were. I knew that I wanted to reconnect with my creative side, but I didn’t know how, where, or who to go to.”

The UK-based calligrapher and teacher traveled to Turkey in 2005. She had previously gone to Malaysia, thinking that she may be able to work there and register on art courses, but she soon learned that Istanbul was where she needed to be.

“Although Islamic calligraphy originated from the Arab world, many are now going to Istanbul because that’s where a lot of the masters are,” Mahboob tells Arab News. “They’ve perfected calligraphy to such an extent, and the standard is very high. Istanbul has become a hotspot for calligraphers.”

Having worked as a consultant for an engineering firm and later as a project consultant for the London Borough of Camden, Mahboob felt her life was missing something — a creative and artistic outlet that her work in London wasn’t providing.

“I needed to realign something inside. I was out of balance,” she recalls. “I felt a void that needed attention, because I wasn't quite fitting into the environments I was in. (I changed jobs) but the void was still there. I decided to take time off work and I had enough savings. It was a calculated risk — I knew that I could go for a certain period of time, to reconnect with my creative side, which I’d left behind a long time ago.”

Mahboob’s search took her to calligraphy master Hasan Çelebi, who agreed to take her on as his student. For Mahboob, her connection with Çelebi was about more than just his Islamic calligraphy skill.

“I was interested in what formula he had,” she explains. “It was clearly working for him because he was just completely at ease and at peace. So not only was I learning (calligraphy) from him, but I was asking him questions about his personal life: How he worked, when was the best time to practice, and so on.”

Mahboob returned to London after eight months, and then spent the next few years between the two cities. In 2009, she moved to Istanbul to immerse herself in her studies before being granted her license (ijazah) in 2012, which allowed her to sign her work and authorized her to begin teaching her own students. During her studies, and as her calligraphy skills improved, she noticed changes within herself.

“Through the learning process, aspects were unfolding about the calligraphy, about myself, about my personality, just through writing these letters,” she says. “It’s a very honest art and it reflects you. And (so I learned that) there were traits I had to change if I wanted to move forward, traits that I could hide before, but that I couldn't with calligraphy.

“You cannot write calligraphy the night before — your teacher will see that,” she continues. “I can write an essay last minute, but I can’t do that with lettering. That mindset and that preparation, everything had changed for me — even in terms of how we learn. We’re so accustomed to questioning everything in the Western education system. But here, you go at your teacher’s pace. If he feels you can progress, you move on. But you don’t move on until he's authorized it. There was an etiquette to follow — what we call ‘adeb.’”

Mahboob felt she was developing a sense of clarity thanks to her studies and her ongoing relationship with Çelebi. Her time back in the UK only emphasized how much she was learning about calligraphy, and about herself.

“When I would come back to London, the energy was different from when I was in Istanbul, I would see stark differences. (In Istanbul) I had this opportunity to immerse myself in an artistic community. I spent hours with Hasan, just watching him making the most incredible corrections. I saw a lot of his personality come through, and I learned a lot about teaching methods. All of this was unraveling, and I just felt I was becoming a clearer person, a calmer person, maybe even a serene person.”

Mahboob has subsequently undertaken her own research, reading up on neurological studies that explore how the use of the hands can shape the behavior of the brain.

“Working with your hands and using your senses — you’re using your eyes to see the beautiful letters, you’re writing them, you’re listening to the Qur’an sometimes — it means you’re connecting the mind, the heart and the soul. When you write, you feel the rhythm of the letter, and that’s very important, as your writing will flow. This, and accuracy, is what brings fluency to your hand. If there is no fluency, it will surface in your work.”

Mahboob currently works with the Thuluth and Naskh scripts and teaches students in London, privately or at the Yunus Emre Institute and the Prince’s Foundation of Traditional Arts. Her relationship with Çelebi is a lifelong one, and to uphold that centuries-old tradition is very important to her.

“You're connected with this transmission of knowledge from one master to the next generation,” she says. “You're transmitting this knowledge to your students and then they become part of this link, this chain, that dates back 10 centuries. I'm trying to continue that.”

The example Çelebi set for Mahboob is one that she strives to emulate as well.

“The patience that he has with the students is something that I try to pass on. I’m honoring his teaching by trying to do the best that I can. When I'm teaching, I understand and appreciate the stamina he had at 70! I keep my sessions short because I know that it's quite tough, but Hasan would sit for three or four hours without a break! He has this certainty and concentration, and he was always dedicated to his teaching. Sometimes you'll see calligraphers write fast, but I've never seen him write fast in all the years I’ve known him. He's had the same consistency, the same speed all the way through.”

