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In Switzerland, Muslim Parents Can’t Prevent Their Daughters From Swimming With Boys

New Age Islam News Bureau

12 Jan 2017 

Photo: Nissrine Samali, 20, gets into the sea wearing a burkini, a wetsuit-like garment that also covers the head, in Marseille, southern France. (Associated Press)


 Muslim Girl Scout Troops Provide Unique Opportunity In Malden

 Girl, 18, Disowns Christianity Over Suit Against Her Conversion To Islam

 Nigeria Faces Mounting Pressure To Rescue Girls Abducted By Boko Haram 1,000 Days Ago

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




In Switzerland, Muslim parents can’t prevent their daughters from swimming with boys

By Amanda Erickson

January 11, 2017

In 2008, a couple living in Basel, Switzerland, forbid their young daughters from attending school swim class. The Muslim parents didn't want their kids, 7 and 9, in the pool with boys.

Officials made some accommodations — the girls could wear burkinis, they said, and they could change without boys present. But they had to come to class.

Still, the parents refused. So the city ordered them to pay a fine of 1,400 Swiss francs (about $1,380) for “acting in breach of their parental duty.” In response, the parents sued, arguing that their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion had been violated.

The European Court of Human Rights heard their case. This week, it decided that schools can force parents to send their kids to co-ed swimming lessons. It argued that “the full school curriculum” was essential for children's “successful integration” into society. It also said that the measure “protect[ed] foreign pupils from any form of social exclusion.” And it noted that Switzerland should be able to design its education system according to its particular needs.

“The children's interest in a full education, thus facilitating their successful social integration according to local customs and mores, prevailed over the parents' wish to have their children exempted from mixed swimming lessons,” the court said.

The court did acknowledge that religious freedom was being interfered with but said that didn't make it a violation.

The ruling fits into a much larger debate in Europe, one that pits the religious rights of minorities against a commitment to integration and secularism. In 2013, a German judge ruled that a 13-year-old girl must attend swim lessons but that she had the right to wear a burkini. Last year, France banned women from wearing burkinis in public spaces, a law eventually overturned by French courts. France, Belgium and the Netherlands have each banned, to varying degrees, the wearing of Muslim veils in public. And after two teenage Muslim brothers refused to shake hands with female teachers, Switzerland suspended the family's citizenship process.

But experts say there's more at work than simple Islamophobia. Americans tend to privilege the rights of the parent. But in Europe, children have their own rights, ones that the state takes an active role in enforcing. For example, children have a right to an education and an obligation to go to school, no matter what parents say.

The ECHR also believes strongly in protecting the “culture” of particular countries. In 2011, the court found that Italian public schools did not have to remove crucifixes from their walls. In a concurring opinion, one judge explained that to remove the crucifixes would inappropriately curtail Italian “culture.” “A European court should not be called upon to bankrupt centuries of European tradition,” the judge wrote. “No court, certainly not this court, should rob the Italians of part of their cultural personality.”

Sometimes, though, these efforts have enabled the ECHR to uphold some member countries' more xenophobic legislation, NYU professor Elayne Oliphant said in an email. In 2008, Switzerland banned the construction of minarets through referendum. The ECHR upheld the measure in 2011. In 2014, the court allowed the French ban on Muslims' full-face coverings to stand, accepting the government's argument that French culture put a high value on “living together.”

Oliphant writes:

“Such bans or regulations are ostensibly aimed at enforcing 'integration,' but instead confirm Muslims' status as second-class citizens in Europe. That the ECHR has continually supported such efforts in the name of protecting majority 'cultures' — which are often equated with the majority religion of Christianity — suggests that the cultural and religious practices of Muslims are simply unworthy of similar protections. At a time when Islamophobia is rampant, the lack of national and European level support for Muslims exacerbates very difficult and painful experiences of exclusion.”



Muslim Girl Scout troops provide unique opportunity in Malden

By Aaron Leibowitz

Jan 11, 2017

Each meeting of the newly formed Muslim Girl Scout troops in Malden begins with a prayer.

Divided into Daisy, Brownie and Junior troops inside small classrooms at the Malden Islamic Center, the girls recite Al-Fatiha, the opening chapter of the Koran, praising the one God who guides them to the straight path.

