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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 12 Aug 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Ahed Tamimi Breaks Stereotype of Young Muslim Arab Women

New Age Islam News Bureau

12 Aug 2018

Ahed Tamimi, 17, and her mother, Nariman, have been released after serving eight months in an Israeli jail for hampering the duties of Israeli soldiers.



 India: Muslim Women Welcome Suggested Changes in Triple Talaq Bill

 Hajjah Project: A Down Payment on Making Hajj Easier For Muslim Women

 Early Marriages Threaten Health And Safety Of Girl Children In Iran

 Dozens of Women, Most Related To Pak Politicians, Ex-Statespersons, Make It to NA

 Branded as Bank Robbers, Burqa-Wearing Britons Fear Attack

 West Regional Minister Urged Muslim Women to Inculcate Peaceful Virtues in Children

 ECP Cancels Shangla Polls over Low Turnout of Women

 EU Seeks Details from Saudi Arabia on Women Human Rights Arrests amid Canada Row

 Syria's Druze Vow To Free Women And Children Kidnapped By IS

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Ahed Tamimi Breaks Stereotype of Young Muslim Arab Women


Ahed Tamimi, 17, and her mother, Nariman, have been released after serving eight months in an Israeli jail for hampering the duties of Israeli soldiers.

Ahed Tamimi’s case is not the first of its kind in the Palestinian territories. It is, however, the first to benefit from wide media coverage in Arabic and Hebrew media, in the rest of the Arab world and internationally. This led to a media focus on the Israeli military tribunal system and how it is used to oppress Palestinians in the West Bank.

After her release July 29, Tamimi said the Palestinian resistance will go on until the end of Israeli occupation and praised the bravery of Palestinian female prisoners in prisons.

She spoke of the conditions of 29 Palestinian female prisoners at Damon prison, where she was held. She said she carried three messages from them: preserve Palestinian national unity, support popular resistance and support women prisoners in their fight for freedom.

Tamimi was catapulted to fame after kicking an Israeli soldier and slapping him in the face last December outside her home in the Palestinian village of Nabi Salah. For years, villagers there have resisted the spoiling of the land by Israelis.

The case of this Palestinian teenager, whose spontaneity, behaviour and appearance resemble other social media-addicted teenagers, revolutionised the concepts of resistance and fighting for one’s rights.

When fast-evolving events are throwing into confusion concepts and laws they underlie, one must wonder if human causes have an immunity to change and erosion that keeps them alive, immutable and unwavering. Then again, perhaps technological developments and environmental problems need a new type of fighter and a legal system in tune with current problems.

So, is it time now to say goodbye to the classical icons of human resistance?

Can we talk about priorities and preferences in human causes?

Or maybe the flame is the same but the arms that carry it are many and diverse.

Tamimi’s case focused the world’s attention on a new breed of freedom fighter, one that should have prevailed among the world’s young people instead of driving them to metaphysical and extremist thinking. She is emblematic of a new generation of enthusiastic people whose eagerness for progress does not overshadow their keenness on preserving their dignity and national rights. Tamimi said the only thing that caused her stress while she was in prison was fear of lagging behind in her studies.

Despite the obstacles, Tamimi and other prisoners completed their secondary education and called themselves “the Defiant Class.” They finished a training session in international law and another one in human rights.

In her village, Tamimi paid homage to Gazans for their daily protests for the right to return to their homes and lands and insisted that Jerusalem was and still is the Palestinians’ capital.

Is Tamimi a crucial turning point in the path of resistance?

Her release from prison received media and official attention to the point that observers warned that Tamimi’s individual case was becoming the Palestinian cause instead of the Palestinians’ saga with the Israeli occupation. Hers was a passing case after all but, like it or not, the teenager has become a Palestinian icon and risks being caught in the swirl of political intrigue.

Tamimi was not necessarily any braver or spunkier than many other Palestinian women who preceded her in Israeli — or even Hamas — jails but what has made this feisty teenager special in the eyes of the media was that she looked and acted as the perfect product of her time. Tamimi broke the stereotypical image of a Muslim Arab girl in Western media.

She does not wear the veil nor does she speak the language of jihadists and extremists. She is a normal emancipated teenager, the kind that you can see in the streets of Beirut or Tunis. She did, however, kick and slap an Israeli soldier without fear of his weapons because she knew that she had a much more powerful weapon by her side, a camera.

