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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 17 Oct 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Muslim Women: A STEP FORWARD

Muslim Women’s Newsletter

Patna Muslim girl tops in IGNOU’s PGDCA at international level

Patna: She is a silver lining in the dark cloud and thus could be a role model. Sidrah Jamal of Patna’s Sultanganj area – a thickly Muslim-dominated pocket of the state capital – has earned honor and fame for not just her already well-off and well-educated family but for the community also – the community whose females are described as the most illiterate among the rest of the communities in the country.

Sidrah has got Gold Medal for topping in the Postgraduate Diploma in Computer Applications (PGDCA) at IGNOU – the New Delhi based world’s largest Open University with study centres across the country and in different parts of the globe.

The youngest daughter of Mr. Shaukat Jamal and Mrs. Subuhi Jamal, Sidrah is pursuing Master in Computer Application (MCA) at IGNOU – the first year of the course is also considered as Post Graduate Diploma In Computer Applications (PGDCA). She has topped in the first year of MCA. She was awarded the medal at the 24th convocation ceremony of IGNOU held on 5th September. Sidrah did BCA in 2010 from Patna Women's College, Patna University.

Sidrah’s father holds a high post in Railways while her two elder sisters are lecturer at the prestigious Patna Women’s College.

Giving details about her family and herself, Sidrah told “I am the youngest daughter of Mr. Shaukat Jamal and Mrs. Subuhi Jamal. My father is the Chief Inspector of Tickets in East Central Railways and my mother is homemaker. We are three sisters. My eldest sister Mrs. Soofia Fatima is the Head of Commerce Dept., Patna Women's College and my elder sister Mrs. Sadaf Fatima is an Economics Faculty, Commerce Dept., Patna Women's College.”

Muslim women creating new artscape

New Delhi, Sep 14 (IANS) Using icons of Islam, a small group of Muslim women is creating a genre of art that seeks to address contemporary socio-political issues and concerns related to empowerment of women.

'They are innovating on elements from Islam to interpret what is happening to them and it goes beyond religion to become utterly human and secular,' Ashok Vajpeyi, the chairperson of the Lalit Kala Akademi, told IANS.

'Traditionally, not many women have existed in the field of art. It is an interesting emergence in the sense that there have been women writers in the 18th century. For a long time, it was thought that Islam did not allow visual representation.'

Two stalwarts in this world of Islamic art are Zarina Hashmi and the late Nasreen Mohamedi, who have re-interpreted Islamic calligraphy, geometry and spiritual linguistics on their canvas to engage with the 21st century world.

Karachi-born Nasreen Mohamedi, who died of Parkinson's disease in 1990 in India and was often described by critics and reviewers as progressive, addressed issues of urbanisation and the correlation between space, structures, time and dislocation in her grid-like works that were uncharacteristic of a Muslim woman artist.

'Both Zarina's and Nasreen's canvases are very secular. They should not be viewed as Islamic artists,' said Vajpeyi, who is also chairperson of Copal Art, an emerging art platform.

Copal Art had recently organised a dialogue which turned the spotlight on the significant role women artists are gradually playing in the contemporary world of Islamic art.

A mixed media installation by New York-based senior Indian artist Zarina Hashmi at an ongoing exhibition, 'Home Spun', in the Devi Art Foundation in the capital is a set of eight letters written by Zarina's sister Rani from Pakistan but could not be mailed.

The Urdu letters documented important socio-political events in the subcontinent during the 1940s and 1950s.

Hashmi superimposed the pages with Islamic calligraphy to create new metaphors that spoke of 'everyday life in Pakistan and India from an Islamic perspective at a time when the country was in a transformational state'.

As an artist, Zarina Hashmi who left India for New York in 1976 was a rebel, says art critic, curator and historian Roobina Karode.

'Initially, she was upset by the fact that American viewers expected her to offer Indian cliches - like vibrant colours and ornamentation. Her sparse, frugal and white canvases were seen as 'un-Indian'. When she reached New York for the first time in 1938, the feminist (women's suffrage) movement in the US was at its peak. Zarina was inspired by American feminists like Adrienne Rich, Nancy Spero and Amy Sillman,' Karode told IANS.

A new generation of women artists are carrying this legacy forward.

Shabnam Shah of Indore uses a 'black and white' colour palette to interpret Islamic icons while designer-artist Nida Mehmood breaks new ground with her brand of popular and kitsch art to address contemporary realities.

