New Age Islam News Bureau
24 Apr 2015
Sara Omar, paternal grandmother of President Obama, attended an exhibition detailing the life of the Prophet Mohammad in Saudi Arabia. (Photo courtesy: The Muslim Times)
• American in Syria Reveals Why She Joined the Islamic State
• Obama’s Grandmother Visits Makkah
• Malala, Sharmeen Named In NYT's Women of Impact List
• Student: Hijab Debate Unveils Parents' Biases
• Gaza Women Shed Veil, Spark Conversation
• Razia 70, Afghan Woman Returns To Give Country's Girls a Lesson in Education
• Young Western Women Who Joined Islamic State and Married Jihadi Fighters 'Now Widows'
• Daytime Show “The Real” Accused of Discrimination against Muslim Women
• Clinton Gives Glimpse of How She Plans To Run As a Woman
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
UK police compile list of girls at risk of joining ISIS
April 24, 2015
British police have compiled a dossier of “intelligence” on a group of teenage girls from London thought to be at risk of traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), a judge has heard.
Justice Hayden was told by lawyers that UK police had set up a 39-page “running log” after social workers warned that a handful of girls wanted to travel to IS-held territory, according to the Press Association.
The judge declared a number of the at-risk teenagers wards of court, which bans them from traveling abroad without a judge's permission.
The revelation about the police dossier came at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London, where cases relating to a number of teenagers thought to be at risk of traveling to IS-controlled areas were being analyzed. The judge was told the dossier included several pages of intelligence on individual girls.
The hearing focused on a girl who went missing but was picked up by police before her plane to Istanbul could depart last year. The girl “expressed great remorse” and was embarrassed, Hayden heard.
In March, five teenage girls who attend the same east London school as three girls who fled to join the IS in Syria in February were put under the travel ban.
The children, all at Bethnal Green Academy and aged 15 and 16, have been made wards of the court to prevent them departing for Syria.
In mid-February Kadiza Sultana, 16, Shamima Begum, 15, and Amira Abase, 15, fled from their homes in east London and managed to board a flight to Istanbul, from where they are thought to have traveled to Syria overland.
After the girls’ disappearance in February, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that all teenagers boarding flights to Turkey could be challenged by airlines about why they are traveling alone and if they plan to join the IS.
American in Syria reveals why she joined the Islamic State
23 April 2015
Hoda, a 20-year-old girl from Alabama in the United States of America, is the latest to run away from home to join the fight with IS.
It was a trend no one wanted to see catch on, young educated foreigners from primarily well to do backgrounds, fleeing their countries to be part of one of the most dangerous organisations in the world - Islamic State (IS). They come from all walks of life and their numbers are increasing every day.
Hoda, a 20-year-old girl from Alabama in the United States of America, is the latest to run away from home to join the fight with IS. Hoda left home in November 2014.
In a recent interview from Syria, Hoda agreed to give Buzzfeed an insight into why she wanted to leave the US and join IS. Her father Mohammed shared the family's pain and an unnamed classmate of the girl revealed the warning signs that led up to Hoda's departure to Syria. Mohammed said he wanted to share his story so no other family lost their child to the IS.
He never imagined his child would make such a choice, he said, as he had fled Yemen with his wife more than 20 years ago and all of his five children were born in the US.
The family resides a little outside Hoover, Birmingham, Alabama which was ranked as one of the top cities to live in the US. Hoover has a large Muslim community and three mosques owing to a high number of international students from the Middle East attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Hoda was a student studying business at UAB before she left for Syria.
Mohammed states that his family is like any other Muslim family in the community, and the women dressed modestly, wearing the hijab when they left home. Hoda described her parents as strict, a fact that her father did not dispute, but added that it was not extreme and believes that IS brainwashed his daughter.
He also believes that gifting her a smartphone after graduating high school resulted in her affiliation with IS. As a concerned parent, Mohammed said he regularly checked her phone, which she hated. But she only had Islamic apps like the hadiths, Quran, sura, nothing out of the ordinary.
Around 2012, Hoda turned to her religion, as she was struggling to find her purpose in life. Through her access to the internet, Hoda revealed that she got more in touch with her faith as she found scholars and readings of Islam, a year-and-a-half before fleeing to Syria. Scholar lectures about Islam on YouTube made an impact on her more than the ones in her hometown, she said.
