The following is an obituary of the mother of Mowlana HazarImam. As we reflect on the 50 years of Imamat, her life is a striking example of the role of women in shaping important socio-economic aspects of our community.
OBITUARIES - JOAN LADY CAMROSE
Joan Lady Camrose, mother of the Aga Khan, died on April 25 aged 89. She was born on April 22, 1908.
A RENOWNED beauty of her day, Joan Lady Camrose was to play host to a circle of socialites, intellectuals, politicians and diplomats in London.
Her list of acquaintances was as eclectic as it was sophisticated, including
as it did such figures as Evelyn Waugh, Randolph Churchill, Margot Fonteyn, Nancy Mitford, Lord Birkenhead, Malcolm Muggeridge, Freya Stark, Harold Acton, Edward Heath and Cecil Beaton ­ she was instrumental in launching the photographic career of the last. Her choice of companions reflected her own wide range of interests.
Joan Barbara Yarde-Buller was the eldest daughter of Lord and Lady
Churston. Her mother, who later remarried to become the Duchess of Leinster, was a talented musician. One of her sisters, Primrose, married the Earl of Cadogan. Another, Lydia, became the Duchess of Bedford. She herself married three times.
The first marriage was to Thomas Loel Guinness, of the banking family. A son, Patrick, was born but died in a car accident in the 1960s. The second was to Prince Aly Khan, son of Sir Sultan Mahommed Shah, Aga Khan III, renowned as Imam of 15 million Ismaili Muslims, twice president of the League of Nations and five times winner of the Epsom Derby.
Prince Aly and Joan married in Paris in 1936 and had two sons, Karim and Amyn. When war broke out in 1940, Prince Aly joined the French cavalry and served throughout the Middle East while Joan based herself at the Anglo-French Hospital in Cairo after setting up home for her two boys in Kenya. It was during this period that she got to know and admire her father-in-law, Aga Khan III. It was he who used her knowledge of hospitals and nursing to the benefit of his followers. In 1944 he appointed her health and education commissioner in East Africa and she helped introduce his plans for the management of Ismaili schools and clinics.
The marriage, however, did not survive the stress of the five-year
hostilities of the Second World War. Princess Joan moved to a new home in Eaton Square, London, and opened her doors to a glittering array of
diplomats, politicians, ambassadors, writers, musicians and journalists.
Meanwhile, her two sons were growing up rapidly. The old Aga's regard for her had not been affected by the divorce and it was entirely on his advice that her sons were educated at Le Rosey in Switzerland and at Harvard in America, thus by-passing the conventional British upper-class equivalents of Eton or Harrow and Oxbridge. But in 1957 Aga III died and surprised the world by selecting in his will his 20-year old elder grandson, Karim, rather than either of his sons, Aly and Sadruddin, to succeed him as Imam or Spiritual Leader of the Ismaili Muslims scattered through 22 countries all over the globe.
Karim, still a junior at Harvard, had now to undertake a world tour when he would be formally installed as the Ismaili's 49th Imam. Princess Joan found herself caught up in a whirl of preparations for a long and
complicated journey, the first stage of which was to the three territories
of East Africa (still very much under the British colonial wing). They
involved meetings with the Ismaili leaders from the region and making
arrangements for the entire family including Prince Aly himself (who bore
any eventual disappointment with remarkable fortitude and whose loyalty to his son was exemplary).
Without once stepping on her son's toes, Princess Joan helped smooth his path with the media, accompanied him to Buckingham Palace where the Queen passed on the title of "High Highness" originally bestowed on his grandfather by Queen Victoria.
The arrangement of the "Takht-nashinis", or accession ceremonies which followed in Dar-es-Salaam, Nairobi, Kampala, Karachi and Bombay were her next task. But whether the young Aga Khan was meeting the Kabaka of Uganda or Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi, Princess Joan was always discreetly at hand. Once the tour was completed, however, and as her son became more closely involved with Ismaili affairs, she largely withdrew.
Even so, along with other members of the family, she accompanied him on several overseas visits well into her 70s. Most often she joined the family holidays with innumerable grandchildren at the Aga Khan's villa in Porto Cervo, Sardinia. Meanwhile she was free to indulge her other interests at the opera and ballet at Covent Garden, in health and hospitals and in archaeology. She played a leading role in stimulating interest in the former Hellenic sites on the southern coast of Turkey, most particularly in raising funds for the restoration of the ancient city of Aphrodisias.
In 1986 she married again, late in life, to her long term companion, the
late Seymour Thomas Berry, Viscount Lord Camrose, former chairman and then director of The Daily Telegraph. She was to preside with as much grace and skill over his family home in Hackwood as she had done over Prince Aly's house at Maison Lafitte in Paris. Above all she was able to enjoy her other passion in life; landscape gardening. She researched the original plans and completely transformed the glorious woods and grounds at Hackwood, personally supervising its opening to the public.
Her third husband predeceased her. She is survived by her two sons.
The Algerian experience of the integration of women in mainstream socio/economic/political life as alluded to in the following article can serve as a model for other Arab countries to follow. It is also interesting to note that Algeria with it's strong mystical/esoteric undercurrents provided the fertile soil in which the seeds of the Fatimid empire germinated. Esoteric inclined traditions are more versatile and adaptive to change.
May 26, 2007
A Quiet Revolution in Algeria: Gains by Women
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
ALGIERS, May 25 — In this tradition-bound nation scarred by a brutal Islamist-led civil war that killed more than 100,000, a quiet revolution is under way: women are emerging as an economic and political force unheard of in the rest of the Arab world.
Women make up 70 percent of Algeria 's lawyers and 60 percent of its judges. Women dominate medicine. Increasingly, women contribute more to household income than men. Sixty percent of university students are women, university researchers say.
In a region where women have a decidedly low public profile, Algerian women are visible everywhere. They are starting to drive buses and taxicabs. They pump gas and wait on tables.
Although men still hold all of the formal levers of power and women still make up only 20 percent of the work force, that is more than twice their share a generation ago, and they seem to be taking over the machinery of state as well.
"If such a trend continues," said Daho Djerbal, editor and publisher of Naqd, a magazine of social criticism and analysis, "we will see a new phenomenon where our public administration will also be controlled by women."
The change seems to have sneaked up on Algerians, who for years have focused more on the struggle between a governing party trying to stay in power and Islamists trying to take that power.
Those who study the region say they are taken aback by the data but suggest that an explanation may lie in the educational system and the labor market.
University studies are no longer viewed as a credible route toward a career or economic well-being, and so men may well opt out and try to find work or to simply leave the country, suggested Hugh Roberts, a historian and the North Africa project director of the International Crisis Group.
But for women, he added, university studies get them out of the house and allow them to position themselves better in society. "The dividend may be social rather than in terms of career," he said.
This generation of Algerian women has navigated a path between the secular state and the pull of extremist Islam, the two poles of the national crisis of recent years.
The women are more religious than previous generations, and more modern, sociologists here said. Women cover their heads and drape their bodies with traditional Islamic coverings. They pray. They go to the mosque — and they work, often alongside men, once considered taboo.
Sociologists and many working women say that by adopting religion and wearing the Islamic head covering called the hijab, women here have in effect freed themselves from moral judgments and restrictions imposed by men. Uncovered women are rarely seen on the street late at night, but covered women can be seen strolling the city after attending the evening prayer at a mosque.