When we say that the hero in the video clip of “Ahed and the Israeli soldier” was the image itself, the idea should not be understood as belittling the fighting spirit of the young woman. It is a fact, however, that without that clip going viral, Tamimi would not have turned into an icon. In any case, and whether Tamimi had meant it or not, the event was a media triumph for the Palestinian cause.

Tamimi is a young woman of her time and her time rewarded her by making her a sensation that every Arab can be proud of. Her image was a far cry from the ugly and demeaning image of Arab and Muslim women that terrorist organisations such as the Islamic State proudly disseminated. When Tamimi slapped that Israeli soldier, she slapped the faces of all extremist Islamist groups and their followers.

By her heroic act, Tamimi joined the ranks of other female Palestinian heroes but also remained quite different from them. She joins the ranks of the likes of Shadia Abdessalem, the first Palestinian female military victim after the 1967 defeat, of Dalal Mughrabi, who in 1978 commandeered a bus transporting Israeli soldiers in the heart of Tel Aviv, and of Leila Khaled, who in 1969 hijacked an Israeli plane.

Each one of those Palestinian women belonged to a specific phase in the Palestinian struggle. Each embodied certain ideas and slogans that would become irrelevant through time. All, however, of them served the Palestinian memory and cause in one way or another. Tamimi’s experience is no different.



India: Muslim Women Welcome Suggested Changes in Triple Talaq Bill

Aug 12, 2018

Muslim community women have welcomed the amendments suggested by the Union cabinet to the triple talaq bill, which now stands deferred. According to the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), the amendments suggested by the cabinet are similar to the alterations they wanted to see in the bill.

The members have also written to Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders requesting them to support the passage of the triple talaq bill after incorporating the suggested amendments.

Noorjehan Safia Niaz, a founder of the BMMA, said, "Muslim women have been urgently seeking a law against instant triple talaq. We have witnessed several instances of triple talaq taking place despite the Supreme Court judgment declaring it illegal. Muslim women are entitled to legal protection as much as all other Indian women. We hope the amendments suggested by the cabinet will put to rest to all opposition to the bill and the law will become a reality soon."

The three amendments suggested by the cabinet includes, a crime of triple talaq will be cognizable only if the victim or her blood relatives or someone associated with the marriage files the complaint; the crime remains non-bailable, but a magistrate can grant bail after hearing the victim; the third amendment makes the crime compoundable.

Khatoon Shaikh, Qazi, said, "We have seen many victims who could not raise their voice against the instant triple talaq given to them. The amendments will make it easier for women to register the offense. The women should get maintenance support for her and for the custody of her children. It is a good move and we hope that even Rajya Sabha passes the bill in support of the women."

With the three amendments, the bill has now been cleared in Lok Sabha and will be tabled in Rajya Sabha.


Founder of the BMMA, said that Muslim women have been urgently seeking a law against instant triple talaq. Muslim women are entitled to legal protection as much as all other Indian women.



Hajjah Project: A Down Payment on Making Hajj Easier For Muslim Women

August 11, 2018

LOS ANGELES (RNS) — To prepare for this year’s hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca that begins August 19, Maryum Ali, a Los Angeles social worker — and the eldest child of the late Muhammad Ali — has been spending time in saunas and walking in the Southern California heat to get acclimated to Saudi Arabia’s 110-degree weather.

She has also been watching her spending. The financial commitment is often the toughest challenge Muslims face as they try to complete one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. The Massachusetts-based travel company Adam Travel, for instance, offers nine hajj packages this year, costing between $7,490 and $22,500 per person, depending on the length of stay and quality of accommodations.

Despite her father’s success, Ali, 50, said she has always lived off her social worker salary and “never had $8,000 laying around” to make the trip. A few years ago, she started putting money aside — even forgoing a 50th birthday party, she said — so she could one day make the journey.

Ali had already made a down payment to a tour group when she was connected to the Hajjah Project, a group founded in Los Angeles a year ago by Krishna Najieb, 63, a human resources specialist who converted to Islam in 2009.

After returning from hajj three years ago, Najieb realized how common it is for women to forgo the trip. Not only is money a frequent obstacle, but family duties, health and even how women think about pilgrimage all prevent them from going. This year, Ali became the first woman selected to receive help from the group.

“Putting off things for themselves is just part of being a woman,” Najieb said. “We take care of the family, we take care of our children, we take care of our husbands, we take care of our parents. I wanted to do something that would inspire and educate women to want to make hajj a higher priority in their lives.”