Hoda said her dedication to her faith pleased her parents, who saw her dress more modestly and behave well. Mohammed was especially proud of her ability to retain the most important chapter of the Qur’an, Surat Al-Kahf, which talks about the backlash by the society against the first adopters of Islam who were forced to abandon their home and live in a cave.
In 2013, Hoda secretly set up a Twitter account where she gained thousands of followers and support for her opinions. Her anonymity on social media allowed her to speak freely on controversial and religious issues.
A former classmate who followed her on Twitter described Hoda as an activist who supported radical interpretations of Islam online. She said it was strange to see her persona on Twitter and the quiet girl she was in person. It almost seemed like Twitter was her alter ego. It didn't surprise the classmate that Hoda joined the IS.
Hoda’s classmates and her father both described her as a loner who didn't hang out with friends. Hoda explained it was something she chose as she did not want to associate with people who did not share her views. She said she wants every Muslim to move to the IS-controlled territory.
After secretly renewing her passport and paying for a plane ticket with her tuition money, Hoda was ready to make her move while her father was away in Washington. Hoda told her family she had a field trip to attend and that her grades depended on it. In the evening, she called her sister and lied again, saying that she'd got on the wrong bus and would return the next day. Not pleased, but unable to do anything, Hoda's family waited till the morning for her to return.
By then, Hoda had already landed in Turkey and texted her family to say that she had left to join the IS. The family was hysterical and immediately called the FBI. But by the time her father arrived from his trip the next day, she was already in Syria.
Mohammed told Buzzfeed that all attempts to urge his child back to the US failed and so he ordered the rest of his family to terminate all contact with her. After a month, Hoda informed her family of getting married to a 23-year-old fighter called Suhan Rahman, an Australian also known as Abu Jihad al-Australi on December 20. However the marriage was short-lived (just 87) days and Hoda posted on Twitter that he had died in battle.
Mohammed fears that the Muslim community and his neighbours in Hoover blame him and his wife for their daughter's choice. He fears for the rest of his children - for their future jobs and marriages.
Hoda is one of the thousands who have run away to be part of the Islamic State - 200,000 foreigners from 90 countries have fled, according to CNN. They come from all walks of life and seemingly normal backgrounds.
Like Hoda, Aqsa Mahmood from Scotland also left to join the militant group in November 2013, when she was just a 19-year-old. CNN reported that her father said she was a normal child, who listened to Coldplay and read Harry Potter books. It was only when the civil war broke out in Syria that she grew concerned and started praying a lot. Then like Hoda, she ran away to become a recruiter for the Islamic State. To encourage more women to join, she started a blog to talk about her life in the Islamic State.
However, there is no one more prominent than Jihadi John, originally named Mohammed Emwazi who is now infamous for beheading seven journalists, including James Foley. Emwazi born in Kuwait, was just six-years old when he came to the UK with his family. He attended Mohammed Kynaston Community Academy, north London and later graduated in computing from the University of Westminster in 2009. According to BBC, one of Emwazi's school teachers said he didn't have a troubled background.
Another fighter for IS was former model and well known DJ Sharky Jama (25) from Melbourne, Australia, who was described as a likeable person who also had a promising future ahead of him. He is believed to have been shot dead fighting alongside fellow militants in Syria.
Obama’s grandmother visits Makkah
23 April 2015
Paternal grandmother of U.S. President Barack Obama attended an exhibition detailing the life of the Prophet Mohammad at the end of a pilgrimage in the Saudi city of Makkah, local media reported Wednesday.
Sara Omar, who is in her 90s, arrived in Makkah - considered in Islam to be the holiest city - with her son and grandson Saeed and Mousa Obama.
Unlike the Hajj pilgrimage - a trip to the cities of Makkah and Madinah which every able-bodied Muslim is expected to undertake at least once in their lifetime - Umrah can be undertaken at any time of the year.
After finishing Umrah, Omar visited an exhibition about the life of the Prophet, commenting that it was a “good example” of what she called the moderate teachings of Islam.
“I am very happy to visit this exhibition, which is a good example for the propagation of Islam in a modern way, supported by scientific and authentic documents,” local daily Arab News quoted her as saying.
