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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 13 Jan 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Little Girls Now Latest Weapons of the Taliban: The Ugly Face of Terrorism

New Age Islam News Bureau

13 Jan 2014

 Photo: Islamic Scholarship and Maldivian Women – My Swim against the Tide



 Tanzania: Why Wife Inheritance Should Be Discouraged

 Tanzania: Poor Sanitation Claims 1,500 Lives of Women and Girls

 Dress, Designed By Arab Woman, Laced With Verses from Quran Sparks Row

 Afghan Women Seek Internet’s Virtual Veil

 Child Bride Found Dead In Southeastern Turkey after Giving Second Birth

 Islamic Scholarship and Maldivian Women – My Swim against the Tide

 Indonesia Female Candidates Will Face Uphill Battle In 2014 Election

 KSU to Open College for Female Graduates

 Syria: Extremists Restricting Women’s Rights

 Nida Kirmani on the Muslim Identity Crisis in a New Delhi Locality

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Little Girls Now Latest Weapons of the Taliban: The Ugly Face of Terrorism

Jan 13, 2014

On the 7th of January, CNN carried a disturbing story of a girl who had apparently been groomed all her life to ultimately sacrifice herself as a suicide bomber. Ten-year old Spozhmai was allegedly supposed to blow up a border police station in the southern Helmand province. Even though the details surrounding her capture and eventual rescue, one thing is sure: this is disturbing for obvious reasons.

BBC carried a related story telling us that the girl is the sister of a Taliban commander, and there are stories saying her own brother forced her into the attempted suicide bombing.

To be fair, though, this isn’t the first time these jihadists have used children to ‘support’ their cause. Professionals whose jobs it is to study international terrorism say it is a marked attribute of these Islamic sects to recruit within their families, and that these children usually have no idea what they are asked to do. Some of them were drugged into compliance. Can you imagine that?

Mia Bloom and John Horgan (of BBC) tell the story of a six-year boy, Juma Gul who, in 2007, was the subject of a failed Taliban suicide bombing plan. The young boy was strapped with the vest and told that “flowers and food would appear” when he pressed the detonation button.

However, as the boy walked towards the target, he paused. Instead of pressing the button, he called for help from Afghan National Army soldiers (who were nearby). The soldiers deactivated the bomb and rescued the boy.

If you found the slave trade or - currently – child trafficking – despicable, this should inflame you beyond comfort. We should understand further that like begets like, and it may only be a matter of time before the ugly child-bombing face of terrorists begin to hit closer to home.

While we are battling insecurity, power generation problems and the hydra-headed coerruption monster, it would be really exasperating to have to grapple with the insurgence of child bombers, innocent, barely developed children, gangly babies who are yet to decipher left from right.

In the war against terrorism, both sides, to a certain degree, tend to fight fair, but factoring in child bombers just makes the term ‘fighting dirty’ a euphemism.



Tanzania: Why Wife Inheritance Should Be Discouraged

Jan 13, 2014

WIDOW inheritance, also known as bride inheritance, is a type of marriage in which a widow marries a kinsman of her late husband, often his brother.

It can have various forms and functions in different cultures, serving in relative proportions as a social protection for and control over, the widow and her children.

She may have the right to require her late husband's extended family to provide her with a new man or conversely she might have the obligation to accept the man put forward by the family, with no real prospect of turning him down, if her birth family will not accept her back into their home.

The custom is sometimes justified on the basis that it ensures that the wealth does not leave the patrilineal family. It is also sometimes justified as a protection for the widow and her children.

Several cultural groups practise the traditional custom of widow inheritance (levirate marriage), which occurs when a widow is 'inherited' by a male in-law (usually the brother of the deceased husband) who takes her as his wife.

Originally, the practice of widow inheritance protected widows and their children by ensuring that they would not face hardship after losing the family bread winner.

A report by Human Right Watch (HRW) on domestic abuse and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection indicates that the practice of widow inheritance is 'widespread.' Like Gloria Mohammed, she says her first co-wife agreed with the clan's desire and was immediately inherited.

She had no option but to give into their demands and the third wife followed suit shortly after. "Despite my argument that during this era of HIV, it is not advisable to practise wife inheritance, the elders could hear none of it," she says. Shortly after she was inherited she conceived and gave birth to a boy.

However, her new found joy was short lived because two years, the baby died of an unknown illness. And the worst was yet to come. One of her co-wives fell sick and died in 2002. She says her fortunes changed for the better in 2005 when God blessed her with another child.

But fate was not done with her just yet. Six months later she was taken ill and admitted. "While I was at this hospital, a clinical officer advised me to get tested for HIV, to which I obliged after thorough counselling," she says.

She was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB), treated and discharged. However, a year later, she decided she went for another HIV test and was found positive. As she started her new phase of living positively, medical personnel advised her to quit the wife inheritance arrangement, to curb the spreading of the virus.

She says she had to plead with her second husband to abandon the practice which he did not take kindly but after persistently making him aware of the risks involved, he finally quit. With proper diet and Anti- Retroviral (ARCs) drugs, her health has improved over the years.

She has been a champion against wife inheritance in the community by urging widows to shun it for it has no place in the present society where HIV is claiming many lives, leaving hundreds of children as orphans.

The mother of seven says she has mobilised women from her own village who have been falling sick on and taken them for HIV testing, a thing which she adds has earned her the name 'champion for HIV counselling and testing.'

She also urges those who plan to engage in wife inheritance to get tested for HIV first. She says the government is discouraging the practice as one of the means of fighting HIV infection. She says the practice initially had good intentions but many are now taking advantage of it to spread HIV.

With her friends, she says they are constantly conducting 'barazas' to sensitise the public and educate them on the dangers of practising the culture, while not considering its effects such as HIV infection. "We even make such announcement at funerals, where we are trying to discourage the public from practising wife inheritance because of the dangers it poses in terms of spreading HIV," she says.

Wife inheritance was a common practice involved the widow to be taken under the care of a close brother in-law, who was expected to sire children with her to maintain the continuity of his late brother's family. There were clear procedures to be followed whenever the practice was to take place.

A person well known to the family was to take the mantle of being the new husband to the widow. Such a person was to be a brother of the deceased and from his clan but not an outsider. Even though the practice is still going on, it is not as profound since many people who are practising it now are ignoring rules governing it.

In many parts of the world, women's right to inherit land and other property is severely limited. Under customary law that is followed in many countries in Africa, at a man's death, his property is either inherited by his adult sons or if his children are minors, repossessed by his family.

