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World Press ( 16 Nov 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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World Press On Transgender Madrasa, French Expulsion Of Muslim Family And ISIS Nihilism: New Age Islam's Selection, 16 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

16 November 2020

• First Transgender Madrasa: Let It Be The Spark For A Social Revolution

By Badiuzzaman Bay

• Independent Bangladesh Was Built On Values Of Inclusion And Tolerance

By Shuprova Tasneem

• Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris Moved Me To Tears

By Padma Lakshmi

• French Expulsion Of Muslim Family Highlights Rarity Of Mixed Marriages In War-Scarred Bosnia

By Marija Arnautovic

• Muslim Women Deal With Infertility Too –  Need Much Better Support

By Sadhbh O'sullivan

• The Bataclan Terrorists Were The Product Of War-Honed Isis Nihilism – Not Muslim Council Estates

By Nabila Ramdani


First Transgender Madrasa: Let It Be The Spark For A Social Revolution

By Badiuzzaman Bay

November 12, 2020

On Friday, November 6, the first madrasa for transgender Muslims in Bangladesh was opened in Dhaka through a private initiative. Until now, there has been no madrasa (or even school) exclusively dedicated to the transgender people in the country. This makes it a historic moment for this long-marginalised community, perhaps no less significant than the 2013 official recognition of a "hijra sex", the 2019 granting of full voting rights through the creation of a "third gender" category on the national voters list, or the 2020 decision to include them in the national census to be carried out in January 2021.

According to media reports, the madrasa, named Dawatul Quran Third Gender Madrasa, has been set up in a three-storey building near Lohar bridge in the Kamrangirchar area of Dhaka. Up to 150 students can study in the non-residential seminary. There is no age limit for enrolment, no fee for education. Besides traditional Islamic teachings, the madrasa authorities plan to provide lessons in Bengali, English, maths and some vocational training which will give them the opportunity to pursue better work opportunities and even more formal education in the future, if they so desire.

While talking to journalists at the inauguration ceremony, Abdur Rahman Azad, secretary general of the madrasa, explained what drove him to take this initiative. "For too long, they (transgender people) have been living a miserable life. They can't go to schools, madrasas or mosques. They have been victims of discrimination. We, society and the state, are to blame for this," he said. He added: "We want to end this discrimination. Allah does not discriminate between people. Islam treats everyone as a human being. Hijras should enjoy all rights like any other human being."

To those following the event, it was a truly uplifting moment—coming as it did on the eve of the global Transgender Awareness Week—and the first step, as the clerics called it, towards integrating the minority group into the wider social network.

You don't normally put the words "transgender" and "madrasa" together in the same sentence. School, maybe. But not madrasa, not in a country increasingly plagued by militant intolerance and more doctrinaire forms of Islam where the transgender community, commonly known as hijras, are often viewed as deviant or "sinners". The madrasa is thus a statement, a potent symbol of pluralism, a way to bring these people from the edge of society to the centre of Islam, thereby the centre of life in Bangladesh. Equally, and perhaps more strikingly, it also challenges common assumptions about where the progressive ideas of pluralism and tolerance come from. Normally, we associate such ideas with secular activists and individuals, who we expect to lead movements for the rights and dignity of traditionally marginalised groups. Seldom do we expect to see mawlanas at the forefront of such a movement. The founders of the transgender madrasa have thus shown that the clerics, if properly motivated, can be a powerful driver of positive social change because of the influence religion holds over this country.

Education is of course an important means to that end. And going forward, we need to make sure more such citizen-led institutions are formed, while the authorities begin a process of reintegrating students from the hijra and other marginalised communities into the mainstream education system. The objective should be to empower them so they can start fighting for their own rights, rather than being dependent on others to do so. Education has historically played a crucial role in empowering minority groups. An uneducated group can neither speak for themselves nor help those who want to help them, prolonging their crisis in the process.

But the magic of education is unlikely to work in this case unless we, the state and society in general, also go through a process of (re)educating ourselves. While we talk about their education and social reintegration, we must also remind ourselves to cleanse our minds of anti-hijra biases and prejudices, which are precisely why this community has had little change in their luck despite the official recognition and other favourable decrees. Today, the hijras continue to endure transphobic slurs and attacks. They are still cast away by their own family, and forced to choose a life of dependence. They remain deprived of their inheritance as the inheritance law only recognises males and females. They are also not considered for jobs and other rights and services which are taken for granted by most people, people who have little idea about their gender-nonconforming counterparts but continue to hold sway over their life anyway.

How entrenched our biases are, and how dangerous our ignorance about them is, can be understood from the government's first attempt to implement the "hijra" category through an employment scheme, following the 2013 recognition. A report by the Human Rights Watch thus describes the incident: "In December 2014, the Ministry of Social Welfare invited hijras to apply for government employment—a major boon for a population usually consigned to begging, ritual performances at ceremonies, and sex work, and who invariably rely on hijra leaders (or gurus) for protection. At first welcoming this potentially empowering development, Hijras seeking government jobs lined up for the initial interview."

