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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 22 Jan 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Growing Number of Saudi Single Women Challenge Tradition

New Age Islam News Bureau

22 Jan 2015

The trend has ruffled ultra-conservatives who see it as an affront to the very foundations of the notoriously strict kingdom


 Female Genital Mutilation a Growing Problem in Iran

 West African Examinations Council, Muslims in Standoff over Veil

 Hindu Woman Saves Muslims from Rioters in Bihar Village

 Jordan Woman Gives Birth over Atlantic on board Royal Jordanian

 Australian Muslim Groups Condemn Islamic State's 'Barbaric' Use of Yazidi Slaves

 Egypt’s ‘Oldest’ Woman, Fatema Qadib, Dies Aged 115

 Token Legal Reforms Fail to End Violence against Women in Egypt - Report

 Muneeza in the Middle Explores Muslim Woman’s Search for Identity

 Muslim Mahila Foundation seeks Bharat Ratna for Subhash Chandra Bose

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Growing Number of Saudi Single Women Challenge Tradition

22 Jan, 2015

JEDDAH — Amna Fatani knows she wants a brilliant career and a life different from that of Saudi women of her mother’s generation who married early, usually to a husband not of their own choosing.

The 27-year-old, studying for her master’s degree at Georgetown University in Washington and hoping to someday realize her ambitions, is part of a growing number of Saudi women choosing to remain single through their 20s and into their 30s as they pursue other ambitions.

The trend has ruffled conservatives who see it as an affront to the very foundations of the Kingdom, where rigid tribal codes have long dictated the terms of marriage.

“My friends and I have reached a point (where) we’re very specific about what we want,” she said. “I need someone who trusts that if I need to do something, I can make the decision to ask for help or choose to do it alone.”

Saudi women stand at the centre of a societal pivot between the Kingdom’s push for greater women’s education and rights to work, and laws that give men final say over their lives.

Women cannot travel, study abroad, marry or undergo certain medical procedures without the permission of a male guardian — usually a father or husband, or in their absence, an older or even a younger brother.

The growing number of single women has alarmed clerics, who have responded by pushing for early marriage and warning of alleged evil consequences of “spinsterhood.”

Traditionally, women in Saudi Arabia are expected to be married by their early 20s. In 2011, more than 1.5 million Saudi women aged over 30 were single, according to the Economy and Planning Ministry.

According to government figures, 3.3 million are women over 30 in this nation of 20 million people — and if the ministry’s 2011 figure is unchanged, it means that about 45 percent of Saudi women over 30 are single.

While many agree there’s a rise in the numbers of single women, some question the accuracy of the government’s figure, saying it supports the norm that Saudi men are allowed more than one wife.

Women have been taking on a greater role in public life, though their jobs are mostly in the education sector. The Labour Ministry says there are more than 400,000 working women in Saudi Arabia, compared to less than 55,000 before 2009.

Women outnumber men in the Kingdom’s universities, and there are tens of thousands of women among the 150,000 Saudis studying abroad on government scholarships.

Education is also changing women’s attitudes toward marriage and giving them more confidence, said Hatoon Al-Fassi, a professor of women’s history in Saudi Arabia. “You can no longer control these attitudes,” she says. Some Saudi women are also challenging the rules on how to meet a prospective husband as they navigate through tradition and customs.

Families are expected to arrange or, at the least, approve marriages. Conservative families see the idea of a daughter looking for a match on her own as scandalous. Entrenched tribal customs also weigh strongly.

In the central Najd region — the home to the capital, Riyadh — women are often barred from marrying outside their tribe.

One young woman told The Associated Press that at work, her sister fell in love with a Saudi man who was not from a tribe. Their father agreed to the marriage after meeting him, but an older male relative threatened to cut off the entire family if the marriage went ahead.

The sister was forced to end the courtship and eventually married a man from her tribe, the woman said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss her family’s private matters.

Parents usually arrange a “showfa” — Arabic for a “viewing” — so a man can see his potential bride at her home, without the traditional black robe and face veil worn by most Saudi women in public.

The practice is widely accepted and is sometimes the only chance for a man and a woman to see one another before deciding on whether to get engaged. Among the most conservative families, a groom is only allowed to see his wife after the wedding.