Customary laws, cultural practices and traditional norms are used to justify the disinheritance of widows and invoked to override statutory or constitutional provisions for women that may provide them with a legal right to inherit. In Nigeria, for example, customary law settles approximately 80 per cent of land disputes at the expense of women's rights.

The denial of inheritance rights to women results in the descent of millions of women and their families into extreme poverty and is a major cause and consequence of violence against women in Africa. The number of those affected by discriminatory inheritance practices continues to rise in Africa because of war and HIV/AIDS.

It has been estimated that between 80 and 90 per cent of the 16 million children that have lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS is living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Young girls, orphaned by the epidemic, have become heads of impoverished and vulnerable households.

Elderly women have also been affected since the responsibility for supporting grandchildren often falls on the shoulders of the elderly. The Gender Equality and Women Empowerment programme (GEWEII) is fighting against wife inheritance as an injustice.



Tanzania: Poor Sanitation Claims 1,500 Lives of Women and Girls

Jan 13, 2014

It is estimated that 1,500 women and girls die every year from diseases brought about by lack of access to sanitation and water in the country.

According to the report published by Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, WaterAid and Unilever, nearly nine out of ten women in Tanzania risk shame, disease and dignity because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet and 2.8 million women have no choice but to go to relieve themselves out in the open.

"A collaborative approach between the Tanzanian Government, civil society and business is essential in getting the Millennium Development Goal sanitation target back on track in order to improve the health and prosperity of women in the country," say the report.

The report published on the first United Nations (UN) to recognise World Toilet Day, serves as a reminder of the around 40 million people lacking access to an improved toilet in Tanzania, with devastating consequences in particular for the wellbeing, health, education and empowerment of women and girls in the country.

WaterAid Tanzania Country Representative, Dr Ibrahim Kabole calls for government, civil society and business community to team up towards tackling sanitation for women's health in the country.

"There is need for an increase on sanitation financing to meet the country's Millennium Development Goals targets," he says, adding that the country was currently off track from meeting the sanitation MDG target which is due to be completed in 2015.

Dr Kabole recommends that the ongoing National Sanitation Campaign and Water Sector Development Programme in Tanzania should ensure that all schools have adequate sanitation facilities including hand washing facilities and separate toilets for boys and girls with access for students with disabilities.

"There is also need to ensure that specific provision is made at school for establishing proper menstrual hygiene management facilities. Ensure hygiene promotion is featured as an important part of the school curriculum from primary level," he adds.

On the other hand, the report highlights that menstruating girls have additional sanitation needs in the school environment. This includes both physical and hardware components such as the number of latrines, privacy and availability of clean water.

"Lack of these components can result in ineffective participation in class, school days lost each month or even dropping out of school altogether," reads part of the report.

The report said that the studies in Tanzania show that WASH facilities that are suitable for children with disabilities are found in only 4 per cent of schools with some 60 per cent of latrines for girls missing doors, depriving girls from privacy and their dignity.

The report, titled "We can't wait," brings together real life case studies of people, alongside research from a variety of organisations and agencies that examine the impact of a lack of sanitation for women and girls. According to the report, globally, one person in three lacks access to adequate sanitation.

The result is widespread deaths and diseases - especially among children - and social marginalisation. Women are particularly vulnerable. "Poor sanitation exposes females to the risk of assault, and when schools cannot provide clean, safe, toilets girls' attendance drop," says UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson.

Echoing the Eliasson, the Chief Executive Officer of Unilever, Paul Polman, says that: "We simply cannot wait. By acting decisively now, we can make a positive impact on global health, education, women's safety, social equality and economic growth for generations to come".

On the other hand, the report calls for governments (both developing and donor countries) to strengthen the sanitation sector and bring the respective Millennium Development Goal target back on track as an immediate and urgent political priority.

It recommends for government across the world to keep their promises and implement the commitments made at national level, regional level global level (Sanitation and Water for All), including increasing financial resources to the sector.

The wise use of the resources and ensuring that the most marginalised and vulnerable people are targeted is also called for the post- 2015 development framework to succeed MDGs needs to address water, sanitation and hygiene as priority issues.

"You should set ambitious targets to achieve universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene, and gradually reduce and eventually eliminate inequalities in access and use," recommends the report. The report calls for more actors in the private sector to realise the social and business opportunities and invest in social development.

More frequent and cross-sector collaboration is essential to achieving real progress. In another development, the Unilever Senior Vice- President Household Care calls for concerted efforts that combines the experience, knowledge and resources of both public and private sector organisations to bring safe sanitation to hundreds of millions of people.

The Deputy Minister for Regional Administration and Local Governments, Kassim Majaliwa, says that statistics shows that 22 per cent of homes in towns and 9 per cent in villages are the only ones with clean toilets. "The state of cleanliness in the country is not satisfactory, especially toilets in homes, institutions, health and bus stops," he says.



Dress, Designed By Arab Woman, Laced With Verses from Quran Sparks Row

Jan 13, 2014

Manama: Saudis have vented their anger and frustration on social networks following news that a young Arab woman from northern Israel has designed a dress for her college that featured verses from the Quran.

The dress with verses from Al Baqara (The Cow) Chapter was initially posted on the Facebook account of Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, Israel, as part of the designs prepared by students, Saudi news site Sab reported on Saturday.

According to Israeli sites, the picture of a model wearing the dress uploaded to Shenkar’s Facebook page was under the title “Cat on a hot tin roof, the Arab Spring version.”

The designer’s family said that they had no intention of insulting the Quran or the feelings of Muslims, and that the work was simply a project carried out as part of the designer’s studies, the Israeli sites said.

But for several Muslims, the design had to be fully equivocally condemned.

“It seems that this student believed that the only way to win the approval of her college was through insulting the Quran,” people told Sabq.

Musaad, a blogger, said that the student should be punished for provoking Muslims, unless she was forced to design the dress.

“It could be understood if she was coerced into doing it,” he posted. “But if it was her own decision, then she should be severely punished. She cannot provoke Muslims or any religion and walk free,” he said.

Writing under the moniker Mhmn, a blogger said that stringent action should be taken against the student and all those who contributed to the desecration of the Holy Book.

Another blogger said that the focus should not be on “the perpetrator of the heinous act”, but on the insult to Islam.

“We do not care whether the student is Arab or otherwise, Muslim or not,” Religious, the blogger, wrote.

