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Islamic World News ( 14 March 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Sentence of 40 lashes to a 75-year-Saudi widow sparks uproar against Shariat


Saudis in Pakistan by Scott Stewart and Kamran Bokhari

Islamabad: Islamic courts start functioning in Swat valley


Abduction fears take heavy toll on Afghan society by Can Merey


Muslims on warpath in Nepal


Arabic Thought in the Illiberal Age by Christopher Parker


MANILA: Philippines says open to amending Muslim autonomy law


Tracing the roots of violence against women by Virginia Saldanha


Research centre for Prophet’s time by Abdullah Aldani


Catholic Church & 'Allah' in Malaysia


Saudi vice as virtue: P Dutta’s email to the Editor


Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau






Khulwa sentence against elderly widow causes uproar

Wednesday 11 March 2009 (15 Rabi` al-Awwal 1430)      


Badea Abu Al-Naja | Arab News


JEDDAH: The sentencing of a 75-year-old Arab widow to 40 lashes and four months in prison for mingling with two young men, who were reportedly bringing her bread, has sparked fresh criticism of the Kingdom’s judiciary and the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.


Khamisa Sawadi, a Syrian who was married to a Saudi, was convicted and sentenced last week for meeting men who were not her immediate relatives. The two men, including one who was Sawadi’s late husband’s nephew, were also found guilty and sentenced to prison and lashes.


The woman’s lawyer, Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem, said he plans to appeal the verdict, which also demands Sawadi be deported after serving her prison term. He said his client has not served her sentence yet.


Arab News tried to contact police and the commission officials in Hail, but both refused to give further details about the case.


Fariyal King, a legal specialist, said Hail police had a responsibility to explain the case as they detained the two men on the request of officials from the commission. “The Interior Ministry has appointed spokesmen to clarify matters to the media. The Hail police spokesman’s refusal to give a statement shows that there is some sort of obscurity,” she said.


The elderly woman met the men last June after she asked one of them to bring her five loaves of bread, Al-Watan reported. The men — identified by Al-Watan as the nephew, Fahd Al-Anzi, and his friend and business partner, Hadiyan bin Zein — went to Sawadi’s home in the town of Al-Shamli. As they came out after delivering the bread, the two men were arrested by commission officials, Al-Watan said on Monday.


The court said it based its March 3 ruling on information from citizens and the testimony of Al-Anzi’s father, who accused Sawadi of corruption.


Sawadi had told the court that she considered Al-Anzi as her son, because she breast-fed him when he was a baby. But the court denied her claim, saying she had no evidence. In Islamic tradition, breast-feeding establishes a degree of maternal relation.


Sawadi commonly asked her neighbors for help after her husband died, said Saudi journalist Bandar Al-Ammar, who reported the story for Al-Watan.


Suleiman Al-Radhiman, director of the Hail office of the commission, told Al-Watan that his officials detained the woman after receiving a written message that two men had entered her house. “When our patrol team arrived at the site, they found two men coming from the woman’s house. We detained the two and handed them over to police for investigation,” he said.


He pointed out that police had arrested the woman on two previous occasions and a judge in Al-Shamli had convicted her. “The woman asked me to bring bread for her. At that time, I contacted my friend Hadyan who was incidentally passing and he helped me buy bread, as I did not have a car.


“After I gave her the bread two commission officials came. They first said they belonged to a charity and wanted to know the living condition of the woman. While we were going out they caught us and handed over to the police,” said Al-Anzi.


Bin Zein said the commission officials arrested them about 200 meters from the woman’s house. “There were six commission members who all had their faces covered,” he said.


Commenting on the case, lawyer Ibrahim Zamzami said if it was proved that the old woman is Al-Anzi’s foster mother through breast-feeding, then the charge of khulwa (illegal seclusion) would be nullified. But if his relation to her is only as his uncle’s wife then the charge would stand as she is eligible to marry him.


Zamzami, however, warned that the matter of illegal seclusion with an unrelated woman was difficult to prove. “This depends on the circumstances, the time spent together and the way they looked when they come out. The shorter the time spent together, the more likelihood of illegal seclusion,” he said.


The lawyer said a 75-year-old woman is usually not considered seductive yet she is a woman and unrelated men should not remain alone with her. He said court rulings in such cases are based on Shariah, which did not differentiate between old and young. “Old age is not a sufficient ground for acquittal,” he said.


Mohammed Nahar, another lawyer, said the two men were arrested on suspicion of committing a sin. “But in law an accused will be innocent as long as the charge is not proved,” he said.