However, stories of secretive courtships away from parents’ prying eyes abound in Saudi Arabia, pointing to a rebellious shift among the younger generation.

One woman said she spent months chatting with a man online. They finally agreed to meet at a grocery store, where they texted from opposite end of an aisle. They spoke face-to-face for the first time when he asked her father for her hand in marriage. Until today, their parents believe they met through work.

Saudi writer Tamador Alyami says tradition is being outpaced by the Internet’s potential for match-making. Private chat rooms and social media have given Saudis a space to pursue relationships on their own terms. Alyami said women today are asserting their greater independence. “They don’t just want their mothers to meet with their (prospective) husbands’ mothers and, you know, make all of the arrangements on their behalf.”

Some Saudi media have joined the clerics in hand-wringing over — as one newspaper put it — “the army of spinsters.” A Saudi writer for the Al-Sharq news website called the phenomenon a “cancer” in society, leading to vice. Popular Saudi talk show host Dawoud Al-Shiryan dedicated an entire recent broadcast to discuss spinsterhood.

In Al-Shiryan’s show, family psychologist Fawzia Al-Hani said the government is partly responsible for the large numbers of young single women because young men find it increasingly difficult to afford a house, wedding and “mahr” — a sum of money a groom traditionally gives his bride. Some pundits have blamed fathers for demanding exorbitant sums of money from male suitors and have even accused them of intentionally keeping their working daughters single because they rely on their income.

But ultimately, many Saudi women are staying single longer by choice. Fatani wants a husband who has also lived abroad and has aspirations similar to hers. She prefers to meet him outside of an arranged setting and wants the chance to experience “things like grocery shopping together” before deciding if she wants to marry him. “I definitely want to know him outside a traditional showfa,” she said.



Female Genital Mutilation a Growing Problem in Iran

22 Jan, 2015

The hideous practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is neither an exclusively Muslim nor a principally Middle Eastern phenomenon. It exists among non-Muslims through wide areas of Africa.

But in Iraq and Iran, FGM is mainly associated with Kurds. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, which is fighting against the terrorists of the so-called "Islamic State," has pursued a substantive effort to eradicate FGM. As reported here, the KRG parliament introduced legislation prohibiting FGM in 2007. The law was passed in 2011 and forbade, additionally, child marriage, so-called "honor murders," and other abuses suffered typically by women. In 2010, the KRG health ministry produced a plan to eliminate FGM and called on Islamic clergy to condemn the custom.

Last year, Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, director in Iraq of a German-based charity, WADI—the Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Cooperation—said in an interview that FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan had declined dramatically, and that measurable success in stopping FGM there could be credited to the political change that began in 1991. "Saddam Hussein lost power here back in 1991. There is a relative degree of freedom," von der Osten-Sacken said. That freedom—and other achievements by the Iraqi Kurds—were made possible, as should be recognized, by the decision of President George H.W. Bush to impose a "no-fly zone" over Iraqi Kurdistan.

By contrast "the existence of FGM in Iran is a well-kept secret," according to the organization Stop FGM Middle East. On November 25, 2014, Radio Farda, the U.S.-backed Farsi-language broadcast directed to Iran, aired a 30-minute documentary on FGM under the rule of the Islamic Republic. Translated by Stop FGM Middle East, the transcript revealed yet another cruel feature of Iranian life, reinforced by the hypocrisy of the ruling clerics.

FGM in Iran is concentrated in the north-western provinces of Iranian Azerbaijan, Iranian Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and Ilam, and the Persian Gulf province of Hormozgan.

Radio Farda noted that in 2014 Iran was added, for the first time, to the global list of countries in which FGM is present. The media agency interviewed Iranian researcher Rayeyeh Mozafarian, of the University of Shiraz, who accumulated interviews on FGM between 2007 and 2009. She stated, "FGM is carried out in private houses by midwives and not by surgeons in hospitals." FGM goes unmentioned in Iranian law, which does criminalize mutilation of the body. But Mozafarian determined, "Despite the practice being liable to prosecution, practically nobody is charged. . . . No victim files charges against her own parents."