Today, with seven other female volunteers, Najieb organizes educational and community events to raise money for aspiring hajjahs. Najieb said the fledgling group has raised $1,500 so far.

When Najieb first decided to go on hajj, she didn’t expect money to be a problem. She and her husband put $10,000 down with a hajj tour group, thinking they had another month to come up with the rest of the payment. But two weeks later, they received a call asking them for a balance of $4,000.

So she and her husband set up a GoFundMe crowdsourcing campaign to raise the remaining amount.

“For some people it was inappropriate, it was Islamically not sound,” said Najieb. “For others, it was like, ‘Oh, good idea.’”

That’s when the Hajjah Project was born. “I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through that, if you’re serious and Allah has accepted your request to go to hajj,” she said.

The Hajjah Project doesn’t fund anyone’s hajj entirely. While Najieb said she would like to increase the amount of the cash gifts and number of people who receive one, fully funding a woman’s pilgrimage, she believes, would take away from her intention to make hajj. For Ali, the project’s $500 contribution is a crucial boost to her spending money while she’s in Saudi Arabia.

More important than the money, Ali said, has been the advice the Hajjah Project gave her.

Najieb and others she met through the project told her to have patience. “‘It’s not going to be perfect; there (are) 2 million, 3 million people there,’” Ali recalled them saying. They also gave her tips on how and where to wash her clothes and what to expect from the bathrooms.

“Even though hajj is spiritual, there are a lot of logistics to adjust to,” said Ali. “They let me see a visual that you don’t get in any of the tutorials on YouTube.”

Noor Abbas, an engineer from Los Angeles, said the group’s support has been critical.

“I attended another hajj workshop and read books and things like that, and it’s almost always from the male perspective,” said Abbas. “I learned all the rules, but I wanted to get more of a woman’s perspective and hear about what it’s like from our side.” Not least among the practical help Najieb’s group provided Ali and Abbas was a heavy-duty backpack filled with toiletries, a headscarf, a prayer booklet, snacks and built-in water storage.

“They eased a lot of anxiety,” Ali said.

In reducing women’s concerns about hajj, the Hajjah Project hopes to change women’s thinking about the pilgrimage.

As a young, single woman, performing hajj never crossed Zariah Horton’s mind. Now, as a therapist and educator who serves on the project’s leadership team, Horton said that when she was growing up, hajj was for elders.

“It’s for people who have time to take off a month,” Horton said — not for people who need to work or care for children. “Who’s going to look after my kids for a month?”

Part of the Hajjah Project’s answer is to encourage women to go when they’re younger, after high school or college graduation, or in between jobs.

“I want to inspire someone younger than myself to take the opportunity, like after college, and say, ‘Sister, have you thought of hajj? Have you thought of it before you have a mortgage, before you have kids?’” said Horton.

Most important for Najieb is the spiritual renewal the pilgrimage brings and the ripple effect it has in the Muslim community.

The Hajjah Project’s work, Abbas said, is an example for other Muslim women. “It shows that women should be doing this and can be doing this, and have the support of other women if they are doing this.”



Early Marriages Threaten Health And Safety Of Girl Children In Iran

12 August 2018

Early marriages threaten health and safety of girl children in Iran.

Official figures indicate that 180,000 early marriages take place in Iran every year and comprise 24 per cent of the total number of marriages.

"The largest number of registered marriages of 10-14 girl children was in 2014 which amounted to 40,229. The number of girl children under 10 who have gotten married was 220 in 2011; 187 in 2012; 201 in 2013; 176 in 2014; and 179 in 2015. These figures are probably higher because of unregistered marriages," said Batool Salimi Manesh, a social researcher.

Salimi Manesh added, "As for the dispersal of child marriages in various cities, Razavi Khorasan Province (northeastern Iran) tops the list, followed by East Azerbaijan Province (northwestern Iran), and Sistan and Baluchestan (southeastern Iran). Of course, Lorestan Province (western Iran) also faces the problem of child marriages but their numbers are lower than other provinces and there is a long way before this phenomenon is uprooted."

Mostafa Amani, general director of the Registrar of Lorestan Province, said there were 1,126 marriages of girl children under 15 in Lorestan province over the past year in that province.

Early marriages of girl children are one of the most vivid examples of child abuse.