"They never criticize me, especially when they see I am wearing the hijab," said Denni Fatiha, 44, the first woman to drive a large city bus through the narrow, winding roads of Algiers.
The impact has been far-reaching and profound.
In some neighborhoods, for example, birthrates appear to have fallen and class sizes in elementary schools have dropped by nearly half. It appears that women are delaying marriage to complete their studies, though delayed marriage is also a function of high unemployment. In the past, women typically married at 17 or 18 but now marry on average at 29, sociologists said.
And when they marry, it is often to men who are far less educated, creating an awkward social reality for many women.
Khalida Rahman is a lawyer. She is 33 and has been married to a night watchman for five months. Her husband was a friend of her brothers who showed up one day and proposed. She immediately said yes, she recalled.
She describes her life now this way: "Whenever I leave him it is just as if I am a man. But when I get home I become a woman."
Fatima Oussedik, a sociologist, said, "We in the '60s, we were progressive, but we did not achieve what is being achieved by this generation today." Ms. Oussedik, who works for the Research Center for Applied Economics and Development in Algiers, does not wear the hijab and prefers to speak in French.
Researchers here say the change is not driven by demographics; women make up only a bit more than half of the population. They said it is driven by desire and opportunity.
Algeria's young men reject school and try to earn money as traders in the informal sector, selling goods on the street, or they focus their efforts on leaving the country or just hanging out. There is a whole class of young men referred to as hittistes — the word is a combination of French and Arabic for people who hold up walls.
Increasingly, the people here have lost faith in their government, which draws its legitimacy from a revolution now more than five decades old, many political and social analysts said. In recent parliamentary elections, turnout was low and there were 970,000 protest votes — cast by people who intentionally destroyed their ballots — nearly as many as the 1.3 million votes cast in support of the governing party.
There are regular protests, and riots, all over the country, with people complaining about corruption, lack of services and economic disparities. There are violent attacks, too: bombings aimed at the police, officials and foreigners. A triple suicide bombing on April 11 against the prime minister's office and the police left more than 30 people dead.
In that context, women may have emerged as Algeria's most potent force for social change, with their presence in the bureaucracy and on the street having a potentially moderating and modernizing influence on society, sociologists said.
"Women, and the women's movement, could be leading us to modernity," said Abdel Nasser Djabi, a professor of sociology at the University of Algiers.
Not everyone is happy with those dynamics. Some political and social analysts say the recent resurgence in radical Islamist activity, including bombings, is driven partly by a desire to slow the social change the country is experiencing, especially regarding women's role in society.
Others complain that the growing participation of women in society is a direct violation of the faith.
"I am against this," said Esmail Ben Ibrahim, an imam at a neighborhood mosque near the center of the city. "It is all wrong from a religious point of view. Society has embarked on the wrong path."
The quest for identity is a constant undercurrent in much of the Middle East. But it is arguably the most complicated question in Algeria, a nation whose borders were drawn by France and whose people speak Berber, Arabic and French.
After a bitter experience with French occupation and a seven-year revolutionary war that brought independence in 1962 at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, the leaders here chose to adopt Islam and Arab identity as the force to unify the country. Arabic replaced French as the language of education, and the French secular curriculum was replaced with a curriculum heavy on religion.
At the same time, girls were encouraged to go to school.
Now, more than four decades later, Algeria's youth — 70 percent of the population is under 30, researchers said — have grown up with Arabic and an orientation toward Middle Eastern issues. Arabic-language television networks like Al Jazeera have become the popular reference point, more so than French television, observers here said.
In the 1990s radical Islamist ideas gained popular support, and terrorism was widely accepted as a means to win power. More than 100,000 people died in years of civil conflict. Today most people say the experience has forced them to reject the most radical ideas. So although Algerians are more religious now than they were during the bloody 1990s, they are more likely to embrace modernity — a partial explanation for the emergence of women as a societal force, some analysts said.
That is not the case in more rural mountainous areas, where women continue to live by the code of tradition. But for the time being, most people say that for now the community's collective consciousness is simply too raw from the years of civil war for Islamist terrorists or radical Islamic ideas to gain popular support.
There is a sense that the new room given to women may at least partly be a reflection of that general feeling. The population has largely rejected the most radical interpretation of Islam and has begun to return to the more North African, almost mystical, interpretation of the faith, sociologists and religious leaders said.
Whatever the underlying reason, women in the streets of the city are brimming with enthusiasm.
"I don't think any of this contradicts Islam," said Wahiba Nabti, 36, as she walked through the center of the city one day recently. "On the contrary, Islam gives freedom to work. Anyway, it is between you and God."
Ms. Nabti wore a black scarf covering her head and a long black gown that hid the shape of her body. "I hope one day I can drive a crane, so I can really be financially independent," she said. "You cannot always rely on a man."
Hopefully with the increased participation of women in Saudi society as alluded to in the following artcile, there will hopefully be a more progressive and humane interpretation of faith to bring it in line with modernity - a hopeful sign for the Arab World and Islam.
One-Third of Government Jobs for Women: Sultan
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News
JEDDAH, 27 May 2007 — Crown Prince Sultan yesterday announced plans to allocate one third of government jobs to Saudi women and to create additional job opportunities for them. “The government depends on women for one third of its jobs,” the prince said. Prince Sultan underscored the government’s efforts to provide advanced education to Saudi women. “Saudi leaders have given women the right to education and employment within the Kingdom’s basic principles,” he explained.
The government has established hundreds of schools and colleges for girls in different parts of the Kingdom. Last year a women’s university was established in Riyadh. Women graduates currently outnumber their male counterparts, constituting 56.5 percent of the total.
Women’s employment has previously been limited primarily to education and health. A Cabinet decision issued some three years ago expanded job opportunities for women.
The Kingdom’s 8th Five-Year Development Plan (2005-2009) aims at increasing the percentage of women in the Saudi work force from 5.4 percent to 14.2 percent.
According to the latest study by the General Statistics Department, there are nearly 470,000 unemployed Saudi men and women, accounting for 12 percent of the total Saudi work force. “The number of unemployed men is 292,905 or 9.1 percent of the total number of Saudi working men while the number of jobless women is 176,113 or 26.3 percent of the total number of working women,” said the study conducted last year.
The UN Development Program (UNDP) says that the lack of optimum employment of human resources, including women, has led to an increased reliance on foreign manpower. The number of non-Saudi workers in the Kingdom is estimated at 8,024,885 including 6,780,550 men and 1,244,335 women. Of the 3,900,589 in the Saudi work force, 3,230,201 are men and 670,388 were women, the study said.
Prince Sultan also spoke about the Kingdom’s requirement of skilled and experienced foreign labor to carry out various development projects and run new companies and industries. However, he pointed out that the employment of foreign labor would not be at the expense of Saudis. There are over eight million expatriates in the Kingdom and the majority of them work in the private sector.
He said the Kingdom’s universities and institutes of higher learning would focus on science and technology in the coming years in order to meet job market requirements. Efforts are under way to establish a university of science and technology (named after King Abdullah) north of Jeddah.
The crown prince reiterated the government’s plan to establish new welfare projects in various parts of the Kingdom. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah recently visited the northern regions and launched a large number of educational, health and infrastructure projects at a cost of billions of riyals.