Mozafarian specified that FGM in Iran is concentrated in the northwestern provinces of Iranian Azerbaijan, Iranian Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and Ilam, and the Persian Gulf province of Hormozgan. She denied that FGM is a cultural problem and identified it with Islam, since, she argued, "People say that women who do not let themselves be cut are not Muslims." But Mozafarian stipulated, "there are differences in opinion in Islam" about FGM. Women's rights activist and lawyer Bayan Azizi, in speaking to Radio Farda, referred to these as border regions along a female-cutting "line."

Some Iranian clerics support FGM, but exiled Iranian cleric Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, who opposes the theocratic state and lives in Germany, disagreed with them. He informed Radio Farda, "female circumcision is not mentioned . . . in the Quran or in the Sunna or Hadiths [traditions derived from accounts of Muhammad's oral teachings]. . . . For the past 1,400 years there was no reflection of this topic in books by Islamic scholars or clerics. It is certain that there is nothing in the Koran."

He added, "Islam does not have an ascetic view of sexuality. . . . But unfortunately, there are such views in our religious culture. Therefore, control of the female body is important and sex and the sexual drive are seen as bad." That is a motivation for infliction of FGM on young girls—to diminish their interest in sex, even after marriage.

As described in the Radio Farda documentary, the impact of FGM on women and their marriages is often devastating. A woman identified only as Roja said, "In my opinion the biggest problem in Iran is sexuality. Many marriages break up because of it, because they don't speak openly about it. Because the partners often have sexual problems."

Parvin Zabihi, a prominent Iranian Kurdish advocate for women's rights, told Radio Farda,

The men want it. We must talk first about acceptance in society. Society believes that circumcised girls are more innocent and such girls get more proposals of marriage and are more favored. This means that it is actually something the men want.

Responding to an interviewer's query as to whether the ameliorative rhetoric of president Hassan Rouhani will bring FGM to an end in Iran, Rayeyeh Mozafarian pointed out that legal measures against FGM in Iran are "often talked about, but not implemented." As in other contexts, the Iranian clergy are inclined to avoid, rather than confront, the shameful problems under their dominion.

Official brutality and indifference continue to define the lives of ordinary Iranians. Meaningless promises are made to Iranians and to the world by the clerical dictatorship. Even fighting the so-called Islamic State, Iraqi Kurds have advantages denied their relatives east of the border.

Irfan Al-Alawi is executive director of the London-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation. Stephen Schwartz, a fellow at the Middle East Forum, is executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism in Washington, DC.



West African Examinations Council, Muslims in Standoff over Veil

22 Jan, 2015

There appears to be some disagreement between the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and a section of the Muslim community over the total exposure of the faces of Muslim schoolchildren in pictures for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE).

Since news broke that WAEC insists that all Muslims in the final-year of junior high school (JHS) must not have anything obstructing their faces, including the veil, schoolchildren and a section of Muslim leaders have stated that the directive is an infringement on the rights of the children to practise their religion

However, WAEC has clarified the issue of the wearing of headscarves or hijab in taking pictures for the BECE.

It said the passport-size pictures for the BECE must capture all features of the face, such as the ear, the forehead with part of the top hair, the eye, nose, the mouth and the chin.

The Principal Public Affairs Officer of WAEC, Mrs A.N. Teye-Cudjoe, told the Daily Graphic that if candidates could put on veils or scarves and show their ears, foreheads with part of top hair, eyes, nose, mouth and chin, they would not be barred from taking the pictures.

She explained that the pictures were supposed to serve as identities for the candidates and indicated that the pictures would also appear in their specifications.

Mrs Teye-Cudjoe said WAEC wanted to ensure that the images were clear.

“We have specifications of passport-size pictures that candidates should present to ensure that their eyes, forehead with part of top hair appear in the picture.

“If a candidate decides that because of her religious background she will put on the veil, she has to ensure that we see the nose, the ear, mouth and chin, so that we have a clear picture of who the candidate is,” she said.

A copy of the specifications made available to the Daily Graphic indicated that candidates’ images should be captured without spectacles or sunglasses.

It added that both ears of candidates must appear and the image should be centred.

The Greater Accra Regional Manager of the Islamic Education Unit of the Ghana Education Service (GES), Sheikh Armiyao Shuaib, told the Daily Graphic that he had got reports from the Western Region that some girls were asked to remove their veils to retake pictures for the BECE.

However, he said, the unit had not received any report from any headteacher in Accra about any prospective candidates being compelled to remove their veils before taking the pictures.

