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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 3 Jun 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan: Woman Who Rejected Marriage Offer Burnt To Death

New Age Islam News Bureau

3 Jun 2016 

Photo: Maria Sadaqat's body was taken to her village for her funeral on Wednesday


 Belgian Gov't to Defend Muslim Women’s Right to Wear Headscarf at Work

 Determined To Make a Difference in the Lives of Muslim Women

 India's Equivalent of Pak's 'Beat Wives Lightly'

 Women Stand Up To Angry Islamophobe at a California Ice Cream Shop

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Pakistan: Woman Who Rejected Marriage Offer Burnt To Death

1 June 2016

Maria Sadaqat, a young schoolteacher, was attacked in her home by a group of men on Sunday and died in hospital in Islamabad on Wednesday.

Her family says she had turned down a marriage proposal from the son of the owner of a school she had taught at.

Campaigners say attacks on women who refuse marriage proposals are common in Pakistan.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif launched an immediate investigation into the killing, which will report in two days.

Maria's father has said the school owner was one of the men who attacked his daughter. Police told the BBC that the men beat her and doused her in petrol before setting her alight near the hill resort of Murree, not far from the capital.

She suffered serious burns on nearly all of her body. Local media report that she had 85% burns.

Ms Sadaqat's maternal aunt, Aasia, told the BBC the trouble started when the school's owner asked for her niece to marry his son.

She said: "She was teaching at their school. They sent in the proposal six months ago but the guy was already married and had a daughter. They wanted her to run the school after marrying the son of the owner of the school.

"Her father refused the proposal and they took the revenge by doing this."

Panic and anger in Murree: The BBC's Iram Abbasi reports

"They have taken away my universe, why was she brutally murdered? How can they not feel any compassion?" Maria's mother told me, while waiting for her daughter's body.

We were outside a local hospital in Murree. It is a resort town with a 69% literacy rate which, even though high for a rural area, can still not combat the menace of violence against women.

Life here is strictly dictated by religious norms.

After this incident, the sleepy hill town is engulfed with panic and anger. The elders are trying to influence the victim's father to stay quiet as this is a matter of his honour.

One of the elders whispered in his ear "your daughter is gone and they are going to malign her and your family's honour the more you highlight it in the media."

The family is being pressured by fellow villagers to settle the case out of court.

Nearly 1,100 women were killed by relatives in Pakistan last year in so-called honour-killings, the country's independent Human Rights Commission says.

Violence against women by those outside the family is also common in Pakistan and is often connected to a perceived slight, as may have occurred in Maria Sadaqat's case.

Police said earlier this year that village elders had ordered the murder of a teenage girl because she helped a friend to elope.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in April: "The predominant causes of these killings in 2015 were domestic disputes, alleged illicit relations and exercising the right of choice in marriage."

Campaigners say most "honour killings" are not reported.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that in many cases, including those reported to the police, relatives hoping to keep the family name out of the news prefer to make out-of-court settlements and therefore there are no convictions.

Under Islamic laws introduced in the 1980s the victim's family can pardon the perpetrator in return for money or other considerations.

In February, Punjab province, where the attack on Miss Sadaqat happened, passed a landmark law criminalising all forms of violence against women.

However, more than 30 religious groups, including all the mainstream Islamic political parties, threatened to launch protests if the law was not repealed.

The Council of Islamic Ideology proposed making it legal for husbands to "lightly beat" their wives. It came under fire as a result.

Religious groups have equated women's rights campaigns with promotion of obscenity. They say the new Punjab law will increase the divorce rate and destroy the country's traditional family system.



Belgian Gov't to Defend Muslim Women’s Right to Wear Headscarf at Work


BRUSSELS (Sputnik) – According to L'Echo, the lawyer of the Belgian Foreign Ministry will defend a Muslim woman Samira A. who sued her ex-employer G4S Secure Solutions for prohibiting headscarves at work.

Earlier the case was considered by labor tribunal in Antwerp which ruled in favor of G4S citing the right of enterprises for dress-code. The Belgian government condemned the court decision as discriminating.



Determined To Make A Difference In The Lives Of Muslim Women

03 June 2016

KUALA LUMPUR (The Star/ANN) - Fighting for Muslim women's rights is all in a day's work for Rozana Isa, Malaysian NGO Sister in Islam's new executive director.

A conversation she had over lunch 15 years ago completely blew Rozana Isa’s mind. It was with the late Dr Nik Noraini Nik Badli Shah, who was advocacy group Sisters in Islam’s legal adviser.