When she teaches students, Mahboob is also keen to show them the therapeutic power of calligraphy – much as her master did for her.

“It can improve your wellbeing, should you want it to — you need to want it to, and you need love as well,” she explains. “That is crucial. It's interesting because a lot of my students come from similar backgrounds as myself. I can relate to them. They're professionals and they need some kind of break, or they're looking for a creative outlet. I can understand that.”

Though she has become acknowledged around the world for her work, and in her own right, Mahboob maintains a sense of deference to her master. And she hopes to offer a taste of what calligraphy has given her to the next generation.

“There will be difficulties, of course. Sometimes it just doesn't flow correctly. You have frustrations, and you learn to deal with the challenges. But what is achieved at the end is wonderful. And I think that's what I hope to share. I'm not at the level of my master — there's no way I'm at that level, but I hope I can give students a glimpse into some of his teachings in my short eight-week courses.

“It takes discipline though, and it can need significant changes in your life to incorporate calligraphy, if you're working a full-time job for example. Sometimes living in London seems to suck more energy out of you than other, calmer places. It's busy, it's hectic — I can understand that. But for those who have managed to incorporate the practice of calligraphy, they have found the benefits of just being peaceful. To have that solace. And it's good.”


Gulf Women Entrepreneurs Overcome Pandemic Hurdle


AUGUST 21, 2020


Emirati entrepreneur Nooran Al Bannay steered her newly-opened Coffee Architecture in Abu Dhabi through the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Courtesy of Al Bannay


The closure of Coffee Architecture at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic was “a very hard time” for Nooran Al Bannay, the founder of the company and a rare Emirati barista.

The Abu Dhabi-based coffee shop, open since 2018, could survive the crisis by cutting down on costs and allocating last year’s profits to pay salaries.

But in any event, Al Bannay could not afford to go bankrupt. The entrepreneur had already overcome major hurdles to convince her family members of her path, as it is frowned upon for Emirati women to work in the customer service field.

“Serving coffee to people makes me happy; this is my passion,” she said.

“It was a lot of arguments! But I was patient to change their minds and pursue my dream,” Al Bannay told Asia Times.

AT Premium

Like her, a growing number of Gulf women took the plunge and set up their businesses in recent years as female entrepreneurship gained momentum, stimulated by new legal amendments and a better acceptance at the society level.

Saudi Arabia has sought to place itself at the forefront of that change, launching an economic and social reforms project aimed at increasing women’s participation in the workforce by a third within the decade.

“This has paved the way for women to take their chance. Still, I think it will take some time before we can see something coming out of Saudi,” said Issam Altawari, a Kuwaiti financial practitioner.

A 2019 Mastercard study reported less than 2% of business owners in Saudi Arabia are women as they “encounter more constraints such as cultural bias where they are less accepted and regarded as being equal in business.”

Male-dominated networks

In Oman, the Covid-19 crisis hit when full-scale operations had just begun at the fish processing plant launched last year by female Omani entrepreneur Farha Al Kindi, following a decades-long career at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

“We could not believe what was happening; it was a big shock. We had to close the plant for four weeks,” the founder of Sea Delight told Asia Times.

As Oman banned movement between governorates to contain the spread of the virus, Al Kindi was unable to serve customers or even to access her plant in Al Masnaah.

To preserve cash flow, the entrepreneur who already made her mark in the male-dominated seafood industry, reached an agreement with suppliers: raw products will be paid on credit. Before production can return to early 2020 levels – about one ton of ready-to-eat fish products per month – financial issues will need to be addressed.

“I would put my bets more on female entrepreneurs to survive the crisis,” Altawari told Asia Times, convinced businesswomen are often more combative and resilient than their male counterparts.

Still, risks of bankruptcies are at an all-time high and roughly half of startups surveyed in June across the region worried about running out of cash.

Although Gulf governments promote women’s economic inclusion, no Covid-19-related financial support directed explicitly towards women entrepreneurs has been announced. Furthermore, male and female-led SMEs interviewed by Asia Times said fiscal stimulus packages are insufficient to support Gulf non-oil economies.