“We need to be able to address such insults to our religion. They cannot be condoned in any way and they should not be tolerated because they do not help with the drive by some international figures to bridge differences and bring religions together,” Religious said.



Afghan women seek Internet’s virtual veil


Jan 13, 2014

Off a dusty, unpaved street near Kabul University, Roya Mahboob’s software company is designing a Web platform to let Afghan women create content from home even if Taliban militants return to power and curb their rights.

“I just make myself more invisible in the society” while “becoming more visible” on the Internet, Mahboob, 26, a computer science graduate of Herat University, said of her tactic for coping with opposition in a country that faces potential upheaval after international combat troops leave at the end of this year.

Retreating behind the electronic veil of the Internet isn’t an option for Zarghuna Sherzad, 46, a partner in Jahan Guldozi, an embroidery factory that employs 20 women about 5 kilometers from Mahboob’s office in Kabul.

“I grew up in the war, and I’ve spent a very difficult time in the past,” she said through an interpreter at her factory, recalling that when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan before the U.S. invasion in 2001, she endured beatings just for wearing sandals that showed her feet. “I’m always praying that regime should not be repeated.”

Women such as Mahboob and Sherzad are at risk of losing the freedoms they’ve won since the U.S. and its allies upended the Taliban, who cited their fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran to ban girls from attending schools and women from leaving their homes. Those gains already are under stress as international combat forces prepare to leave by the end of this year.

“Insecurity might increase at the provincial level, and that could limit the freedom of women, particularly their movement in terms of their political participation in the provinces and in terms of their businesses,” said Nilofar Sakhi, executive director of the International Center for Afghan Women’s Economic Development at the American University of Afghanistan.

Afghan women have gained legal rights and protections in the last decade. Women are now 27 percent of the country’s parliament and have started to join police forces. A decree signed by President Hamid Karzai in 2009 made rape a crime for the first time, while also banning violence against women, child marriage, forced marriage and the denial of rights to education or work.

Those gains are tentative, the International Crisis Group said in an October report, “Women and Conflict in Afghanistan.” The decree signed by Karzai has yet to be ratified by the Parliament, where conservative lawmakers have called it un-Islamic, the group said. The country’s new electoral law calls for reducing a quota for female parliamentarians to 20 percent from 25 percent.

Since Afghan National Security Forces took the lead role from U.S. and other foreign forces in the middle of last year, “insurgent threats to women have increased,” according to the Brussels-based group. Women’s rights “are also under attack from yesterday’s warlords, now power brokers both within and outside government.”

While some of the candidates for president have affirmed their support for women’s rights, the Taliban say that if they return to rule or share power they will bar women from wearing Western clothes and girls from sharing classrooms with boys.

“A change in the current Afghan constitution is highly required to keep Afghan women’s rights low,” Zabihullah Mujahed, a Taliban spokesman, said in a phone interview.

Women in public roles increasingly have come under attack. On Jan. 2, two gunmen on a motorbike in the western Afghan city of Herat shot to death Yalda Waziri, 25, who worked for the local government, according to the BBC. In the same province, Lieutenant Negar, 38 a female police official who like many Afghans went by one name, was shot and killed in September, a few months after her female predecessor was killed in a similar fashion, the BBC reported.

“There are real fears of losing the progress that has been made,” said Afshan Khan, chief executive officer of Women for Women International, a Washington-based nonprofit group that helps women in war-torn countries rebuild their lives.

In the last decade, Women for Women has trained 46,000 Afghan women, providing them with skills to operate small businesses. The group also has distributed $26 million in stipends and micro-credits, Khan said.

Sherzad, who had no schooling and raised two daughters after her husband disappeared, graduated from Women for Women’s one-year training program. She teamed up two years ago with Nesar Ahmad to expand the embroidery business he operated.

Together, they’ve invested $250,000 in computerized Chinese machines that make decorative embroidered panels. Afghans sew the embroidery onto a shalwar-kameez, a loose-fitting tunic and pant worn by men in the country.

In addition to the 20 workers at the factory, the company employs 300 women who work from their homes and turn out hand-made embroidery, Sherzad said. The products are sold in Afghanistan as far west and south as Herat and Kandahar, generating a profit of about $5,000 a month, the co-owners said in interviews.

In a country where conservative Islamic groups still forbid mixing genders, the partnership between Ahmad, 50, and Sherzad stands out all the more because they belong to tribes that traditionally have clashed. She’s a Pashtun, a Sunni majority group from the south that includes the Taliban, and he’s a Hazara, a predominantly Shiite minority group from the north.

Sherzad’s family, including her missing husband’s brother and other Pashtun men, “were against the partnership because I’m a Hazara,” Ahmad said through an interpreter. He said he persisted because “she has very good skills in marketing, and knows how to encourage people, and how to talk to people and sell products.”

Ahmad said he prevailed by telling Sherzad’s brother-in-law: “If you’re feeling so protective about her, why don’t you provide food for her and her two daughters? If you can, that’s OK. But if you’re not, then she should be able to work.”

Amid uncertainty over a presidential election scheduled for April and the departure of most foreign troops by year-end, “There’s a fear if Taliban return to power, we’ll lose all the progress we’ve made,” Ahmad said. “She will not be able to come work here, and I will not be able to reach her.”

In contrast, a select group of Afghan girls and women who’ve grown up in the last decade, gone to school and are familiar with computers may find online sanctuary if Mahboob’s online initiative succeeds.

Internet penetration in Afghanistan has grown to 5.5 Web users per 100 people in 2012 from 1 per 1,000 in 2003, according to World Bank data. By comparison, Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan had 10 Internet users per 100 people in 2012, according to the bank.

Mahboob, whose Afghan Citadel Software Co. was started with the help of the U.S. Defense Department’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, has developed an online blogging and film platform called Women’s Annex.

It lets women work from their homes to produce content that’s then featured on social-media websites. Advertising revenue generated by the sites is shared with the content creators, Mahboob said.

“We have created a technology that shows influence” and a scoring system that indicates the popularity of content that members of the Women’s Annex develop, Mahboob said. “Based on that they can make $5 to $100 a day” depending on how popular their blog or story is, she said.

The average daily wage for an Afghan construction worker in 2012 was $5.70, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Among the few jobs paying more than what Mahboob cited as the minimum women can earn online is the thriving drug trade: Collecting opium gum from poppies yields $11.70 a day, the agency found.