Sheikh Shuaib said if for purposes of identification Muslim girls were asked to adjust their veils to expose their ears or part of their veils, then there was “no problem”.

However, he said, the Muslim community “will vehemently oppose” any directive for a complete removal of the veil before taking the BECE pictures.

Sheikh Shuaib said such a directive would be “discriminatory and unfair” and urged WAEC to tread cautiously.



Hindu Woman Saves Muslims from Rioters in Bihar Village

22 Jan, 2015

A Hindu woman who saved lives of 10 Muslims in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district during the recent clashes in which five people died is being hailed as a hero.

Shail Devi, a widow in her early 50s, risking her own life, gave shelter to her Muslim neighbours when a mob of more than 5,000 people attacked Azizpur Bahilwara village after a 20-year-old Hindu boy was found dead on Sunday.

He was allegedly abducted and killed over his love affair with a Muslim girl.

"I provided shelter to my Muslim neighbours to save their lives because the mob could have killed them," Shail said Wednesday morning.

"I was standing before my house around early noon when a few people came running asking me to shelter them. I took them in and locked them from outside apprehending something foul," she said.

"Later, a group of people, equipped with traditional weapons approached me and asked me to handover the people who were inside. I lied to them. But they threatened me with elimination should they find out that I had shielded them".

"Me and my daughters were afraid. But that did not deter me. We wanted to save those lives. We are happy, that we never gave up or expressed their fear", she said.

"She has proved again that humanity is still alive, we are proud of her," Arvind Kumar, a villager, said.

Ash Mohammad, a man in his 60s, who was one of the ten Muslims  whose lives were saved by Shail, told IANS that she is like 'Farishta' (angel) to them.

"Shail was like god-sent angel to us...," Mohammad said.

Mohammad admitted that all of them could have been killed if Shail had not given shelter to them.

Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who visited the village Wednesday, met Shail. He lauded her role and compared her with legendary Rani Lakshmibai.

Manjhi handed over a cheque of Rs 51,000 to Shail Devi (59) and Rs 20,000 each to her two daughters for showing exemplary courage against all odds and saving the lives of her neighbours.

Honouring the trio, Manjhi said "Shail is modern day Lakshmibai. She and her daughters have showed the way not only to the people of the area, but also to all people fighting to save humanity".

"I salute their effort. They have showed that humanity is still alive. I have no words to express my deep sense of gratitude to them. They saved people fleeing death at great risk to their own lives", he said.

Blessing Shail's daughters, Anita (14) and Sangeeta (13), both students of Azizpur government middle school, Manjhi advised them to complete their studies and work to empower people around them. "The money which I am giving you is meant to complete your studies. Prepare yourself to serve the people", the CM added.

"She is an example of communal harmony. People should take lesson from her and she would inspire others to follow her," Manjhi praised her.

Manjhi also announced assistance of Rs 20,000 each to her two unmarried daughters under a welfare scheme.

Earlier, Bihar information technology minister Shahid Ali Khan also praised Shail for saving the lives of her Muslim neighbours.

"I promised her help by the state government, and a reward for her soon," said Khan, who visited the village on Tuesday.

A First Information Report (FIR) was registered Monday against 2,000 unidentified people and 12 named accused who were part of the mob that attacked the villagers from a particular community, the official added.

Police have already arrested 14 people in this connection.

Additional director general of police Gupteshwar Pandey submitted an inquiry report on the incident Tuesday to the state government.

Soon after the incident, Manjhi asked Pandey and state home secretary Sudhir Kumar to conduct a probe and report to him.

Four persons were charred to death during the violent clash in Azizpur village under Saraiya police, some 35 kms from the district headquarters. More than ten houses and 18 vehicles were also set afire in the incident, which was sparked off following the recovery the body of a teenager, who had been abducted earlier.



Jordan Woman Gives Birth over Atlantic on board Royal Jordanian

22 Jan, 2015

NEW YORK: A woman gave birth to a baby girl over the Atlantic on a flight to New York from Jordan, a US airport official said Wednesday. The 33-year-old woman was assisted by a nurse and doctor who happened to be on board Royal Jordanian flight J261 when she went into labor.

