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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 30 Dec 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Women's Prayer Room Splits Paris Mosque

New Age Islam News Bureau

30 Dec 2013

Muslim woman (illustrative only)


 Muslim Girls Joining School in Kanodar Village in Large Numbers

 Muslim Missionaries Converting Jewish Women in Israel

 Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Campaigners Make Progress in Egypt

 Volgograd Suicide Bomber's Identity Confirmed, Photos Now Public

 Pussy Riot Pardon May Have Broader Impact on Blasphemy in Russia

 In The Name Of ‘Honour’: Teenage Girl, Neighbour Killed In Pakistan

 UN Children’s Expert Praises Canada’s Focus on Fighting Forced Marriage of Girls

 UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie's School Changes Lives In Afghanistan

 6 Girls Back Home after Three Years' Jail in India

 Kashmir Hosts Conference on Zainab

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Women's Prayer Room Splits Paris Mosque

 Dec 30, 2013

CAIRO – A decision by leaders of France’s biggest Islamic center to dedicate separate room for Muslim women for prayer has aroused anger of some women, who demand a right to pray alongside men...

“To give them more comfort, we have granted women a large room – not in the basement, but in the mezzanine," a spokesman for the Great Mosque in Paris told Le Figaro, The Local reported.

"All the women are satisfied. Of course they can’t see the imam, but they couldn’t before either, because they were behind a curtain,”

The decision to accommodate the growing number of female Muslim worshippers in separate rooms has been issued earlier this month.

According to the fresh ruling, genders must be separated during prayers at the Great mosque in Paris.

Before the ruling, women used to pray in the main communal prayer room behind the men concealed behind a curtain.

The new decision to dedicate a separate room for female worshippers was welcomed by several Muslim women.

"I come on average five times a week and this new room is big, intimate, and we are within the mosque – that’s the most important thing,” a woman called Ilham told French television TF1.

Yet, the new service has one negative thing from the women's point of view

“The only negative thing is that we have to pass in front of the men’s ablution room,” said Siham, aged 34.

During the days of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), men and women used to pray together in the mosque, with men taking first lines behind the imam, followed by children and women.

Prophet Muhammad did not make or ask his Companions to have a curtain or wall between the lines of men and women.

The wisdom of separating men and women during prayers nowadays is to protect Muslims, both men and women, from any distracting ideas or evil suggestions that the devil may whisper into their hearts.

This is especially between men and women, in order to keep their hearts pure and sincere and busy only with Prayer.

For the same reason, the mixing between men and women in general has special rules in Islam.


Despite being welcomed by many Muslims, the new separate room for female worshippers at the Great mosque of Paris was opposed by some women.

“Moving the women is unjustifiable. We want to talk about this decision,” said Hanane Karimi, the spokesperson for the opposing women.

Rejecting the rule, some female worshippers have argued their right to pray in the main communal prayer room.

A week ago, the attempt of dozens of opposing women to enter the main prayer room of the mosque was foiled after they were prevented by mosque's security men and other worshippers.

“They were the victims of a violent outburst” during their attempted entry, Karimi noted.

Women's foiled attempt to enter the mosque followed several requests to the rector of the Great Mosque to allow them to pray in the main hall.

The women’s position was much criticized by members of France's Muslim community, considering there objection as a “campaign operated by some extremists”.

“The mosque allows the faithful to pray calmly. It’s not a place of controversy and discord,” said Abdallah Zekri, President of the National Observatory against Islamophobia.

France is home to a Muslim minority of six millions, Europe’s largest.

Muslims and their customs and traditions have been under the spotlight in recent years in France.

In October 2012, a poll by Ifop's opinion department found that almost half of French see Muslims as a threat to their national identity.

The poll also found that most French see Islam is playing too influential role in their society.



Muslim girls joining school in Kanodar village in large numbers

Pramod Panwar,TNN | Dec 30, 2013

PALANPUR: A small intervention in the field of education by a trust has resulted in a very large number of Muslim girls joining school in Kanodar village of Banaskantha district.

Located on Ahmedabad-Mount Abu highway, this village has Shia Momins comprising 80 per cent of its 15,000 population.

Repeated efforts by Jafri Education Trust to persuade the parents to send their daughters to school have yielded successful results. "How can we keep our girls away from the modern education that comprises fields like information technology, medical research, computers and even sports? Religion is not against education. Then why do we leave girls to play the second fiddle," said Mohammed Hussein Kadiwala, president of the trust also popularly known as Khan Saheb.