“She asked whether I was aware that Eve wasn’t actually created from Adam’s rib. I was stunned. I had barely taken my seat! I remember thinking, ‘What? Really? What do you mean?’. I didn’t know what to say. How do I argue with that except to ask her more questions.

“I was blown away: first, by this new information about something which I had believed all my life to be true. Second, because she said that it wasn’t in the Quran. And third, by the conviction of her arguments. This woman was totally fearless and her conviction came from the knowledge she had of the text,” recalls Rozana, who became executive director of women’s rights group, Sisters in Islam (SIS) last year.

Knowledge, Rozana realised then, is what is most powerful.

That first encounter with SIS marked the start of Rozana’s ongoing re-education in the Quran, questioning where necessary accepted or popular interpretations of its text. She began attending the then weekly Quran study sessions held by SIS which gave her new perspectives on a lot of issues, such as gender identity. Religion had always been a large a part in her life; impacting major decisions she has made. Her faith is strong because of her belief that Islam is just. The fellowship at SIS augmented her faith and steeled her determination to fight for that equality that is in the Quran.

“What really stood out about SIS is how everything is based on knowledge and looking at religion from a different perspective.

“Islam has to address our present lived realities and not the realities of centuries ago,” she notes.

New role, age-old task

Assuming the leadership of SIS six months ago was a daunting task, Rozana admits, particularly because of the esteem she has for her predecessors and colleagues.

“I never envisioned that I would be the executive director of SIS. The women I’ve been surrounded with are so iconic … women like Zainah Anwar (co-founder and former executive director of SIS), Ratna Osman (immediate past executive director of SIS), women’s rights activists Shanti Dairiam and Marina Mahathir. I mean the scope of the work they do and the breadth of their knowledge is just so wide ..,” she says, trailing off.

But with their backing, and the support of SIS members, her friends and her husband, Rozana felt empowered to take on the mantle of SIS’ mission.

The top priority for Rozana is to amp up SIS’ outreach efforts and creates more vibrant discussions, particularly among youngsters on social media.

“We need to do a lot more in reaching out to women. Women need to know their rights or even that they can ask questions and talk about issues. We are looking at employing new strategies and using social media to reach more women and to generate new content,” she says.

Although she graduated with a degree in accounting, Rozana has always been involved in activism, save for a year at an accounting software company. Her close to 20 years of activism began at the Women’s Aid Organisation in the late 1990s where her first project was monitoring the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act which was passed by parliament in 1994 and executed two years later.

“Both my parents come from big families in Kajang. I remember my growing up years were spent visiting my aunties in the village. I remember how strong and opinionated they all were. Despite the difficulties they faced in their lives … many of them were single mothers. But they were the ones left standing because, well they just had to.

“It was only after I joined these women’s groups did I appreciate the strong presence of all these women throughout my life and how they overcame any challenges that came their way,” muses Rozana, 44.

With her four children, Rozana makes sure they see and appreciate women beyond the domestic realm.

“I have three boys and a girl. With my boys, I keep talking to them about the equal treatment of women. I always point out to them what women are doing. I want them to see that the role of women goes beyond being a mum and a wife. I share my work experience with them too.

“At six, my daughter is still quite young and so I don’t drill it into her so much. But one day, after a particularly hard workshop where I had listened to some really painful experiences of women, I told her that she should never let anyone hurt her and that she always has the right to walk away from a hurtful situation. And she looked at me and said, ‘Yes Mama. My brain tells me this everyday’. I was shocked. What have I been saying to her?” recounts Rozana. She still laughs in amusement and pride at her precocious daughter’s sure sense of self.

Advocating for women

The core of SIS’s work is advocating for the rights of Muslim women through the Islamic Family Law (IFL). SIS views the 1994 and 2003 amendments to Malaysia’s 1984 IFL as being regressive where women’s rights are concerned. One example is with regards to polygamy. Under the 2005 amendments to the IFL, while Muslim men still had to prove that their proposed polygamous marriage was necessary, they no longer had to prove that it was just. The amendments also made women choose between receiving maintenance or the division of joint property upon her husband’s polygamous marriage. SIS has, for the past 10 years, been pushing for a review of these amendments.

Its advocacy work, however, is not just about pushing for law reform.

It is also about educating Muslim women about their rights and voicing out their issues without deviating from or betraying their faith.

The greatest injustice, says Rozana, is the way some women have been subjugated because their rights are not always upheld.

The process of obtaining a divorce and claiming child maintenance for Muslim women are often difficult and tedious.