One of the reasons for the high number of early marriages in Iran variable age of marriage sanctioned by the Iranian regime. The age of marriage can be decided by legal and religious authorities who oppose increasing of the legal age of marriage.

Other reasons include poverty and economic problems which compel low-income families to give their daughters to marriage in young age in a bid to resolve part of their economic problems. (The official IRNA news agency - August 5, 2018)



Dozens of Women, Most Related To Pak Politicians, Ex-Statespersons, Make It to NA

Aug 12 2018

ISLAMABAD: Dozens of women have made it into the National Assembly of Pakistan, Geo News reported Saturday night, with many of them related to the country's politicians and former statespersons.

Female members who bagged seats in the NA include Musarrat Asif and Shiza Fatima, the wife and niece, respectively, of Khawaja Asif, a member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and former minister of foreign affairs.

Tahira Aurangzeb, the mother of former information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, who is associated with the PML-N, also made it to the Assembly alongside her daughter as did Kiran Dar, the sister of Nasir Dar, a member of Azad Kashmir Assembly who, too, is from the same party.

Also included in the list are Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan and Sajida Begum, both relatives and — the latter the niece — of Pervez Khattak, a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and former chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

Zeb Jaffar and Maiza Hameed, the daughter and niece, respectively, of Chaudhry Jaffar Iqbal, a member of the PML-N and the former state minister, also entered the National Assembly as did Zahra Wadood, the wife of Tariq Fatemi, the former special advisor to the prime minister.

Ishrat Ashraf, Chaudhry Jaffar Iqbal's wife, secured a seat in the Punjab Assembly.

Alia Kamran, nominated from Balochistan by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and the wife of Kamran Murtaza, the former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association also claimed an NA seat.

On the other hand, former finance minister of Punjab Aisha Ghaus Pasha, who is also the wife of former federal finance minister Hafeezullah Pasha, was also on the list.

Other women include PTI's Shireen Mazari, Munaza Hasan, and Andleeb Abbas, Pakistan Peoples Party's (PPP) Hina Rabbani Khar, Shagufta Jumani, Shazia Marri, and Naz Baloch, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan's (MQM-P) Kishwar Zahra.



Branded as Bank Robbers, Burqa-Wearing Britons Fear Attack

August 11, 2018

London. Hate crimes against Muslim women in Britain could jump after former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson likened burqa-wearers to "letter boxes" and "bank robbers," activists said on Thursday (09/08).

Anti-hate crime groups said the comments by Johnson, who resigned last month, would encourage Islamophobic and sexist abuse at a time when attacks were already on the rise.

"This inflammatory language will in fact motivate and fuel hate crimes, particularly towards visibly Muslim women who wear the veil or the hijab," Sajda Mughal, who runs the JAN Trust charity, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

She said that her group, which works with marginalized women, had already taken three calls in the last two days from hijab-wearing women who reported being called "letter boxes"

A top Conservative known for flamboyant phrasing and eccentric stunts, Johnson is facing an internal Conservative investigation over his remarks, which have reignited a debate over religious facial coverings and split his party.

"The code of conduct process is strictly confidential," said a Conservative Party spokesman.

A former journalist who has often been accused of courting media attention, Johnson was not available for comment.

He has voiced leadership ambitions in the past and critics say the provocative remarks pander to anti-immigrant sentiment, which is sweeping Britain and swathes of Europe.

Whose Face?

Denmark last week became the latest of several European countries to adopt curbs on face veils.

Johnson, who quit power over the state of Brexit negotiations, wrote in The Daily Telegraph this week that Denmark was wrong to ban the burqa, a head-to-toe cloak which conceals the face with a mesh or is worn in conjunction with the niqab - a face veil that leaves only the eyes exposed.

But Johnson also said the robe was oppressive, ridiculous and made women look like letter boxes and bank robbers, prompting an outcry from politicians and British Muslim groups.

Critics say burqas and similar face coverings pose a security risk and are a tool to control women. Supporters say women should be free to dress as they choose and that such divisive debate only increases pressure on them to cover up.

Hate Crime

Official data says hate crime of all types is on the rise.

A Home Office report said more than 80,000 incidents were recorded across England and Wales in 2016-17, a jump of nearly a third on the year before. Most were deemed racist, with religiously-motivated incidents making up 7 percent (5,949).

The campaign group Tell MAMA, which records anti-Muslim attacks in Britain, said it had verified 1,201 such incidents last year, with figures steadily rising since 2015.