Mahboob’s business is based on Film Annex, a technology that her Italian business partner, philanthropist Francesco Rulli, developed to create Web videos. Mahboob’s company also has developed an online examination and vocational training tool called Examer that she’s promoting to Afghan schools, as well as to other countries in the region.

Mahboob ― who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world last year because of her role as a female entrepreneur working to expand Internet access for women ― says a conservative interpretation of Islamic theology isn’t the only force threatening to confine Afghan women behind closed doors.

She said they also must contend with common criminals, as well as men envious of a successful woman.

“I’m worried about kidnapping or they say bad stuff about me,” Mahboob said. Those are all reasons why “I’ve shifted my business to work online and want to give these tools to other women,” Mahboob said.

“Even if the Taliban are back, women can get online education, even if fighting starts,” she said, before pausing to acknowledge a potential weakness in her plans. (Bloomberg)



Child bride found dead in southeastern Turkey after giving second birth

January 13 2014

A 14-year-old girl has been found dead in her home, shot by a gun in the southeastern province of Siirt, a few days after giving birth to her second child.

The girl, identified only as K.E., was only 11-years-old when she was married to a man with a religious ceremony upon their families’ decision. She gave birth to a baby when she was 12 and became pregnant with her second child shortly afterwards.

K.E. was living with the family of her husband, identified as M.A., in the Pervari district of Siirt. M.A. was recruited to the army for his compulsory military service two months ago, when his wife was seven months pregnant. She then gave birth to her second child, but the baby died soon after birth.

K.E. was found dead in her room on Jan. 10. Her body had a gunshot wound and was sent to the Diyarbakır Forensic Institute for an autopsy.

The Pervari public prosecutor’s office has started an investigation into the death, and M.A.’s family members have been questioned. They reportedly claim that the young mother was depressed and had not left her room after losing her baby, adding that she had committed suicide.

The family members also claim that the deceased is older than 14 and that a court case to decide her real age is currently ongoing.



Islamic Scholarship and Maldivian Women – My swim against the tide

By Aishath H. Rasheed | January 13th, 2014

As a Maldivian woman, and as a pursuer of Islamic scholarship, the issue of how Islamic scholarship relates to the women of this country is one that I have been faced with at various points of my academic and personal life. One thing, I found, is undeniable – there are huge challenges for women in the field of Islamic scholarship in our country.

In the Maldives, Islamic scholarship – at least on the level of public discourse – is a field almost completely monopolised by men. In Maldives, an Islamic scholar must have a beard, at least the potential to have one. A Maldivian Islamic scholar must wear his pants short, or at least must be able to do so without uncovering part of his awrah. Women, by their very nature, are unable to fulfill these conditions.

It is true that as a principle, Islam does not prevent women from studying Islamic sciences or from preaching Islam based on their knowledge. Aisha, my namesake – I have always been proud to say – and the Prophet’s wife (Peace be upon him and may Allah be pleased with her) is an Islamic scholar, who is shown as a role model to Muslim women. It is also true that many women, including myself, have been issued licenses to preach Islam by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and previously by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. One must ask, however, how often these women do, or are given the opportunity to, address an audience at all, not to mention one comprising both genders. One cannot help but wonder whom among these women is given the opportunity to be at the forefront of the Maldivian stage of the eternal strife to promote Islam.

Thus, all issues relating to women are given but a rather reluctant and half-baked coverage – women’s education, women’s employment, marital responsibilities, family commitment, etc, are all discussed only from a man’s perspective.

The current discourse of Maldivian scholars on women’s education and employment is impractical, if not illogical. It is their stand that Islam does not prevent women from pursuing higher education. Women, in fact, are encouraged to pursue a degree in professional fields such as medicine, education, law, psychology, etc. After all, women do need the services of doctors, educators and lawyers. Who better to provide these services to women than female professionals? Thus, Maldivian women are encouraged by Islamic scholars to build dreams upon dreams of a professional career along side those of love, husband, children, family and home.

The oxymoron presents itself once these women – after having spent several years toiling away under thick volumes of reports and case studies, being trainee teachers under the supervision of stricter than hell supervisors, dissecting dead bodies, attending to injuries, and assisting surgeons in operation theatres – choose to fulfill the Sunnah of marriage and forming a family. Now, there’s no denying that the primary role of a woman upon marriage is that of a wife – and upon having a child is that of a mother. But if women are encouraged to train as professionals, should women also not be encouraged to work as professionals? Should women not be provided with suitable circumstances where they can pursue a career without undermining their roles as wives and mothers?

Unfortunately, all that I’ve heard to this day from Maldivian scholars is that women should be content to be housewives, and that being a mother is the biggest honour of all.

The same goes for the issues of marital responsibilities and family commitment. I heard a Sheikh recently speaking on radio of men who work all day and return home only to find an unwelcoming wife at home. It was his claim that this is one of the main contributors to the breakdown of marriages in our society. While I do not deny that many men do in fact grind daily to earn a good living for their families, I can’t help but wonder whether women do nothing at all. The way I understand it, it is a division of labour – women ought to take care of the family, men are the bread-winners. Neither task is more important than the other – neither can be considered harder, or easier than the other. In the end, both partners of the marriage are supposed to provide each other with support.

When a man returns from office, returns from work and spends all his time going out with friends, reading the news, or watching television, is he not neglecting part of his responsibilities? Could it not be that a woman whose emotional needs and expectations from her husband is more likely to be unwelcoming to him wheh he comes home from work to change and go meet with his friends?

The half-bakedness of the scholarly address applies even to the issue of Hijab. This age-old issue, discussed, re-discussed, and then discussed yet again has been focused only on women. The focus of the Hijab issue is so much on the female gender that one cannot help but wonder that perhaps an awrah is defined in Islam only for women. I recently watched a televised sermon of a Maldivian Islamic scholar in which he recited verses 29 and 30 of Surah Al-Nur which translate as follows:

Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do. (29) And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed. (30)

Unfortunately, although the Quran first commands men to lower their gaze from viewing Haraam and to protect themselves from committing illicit deeds, the Sheikh only translated the verse that relates to women’s Hijab. Allah’s Command to believing men was purposely ignored.