The little girl was born at around 5:30 p.m. New York time on Tuesday, while the plane was cruising over the Atlantic, said Joe Pentangelo, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “From what the doctor said, it was a fairly straight forward delivery,” he said. The baby weighs more than six pounds.

The Dreamliner landed at Kennedy Airport following a journey of 11 and a half hours. Mother and baby were taken to a nearby hospital. The woman is Jordanian and was traveling alone.



Australian Muslim Groups Condemn Islamic State's 'Barbaric' Use of Yazidi Slaves

22 Jan, 2015

Australian Muslim groups have condemned the use of slaves, calling it barbaric and completely out of line with Islam.

The condemnation came amid claims Australian jihadists Mohamed Elomar and Khaled Sharrouf, who are fighting alongside Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, have enslaved women from the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq.

Of the 80 or so suspected Australian jihadists in the region, they are the best known, and their activities have caused a great deal of concern for local Muslims.

News they could be holding slaves has generated disgust among senior members of the Islamic community in Australia who have warned that extra funding needs to be put into programs to prevent young Muslims from being radicalised.

Prominent Muslim community spokesman Keysar Trad said the claims the men are holding slaves is concerning.

"This is certainly very, very disturbing news, and our sympathies are with the victims. We really feel for those girls and for their loved ones," he said.

Joumanah El-Matrah, who heads the Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights, is also appalled.

"From the Islamic perspective, Islam does certainly not allow for the enslavement of other human beings, much less the selling of them," he said.

"One of the positive things about Islam is that it actually works to eradicate the enslavement, particularly of women, which was quite common in Islam's early history.

El-Matrah baffled by Australian militant motives

Elomar's postings on social media indicate he is a popular and influential figure among Australians who turn up to fight for Islamic State.

Recent postings show he was in contact with Mahmoud Abdullatif, a Melbourne man who has reportedly been killed in combat in Syria.

Elomar also recently posted a photo of a Yazidi child holding a gun. The picture is captioned: "he is starting to get the idea that ISIS is a way of life."

Islamic State's brutally and extreme interpretation of Islam is unparalleled.

Mr El-Matrah finds it baffling how anybody who has had the opportunities Australia provides could follow it.

"It's really quite difficult to understand how two young Australian men, having grown up in this country, can actually take those views of other human beings, and then label it as Islamic," he said.

"I think that many community leaders and other professionals in the area are still trying to understand exactly how these young men have arrived at the situation that they're in."

Community-based programs needed to stop radicalisation

After recent briefings with US security officials, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she was even more troubled by the threat of foreign fighters.

Many Muslims say more needs to be done to prevent young people from becoming radicalised in Australia.

Last year, the Government allocated $13.4 million to fund programs aimed at preventing young Australians becoming involved with extremist groups.

But some Muslim leaders say the community is yet to see any of that money in action.

Mr El-Matrah warned the threat of radicalisation would grow unless it was tackled at a community level.

"Unfortunately, in the last two or three years, we've moved away from community based approach, and getting the community itself to work on issues of radicalisation," he said.

"Communities are being quite open to doing that work and there's been some very solid work to date."

"Unfortunately, the Government has withdrawn resources from that area, which I think is a mistake, and is contrary to what is happening in almost every other part of the world when it comes to radicalisation - from Muslim countries that may be labelled developing nations, to places like the US and the UK, where community approaches seem to be now the most important approach to take."



Egypt’s ‘Oldest’ Woman, Fatema Qadib, Dies Aged 115

22 Jan, 2015

The oldest woman in Egypt reportedly died this week, the health inspector of the coastal Beheira Governorate confirmed, according to Al Arabiya News Channel. She was 115.

Fatema Amr Eissa Qadib, who lived in Beheira, was born on April 20, 1900, Mohammad Ali Moqresh said.

Her death, which was reported on Tuesday, was due to natural causes after her brain and heart stopped functioning, Moqresh said.

The oldest fully authenticated age to which any human has ever lived is 122 years and164 days. The holder is France’s Jeanne Louise Calment.



Token Legal Reforms Fail to End Violence against Women in Egypt - Report

22 Jan, 2015

London — Token legal reforms have failed to end widespread public, domestic and state violence against women and girls in Egypt, who face sexual abuse, mob attacks, and torture in custody, a a rights group report said on Wednesday.

