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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 23 Feb 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Why Does China Have Women-Only Mosques?

New Age Islam News Bureau

23 Feb 2016

Photo: Students graduate from an Islamic studies course in Sangpo, Henan Province  (Getty Images)


 Indonesia to Close All Red-Light Districts By 2019

 Sister of Slain Muslim Student Challenges Donald Trump after 'Pig Blood' Comments

 Acid Attack on Woman in Karachi

 Man Sues Wife for Insulting Erdoğan

 Parents Shocked As Kids Come Home from School Having Been 'Converted To Islam'

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Why does China have women-only mosques?

23 February 2016

The Islamic world is wide and various, its points of view almost as numerous as its people. And Islam in China, with its long tradition of women-only mosques, provides a good illustration, says Michael Wood.

In the middle of the plain of the Yellow River in Henan province is the city of Kaifeng. The old capital of the Song Dynasty, 1,000 years ago, it was one of the greatest cities anywhere in the world before the 19th Century - and a meeting place of peoples and faiths.

In the narrow alleys of the old town are Buddhist and Daoist temples, a shrine to the Goddess of Mercy, always teeming with people. There are Christian churches, and Muslim mosques - both religions came in the 7th Century (China has some of the oldest Muslim communities outside the Near East).

There is even the last remnant of China's Jewish community, which came from Persia and perhaps Yemen too, in the Song Dynasty.

Most fascinating though, are the women-only mosques, and even more surprising is that they have female prayer leaders - women imams.

The main women's mosque is close to the central men's mosque, across an alley lined with food stalls with steaming tureens and white-capped bakers making the local spiced bread.

The prayer leader here is Guo Jingfang, who was trained by her father, an imam at the men's mosque.

She took me through Kaifeng's winding alleys, stopping on the way to hold animated chats with neighbours and to pick up an order from the local cake maker, until finally we came to the ornamental gate of what looked like a little Confucian temple. Inside was a tiny flagged courtyard with a tiled roof festooned with vines and yellow flowers.

This is Wangjia Alley mosque, said to be the oldest surviving women's mosque in Kaifeng, built in 1820. The prayer hall is scarcely more than a spacious living room covered with carpets and chairs. It could hardly fit more than 50 people but it is one of the loveliest places of worship I have seen anywhere.

Outside, in dappled sunlight, we met members of the community and their prayer leader. Once a factory worker, she came from a religious family and after five years of study had become an ahong - a woman prayer leader - though she sees her main job simply as teaching women to read the Koran.

We stood in the courtyard and chatted away. Guo Jingfang saw women's mosques as a Chinese tradition but especially strong in Henan - there are 16 in Kaifeng and dozens more in the countryside around, along with small teaching schools in the big city, Zhengzhou, and in some smaller towns. Further afield, there are many more down south in Yunnan and in the north, but not in Muslim Xinjiang, where they follow a more traditional Central Asian brand of Sunni Islam.

As for how the tradition of women's mosques started, we have to go back to the founding of the Ming Dynasty in the late 1300s, when the Muslim community - previously favoured guests - suddenly became an anxious and oppressed minority. Responding to the shock of the alien Mongol occupation, the early Ming rulers waged a chauvinistic war against non-Han peoples. Minorities now aroused hostility and suspicion and were subject to a brutal policy of assimilation - the Muslims were told they must marry Han people and not among themselves.

So the 15th Century was almost catastrophic for Chinese Islam. But in the late 16th Century things improved and among the Muslims a new cultural movement began, a revival of Islamic culture and education.

A century later Chinese Muslim philosophers were able to write erudite books showing how you could be a loyal Muslim and also loyal to the Chinese state. And at this point, at the grassroots, men realised how important women could be in preserving and transmitting the faith.

So women's mosques grew out of a double movement in the Chinese Muslim world - the need to preserve the community, and the desire for women's education.

Guo Jingfang and her friends in Kaifeng think that the schools came first, and then became full mosques in the 18th Century. Education still has a big role today, from basic teaching to copying texts.

"When our mothers were girls it was the only place where poor Muslim women could receive an education: the women did it together, women supporting women," said one of the women chatting in the mosque's courtyard.

"In some places in the Muslim world it is not allowed, but here we think it a good thing. Women have had a better status here since 1949 and this is part of it."

One of the women mentioned the progressive ideas of the Islamic Association of Kaifeng, which gets men and women to work together on new education projects.

"China is changing and these are good things for the future," she said.

Later, in the main women's mosque, everyone joined in the prayers, and the men in our crew were invited too, visitors from afar.

Media captionMichael is warmly welcomed into a women’s mosque in Kaifeng.

There were 30 or so women, young and old, in coloured and embroidered headscarves, lime-green, scarlet, black spangled with silver stars. After a period of calm reflection, Guo Jingfang lifted her hands and began singing. Then facing the congregation she started the prayers. It was beautiful and simple, the sounds of the street receding so you could almost hear a pin drop. I felt privileged to be there.