But it didn't go as expected. They were humiliated by the ill-informed Social Welfare Department officials who asked them inappropriate questions about their gender identity and sexuality. Twelve of them were finally selected.

Then in January 2015, the health ministry called for a "thorough medical check-up" to identify "authentic hijras" among them. So the 12 finalists reported to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where "physicians ordered non-medical hospital staff such as custodians to touch the hijras' genitals while groups of staff and other patients observed and jeered—sometimes in private rooms, sometimes in public spaces. Hospital staff instructed some of the hijras to return multiple times, stretching over a number of weeks, to undergo additional examinations. Following these abuses at the hospital, photographs of the 12 hijras were released to online and print media, which claimed the hijras were 'really men' who were committing fraud to attain government jobs. Some hijras reported that publication of the photos sparked increased harassment from the general public and economic hardship for those involved."

If this is the outcome of a state trying to help, imagine the outcome of its inaction or indifference. Imagine how hard it must be for the hijras "enjoying" no such affirmative action or support or legal protection or whatever people need to lead a dignified life. All this points to the need for educating the "educators", those of us who sit in judgment of them but have no real knowledge of their challenges and sufferings. It also points to the need for sensitising state officials and policymakers responsible for undertaking measures related to the rights and welfare of the hijra community.

While the establishment of a transgender madrasa marks a much-needed first step—setting a precedent that should inspire other religious leaders, secular activists and even ordinary folks to come forward in this regard—it will be wise to remember how zealots in other Muslim countries tried to undermine such efforts. In 2008 in Indonesia, transgender activist Shinta Ratri founded Pondok Pesantren Waria al-Fatah, the first madrasa for transgender people in the world. It was built as a safe haven for the transwomen to learn and pray. No prejudice. No bigotry. No discrimination. But all that changed in 2016, when the madrasa was closed after threats of violence from conservative groups claiming that it was "violating Islamic precepts". We must remain careful that no such untoward incidents take place here.

The only way to counter any possible fundamentalist backlash is to establish more such institutions and also schools and vocational training centres, which will eventually bolster the pro-hijra campaign. The ultimate goal of all such initiatives, however, should be to create the path to empower them socially, legally, economically, politically, and psychologically. The same goes for all other marginalised minorities also. Let's hope the Kamrangirchar madrasa sparks off a social revolution to bring about the much-needed change for hijras.


Badiuzzaman Bay is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.


Independent Bangladesh Was Built On Values Of Inclusion And Tolerance

By Shuprova Tasneem

November 16, 2020

I always believed I lived in a tolerant society. What else could one think, growing up in independent Bangladesh? The generations born after the Liberation War were brought up on stories of the birth of the nation and the fundamental policies enshrined in our constitution by the Father of the Nation—democracy, nationalism, secularism and socialism. We learnt of how a united nation fought the Liberation War, despite having collaborators in our own ranks who attempted to use a twisted and defiled version of faith to justify genocide and create a divided society. We overcame extremism, authoritarianism and prejudice, and chose freedom, democracy and tolerance instead, building a country based on principles of inclusion, with a place for everyone at the table—Banglar Hindu, Banglar Christian, Banglar Bouddho, Banglar Musolman.

All one had to do was look around them to see the signs of this liberal society. Is this not the country where folk culture thrives on every inch of the land, where there is a singer or a poet in every household, where the annual book fair draws more crowds than Eid sales and Humayun Ahmed's stories still sell like hot cakes? How can a society such as this, be anything but tolerant?

It was in 2001 when this illusion first shattered (for me), when two separate bomb blasts carried out by militant outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad struck at the heart of the capital's Pohela Boishakh celebrations at Ramna Batamul, killing 10 people and injuring 50 others. The carefully orchestrated attack on one of the most inclusive celebrations in Bangladesh, shown live on television and watched across the nation, sent a clear message in this new era of rising militancy—tolerance will not be tolerated.

This period saw terrorist bombings of places of worship—10 people were killed in the 2001 Gopalganj Roman Catholic Church bombing and 12 died in the 2004 bombing of the shrine of Shahjalal; assaults on centres of culture and entertainment—27 people died in coordinated bombings of cinema halls in Mymensingh; as well as attacks on journalists, teachers and political leaders, culminating in the horrific August 21 grenade attack on an Awami League rally. It was a time of great uncertainty and fear, at the height of which Jama'at ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) exploded a total of 500 bombs in 300 locations across the country on August 7, 2005.