Such oversight may perhaps be excused if Maldivian men do generally follow the Command to lower the gaze and guard the chastity. This, sadly, does not seem to be the case. Allah is Most Gracious, Most Wise – he limited man’s awrah to what is comprised between the navel and the knees – as opposed to the whole body of the woman, with a few body parts being the exception. Even so, many men – especially, many young men – seem unable even to cover this small area. In order to follow pop fashion – or, hip hop fashion (you name it) – many young men deem it necessary to let their pants fall way below their waist, not to mention that they deem it unnecessary to wear undergarments. The result – I’d rather not divulge in.

Another issue not to be forgotten is that of pornography. Maldivian Muslim men, like their brothers all around the world, seem to be acting under the impression that as long as you don’t view the awrah of a Muslim woman, it is permissible to view the awrah of other women in general. In the end, the general effect of dehumanising and objectifying women has been unavoidable. Reports of sexual crimes against the female gender, including crimes against children and the elderly, have been on the rise in Maldives – it is impossible to say whether the rise is in the number of crimes or the amount of reports (it in all probability is both) – and all that Maldivian scholars have been able to say is that women should cover themselves better and the government should implement Hudud.

It is my belief that Maldivian scholars find it easy to speak the same words and to address the same issues in the age-old manner without looking at them from any different angles. And this, I  believe, is the ultimate wrong.

I do realise that I am only raising issues here – I have not proposed any solutions.

I have, however, started my own personal swim against the tide. I have chosen to have a child and to work. I have decided that I, as the mother of my child, will take the primary responsibility of feeding, bathing, playing with and rearing my child. I will not delegate these pleasures to a maid or babysitter. I have also decided that I, as a graduate of Shari’ah and law, will practice the law. I will pursue a career, but on my own terms. I work from home. And because my child is a toddler now – who rarely sleeps during the day and refuses to leave me and the laptop alone –  I work when he, along with the rest of the world, sleeps.

Is it easy? No. Is it a sustainable solution? Definitely not. By Thursday – weekends in Maldives are Fridays and Saturdays, and that’s when I sleep – I can’t wait for the week to end. I am always wishing for one more hour in the day and a few more minutes to the hour. But, for me, it is a start.

I also have chosen to start my journey, preaching and pursuing the values of Islam, by addressing issues that many other graduates of the Shariah are shying away from. I do this with the full understanding that this is a path filled with obstacles. Be it as it may, it is my belief, that if no one else will, I ought to do the hard – and perhaps the right – thing.

I am a Maldivian woman. I am a pursuer of Islamic scholarship. I swim against the tide.



Indonesia Female candidates will face uphill battle in 2014 election

January 13 2014

Despite efforts to increase the number of women in politics, they still face an uphill battle to join the male-dominated political world, a political expert has said.

Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) political analyst Siti Zuhro said women in general were still victims of discrimination.

“So many challenges hamper women: Some are related to competence, others to outside influences such as a culture that discourages [women from politics],” she said.

According to Siti, women still face the social stigma prevalent in patriarchal society that perceives men as more dominant and capable than women.

Siti also said that the Islam further put women in a difficult position.

“It’s not true that Islam restricts women. But in Indonesia, not all Muslim give equal opportunities to women,” she said.

A 2012 study by LIPI says that in Aceh, women were found to be discouraged from entering politics and becoming community leaders because of local conservative Islamic values.

Aceh is one of the provinces with the lowest number of women at the local council level. In Aceh, only four out of the 69 council members are women.

By law, underscoring affirmative action, women must account for a minimum 30 percent of a political party’s list of candidates for the House of Representatives and local legislatures (DPRD) and the Regional Representatives Council (DPD).

Currently, 108 of 506 lawmakers at the House are women — which equates to only 18.06 percent. This number is much lower than neighboring Timor Leste, which has 38.5 percent female representation at its parliament.

The survey found that in Papua, female councilors constantly struggle against local values, which deem women as objects for men that have no right to make their own decisions.

In Aceh and Papua, like in many other patriarchal societies, politics is seen as the domain of men and women are not allowed to enter, the study says.

Besides social stigma, female politicians face constraints from the government and political parties’ lack of commitment to the improvement of the quality of female political candidates.

She said political parties were more concerned with increasing the number of female councilors and lawmakers rather than the polices or legislation they champion.

“For example, what are the 108 female lawmakers actually doing? What are their programs?” she said. “We need professional female lawmakers [...] What’s the use of an affirmative action policy if you [a female lawmaker] end up in jail [for corruption]?”

General Elections Commission (KPU) commissioner Sigit Pamungkas, meanwhile, said that the minimum requirement of 30 percent did not necessarily translate in to pro-women policies.

“[What’s important is] individuals who are competent and are concerned about gender issues,” he said. “So just because the legislative candidates list has met the minimum requirement of 30 percent, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are individuals with pro-gender ambitions.”



KSU to open college for female graduates

Jan 13, 2014

The King Saud University (KSU) is to set up a new college within the Girls Campus for Saudi female undergraduates in its Dentistry Faculty, King Saud University Rector Dr. Badran A. Al-Omar said on Sunday.

Al-Omar was inaugurating KSU’s 15th International Dental with the Saudi Dental Society at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center on Sunday.

He said the new facility would double the number of dental clinics from 381 to 761 clinics. This would enable the clinics to increase the number of patients from 300,000 to 650,000. He pointed out the new facility which would commence its new session during the next semester would accommodate postgraduate female students as well as new graduates.

At present, he said there are some 8,000 students enrolled at the university. He also commended the services rendered by the College of Dentistry, King Saud University and the Saudi Dental Society and noted that they are committed to the leadership, excellence and service to the community.

The program organized by the KSU was held under the patronage of the Minister of Higher Education Dr. Khalid Al-Angary.

“Over the past decades, the Kingdom has changed from a desert to a modern and sophisticated country providing quality education. It has enabled its curricula and academic programs with clinical applications and the training of extremely capable health professionals,” Professor Khalid Al-Wazzan, chairman of the Organizing Committee and dean of the College of Dentistry said in his speech.

Interestingly, he said, the King Saud University, the host institution for both the College of Dentistry and the Saudi Dental Society, is primarily intent on becoming a Research University where contemporary knowledge and technology should be put into harmonious action.

“The theme of this meeting ‘Research and Technology in Oral Health Care’ emphasizes that dentistry as a field of science will have more opportunity to overcome national and international challenges when engaged in further research and the use of advanced technology.

He said that the meeting included an inclusive presentation of scientific and clinical issues through oral presentations, poster presentations and continuing education programs with a state-of-the-art exhibit of dental/medical equipment and materials.