Saudi vice as virtue:  P Dutta’s email to the editor

The story about a 75-year-old woman who has been held guilty of ‘illegal mingling’ by Saudi Arabia’s religious police because she took the help of her nephew to fetch bread, and sentenced to 40 lashes and four months in prison (March 11) will be ignored by our ‘progressive’, ‘liberal’ and ‘secular’ classes for whom nothing can be better than Islam and more liberating than shari’ah. There was similar silence when the muttawa, or the Saudi religious police (officially called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice, which is laughable) pushed young girls back into their hostel which was on fire because they were ‘not properly dressed’. There was no grief over the girls being burned to death because these thugs wanted to uphold what they believe is ‘Islamic virtue’.

We have seen similar atrocities being committed in the name of Islam by the Taliban hordes in Afghanistan. The darkness that envelopes Saudi Arabia is now descending rapidly on Pakistan. The perpetrators of such crimes are on the march and it is only a matter of time before the barbarians will be at our gates, smashing them down. Where will our ‘progressive’, ‘liberal’ and ‘secular’ intelligentsia hide then? Presumably beneath burqas!.



Saudis in Pakistan

By Scott Stewart and Kamran Bokhari

 On March 5, the Saudi Embassy in Islamabad reportedly received threatening emails warning of attacks on Saudi interests in Pakistan. According to English-language Pakistani newspaper The Nation, the emails purportedly were sent by al-Qaida and threatened attacks on targets such as the Saudi Embassy and Saudi airline facilities in Pakistan.


When we heard the reports of this threat, our initial reaction was to dismiss it. While al-Qaida has sometimes made vague threats before executing an attack, it does not provide a list of precise targets in advance. Prior to the June 2008 bombing of the Danish Embassy in Islamabad, al-Qaida leaders repeatedly threatened to attack European (and Danish) targets in retaliation for a series of cartoons published in Denmark in 2005 that satirized the Prophet Mohammed. When the issue was reignited in early 2008 with the release of a film critical of Islam called Fitna, by Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, Osama bin Laden himself issued a statement in March 2008 in which he threatened strikes against European targets in retaliation. However, in all of these threats, al -Qaida never specified that it was going to strike the Danish Embassy in Islamabad. In addition to being out of character for al-Qaida, it is foolish to issue such a specific threat if one really wants to strike a target.

While we were able to discount the most recent email threat reportedly sent to the Saudi Embassy in Islamabad, it generated a robust discussion among our analytical staff about Saudi counter terrorism and anti-jihadist activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the large number of threatening statements senior al-Qaida members have made against the Saudis and the very real possibility of an attack against Saudi interests in Pakistan.


Threats against the Saudis

Beginning with some of bin Laden’s early public writings, such as his August 1996 “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” al-Qaida leaders have spoken harshly against the Saudi royal family. Bin Laden and others have accused the Saudis of collaboration with the “Zionist-Crusaders alliance” that bin Laden claimed was using military force to impose “iniquity and injustice” on the people of Islam.


However, the verbal threats directed against the Saudi royal family have escalated in recent years in the wake of a string of attacks launched inside Saudi Arabia by the Saudi al-Qaida franchise in 2003 and 2004, and as the Saudi government has conducted an aggressive campaign to crush the Saudi franchise and combat the wider phenomenon of jihadism.

In fact, it is rare to see any statement from a senior al-Qaida leader that does not condemn the Saudi government specifically or in more general terms. In a July 28, 2008, video message, al-Qaida ideologue Abu Yahya al-Libi called on Muslims to act quickly and decisively to kill the Saudi king, reminding them that “killing this reckless tyrant, who has declared himself the chief imam of atheism, will be one of the greatest qurubat” (an act of devotion bringing man closer to God). In a May 2008 message, al-Libi also had urged Saudi clerics to lead uprisings against the Saudi monarchy similar to the July 2007 uprisings at the Red Mosque in Islamabad. Al-Libi never mentioned Saudi King Abdullah by name in that message, preferring to call him the “lunatic apostate” because of the king’s call for a dialogue among Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Commenting on this interfaith dialogue in the July 2008 message, al-Libi also said, “By God, if you don’t resist heroically against this wanton tyrant … the day will come when church bells will ring in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula.”