After 2016, international terrorism also reared its ugly head in Bangladesh, with ISIS and Al-Qaeda inspired attacks on religious minorities, secular bloggers, members of security forces and Sufi spiritual leaders. The painful memory of the 2016 Holey Artisan attack, one of the worst terrorist incidents this country has ever seen, is still etched in our national psyche.

The current government must be commended for its strong stance against such acts of terrorism and its active role in rooting out its exponents. However, terrorism is only the most extreme version of the intolerance that has, time and again, made its presence clear in our country. Unfortunately, we have not seen a similar level of political will in dealing with this issue—it was only this month, on November 7, that the Bangladesh Hindu, Bouddha, Christian Oikya Parishad implored the Prime Minister, once again, to intervene and stop attacks on minorities.

There is no denying that these past few months have been especially grim for tolerance in Bangladesh. On November 1, videos of a mob attack on several Hindu households in Muradnagar, Cumilla went viral, and the local administration had to impose Section 144 in that union to bring the situation under control. This came right on the heels of the horrific images of the charred body of Shahidunnabi Jewel circulating on social media. On October 29, he was beaten to death and burnt by an angry mob in Lalmonirhat who (falsely) accused him of desecrating the Holy Quran. During this year's Durga Puja, there were the usual reports of the goddess' idols being vandalised. According to the Bangladesh Peace Observatory, 18 temples have been attacked and 27 idols were destroyed up to September this year.

However, the growing intolerance in our society is not just reflected in assaults on different religious beliefs and ethnicities; there have been attacks on cultural spaces and the inclusive philosophies they represent as well. Many will remember the heart wrenching photo of Baul Ronesh Thakur standing in the remains of his music room, which was torched by miscreants in May this year. This is not the first time Bauls have come under attack—in 2011, religious fanatics shaved the heads and beards of 24 Bauls in Rajbari, and in 2016, 20 criminals assaulted and shaved the heads of three Bauls, including a woman, in Chuadanga. As The Daily Star columnist CR Abrar wrote in September, "such assaults are ultimately attacks on free thought and democracy."

And such assaults are, unfortunately, all too common nowadays. One only has to go on social media to see the intolerance that has crept into our daily interactions. A large number of attacks on minorities in recent years were incited by fake news being spread on Facebook, usually of a "report" or rumour of a minority individual posting something offensive about religion, with the most serious of such incidents being the 2012 Ramu violence that led to mobs destroying 12 Buddhist temples/monasteries and 50 houses in Cox's Bazar. Even beyond that, whether the online conversations are centred on marital rape, the eviction of indigenous communities from their ancestral land or the rights of hijras to receive religious education—the dogmatism (bordering on fanaticism) that surfaces is constant and reveals something sinister about us as a society.

It is only natural for human beings to hold their beliefs close to their hearts. But why are we so afraid of those who disagree with us? Why, instead of "agreeing to disagree", must we attack, verbally and physically, those we consider to be different? It is this refusal to allow differences to exist in society that is truly concerning, especially when this intolerance of differing voices have been institutionalised to a certain extent. If the authorities are complicit in silencing dissent, how do we expect the citizens to not follow suit? How else does one explain the incarceration of musician Shariat (Sarker) Bayati, who was arrested under the controversial Digital Security Act for "hurting religious sentiments" in December 2019, while those who spread fake news and engage in online hate speech that ultimately leads to the persecution of minority communities, walk free?

It is also important to remember that we are currently faced with a unique 21st century problem—we are a majority living with a minority complex. Islamophobia is a harsh reality in many parts of the world, including in our neighbouring countries, and many of the huge number of Bangladeshis living abroad have been victims of anti-Muslim sentiments. However, at the same time, we must acknowledge that some quarters are using this very real oppression of Muslims in certain countries to manipulate ordinary citizens into following radical and narrow-minded interpretations of religion. Everywhere in the world, we see different leaders playing to their respective galleries—as French President Macron flexes his liberal muscles to woo voters away from right-wing populist leaders like Marine la Pen, isolating and alienating Muslim immigrant communities in the process, so do leaders like Turkey's Erdogan and Pakistan's Imran Khan jump at the opportunity to cater to their voter base and denounce "liberal, anti-Muslim voices." Together, they contribute to creating increasingly divided communities across the world, where the victims of such polarisation are always ordinary citizens.

The religious conservatives in Bangladesh are no different; whenever a global conversation about Islamophobia arises, it is used as an opportunity to play on the sentiments of believers and promote certain intolerant agendas. This is where the authorities in Bangladesh have to navigate a slippery slope. We have already seen them give in to these intolerant voices, culminating in the removal of sculptures from public spaces and the removal of secular writers from our education curriculum. But once you give an inch, they are bound to take a mile, and we are now faced with demands that range from the distressing to the downright ridiculous—this week, there were reports of demands from a certain religious group to scrap the plans for erecting a statue of Bangabandhu in the capital, as well as the demand from a popular online religious "leader" that cricketer Shakib al Hasan issue a public apology for attending a Kali Puja celebration in Kolkata.