The crown prince also disclosed plans to purchase more dates from farmers and distribute them among Arab, Islamic and other friendly countries as gifts. He commended the Saudi security forces for their success in the campaign against terrorists. He also called upon Saudis and expatriates to use water prudently, without wasting the valuable resource. “Excessive use of water for agriculture will endanger the Kingdom’s water security,” he added.
The following article illustrates the extremes in the Islamic World on the issue of hijab. Whereas Iran is enforcing hijab, Tunisia is persecuting women wearing the hijab. The key is to make it a personal choice and not to enforce it either way. Tunisia is also a country where the Fatimids took root before they flourished across North Africa.
By Yvonne Ridley
Why do journalists choose to ignore the Amnesty International report which outlines in clinical detail how the Tunisian authorities have increased their "harassment of women who wear the hijab"?I have a bee in my bonnet – or hijab to be more precise.
On an almost daily basis there are horrific stories pouring out of Tunisia about how the state police are ripping off the hijabs of women living there.
Some of these women, who are merely fulfilling their religious obligation to wear a hijab, have been assaulted, sexually abused and even locked up in prison by the authorities.
Unbelievable when you consider western tourists are topless sunbathing on the coastal resorts, soaking up the Tunisian sun.
So it is okay to get your kit off if you are a western tourist who pays handsomely for sun, sand, sex and sangria …but try wearing a hijab and see what happens in this so-called liberal, Muslim country.
At the moment I am in Tehran where Iranian police are occasionally stopping women in the streets to remind them of their religious obligations by wearing a full hijab.
There's been an outcry in the Western media about how the Iranian authorities are fining women who fail to wear their hijabs correctly in public.
I call these women the half-jabis – you know the ones, they balance their designer scarfs precariously on the back of their heads and spend the rest of the day adjusting and picking their scarfs from the nape of their necks.
It might have endeared Princess Diana to half the Muslim world when she 'covered' in Muslim countries, but most women who try and emulate the Di style just look plain stupid.
But what a pity those same journalists don't travel to Tunisia and write about a real story like the human rights abuses against women in down town Tunis instead of focusing on Tehran.
Why do journalists choose to ignore the Amnesty International report which outlines in clinical detail how the Tunisian authorities have increased their "harassment of women who wear the hijab"?
Is it because the Tunisian government is a craven devotee of the Bush Administration whereas Iran was identified as the now infamous Axis of Evil?
Surely the media is not that fickle? (Rhetorical question merely for the benefit of the mentally challenged).
The actions of the Tunisian regime make Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government look like a group of Tupperware party planners.
For instance, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Interior and the Secretary-General of Tunisia's ruling political party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally, have stated they are so concerned about rise in the use of the hijab by women and girls and beards and the qamis (knee-level shirts) by men, that they have called for a strict implementation of decree 108 of 1985 of the Ministry of Education banning the hijab at educational institutions and when working in government.
Police have ordered women to remove the head scarfs before being allowed into schools, universities or work places and others have been made to remove them in the street.
According to Amnesty's report, some women were arrested and taken to police stations where they were forced to sign written commitment to stop wearing the hijab.
Amnesty International states quite clearly it believes that individuals have the right to choose whether or not to wear a headscarf or other religious covering, consistent with their right to freedom of expression.
They have called on the Tunisian government to "respect the country's obligations under both national law and international human rights law and standards, and to end the severe restrictions which continue to be used to prevent exercise of fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly".
They have even kindly asked President Ben Ali's government to "end the harassment and attempted intimidation of human rights defenders".
I would like to be more forthright with Mr Ben Ali and remind him of his Islamic obligations as a Muslim.
I doubt if Zine Alabidin Ben Ali would take much notice. The man is clearly an arrogant fool and somewhere in Tunisia there is a village which is missing its idiot (Hamman-Sousse in the Sahel, actually).
This is the man who once said the hijab was something foreign and not part of Tunisian culture. Hmm, he obviously has not seen pictures taken before he came to power, clearly show Tunisian women going about their business fully covered.
He has a history of despising the French colonialists who occupied his country, but at least under the French, the Tunisian people had more freedom than they do now.
And since I have no family, friends or connections in Tunisia I write this without fear or favour.
Also, there is no rank in Islam so I care nothing for his title nor do I have any respect for him as a man. I would certainly never doff my cap to this particular President of Tunisia and would happily spit in his face if he told me to remove my hijab.
Perhaps those Muslim women in Tehran might like to consider the plight of their sisters in Tunisia before trying to balance their hijabs on the backs of their heads. And I would ask them to read the harrowing report below before bellyaching to more journalists about their rights to parade around like Diana-look-a-likes.
It was written by an imam from Tunisia who had it smuggled out and given to me because he wants the world to know exactly what is happening to the women in his country.
Here is a snippet: "The police will randomly make their way into markets and rip the hijabs from women's heads as well as take away any fabrics being sold to make hijabs.
"They will also go into factories where women are working and rip the hijabs off women's heads. This is the least of what they have done.
"I will give you just one example of what these dogs with Arab faces but the hearts of devils, have done to our sisters. They have, at one time ordered a public bus to halt in the middle of the road while two plain clothes detectives went inside. The buses are similar to the ones in the west except they will usually have three times more people inside it.
"They grabbed one women wearing hijab and took her outside of the bus. This was a sister who they had warned before. They brought her into the side of the street and began slapping her across her face and cursing at her with the worst language you could think of.
"They took her hijab off and the main policeman said, "When are you going to stop wearing this ****. She said she would never stop and she was crying. The men took her around the corner by a public bathroom.
"They ripped her clothes off. They grabbed a soda bottle, these bottles are made of glass, and they raped her with it. They were laughing and they were many people around but no one did anything. When they were done they made her wear a short skirt and a sleeveless shirt and made her walk home to her husband like this. I swear by Allah that this is true".
The time is fast approaching when sisters across the world have to unite and come together in defence of the hijab and in defence of the Muslim sisterhood.
My appeal goes out to feminists of all faiths and no faith but please don't think Muslim women are weak because the reality is that Islamic feminism can be just as radical as western feminism.
Our parameters and values are slightly different as Muslims but that does not make us any better or lesser human beings than western feminists. There is certainly no room for sectarianism in the Muslim sisterhood and we have no time for petty squabbles, divisions, cultural or tribal affiliations.
The bottom line is that we need to show solidarity with our sisters in Tunisia … it is a very small country which makes it easy for the army to control the people and brutally squash any signs of resistance.
Even those Tunisians living abroad have a fear in their eyes because while they may be safe, members of their families left behind are often held to account for any actions overseas regarded as subversive.
The brutality of the regime, combined with the happy clappy clerics and their narcotic-style preachings in praise of the Sufi-style government have also collectively subdued parts of the Tunisian population.
No wonder the Muslim youth no longer clamour to get into masjids on Fridays to listen to these khateebs who spend half the khutbah praising the President and his followers.
Which is why I salute the bravery of those sisters in Tunisia who are fighting for the right to fulfill their religious obligation as Muslim women, to wear the hijab.
If you want to help, then copy and paste this article and send it to the nearest Tunisian Embassy demanding that Muslim womens' rights to wear the hijab are respected.