In March 2008, al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri said the Saudi monarchy was part of a “satanic alliance” formed by the United States and Israel to blockade the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. In a January 2009 message, al-Zawahiri said: “Oh lions of Islam everywhere, the leaders of Muslim countries are the guards of the American-Zionist interests. They are the ones who have given up Palestine and recognized Israel. . . .  Abdallah Bin Abd-al-Aziz has invented the interfaith dialogue and met Peres in New York, paving the way for the complete recognition of Israel.” Al-Zawahiri continued, “Thwart the efforts of those traitors by striking the interests of the enemies of Islam.” In a February 2009 audio statement, al-Zawahiri declared, “The Muslim nation must, with all its energy and skills, move to remove these corrupt, corrupting, and traitorous rulers.”


After a January 2009 video by jihadists in Yemen announcing the formation of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Zawahiri proclaimed in a February statement that the new organization “is the awakening, which aims to liberate the Arabian Peninsula from the Crusader invaders and their treacherous agents. It is escalating and flourishing, with God’s help and guidance, despite all the campaigns of repression, misleading, and deception, and despite all the obstacles, difficulties and hindrances.”


Focus on the Saudis

All these threats raise an obvious question: Why is al-Qaida so fixated on the Saudis? One obvious reason is that, since the launching of a disastrous offensive by the Saudi al-Qaida node, the Saudi government — which previously had turned a blind eye to many of al-Qaida’s activities — has launched a full-court press against the organization. Al-Zawahiri acknowledged this in a December 2005 message titled “Impediments to Jihad,” in which he said the Saudi franchise in the kingdom had been defeated by collaborators. The Saudi offensive against al-Qaida also played a significant part in the Anbar Awakening in Iraq. Saudi cajoling (and money) helped persuade Iraqi tribal leaders to cooperate with the coalition forces.

One way the Saudis have really hurt al-Qaida is by damaging its ability to raise funds. For example, in March 2008, the top Saudi cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh, cautioned Saudis against giving money to charities or organizations that finance “evil groups” who are known for harming Islam and its followers—a clear reference to al-Qaida and other jihadist organizations. We have repeatedly seen appeals for more funds for the jihad, and in a Jan. 14, 2009, message by bin Laden, he noted that the jihadists were under financial “distress” and that it was the duty of the Muslim ummah to support the jihadists “with all their soul and money.”

Perhaps one of the greatest threats the Saudis pose to al-Qaida is the threat to its ideological base. As STRATFOR has long argued, there are two different battle spaces in the war against jihadism — the physical and the ideological. For an ideological organization such as al-Qaida that preaches persecution and martyrdom, losses on the physical battlefield are expected and glorified. The biggest threat to the jihadists, therefore, is not a Hellfire missile being dropped on their heads, but an ideological broadside that undercuts their legitimacy and ideological appeal.


Many Saudi clerics have condemned jihadism as a “deviance from Islam.” Even prominent Saudi clerics who have criticized the Saudi government, such as Salman al-Awdah, have sent open letters to bin Laden condemning violence against innocents and claiming that al-Qaida was hurting Muslim charities through its purported ties to them.

The sting of the ideological attacks is being felt. In a May 2008 speech, al-Libi addressed the ideological assault when he said, “and because they knew that the key to their success in this plan of theirs is to turn the people away from jihad and mujahidin and to eliminate them militarily and intellectually.” Al-Libi recognized that without new recruits and funding, the jihad will wither on the vine.

In addition to financial and ideological threats against the organization, the Saudi assault has also gone after al-Qaida where it lives—in Pakistan.


Deep connections

Saudi Arabia has long had a strong relationship with Pakistan, based on shared perspectives toward regional and international matters. A key common sphere of influence for the two sides over the past four decades has been Afghanistan. This close Saudi-Pakistani relationship was well-illustrated by the pairing up of Saudi petrodollar wealth with Pakistani logistics (along with U.S. weapons and intelligence) to support the Islamist uprising that followed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

After the Soviet military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Saudis and the Pakistanis continued to cooperate. Even though the world at large refused to accept the Taliban regime after it took power in 1996, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates recognized the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. (These three were the only countries to do so.) However, while enjoying support from Riyadh and Islamabad, the Taliban also established relations with the transnational jihadist forces led by al-Qaida.


The Saudi and Pakistani relationship with the Taliban was shattered by the events of 9/11. In spite of aggressive negotiations with the Taliban, neither the Saudis nor the Pakistanis could convince Mullah Omar to surrender bin Laden and the al-Qaida leadership to the Americans. Because of this, the two countries were forced to end their overt relationship with the Taliban as the Americans invaded Afghanistan, though they obviously have maintained some contact with members of the Taliban leadership.