Freedom of religious beliefs and practices is enshrined in our constitution, but that has to apply to all religions, and it in no way gives us room to allow the use of religion as a shield for a radicalism which promotes beliefs that ultimately go against the values that this country was built on. The question we must now ask ourselves is—where do we draw the line? How tolerant can we be of intolerance?


Shuprova Tasneem is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.


Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris Moved Me to Tears

By Padma Lakshmi

Nov. 13, 2020

I was on a hike in Garrison, N.Y., when I heard the news of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden’s victory. I felt elated. Then suddenly I felt this heat welling up from my chest into my throat and it burst out of me in tears I could not control. At first I didn’t even know why I was sobbing.

Finally, I was thinking. Finally a woman, and a woman of colour, takes this office.

I felt like a marathon runner who breaks down into tears at the end of a race. And that marathon was a lifetime of fighting to be seen and to advance, as an immigrant and woman of color with few guides.

I cried again as I watched Ms. Harris address the nation last weekend as the vice president-elect. The world finally saw a Black woman, whose parents came from Jamaica and India, near the pinnacle of American power. That vision, in an instant, seemed to evaporate some of the unnecessary hurdles I had faced, making a different path for a child like me growing up today.

Now, days later, everyone is talking about President Trump again. His refusal to concede shouldn’t steal Vice President-elect Harris’s moment — his time is up and her time, and ours, is just beginning.

When I first came to this country at age 4 from India, walking around New York City, I was excited to see all kinds of people — with different colors of skin, styles of dress and ways of moving through the world. But slowly I became aware of a different world, through magazines and TV, where almost everyone was white.

I watched a lot of television: “The Brady Bunch,” “The Partridge Family,” “One Day at a Time,” “Three’s Company,” “Happy Days,” “Fantasy Island.” As a latchkey kid in the ’80s, these shows raised me and taught me about American life.

Children know when they are being sorted. I could see that the idealized America on the TV screen and the magazine pages did not value Black and brown people like me and many I knew.

I figured out how to navigate the time a boy called me the N-word when I was 11; and navigate the times I auditioned for acting roles in my 20s, only to be told they weren’t “going ethnic”; and navigate the times in my 30s when I didn’t know to negotiate full credit for my work.

Things might have been different if I had seen more women like me in positions of power — role models to show me a path.

Often now, strangers — girls and women of color — approach me to say that seeing my face on television expanded their aspirations. I’m just a cable food show host. Imagine how wide the ripples of impact can be when a woman of color is vice president.

Ms. Harris understands this. “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” she assured us. “Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

Over the summer, I learned that Ms. Harris’s mother’s family comes from the same city in India as my family. Her grandparents lived right around the corner from mine in the Besant Nagar area of the city of Chennai. Our grandfathers might have strolled together in the same walking group of retirees on Elliot’s Beach. We both spent summers visiting there, and might have been sent on errands to the same All-in-One corner store that sold half-rupee candies and lentils by the kilo. In the United States, we were raised by single mothers who both worked in health care — mine as a nurse and hers as a biomedical scientist.

When she accepted the Democratic nomination for the vice presidency, she thanked her “chitthis,” the word for aunties in Tamil, a language of South India — not in Hindi, an official language of the country. Never in my life did I imagine a Tamil-speaking vice president of the United States.

Our striking commonalities made Ms. Harris’s victory particularly poignant for me — but I think she offers many Black and brown girls and women a sense of belonging.

President Trump’s attacks on women, on people of color and on immigrants feel personal to us. As he allows a pandemic to run rampant in our country and even threatens our democracy, it feels like a betrayal that so many Americans persist in supporting him.

His vitriol encourages those who hate us. In comments under my Instagram and Twitter posts, people frequently tell me, “Go back to your country.”

I say: This is my country. I have contributed to it with my taxes, my writing and television shows and my activism. I am working to improve this nation, which you do not do for a place you do not love.

I would also like to say: So many women in my family and our communities have been invisible, even as we have helped build this country with our own hands. We have cleaned your toilets, we have waited on you in restaurants, we have done your taxes, we have ministered to your children in the pediatrician’s office, we have programmed your computers, we have cared for your elderly, we have even led your companies. But you have sidestepped us and made us feel less important than you.

Ms. Harris is part of a new generation of elected women of color, taking office at this absurdly divided time when people of color are both ascendant and under attack. And these women are not just in power; they have excelled, often precisely because of their life experiences. Senator Harris pinioned Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brilliantly rebuked a fellow congressman, Ted Yoho, when he used a sexist insult against her. Representative Pramila Jayapal grilled Attorney General William Barr about the decision to take an “aggressive approach” against Black Lives Matter protesters — but not against gun-toting protesters who crowded a state capitol.