The appetite of banks for lending to struggling businesses is also expected to dry up – even before the pandemic, bank credit to SMEs in the Gulf region was already the lowest in the world. Because of this, entrepreneurs often turn to self-financing, private investors or venture capital, a form of private equity investment for high-growth businesses.

“As venture capital investors, we have to be proactive in sourcing and backing female founders,” said Tala Al Jabri, a partner at HOF Capital, a global technology investment firm with offices in New York City, San Francisco and the Middle East. At a global level, over a third of companies supported by HOF Capital have female founders.

The Saudi venture capitalist said more female investors are needed as women entrepreneurs are often made vulnerable in fundraising processes because “the network of financiers tend to be more male-dominated”.

According to a report published by Harvard Business Review, strong gender bias in the venture capital industry tends to “influence decision-making” and eventually fail women entrepreneurs.

Think different

“More than 1,400 years ago, there was no resistance towards Arab women being entrepreneurs. The first wife of Prophet Muhammad himself was a successful businesswoman” said Altawari, who believes the Covid-19 crisis is a unique occasion to recognize the place that women deserve in Gulf economies.

Better educated than men – in Qatar, for example, about 67% of higher education graduates are women – Gulf female entrepreneurs are well positioned to disrupt industries and digitalize old-school business models.

In Saudi Arabia, the CEO and founder of the Jeddah-based workshop provider Workshop X turned constraints caused by the pandemic into a unique opportunity to pivot the business model from in-person to online training.

“It was a great idea, our revenues and the number of attendees tripled!” Noor Marzoky told Asia Times.

Moreover, as the company shifted online, many of the regulations on workshop providers were lifted – in Saudi Arabia, workshops that physically host more than 25 participants have to be approved beforehand.

Marzoky believes “it is the time” for Saudi female entrepreneurs to seize opportunities, yet, she acknowledged the market is still hesitant to trust a young woman. “You have to work triple what a man has to work,” she said.

A situation that leaves many wondering where to start.

“When I talk to young Emirati ladies who come to the coffee shop, I can see a lot of dreams in their eyes, but they always ask me, how did I discover my passion,” Al Bannay said. The Emirati barista calls on women entrepreneurs to focus on innovative business ideas rather than copy-pasting existing concepts.

Experts have long called for reforming education systems in the Gulf to develop critical thinking among the youth. According to the World Bank, “teaching methodologies remain teacher-centered,” mirroring top-down centered Gulf societies.

Innovation‐driven education systems are vital to diversifying Gulf economies beyond oil and gas revenues, but would creative individuals go one step further and question governance systems? Authoritarian Gulf rulers might wonder.


Ohud bint Abdullah Al Fares, Saudi Woman Educator Named to Oversee Distance-Learning

August 21, 2020

Ramadan Al Sherbini


Dr Ohud Al Fares has been appointed as supervisor of Saudi Arabia's distance-learning directorate.

Image Credit: Okaz


Cairo: Saudi education Minister Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sheikh has appointed Ohud bint Abdullah Al Fares as a supervisor of the country’s distance-learning directorate, local media reported Friday.

The ministerial decree comes days after Al Sheikh announced that the first seven weeks of the new school year, starting on August 30, will depend on distance-learning programmes as part of the kingdom’s efforts to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

Ohud has a doctoral degree in computer science and information from Britain’s Brunel University.

She expressed happiness over the appointment, citing its timing.

“I thank the education minister for his confidence by granting me supervision of electronic education and distance-learning at this crucial stage of developing electronic educational tools and strategies,” she said in media remarks.

Ohud added that the Education Ministry has employed e-education as a sustainable option leading to the creation of an e-education directorate linked to the ministry.

“Despite the great challenges facing e-education in the world as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic, the kingdom with unlimited support from its wise leadership and related bodies has succeeded in assimilating these circumstances and providing distance- learning opportunities for all,” she added. Ohud served as dean of computer science and information at the Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh.

She also acted as the deputy dean of e-education and distance- learning at the King Saud University.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has endeavoured to enhance women’s empowerment.

In 2018, the kingdom allowed women to drive for the first time in its history, as part of wide social and economic reforms championed by young Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

Saudi authorities have also allowed women to travel without a male guard’s approval and to apply for a passport, easing long-time controls on them.

In February 2019, Princess Reema Bint Bandar was appointed as the first female Saudi ambassador to the US.


Khor Fakkan girl takes Sheikha Fatima Award to the East Coast of UAE

Nandini Sircar

August 21, 2020

Dania said her disciplined approach enabled her to bag the award.