Once they're finished, the girls raise the pointer, middle and ring fingers on their right hands and say the Girl Scout Promise, with one small tweak: "To serve Allah and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law."

Then, in unison, they recite the Girl Scout Law: "I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring ... to make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout."

For the rest of their meetings, the girls work to earn badges in skills like first aid and money management. They plan trips, like the one they took to Legoland in November. They strategize to sell Thin Mints and Caramel deLites.

"We're just adding our own Islamic twist to it," said Brownie co-leader Jeanette Minyaoui of Everett, who registered the troop with Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts last spring. "So much of Girl Scout values is what Islam is teaching you."

The group, which held its first meetings in October, traces its roots to a Facebook group for Muslim mothers in the Greater Boston area, where discussion of the idea began in early 2015. Ultimately, there was so much demand for Muslim Girl Scouts that some families had to be turned away.

Nabila Idbelaid of Winthrop, who helped form the new troops, had been driving her daughter an hour south to the Islamic Center of New England in Quincy for weekly Girl Scout meetings.

"It was too hard for me to navigate from Winthrop to Quincy every week," she said.

Now, there are 37 girls across three new troops, hailing from Malden, Everett, Lexington, Andover, North Andover, Winthrop, Woburn, Stoneham, Chelsea and Revere. Their numbers will only grow - next year, some of the Juniors will move up to the Cadette level, as long as there are leaders available to support them.

"We have a lot of big dreams," Idbelaid said. "We're going to work hard to achieve it."

At a meeting last Sunday, Idbelaid and Minyaoui talked to their Brownie troop about distinguishing between needs and wants and about being resourceful. Instead of throwing things away, said 8-year-old Haaniya Shaikh of Lexington, "you can give it to the poor and donate it."

In an adjacent room, the younger Daisy troop learned to count coins with varied success. One girl began counting dimes lined up on the floor: "10, 20, 30, 31, 32 ..." Parent-volunteer Amal Alouache gently corrected her and asked her to try again, so she did. "I have one billion and twenty!" she concluded.

In a third room, the Junior troop, consisting of fourth and fifth graders, read aloud from a handout about lemurs and elephants. Leader Rubina Siddiqi followed up with a question: "Do we have any animals mentioned in the Koran?" The girls blurted out answers: "Frogs!" "Camels!" "Elephants!"

About an hour into the meeting, the scouts and a handful of others at the mosque were alerted that the Muslim call to prayer, or adhan, was about to begin. Girls who did not have their heads covered put on hijabs and the group gathered inside a carpeted prayer room. An imam led the call and the scouts followed, kneeling and prostrating together in tight rows.

When the prayer concluded, they returned to their respective classrooms for a closing song. They formed a circle and squeezed each other's hands.

"Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other's gold," they chanted. "A circle is round, it has no end, that's how long I want to be your friend."

Some of the similarities between the language of Girl Scouts and the language of Islam are striking, Minyaoui says. Girl Scouts preach the importance of being a sister to every girl. In Islam, women refer to each other as sisters. To earn a badge in the so-called Girl Scout Way, scouts learn to leave a place cleaner than they found it. That lesson is emphasized often among Muslims.

"I'm like, 'Am I reading something about Islam, or am I reading the Girl Scout manual?'" Minyaoui said. "Some things like that are exact."

Minyaoui, who grew up in Girl Scouts and converted to Islam when she was 25, said these are simply the values for which most people strive.

"I think it's what many people want for their children," she said. "To try new things, be a good person, be honest and caring."

The scouts are starting to make those connections themselves.

"Girl Scouts has a lot to do with our religion, like saving energy, saving water, and we don't want to waste things," said 10-year-old Halima, Minyaoui's older daughter.

The concept of faith-based scouting is not new. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsors more than 400,000 Boy Scouts, and the United Methodist Church and Catholic Church sponsor hundreds of thousands more. Outside the United States, the International Union of Muslim Scouts boasts members in 61 countries.