Now Ms. Harris will have new authority and reach as vice president. The Trump era she is ending empowered people to show their racism nakedly, in slights and jeers and acts of violence. For many people of color and immigrants, the message was clear: You do not belong here, and you are not wanted.

It will be a difficult and long path to undo that damage. But for me and other girls and women of color, Ms. Harris embodies an opposite message: You do belong here, her life says, and you obviously can achieve absolutely anything.


Padma Lakshmi is the host and executive producer of “Taste the Nation” and “Top Chef” and an artist-ambassador for the A.C.L.U.


French Expulsion Of Muslim Family Highlights Rarity Of Mixed Marriages In War-Scarred Bosnia

By Marija Arnautovic

November 14, 2020

SARAJEVO -- When Amela and Srdjan saw the headlines out of France about a lovestruck young Bosniak beaten and shamed over her love for an Orthodox Serb, they saw a bit of their younger selves.

"We got married in the middle of the [Bosnian] war," Amela says of the unlikely pair's decision three decades ago when their city, the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, was under a deadly siege.

Blushing bride Amela is Bosniak, a mostly Muslim ethnic group that is a majority in most of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Her groom, Srdjan, is an Orthodox ethnic Serb, a group that animated Yugoslavia's formation in the early 20th century but became a minority in several parts of that country as it dissolved in the early 1990s.

Many of their respective co-ethnics were locked in conflict to carve out swaths of the erstwhile socialist patchwork that communist leader Josip Broz Tito so famously tried to keep stitched together for four decades.

Sarajevo, a proudly polyethnic metropolis of over half a million people when it declared sovereignty in 1991, was encircled by Bosnian Serb military forces in what ended up being the longest siege of a capital city in modern history.

Amela and Srdjan's courtship was discouraged by many of their neighbors and loved ones, who were even more appalled at the idea of a mixed marriage at the height of an ethnically and religiously fueled conflict.

"My family sulked a little, and there you have it," Amela, a mother of two, says matter-of-factly, adding encouraging words for others who are similarly scorned. "Now we don't care who says what. We don't pay attention anymore. We live our lives."

"When they have only one thought on their mind," Amela says, seemingly as much about them as about last month's news of the star-crossed lovers in France, "it's up to them -- where it's normal [in a country] for you to marry into another religion."

French Foreign Minister Gerald Darmanin described being "deeply shocked" by the August incident in eastern France, in which police were called as a 17-year-old Bosnian-Muslim girl was "shaved and beaten because she 'loved a Christian.'"

The woman -- whose family had been in France since 2017 and had been denied refugee status -- was taken to a hospital with a broken rib and other injuries inflicted on her by her family.

Her parents and four other members of the Zahirovic family were deported to Sarajevo on October 24 for what the French Foreign Ministry called the "unacceptable behavior of the family."

The families of the couple had lived in the same building in the city of Besancon and their relationship "wasn't a problem," a French prosecutor said, until "they started talking about marriage [and] the girl's parents told her, 'We're Muslims, you can't marry a Christian.'"

Bosnia's ambassador to France, Kemal Muftic, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the Bosnian emigres' case had particularly resonated among the French because it echoed postwar abuses there after the defeat of the Nazis.

"It was all reminiscent of French history when, after World War II, French women who had had contact with the [occupying] Germans had their hair cut," Muftic said. "The whole case caused harm to the Bosnian community in France."

That number included negative views among 55 percent of Bosnian Serbs, most of whom are Orthodox Christians; 43 percent of Bosnian Croats, who are mainly Catholic; and 33 percent of the predominantly Muslim Bosniaks.

That suggests that Bosnia's main ethnic minorities -- Serbs and Croats -- are more guarded when it comes to marrying outside their ethnicity or faith.

"We can even say that these ethnic groups that consider themselves vulnerable or minorities are somehow more opposed to mixed marriages," says psychologist Srdjan Puhalo, who worked on the study.

"Maybe it's their fear of disappearance somewhere. That is to say, maybe [they believe] it's a guarantee -- if they stick to their ethnic groups -- that they will survive in Bosnia."

But just some 3 percent of the roughly 18,000 marriages throughout Bosnia in 2019 were registered as ethnically mixed, in a country where Bosniaks make up about 50 percent of the country's population, Serbs some 31 percent, and Croats 15 percent.

The wars of Yugoslav succession of the 1990s were notorious for an ethnically fueled ferocity that Europe hadn't seen since World War II.

"When you look at who fought in Bosnia-Herzegovina, you see that Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks fought each other; you see that Orthodox, Catholics, and Muslims fought each other," psychologist Puhalo says.