June 22, 2007
Muslims' Veils Test Limits of Britain's Tolerance
By JANE PERLEZ
LONDON, June 16 — Increasingly, Muslim women in Britain take their children to school and run errands covered head to toe in flowing black gowns that allow only a slit for their eyes. On a Sunday afternoon in Hyde Park, groups of black-clad Muslim women relaxed on the green baize lawn among the in-line skaters and badminton players.
Their appearance, like little else, has unnerved other Britons, testing the limits of tolerance here and fueling the debate over the role of Muslims in British life.
Many veiled women say they are targets of abuse. Meanwhile, there are growing efforts to place legal curbs on the full-face Muslim veil, known as the niqab.
There have been numerous examples in the past year. A lawyer dressed in a niqab was told by an immigration judge that she could not represent a client because, he said, he could not hear her. A teacher wearing a niqab was dismissed from her school. A student who was barred from wearing a niqab took her case to the courts, and lost. In reaction, the British educational authorities are proposing a ban on the niqab in schools altogether.
A leading Labor Party politician, Jack Straw , scolded women last year for coming to see him in his district office in the niqab. Prime Minister Tony Blair has called the niqab a "mark of separation."
David Sexton, a columnist for The Evening Standard, wrote recently that the niqab was an affront and that Britain had been "too deferential."
"It says that all men are such brutes that if exposed to any more normally clothed women, they cannot be trusted to behave — and that all women who dress any more scantily like that are indecent," Mr. Sexton wrote. "It's abusive, a walking rejection of all our freedoms."
Although the number of women wearing the niqab has increased in the past several years, only a tiny percentage of women among Britain's two million Muslims cover themselves completely. It is impossible to say how many exactly.
Some who wear the niqab, particularly younger women who have taken it up recently, concede that it is a frontal expression of Islamic identity, which they have embraced since Sept. 11, 2001, as a form of rebellion against the policies of the Blair government in Iraq, and at home.
"For me it is not just a piece of clothing, it's an act of faith, it's solidarity," said a 24-year-old program scheduler at a broadcasting company in London, who would allow only her last name, al-Shaikh, to be printed, saying she wanted to protect her privacy. "9/11 was a wake-up call for young Muslims," she said.
At times she receives rude comments, including, Ms. Shaikh said, from a woman at her workplace who told her she had no right to be there. Ms. Shaikh says she plans to file a complaint.
When she is on the street, she often answers back. "A few weeks ago, a lady said, 'I think you look crazy.' I said, 'How dare you go around telling people how to dress,' and walked off. Sometimes I feel I have to reply. Islam does teach you that you must defend your religion."
She started experimenting with the niqab at Brunel University in West London, a campus of intense Islamic activism. She hesitated at first because her mother saw it as a "form of extremism, which is understandable," she said, adding that her mother has since come around.
Other Muslims find the practice objectionable, a step backward for a group that is under pressure after the terrorist attack on London's transit system in July 2005.
"After the July 7 attacks, this is not the time to be antagonizing Britain by presenting Muslims as something sinister," said Imran Ahmad, the author of "Unimagined," an autobiography about growing up Muslim in Britain, and the leader of British Muslims for Secular Democracy. "The veil is so steeped in subjugation, I find it so offensive someone would want to create such barriers. It's retrograde."
Since South Asians started coming to Britain in large numbers in the 1960s, a small group of usually older, undereducated women have worn the niqab. It was most often seen as a sign of subjugation.
Many more Muslim women wear the head scarf, called the hijab, covering all or some of their hair. Unlike in France, Turkey and Tunisia, where students in state schools and civil servants are banned from covering their hair, in Britain, Muslim women can wear the head scarf, and indeed the niqab, almost anywhere, for now.
But that tolerance is slowly eroding. Even some who wear the niqab, like Faatema Mayata, a 24-year-old psychology and religious studies teacher, agreed there were limits.
"How can you teach when you are covering your face?" she said, sitting with a cup of tea in her living room in Blackburn, a northern English town, her niqab tucked away because she was within the confines of her home.
She has worn the niqab since she was 12, when she was sent by her parents to an all-girl boarding school. The niqab was not, as many Britons seemed to think, a sign of extremism, she said.
She condemned Britain's involvement in Iraq, and she described the departure of Mr. Blair at the end of this month as "good riddance of bad rubbish." But, she added, "there are many Muslims like this sitting at home having tea, and not taking any interest in jihad."
The niqab, to her, is about identity. "If I dressed in a Western way I could be a Hindu, I could be anything," she said. "This way I feel comfortable in my identity as a Muslim woman."
No one else in her family wears the niqab. Her husband, Ibrahim Boodi, a social worker, was indifferent, she said. "If I took it off today, he wouldn't care."
She drives her old Alfa Romeo to the supermarket, and other drivers take no exception, she said. But when she is walking she is often stopped, she said. "People ask, 'Why do you wear that?' A lot of people assume I'm oppressed, that I don't speak English. I don't care. I've got a brain."
Some British commentators have complained that mosques encourage women to wear the niqab, a practice they have said should be stopped.
At the East London Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the capital, the chief imam, Abdul Qayyum, studied in Saudi Arabia and is trained in the Wahhabi school of Islam. The community relations officer at the mosque, Ehsan Abdullah Hannan, said the imam's daughter wore the niqab.
At Friday Prayer recently, the women were crowded into a small windowless room upstairs, away from the main hall for the men.
A handful of young women wore the niqab, and they spoke effusively about their reasons. "Wearing the niqab means you will get a good grade and go to paradise," said Hodo Muse, 19, a Somali woman. "Every day people are giving me dirty looks for wearing it, but when you wear something for God you get a boost."
One woman, Sajida Khaton, 24, interviewed as she sat discreetly in a Pizza Hut, said she did not wear the veil on the subway, a precaution her husband encourages for safety reasons. Sometimes, she said, she gets a kick out of the mocking.
" 'All right gorgeous,' " she said she had heard men say as she walked along the street. "I feel empowered," she said. "They'd like to see, and they can't."
She often comes to the neighborhood restaurant along busy Whitechapel Road in East London for a slice or two, a habit, she said, that shows that even veiled women are well integrated into Britain's daily life.
"I'm in Pizza Hut with my son," said Ms. Khaton, nodding at her 4-year-old and speaking in a soft East London accent that bore no hint of her Bangladeshi heritage. "I was born here, I've never been to Bangladesh. I certainly don't feel Bangladeshi. So when they say, 'Go back home,' where should I go?"
Women in Islamic Society — 23: Important Role of Mosques
Dr. Abd Al-Haleem Abu Shuqqah
The mosque is the most important institution in Islamic society. It is the center of worship, education as well as social and political activity. It is also the place where public meetings take place, and it serves as a sports arena when necessary. Therefore, during the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be upon him), women were welcome in the mosque whenever they wished to come. As women frequented the Prophet’s mosque, they were able to directly participate in public life, in addition to taking part in worship, listening to the Qur’an as it was recited in prayer, attending lectures and classes and taking interest in the Muslim community’s social or political concerns. Moreover, women met in the mosque and were thus able to strengthen their ties of friendship. What this means is that during the Prophet’s lifetime, the mosque was a very active center of worship, cultural and social activities for men and women alike. Therefore, no one may deprive women of their right to frequent the mosque. To force women to pray at home, claiming that this is preferable constitutes a sinful practice, since it means disobeying the Prophet who ordered us not to prevent women from visiting the mosque. When a woman goes to the mosque for worship, or to listen to words of wisdom, attend a public activity, meet other Muslim women to strengthen ties with them, or help in some good thing, then that benefit will be hers. Her good action may be obligatory or recommended. The Prophet says: “Whoever comes to the mosque for a particular purpose will have the benefit of that purpose.”