The Jafri English medium school was started in 1994 and today 250 of its 750 students are girls who have been performing exceptionally well.

"The school has been achieving 100 per cent results since 2004 when we got recognition from Gujarat Secondary Education Board (GSEB) for conducting examinations," said principal Raymond D'Souza.

Jahida Shelia, a 35-year-old science teacher said, "It's mandatory for women to wear the veil, but that does not obstruct the teaching and learning."



Muslim Missionaries Converting Jewish Women in Israel

 Dec 30, 2013

Dar Al-Islam center in Arab Israeli village preys on unhappy Jewish women, ropes them into Islam.

One Jewish woman converted to Islam after immigrating from the Caucasus; the other, from Croatia. Al-Jazeera reports that an organization in the Arab Israeli village of Kafr Qara has been, systematically and slowly, spreading Islam to Jewish women.

The group is called Dar Al-Islam (lit. "house of Islam"), and is located in the village of Kafr Qara, in north-central Israel.

One of the converts has renamed herself Aisha - after the wife of the Muslim prophet Mohammed who married him at age 9. When Aisha was visiting Israel from her native Caucasus, an Arab handed her a pamphlet entitled "The Way to Happiness." Back home, when afflicted with a serious illness, Aisha thumbed through the pamphlet.

The pamphlet gave her comfort - and roped her in to the world of Islam. After she contacted the Dar Al-Islam organization, who had distributed the pamphlet, she studied Islam rigorously for 6 months before going to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem to convert.

According to the report, she kept Islam in secret for months, only revealing her decision to her father; she describes her mother as a religious Jew and an "extremist." Eventually, she ran to the Dar Al-Islam center, where she lived there with 5 other Jewish girls who had chosen to convert to Islam.

Aisha's friend, a woman in her mid-twenties from Croatia, chose the name Hanin when she converted. She claims what drew her to the faith is "the way Islam treats women and family life" as well as seeing positive conversion experiences from her friends.

The center's director, Sheikh Rassan Athamneh, is also Imam of the Nida Al-Haq Mosque. The center publishes books on Islam in several languages​​ - including Hebrew - and sends out missionaries of sorts of both genders to spread Islam in Israel.

From the report, it is evident that women are the primary target of the organization - especially unhappy Jewish women with little to no background. The organization appears to lure them into the fantasy of a traditional family life, while leaving out the systemic discrimination Islam often employs against women.

According to Islamic law, women must ask permission to leave the house at any time. After marriage, a woman is instructed that she must be available at all times to satisfy her husband's whims - with or without her explicit consent. The Quran allows husbands to hit their wives if they disobey them, and it is common for Muslim men to take multiple wives.

The tactic of luring women away from modern Western views of women's roles is not new among Islamists. In December, the pan-Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir held an event in Jerusalem, featuring a 13-year-old girl preaching against women's rights.



Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Campaigners Make Progress in Egypt

 Dec 30, 2013

CAIRO, Egypt (WOMENSENEWS)-- Egyptian gynecologist Dr. Randa Fakhr Eldeen still remembers the horror she felt 20 years ago at seeing a victim of female genital mutilation, or cutting, for the first time.

The girl, only about 10 years old, had been rushed to Manshiet el Bakry Hospital's emergency room in the capital, suffering massive blood loss. Eldeen, still in training, said she was confused by the girl's life-threatening injuries.

"I didn't know what had happened because we don't practice FGM/C in my family . . . It's not taught in medical school . . . She was unconscious and we had to give her [several] blood transfusions. I think she was given six bags of blood. She was going to die and her mother [kept] crying about her hymen," recalls Eldeen. "I couldn't stay in the emergency room. I had to leave. I was crying."

FGM/C, also known as female circumcision, has a long history in Egypt. She says the practice came from Ethiopia during the Pharaonic era. In 2007 the practice was outlawed after the death of a 12-year-old in Minya. Nonetheless, the vast majority of women between 15 and 49 have endured the procedure. A 2008 Egyptian Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) of women married at least once puts the estimate at 91 percent.

The procedure usually involves cutting off the clitoral hood, clitoris and some or all of the labia. Sometimes the wound is stitched together, leaving just a small orifice for urination. Many here see it as a tenant of Islam, despite widespread debate among Muslim scholars on the topic. Others treat the procedure as a "coming-of-age" milestone that ensures their daughters will not be promiscuous in a country that stigmatizes premarital sex, particularly for women.