Despite recent initiatives, including a law criminalising sexual harassment, shortfalls in Egyptian law and a cycle of impunity for perpetrators mean that sexual and gender-based violence is still rife, Amnesty International said.

The report said the Egyptian authorities had failed to prevent, investigate and punish violence against women and girls, or provide victims with justice, compensation and support, including physical and psychological rehabilitation.

Women played a key role in the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but activists say the rising influence of Islamists, culminating in the election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Mursi as president, was a major setback for women's rights.

"The reality is that women and girls in Egypt face the ever-present, lurking spectre of physical and sexual violence in all facets of life," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Amnesty.

"At home many are subjected to vicious beatings, aggression and abuse from spouses and relatives. In public they face incessant sexual harassment and the risk of mob attacks, when not falling prey to state officials' violence."

More than 99 percent of women and girls in Egypt reported being subjected to sexual harassment in a 2013 study by UN Women, and Amnesty said the number of sexual assaults in public had soared in recent years.

Sexual assaults and rapes have been carried out repeatedly in which women have been groped, stripped naked and dragged through the streets or beaten with sticks, knives and belts by violent mobs, the report said.

Many female prisoners, including pregnant women, told Amnesty that they had been assaulted, tortured and raped while in state custody.

The report also said that support for domestic abuse victims, who described how their spouses had beaten, whipped, burned and locked them up against their will, was non-existent.

Women who choose to report such treatment face a lack of interest from the security forces or prosecutors, and inadequate criminal laws, which do not explicitly criminalise domestic violence and marital rape.

Amnesty said the Egyptian authorities had responded to the violence simply by creating new institutions, at the expense of reforming existing laws, and by instructing law enforcement agencies and the courts not to tolerate violence against women.

Sahraoui called the measures largely symbolic, and urged the authorities to make sustained efforts to implement changes and "challenge deeply entrenched attitudes prevalent in Egyptian society".

Egypt was ranked as the worst country in the Arab world for women's rights in a 2013 poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Tim Pearce)




Muneeza in the Middle Explores Muslim Woman’s Search for Identity

22 Jan, 2015

The voluminous black and white scarf Toronto lawyer Muneeza Sheikh wraps around her head as a hijab at the conclusion of documentary Muneeza in the Middle has a dramatic skull motif — and is from designer Alexander McQueen.

Do faith and fashion have to be at odds for a devout Muslim woman?

In Ottawa filmmaker Hoda Elatawi’s revelatory doc, premiering Wednesday Jan. 21 on CBC’s documentary channel, Sheikh, 33, struggles with defining herself and understanding how the image she projects relates to who she is as a woman, wife and particularly as a mother.

It’s a complex issue and one that will be familiar to women regardless of culture or beliefs, especially when the confident Sheikh discovers long-held opinions waver with the birth of her daughter Haniyah.

A devout Muslim, the question of what defines modesty — considered an outward expression of faith — is at the heart of Muneeza in the Middle, which was filmed over five years.

“We became a part of their lives and that was one of the things we wanted to accomplish,” said Elatawi of the time she spent filming Sheikh and her husband of 13 years, Mustafa Khaliq.

Sheikh, who has a fondness for flash and designer clothes, shared what she calls “my very personal journey” with Elatawi. And although the doc begins focused on Sheikh, it soon becomes an exploration of marriage and motherhood, along with culture and friendship, all offering an inside look at life in a Canadian Muslim household.

Muneeza in the Middle premieres at a “challenging time for Muslims around the world,” Sheikh agreed as she sat down with the Star in the boardroom of Toronto employment and labour law firm Levitt & Grosman LLP, where she is a partner. A tongue stud was occasionally visible as she talked.

“I think this (documentary) is really just about my personal journey, but there’s an element of the film that represents diversity in the community right now and, if you turn on the radio or TV, respectfully, I think there’s a lot of hate proliferated toward the Muslim community right now,” Sheikh said.

“This is the time to get some dialogue going about how diverse our community really is.”

As Muneeza in the Middle opens, Sheikh is seen without makeup, wearing a hijab and at prayer. In the next scene, a tattooed man is punching a new piercing into the cartilage of her ear.

“I think it’s pretty and I really don’t care what anybody else thinks,” says Sheikh as she admires the new look in a mirror. Ditto for the $2,600 handbag (not her only one), dramatic makeup and the designer clothes she loves to wear.