“Hearings at the Syariah Court are often delayed, especially when women are the ones who initiate the divorce through ‘fasakh’. Even though the husbands are not required to be there for the case to go on, judges are often reluctant to proceed. So the cases are often postponed again and again (because the husbands don’t show up). In these cases, the minimum time it would take for a woman to obtain a divorce is two years. Warrants are rarely issued for the husbands to appear,” says Rozana.

In the interim, the women have to keep attending court to appeal their cases. Similar frustrations surface when it comes to claiming maintenance for themselves and their children: women find that they have to keep going to court to obtain court orders and subsequently enforcement orders to get payment from their errant husbands.

“Going to court is not an easy process for any women. But this is even more so for those who live far away and women who depend on daily wages to support their children. Attending court means sacrificing their wages,” she says.

Braving criticism and threats

Since its inception, SIS has been promoting the rights of Muslim women, emphasising that the religion recognises women and their rights.

SIS has definitely made its mark on the lives of Muslim women. The organisation has become a go-to source for Muslim women who face injustice and gender discrimination.

However, because of its convictions, the organisation has often come under attack by religious authorities for being “deviant” or accused of not adhering to the principles of Islam.

In 2010, the Malaysian Assembly of Mosque Youth brought a lawsuit against SIS, alleging the misuse of the word “Islam” in their name. The case was struck out by the High Court. In 2014, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council issued a fatwa declaring that the organisation was deviating from the teachings of Islam – the case is ongoing.

Worse, some members of the organisation have received death threats because of their work and beliefs.

But while these hurdles are frustrating and intimidating, the organisation remains steadfast in its purpose.

And if they seem like they come across too strong, Rozana says it’s only because of their conviction that there is equality and justice for women in Islam.

“It is sometimes intimidating. But we believe in the rule of law. That is why any action taken against us is being dealt with accordingly, following the law. Initially, we did feel threatened. It comes and it goes, depending on who seems to have taken offence to what responses we have given out there on the issues of the day. We take all measures and precautions we have within our means to keep ourselves safe and secure. That’s the best we can do,” says Rozana matter-of-factly.

While the threats against one’s life and family may be enough to scare most, Rozana seems unperturbed.

“I take the cue from the women who came before me. Their experience informs me on how to act. They never made a big fanfare of these things but just continued to work,” she says.

It helps that Rozana has the full support of her engineer husband Mustafa Kamal Mamat and her children who understand her often killing schedule.

“When I was first offered the position, I asked my husband if he had any advice for me and he just told me to do my job. That said a lot as it meant he supports and understands that I need to do all I need to do in this position. I asked him about the possible attacks he could receive because of what I do and he assured me that he could deal with it,” says Rozana, appreciatively.

Empowering women through her work is probably all the reward she could ask for in her work at SIS. However, one of the definite highlights of her work was being able to work towards the launch of Musawah, a global movement for equality and justice for Muslim women that was spearheaded by SIS and launched in Kuala Lumpur in 2009.

“That first meeting was huge and it was so exciting. Imagine, we had 250 people from 47 countries coming together. All these women from different communities and countries who believed, like us, that Islam is just but their experiences with reform and justice had been difficult, often more difficult than ours,” she shared.

With Musawah, the organisation has an international network of resource with which to learn and share knowledge with. Before they can empower women, Rozana asserts, they have to be empowered themselves and this can only happen with knowledge.

“We are all about empowering women’s voices for change. That empowerment has to come from ourselves first. We are empowered because we believe in women’s rights, we believe that Islam upholds equality and justice and that it is not rigid in responding to the needs and changes on the ground, this is what keeps us going,” she says.

When asked what keeps her going, Rozana takes a minute or two to think before she says, “I do it because I believe that Islam is about compassion, justice and equality which should be reflected in the lives of Muslim women. I do it for the women in my life: my mother, my daughter, my friends,” she says with quiet determination.



India's Equivalent Of Pak's 'Beat Wives Lightly'

03 June 2016

Women of the sub-continent have more in common than their shared pre-partition history. At different moments in the evolution of policy frameworks of their respective nations, women of the sub-continent have found themselves marginalized. They are up against a different Line of Control than the one manned by armies. This is an LOC imposed by men who talk in the name of religion and tradition to impose laws that keep women subjugated. Violence and death to those who dare to cross that LOC.

Women have had to fight hard against these forces to defend and advance their rights. Sometimes the moment of the struggle coincides across borders. The present is such a time of coincidence. Women both in Pakistan and India are involved in struggles running parallel to each other. This is a moment in the sub-continent of women without borders.