Teen Dies in Hospital

The issue flared up in the media over the summer after 13-year-old Suhair al Bata'a died undergoing the surgery in a hospital northeast of Cairo. The family's lawyer said a health report showed the teen died of "a sharp drop in blood pressure resulting from shock trauma."

The practice might be illegal, with fines and jail time mandated by law, but few have been prosecuted. Before, many sought out village midwives, known as dayas, but nowadays Egyptians are turning to modern medicine. Experts say families believe their daughters will be safer under the care of doctors, and medical professionals are all too willing to provide their services for a fee.

In response to Suhair's death, the nongovernmental Coalition Against FGM/C launched the Kamla (Complete) campaign in June. The campaign included workshops, public information sessions and summer programs hosted in 11 governorates across Egypt.

Eldeen, the project coordinator, says her team's aim is to challenge the status quo and give girls bodily autonomy.

"[FGM/C] is accepted because it is a tradition that people think benefits girls," she says. "If you want to change things, you have to change how a person thinks. This has nothing to do with her health. We have to protect their bodies. They're young girls; they can't protect themselves, so we have to prevent this kind of violence."

The program also seeks to give women affected by FGM/C a safe place to talk about what is often a painful and risky procedure that can result in permanent scarring, infections, cysts, infertility, complications in childbirth and pain during intercourse.

Although 23-year-old Mona (not her real name) spends most of her time working on the coalition's finances as an assistant, she truly shines center stage at Kamla workshops where she speaks to children and teens of both sexes about FGM/C. Usually her audience is reluctant to speak about such a personal topic until Mona shares her own story.

"I was 8 or 9. I lived in a very poor area. My family brought a daya and she cut me. [Afterward] I stayed in bed for a week and a half because I was so small and bled so much," Mona says.

Speaking Up

She got involved with the coalition after attending a talk hosted by Eldeen. Not wanting her three younger sisters, aged 15, 8 and 5, to undergo the same ordeal, she spoke up, and convinced her mother that FGM/C had nothing to do with preserving a girl's honor or Islam.

"Working for the coalition gave me more confidence. I feel better now that I have an understanding of what happened to me and how to overcome it," Mona says.

So far, Kamla's message has reached hundreds of government workers, nongovernmental organizations, educators, health advocates and religious figures, in addition to over 2,300 children and families. The Kamla campaign has also made a mark online, with more than 169,000 users viewing its Facebook page or the coalition's videos.

Journalist and author Shereen El Feki say similar movements to curb the practice have been around for decades. But it was in 1994 that the government of deposed President Hosni Mubarak began to give real backing to national anti-FGM/C campaigns with the help of numerous international and domestic nongovernmental organizations. In her 2013 book "Sex and the Citadel," which examines sexuality in Egypt and the Arab world, El Feki describes some gains for campaigners.

According to research she cites in her book, almost every Egyptian woman over 45 has been circumcised, but among teens between 15 and 17 that figure is lower at 80 percent. The numbers are lower still when it comes to wealthier or urban residents as well as families with mothers with high school or post-secondary education. Some even predict the national average will fall to 50 percent among 18 year olds over the next 12 years or so.

"Until we have the latest DHS figures . . . it's hard to tell national trends. But certainly evidence up to 2011 showed that FGM was decreasing substantially in certain populations," El Feki said an email interview. But in her opinion, FGM/C will remain prevalent until Egypt's cultural paradigm shifts.

"The forces that drive FGM are deeply rooted in society, which is why it takes so long to make a dent in the practice. I would argue that FGM is one of the few subjects related to women's sexuality that is not taboo in Egypt," she said. "For many women in Egypt, circumcision is a point of pride, not a shame to conceal."



Volgograd suicide bomber's identity confirmed, photos now public

 Dec 30, 2013

The suicide bomber who set off a 10kg TNT charge today in the southern Russian city of Volgograd had officially been identified as Oksana Aslanova, a 26-year-old Tabasaran national from Turkmenistan, the Voice of Russia's source reports.

An explosion rocked the railway station in Volgograd at 12:45 Moscow Time on Sunday, December 29th . According to the latest reports, 14 people were killed and dozens injured. One of the current version of events, the terrorist attack was carried out by Oksana Aslanova from Daghestan but that information needs to be confirmed,” the source said.

The woman was married to a militant warlord who was killed during a recent special operation. She was married several times. Investigators are searching for the relatives of Dagestani bandits suspected of masterminding terrorist attacks in Central Russia.

Investigations to establish the whereabouts of Oksana Aslanova has been underway in Daghestan since June of 2012.