He pointed out that the meeting will be a distinctive opportunity for dental professionals to associate with and share in the discussion of ideas with distinguished colleagues in the dental profession.

Dr. Mohammad I. Al-Obaida, president of Saudi Dental Society, co-chairman of Organizing Committee and chairman of the Exhibition and Food Committee, said the conference is a joint collaborative effort of King Saud University, College of Dentistry and the Saudi Dental Society.

“With the continuous success of our previous conferences and the Saudi Dental Society’s merit of being at the top among all the dental organizations in the Kingdom, I enjoin you to remain committed to our practice by constantly updating ourselves and aspiring to be the best for the community we vow to serve.”

“We are bringing in world renowned foreign speakers from all disciplines of the dental practice for our scientific seminars. Continuing Educational courses and workshops will also be offered. This would add the element of hands-on education that our members had requested,” he noted.

One of the highlights of the conference is the Research Award for Graduates, Students and Poster Award Presentation where the best research paper and poster presentation will receive a prize and plaque of recognition.

“This is one way of providing the best service and support for our members and colleagues. The Exhibition which has the participation of dental and medical companies will offer attendees the opportunity to explore the depth and breadth of the latest products, services, tools and technologies available in today’s global market,” he noted.



Syria: Extremists Restricting Women’s Rights

Jan 13, 2014

New York -- Certain extremist armed opposition groups are imposing strict and discriminatory rules on women and girls that have no basis in Syrian law, Human Rights Watch said today. The harsh rules that some groups are administering in areas under their control in northern and northeastern Syria violate women's and girls' human rights and limit their ability to carry out essential daily activities.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 43 refugees from Syria in Iraqi Kurdistan and conducted telephone interviews with two refugees from Syria in Turkey in November and December 2013. The refugees interviewed said that the extremist armed groups Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) have enforced their interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law, by requiring women and girls to wear headscarves (hijabs) and full-length robes (abayas), and threatening to punish those who do not comply. In some areas, the groups are imposing discriminatory measures prohibiting women and girls, particularly those who do not abide by the dress code, from moving freely in public, working, and attending school.

"Extremist groups like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra are undermining the freedoms that Syria's women and girls enjoyed, which were a longtime strength of Syrian society," said Liesl Gerntholtz, women's rights director at Human Rights Watch. "What kind of victory do these groups promise for women and girls who are watching their rights slip away."

The regulations imposed on women by Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS have a far-reaching impact on women's and girls' daily lives, affecting their ability to obtain education, provide for their families and even procure basic necessities crucial to survival. Some refugees reported abductions of women by these groups, and one refugee said that a widowed neighbor and her three young children died during fighting because a prohibition on leaving her home without a male guardian left her afraid to flee the area.

The refugees from Syria in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey told Human Rights Watch that, between September 2012 and November 2013, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS imposed restrictions on women's and girls' dress and movement in the Sheikh Maksoud neighborhood in the city of Aleppo, the towns of Afrin and Tel Aran in Aleppo governorate, the city of Hassakeh, the town of Ras al-Ayn in Hassakeh governorate, the city of Idlib, and the town of Tel Abyad in Raqqa governorate. These areas include religiously diverse communities of Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Alawites, Syriac Christians, and Armenian Christians.

Interviewees said that members of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS insisted that women follow a strict dress code that mandated the abaya and hijab and prohibited jeans, close-fitting clothing, and make-up. According to interviewees, members of these groups forbade women from being in public without a male family member in Idlib city, Ras al-Ayn, Tel Abyad, and Tel Aran. Women and girls who did not abide by the restrictions were threatened with punishment and, in some cases, blocked from using public transportation, accessing education, and buying bread.

Interviewees from Idlib city, Tel Abyad, and Tel Aran also said that Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS banned women from working outside the home in these areas.

While interviewees were not always able to distinguish among members of various extremist armed groups with absolute certainty, reports from media sources and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights support the refugees' contentions that Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS have imposed these restrictions. Human Rights Watch cannot confirm whether other extremist armed groups present in the areas mentioned were involved in imposing restrictions.

Syria does not have a state-mandated religion and its constitution protects freedom of religion. While the Syrian penal code and personal status laws, which govern matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance, contain provisions that are discriminatory to women and girls, the Syrian constitution guarantees gender equality. Public protests in June 2009 led the government to abandon an effort to introduce more regressive personal status laws. Interviewees told Human Rights Watch that, in the past, women and girls were largely able to participate in public life, including work and school, and exercise freedom of movement, religion, and conscience.

Refugees said that Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS also imposed limitations on male dress and movement in the village of Jindires in Afrin and in Ras al Ayn, Tel Abyad, and Tel Aran, but all said that greater restrictions were placed on women and girls. Former residents of Tel Abyad and Tel Aran said that the armed groups did not permit males to wear jeans or fitted pants, but that the groups imposed a less specific dress code on males than on females.

Interviewees said that restrictions on movement for men and boys in the village of Jindires in Afrin and in Ras al Ayn, Tel Abyad, and Tel Aran were part of universal restrictions on movement, such as evening curfews; they said that, in October 2012 in Ras al Ayn and July and August 2013 in Tel Aran, armed extremist groups including Jabhat al-Nusra exerted control by announcing that no one could go out in public after 5 p.m. In no cases were limitations on dress or freedom of movement applied solely to men and boys.

While unjustified restrictions on dress and freedom of movement for anyone violate their rights and should be rescinded, restrictions that apply to and affect women and girls disproportionately are discriminatory.

Commanders of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS should immediately and publicly rescind all policies that violate women's rights, including mandatory dress codes and limitations on freedom of movement. The groups should cease punishing and threatening women and girls whose dress or behavior does not conform to the strict rules imposed by these groups. They should also halt unlawful interference in women's and girls' rights to privacy, autonomy, and freedom of expression, religion, thought and conscience, enforce adherence to international human rights law, and punish those under their command who restrict women's dress and access to work, education, or public space. Any concerned governments with influence over these groups should also press them to put an end to these discriminatory restrictions on women, Human Rights Watch said.

"Groups like ISIS and al-Nusra claim to be part of a social movement, yet they seem more focused on diminishing freedom for women and girls than providing any social benefit," Gerntholtz said. "As we have seen in situations in Somalia, Mali, and elsewhere, these kinds of restrictions often mark the beginning of a complete breakdown of women's and girls' rights."