In Pakistan, women in the province of Punjab led the struggle which forced the provincial government headed by Nawaz Sharif's younger brother Shehbaz Sharif to adopt the Protection of Women from Violence Act in February 2016, a civil law something on the lines of our own law for protection against domestic violence. Although the Act has been critiqued by women's organizations in Pakistan as being inadequate, most still see it as a big step forward.  

Punjab is the third Provincial Government in Pakistan to adopt a law against violence against women, but being the largest province, the backlash from the mainstream religious parties, important sections of the clergy and the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), has been extreme. They have denounced the Act as "unIslamic", which will "make Pakistan a Western colony again", as "designed to break the family system" and so on. The IIC, set up by the military regime in 1961, has a constitutional status and is supposed to vet laws and policies to ensure they are in consonance with Islamic tenets. It has come out with its own version of a law which permits "husbands to beat their wives lightly when required" and proposes a ban on women working in labour intensive sectors, in meeting State or foreign dignitaries, calls for segregation in schools and so on.

It has been met with outrage. Pakistan's women have reacted strongly, some demanding that the IIC itself be abolished. The Punjab Commission on the Status of Women termed the CII proposals as "unconstitutional, illegal and a violation of fundamental rights". The danger is that under pressure from fundamentalist parties, the government, which at the centre is dependent on many of these parties, may succumb and dilute the present law or scrap it altogether. So women are mobilizing in defence of the Act and against the dictates of the IIC. It is a most difficult battle being fought by women who are already made vulnerable by the constant threats of Islamist terrorist groups determined to impose their narrow interpretations of Islam.

While in India there is a much stronger secular legal framework against violence on women than in Pakistan, there are still umpteen gaps and loopholes. With the advent of the BJP-RSS led Government, retrograde thinking based on Manuvadi ideologies operating in the name of tradition are gaining strength. Here too there is a backlash against strong laws to protect women though of a different nature to that across the border. The concerted attack on Sec 498A which criminalizes domestic violence is one such example. The government is considering amendments to dilute it in the name of the law being misused and being detrimental to "family values".

The arguments in India against bringing marital rape under the ambit of the anti-rape laws are another example. The arguments are based on the same perverted mindset which proposes legal sanction for the" light beating of women if required". One of the "legitimate" reasons given by the clergy in Pakistan for a "light beating" is reportedly if the "woman refuses overtures for sexual intercourse."

For us in India, a marriage certificate or saath pheras are sufficient to grant a license for a man to commit sexual acts with his wife without her consent and against her will.

Parliament was informed by Union Minister Maneka Gandhi that "the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors like level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament," etc. Her colleague in the Home Ministry Haribhai Chaudhary, quoting a 2013 parliamentary committee report, informed the Lok Sabha that if marital rape was made a crime, the entire family system would come under great stress.

Take another example, that of "honour" crimes. Pakistani women have succeeded in outlawing honour crimes in their country, though the practice is still rampant. Here in India, in spite of a large number of crimes being committed against couples in the name of "honour", the Bill drafted by the All India Democratic Women's Association which was submitted by the National Commission of Women to the government, is in deep freeze. The casteist forces who believe in endogamy as the instrument to maintain "caste purity" are in positions of power. Even the highly retrograde khap panchayats' fatwas have not been outlawed. In Pakistan, which has a law, women are struggling to make it stronger. In India we are still at the stage of demanding a law.

In Pakistan and Bangladesh, and indeed in most countries governed by Islamic law, triple talaq at one go (talaq-e-bidat) has been outlawed and is punishable. The requirement for arbitration is mandatory and has to continue for a minimum of three months in some countries and case-based arbitration in others. India is the only country in the world where Muslim men have the unfettered right to arbitrarily declare divorce in one go - instant divorce - at the whims and fancies of the husband, a most cruel and unacceptable instrument of torture and injustice against women.

The recent news that 50,000 signatures of Muslim men and women to outlaw triple talaq at one go have been submitted to the National Commission of Women in New Delhi is a most welcome step forward in this long drawn out struggle. The signatures have been collected by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA). This is the most recent in the list of concerted efforts and movements by Muslim women in various organizations, supported by all sections of women, to fight for reforms in Muslim personal laws.

All organizations working among Muslim women have found without exception  that Muslim women of all classes, whether a bidi worker, a zardosi embroiderer or a college professor are united  in their strong demand for abolition of the current system of instant triple talaq. More than 100,000 signatures of Muslim men and women had been collected on different occasions by AIDWA in 2001 and then again in 2009 on a charter of demands of Muslim women including on this very issue of the unilateral right to instant divorce, as well as against the right to polygamy. The signatures had been given to the government in 2009, and earlier to the Minority Commission and to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. The latter had called a seminar in 2001 to hear the views of Muslim women. But that's where it ended. In spite of repeated requests, the AIMPLB has remained adamant against any reform in personal law echoing the empty slogan of all fundamentalists that "religion is in danger".