It said Islamophobia was "heavily gendered" with white men carrying out almost three quarters of verified incidents last year, while Muslim women made up more than half of victims.

The group’s founder Fiyaz Mughal said he feared Johnson’s remarks would embolden racists and provoke more attacks.

"The women who wear the niqab and report into us clearly report to us they are called telephone boxes, letter boxes, bin bags, when they are abused and when they are assaulted. The language is virtually identical," he said.

Shreen Mahmood, a radio presenter in Birmingham who wears the hijab, said she had suffered verbal abuse and knew of others who had been spat at or had their head coverings pulled.

"Islamophobia does play a big role in Muslim women's lives," she said in a telephone interview from the Midlands. "I always carry water ... because of the potential of acid attacks and things like that – it's something we are all aware of."



West Regional Minister Urged Muslim Women To Inculcate Peaceful Virtues In Children

Aug 12, 2018

Deputy Upper West Regional Minister Mr Amidu Chinnia Issahaku has urged Muslim women to nurture peace in their families in a bid to help create a harmonious Ghanaian society.

Families play important roles in national peace agenda which the Deputy Minister said was therefore imperative such peace loving relations translated into a tranquil society to fuel growth and development.

Speaking during the 39th National Annual Ahmadiyya Muslim Women Conference (Lajna Imaillah) in Wa, Mr Issahaku charged Muslim women to inculcate in their children the virtues of peace and love.

The conference brought together Ahmadiyyah Muslim women from all over the country to deliberate on the theme: “Creating a Peaceful Society: the Role of the Muslim Woman”.

The women were advised to help train their children to love one another and respect for the elderly, intrinsic Ghanaian values that had been neglected over the years.

He said Muslim women were placed in a unique opportunity to model future leaders in accordance with tenets of the Islamic religion and should not relent in that effort.

Mrs Christine Bombanye Amadu, the Jirapa Municipal Chief Executive (MCE), noted it was a female that imbibed the principles of faith in the society and so a woman’s actions and inactions could have a great influence on the kind of children being brought up into society.

The task for peace building and propagation of peaceful messages in various communities, she therefore noted, were squarely placed on women who ought to take up the challenge and ensure peace in the wake of global unrest.

“We need to go beyond prayers and supplications and therefore take practical steps to prevent conflicts in our societies at all times”, she said.

Wa Diocesan President of Christians Mothers Association Madam Mariana Belane described women as persons with “motherly instincts” which position them as unique in the upbringing of children who are peacemakers.

“So when you fail your role as mothers, you produce dysfunctional children in society who will be at war with themselves and others”, she said, and urged them to instill the virtues of forgiveness and love in children to grow and cherish peace.

“When Children are brought up in peaceful homes, they grow up to cherish peace and become peace makers”, she added.

Hajia Bushirata Umar, the Upper West Regional President of the Ahmadiyyah Muslim Women Association, noted that the gathering portrayed women and girls in the Ahmadiyyah community as shining examples of Islamic the teachings – understanding the true meaning of freedom which established the honour and dignity of Muslim women.

She objected to claims by some critics of Islam that the religion advocated harsh and cruel treatment of women and relegated females to the background.



ECP cancels Shangla polls over low turnout of women

Iftikhar A. Khan

August 11, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday annulled the election for a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly seat in Shangla where women had apparently been barred from voting.

The constituency was PK-23 (Shangla) where Shaukat Ali of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had emerged victorious by securing 17,399 votes. A four-member bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza heard the case and ordered re-polling in the constituency.

Arguing before the bench, the counsel for applicant Wali Khan said that women had forcibly been barred from voting in the constituency. Under the law, he pointed out, the votes cast by women had to be more than 10 percent of the total polled votes.

There are 200,525 registered voters in the constituency, 113,827 of them male and 86,698 female voters. A total of 69,827 votes had been polled with the share of women voters being as low as 3,505 (5.01pc) against 66,322 polled by male voters. That means out of the 86,698 registered female voters, only 4.01pc turned up to vote.

It was argued that the decision to restrain women had been taken in a jirga and applications had been moved against the jirga decision and the returning officer concerned had also been informed.

The lawyer requested the ECP bench to declare the Shangla polls as void.

Shaukat Ali’s counsel argued that the polling stations No 21 and 89 were combined ones though there was a trend among the area women not to go to combined polling stations.