Karachi-based multimedia artist and photographer Bani Abidi, married to Delhi-based Indian graphic artist and novelist Sarnath Banerjee, comments on cultural diversities in the subcontinent from the perspective of a Muslim woman and practitioner of Islam.

'I definitely think there is a large body of women trying to create a new language of modernity from the Islamic background, finding a voice of their own with their own tools,' Amal Allana, eminent theatre personality and director of the Art Heritage Gallery, told IANS.

Agrees Salima Hashmi, the dean of the Visual Arts Department of the Beacon house National University in Lahore. 'It is an act of courage on the part of these Islamic girls to come out to tackle subject matters that were taboo earlier - like female sexuality, ownership of the body, violence against women and democracy'.

Several of her women students, like Faiza Butt, Masooma Syed, also married to an Indian, and Ruby Chisti, address radical issues without deviating from the matrix of the greater Islamic religious ethos.

Women try to beat odds in UAE poll

DUBAI: Fathiya al-Khamiri worries less about her chances of victory at the United Arab Emirates’ advisory council election on Saturday than whether any woman will win a seat. It is the second time the UAE is holding an election to its advisory body, a type of parliament which is allowed to make recommendations to the rulers of the seven emirates but has no binding powers. Only 20 of its 40 seats are up for grabs, with the remainder being appointed by the rulers. Khamiri told Reuters at the Dubai Ladies Club it was all but inevitable that a large chunk of the female vote — which makes up 46 percent of a handpicked electorate of 129,000 people — would go to men in what is a patriarchal society. “We are waiting for surprises in September’s elections,” said Khamiri, a Dubai businesswoman who unlike most Emirati women does not wear a Hijab or head covering. Khamiri said she hoped a new generation was breaking away from a tradition when male family members encourage women to give their votes to male candidates. And she suggested the UAE could introduce a quota system, which would give women a guaranteed minimum number of seats in the assembly. Of the 468 candidates running for the Federal National Council (FNC), 85 are women, but so far, a woman’s best chance to join the council has been by appointment. Reuters

Sharing the blessings

THE first Filipina Muslim to win the prestigious Zonta International Young Women for Public Affairs (YWPA) Award is donating part of her US$4,000 prize money to uplift the lives of poor Muslim women and children in Mindanao through education.

“Amid the celebration of the Eid’l Fitr, I lament and continue to be disturbed by the problems affecting the Muslim society in the Philippines, especially the sad plight of Muslim women and children. I am donating part of the US$4,000 prize from Zonta Foundation, which was given to me for my educational advancement, to the Kristiyano-Islam Peace Library (Kris) to finance its literacy programs,” said 16-year-old Arriza Ann Sahi Nocum.

An administrator of Kris, Nocum believes that her work with Kris stood out among the 1,200 Zonta clubs across 64 countries that reviewed the thousands of teenagers nominated for the world annual YWPA search.

A freshman at the University of the Philippine, Nocum was nominated by the Zonta Club in Quezon City under Ms. Teresita Buencamino for her involvement in the Kris advocacy where she leads volunteers in the collection of books, write articles and letters to donors, manage the website and facilitate book-readings and other programs for Kris.

Put up by her Christian father Armand Dean Nocum and Muslim mother Ann Sahi Nocum in 2001, Kris has established five libraries all over the country, which are located in a suspected Abu Sayyaf jump-off point in Manicahan, Zamboanga City; a slum area in Quezon City; and a library in a resettlement area for Typhoon Ondoy victims in Rodriguez, Rizal.

She had also set up the foundations of two proposed libraries near a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) stronghold in Tungawan, Zamboanga del Sur.

Kris has also given 101 scholarship grants to poor but deserving kids in terror-stricken Mindanao and has donated tens of thousands of books, school supplies, computers, as well as provided free use of computers to public schools all over the country. One recent scholarship was the kids who swim to school in mangrove community in Layag Layag, Zamboanga City.

Although Nocum thanked many donors here and abroad – including her parents who made donating to the Kris Library a form of “tithing” – she wished more people would help Kris so they can put up more libraries and donate books to poor areas in Mindanao.

A UP Oblation scholar taking up industrial engineering, Nocum said she would channel her donation to the bright but poor scholars of Kris.

“It feels different when you’re a scholar,” Nocum admits. “As a scholar, you have an obligation. For me, that obligation is to my country as an ‘iskolar ng bayan.’ As for those poor children whose scholarship I can now provide for, I will visit them every so often and expect them to finish their studies such that they can someday fulfill meaningful roles in their communities.”