It has been reported that in 2015, the Board rejected calls from other organizations of ulema, such as clerics from Deoband sect, Barelvi and the All India Sunni Ulema Council, to outlaw instant talaq. All efforts to engage with the AIMPLB have proved futile and a waste of time for women desperate to get justice. The Board, if it has a right to exist at all, should be renamed as the All India Muslim Male Law Board since it has so consistently refused to hear the voices of Muslim women.

At present, the Supreme Court is hearing a petition filed by Shayara Bano against instant triple talaq. In 1986, it was Shah Bano who had gone to the court for her right to maintenance. The then government of Rajiv Gandhi had succumbed to the pressure of the fundamentalists and let down Muslim women by keeping them out of the ambit of Sec 125 of the law granting the right to maintenance.

Today, the very forces of Hindutva that hugely benefited from that fatally wrong decision of the Rajiv Government and started a campaign against "minority appeasement" are in power today. They will use every opportunity, including that of the genuine despair of Muslim women against instant talaq, as a stick to beat the whole community with and to further their diatribe against a particular religion as "being backward". But that does not in any way mean that the struggle of Muslim women should be compromised. No doubt those opposed to change within the personal laws will blame Muslim women for giving a handle to the Hindutva forces, but in reality it is they who are responsible because of their refusal to heed the voices of women.

Of course as far as the Hindutvavadis are concerned, it is nothing but hypocrisy. During the debate on the Hindu Code Bill led by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, all the knights in shining armour of defendants of Hindu customs and tradition in parliament then spoke the same language that we hear from the IIC in Pakistan or the AIMPLB in India today. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, BJP icon, had been the most vocal in his opposition to Hindu law reform. In particular, he was incensed at the proposed right to divorce for Hindu women, calling it an attack on "the ideology that lies deep rooted in the minds of millions of people...Why do away with the fundamental and sacred nature of Hindu sacramental marriage." Dr Ambedkar's classic answer is worth remembering: "the sacramental ideal of marriage described in as few words as possible is polygamy for the man and perpetual slavery for the woman."

The similarities of Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists are in their pasts and also in their present. But this cannot and must not stop the momentum of the struggle by Muslim women for personal law reform. It is supported by women of all communities. It will strengthen also the wider struggle for liberty beyond personal laws.

Change is coming in Pakistan, women are raising the flag of protest against all efforts to dilute the law against violence and they are getting the support of many sensible men, in Government, within families and even the clergy. Change is coming in India too and either through the courts or through community intervention, Muslim women will sooner rather than later have rid their community of the whip of instant Talaq. Change is coming when young adults of different castes and communities exercise their constitutional, legal and democratic right to partners of their choice, and win for themselves a separate law to protect them from the violence of bigots, a law which will punish the perpetrators of atrocities committed in the name of honour.

At this time, women in both Pakistan and India stand shoulder-to-shoulder, hand in hand in their fight against fundamentalist and casteist forces, regardless of the religion or caste these forces claim to represent. The fight is hard, but women across borders and LOCs will overcome one day soon.



Women Stand Up To Angry Islamophobe At A California Ice Cream Shop

02 June, 2016

On Saturday, May 23, two young Muslim women, Nura Takkish and Malaak Amari, were enjoying some ice cream at Andrew’s Ice Cream and Dessert in Orange, California when an angry man entered the store and started hurling racial epithets at them. After the man had ordered his ice cream, Jessie Noah, who works at the shop, handed the man’s three dollars back and asked him to leave saying, “If you can’t be nice, we don’t want you.”

As the man walked through the exit door he yelled at the women one last time saying, “I don’t want them near my country.” One of the girls responded saying, “Too bad, we’re here. Sucks for you.” Takkish put the video on Twitter with the caption, “When you just trying to eat your ice cream but Trump supporters won’t let you live” and it immediately went viral. “I’ve been put in some situations where I had to deal with Islamophobia, like I said but nobody ever defended me,” Amari said. “People usually just walk by and don’t say anything.”

Last Saturday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations invited residents to come to Andrew’s and show their appreciation by having some ice cream. Dozens of supporters, both Muslim and non-Muslim, came out to raise awareness for how business can help stop prejudice. “This is not America, you know?” said a woman at the event. “America is diverse, it’s colorful, and it’s different,”




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