The Arabic-language Akhbar meanwhile said Obama’s grandmother cried during her visit to the exhibition.
Obama is a Christian whose religious views developed in his adult life but his father is of Muslim heritage from Kenya. Obama said both his American mother and Kenyan father were not devout.
Malala, Sharmeen named in NYT's Women of Impact list
23 April 2015
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai and Oscar-winning film-maker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy have been named in The New York Times’ Women of Impact list.
Of the 50 women given the honour, Malala occupies the 36th spot on the list. The 17-year-old received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She survived a Taliban assassination and pursued her outstanding struggle for educational rights of girls and children across the globe.
Obaid-Chinoy occupies the 48th spot on the list. She won an Oscar for her documentary Saving Face on the subject of acid violence in Pakistan. She continues to enthral audiences with her recent documentary Songs of Lahore, which received a standing ovation at the Tribeca film festival in New York.
The list includes impressive figures such as Hilary Clinton, Amal Clooney, Hilary Mantel, Angelina Jolie and Meryl Streep among others.
Student: Hijab debate unveils parents' biases
23 April 2015
Many Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab face the negative stigma that Western culture places on Islam. To bring light to the matter, BuzzFeed highlighted their experiences through a Covered Girl Challenge.
When a Mason High School organization tried to host its own Covered Girl Challenge, however, the Mason group's experiment didn't have a happy ending. After receiving backlash from community members, MHS "reconsider[ed] the event's ability to meet its objectives" and canceled it.
The ugly truth is that despite our declarations of diversity, unconscious prejudice still lingers furtively. We are careful to avoid offensive words and anything politically incorrect, but what's the point of being publicly polite if you're going to be biased at home? While I'm proud to be from Mason, I'm sorry to see that in this case, diversity was just a big word filled with empty promise.
In approving the event, organized by the Muslim Student Association, I think the school administration did mean well. They believed in the students' goal, but optimistically didn't anticipate the criticism from parents.
In response to the controversy, Mason City Schools said kids can wear religious garb at school "but at the same time, we can't promote religion." While public schools have no place interfering with religion, isn't the defense behind canceling the challenge like saying the morning announcements can't announce the after-school meeting for a Bible study group?
If the MSA required a parent consent form to participate in the event and made it clear that participation was voluntary, I don't think it would have been promoting religion. The organizers weren't trying to sell Islam to their peers; they were simply providing an opportunity for kids to experience part of their culture and maybe be more empathetic to an unnecessary stigma. There's a blurred line between religion and culture.
And though the hijab is a very visible symbol for Islam, there's so much more to it than religion. In a society that places serious emphasis on conventional female beauty, how do girls feel when all their friends wear sleeveless dresses and get their hair done for prom? How do they feel rearranging their head coverings throughout the day?
Perhaps more so than cultural diversity, this event would have been an ideal way to show that you don't have to dress a certain way, that you don't have to look like the girls on magazine covers and movie screens – something many teenagers struggle with.
The kids viewed it as culture and fashion. The adults took it as religion and politics. As much as the news headlines make MHS look like the bad guy for canceling the event, the real tension emerged when the community spoke up. Parents have a right to voice their concerns about public education, but they need to understand that reacting based on obsolete, stereotypical views is unacceptable. And that it's the 21st century.
We all are aware and accepting of the fact that we go to a school and live in a society where not everyone looks, dresses or speaks the same way. Most of all, we want to learn more about people and cultures that are different from us. We also want to learn more about what makes us the same.
Some complaints from parents were that the event would make them or their kids uncomfortable. Getting rid of prejudice isn't going to be comfortable. It's going to be very uncomfortable and awkward and unfamiliar for people who are innately biased.
Though their event got canceled, the MSA students were still able to make a statement. The fact that MHS canceled the Covered Girl Challenge, and the fact that it made national news, proves that despite priding ourselves on diversity, there's still a lot of masked prejudice that needs to be exposed and eradicated.
Gaza Women Shed Veil, Spark Conversation
23 April 2015
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Two weeks ago, journalist and film director Razan Madhoon took off her veil and posted her picture on Facebook. The move stirred a fierce backlash of comments against her and her husband, who supported her decision.