The Prophet says: “Prayer offered in congregation in the mosque is rewarded 25 times more than the same prayer offered at home or in the market place.” Commenting on the Hadith, Ibn Daqeeq Al-Eid says: “When a person performs ablution well at home and goes out to the mosque, for no purpose other than offering prayer, for every step he makes he is given a credit and one of his sins is erased. When he prays, the angels will pray for him throughout his prayer, saying: ‘Our Lord, bless him, forgive him and bestow mercy on him.’ While waiting for the prayer to be called, he is deemed to be in prayer. We need to look at the qualities mentioned in the Hadith to be sure of its applicability. Although the Hadith speaks of a man going to the mosque, but since women are also encouraged to go to the mosque, the Hadith applies equally to them. No sex discrimination is valid with regard to the reward attached to good actions.”
During the Prophet’s lifetime, women did not only attend the Prophet’s mosque, they also attended mosques in other areas and outside Madinah, as clearly appear from the following reports: Abdullah ibn Umar says: “When people were offering the Fajr prayer at Quba’s mosque, someone told them: ‘The Prophet received Qur’anic revelations tonight commanding him to turn his face to the Kaaba in Makkah. So, turn toward it. They were facing Jerusalem, and therefore, they turned their face toward Makkah.” (Related by Al-Bukhari). In his commentary on this Hadith, Ibn Hajar writes: “The way this took place is explained in a Hadith related by Thuwaylah bint Aslam in which she says: ‘Women moved to take the place of men and men moved into the women’s place. We offered the two remaining prostrations facing the Sacred Mosque in Makkah.’”
The Prophet emphasized women’s right to attend the mosque, making it absolutely clear that no one should deprive them of this right. Abdullah ibn Umar quotes the Prophet as saying: “If your women request your leave at night to attend the mosque, grant them their request.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Abdullah ibn Umar reports: “A wife of Umar used to attend the Fajr and Isha prayers with the congregation in the mosque. People said to her: ‘Why do you go out at night when you know that Umar does not like that?’ She said: ‘What prevents him from telling me?’ They said: ‘The fact that the Prophet ordered not to prevent women from attending mosques.’” (Related by Al-Bukhari).
Women’s right to attend the mosque continued to be fully respected even after a woman was raped when she was walking toward the mosque to attend Fajr prayer.
Since the mosque was, as we have described, a very active center bustling with worship, cultural and social activities, women naturally attended it for no less than 12 different purposes, some of which were recommended, and some obligatory. We will begin today discussing the first purpose, which is prayer, and will continue this discussion over the next few weeks.
Lady Ayesha reports: “Women believers used to attend Fajr prayer with the Prophet covering themselves with their shawls. They would return home when the prayer was over. They could not be recognized because of the darkness.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.) Ibn Hajar explains that the reference in this report is to leading figures among Muslim women.
Ibn Abbas reports that his mother said to him after hearing him reciting Surah 77, Al-Mursalat: “Son, your recitation has reminded me that it was the last I heard the Prophet reciting and that was in Maghrib prayer.” Another version of this Hadith adds: “He did not lead us in prayer after that until he passed away.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
Ayesha reports: “One night the Prophet was late for Isha prayer, until Umar called out to him saying: ‘Women and children are overcome by sleep.’ The Prophet went to the mosque to lead the prayer. He said: ‘No one on the face of the earth is waiting for this prayer other than you.’ At the time, Madinah was the only place where people prayed. They used to offer this prayer between the disappearance of the bright horizon and the end of the first third of the night.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
Jabir ibn Abdullah reports: “We were with the Prophet during Friday prayers when a caravan laden with food arrived. People went to it and only 12 people were left with the Prophet. God then revealed the verse that says: ‘When people become aware of (an occasion for) worldly gain or a passing delight, they rush headlong toward it, and leave you standing.’” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.) Ibn Hajar quotes Al-Tabari adding: “The Prophet asked the ones who remained how many were they. They counted themselves and were 12 men and women.”
Amrah bint Abd Al-Rahman quotes her sister as saying: “I learned the surah starting with ‘Qaf. By the glorious Qur’an,’ from the Prophet as he used to read it on the pulpit every Friday.” (Related by Muslim.)
These reports mention women attending prayers in the mosque at various times, for Fajr which is offered at dawn, Maghrib offered after sunset, Isha offered well into the night, and Friday prayer offered at noon on Fridays.
Lawmakers elected India's first female president, officials announced Saturday, in a vote seen as a step forward for the millions of Indian women and girls who face bitter discrimination in everyday life.
The position is largely ceremonial, but observers said the selection of Pratibha Patil, 72, in a vote by the national parliament and state politicians will widen the role of women in the country's often male-dominated political scene.
"This is a victory of the principles which the Indian people uphold," said Patil, wearing her signature oversized glasses and a red and gold celebratory sari, as she waved a V-for-victory sign on television.
Patil had been expected to win because of her support from the governing Congress party, and her deep political ties and friendship with Sonia Gandhi, leader of the party and the powerful Gandhi dynasty. Patil is a steadfast loyalist of the Gandhi family, which has a long, strong hold over Indian politics.
Patil took in nearly two-thirds of the votes, defeating Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the candidate of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist party.
Over four decades, Patil has held various political offices.
Muslim Women from Around the World Join a Leadership Program in Washington
By Mohamed Elshinnawi
23 July 2007
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A group of Muslim women from around the world is participating in a summer leadership program at the U.S Congress and George Washington University. The program is designed to educate the participants about legal issues and conflict resolution techniques with the aim of empowering Muslim women to promote peaceful change in their communities. Mohamed Elshinnawi has more.
At the opening of the program, 25 Muslim women from various countries listened to presentations about how Islamic law provides for principles such as freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to own property regardless of gender.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr -- a renowned scholar of Islam at George Washington University -- told the audience that violations of women's rights in many Muslim countries should not be blamed on Islamic law, but on undemocratic governments.
But he also said there needs to be a new conceptualization of the role of women in Islamic countries. "What we need is a kind of Islamic feminine movement, not feminist, to clarify, first of all, what are the Koranic and Hadith rights of Muslim women. Secondly, how Islam sees the function of women. They do not have to be like in the West. Nobody said that American women are very happy to be superwomen, doing ten things at the same time."
He says when women in Iran were forced to remove their veils, there was a backlash decades later that forced every woman to be veiled. Nasr went on to call on the West not to make the same mistake by making the way Muslim women dress a major issue.
Aziza Al-Hibri, law professor at the University of Richmond, is the founder and President of Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. She says the leadership program is designed to educate Muslim women about legal issues of importance to them. "We teach them not only Islamic law because some of them do not know it as they should, but also we teach them leadership skills that allows them to go back to their communities and converse positively towards change."
The training program focuses on traditional Islamic jurisprudence and how Muslim women around the world can deal with issues such as domestic violence and other abuses against women.
Nadia Mohamed is a second-generation Muslim American participant in the program. "I think it is very important, especially in this day and age, where you hear a lot in the news about abuses of human rights in Muslim countries, abuses of human rights in this country, to be able to understand that from an Islamic perspective and what the Islamic views are on that."