On this the CEC pointed out that combined polling station did not mean that male and female voters were to cast their votes in the same room. Separate polling booths are set up for male and female voters at combined polling stations.

The ECP member from KP, retired Justice Irshad Qaiser, said there were 86,698 female voters in Shangla’s PK-23 and there must be a reason behind just three and a half thousand (of them) casting their votes. The counsel responded that women did cast their votes at combined polling stations, but in very low numbers, as traditionally they were averse to going to such polling stations.

The CEC said a by-election had been conducted in Dir for low female voters’ turnout and the turnout in the by-poll was impressive.

The ECP declared the Shangla election void and ordered re-poll, a schedule for which would be announced later.

The commission, however, rejected petitions seeking re-polling in NA-10 Shangla and PK-85 (Karak).

In NA-10 (Shangla) the total number of registered voters is 374,343. Out of the 212,294 male voters, 115,639 (54 pc) cast their votes while only 12,663 women out of the total registered 162,049 female voters turned up to vote. The total votes cast in the constituency were 128,302 and the 12,663 female votes was less than 10pc of the total votes.

Ibadullah Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz had won the seat by clinching 34,070 votes in a closely contested battle with Saeed ur Rahman of the Awami National Party who bagged 32,665 votes. It was one of 44 constituencies where the number of rejected votes was higher than the margin of victory.

In PK-85, the women however had cast 43,383 (42.19 pc) votes out of the total 102,810 votes.

Under Section 9 of the Election Act, “if, from facts apparent on the face of the record and after such an enquiry as it may deem necessary, the Commission is satisfied that by reason of grave illegalities or such violations of the provisions of this Act or the Rules as have materially affected the result of the poll at one or more polling stations or in the whole constituency including implementation of an agreement restraining women from casting their votes, it shall make a declaration accordingly and call upon the voters in the concerned polling station or stations or in the whole constituency as the case may be, to recast their votes in the manner provided for bye-elections.”

An explanation with the section reads “If the turnout of women voters is less than ten percent of the total votes polled in a constituency, the Commission may presume that the women voters have been restrained through an agreement from casting their votes and may declare, polling at one or more polling stations or election in the whole constituency, void”.



EU seeks details from Saudi Arabia on women human rights arrests amid Canada row

AUGUST 12, 2018

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union has asked Saudi Arabia to shed light on the arrests and charges facing women human rights activists, saying that the detainees should be granted due process to defend themselves.

Saudi Arabia has in recent months detained several women’s rights activists, some of whom had campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system.

The detentions have triggered a major diplomatic row with Canada after the Canadians demanded the immediate release of the jailed activists.

The European Commission, the EU executive, said it has contacted Saudi Arabia.

“The EU has been engaging constructively with the Saudi authorities seeking clarification on the circumstances surrounding the arrests of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, notably with regard to the specific accusations brought against them,” spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

“We have been emphasising the relevance of the role of human rights defenders and civil society groups in the process of reform which the Kingdom is pursuing as well as the importance of respecting the rules of due process for all those arrested,” she said.

Earlier on Saturday, Mogherini spoke to Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on the phone, with both sides agreeing to intensify their cooperation in human rights as well as other areas.



Syria's Druze vow to free women and children kidnapped by IS

Aug 12, 2018

One religious minority has been largely spared the horrors of Syria's seven-year civil war: the Druze.

Most live in the rugged Jabal al-Druze region, in the south-western province of Suweida. It has been mostly calm except for some isolated attacks. However, that all changed two weeks ago.

On the night of 25 July, a highly co-ordinated assault by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) left more than 200 dead, most of them civilians.

IS militants also kidnapped 13 women, 17 children and a 19-year-old man, who was later killed.

On Thursday, the jihadists phoned the family of one of the women to say that she had died because of ill health. The fates of the other hostages are unknown.

"In the end we will get them back, whether martyred or alive," said Fareez Abu Ammar, a 30 year old from Suweida who lost his mother, uncle and many other close relatives in the attack.

His sister-in-law and her three children - sons Rafat and Yorub, and daughter Lana - are among those who were kidnapped.

Abu Ammar lives in Beirut, in neighbouring Lebanon, and he could not return to Suweida to attend his mother's funeral because he is wanted by the Syrian authorities for avoiding compulsory military service.

Who are the Druze?

The Druze religion arose from Ismailism, a branch of Shia Islam, in the 11th Century.