Oksana Aslanova was reportedly born June 16, 1987 in Turkmenistan. She later moved to live in Russia’s North Caucasian Republic of Dagestan. She settled in the city of Derbent at 15/41, Rasulbekov Street and studied at the Dagestan State Pedagogic University.

She married Mansur Velibekov, a Chechen radical and member of the Southern (Yuzhnaya) criminal ring that was wiped in 2008. Upon her death, Velibekov’s widow became a so-called “Sharia wife” of the gang’s leader, Gasan Abdulayev.

Another report suggests that Aslanova was also married to a known terrorist, Israpil Validzhanov, who went under the nickname of Amir Hasan. He was eliminated on March 18, 2011 near the Dagestani village of Tashkapur.

There is no information about her since March 8, 2012 it is possible that the so-called "black widow", who outlived all her husbands, underwent training as a suicide bomber.

Her ID was reported as follows: passport series 6706 No 719598, issued on Aug. 25, 2007 by the Federal Migration Service in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region. She was registered at the address: 12/34, 1 Mikrorayon, city of Raduzhny in Nizhnevartovsk district in the Region of Tyumen.

Another theory has it that the Volgograd bombing was carried out by a male terrorist who carried explosives in a backpack, a police source told Russia's Interfax news agency.

“We’ve discovered that the suicide bomber was in fact a man who brought the IED to the railway station in a rucksack. His identity has been determined.”

The source did not name the alleged attacker, but added investigators had found an unexploded hand-grenade and a pistol at the scene, which presumably belonged to the terrorist.

Yet another police source in the North Caucasus region told Interfax the railway station’s CCTV footage also showed a man who might have been behind the bombing. “Videos from the building’s cameras suggest that the terror attack was apparently carried out by a man, although this information needs to be confirmed.”

As Dmitry Rutkov, psychologist and blogger from Volgograd, said in an interview with the Voice of Russia, people were not surprised by this attack.

"People received information from Internet and from other people. There is a list of injured and dead people but it is not full. I can see now in the Internet – the list of injured: there are only 11 people, but now in the Internet people are saying that there are 18 dead people. The scariest thing is that people were not surprised by this terror attack. It’s even scarier than the explosion itself," he said in an interview.

Volgograd is a major transportation hub in southern Russia, and this probably explains why it has been a target for bombings on two occasions in the last few months, a law enforcement source in the North Caucasus Federal District said in comments on Sunday's suspected suicide attack in the city that claimed at least 15 lives.

"It is, indeed, the second time that Volgograd has become a target for terrorist attacks. First of all, a female suicide attack set off an explosive device and then at a train station," the source told Interfax.

"Apparently this city is attractive to terrorists as it is a major transportation interchange hub in the south of Russia. The terrorist act carried out there has inevitably caused wide-scale reverberations, and that is the objective of the criminals," he said.

The station had apparently been the target for Sunday's blast, which is thought to have been perpetrated by a female suicide attacker, the source said.

"One can go to Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities from that station, but it isn't very likely that the female suicide bomber, with more than 10 kilograms of TNT on her, would have ventured a long-distance trip on a train or bus," he said.

Detectives are exploring strong suspicions that there is a well-organized militant group based in Volgograd, according to the source.

"There are most likely people in Volgograd who can meet an evildoer, supply her with explosives, and send her to a crowded place to carry out a terrorist act," the source said.

Investigators also believe it is highly likely that the suspected bomber came from the Caucasus, most likely from the Dagestan republic.

Earlier, a Dagestani law enforcement source said records on everyone who had left Dagestan in the past few days were being checked in trying to trace Sunday's suspected attacker. The bomb set off at the entrance to the Volgograd-1 station on Sunday claimed 15 lives and left about 50 people injured, according to updates.

As Sunday's attack, October's bus explosion is believed to have been perpetrated by a female suicide bomber. The attack is confirmed to have immediately claimed six lives and is believed to have killed the bomber as well. The toll rose as a woman injured in the attack died in a Moscow hospital on November 18.

A Female suicide bomber blew herself up in a train station at the southern Russian city of Volgograd, killing over a dozen people and injuring scores more in the city's second deadly bombing in just over two months. According to Russia's Investigative Commitee, the power of the bomb blast was equivalent to 10 kg of TNT.

At least 14 people were killed, including one child, in a blast at a railway station in the city of Volgograd.

Earlier it was reported that between 13 and 18 people were killed and up to 50 more were wounded, according to various estimates by Russian officials, by the blast near the metal detectors at the Volgograd-1 train station's front entrance at 12:45 pm (8:45 am GMT).