After the traumatic and tragic experiences of World War II a half-century earlier, there was enormous pressure in the form of propaganda encouraging the "brotherhood and unity" that had existed between the two world wars, according to Tamara Dzamonja Ignjatovic, professor of psychology at the University of Belgrade.

Recent generations of Bosnians lived through "an experience of ethnic conflicts and wars of the 1990s that, unfortunately, still have an echo in our region," she says.

She says those painful traumas are the main reason for the continuing unpopularity of multiethnic marriages. Media and ongoing personal prejudices feed resentment against such marriages when they do take place.

"We are living the consequences of these conflicts in the 1990s and today, and as part of these daily political events the same issues are being raised every now and again," Dzamonja Ignjatovic says.

Back in Sarajevo, Amela and Srdjan remember a time before the Balkan conflicts when they rarely noticed the ethnic implication of someone's name, much less the historical baggage it carried.

When he talks about the prejudices that preceded France's internationally reported expulsion of the Zahirovic family, Srdjan says he thinks one of the legacies of the Balkan conflict is that many of its survivors, at home and abroad, have spent decades "living in some of their national clans."


Muslim Women Deal With Infertility Too –  Need Much Better Support

By Sadhbh O'sullivan

15 November 2020

Struggles with infertility are a devastatingly common problem that affects one in seven straight couples in the UK. Not only that, but it’s a problem that’s growing: ONS data shows a record low of birth rates in 2018 and points to the combined factors of ageing populations and falling fertility rates. But while the breakdown of infertility rates by ethnicity are not documented by the NHS, figures from 2019 show that the majority (66%) of people seeking treatment for fertility are white. This is emblematic of a much larger problem of who gets to talk about, and who gets access to treatment for infertility.

As Sally Cheshire, Chair of Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), said at the time those figures were published: “We know that some patients from an ethnic minority background face unique cultural and sometimes religious challenges when they struggle to conceive. We recognise that there is still a stigma attached to infertility in general, but it’s important people know it’s a recognised medical condition like any other.”

Those that are speaking out about it report several factors co-conspiring to stigmatise infertility in Muslim communities. Some women cite undue pressure to have children. Other women report that discussing infertility or child loss in and of itself is taboo. There is also, for many, a mistrust of the NHS and the prevalence of conditions that impact fertility may not be fully known. There’s also growing evidence that two conditions that are major causes of infertility (PCOS and endometriosis) disproportionately affect Black, Asian and minority ethnic women.

All of this is exacerbated by the fact, as Dr Pragya Agarwal points out a piece for The Independent, that the public face of infertility and IVF is a straight, middle class white woman in her early- to mid- thirties, a culturally generated idea that suggests infertility and baby loss only affects or is important to one type of woman.

But that doesn't mean no-one is talking about it. On social media, spaces of support and resilience are working to change the narrative about fertility among Muslim women. Sama and Ruksar from, an Instagram page providing support to Muslim women struggling with infertility, miscarriage and all things in between. There is also Farah, a life coach from @inspirehercoaching who, together with Sama and Ruksar are just three of those who are providing emotional support, comfort and messages of hope to others like them. Under hashtags like #musliminfertility and #muslimttc ('ttc' or 'trying to conceive' is a common acronym in infertility forums) these women are documenting not only the struggle and pain of their own experiences, but are also serving as a specific support group for others like them. In doing so, they are slowly shaking the taboo of infertility amongst their own community, pushing for better medical and community support and, most importantly, providing a message of hope. Here are their stories.

It all started when I hit puberty. I had irregular periods but didn't think anything of it. In fact, I was happy that I never had periods. No monthly bleeding, yay! But I didn't realise the severity of it, which is why I never got myself checked.

After only a few years, the weight piled on. I went from a size 8/10 to a size 14/16. I went to the GP and they blamed my studies, saying that it was stress. I persisted, I told them time and time again that it was something else. Finally, after three years, I got diagnosed with PCOS but I had no knowledge around it and kept getting fobbed off. It didn't worry me though as I thought I'd never get married. I thought, "who's gonna marry me anyway?"

I was wrong though, I did get married. And after five years of trying for a child we weren't getting anywhere. I lied to myself, saying that I'm not the issue. When in fact, I am. I lie to myself, saying that I don't want kids, when in actual fact, I do.

Some days I feel so alone. I don't speak about my troubles. But since making our Instagram page I have realised that there are so many other women out there who feel exactly the same way.

My whole experience has been distorted by being a Muslim woman, by the 'Bengali shame' – where we're pushed into thinking that miscarriages are shameful and the woman's fault. I feel there is little-to-no support in the Muslim community in all honesty.

We use the account to share stories and support one another. We always inform readers that we are not medical specialists and are not trained but we support through our own experiences. Sometimes, all people need is someone to talk to that isn't directly involved and someone who will take them seriously. In my experience, doctors just don't. I suffer from PCOS and the doctors were only focused on my weight. I discharged myself after they called me fat and told me I would never carry a baby full term.