The U.S. response to 9/11 placed the Saudis and the Pakistanis into a very difficult position, where they were forced to fight jihadists on one hand and try to maintain control and influence over them on the other. As previously discussed, the Saudis possessed the resources to effectively clamp down on the al-Qaida franchise in the kingdom, but Pakistan, which is weaker both financially and politically—and which has become the center of the jihadist universe on the physical battlefield—has been hit much harder by the U.S.-jihadist war.


This situation, along with the ground reality in Afghanistan, has forced the United States to begin working on a political strategy to bring closure to the U.S.-jihadist war that involves negotiating with the Taliban if they part ways with al-Qaida and the transnational jihadists.

Hence the recent visit by Taliban officials to Saudi Arabia and the trips made by Riyadh’s intelligence chief, Prince Muqrin bin Abdel-Aziz, to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, is also rumored to be personally involved behind the scenes in efforts to pressure Taliban leaders to break free from al-Qaida. But as in the past, the Saudis need help from their allies in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, and here is where they are running into problems. A weak and threatened Pakistani state means that before working with the Pakistanis on the Afghan Taliban, Riyadh has to help Pakistan combat its own Taliban problem, which the Saudis currently are attempting. The Saudis obviously have much to offer the Pakistanis, in terms of both cash and experience. They also have the religious cachet those other Pakistan allies, such as the Americans and the British, lack, giving them the ability to broach ideological subjects. However, as is the case with the Afghan Taliban, the Saudis will have to get the Pakistani Taliban to part ways with al-Qaida and are working hard to drive a wedge between Pakistani militants and their foreign guests.

These efforts to divide the Taliban from the global jihadists are happening not only during the plush, Saudi-sponsored trips for Taliban members to conduct Hajj and Umrah in the kingdom. Following a strategy similar to what they did in Iraq, the Saudis and their agents are meeting with Taliban commanders on the ground in Pakistan and Afghanistan to twist arms and offer cash. They also are coordinating very closely with the Pakistani and Afghan authorities who are leading the campaign against the jihadists. For example, Rehman Malik, the Pakistani adviser to the prime minister on the interior (Pakistan’s de facto terrorism czar), traveled to Saudi Arabia in January at the invitation of Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif bin Abdul-Aziz to discuss improving counter terrorism cooperation between the two countries. Many of the 85 most-wanted militants on the list recently released by the Saudi government are believed to be in Pakistan, and the Saudis are working with Malik and the Pakistanis to arrest those militants and return them to Saudi Arabia.


A clear and present danger

Bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, et al., are well aware of these Saudi moves, which they see as a threat to their very existence. When asked in a November 2008 interview what he thought of the Saudi efforts to mediate between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban, al-Zawahiri responded that the Saudi efforts pointed out “the historical role of saboteur played by the House of Saud in ruining the causes of the Muslim ummah, and how they represent the agents whom the Crusader West uses to disperse the ummah’s energy.”

The al-Qaida leadership has nowhere to go if circumstances become untenable for them in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Caught between U.S., Pakistani and Saudi forces, the last thing al-Qaida wants is to lose local support from the Taliban. In other words, Pakistan is their final battleground, and any threat to their continued haven in Pakistan poses a clear and present danger to the organization—especially if the Saudis can play a pivotal role in persuading the Taliban in Afghanistan also to turn against them.

Leveraging its successes against the al-Qaida franchises in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, Riyadh also is working closely with governments to combat the jihadists in places like Yemen as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is, in effect, a global Saudi campaign against jihadism, and we believe al-Qaida has no choice but to attempt to derail the Saudi effort in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is not much al-Qaida can do to counter Saudi financial tools, but the militant group is in a position to hit back hard on the ideological front in order to counter any Saudi attempt to moderate and rehabilitate jihadists. As noted above, we have seen al-Qaida launch a sustained stream of ideological attacks in an attempt to undercut the Islamic credentials of the Saudi monarch and the Saudi clerical establishment.

Another avenue that al-Qaida can take to interfere with the Saudi charm offensive is to strike Saudi targets—not only to punish the Saudis, but also to try to drive a wedge between the Saudis and the Pakistanis. Al-Qaida’s military capabilities have been greatly degraded since 2001, and with the remnant of its Saudi franchise fleeing to Yemen, it likely has very little ability to make a meaningful strike inside the kingdom. However, the one place where the al-Qaida core has shown the ability to strike in recent years is Pakistan. Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the group’s operational commander in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Danish Embassy in Islamabad and for the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and we have no reason to doubt his claims.