It takes its name from Mohammed bin Ismail al-Darazi, a mystic from Central Asia who regarded the third Fatamid caliph of Egypt, al-Hakim, as an incarnation of God.

In 1021, al-Hakim disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Druze believe that he will reappear at the end of time to establish universal justice.

Al-Hakim's successor, al-Zahir, rejected his claim of divinity and persecuted the Druze, forcing them to take refuge in remote mountainous areas, chiefly in Lebanon and Syria.

To avoid persecution, Druze have been secretive about their religion. Only a small number who demonstrate extreme piety and devotion are allowed to participate fully in rituals and have access to scriptures.

And although Druze have played prominent roles in shaping the region's history, they have traditionally been considered political quietists.

Avoiding conscription

For a long time after the war began, most Syrian Druze remained loyal to President Bashar al-Assad - a member of the Shia Alawite sect - fearing that if he was overthrown, minorities would be targeted and communities destroyed by extremists among the country's Sunni majority.

However, they have resisted being drawn into the conflict.

In 2015, Druze leaders declared that members of the sect were no longer obliged to enlist in the Syrian armed forces.

"It had no interest back then in alienating yet another community. The last thing it needed was to see yet another community taking up arms against it."

It is estimated that 35,000 young Druze men have not signed up for military service. A large majority of them have fled Syria.

This might explain the lack of resistance the IS militants - who consider the Druze to be heretics - encountered when they attacked Suweida.


Mr Abu Ammar recounted the details of what happened on 25 July as they were relayed to him by members of his community there.

"It all started at around 03:30. [The militants] knocked on doors and called the owners of the houses by their names, which made people think that whoever was knocking on their door knew them," he said.

"This is why people opened their doors and how IS fighters entered their homes and killed them.

"In a matter of two-and-a-half hours they had committed all sorts of ugly and horrific crimes against children and civilians."

Mr Abu Ammar did not lose his composure as he described the events. His voice was steady and calm.

"They entered houses and slaughtered the parents in front of their children. Then they slaughtered the children, leaving only one child alive so he could tell people about what happened," he said.

"The kids who were later found alive were in a horrible and traumatic state."

Suicide bombings

The attack sent shockwaves across Syria and beyond.

It was the first assault on this scale by IS since the group lost control last October of the northern city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the "caliphate" stretching across Syria and Iraq whose establishment it proclaimed in 2014.

"IS has been substantially weakened as an organisation, but the root causes of why this organisation emerged have not been addressed," Dr Yahya said.

"We may see IS emerging in a different form, or we may see a continuation of it as no longer a territorially-coherent caliphate but more operating on the model of al-Qaeda," he added.

In parallel to the door-to-door attacks in the villages on 25 July, IS members carried out several suicide bombings in the centre of Suweida city.

It is not clear if the bombings were intended to serve as a diversion, but they delayed the arrival of security personnel in the villages.

Many questions

But many in Suweida speak of other factors that they believe facilitated the IS operation.

The residents we spoke to stopped short of accusing the Syrian government and its allies of any collusion.

But they pointed out many circumstantial factors surrounding the attack.

First, they noted that the IS members who were responsible for the attack had left the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the capital Damascus only a few weeks earlier as part of a surrender agreement with the government.

They had been involved in intense battles against the Syrian army in Yarmouk and were transferred to a desert area just 50km (30 miles) from the attacked villages.

Also, many residents said there had been power cuts in the villages before and during the attacks.

On top of this, Syrian security forces did not reach the targeted villages for several hours.

"The regime forces could have stepped in to prevent the attack or at least mitigate it once it happened," Dr Yahya said.

"It's very easy for people to see this as a payback for them having not sided with the regime or for their attempt to take a neutral position in the conflict."

Little hope

Syrian state media said the military had battled the militants with both ground forces and air strikes.

Days after the attack, the Syrian army launched an offensive against IS in the desert in north-eastern Suweida province.

State media report that they have made advances. But many in Suweida have little hope about the fate of those kidnapped.

"I place my hope only in the sons of Suweida, the men of the Druze community," said Mr Abu Ammar.

He talked of efforts to rally local forces to rescue the women and children being held hostage.

There are claims that they have already captured dozens of IS militants.

In one recent video circulated on social media, a man thought to be an IS fighter is seen being lynched in the town centre.

"For us Druze, honour and land cannot be compromised and must be defended no matter what," Mr Abu Ammar said.




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