Humility is a “huge” part of being a good Muslim, she admits in the film, adding, “I don’t have too much of it.”

“For me the challenge has always been (that) I do consider myself to be a devout Muslim woman,” Sheikh explained last week.

She keeps a prayer rug and Hijab in her office, is conscious of not dressing to draw male attention and avoids after-work events where alcohol would be an issue.

“I do believe in the religion wholeheartedly,” she continued. “But I also relate very much to my Canadian and western identity and so for me, it was a matter of finding a liaison between the two that would make me feel comfortable. I wish I could tell you I’ve figured it all out today sitting before you, but it’s still a journey. I still struggle with it.”

The decision to participate in the documentary was prompted by the couple’s desire to “make a creative contribution,” Sheikh said, adding while, “I don’t regret the fact I was open and upfront,” she does wonder how viewers will react to “some of the contradictory things I said throughout the years.”

She now regrets saying in the doc that she represents “the majority” of Muslim women. “I wish I didn’t say that,” said Sheikh. “I don’t feel that way, but I do feel I represent the diversity.”

Added Sheikh: “I don’t want to be seen as the ambassador for Islam. I am simply the ambassador for my own personal life and my journey.”

“The thing I really liked about Muneeza is, she’s not apologetic. ‘I am who I am and I’m struggling with certain things and I admit that I cherry pick,’ ” said Elatawi of her subject. “We all cherry pick, whether it’s our culture or value system.

Onscreen, Sheikh and Khaliq are often at odds, although in gentle fashion. Khaliq, a soft-spoken former marketer who now runs a personal shopping and wardrobe consulting business, is more conservative. Their debates intensify with the births of Haniyah, now 6, and 2 1/2-year-old son, Noah.

Khaliq makes it clear he’s not crazy about the two-piece baby bikini Sheikh buys for their then-toddler daughter, to say nothing of his reaction to his wife’s use of facial fillers and fondness for bright lipstick.

“To me, a personal life is a personal life,” Khaliq said last week when asked about his reaction to the documentary.

“Neeze and I are two different people,” he added. “We’ve accepted that and God willing, we continue to make it work.”

Filmmaker Elatawi first met Sheikh in 2008 while researching a film on multiculturalism.

“I really connected with Muneeza,” said Elatawi, who is also Muslim and came to Canada from Egypt as a child.

“She was so engaging and so articulate and so self-assured and confident,” said Elatawi, who figured it would be “interesting” to examine Sheikh’s life as she had a family.

It’s not surprising to see Sheikh become more conservative in her outlook as her daughter grows up.

“I can certainly see (my story) is something that would have resonated with any young woman who is raising a young lady at home,” said Sheikh. “You do crazy things in your past and you worry that your daughter is going to say, ‘Practise what you preach.’”

To that end, she said, she wants Haniyah to marry a Muslim. If her daughter is not religious, she said, it would break her heart.

“As Haniyah is getting older I think I’ve become a lot more conservative, although Mustafa thinks I’ve got a long way to go,” Sheikh said with a smile.



Muslim Mahila Foundation seeks Bharat Ratna for Subhash Chandra Bose

22 Jan, 2015

VARANASI: The members of Muslim Mahila Foundation (MMF) carried out a 'Subhash March' from Hukulganj to Chowkaghat on Wednesday urging the government to confer Bharat Ratna up on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

The members of MMF also accused Congress of eradicating the historical proof of the contribution of Muslims and women in the struggle for freedom. They emphasized on the contribution of women in the freedom struggle by becoming a part of Rani Jhansi Regiment in July 1943. They urged the government to make the facts related to Bose public. President of MMF, Nazneen Ansari highlighted the involvement of Muslims in the freedom struggle.

According to her, a series of programmes will also be held where the Muslim women will go door-to-door revealing historical details of Bose as well as contribution of women in Rani Jhansi Regiment. They will also spread the message of 'Jai Hind' and also promote Hindi language. A campaign will also be initiated asking the government to reveal files related to Bose and declare him as the 'First President' of the nation. The MMF will also try to establish cordial relations between Hindus and Muslims and spread the 'Divide and Rule policy' of politicians to the entire Muslim community. Also, establish patriotism in Muslim community and educate the Muslim women for a better future with principles of Bose.