Some people even called on to return to Islam, as though taking off her veil were on par with forsaking religion. Madhoon and her husband are known for their Muslim background in the journalism world.
Madhoon’s decision came as a shock for the Gaza public, given the region's rising religiosity. Women wearing the veil or Niqab and frequenting mosques have become commonplace in the Gaza Strip. This phenomenon calls for an analysis of its underlying reasons. Is it because society is conservative that people are prone to be more religious, or because a movement affiliated with political Islam is in power? Have the wars and experiences with death drawn people closer to religion?
Sheikh Abdel Aziz Aoude told Al-Monitor, “Our society has always been religious, whether it was ruled by an Islamist party or not.” He added, “Perhaps religiosity in Gaza is only in form and does not include real social and cultural indications. For instance, praying is related to decency and order, but unfortunately the lives of religious people are chaotic, and this religious notion is not reflected in the rhythm of their [daily] lives.”
Though it may be widely believed that Gaza is a conservative society by nature, no one knows where this idea came from, as society was not as it is now in the 1960s and 1970s. Most families keep photos of their female members in their homes, unveiled and sometimes even wearing revealing clothes. The trend toward conservatism came about with the first intifada in 1987— and the birth of political Islam in Palestine, represented by Hamas.
Currently, religiosity seems to have returned to the pre-Hamas era. It is hard to say whether this indicates an inclination toward atheism, although there are many undeclared atheists in the Gaza Strip.
Islamic writer Ahmad Abu Ratima told Al-Monitor that Gaza society is facing tough social and economic conditions. The psychological repercussions of the situation mean that it is unlikely for people to behave normally. This is why a religious discourse that caters to spiritual needs and addresses social problems is so sorely needed. This widely spread discourse, so out of place its modern context, has pushed the youth to either religious extremism or complete denial of religion and the existence of god, according to Abu Ratima.
Madhoon has been under a lot of pressure, and even her daughter has felt the heat. She said, “My six-year-old daughter returned home crying when girls her age at school told her that her mum is an infidel and will burn.”
She had not expected such fierce attacks. She has read negative comments on Facebook from dozens of men and women she does not know, and received messages castigating her for her decision.
Madhoon, who stands behind her actions, noted that a large number of supporters describe her as honest and courageous, particularly during the current Islamic State threat. She said that she did not want keep wearing the veil just to satisfy the Gaza community. She said, “I recently read a lot and discovered that the issue of the veil is debatable in religion. I have been thinking about this for a whole year. I thought that it might be better to travel and remove it outside Gaza.” She added, “But then I thought that I don’t do these things. I should be myself inside and outside of Gaza.”
Abu Ratima said, “I think the veil is a symbol and identity. True, we should be open to human culture and digest innovative thoughts, but we should not abandon our identity or completely melt in another culture, either.”
He asserted that true faith comes from free will and does not fear openness, adding, “We need to turn religiosity from a social obligation to a free choice.” He explained that the political situation and the blockade limit the people’s horizons. The problem is not an intellectual one in essence, but a political one. If Gaza opens itself to the world, the environment that breeds religious radicalism or atheism would disappear.
Another civil society activist in Gaza recently took off her veil. She told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Removing the veil in Gaza cannot be described as a phenomenon. It cannot be generalized, as it is a personal choice. However, it has turned into a matter of public opinion in our society. People give themselves the right to meddle in others’ personal choices, and they judge you and measure your loyalty to your Palestinian and religious identity by whether you are veiled or not.”
She added that the blockade and the lack of real communication with the outside world have created a strict prototype for women’s appearance, though diversity had marked the Palestinian people prior to the current situation.
“I expected my decision to stir this chaos because I understand the social system that I have been living under for 25 years! I have been criticized and pressured, with many accusations aimed at guilt-tripping me and pushing me to feel ashamed about my decision,” she added.
Abu Ratima believes that it is normal to ask questions and doubt in our quest for ourselves and our identity — it is the contemporary way of understanding religious and cognitive heritage.
“In this case, religious extremism rather than spiritual depth is the threatening factor, as the former cannot solve current social and economic problems,” he said.
Sheikh Aoude believes that the pillars of Islam are its credo, action, ethics and thought. He considers a religious person to be an objective individual open to all cultures, and he believes that thinking is an Islamic duty that should not be criticized.