Some victims of the explosion are being evacuated by Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry by plane to Moscow, approximately a 90-minute flight away, for medical help.

Investigators said they have opened a criminal case into the attack for terrorism and weapons trafficking.

The Voice of Russia's interview with Joseph Linder , president of the International Anti-terrorist Training Association.

Could you please comment on the suicide bombing in Volgograd?

What happened today was clearly a tragedy. It was yet another random terrorist attack that killed and wounded scores of people. It's a real tragedy, and I can't find other words for what's happened.

What is the latest death toll? How many people have been injured?

Well, the data keep changing. The death toll now stands at over a dozen of people, somewhere between 13 and 15. Another 60 have been wounded. The crowd there was rather dense, hence a high proportion of the reported casualties. Unfortunately, the death toll may yet rise, depending on how hospitalized people will be faring. They are now receiving medical treatment or operated on in Volgograd hospitals. Let's hope there won't be any more deaths. But the current number of deaths is, of course, already too many. The estimates differ, although over 12 people are said to have been killed instantaneously. Some reports put the death toll at around 20 people, or 18 to 20. The final estimates will come in about three days, because the condition of blast victims may yet change over the next couple of days after surgery. In any case, it's a tragedy.

Has the report about a female suicide bomber been confirmed?

I'm afraid an expert is in no position to answer this particular question. Only a representative of the local investigative authority can do that. I'm speaking about the Federal Security Service, the Ministry of the Interior, Russia's Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General's Office, since no expert in his right senses will risk a conclusion like that without hearing the official account of events, even if there's been enough information. It's basically a matter of professional ethics.

Right. Is there a way to boost security in places of mass gathering?

First of all, we need to improve professional skills of security agents who admit people into crowded areas. For instance, it's no surprise that there's a lot of security control going on at international airports, and everyone is used to it. Unfortunately, there's no such control system in place at railways stations. It would need even more substantial funding and highly-trained security personnel posted at every entrance to all platforms and other railway zones. The entire infrastructure should be changed to put it on perimeter lockdown as airfields do. But it means a higher level of spending and another way of staffing. But we'll need much more cash to train personnel.

Are metal detector gates effective in that sense?

Metal detector walk through gates are quite efficient when it comes to looking for objects that have metal in them, such as edged weapons, firearms, explosives with metal components, although gates are less effective when looking for plastic explosives or the so-called "composites," which have insignificant amounts of metal in them. Therefore, we need more adequate control methods, which will increase the time of checks at railway stations and the number of entry points to prevent people from queuing in more areas as it would just increase the number of at-risk zones. We'll need more trained security staff. All of this will eventually raise ticket prices, because these novelties will be paid for out of the buyer's pocket, despite federal funding.

What are the specifics of anti-terrorist activities in Russia's southern federal district?

Anti-terrorist activities are more or less the same across the country. There are federal anti-terror laws in place, so every federal district abides by the same regulations that apply to Russia as a whole. The only difference is that the southern anti-terror authority has to bear in mind all the ethnic, social and geographical conditions in the Volgograd region and generally in the southern federal district. The rest of conditions are true of the entire country and every administrative entity in Russia.

The bomb that went off at a train station in Volgograd on Sunday was no less powerful than 10 kilograms of TNT, according to the Russian Investigative Committee.

"Apparently, there might have been a lot more fatalities had it not been for the so-called protective system, which prevented the suicide bomber from getting through metal detectors into the waiting room, where there was a large congestion of passengers, including because three trains had been delayed," Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said.

"At the moment witnesses of the crime are being identified and a series of necessary forensic tests have been ordered that will help the investigators find out all the circumstances of the crime and identify the dead bodies, including that of the suicide bomber," Markin said.

Earlier, Markin had said that remains of the presumed bomber had been found on the attack site and that a genetic identification test was planned.

The authorities of Volgograd are providing all necessary assistance to the families of those who died in the blast and those who were were injured, says Maria Ivanchenko, reporter for Volgograd-based Akhtuba TV company

Tell us please where you are and how far you are from the scene?

I’m reporting from Hospital No 25 – one of the best Volgograd hospitals – that is now treating some of the railway station blast victims. Governor Sergei Bozhenov has arrived at the hospital to speak with the people and see if they are provided with all necessary treatment. Medics say that the majority of the injured have lacerated wounds.

What are the latest numbers of the dead and injured?

The official death toll is at 13 to 15 people, with 37 wounded.

How could you comment on the current situation?