Also, an attack against a diplomatic mission in Pakistan that represents a regime considered an enemy of the jihadists is not unprecedented. In addition to the Danish Embassy bombing and several attacks against U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel in Pakistan, al-Qaida also bombed the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad in November 1995. According to al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian Embassy was targeted because it “was not only running a campaign for chasing Arabs in Pakistan but also spying on the Arab Mujahedeen.”

Based on the totality of these circumstances—Saudi activities against al-Qaida in South Asia and elsewhere, the al-Qaida perception of the Saudis as a threat and al-Qaida’s operational ability in Pakistan—we believe there is a very real threat that Saudi interests in Pakistan might be attacked in the near future.



Muslims on warpath in Nepal

13 Mar 2009


KATHMANDU: Angered by the Maoist government’s failure to form the promised Muslim Commission and the imposition of a controversial quota ordinance, Nepal’s minority Muslim community is on the warpath, announcing a series of bandhs to pressure Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda into heeding their demands.

The newly formed United Muslim National Struggle Committee has called a Kathmandu valley bandh Sunday, to be followed by a strike in the eastern region on March 22, a bandh in the west the day after and two more closures in the central region and Midwest on March 25 and 27 respectively.

The protests were announced after a torch rally in the capital Thursday, in which dozens of Muslims took part, demanding the Muslim Commission that Prachanda had promised them last July after his party won the election. In addition, the community is also asking for an amendment in the interim constitution which makes provisions for disadvantaged groups like women, Dalits, and ethnic communities but does not mention Muslims.


Till 2006, Nepal was the world’s only Hindu kingdom where Muslims, though living in harmony, remained among the poorest and least-literate community, mostly eking out a bare livelihood by farming or labour in the Terai plains along the Indo-Nepal border. This year, the Prachanda government’s decision to reserve 45 seats for backward communities in the now secular republic has stirred up a hornets’ nest.

The Muslims, along with ethnic groups from the Terai plains, fear that the reservation policy will favour the Madhesis, people of Indian origin also living in the Terai. They are now demanding an amendment in the constitution so that Muslims are included as a separate group among disadvantaged communities.


Like other protesting groups, Nepal’s Muslims too want proportional representation in all state organs on the basis of population. According to Taj Mohammad Miyan, the convenor of the protesting committee, the last census of 2001, which put the Muslim population at over 4 percent of the 27 million population, is grossly inaccurate With Nepal’ population now exceeding 29.5 million, he estimates Muslims to comprise nearly 10 percent. Muslims are now demanding a new census in order to be better represented.

            The announcement of the bandhs comes after a 15-day ultimatum given by them to the Prachanda government. The flexing of muscles occurs at a time the coalition government is already reeling under a 12-day bandh called in the Terai by the Tharus, a people who were the original residents of Terai descended from the Buddha.

The bandh by the Tharus, who too are opposing the quota policy, has raised the spectre of a fuel and food shortage in the capital and hill districts. Gas stations in the capital have been running dry and the remote western districts suffering from acute shortage of food and essential items.



Philippines says open to amending Muslim autonomy law

Mar 13, 2009

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines is open to amending a law creating a Muslim autonomous region on a restive southern island officials said on Friday, after two days of talks with a group of former separatist guerrillas.

Manila also won pledges from members of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to pour more development assistance into Muslim areas affected by 40 years of conflict that has killed 120,000 people, said Nabil Tan, the government's deputy peace adviser.

Tan said the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) would work together to draft a new law.

"We agreed to create a legal panel to harmonise proposals on how to improve the implementation of a peace pact that created the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao," Tan said.

In 1996, the Philippine government and the MNLF signed a peace deal, brokered by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Indonesia, to end a separatist rebellion that has displaced 2 million in the south.

The larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), also a rebel group, however did not accept the agreement and continued the struggle for an independent Muslim homeland in the southern Philippines.

In 1978, a group of Islamic fundamentalist rebels split from the more secular MNLF. They did not agree with the autonomy deal between Manila and the MNLF, brokered by Libya.

Six years later, the MILF was formally organised in Muslim rebels on mainland Mindanao, drawing more support from Muslims not happy with the MNLF's political deal with the government.

Last year, the government agreed to expand the ancestral homeland for Muslims in the south after talks with the MILF, but negotiations were suspended when violence escalated in six southern provinces.  Tan said the joint legal panel with the MNLF will have until the end of April to propose amendments.