Other participants have similar goals. Anissa Auhanoaf, a second-generation Muslim immigrant to Belgium, hopes the leadership program will equip her with a comparative perspective on human rights in Islam. "I need to know more just to compare with human rights as I know them from my knowledge because of my Masters degree in political sciences, but next to that I would like to know more to apply in my responses in debates and dialogues."
Ghada Ghazal, a member of the Islamic Studies Center in Damascus, Syria finds an added value to the leadership program. "We have a lot of misconception on both sides and this is due to many factors, one of them is the media. So I think meeting person to person will give many solutions to many problems."
Sponsors of the program are hopeful that these Muslim women will eventually be able to articulate and defend Muslim women's rights within their own cultural and institutional contexts.
The wife of a millionaire industrialist has shocked Indian high society by accusing her husband of forcing her to abort two baby girls after taking illegal tests to determine their gender.
Pooja Salotia even accused her husband, Chirag, of trying to force her to have sex with his two brothers to conceive a male heir for the family machinery business hi the state of Gu-jarat. Police arrested her husband, his two brothers and seven other relatives after Mrs Salotia, 32, filed an official complaint in the city of Ahmedabad on Saturday.
Her allegations against 18 people have sent shockwaves across India by breaking a strict code of silence on such matters and exposing the extent of female feticide among the urban middle and upper classes.
"This is a common thing even in rich families — a lot of them get their women to abort girls," Salotia told The Times from Gujarat, where she has gone into hiding after the release on bail of everyone except her husband. "In our culture, girls are not important. But I can't tolerate it any more because it's insulting."
The killing of newborn girls has been common ii rural India, where a daughter is seen as a financial burden because her family has to pay a hefty dowry when she is married.
But since the advent of ultrasound technology, abortion of female fetuses has become increasingly prevalent, not just in rural communities but also among the urban middle classes.
An international team of researchers estimated last year that 10 million girls had been aborted hi India over the past two decades, while the Indian Medical Association says five million are aborted annually.
The result is an increasingly severe gender unbalance, with only 927 women for every 1,000 men in India, according to the 2001 census, down from 945 women a decade earlier.
The worst unbalance, however, is in Indian cities where those with money have ready access to private doctors, who take bribes to skirt a 1994 ban on ultrasound gender tests.
A recent survey indicated that there were only 882 women for every 1,000 men in Defence Colony, one of Delhi's upmarket districts.
Pratibha Patil, India's first woman president, called for an end to female feticide at her inauguration on Wednesday, two days after police found 30 female fetuses dumped in a well in the state of Orissa. However, Salotia is the first woman from Indian high society to publicly admit to the forced abortion of a girl.
When I do a presentation on the street sex trade, the majority of listeners are surprised to learn prostitution is legal in Canada.
What is illegal is for either the sex-trade worker or the client to speak of it. This seems to be a unique and most Canadian way to deal with this social problem. Yes, do it, but don't dare speak of it.
I am tired of silence and I am speaking of it. The mounting deaths of sex-trade workers began in the early 1980s when the communicating law was enacted. John Lowman, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University, discovered the death rate in British Columbia alone climbed a staggering 500 per cent in the year after the law was passed.
Its effect in Alberta has been no less grim with the murders of dozens of women in Edmonton and the appalling regularity of newspaper headlines marking the deaths of sex trade workers all across our province. Each death is a red flag that something is terribly wrong with our system.
Courageous MP Libby Davies spearheaded action to raise awareness and to help reduce the harm, and the horrific slaughter on our streets.
I had the honour of presenting to her parliamentary committee. I felt for the first time there might be hope for some positive re-thinking of our laws and how they impact this largely voiceless segment of society.
Unfortunately, there have been no new laws to protect or shelter those involved in the sex trade. In Alberta, there is just another punitive law. Since police now have the authority to seize johns' cars, it should not come as a surprise that sex-trade workers have disappeared into trick rooms. There, we cannot even offer outreach programs. Unseen, they become even more vulnerable to attack and abuse.
If you wish to approach harm reduction in another way, it must be noted in Calgary there is a critical lack of treatment beds. For those seeking a way out of the sex trade, there are even fewer agencies than treatment beds working with this population.
If one is over the age of 29, there is only one agency with a long wait list that might consider them. When I was involved in the sex trade, I thought escape was impossible. With inadequate resources, underfunding to outreach agencies, lack of easy accessibility to treatment facilities, and hobbled by the communicating law, I believe I would think the same today.
If prostitution is legal in Canada, then we must begin discourse and move towards harm reduction for those seeking escape and those still engaged in the sex trade.
We need to begin by looking at our laws and their unforeseen negative impacts on this population. To do this successfully, we must also examine our own attitudes that perpetuate marginalization, degradation, deprivation and stigma towards those in the sex trade, and we must remember that sex-trade workers have paid with their lives for our silence and our inaction.
Elizabeth Hudson is the author of Snowbodies: One Woman's Life of the Streets. She has been published in Maclean's and Avenue Magazines. She is a public speaker and activist.
Who is to say if the key that unlocks the cage might not lie hidden inside the cage? If justice and fairness are inherent in Islam – as fuqaha claim and all Muslims believe – should they not be reflected in laws regulating relations between men and women and their respective rights? Why have women been treated as second-class citizens in the fiqh books that came to define the terms of the Shari‘a?
These are the questions that I came to confront in 1979, when my personal and intellectual life was transformed by the victory of Islamism –
that is the use of Islam of a political ideology - in my own country. Like most Iranian women, I strongly supported the 1979 Revolution and believed in the justice of Islam. But I soon found out that in an Islamic state - committed to the application of the Shari‘a – the backbone of the Islamist project – I was a second-class citizen. This brought the realization that the justice of Islam in modern times cannot be achieved
wi thout the ‘modernizat ion’ and ‘democratization’ of its legal vision.
For this, Islamic discourses and Islamists must come to terms with the issue of rights – especially those of women. The justice of Islam is no longer reflected in the laws that some Islamists are intent on enforcing in the name of the Shari‘a.
A Painful Choice to Make
This takes us to the vexed relationship between Islam and feminism, and the complex relation between demands for equal rights for women and the anti-colonial and nationalist movements of the first part of the twentieth century.
At a time when feminism, both as a consciousness and as a movement, was being shaped and making its impact in Europe and North America, as Leila Ahmed and others have shown, it also “functioned to morally justify the attacks on native [Muslim] societies and to support the notion of the comprehensive superiority of Europe.”
With the rise of anti-colonialist and nationalist movements, Muslims were thrown on the defensive in relation to traditional gender relations.
Muslim women who acquired a feminist consciousness and advocated equal rights for women were under pressure to conform to anticolonialist
or nationalist priorities.Western feminists could criticize patriarchal elements of their own cultures and religions in the name of modernity, liberalism and democracy, but Muslim women were unable to draw either on these external ideologies or on internal political ideologies (i.e. nationalism and anticolonialism) in their fight for gender justice. For most modernists and liberals, ‘Islam’ was a patriarchal religion that must be rejected. For nationalists and anti-colonialists, ‘feminism’ – the advocacy of women’s rights – was a colonial project and must be resisted. Muslim women, in other words, were faced with a painful choice.