Sixteen-year-old Dania Hassan has become the only student from the eastern region of the UAE to be honoured with 'Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Award for Excellence'.

She was lauded for her outstanding academic performance, leadership skills and contribution to social, environmental and global citizenship.

"I started working towards the award criteria almost a year ago. Getting rewarded for academic and co-curricular excellence is both inspirational and motivational. Reading and hearing about other students who've received this prestigious award before me also inspired me to aim and work towards it," said the class 11 student of Gems Winchester School, Fujairah.

"But irrespective of the award, I've always believed in having a holistic approach towards everything," she added.

Dania said her disciplined approach enabled her to bag the award. "I am a sportsperson and love playing netball. I've continuously participated in various school initiatives and charity works that I genuinely like doing and is close to my heart. I have been part of beach cleaning sessions and have volunteered in other philanthropic activities raising funds for the underprivileged. The proceeds were sent to the Emirates Red Crescent (ERC). It's something that you do over the years, in a sustained manner, that ultimately pays off.

"Sheikha Fatima is a legendary figure and an inspiration for all women. Today, women are coming up in every sphere of life, it is important to recognise their achievements, leading to future potential and that's exactly what this award does."

Dania's father Dr Syed Hassan underlines how young people are the trailblazers of tomorrow and how a little bit of direction enables them to reach greater heights. "Her teachers inspired her to unlock her full potential to think and collaborate to make the world a better place. Right from the beginning, Dania has been a disciplined child who believes in utilising her time to an optimum level.

"Her gold medal and certificate is still due because of the Covid-19 situation and we are looking forward to that momentous day," added the Khorfakkan resident.

The Sheikha Fatima Award for Excellence was established by Gems Education in 2005 and highlights Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak's role as Mother of the Nation, and her vision to celebrate and support women's achievements and self-determination. The award includes a scholarship covering a year's tuition fee for a winner at each Gems school.


Pakistan- First woman MPA from Khyber gets membership of 6 KP Assembly committees


(MENAFN - Tribal News Network) PESHAWAR: Baseerat Khan Shinwari, the first woman Member of KP Assembly from Khyber tribal district associated with the Al-Haaj Karavan, which has joined the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), has been elected member of six standing committees of the provincial assembly.

Baseerat Shinwari has got membership of the standing committees of the KP Assembly on Information and Public Relations, Local Government and Rural Development, Population Welfare, Zakat and Ushr and Women Development, Science and Technology and House and Library. Baseerat Shinwari will now attend meetings of all these committees and raise issues of her constituency and rest of tribal districts.

Hailing from Shinwari tribe in Landikotal, Khyber tribal district, Baseerat has done Master''s in International Relations and Political Science. She said in a recent interview with TNN that merger of erstwhile Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was a huge development because it paved the way for first ever provincial elections in tribal districts and more tribal representatives entered the Assembly to raise voice for the rights of people.

Ms Baseerat said her party needed an educated woman who can speak for her people. She said politicians doesn''t necessarily benefit the people financially, but they can change lives with positive legislation .

The BAP MPA said she initially thought that politics will be a difficult choice, but now her success story has inspired many girls in tribal districts who have rejoined education and want to follow her footsteps.

Baseerat Khan acknowledged that people''s expectations are very high, but many things are not under her control. She said a lot has to be done in merged districts as people are deprived of basic rights. She said she is currently focusing more on providing facilities in health and education sector. She said she is also holding meetings with donors to arrange sessions for tribal women to create political awareness among them.

The woman lawmaker said the shortage of schools in tribal districts is the main reason behind low literacy rate. She said she also wants to bring more women in tribal districts in sports as there is a lot of talent in these areas.

Baseerat said her experience in the KP Assembly is good and women lawmakers are facing no problems as such.


Muslim Family On Trial For Shaving Girl’s Head Over Her Christian-Serbian Boyfriend

AFP -August 21, 2020

STRASBOURG: The parents, uncle and aunt of a teenager of Bosnian-Muslim origin will face trial in France on charges of violence against a minor for shaving her head over her relationship with a Christian-Serbian boy, prosecutors said Friday.

The girl had her hair shaven off and was also beaten in the eastern city of Besançon on Monday, judicial sources said.

“Shaved and beaten because she ‘loved a Christian’. Deeply shocked by this act of torture on this 17-year-old girl,” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter.

“This barbarity calls for the most severe punishment,” he added.