“People might have been put off by religion due to certain behaviours and appearances. But we should not retreat from religion based on such behaviour. We should study Islam and not link it to failed experiences. Nobody can claim that they are the sole legitimate representatives of Islam,” he said.
On her Facebook page, Madhoon has kept her veiled photos up alongside her new ones without the veil.
“I'm not ashamed of a stage in my life that formed my personality. Even though some people might see this as contradictory that was me and this is still me. My spirit has not changed,” she said.
Razia 70, Afghan Woman Returns To Give Country's Girls a Lesson in Education
24 April, 2015
DEH’SUBZ, Afghanistan — Razia Jan grew up in an Afghanistan that is very different than the one that exists today. The country of her childhood gave universal, compulsory, free education to both boys and girls.
Razia remembers a time when a forward-thinking government ruled, when Kabul was a cosmopolitan city (“Southeast Asia’s Paris,” she calls it), and when women could enjoy simple pleasures like bike riding or picnics in mixed company. It was a time before the modern-day Taliban and its draconian views about women and education.
“We were respected, and we were listened to,” remembers Razia, 70. “Our word meant something in the family. It didn’t matter how little you were; if you had to say something, they would listen. That is what I want for girls today — to have that freedom to express their view.”
Razia stands 5 feet, 3 inches tall and walks with a labored gait. But she leaves an impression of strength, energy and good humor. She personifies the qualities of revered women: protective mother, wise grandmother, outspoken aunt, devoted teacher.
In 1979, while Razia was in the US visiting an older brother studying at MIT, Russia invaded Afghanistan. As that conflict dragged on for a decade, turning into a civil war and then the Taliban takeover, what Razia intended to be a month-long visit to America became the beginning of a new life. Relatives and close friends advised her to stay away.
“Many times I wrote to mullahs who were in Iran or Pakistan and asked if it was okay to go back,” Razia says. “And they said, ‘Don’t even think about it. They’ll kill you.’”
She began her own studies in childhood education at Harvard University, married, settled down in Massachusetts, started a tailoring business and raised a son.
Three decades later, the events of September 11, 2001 changed Razia’s perspective on the two countries she had called home and her role in each. Razia could not find enough ways to express her grief over the tragedy, her compassion for victims, and her distress at seeing Islam — the religion she had peacefully practiced all her life — being manipulated for evil purposes.
When explaining why she eventually decided to return to Afghanistan to help children there, Razia credits the heroes in New York, who ran towards unknown danger to protect the innocent.
When she heard a Red Cross representative say that blankets were needed for rescue workers, Razia bought $500 worth of fleece and made 25, sending them to a ladder company with a note that said, “we are praying for you.”
Then came a call to action from her home country.
“A friend of mine told me, ‘wherever I go in Afghanistan, I see girls and boys who don't even have shoes on their feet,’” Razia remembers.
With the help of her community of Duxbury, Massachusetts, she spent the next four months gathering 30,000 pairs of shoes to send to Afghanistan. She coordinated with the US Air Force to have them delivered.
As more news trickled in about the poverty and hardship of Afghan widows, children and refugees, Razia decided to return to her home country for the first time in 38 years. She brought with her 12 suitcases full of blankets, clothes and toys for local orphanages.
When she saw the particularly harsh treatment of girls in these orphanages — many were even denied toys so that the boys could have them — Razia felt a calling to do the one thing she believes will one day save Afghanistan: educate the country’s daughters.
The Taliban had effectively stripped away girls’ and women’s right to education, employment, health care and freedom of movement—effectively segregating them and subjugating them in every aspect of Afghan life. Razia knew the first step to restoring any hope for a better quality of life for women had to begin with schooling.
“By providing girls with an education, we could give them a ray of hope to protect them from the vicious cycle of poverty, malnutrition, and hunger,” she says.
Razia chose a site in the conservative village of Deh’Subz, on the outskirts of Kabul Province, which had held strong against radicals and kept the Taliban out.
“I chose this site because these were not terrorists. They were mujahideen who had fought the Russians and the Taliban,” Razia says. While the Taliban had terrorized the community with kidnappings and extortion, they had never been able to gain a stronghold here.