They had to choose between their Muslim identity – their faith – and their new gender awareness.
A Paradoxical Outcome Produced
But as the twentieth century drew to a close,this dilemma disappeared. One neglected and paradoxical consequence of the rise of political Islam is that it has helped to create a space, an arena, within which Muslim women can reconcile their faith and identity with their struggle for gender equality. This did not happen, I must stress, because the Islamists were offering an egalitarian vision of gender relations. Rather, their very project – ‘return to the Shari‘a’ – and their attempt to translate the patriarchal notions inherent in orthodox interpretations of Islamic law into policy, provoked increasing criticism of these notions among many women, and become a spur to greater activism. A growing number of women have come to see no inherent or logical link between patriarchy and Islamic ideals, and no contradiction between Islam and feminism, and to free themselves from the straitjacket of earlier anti-colonial and nationalist discourses.
A New Gender Discourse is Born
By the late 1980s, there were clear signs of the emergence of a new consciousness, a new way of thinking, a gender discourse that is ‘feminist’ in its aspiration and demands, yet is ‘Islamic’ in its language and sources of legitimacy. Some versions of this new discourse have been labelled ‘Islamic Feminism’, a term that continues to be contested by both the majority of Islamists and some feminists, who see it as antithetical to their respective positions and ideologies, according to which the notion of ‘Islamic feminism’ is a contradiction in terms.
What, then, is ‘Islamic feminism’? How does it differ from other feminisms?
In my view, any definition of ‘Islamic feminism’, rather than clarifying, may cloud our understanding of a phenomenon that, in Margot Badran’s words, “transcends and destroys old binaries that have been constructed.
These included polarities between religious and secular and between ‘East’ and ‘West’.”
To understand a discourse that is still in formation, we might start by considering how its opponents depict it. Opponents of the feminist project in Islam fall into three broad categories: Muslim traditionalists, Islamic fundamentalists and ‘secular fundamentalists’. The Muslim traditionalists resist any changes in what they hold to be eternally valid ways, sanctioned by an unchanging Shari‘a. Islamic fundamentalists - a very broad category - are those who seek to change current practices by a return to an earlier, ‘purer’ version of the Shari‘a. Secular fundamentalists – who can be just as dogmatic and as ideological as religious fundamentalists – deny that any Shari‘abased law or social practice can be just or equal.
Though adhering to very different positions and scholarly traditions and following very different agendas, all these opponents of the feminist project in Islam share one thing in common: an essentialist and non-historical understanding of Islamic law and gender. They fail to recognize
that assumptions and laws about gender in Islam – as in any other religion – are socially constructed, and thus open to negotiation and historically changing. Selective in their arguments and illustrations, the three kinds of opponents resort to the same kinds of sophistry, for example seeking to close discussion by producing Qur’anic verses or hadiths, taken out of context. Muslim traditionalists and fundamentalists
do this as a means of silencing other internal voices, and abuse the authority of the text for authoritarian purposes. Secular fundamentalists
do the same, but in the name of progress and science and as means of showing the misogyny of Islamic texts, while ignoring both the similar attitudes to women in other religious scriptures, and the contexts of the texts, as well as the existence of alternative texts. What is often missing in these narratives is a recognition that gender inequality in the Old World was assumed, and that perceptions of women in Christian and Jewish texts are not that different from those of Islamic texts. What transformed women’s situation in the Christian West were new social conditions that were shaped by and in turn shaped new political and socio-economic discourses – and new understandings of religion .It is against this backdrop that activities of the so-called ‘Islamic feminists’ should be reviewed. By both uncovering a hidden history and rereading textual sources, they are proving that the inequalities embedded in Islamic law are neither manifestations of divine will, nor cornerstones of an irredeemably backward social system, but human constructions. They are also showing how such unequal constructions go contrary to the very essence of divine justice as revealed in the Koran, and how Islam’s sacred texts have been tainted by the ideology of their interpreters.
Un-reading Patriarchy in Sacred Texts
The ideals of Islam call for freedom, justice and equality, Muslim social norms and structures in the formative years of Islamic law impeded their realization. Instead, these social norms were assimilated into Islamic jurisprudence through a set of theological, legal and social theories and assumptions. Salient among them were propositions such as: “women are created of men and for men”, “women are inferior to men”, “women need to be protected”, “men are guardians and protectors of women”, “marriage is a contract of exchange”, and “male and female sexuality differ and the latter is dangerous to the social order.” These assumptions and theories are nowhere more evident than in the rules that define the formation and termination of marriage, through which gender inequalities are sustained in present-day Muslim societies.
Such an approach to religious texts can in time open the way for radical and positive changes in Islamic law to accommodate concepts such as gender equality and human rights. Whether this will ever happen, and whether these concepts will ever be reflected in state legislation, depends on the balance of power between Traditionalists and Reformists in each Muslim country, and on women’s ability to organize and participate in the political process, and to engage with the advocates of each discourse.
But it is important to remember three things. First, Islamic law – like any other system of law – is reactive, in the sense that it reacts to social practices and people’s experiences. Secondly, Islamic law is still the monopoly of male scholars. This monopoly must be broken; this can be done only when Muslim women participate in the production of knowledge, when they are able asks new and daring questions.
Finally, there is a theoretical concord between the egalitarian spirit of Islam and the feminist quest for justice and a just world.
* Ziba Mir-Hosseini(PhD) –Research Associate- Centre for Islamic & African Studies- University of London –UK. She is also the Visiting Professor in the Hause Global Law program, New York University, Spring 2004
September 28, 2007
Saudis Rethink Taboo on Women Behind the Wheel
By HASSAN M. FATTAH
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Sept. 27 — In a recent episode of Saudi Arabia’s most popular television show, broadcast during Ramadan this month, a Saudi man of the future is seen sitting in his house as his daughter pulls into the driveway, her children piled into the back of the car.
“Where have you been?” the father asks.
“The kids were bored, so I took them to the movies,” she replies, matter-of-factly, as she gets out of the driver’s seat.
The scene may appear mundane, but in Saudi Arabia, where women are forbidden to drive — and, by the way, where there are no movie theaters, either — the skit portends something of a revolution. From a taboo about which there could be no open discussion, a woman’s right to drive is becoming a topic of growing and lively debate in Saudi Arabia.
Coming after other recent changes — women may now travel abroad without male accompaniment (though male permission is still required), seek divorce and own their own companies — the driving discussion is noteworthy. Whether it signals that women will actually be driving soon or merely talking about it openly remains to be seen.
“We are telling everyone this is coming, whether today or tomorrow,” said Abdallah al-Sadhan, producer, writer and host of “Tash Ma Tash” (“No Big Deal”), a variety comedy show that is broadcast during Ramadan and tackles controversial social issues in Saudi Arabia. Other episodes have also shown women driving in what Mr. Sadhan says is a deliberate message. “There will be a time we will accept it, so now is the time to get prepared for that.”
In another popular Saudi show, “Amsha Bint Amash” (“Amsha, Daughter of Amash”), a woman who loses her father is forced to move to the city, where she masquerades as a man to become a taxi driver.
Saudi newspapers have begun writing about the implications and acceptability of having women drive. The Saudi National Human Rights Association has begun researching the effect of women’s driving on families and Saudi society, activists said.