He said the OIC was also eager to get a copy of the proposed legislation ahead of its annual ministerial meeting in Damascus late in May and could serve as a basis for asking Islamic states to contribute to a "peace and development fund".

Since 2001, Malaysia has been brokering talks between Manila and the MILF. Both sides are hoping to restart talks as soon as possible but little progress has been made.



Research centre for Prophet’s time

By Abdullah Aldani

JEDDAH – A Saudi academic and researcher is setting up a historical and archaeological research centre for the study of the time of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Mohammad Abdullah Al-Subhi, a history professor at Medina’s Islamic University, says the aim is to document archaeological sites and artifacts alongside their related stories to integrate them into research. “People spread purported historical information about the names of archaeological sites mentioned in the Sunnah without checking their accuracy,” Al-Subhi said. “This lack of documented historical information makes it imperative that universities play their role in serving society by providing correct knowledge. – Okaz/SG



Tracing the roots of violence against women by Virginia Saldanha

February 22 2009

MUMBAI, India (UCAN) -- The women's movement in India is marked by diversity in class, caste, religion and region. While urban middle class women form the articulate visage of the movement, there are millions of women working at the grassroots who are the real face of the movement, albeit hidden.

Everyday, 1 million women from 750,000 villages across the country continue to play a crucial role to end hunger and poverty. These are women who have been elected to the village panchayat (councils), according to the Hunger Project, New Delhi. The organization empowers women to be key agents of change.

Just before Valentine's Day on Feb. 14, a group of young educated middle class women under the banner, Consortium of Pub-going Loose and Forward Women (CPLFW), launched a campaign through the Internet to protest the attack on young women in a pub in Mangalore, southern India, on Jan. 24. A moral brigade of religious fundamentalists declared that they would not allow Indian women to go to pubs or celebrate Valentine's Day, which they term as imports of Western culture. They want Indian women to follow the patriarchal traditions of Indian culture.


Having embraced the culture and lifestyles offered by globalisation, the CPLFW are intent on preserving their freedom and public spaces. They are supported by a number of secular thinking males. Senior women activists are simply amused at the group's suggestion to send pink underwear to the leader of the moral brigade as ridicule.

Laywoman theologian Crescy John, 76, asks, "What is this going to achieve?" A young student counselor, Chrisann Almeida, however, asserts, "At least it has got the attention of the young people who will defy this moral brigade by celebrating Valentine's Day and going to pubs!"

I asked a group gathered to discuss if this campaign would have any positive impact on the larger issues of violence, alcoholism and poverty that women in the country face. I also asked if they would demonstrate when the next woman in a village was stripped and paraded naked, as is done frequently to punish women from former low-caste communities. All agreed that we have to wait and see if this protest can morph into something more significant for the women's movement.

Maria Athaide, a senior educationist said: "The novel creativity of the campaign attracted my attention. Since I am an educator, I am never really interested in anything else but my work in education. I realize that I should begin to get interested in women's issues."

Suren Abreu, a priest, said, "A campaign like this has the value of attracting people to an issue. However, I disagree with the call to young people to fill the pubs on Valentine's Day."

There are important issues that are being sidelined by this campaign, such as the molestation of young women at the pub and the fact that the girls have refused to come forward to identify their attackers because of family pressure. They are afraid the publicity will spoil their marriage prospects. The incident of a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after she was humiliated by a group of "moral police" for being seen in the company of a Muslim man and later beaten by her father are also a worrying fallout.

Yes, we need to send a strong message that defining norms of behaviour for women by any group of religious fundamentalists is unacceptable because we can decide for ourselves what behaviour is desirable to live our life in a responsible way.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India started its Commission for Women to help create awareness among women and in the Church about their status and dignity and to enable women to live with dignity, free from fear of violence. A good network and considerable work has largely raised awareness among women, but a perceptible lack is felt in awareness among men.


Violence to women cannot be addressed without going down to its roots in patriarchal attitudes intricately woven into social and religious structures. Work for women in the Church is hemmed in by the articulation of Church teachings and rules framed by a largely patriarchal male leadership.

The women's movement in India and the rest of Asia is genuinely concerned about life and death issues related to women. The Church leadership needs to listen to women, empathize and understand that there is a link between how women are viewed by society and religion with resultant attitudes that cause violence to them.

I am reminded of a telling remark made by a bishop as an aside at a regional meeting of women leaders of the Indian bishops' Commission for Women, when he said, "It is only when women can be made bishops that female feticide will stop!"