There’s no panic in Volgograd, although downtown traffic was earlier reported to be jammed. It has got much better since then. The situation is under control.

How are the local administration and the governor tackling all this?

The regional administration is doing everything in its power to help those affected by the deadly blast and their families. We are waiting for an emergency plane to land in the next few hours. It’s a specially equipped aircraft that will take the wounded to Moscow. Gov. Sergei Bozhenov said that families of those who perished in the bombing would be paid a million rubles each.

What help is available to the injured? How are they being treated?

The 37 victim are now receiving all medical help they need, they have been brought to the best hospitals in the city – Hospital No 25, Regional Hospital No 1, and Hospital No 7. They are taken care of by the best specialists and have all the medicament and surgical treatment at their disposal.



Pussy Riot Pardon May Have Broader Impact on Blasphemy in Russia

 Dec 30, 2013

Two imprisoned members of Pussy Riot have walked free under an amnesty plan that may partially reverse a law against religious blasphemy in Russia. Last week, a court in Moscow ordered the release of Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who were imprisoned for a “punk prayer” asking the Virgin Mary to get rid of Vladimir Putin. The pardon that resulted in the pair’s release may also impact a recent change to the Russian criminal code, which made insults to religious believers’ feelings punishable by imprisonment.

The amnesty, in recognition of the twentieth anniversary of the Russian constitution, will free as many as 22,000 prisoners and persons awaiting trial. Most of the prisoners eligible for release are those without previous convictions who are serving prison sentences of less than five years for non-violent offenses. The law allows for attention to mitigating factors, such as pregnancy, the parenting of young children, and the youth of the offenders themselves. Both Alyokhina, 25, and Tolokonnikova, 24, whose offenses were nonviolent, are mothers of children under age six.

The amnesty appears to have little to do with the nature of their activist message. Upon her release, Alyokhina gave a statement to the press decrying the amnesty as a “hoax and a PR move” on the part of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as the pair would have been due for release within a few months. The timing of the amnesty appears to be mitigating a PR threat to the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi which are already shaping up to be a problem for Putin, as they're already resulting in boycotts in response to Russia’s harsh treatment of sexual minorities. (Barack Obama, who will not attend the Games, says the US delegation “speaks for itself”; the group includes two openly gay athletes.)

However disconnected from the specifics of Pussy Riot’s message, the amnesty law appears to have broader implications. After a change this summer, Article 148 of the Russian Criminal Code imposes a heavy fine and up to a year of imprisonment for “public acts expressing manifest disrespect for society and carried out with the goal of insulting the feelings of religious believers.” The sentence can be increased to three years for an act occurring inside a place of worship or religious ceremonial area. Both penalties are below the five-year threshold for amnesty, provided that the accused person has no prior convictions and committed no violence during the offense.

The amnesty might solve the problem of correctly identifying criminal blasphemers. The public discourse on Article 148 included debate on whether “non-traditional” religions would be protected. The broader context is a nation in which seventy years of Soviet opposition to religiosity has given way to diverse spiritual beliefs, xenophobia against international religious groups, and occasional politically motivated conflict over “cults.”

Pussy Riot had been imprisoned for nearly a year prior to the change in Article 148, and therefore not being pardoned for a crime of blasphemy. It is unclear if other prisoners or people awaiting trial for offenses under the article will be among those pardoned. Many eligible prisoners are yet to be released.

Amid Russia’s complex religious milieu, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina did not enjoy much public support inside of their own country. A poll in October 2012 of 1601 Russian respondents showed that 78% found Pussy Riot’s two-year sentence adequate or insufficient. The survey occurred after the activists announced their support of the Orthodox Church’s core teachings at the close of their trial, and revealed that 41% of respondents believed the group’s actions were “just hooliganism,” the charge under which they were convicted. Russian public response to the release of the famous activists is not immediately clear.

Polling prompted by the case showed that the imposition of criminal charges over blasphemy might not hold widespread appeal in Russia. While a July 2012 poll found that 50% felt that the role of religion was to ensure public morality and ethics, a survey in May 2013 found just four in ten Russians said they support state-imposed penalties offenders against places of worship and the feelings of believers. Nearly one in four (23%) preferred the answer, “better leave it to God himself.”



In The Name Of ‘Honour’: Teenage Girl, Neighbour Killed In Pakistan

 Dec 30, 2013

PABBI: In what appears to be a case of honour killing, a girl and her friend were allegedly killed by her brothers in Azakhel, Nowshera district on Saturday.