Clothing Restrictions

Eleven interviewees told Human Rights Watch that, between September 2012 and October 2013, they saw or heard announcements by Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS at mosques, on pamphlets or posters, or to individuals in Aleppo's Sheikh Maksoud neighborhood, Ras Al Ayn, Tel Abyad and Tel Aran, stating that women must cover themselves from head to foot by wearing the abaya and hijab. In some cases the groups demanded that women wear the niqab, a veil covering all of the face apart from the eyes. The restrictions also forbade women wearing jeans, tight-fitting clothing, skirts or dresses above the ankle and make-up. In some areas, the groups ordered women not to style their hair or visit hair salons.

Basmah (all names have been changed at the request of interviewees), who had been studying at a university in Syria, said that after extremist armed groups gained control of Ras al-Ayn in the fall of 2012, they insisted that women wear the abaya and hijab in public and could not wear jeans or makeup. "We were very afraid," Basmah said. She used the term "ISIS" to refer to all members of armed extremist groups in the area. "If I went anywhere ISIS were and I didn't wear the long dress that they said I should wear, then they would say, 'You should never be here in this dress; you should wear what we want.'" According to media reports, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ghurabah al-Sham took control of Ras al-Ayn from the Syrian government in battles in November 2012. Since January 2013, media and independent monitoring groups have reported ongoing clashes between the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and extremist armed opposition groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, which are fighting for control of the area.

A woman from Tel Abyad and a man from Tel Aran said that in July and August 2013 they saw members of Jabhat al-Nusra compel civilian men to rebuke women who did not comply with the dress code. Media reports indicate that fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS were in the towns at this time. Rashid, 27, from Tel Abyad, said that if women did not abide by the restrictions, fighters whom he and his wife both identified as members of Jabhat al-Nusra would visit the women's homes and threaten their male relatives to make them enforce the rules. "They would say, 'This time we are saying this to you; next time we will take action,'" Rashid said.

Refugees from the Sheikh Maksoud neighborhood of Aleppo city and Ras al-Ayn, Tel Abyad, and Tel Aran told Human Rights Watch that Jabhat al-Nusra fighters threatened women with punishment if they did not comply with clothing restrictions. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Jabhat al-Nusra took control of Tel Aran in late July and continues to control the town. According to reports from media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in late November and December, ISIS controlled areas of Tel Abyad, even forcing evictions of Kurdish families, and continued to fight Kurdish armed groups for complete control of the region. As of January 6, however, media reported that attacks on ISIS by other armed opposition groups threatened their position of power in Tel Abyad.

Restrictions on Movement

A total of 14 men and women told Human Rights Watch that Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS imposed restrictions on women's movement in Jindires village in Afrin, Sheikh Maksoud in Aleppo, Idlib city, Ras al Ayn, Tel Abyad, and Tel Aran. Rihab, 39, from Tel Aran, said women's lives changed dramatically in July 2013 after fighters whom she identified as members of Jabhat al-Nusra announced restrictions on women's movement. The group no longer allowed women to appear in public alone and required a male relative to accompany them.

"We could not go visit our friends," she said. "We could not go to the market. Freedom was gone for us [women]. It was like we were in jail. We couldn't even go outside near our house. If we went outside, Jabhat al-Nusra would tell us to go back in our houses." Rihab said that when fighters in her neighborhood would not permit her to leave her house to visit her family in a different village, she obeyed. "I was too afraid," she said.

Refugees from Idlib city, Tel Abyad, and Ras al-Ayn, said that armed groups prohibited women from appearing in public unaccompanied by a male relative. They also said that Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS banned women from driving in Tel Abyad and Idlib city. Mohammed, 57, said that fighters whom he identified as members of Jabhat al-Nusra forbade bus drivers in the Sheikh Maksoud area of Aleppo from accepting female passengers who were not wearing the hijab.

Faiza, 24, and Rihab, 39, both from Tel Aran, said that in July and early August Jabhat al-Nusra fighters took up a position in the bakery and barred them from purchasing bread for their families during Ramadan. "If any woman went in, they would tell us, 'Go back,' and, 'You should not bring bread; you are a woman,'" Faiza said.

Refugees from Tel Abyad and Tel Aran said that, between September 2012 and July 2013, female-headed households in these towns were trapped without access to work or supplies or had to take extreme measures to support themselves, such as traveling to far-away villages where extremist armed groups were not present to shop for food and necessities, despite ongoing clashes in the area. Hana, 19, from Tel Abyad, said that Jabhat al-Nusra threatened her female neighbors if they violated the dress code when going out to get supplies while their husbands or male family members were away working.

Faiza said that her widowed neighbor became stranded with her children, ages 3, 4, and 6, when Jabhat al-Nusra fighters in Tel Aran prohibited women from leaving their homes without a male guardian. As clashes intensified in July 2013, many townspeople retreated to a large open space away from the town center. "We asked her, 'Why don't you leave with us?'" Faiza said. "And she replied, 'I don't have any relatives or support. I will stay in my house with my children. I can't go with you.'" The widow and her children died when a shell hit their home. "All of our houses were destroyed," Faiza said. "Their bodies were trapped under the rubble for four days before anyone could take them out."

Refugees from Sheikh Maksoud in Aleppo, Ras al Ayn, Tel Abyad, and Tel Aran told Human Rights Watch that most women comply with the restrictions due to fear of punishment or repercussions for themselves or family members. Inhibiting rules and the resulting climate of fear has contributed to families' decisions to flee Syria for neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan, they said. Members of six families told Human Rights Watch that they decided to leave specifically due to the presence of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, fearing the consequences of defying restrictions and the establishment of an even more severely restricted environment.

Restrictions on Employment and Access to Necessities

Refugees from Idlib city, Tel Abyad, and Tel Aran said that Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS banned women from working outside the home. Isma, 25, a former hairdresser in Ras al-Ayn, told Human Rights Watch that in July and August 2013 all of the hair salons, which had mainly employed women, were closed in the neighborhoods controlled by extremist fighters, whom she identified as Jabhat al-Nusra. Media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Jabhat al Nusra was fighting for control of Ras al Ayn in July alongside at least six extremist armed splinter groups.

Abda, 20, and her father, Ahmed, said that fighters at checkpoints identified themselves as Jabhat al-Nusra and that the same group announced restrictions on women's employment in Tel Abyad in 2013. "Women could only do work in the home, such as knitting and tailoring," Abda said. "Before, it was normal for women to work outside the home, like as engineers."