There were times when even my faith couldn't keep me going. There were times when I think 'why me?' But there are so many verses in the Qur'an that say that once the storm passes, there will be ease. Fa Inna ma Al usri yusra.

I got married in 2014 and went straight on the pill but came off it about a year later to see what happened. Obviously I thought I would be pregnant within a few months after all the scares we got in school about it. But after trying for a year we had to go to the GP to see what was going on, and it was followed up with many, many tests. But even though we couldn't get pregnant, all the results came back normal.

We had three rounds of IVF/ICSI funded by the NHS that resulted in no embryos, no pregnancies, and no reason for fertility issues found. Our diagnosis in the end was 'unexplained subfertility'. The last round of ICSI was emotionally and physically so extremely hard that we decided to take a break. That break lasted four years.

I left work Oct 2019 to focus on a new coaching business but also mainly to focus on TTC (trying to conceive) again. We had a lot of mainstream and holistic treatments such as cupping, acupuncture and IVF planned for 2020. 2020 had other plans so we have done very little. We will try again when we can.

For me, being a Muslim meant I never went through the 'why me?' stage because of my trust in God. My faith gave me a sense of understanding and a reminder that this short time on earth is at times painful but we will be OK. On the other side, there is definitely pressure you feel as a Muslim woman to have children. Cultural Muslim communities can at times only validate a marriage by the children marriage produces.

I feel my faith gave me strength but people from the faith often see women through the lens of a wife and mother. This can damage a woman's self-worth and identity. I consciously decided against this narrative very early on.

One thing I saw early on in this journey of TTC is that there is very little support, communication or understanding of infertility in the Muslim community. While I get the support I need from those I know and love this isn't true for others. One way I have tried to fill this void is by writing a book aimed at Muslim women facing infertility with the clear message of the need to take control. It shall be out in 2021.

Although the main part of my fertility journey started after I got married, it was always there in the background long before. I always had irregular periods and was tested twice for PCOS, but because it doesn't always come up on blood tests the doctors deemed me fine. But my sister was diagnosed with it when she was a teenager so it was always at the back of my mind.

When I got married I decided to come off the pill after six months because of how I personally feel it affects your fertility. And we were lucky enough to get pregnant after about 10 months. But I kept having issues in my pregnancy. I was on medication for diabetes among other things and the doctors didn't take me off them until I asked them to. And, at my last midwife appointment they had me referred to a specialist team because the medication I'd been on could cause abnormalities.

At 13 weeks I started bleeding and the hospital treated me terribly. At first they thought I was a foolish first-time mum and I had to go into A&E three times with awful cramps and bleedings before I was finally referred for a scan and we could confirm I'd had a miscarriage.

It was a life-changing experience, and from then on I saw there was a lack of any sort of support within the Muslim community and more specifically within the Southeast Asian community where I come from. That's when I started to speak to women like Sama who have gone through similar things or are facing infertility themselves.

We couldn't find the support and space to talk for Muslim women at all. For women of any colour it is just such a taboo to talk about. Considering we've had people turn around and say all the nastiest things you could think of, we knew there needed to be a place that would actually come up if you're googling 'Muslim miscarriage' or 'Muslim infertility'. And a place where women could talk without feeling judged.

When I had my miscarriage I was told not to talk about it and that I wasn't allowed to cry about it in front of other women. I obviously was not in the best mental health space then. My face would look as though I had been crying and people would ask me what happened but there were women in my own generation who told me that I was not allowed to talk about it. There was no acknowledgement of my bereavement or the loss of my child. And if you're struggling with infertility it is shameful and it is immediately blamed on the woman. I hate the fact that it's just 'one of those things' because it shouldn't be. There's so many taboos within the Muslim community that I wish people would talk about more. Unfortunately, infertility and child loss is one of those things. It's not been an easy ride to have your own family turn around and tell you to have patience while disregarding the fact you've already had a child.

It's not that it's been so long I'm over it, I still grieve on and off, but I detach myself and take a very matter-of-fact approach to all this now because it's easier for me to cope. I couldn't talk to the women on Instagram and Facebook if I was constantly emotionally attached because it would damage my mental health. I have to be distanced from my own experience to listen to others.


The Bataclan Terrorists Were The Product Of War-Honed Isis Nihilism – Not Muslim Council Estates

By Nabila Ramdani


In the most devastating terrorist attack ever carried out on French soil, it was the random targeting of its victims that was perhaps the most disturbing part. 

When those of us who were born and brought up in Paris look back on the slaughter of that one night in November 2015, we realise that anyone could have been caught up in the city-wide horror show. 

It was Friday the 13th – a conspiracy theorist’s dream date, and as eerie as the unseasonably warm autumn weather that ensured thousands of potential murder victims were on the streets. 