Nocum says Mindanao has the highest dropout rates, maintains the lowest scores for national achievement tests and is therefore severely in need in terms of education.

With her plans, she dreams that her scholars will “transform into Mindanao’s change-makers” in the future.

Nocum received her certificates and check from District Governor Georgitta Pimentel-Puyat and Zonta International President Dianne K. Curtis at Zonta District 17’s International Conference last August 27 at Sofitel Philippine Plaza.

“Her application struck me the most. Coming from Cotabato, I know for myself how much attention Mindanao needs right now. She is the first from District 17 ever to be an international recipient and thus the first Filipina to win the YWPA Award. We are very proud of her,” Puyat says.

Nocum first won the Zonta Award District Level, besting other finalists from District 17 which is comprised of the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. She was awarded with an initial grant of $1,000.

Nocum also achieved the brilliant distinction of being one of only five international recipients from all over the world winning at the International Level. Each international recipient received US $3,000.

Aside from the Philippines, the Top 5 in the world came from USA, Ghana, India and Switzerland.

“This award and my donation do not spell the end of my commitment to Zonta and to public affairs. It is only the beginning,” Nocum said.

Islamic reality TV show in Malaysia seeks best women preachers

A forthcoming Islamic reality television show in Malaysia aims to find the best women preachers and change conservative mindsets on the role of women in Muslim societies.

The 13-episode prime time program titled "Solehah," an Arabic word meaning "pious female," is a talent contest that will feature charismatic young Muslim women judged by clerics on their religious knowledge as well as their oratory skills and personality.

Although Islam allows both men and women to preach the religion to society, the field remains dominated by males in most Muslim countries, something the show's producers in this mainly Muslim but multi-religious Southeast Asian country hope to change.

"If American Idol can help their contestants develop as singers, our show aims to help Muslim women develop as Islamic preachers," said Zulkarnaen Mokhtar, brand manager at the private television station which produces the show.

The show will start airing in October and follows on the heels of the hit Islamic themed show "Imam Muda," or Young Imam, which is shown on a rival TV station and seeks the best Imam or male Muslim leader. Imam Muda is set to enter its second season.

The television station said earlier in a statement that it had seen there was a dearth of reality TV shows catering to women and religion.

"Solehah aims to be a show that provides religious education informally while acknowledging the role of women in the development of Islam," it added.

The women are being judged by their ability mainly to "da'wah," an Arabic word literally meaning to spread Islam. In practice it mainly means delivering religious lectures to an audience of Muslims to get them to be better Muslims.

The first day of two days of auditions for Solehah, open to Muslim women aged between 20 to 30, was held in the capital city on Saturday and drew a group of women clad in colorful headscarves, some accompanied by their mothers.

They were tested by a selection panel on skills including reciting the Quran and delivering impromptu three-minute religious lectures on the responsibility of Muslims to help victims of natural disasters.

Amie Sofia Ahmad, 25, an Egypt-trained Quranic studies graduate who took part in the audition, said some conservative Muslims frown upon Muslim women appearing and promoting themselves so openly on television.

"But we live in a modern world and television can be an important medium to spread the religion so why should we continue to remain in the background?" she said.

Prizes have yet to be decided. The prize for the Imam Muda men's program are a job as an imam, or mosque leader, a car, a cash prize of 30,000 ringgit($9,922), and a four-year scholarship to Al-Madinah University in Saudi Arabia.


Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan (here Sultan is a name, not a title) was born at Bhopal as the elder and only surviving child of Nawab Begum Sultan Shah Jahan and her husband General HH Nasir ud-Daula, Nawab Baqi Muhammad Khan Bahadur (1823–1867). In 1868, she was proclaimed heir apparent to the Bhopal musnaid following the death of her grandmother, Sikander Begum and her mother's succession to the throne. In 1901, Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan succeeded her mother at her death.

Nawab Begum of Dar-ul-Iqbal Bhopal

A great reformer in the tradition of her mother and grandmother, Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan founded several important educational institutions in Bhopal, establishing free and compulsory primary education in 1918. During her reign, she had a particular focus on public instruction, especially female education. She built many technical institutes and schools and increased the number of qualified teachers. From 1920 until her death, she was the founding Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. Even till today, she is the only lady Chancellor ever served forAligarh Muslim University.