Azakhel ASI Shaukat Ali, who is investigating the case, said he was informed on Saturday afternoon that two people had been shot dead on Cherat Road. He rushed to the site and found out Noor Bibi, 18, and her friend and neighbour Naimatullah, 22, had been killed. According to Ali, both Noor Bibi and Naimatullah were from Afghanistan. They had been murdered for allegedly being in an illicit relationship, explained the ASI.

 photo 8_zps006a8713.jpg

Naimatullah, who was also Noor Bibi’s cousin, had been warned by her brothers Noor Khan and Raza Khan to stay away. They had warned Naimatullah to avoid visiting their house, however, Naimatullah continued to visit in their absence.

ASI Ali shared the two brothers entered their home on Saturday and found him with their sister. The brothers chased Naimatullah from the house and shot him dead. They also gunned down their sister.



UN children’s expert praises Canada’s focus on fighting forced marriage of girls

 Dec 30, 2013

OTTAWA — A top United Nations official is praising the Harper government’s foreign policy initiative to end forced marriage of young girls, even if Canada won’t fund projects that would allow victims access to an abortion.

The Conservative government’s practice of not allowing aid dollars to go towards organizations that offer abortions to victimized girls or war-rape victims has sparked heated criticism in some quarters.

But a seasoned expert on international child protection said that doesn’t diminish Canada’s emerging international leadership on the issue because there are other ways for the government to make a difference in helping young girls.

“We’re trying to leave that off the table a we’re talking about everything but that, frankly,” Susan Bissell, associate director of the child protection branch of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in an interview from New York.

She called abortion funding “an obstacle to negotiate around” and said she is urging Canada to be the international standard bearer for a worthy cause that needs a champion.

Bissell was in Ottawa earlier this month and met with policy makers in the offices of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. She said she was struck by their deep understanding of the complexities of a problem that has health, justice and education components.

“Canada is the first government that I’ve talked to that sees those connections,” Bissell said.

She believes the recent merger of the old Canadian International Development Agency into Foreign Affairs will help strengthen Canada’s approach to the problem.

“Some have been despondent about the collapsing of CIDA into the ministry, but I actually see an incredible opportunity to link the dots.”

Ultimately, Bissell said she wants Canada to make a multi-million-dollar contribution to the fight against the exploitation of girls.

Bissell said that when Baird announced that Canada wanted to focus on the problem during a speech at the UN in September, her email in-box was flooded with positive messages.

The UN estimates there are 400 million women who were married as children in Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. Child brides are subjected to a variety of abuses, but when they become pregnant as teenagers they and their babies face life-threatening health risks. The UN cites complications from childbirth as the leading cause of death in girls aged 15 to 19 in poor countries.

In a year-end interview, Baird defended the government’s stance on not funding abortion projects.

“The reality is what this initiative is about is stopping this from happening in the first place. It’s like fire prevention,” Baird said.

“In your fire prevention budget, you don’t hire firefighters. You do prevention work.”

The minister had few specifics on what Canada would be doing to combat the child-bride problem, but said money for programs and advocacy would be likely features.

“We’re just really starting from the ground on this,” Baird said.

“There’s room for government action but it will require societal change from the ground up. We’re just at a very, the early stages of this.”

Bissell, a Canadian who has worked abroad for a quarter century, said she wants the government to think big and build on the momentum that Baird has begun: “Not little baby projects, but big things that are going transform communities and societies from the inside out.”

She said UNICEF is well-positioned in several affected countries, and has learned a lot of lessons in the three decades it has fought to end the forced genital mutilation of young girls in some cultures.

“It’s not going to happen just with external political pressure,” she said.

“For us this is perceived as this horrific practice, when it’s this social norm. Families and communities do this because keeping their girls costs money and if everybody is marrying their girls at 13 then you have to do it too because yours will be the unmarried one at 18.”

Baird said the focus is part of a natural follow-up from Harper’s signature G8 initiative on child and maternal health.

(The prime minister also made clear that of the $3 billion Canada was spending, none would go towards abortions).

“It’s a development challenge in addition to a human rights challenge,” said Baird.



UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie's school changes lives in Afghanistan

 Dec 30, 2013

QALAI GUDAR, Afghanistan, (UNHCR) – Thanks to their foresighted parents and UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, 350 Afghan girls recently accomplished what not every girl in Afghanistan gets to – complete a year of schooling and advance to a new school year in a public graduation ceremony.

The ceremony on the outskirts of Kabul also symbolized a rise from the ashes for a village almost totally destroyed by decades of conflict that tore apart Afghanistan from the 1970s until the early years of this century.