Due to limitations on freedom of movement and their ability to work, a woman from Tel Abyad and another from Tel Aran told Human Rights Watch that they became wholly dependent on male family members.

Restrictions on Access to Education

Women and girls also face increasing obstacles to accessing education in areas where Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS are present. Yasmina, 20, from the village of Yabseh near Tel Abyad, said that men she identified as members of Jabhat al-Nusra prevented her and other female students from registering for national university exams. "We saw that Nusra was running the [registration] office," she said. "They refused to talk to me, even though I was wearing a headscarf. I was wearing Western clothes and they said this was not acceptable."

People interviewed said that school attendance by both males and females declined with the increased presence of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS due to fear of armed clashes, but the impact on female students was compounded by the imposed restrictions and a perceived heightened risk to women's and girls' personal safety. Zahra, 20, who was a student in the city of Hassakeh, said that 10 of the 30 female students in her class at the Secondary School of Business stopped attending after Jabhat al-Nusra established a presence in the city in July and August 2013. Hana, the 19-year-old from Tel Abyad, also said that she and her female friends no longer attended class because they were afraid of Jabhat al-Nusra fighters in the area. Reports from media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights indicate that, in schools in Tweihineh, Saraqeb, and Tariq al-Bab in Idlib governorate, ISIS is requiring girls to abide by strict Islamic dress codes, distributing leaflets promoting Islamic religious classes, and pressuring school authorities to separate the sexes, including prohibiting male teachers from instructing girls.

Abductions and a Climate of Fear for Women and Girls

Women told Human Rights Watch they felt unsafe due to threats of punishment and reports of abductions of women by Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, which created a climate of fear in their communities. Two women told Human Rights Watch that they had been abducted by fighters they believed belonged to Jabhat al-Nusra. Arwa, 22, said that as she was leaving Firat University in Hassakeh by taxi in August 2013, Jabhat al-Nusra fighters abducted her from a checkpoint and held her for several hours. Ghadah, 44, said that an Islamist armed group in Tel Hassel abducted her during a raid on her home in which they killed her husband and nephew. They held her for two days with 10 of her and her relatives' children. The group released her husband's second wife after 16 days. Eight other interviewees told Human Rights Watch that Islamist groups had kidnapped or detained women on the road from Aleppo to Afrin and in Afrin, Aleppo, Ras al Ayn, and Tel Aran.

Six men and women also told Human Rights Watch that Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS made public announcements in Ras al Ayn, Tel Abyad, and Azaz declaring Kurdish women and property "halal" for their fighters. The interviewees universally interpreted this to mean that leaders of these groups were giving their fighters freedom to abduct local women without consequence.

International StandardsHuman rights law guarantees the right to freedom of religion, including the right to manifest one's religious beliefs through dress, worship, observance, practice, and teaching in private and in public.Human Rights Watch takes no position on Sharia-inspired norms or cultural dress practices per se, but opposes all laws or policies that impinge on basic rights, including public dress codes mandated by governments or other groups.

The enforcement of a compulsory and restrictive dress code on women and girls in Syria violates their rights to private life, personal autonomy, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion, thought, and conscience. These and restrictions on women's and girls' freedom of movement also constitute a form of gender-based discrimination prohibited under international treaties to which Syria is a party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

De facto authorities are responsible for respecting fundamental human rights in areas under their control and holding those who abuse them to account. Human Rights Watch has previously criticized governments and armed groups in Chechnya, Indonesia, Somalia, Mali, and Afghanistan for imposing regulations including mandatory Islamic dress codes and restrictions on women's liberties. Human Rights Watch has also criticized the governments of Germany, France, and Turkeyfor violating religious freedoms by banning religious symbols in schools and denying Muslim women the right to choose to wear headscarves in schools and universities. Women and girls should be free to decide whether or not to wear religious or traditional dress.




Nida Kirmani on the Muslim Identity Crisis in a New Delhi Locality

Jan 13, 2014

KARACHI: Muslims residing in a non-Muslim state like India have always talked of social identity crisis and politico-religious insecurity issues since the days of the War of Independence in 1857. Do these issues still apply? Yes they do.

Nida Kirmani, at her talk at T2F, spoke of Muslim marginalisation in the Indian urban locality of Zakir Nagar, New Delhi. She captured the essence of this locality by interpreting what Muslim women of this area shared with her.

Kirmani’s research, which she conducted about eight years ago, is now in the form of a book titled Questioning the Muslim Woman  — Identity and Insecurity in an Urban Indian Locality. The book throws light on what she believes is, “extremely relevant today, keeping in mind the intrinsic issues,” but she does not in any way feel the need “to bash India, rather we should draw parallels to a country called Pakistan, where the situation is a lot worse for minorities.”

As she conducted 70 interviews within this locality, she examined the fact that Delhi is a partitioned city, where, like in other places across India, “Muslim Mohallas [communities] grew and places like Zakir Nagar were termed as ‘Mini Pakistan,’ for the increasing number of Muslims residing in these areas.”

Kirmani believed that, “Mohallas were shaped by the events of the partition of 1947, and whether people chose to live together, or were forced to do, is a debate that continues unabated.”

Another statement which is yet to be determined, is whether or not Zakir Nagar can be defined ‘as an enclave or a ghetto’.

Narrating it from a Muslim woman’s perspective residing in a locality like Zakir Nagar, where the average middle-class lives, the biggest problem for Muslims is religious insecurity and a social identity crisis.

She highlighted the fact, that “the Muslim woman is known for her personal law of pardah [veil], or being burqa clad, which highlights the social issues of a Muslim woman even in today’s India, forcing the others to think that they are an oppressed class or section of society.”

“The biggest problem that remains for Muslims is insecurity. No matter how posh a locality is, the feeling that they are insecure thrives in their mind-set,” she added.

Citing examples from major episodes of religious disharmony that India succumbed to in the past, she reported on the Partition of India in 1947, The Sikh Massacre of 1984, The Babri Masjid riot of 1992-1993 and The Gujarat massacres of 2002, all of which have propelled Muslims to feel insecure in India. These hosts of past incidents have made Muslims face other things at a larger level, mostly reclining towards, “gender insecurities, the insecurity of the poor and even housing discrimination”, Kirmani added.

Despite all these issues faced by Muslims residing in India, Kirmani was hopeful, for what she witnessed was a “silent revolution taking place from within” and women asserting for their rights and even going ahead and saying out-rightly, “We are better off than our mothers were in their time!”