Not just a reformer in the field of education, the Nawab Begum reformed taxation, the army, police, the judiciary and the jails, expanded agriculture, and constructed extensive irrigation and public works in the state. Also, she established an Executive and Legislative State Council in 1922 and began open elections for the municipalities.

In 1914, she was the President of the All-India Muslim Ladies' Association. Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan's primary legacy, though, was in the field of public health, as she pioneered widespread inoculation and vaccination programs and improved the water supply and standards of hygiene and sanitation. A prolific author, she wrote several books on education, health and other topics, including Hidayat uz-Zaujan, Sabil ul-Jinan, Tandurusti (Health), Bachchon-ki- Parwarish, Hidayat Timardari, Maishat-o-Moashirat. Owing to her numerous activities, she was the recipient of numerous honours and awards.

In 1926, after a reign of 25 years, Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan abdicated the throne in favour of her youngest child and only surviving son, Hamidullah Khan. She died four years later, aged 71.


Threats don’t faze Farida Nekzad. She’s a veteran journalist in Afghanistan.

Farida Nekzad has faced threats of kidnapping, acid attacks and a plot to blow up her apartment since she founded her first news agency in Afghanistan seven years ago.

Members of the Taliban e-mailed some of the warnings; others arrived over the phone. One caller warned she would be murdered and disfigured so horrendously that her family would not be able to recognize her body.

But Ms. Nekzad, whose most recent project is a news agency that spearheads coverage of the problems that Afghan women face, is undeterred.

Wakht, or “Time” in Nekzad’s native Dari, is one of a handful of majority female media outlets springing up across a country where women’s voices often go unheard.

It has seven female reporters and three male journalists and operates across 10 provinces.

Ms. Nekzad, who has start-up funding from private donors and hopes to become self-supporting through advertising within 18 months, aims to expand from text reports to multimedia presentations.

“In 30 years of war, women and children are the ones to suffer the most, but they are not given any attention and have no media coverage,” Ms. Nekzad said, referring to decades-long violence sparked by the Soviet invasion of her country in 1979.

A long-time journalist with international media awards to her name, Ms. Nekzad first received threats when she co-founded privately-owned news agency Pajhwok, in 2004 in Kabul. Her husband has also received written warnings saying he would be killed as punishment for his wife’s work. Ms. Nekzad’s new project increased the threat to the safety of both.

The only news agency of its kind, Wakht joins five women-owned radio stations spread across Afghanistan, all of which have been targeted by violence and intimidation.

They face constant opposition from the Taliban, challenges from more conservative sectors of a devoutly Muslim society, and staffing and management issues related to employing women in a country where only a minority work outside the home. One station in Kabul was torched, taking it temporarily off the air.

Female journalists at Radio Sahar, set up in the western city of Herat, say they have received death threats. A female-run television channel, called Shiberghan TV after the capital of northern Jowzjan province, plans to go on the air in mid-September, but finding women willing and able to work on camera is a constant struggle.

Since the Taliban government was toppled by US-backed Afghan forces in 2001, women in Afghanistan have won back the basic rights of education, voting and work, which the militant group considered un-Islamic.

But they face an uncertain future since Afghan and foreign leaders embraced the idea of seeking a negotiated end to 10 years of war through talks with the Taliban. Female Afghan lawmakers and analysts warn the talks could result in women losing the rights they have regained but still struggle to exercise in a male-dominated society.

“It is not easy being a female leader in Afghanistan. I suffer from it constantly,” said Ms. Nekzad, speaking in fluent English and dressed in a velvet black headscarf, long blouse and flowing ebony floor-length skirt.

The 34-year-old was educated in Afghanistan and India, a country she has visited regularly since launching Wakht a year ago. Before March, she turned down invitations to appear on talk shows and at conferences, concerned about her safety.

She leads Wakht’s coverage on domestic violence, the bartering of girls and women between families and the widespread but illegal practice of forced marriages. Though common across the country, such stories rarely make the mainstream media, despite funding for many outlets coming from Western donors who are keen to promote women’s rights.

Making things more difficult, even dedicated outlets struggle in Afghanistan. Wakht’s reporters have been lured away by rivals with big cash offers, in what Ms. Nekzad sees as an attempt by more conservative factions of society to silence her agency.

Edited by: Qutub Jehan Kidwai

Source: Muslim Women’s Newsletter - Vol. 6   No. 54, September 2011