She put family ties to good use to have a plot of land donated — land that had once been the site of a boys’ school but in more recent times had become the village dump; and a grant from her local Rotary Club, where she had been a member for three decades, made the bricks and mortar possible. With that, she built a new school, the very first for the village girls there, and the only free private primary education facility in the country.
“It was very tough,” she says. “When men spoke to me in this village, when we had a meeting, they wouldn’t look at me. I wasn’t covered and was talking, and they couldn’t take it. So, they wouldn’t look at me, and their heads were down. So, my head was way up high because I wanted to look in their eyes and say, ‘you have to make a change.’”
Even as the Zabuli Education Center opened in 2008, local and regional authorities clamored for the beautiful new building to be a boys’ school instead. Razia refused. When a protester argued that the boys needed the school more because men are the backbone of Afghan society, Razia responded, “And do you know what the women are? Women are the eyesight of Afghanistan, and, unfortunately, you are all blind.”
In the beginning, some girls came with their entire families, some with a skeptical father or a fearful mother, and some showed up alone. Razia, the principal, welcomed them all and sorted them into classes by their previous education — meaning that older girls who could not even write their names sometimes sat side by side with children several years their junior.
The teachers’ role goes beyond academic instruction. Many of the girls have never been asked their opinion about anything, never been allowed to speak unless spoken to, and have never been treated with respect. Instruction focuses on traditional academic subjects like reading, math, Dari, and study of the Quran, and also includes English, computers, and life skills classes.
In a country where education in general — and girls’ education in particular — is fraught with the challenges of limited resources, hostility, and a scarcity of qualified teachers, the Zabuli School’s curriculum is exemplary.
One official from the Afghan Ministry of Education said of the school, “It is perfect.”
Much of the time, cultural traditions pressure girls to stop going to school. Razia has seen a 10-year-old girl forbidden to continue her studies by the boy to whom she has been betrothed. She has seen a father so conflicted about schooling his daughters he allows just one to come as a test case before considering sending the others. She has seen an aunt who insists she must keep a 12-year-old niece home to do chores.
Razia handles it with grace and ingenuity. She negotiates for the betrothed girl to continue school (that she will feed the girl for free is no small factor), she teaches the first daughter allowed to attend to write her father’s name so as to inspire his pride and respect, she knocks on the aunt’s door to plead the case of the child.
Razia encourages the girls to stay in school as long as they possibly can, but she also reminds them that everything they learn, no matter how many days or years they study, becomes a part of them that will better their lives.
“No matter how little you know,” she says, “no one can take it from you.”
In order to ensure the school’s continued success, security must be considered in every aspect of its operation, especially in light of Taliban attacks on other girls’ schools around the country.
Each morning, the school’s principal tests the water to make sure it’s safe — water at other schools has been poisoned. High walls surround the building and the playground. Guards protect the school 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And even with these precautions, there is always an element of fear.
“As the security situation is so fragile in Afghanistan, you never know what tomorrow brings,” Razia says.
Through kindness, diplomacy and generosity with the community, Razia has built a strong alliance with the village elders whose support of the school is critical to its security. Razia tells them she would lay down her life to protect the girls — and she would expect every one of them to do the same.
Despite the challenges Razia has faced, the Zabuli School is thriving. There are 450 students, and local leaders send their own daughters — a powerful endorsement in a conservative village.
Without question, girls' education is the biggest success story of America's involvement in Afghanistan. During the Taliban reign, virtually no girls were in the classroom; five years ago there were an estimated 2 million girls in school, and today there are close to 8 million, according to the Ministry of Education.
Razia is grateful to the American soldiers who risked their lives to oust the Taliban, and she trusts that the US will stand by the progress it played a key role in. With most troops gone now and many private organizations following in their wake because they no longer feel secure, Razia is determined to continue what she started.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she says.
In November, at the end of this school year, Razia will hand out diplomas to the first seven students to graduate from the Zabuli School.
“It is so powerful for me to look at that and feel, ‘Yes, there is a success in these girls’ lives,’” she says. “That will be the happiest day of my life.”
Young Western Women Who Joined Islamic State and Married Jihadi Fighters 'Now Widows'
24 April, 2015
At least 15 young Western women who joined Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and married Jihadi fighters are now widows after the militant group suffered losses in clashes in Syria and Iraq, according to researchers who closely monitor Islamist radicals online.