Killing unarmed civilians is demonically easy. Black market Kalashnikovs and explosives allowed nine suicidal terrorists to strike at will, taking 130 lives and wounding more than 400 others. 

Victims including Christians, Jews, Muslims and non-believers were gunned down or blown to pieces. They were attending a rock concert, a football match, or relaxing in a café or restaurant. 

The attackers – all drugged up, venomous young men obsessed by the easy deaths prevalent in gaming and Hollywood action film culture – were focused on nothing beyond body counts. 

Despite this, such barbarity has since been attributed to a mindset typical of ethnic minority communities living in council estates on the edges of cities such as Paris.

The wicked deceit is that, by definition, Muslims want to destroy and maim because they are brought up to hate the West, and their cultural and religious background somehow justifies this. 

This despicable propaganda was advanced by president Emmanuel Macron himself this month when, in a letter published in a British newspaper, he used what sounded like eugenics parlance to describe underfunded suburbs full of Muslims as “breeding grounds for terrorists in France”.

Delivering lines straight out of a Donald Trump fake news generator, he further claimed, without any evidence whatsoever, that there are “districts where small girls aged three or four are wearing a full veil, separated from boys, and, from a very young age, separated from the rest of society, raised in hatred of France’s values”.

Never mind that forcing someone to wear a burqa is an imprisonable crime in France, as is child abuse and radicalising minors. Bizarrely, in an era when cameras are everywhere, there were no images to back up Macron’s words about these infant sociopaths. There have been zero arrests, let alone prosecutions, for these alleged crimes.

Five years on from the Bataclan, firearms are much harder to get hold of, but – according to Macron – the estates still contain: “hundreds of radicalised individuals, who we fear may, at any moment, take a knife and kill people”.

Rather than spreading collective guilt so easily, Macron would do well to study the profiles of the November 2015 “commando”, as they are often described by more responsible commentators. 

Of the nine men eventually killed by security forces, all had spent time fighting in Syria or Iraq with Isis, the so-called Islamic State.

This armed terrorist group grew out of the insurgency following the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Isis became infamous for its merciless cruelty towards enemies, not least because of the stomach-churning torture and execution videos it produced.

Battle-hardened fighters such as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian-Moroccan ringleader of the Paris attackers, did not pick up their sadistic extremism in provincial Mosques or secret Qu’ran-reading classes, nor indeed from parents or teachers.

Instead, they learnt about combat in a Middle East, Asia and North Africa torn to pieces by the best military technology in the world, which is that used by the US and its allies.

Some of the nine men were meant to be under surveillance, having travelled between places such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen, but nothing stopped them doing what they wanted on 13 November. Their commanders said they were carrying out “punishment” for the bombing of women and children in their camps. 

Intriguingly, the only surviving member of the group is Salah Abdeslam, who had never made it to the Isis caliphate. Lacking in anything approaching soldierly morale and training, he froze on the night, dumped his suicide vest, and ran away. 

What Abdeslam did have in common with the others is that his interest in religion was perfunctory, and there was no evidence of him being radicalised on a council estate, or of being any kind of devout Muslim. 

Instead, he ran a bar in Brussels, where he drank alcohol and took illegal substances, following convictions for a range of crimes, including armed robbery and drug possession. 

Like the others, Abdeslam is known to have been as high as a kite on the night of the attack, having filled his body with cannabis and cocaine. 

“I’m not ashamed of who I am,” Abdeslam has since written to a correspondent from the high-security French prison cell, where he is expected to spend the rest of his life.

Look at the suspects involved in other acts of terrorism since 2015, and you will see that all are would-be Isis soldiers-cum-street-criminals. 

Shock value and mass media coverage is crucial to these lone wolf delinquents, as they behead, stab or – as in Nice four years ago – use weapons as basic as a heavy goods vehicle to cause as many casualties as possible. 

In recent weeks, such terrorists have come from Tunisia, Pakistan and the Russia-controlled state of Chechnya. All are instable countries, full of the kind of disturbed young men who might take up arms for groups like Isis. 

This is why François Hollande, the president of France in 2015, quite rightly described the Paris attacks not as an explosion of Muslim dissent from the suburbs, but as an “act of war”.

Two days afterwards, he used his position as commander-in-chief of his country’s armed forces to launch the biggest airstrike ever of Opération Chammal, an anti-Isis bombing campaign.

Ordnance rained down on Raqqa, Syria, killing an estimated 1,000 Isis-linked operatives and goodness knows how many associated civilians.

This is the price of war, and exactly what keeps lethal violence escalating in countries from Afghanistan to Libya. As we saw on 13 November 2015, the perpetrators of such barbarity are the products of cataclysmic conflict and not of overwhelmingly peaceful Muslim communities.



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