Girl Scouts of the USA does not keep statistics on its Muslim troops, but news reports suggest there are groups in Detroit, Minneapolis, Chicago and Brooklyn, as well as several troops in Massachusetts in Quincy and Sharon. According to a story last May in the Washington Post, there are about 2,500 boys in 79 mosque-based Boy Scout troops around the country.

The newest Boston-area troops are not formally affiliated with any mosque, but the Islamic Center in downtown Malden welcomes them on Sunday afternoons.

"We're very appreciative," Minyaoui said, "but we are separate."

The Girl Scout tradition runs deep in Malden, where the local service unit celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015. The unit's leaders have forged a tight bond with the Muslim troops, hosting them for a first aid workshop and offering guidance to their leaders.

"They are the most welcoming women and have really supported us," Minyaoui said. "They've gone above and beyond."

As the cookie-selling season gets underway, the Muslim troops are making their presence known in the community. In late November, they marched in Malden's Parade of Holiday Traditions. The day before New Year's, they sold cookies at the ISBCC mosque in Roxbury.

On Monday, they will participate in a day of service for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and will donate socks to families living at the Town Line Inn. And in the coming weeks, they will set up cookie tables at the YMCA and Stop & Shop in Malden.

The girls seem to be loving every minute of it.

"So far, I've liked everything," said Aya Elkadmiri, 8, of Revere. "I joined because it seemed to be a lot of fun and I really wanted to try it out. You get to meet a lot of new friends, and that's what I wanted to do."

Shaikh said some of her classmates in Lexington are scouts and talk about the badges they earn. Now, she can join the conversation.

"I really like getting in their talks," she said. "I can talk about being a Girl Scout, too."

With help from their troop leaders, the girls decided they would go to Gloucester in May for a whale watch using the proceeds from their cookie sales. They determined that the trip would cost $25 per person and that each scout would need to sell at least 36 boxes to make it happen.

"If we raise enough money," said Elkadmiri, "we get to go whale watching."

The girls' unbridled enthusiasm is what has impressed their troop leaders most. Every week, Minyaoui said, they show up giddy to explore something new.

"I feel like they're excited to see me and to be together," she said. "That's priceless."

Before last Sunday's meeting began, the girls were eager to discuss why they had wanted to join Girl Scouts and the activities they enjoy most. Asked for her thoughts, 10-year-old Inssaf Machouk of Malden delivered an impromptu pitch to young Muslim girls like her.

"If you join the Muslim Girl Scouts, it's going to be really fun - learning new things, making new friends," she said. "It's just amazing having the feeling of being a Muslim Girl Scout."



Girl, 18, Disowns Christianity Over Suit Against Her Conversion To Islam

January 12th, 2017

- Habiba Ishaku eloped and converted from Christianity to Islam to get married without her parents consent

- The girl claimed to be 18 years old at the moment of her marriage

- Now court is considering a suit instituted on her behalf where she is described as a minor

Habiba Ishaku, whose exact age is yet to be established, ran away secretly in order to get married to Jamilu Lawal without parental consent.

The girl reportedly dumped Christianity and turned to Islam in Kankara Local Government Area of Katsina state.

During the court sitting on Wednesday, January 11, Habiba dissociated herslef from a suit allegedly filed on her behalf by Trustees of Stefanos Foundation and the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) over her conversion to Islam.

Habiba presented a letter to the Katsina High Court where he insisted that she is actually 18 years old.

However, the girl's father Mr Ishaku Tanko and the representatives of ECWA and foundation claim that Habiba is underage.

Mr Bawa Yakubu, the counsel to the plaintiff, urged the court to disregard the letter as it was written in Hausa language and should not be admitted as a document before the court.

Mr Abu Umar, the defence counsel, argued that since the letter translated in English language, then, it can stand as concrete document before the court.

He said:"Even if she is a minor as argued by the defence, there is no law that prevent a minor from expressing his or her views according to the Nigerian Constitution.

Habiba also told the court in her letter that she is 18 years and not 14 years, as been speculated."

The judge, Justice Baraka Iliyasu-Wali, summoned Habiba to appear in court on January 25 to confirm or deny authorship of the letter.