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) think tank in London gave Reuters access to its database of 106 foreign women it says have moved to Isil territory and are active online.
Fifteen of the women have either mentioned on social media that they lost their husbands in fighting, or other known Isil supporters have announced the men's deaths online, said ISD researcher Melanie Smith.
Although Reuters could not independently confirm the identities of the women, many of them have been said by relatives to have left their home countries for Syria and Iraq. Some have also been named by law enforcement officials in their countries or leave online traces, such as having geographical locators on their Twitter accounts.
Ms Smith said most of the women believed to be widows lost their husbands in the last six months. Isil, which swept through northern Iraq last June, has recently suffered some battlefield setbacks including at the Syrian city of Kobane where it was defeated by Kurdish forces backed by US-led airstrikes.
The morale of foreign women is a concern for Isil because it is trying to attract females from abroad to marry Islamist fighters and populate the territory it holds.
The latest edition of the Isil online magazine Dabiq urged "every (foreign) sister who has been afflicted with the loss of her husband on the battlefield" not to become disheartened.
"Be firm, my dear sister, be patient, and await your reward. "Be wary, be wary of thinking of going back (home)," it said in an article, which told foreign women that migrating to the Islamic State is a binding religious obligation.
Given the anonymity of the Internet and the status of Isil women who are hidden from public view, identifying Western females in the group's ranks is difficult.
Ms Smith's database counts foreign women who identify themselves as living in territory controlled by Isil and are active on social media. They will often indicate their nationality in Twitter bios or pseudonyms.
In Isil, women whose husbands have been killed soon move out of their marital homes and join a "shuhada" house for the widows of martyrs, according to their postings.
The widows are encouraged to marry again soon after a traditional Islamic mourning period of four months and 10 days, according to Aqsa Mahmood, a Scottish woman of Pakistani origin whose family has acknowledged her identity. Mahmood has a Tumblr blog that details her life in Syria with Isil.
The women often write about life in IS territory in detailed postings and tweet photographs of street scenes in Syria or Iraq. Their postings range from expressions of grief to calls to assassinate Western leaders to occasional expressions of discontent over their treatment. Their posts do not appear to be centrally controlled by Isil, researchers say.
Rita Katz, founder of the US-based SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadi websites, said there were likely many more than 15 widows since the foreign women tend to marry Isil fighters.
"Not all of them are online tweeting about it," she said.
Ms Smith says that all of the 15 widows she has identified are between 16 and 26 years old. Based mostly on references in their postings, she believes that seven of them are British, with others from France, Belgium, Canada, the United States, Australia and South Africa.
A woman known online as Umm Jihad said her Australian husband Suhan Rahman was killed in March. He "died the best of deaths so it's nothing to be upset about, it's just that we're still here, that's the hardest part," she later tweeted.
BuzzFeed News reported that Umm Jihad is a 20-year-old woman of Yemeni descent from Hoover, Alabama, which would make her the first known US woman to be widowed. BuzzFeed interviewed the woman's father who acknowledged she had joined Isil.
Reuters was unable to verify the father's identity or contact him
Daytime Show “The Real” Accused of Discrimination against Muslim Women
April 24, 2015
Daytime show “The Real” has been slammed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations for alleged discrimination against Muslim women.
The council’s LA office filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleging the show in February asked two women wearing hijab head scarves to “move out of camera view during a show taping.”
The council claims the women were told they couldn’t be seen in a front row, “in accordance with studio policy.”
Fatima Dadabhoy — the senior civil rights attorney for the council’s LA chapter — said in a statement, “Warner Bros. has no legal justification for removing the Hijab-wearing women from the camera’s view. No studio should maintain such a discriminatory policy that prohibits people wearing religious head coverings from being seen in its studio audiences. It’s especially baffling that this particular show would want to hide their visibly-Muslim viewers, when the show purports to cater to a wide-ranging audience with its diverse cast.”
The organization claims that, “While waiting to enter the taping, studio officials told the… hijab-wearing women [that they] could not sit in the front row because they should not be seen on camera in accordance with studio policy. They complied with the request.”