Afterwards, everyone crowded round. Half our crew were women - director Rebecca, translator Qian, and assistant producer Tina Sijiao - and Guo Jingfang and her friends were as fascinated about their lives as we were about theirs. We ended with laughter and selfies - jolly pictures of pious, thoughtful, joyful women, comfortable in their skins and strong in their solidarity for women.

The Muslim community has had its ups and downs in China. Today, as in the Ming Dynasty, they are anxious to demonstrate their loyalty, as rumours come of dissent in the far west in Xinjiang - keen to point out that the old Muslims, the Hui, are loyal Chinese, just as the Han are.

But what began as a response to the patriarchy of traditional Chinese society, and to the historical situation of Islam under the Ming and the Manchus, has now also become a feminist issue.

China was isolated for much of the 20th Century, so these women-only mosques were untouched by the waves of radical Islam which came after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Now the wheel is turning again and what is seen as completely normal here in Kaifeng is being taken up in other parts of the world. Iran accepted women's mosques not so long ago. There are women's mosques in Berlin and Amsterdam, in Lebanon and Bukhara and even in Sudan. An African-American woman recently led prayers in the USA's first-ever women's mosque in Los Angeles. In the UK, the Bradford Muslim Women's Council only recently announced a plan to build the UK's first women's mosque.

To many Muslims I have spoken to, men and women, the movement is an inevitable necessary and renewing phase in the history of Islam… And if the goal is the renewal of spiritual life then the gorgeous little mosque in Wangjia Alley carries a lesson for us all.

Travelling writing and filming for the last 35 years between the Mediterranean and the Yellow Sea, I have often had occasion to reflect on how frequently the Muslim world is misunderstood, in its beliefs, but also in its customs and practices.

It's amazing isn't it how often an expert claims to talk about Islam as if it were monolithic? Sometimes you might even think the Wahhabis spoke for the majority, when actually they are a minority in a vast sea of faith with myriad points of view.

Think of the beautiful shrines of the Punjab with their haunting qawwali music. Or the other side of the coin, the old moulids - the exuberant saints' fairs of Egypt with their all-night dancing, ferris wheels and medicine shows… the spiritual and the worldly side by side, taking energy from each other.

On my travels over the years - to the Sufis in Konya (Turkey) or Sind (Pakistan), shrines like Nizamuddin in Delhi, Chishti in Ajmer (Rajasthan), or Ibn al-Arabi in Damascus, the timeless calm of Al-Azhar (Cairo), the passion of Karbala (Iraq) - I have always been struck by how full of rich difference the world of Islam is. And among those unforgettable experiences the women's mosques in Kaifeng will have a very special place.



Indonesia To Close All Red-Light Districts By 2019

February 23 2016

The closure of the Kalijodo red light district in North and West Jakarta is just one stage in the government’s ambition to close down all 168 such areas across the country by 2019 as part of its efforts to eradicate prostitution.

The government has already close down 68 red-light districts, while another 100 would be closed down within three years, said Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa on Monday, adding that the decision was made at the ministry's national working meeting in January.

Her ministry had coordinated with regional governments in an effort to close down the prostitution facilities, Khofifah said. 

"Mojokerto has prepared the closure of the only prostitution location in East Java," Khofifah said, adding that the East Kalimantan governor had also sent a letter to her to inform her of the closure of a red-light district in the province.

In connection with the closure of Kalijodo red-light district, the Social Affairs Ministry has offered former sex workers in the Kalijodo red-light district training to provide them with the various skills they need for better jobs after leaving the district, which is being demolished by the Jakarta city administration.

Those, particularly from outside Jakarta, who take up the offers would be trained at the ministry’s women social working facility (PSKW), said Khofifah during a visit to the center in Pasar Rebo, East Jakarta.

"This place is open for all former prostitutes from outside Jakarta. We will register them after they arrive here," Khofifah said, adding that the ministry was not involved in sending them to the facility as that was the job of the Jakarta city administration.

"We continue to coordinate with the Jakarta city administration regarding the closure of Kalijodo," said Kofifafah.

The demolition of the Kalijodo red-light district has become a hot topic in the media in recent weeks, following a fatal car crash in which the driver had been returning from the district. Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, supported by the police and the military, plans to demolish all buildings occupying state land and turn it into a green area.

Data from Pejagalan subdistrict show that about 500 prostitutes, mostly from West Java, worked in the red-light district.

However, so far no former prostitute has come to the PSKW to seek assistance at the ministry’s facility, which currently only accommodates 25 former sex workers, who were arrested by Public Order Agency officers, although the center can accommodate some 120 people.

The PSKW only takes care of prostitutes from outside Jakarta, while those from Jakarta will be accommodated by a social institution owned by the Jakarta city administration.

The former prostitutes in the center receive training according to their interests and talents, health care, consultations by psychologists and religious services for six months before they are sent to their respective hometowns or other places. (bbn)(+)



Sister of slain Muslim student challenges Donald Trump after 'pig blood' comments


The sister of a Muslim student killed in North Carolina last year has challenged Donald Trump to meet with her after the Republican presidential candidate made admiring comments about executing Islamic terrorists with "bullets coated in pig blood".