Virginia Saldanha lives in Mumbai, India. She is executive secretary of the FABC Office of Laity and Family, and former executive secretary of the Commission for Women in the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.



Islamic courts start functioning in Swat valley

12 Mar 2009

ISLAMABAD: Islamic courts today started functioning in Pakistan's insurgency-hit Swat valley under an agreement signed last month by religious hardliners and provincial authorities, a senior official said.

Qazis or judges started presiding over the Shariah courts at four places in Swat valley to pacify armed Taliban fighters, who waged a violent campaign and battled security forces over the past 18 months to press for the enforcement of Islamic laws in the region.

"We have revived the Islamic courts and Qazis (judges) today," Commissioner Syed Muhammad Javed said.

Javed and Sufi Muhammad, whose Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi group signed an agreement with the North West Frontier Province government to enforce Islamic laws, led a large procession to the four places and appointed the Qazis in the presence of hundreds of people.

The areas where the Qazis have started functioning, Matta, Khwazakhela, Kabal and Barikot, are considered strongholds of the Taliban.

The Taliban in Swat are led by Maulana Fazlullah, who is Sufi Muhammad's son-in-law.

Sufi struck the deal with the government last month. Under the agreement, the NWFP government agreed to scrap all "un-Islamic" laws.



Abduction fears take heavy toll on Afghan society

By Can Merey, March 12th, 2009


Kabul, March 12 (DPA) It was around 6 p.m. when hospital director Muhammed Hashim Wahaaj left his office in downtown Kabul to go home. A car followed his vehicle. Wahaaj stopped to let the car pass. As the car pulled up, a shot rang out, and the bullet hit the 47-year-old in his upper arm.

Three or four men, Wahaaj said, emerged from the car, blindfolded him and tied him up, forced him into the vehicle and had him crouch on the floor. Thus began a painful ordeal of torture and the fear of death for the doctor.

Wahaaj had become one of the uncounted victims of abductions in Afghanistan, and while official numbers are hard to come by, internal statistics by the Afghan Interior Ministry puts the number at more than 175 for the first six months of 2008.

The real figures are believed to be much higher, but many cases go unreported as relatives fear for the lives of the victims - and also often mistrust the police.

The country in the shade of the Hindu Kush mountain range has developed into the centre of a human abduction industry.

Amrullah Saleh, chief of Afghanistan’s secret service NDS, warned last October that kidnapping had matured into “a sort of business for some elements” of society.

Saleh’s comments remained among the few emanating from the government about the crimes.

Unlike in abduction cases perpetrated by the radical Islamist Taliban militants, the criminal gangs involved usually do not want to achieve political goals but instead demand money.

They push their demands by forcing abductees to pose before video cameras and have them plead for their lives in exchange for ransoms.

The victims are usually wealthy or even just supposedly wealthy Afghan nationals.

Because foreigners are rarely targeted, the international community barely recognises the scope of this growing problem.

Even hospital chief Wahaaj could not count on high-level support although he has contacts in the highest government and police circles.

The families of numerous other abduction victims are reluctant to report the cases because they mistrust the authorities and even suspect that the criminals are in cahoots with corrupt government officials.

Wahaaj’s abductors locked him in a dark cellar, and he treated his gunshot wound himself as well as he could.

His abductors demanded $5 million, the father of seven children said. “If I had that much money, I wouldn’t live in Afghanistan,” he admitted.

One evening, the abductors chained his hands behind his back to the cellar’s ceiling. The contraption forced him to stand upright all night long if he didn’t want to risk dislocating his shoulders.

“How was your night?” asked the kidnappers laconically the next morning. “Tell us where the money is.”

The doctor answered he couldn’t possibly come up with that much cash.

Then the abductors forced him to call one of his siblings. His brother had to listen over the open phone line as Wahaaj was beaten with electrical cables and sticks.

The abductors told his brother that if he didn’t produce the ransom money he would find Wahaaj’s corpse in a ditch the next day.

However, the kidnappers didn’t contact his brother for the next three days, leaving his family in uncertainty whether Wahaaj was alive or dead.

Meanwhile, his brothers sold off all their possessions to try to gather enough money to save his life.

After 21 days in captivity, Wahaaj was finally released in the autumn of 2007 with the kidnappers settling for a ransom of about $200,000. “We are still repaying our debts,” Wahaaj said.

The abductors told him the government was not going to help him. “Just go back to work and pretend nothing has happened,” they said.