Police detained the two parents as well as the uncle and the aunt. They were released under judicial control but are banned from contacting the girl, who has been placed under protection. They are not aware of her whereabouts.

They will be tried for “violence against minors”, deputy prosecutor Margaret Parietti told AFP.

Can’t marry a Christian

The girl, who arrived from Bosnia-Herzegovina two years ago with her family, had for several months had a relationship with the young man, aged 20, of Serbian origin who lived in the same building.

“The two families knew each other and (their relationship) was not a problem, but when they started talking about marriage, the girl’s parents told her: ‘We are Muslims, you cannot marry a Christian’,” Parietti said.

The family took away her phone and stopped her from contacting her boyfriend.

The pair then fled for four days and on their return came to the apartment of the girl’s family along with the boy’s parents.

“The first blow came from the mother, then there was an outbreak of violence. She was taken to a room and beaten. She was shaved, according to her testimony, by her uncle — her father’s brother — while being beaten”, the prosecutor said.

The parents of the young man said they did not dare to intervene but he left the house to report what had happened to police, prosecutors said.

Police arrived to find the girl had been made to hide in a room by her aunt. But she was found and taken to hospital, the Est Republicain newspaper reported.

She suffered a broken rib and bruises “everywhere”, in particular “at the level of the ear”, according to Parietti.

Head-shaving in this context has a particularly shocking context in France.

It was the punishment after World War II meted out to thousands of women who had relationships with Nazi occupiers.

Bosnia’s 1992-1995 inter-ethnic war pitted Muslims, Serbs and Croats against each other and left 100,000 people dead and displaced more than two million.


British Schoolgirl, 16, Who Fled To Join ISIS With Her Twin Sister Is Moved To A High-Security


22 August 2020

A young woman who fled Manchester to join Islamic State with her twin sister has been moved to a high-security Syrian detention camp with her young son.

Twin sisters Salma and Zahra Halane fled their home in Chorlton when they were 16 years old to travel to Syria in June 2014.

They were described as academically gifted but were said to have become radicalised and ran away overnight to join a so-called ISIS 'caliphate'.

But after ISIS lost its last territory to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in March 2019, the fate of the two young women was unknown.

Sources in northeast Syria have told The Telegraph that Zahra was recently caught trying to escape from the Al Hol camp, where she had spent 16 months.

Ten thousand foreign women and children live in Al Hol, in a crowded annex separate from more than 55,000 Syrian and Iraqi citizens in the camp.

Last week, Zahra was reportedly transferred out of a women's prison to a new high-security extension to Roj camp in northeast Syria with her son Ismail, who is thought to be four or five years old.

But there are concerns from humanitarians that some of the most dangerous ISIS supporters have been moved to the new extension, camp sources told The Telegraph.

Zahra and Salma, who have become known in Britain as the 'terror twins', remain committed ISIS supporters, women in Al Hol camp have claimed.

Salma's whereabouts are unknown but it is believed that she is still alive, while her son was reportedly killed in fighting at Baghouz.

In December 2013, Salma was caught viewing ISIS propaganda at their sixth form college, which included images of a suicide vest, a boy with a machine gun and a British jihadist in Syria.

The college did not alert the police at the time because she claimed that she was trying to find her older brother, who had previously travelled to Syria to fight.

The twins, who have an older sister and seven brothers, left their fled their family home having stolen £840 from their father and crossed into Syria in July 2014.

Both young women moved to Raqqa, the capital of the caliphate, and married Islamic State fighters.

Last month, Russia Today Arabic interviewed an unnamed woman after she was caught trying to escape from Al Hol camp. The Telegraph have reportedly identified the woman as Zahra.

Speaking Arabic, the woman said: 'I want to go back home.

'If you have money, there are different ways [of escaping] and it happens very fast. You can get to Turkey easily.'

Corrupt guards and drivers have reportedly used hidden compartments inside water tanks to smuggle people out of Al Hol and into Turkey.

A Turkish woman who escaped from Al Hol said she knew the twins for 'over five years', both in the Islamic State and in the camp.

Speaking of Zahra's escape attempt, she anonymously told The Telegraph: 'I don't know where the other one might be honestly but they left together.'

The twins, who lived in Denmark before moving to Manchester when they were young, are believed to have told camp authorities they want to return there.

The UK Government is believed to have subjected the sisters to an exclusion order and revoked their residency, according to their mother Khadra Jama.



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