Suzanne Barakat, 28, is the sister of Deah Barakat, who was fatally shot alongside his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, a little more than a year ago. The couple had been married two months earlier and both were students at the school of dentistry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Razan was a second-year student at North Carolina State University.

Their neighbour, Craig Hicks, turned himself in to police later that day and has been charged with three counts of murder. Investigators are determining whether it was a hate crime, though his wife has said that the attack began over a parking dispute.

Campaigning ahead of the South Carolina primary last Saturday, Mr Trump illustrated his belief in the importance of being tough on terror with a war story about Gen John Pershing. In his recounting, which has not been historically verified, Pershing once captured 50 militants and had his soldiers kill 49 of them with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood.

“This is something you can read in the history books,’’ Mr. Trump said. “Not a lot of history books, because they don’t like teaching it.’’

After hearing his comments, Ms Barakat issued her invitation on Twitter on Sunday night. She asked Mr Trump to “meet me in person and tell me my brother, Yusor & Razan were deserving of the bullets.”

“Trump speaks as if he is the authority on American Muslims,” she told the New York Times. “Well, if you mean it then call me up and meet with me and let’s have a chat.”

Mr Trump, who easily won the South Carolina Republican primary, has not yet responded to Ms Barakat’s request.



Acid attack on woman in Karachi

February 23rd, 2016

KARACHI: A man allegedly threw acid on his wife in Zaman Town over some domestic dispute, police said on Monday.

They added that Yaseen attacked his wife, Reema, inside their home in Arkanabad, Sector-48-F, Korangi.

The woman was admitted to the Civil Hospital Karachi with burns on the face.

The man was jobless and the wife used to ask him to do some work, which infuriated him and after a quarrel he attacked his wife with acid, said the Zaman Town SHO. He said neighbours told the investigators that a heated argument erupted between the couple on Sunday at around 8am. The suspect after throwing acid on the face of his wife fled. The woman who sustained burn wounds on one side of her face reported the incident to the police on Monday. Her condition was out of danger.

The SHO said the woman had three children.



Man sues wife for insulting Erdoğan

February 22, 2016

A man in İzmir has filed a petition for libel against his wife for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the private İhlas news agency said on Monday.

According to the report, Ali D., a truck driver, recorded his wife's insults and the swear words she uttered every time she saw Erdoğan speaking on television, when he felt he could no longer support her insults against the president.

Ali's wife, G.D., reportedly filed for a divorce, while Ali filed a libel suit against his wife for insulting the president. He will use the voice recording as evidence in the case.

Erdoğan, who was elected president in 2014, is a very controversial figure in Turkey as he has freely attacked the opposition while supporting the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which is in blatant violation of the Constitution.

The Constitution requires a president to be impartial, and Erdoğan was sworn in in Parliament to be impartial in office.

Erdoğan has himself launched many libel suits against journalists, intellectuals who dared to criticize him.

A large number of people, including high school students, activists and even a former Miss Turkey, have been prosecuted for allegedly insulting Erdoğan on social media ever since he was elected.

According to a human rights report released by Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu in December of last year, more than 1,500 people have been sued by Erdoğan on libel charges and 400 more investigations are awaiting approval from the Justice Ministry.



Parents Shocked As Kids Come Home from School Having Been 'Converted To Islam'

22nd February 2016

Les Beaucamps High School in Guernsey, which handed out the homework

RED FACES: Children (not pictured) were given the homework at Les Beaucamps High School (left)

It was part of a Religious Education lesson but the stunt did not go down well with some parents.

One said it was dangerous when so many youngsters were becoming jihadis and heading for Syria and added: "The idiot who thought this one up is not fit to be at the school or in education."

The 12- and 13-year-olds at Les Beaucamps High School in Guernsey were asked to consider what it would be like to become a Muslim.

They were asked to write a letter explaining to their parents why they had converted and why their lives would be better as a result.

The homework came with a note: "Please also note this is a piece of creative writing and completely fictional YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY CONVERTING TO ISLAM."

Muslims make up less than 1% of the population on Guernsey and the island recently refused to accept any Syrian refugees.

The homework drew a negative response from many on the local Guernsey Press website.

One, Milly snr, wrote: "Teach pupils about religion by all means but be very careful when you ask them to be a Muslim.

"In this day and age when easily led youngsters are being radicalised it is a dangerous road to be taking.

"The amount of youngsters heading to Syria without their parents knowing must ring warning bells about how easily led they can be."

John West wrote: "I think it's good for children to be taught about other religions but this letter was bound to cause controversy due to the nature of talking about conversion, particularly in light of young people being radicalised in the West.

"It's a very emotive topic and really not a particularly clever move by the school."

Last year parents at a school in Texas were outraged when their children were asked to analyse ISIS and al-Qaida propaganda during a lesson.




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