Wahaaj and his family claimed the authorities never launched an investigation.

“I am still waking up at night shouting,” he said.

His abduction at the hands of rogue criminals left deep scars, and the lack of action and inabilities of the Afghan authorities has disillusioned him and left him angry, he said.

“Nobody is safe,” he said. “Nobody.”



Catholic Church & 'Allah' in Malaysia

By Fr Lawrence Andrew, SJ, March 13 2009

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was asked to comment on the use of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims during a TV 1 interview on Wednesday Feb 18. In his spontaneous response he asked the same question that Utusan Malaysia had asked a week earlier in one of its articles Mengapa baru sekarang? (Why now?).


Certainly this is a question that is being asked around by some people today. We do not want to make this discussion to become a political controversy. Nevertheless we have an obligation, as the leading Catholic Weekly, to give correct information about the use of the word ‘Allah’ in the Church.

We begin by stating that the word ‘Allah’ is not a new word in the theological vocabulary of the Christians since the time of the Sultanate of Malacca, of the Straits Settlements, of the Federation of Malaya and later of Malaysia. Thus, the use of the word ‘Allah’ was known even before the various Malay groups and other ethnic groups came to make Malaysia their homeland. Some of the vociferous people who have championed the Ketuanan Melayu, as reported in the various dailies, are people who have come from the neighbouring countries within the last two or three generations of their family histories. They have come later than the arrival of the Catholic Church in Malacca.


This is testified by the fact that we have a Malay-Latin Dictionary printed in 1631, in which the word ‘Allah’ is cited. To have a word in a dictionary means that that particular word has already been in use in the community prior to the dictionary.

The word for ‘God’ in Latin is ‘Deus’ and in Malay is ‘Allah’. After the coming of the Dutch in the country a Dutch-Malay Dictionary was produced in 1650 where the word for ‘God’ in Dutch is ‘Godt’ and in Malay ‘Allah’.

Who can deny this historical evidence? We do not want to labour the existence of the Bible in Malay as it is already known to the outside world, treasured in some reputable Museums in Europe. So, we do not want to be the laughing stock of the world by categorically denying its existence. However, it is important to stress that before the Anglicisation of the country took place in the fields of education, commerce, governance and others — whose legacy is still felt, among others, in the common use of the anglicised titles and attributions of the Police Force of our country — there was already in the Catholic Church the use of the language of Malay as its means of communication.

We have another piece of historical evidence to prove that we have been praying in Malay. Last week (Mar 1) on Page 1 we carried a scanned picture of two pages from the prayer book of the period before the turn of the twentieth century. This shows that we have material proof to claim that the Catholic Church has been using the Malay language in her worship and has no hidden agenda to confuse the Malays, as some of the panelists in the state owned TV1 on Tuesday February 17 from 9.30pm to 10.30pm, have accused the Catholic Church of doing.


Historically, then, who has brought about the confusion kekeliruan in our land about the word ‘Allah’? We do not want to do the despicable thing of pointing our fingers at others or to find a scapegoat in order to cover up for the lack of ingenuity, honesty and integrity. Experience tells us that it is always good to be objective if we want to know the truth. Did not Jesus teach us that “Truth will set us free”?

Let us do a simple and quick exercise by tracing the evolution of the word ‘Allah’ in our dictionaries. Let us begin with the dictionaries that were published after May 13, 1969 which event is a watershed mark in our nation. Till today we have no evidence of any party or Government official saying that there existed some confusion or kekeliruan among the people prior to that infamous date!

In the Malay Kamus Dewan of 1970 the word ‘Allah’ was defined as Tuhan and ‘Tuhan’ as Allah yang menciptakan alam samesta; Allah yang Esa. Also in 1989 in the Kamus Dewan, the word ‘Allah’ was described as Tuhan yang Esa and ‘Tuhan’ as Allah yang mencipta alam semesta. The two words were used interchangeably at this point in history. During these two decades, no particular attributes were attached to the word ‘Allah’.

In the Kamus Dewan (Dwibahasa) of 1990, the word ‘God’ was translated both as Tuhan and Allah. However, it was in the 1992 Kamus Dewan (Inggeris Melayu) that the word ‘God’ was translated both as Tuhan and Allah but with the word ‘Allah’ now being nuance by two words — in Islam — written in parenthesis. From this moment on the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Dictionaries began to attribute the word ‘Allah’ to the God of the Muslims. So who has confused the people on the word ‘Allah’?

Courtesy: Herald Weekly, Malaysia