On a visit to the country two years ago, Jolie was moved by the desire of Afghan girls for education. She offered a donation for UNHCR to build a school for girls in Qalai Gudar which lies north of Kabul.

Angelina Jolie "is a generous and wonderful woman," said 13-year old-Hameda, after graduating from the first grade last week. She jumped at her first chance to enter school, even though past what many would consider the normal age for starting primary school.

"Thanks to her (Jolie) we now have a wonderful school and we can continue our education," Hameda added. Only two years old when her family came back to Afghanistan after being refugees in next-door Pakistan, Hameda also has five brothers and sisters who attend the school.

Her family was one of about 2,300 who returned to Qalai Gudar, a village in the Shomali Plains, following the collapse of the Taliban regime.

But what they found in this area once famous for its bountiful orchards and rich farming land was a scene of utter devastation. Nearly all houses, buildings, irrigation systems and other infrastructure had been destroyed. Slowly, with the help of UNHCR, the villagers began to rebuild their community.

Unexpectedly, one of the first things they asked for was a school for their daughters. During their time as refugees in Pakistan, parents had come to realize the value of education for their girls as well as boys.

They set up a makeshift school for the girls in the open air within the compound of the local mosque, determined that their daughters would not suffer from the cultural traditions and limited facilities that often pose obstacles to education of girls and women in Afghanistan.

Construction of the school was completed a year ago and has been providing a place for girls like Hameda to study in a culturally sensitive environment. The Department of Education has provided nine teachers – so far only one a woman – and some educational materials. The school runs two shifts to meet demands of the 450 students – 400 girls and 50 boys.

There are still challenges. Some basics – like textbooks for the first three grades – were missing, but Jolie stepped in again with another contribution. UNHCR added some cash and was able to present all pupils at the first graduation ceremony with some highly prized items: stationery, notebooks, pens, and rulers.

Supporting girls' education and empowerment is one way UNHCR aims to promote the sustainability of refugee returns and to encourage refugees who are still in Pakistan and Iran to return home. UNHCR also works with the government of Afghanistan to provide assistance and protection to five million returned refugees and, in coordination with other partners, to some 600,000 Afghans internally displaced by conflict

Just one year old, the school is already changing the community. Parents have pledged to delay their daughters' marriages to allow them to finish their education first.

Omaira, 14, realizes she's lucky to get a chance her older sisters did not. When the family came back to Afghanistan five years ago there was no school, so her sisters missed out on education.

"I have some education now," Omaira says with pride. "I know how a woman can live and I have learnt the difference between what is right and what is wrong."



6 girls back home after three years' jail in India

 Dec 30, 2013

Six Bangladeshi girls returned home through Benapole check post of the district on Friday night after languishing for three years in a Indian jail.

The returnees hail from different areas of the district.

Nayek Subedar M Abdullah, commander of Benapole check post Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Camp, said Border Security Force (BSF) of India handed over the Bangladeshi girls, who were jailed for intruding into the country, to the BGB there at night.

Quoting the returnees, the commander said, human traffickers took the girls, aged between 17 and 22, to India in January, 2010 promising to arrange lucrative jobs and Mumbai police arrested them on charge of intrusion.

They were later produced before a court that sent them to an Indian jail.

The decision of their release came following a joint intervention of the home ministries of India and Bangladesh.



Kashmir hosts conference on Zainab

 Dec 30, 2013

Zainab, is the granddaughter of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). She’s known as the messenger of the Battle of Karbala during which Imam Hossein and his 72 companions were killed while fighting against Yazid and his cohorts. Zainab led two great missions to reveal the truth, as she unmasked the true face of Yazid, and portrayed who Prophet Mohammad’s household were and what they stood for.

The role Zainab played during and after the Battle of Karbala was the main topic at a conference held in Indian-controlled Kashmir.The gathering, the first of its kind in Kashmir, attracted female scholars, professionals and students from across the region. Participants shed light on the personality of Zainab. Speakers hailed Zainab as the symbol of women’s empowerment and resistance against oppression, as she shook the foundations of Yazid’s rule and bravely spoke out against him. The speakers said it is moral responsibility of every human being, especially women, to safeguard Zainab’s legacy and follow her path. Also at the conference, a special message from the representative of Iran’s leader of Islamic Revolution to India was read. Speakers at the conference believe that such events help the campaigners of truth and justice understand the message of Karbala and the life of Imam Hussein, and pass the lessons to next generations.