Nigeria faces mounting pressure to rescue girls abducted by Boko Haram 1,000 days ago

11 January 2017

By Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Kieran Guilbert

CHIBOK, Nigeria/DAKAR, Jan 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - N igeria is facing mounting pressure to find some 200 schoolgirls abducted 1,000 days ago in Boko Haram's most infamous attack after the rescue of 24 girls raised hopes that they are alive.

For more than two years there was no sign of the girls who were kidnapped by the Islamist fighters from a school in Chibok in northeast Nigeria one night in April 2014, sparking global outrage and a celebrity-backed campaign #bringbackourgirls.

But the discovery of one of the girls with a baby last May fuelled hopes for their safety, with a further two girls found in later months and a group of 21 released in October in a deal brokered by Switzerland and the International Red Cross. .

For parents like Rebecca Joseph the return home of the group of 21 girls at Christmas was a bitter-sweet celebration.

Her daughter, Elizabeth, is one of an estimated 195 girls still held captive by the jihadist group, which has tried to force some of them to convert to Islam and to marry their captors.

"I am happy that some of the girls are returning home even though my own daughter is not among them," Joseph told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the town of Chibok in Borno state.

"My prayer is that my daughter and the rest of the girls will be rescued and returned to their families safe."

With last weekend marking 1,000 days since the girls were abducted, President Muhammadu Buhari said he remained committed to ensuring the abducted schoolgirls are reunited with their families "as soon as practicable".

"We are hopeful that many more will still return," said Buhari, who came to power in 2015 and replaced a government criticised for not doing enough to find the missing girls.

"The tears never dry, the ache is in our hearts," he said in a statement.

The Nigerian government said last month that it was involved in negotiations aimed at securing the release of some of the girls as the army captured a key Boko Haram camp, the militant group's last enclave in the vast Sambisa forest.

The exact number of Chibok girls still in captivity is believed to be 195 but it has been hard to pin down an exact number since the girls went missing.

Academics and security experts say it may be a huge challenge to obtain the girls' freedom given the significance of the abduction for Boko Haram, which has killed about 15,000 people in its seven-year insurgency to set up an Islamic state.

"Outside Nigeria, the Chibok girls have come to symbolise the Boko Haram conflict," said Sola Tayo, an associate fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House.

"The global outrage generated by their captivity has added to their value to the insurgents," she added, adding that they were also significant to Buhari because he made their release a key campaign pledge before his 2015 election.

The government said in October that it had not swapped Boko Haram fighters or paid a ransom for the release of the 21 girls but several security analysts said it was implausible that the Islamist group would have let the girls go for nothing.

"To secure the release of the remaining girls would require concessions by the Nigerian government, which could reverse significant gains it has made against Boko Haram," said Ryan Cummings, director of risk management consultancy Signal Risk.

"In addition to detainees, Boko Haram may also demand supplies, weapons, vehicles and even money which they could use to recalibrate and invigorate their armed campaign against the Nigerian state."


One of the major obstacles to securing the release of all of the Chibok girls who remain in captivity is the deep divisions emerging within Boko Haram, said Freedom Onuoha, a security analyst and lecturer at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.

The militants split last year with one faction moving away from the group's established figurehead Abubakar Shekau over his failure to adhere to guidance from Islamic State to which Boko Haram pledged allegiance in 2015.

It is unclear how many Chibok girls are held by the main faction led by Shekau, thought to be based in the Sambisa, and by the Islamic State-allied splinter group - headed by Abu Musab al-Barnawi and believed to operate in the Lake Chad area.

"It will be difficult to release most of the remaining girls as each faction will maintain a strong hold on them and would negotiate with state officials on their own terms," said Onuoha.

While the deal to free the 21 girls was seen as a huge boost for the government's assertions that it would soon bring home the others, a lack of progress since then has seen public hopes dwindle and frustrations arise, academics said.

Although Nigeria has driven Boko Haram out of most of the territory it held, its battle against the militants will not be considered over until the fate of all of the Chibok girls is made clear, said Nnamdi Obasi of the International Crisis Group.

"From various indications, it is most unlikely that all the remaining girls will come home alive, but the government owes their parents and the public the fundamental responsibility of accounting for every one of them," the Nigeria analyst said.

"In the long run, that's the only way to bring closure to this sad episode."

(Reporting by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit




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