A Warner Bros. Television rep said: “Warner Bros. policy is to welcome everyone and anyone into our studio audience. ‘The Real’ is a show that was created to represent and celebrate diversity. We take this inquiry seriously and are looking into the matter.”
The syndicated show stars Tamar Braxton, Loni Love, Adrienne Bailon, Jeannie Mai and Tamera Mowry-Housley. It celebrated its 100 episode in February, and has hosted guests including Ray J, Terrell Owens, Terry Crews, William H. Macy and Kyle Richards.
Mowry-Housley has previously posted on the show‘s site: “I love to be traditional and just because you are conservative or a traditional person doesn’t mean you have to be boring! …The greatest thing about America is its diversity and this show reflects that diversity. No matter who you are, there is someone at this table that will be speaking for you.”
Clinton gives glimpse of how she plans to run as a woman
April 24, 2015
WASHINGTON (AP) - Hillary Rodham Clinton's passionate speech Thursday appealing for expanded rights and opportunities for women in the U.S. and around the world wasn't supposed to be a campaign event. But it might as well have been.
Addressing the annual Women in the World summit, Clinton made a forceful case for protecting women's health care choices and expanding paid family leave. The front runner for the Democratic nomination, Clinton criticized "those who offer themselves as leaders" but oppose equal pay for women or want to defund Planned Parenthood - a veiled reference to some of her Republican rivals.
The speech in New York provided one of the first glimpses of how Clinton will seek to tout her gender as an asset in the 2016 campaign. Her advisers have long said they regret downplaying the history-making potential of her candidacy during her failed 2008 White House bid and have vowed to not make the same mistake this time around.
Still, that doesn't mean Clinton herself will be talking explicitly about the prospect of being the first woman to occupy the Oval Office. She made only veiled references to her candidacy Thursday, including saying she had wanted to be at the event "regardless of what else I was doing."
In her first two weeks as a candidate for the Democratic nomination, Clinton is instead letting her choice of events and campaign themes do the talking on the subject of a woman attaining the presidency.
During trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, that's meant casting herself as a "champion" for American families and focusing on issues that traditionally resonate with women, like paid family leave, education and childcare. Her campaign reasons that such issues are relevant to men with families, too.
Clinton's first events as a candidate have been small discussions with voters aimed in part at showing her softer side. She's peppered her remarks with references to her late mother, her daughter and her infant granddaughter.
And she's been talking directly this week, as she's done often over the years, about rights and opportunities for women. She did so Wednesday when Georgetown University honored recipients of a prize that carries her name, the Hillary Rodham Clinton Award for Advancing Women in Peace and Security.
At the Women in the World conference, which brings together female political leaders, activists and celebrities, she said she was optimistic that women were on the brink of making important progress.
"I'm grateful that there is now a new burst of energy around the rights and opportunities of women and girls," she said.
When Clinton first ran for president in 2008, she played down the prospect that she would be the first woman to run the country. She focused instead on her experience and grit.
That was, in part, an attempt to head off any voter concerns that a woman might not be tough enough to serve as president. It was also seen as a way to draw a contrast with Barack Obama, a freshman senator at the time.
Obama rarely talked about himself as the possible first black president during the 2008 campaign. But his supporters sometimes made that case and his team was adept at harnessing the enthusiasm of voters who were energized by his historic candidacy.
Some Clinton supporters say the former first lady may be able to do the same in the 2016 contest.
"For many voters, the chance to make history will be very important," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress.
Though women still trail men as political office-holders, women wield enormous power in national elections. They made up just over half of the electorate in the 2012 presidential election. About 55 percent of women backed Obama.
While Clinton will need to hold together the coalition of young people, black and Hispanic voters that also helped Obama win the White House, some Democratic strategists say she could offset some losses there by picking up a few more percentage points among women in key swing states.
To some Republicans, Clinton's projection of a softer, more family-friendly side is simply a political ploy and an attempt to avoid talking about her record as secretary of state. Among her fiercest critics has been Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO who is the only Republican woman expected to run for president.
"She wants to make it a gender-based campaign," Fiorina said in an interview.
Clinton's advisers say she is simply talking about issues that are important to the middle class, and not ducking her record.
"Hillary is focused on talking with everyday Americans about the issues that impact their lives, and our nation's future," said Karen Finney, a spokeswoman for the campaign.
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