A group of Saudi women have led a petition drive asking the king to repeal the ban on driving by women, placing the issue at the heart of a discussion about modernity and Saudi Arabia’s place in the world. And the government, which was hostile toward the last such petition in 1990, now seems mildly receptive.
“You get the feeling that they are preparing the population for this issue,” said Wajeha al- Huwaider, 45, one of the organizers. “It is just like the decision to allow women education. They resisted it, but now it’s a reality.”
On Sunday, Ms. Huwaider and some 1,100 other women sent the petition to King Abdullah.
Some Saudi officials and religious men agree with the women that Islam does not forbid women to drive. In the past, Saudi women were able to move freely on camel and horseback, and Bedouin women in the desert openly drive pickup trucks far from the public eye.
Clerics and religious conservatives maintain that allowing women to drive would open Saudi society to untold corruption. Women alone in a car, they say, would be more open to abuse, to going wayward, and to getting into trouble if they had an accident or were stopped by the police. The net result would be an erosion of social mores, they say.
In 1990, a group of prominent Saudi women seized on the presence of Western news media covering the first Persian Gulf war, boarded cars and drove through a Riyadh boulevard. Several of the women were jailed briefly; many lost high positions in schools and universities, and others were forced to leave the country for some time.
This time, however, the women are being given wide latitude to make their case, Ms. Huwaider said. She believes that this is because the case is being made in pragmatic social and economic terms, not purely as a matter of women’s rights.
Because of the rising cost of living in Saudi Arabia, women have been entering the work force in large numbers. That in turn has given them new economic clout in the family and greater leverage.
Ebtihal Mubarak, another organizer of the petition drive, who is an editor at Arab News, an English-language daily newspaper, said the cost of a driver had begun to impinge on Saudi families. “Most middle-class people can’t afford drivers anymore,” she said.
Saudi women say the seeming momentum behind the issue is fueled in part by what they can now see and read about the freedoms of women abroad on satellite television and the Internet. They also feel they have become more sophisticated in dealing with the Saudi system.
“This is more organized and is a real campaign,” said Khalid Al-Dakhil, professor of political sociology at King Saud University in Riyadh. “They have been on the Net, sending out e-mails.”
Still, few expect any change to come soon. Ms. Huwaider said the group had so far received no reply from the palace to the petition. Even women’s rights advocates said lifting ban would mean much preparation and public education, for women and men.
“Fifty years ago, we rejected the mail and then we advanced,” said Mr. Sadhan, the television producer. “We refused radio, only to accept it, and then rejected TV, and only to accept that, too. We will accept women driving some day all the same, and the environment has to be prepared for it.”
Rasheed Abou-Alsamh contributed reporting from Jidda, Saudi Arabia.
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Pakistani woman astronaut gears up for spaceflight
21 Oct 2007, 1530 hrs IST,PTI
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Namira Salim is poised to become the first Pakistani woman astronaut (Agencies Photo)
ISLAMABAD: Namira Salim is poised to become the first Pakistani woman astronaut, having successfully completed her space flight training at a facility in the US ahead of blasting off into space in the world's first commercial space liner in 2009.
Salim, 35, made her name as a sculptor, musician, designer and poet before she was chosen in March 2006 by entrepreneur Richard Branson from among 44,000 candidates to be one of the first 100 space tourists for flights to be offered by his firm Virgin Galactic.
She was trained in the STS-400 simulator, the world's most advanced high performance centrifuge, under the supervision of Virgin Galactic after clearing medical tests. The training assessed Salim's ability to tolerate and adapt to gravitational forces and motion sickness during a sub-orbital spaceflight.
"I am very happy. These are unforgettable moments," Namira said from the US on completing her training.
"I am not only proud to be the first Pakistani, but particularly proud to be the first female from Pakistan to have had such a phenomenal experience."
Salim has said that she hoped her achievement would break "new ground for Muslim and Pakistani women" to enter fields that were hitherto closed to them.
She has encouraged others, particularly women, to open their minds to the vast potential and opportunities the world offers and excel in all spheres of lives.
"It was an unforgettable experience and makes one very excited for the actual space flight now that I know that I am qualified to fly to sub-orbital space," she said.
Women in Pakistan, especially in rural and tribal areas, are victims of discrimination and violence. Pakistan's former tourism minister Nilofar Bakhtiar had to resign in May after hardline clerics accused her of obscenity for hugging an instructor after making a charity parachute jump in France. She was also sacked as head of the women's wing of the ruling PML-Q party.
"There is no limit to positive accomplishment and if one heads in that direction, one would only conquer the stars," Salim said.
Salim was born in the port city of Karachi but now lives in Dubai and France. Her father hails from Pakistan's Punjab province while her mother was born in Allahabad and brought up in Delhi.
Her fascination with space began at the age of 14 when she got her first telescope. Two years later, she became the first female member of Amastro Pak "Pakistan's first astronomy society" and maintained an interest in space through her university years.
She moved to the US, initially to study international business at Hofstra University in New York and then international relations at Columbia University. While in the US, she also learnt to fly.
Salim's multi-dimensional mixed media art has been exhibited at summits of the UN, UNESCO and SAARC and she will publish her first book of English poetry this year.
During her recent training in the US, Salim was exposed to the gravitational forces and weightlessness she will experience during the launch and re-entry of the Virgin Galactic space liner designed by legendary aviator Burt Rutan.
She was exposed to the same gravitational forces that are experienced by astronauts who have been launched into space.
"The complete spaceflight experience, along with the full visual simulation of the space environment, was a taste of what it's like to launch into space, be weightless in zero gravity and re-enter into the earth's atmosphere safely," she said
October 27, 2007
Today’s Hidden Slave Trade
By BOB HERBERT
The woman testifying in federal court in Lower Manhattan could hardly have seemed more insignificant.
She was an immigrant from South Korea and a prostitute, who spoke little or no English. She worked, she said, in brothels in New York, Philadelphia, Georgia, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.
She did not offer a portrait of the good life. Speaking through an interpreter, she told about the time in D.C. when a guy came in who looked “like a mental patient, a psycho.” Weirded out, she wanted nothing to do with him. But she said the woman who ran the brothel assured her everything would be fine.
It was fine if you consider wrestling with Hannibal Lecter fine. The john clawed at this woman, gouging her flesh, peeling the skin from her back and other parts of her body. She was badly injured.
According to the government, the woman was caught up in a prostitution and trafficking network that ruthlessly exploited young Korean women, some of whom “were smuggled into the country illegally.”
In prior eras, the slave trade was conducted openly, with ads prominently posted and the slaves paraded and inspected like animals, often at public auctions. Today’s sex traffickers, the heirs to that tradition, try to keep their activities hidden, although the rest of the sex trade, the sale of the women’s services, is advertised on a scale that can only be characterized as colossal.
As a society, we’re repelled by the slavery of old. But the wholesale transport of women and girls across international borders and around the U.S. — to serve as prostitutes under conditions that in most cases are coercive at best — stirs very little outrage.
Leaf through the Yellow Pages in some American cities and you’ll find pages upon pages of ads: “Korean Girl, 18 — Affordable.” “Korean and Japanese the writer of this post is stupid — Full Service.” “Barely Legal China respectable — Pretty and Petite.”
The Internet and magazines have staggering numbers of similar ads. Thousands upon thousands of women have been brought here from Asia and elsewhere and funneled into the sex trade, joining those who are already here and in the business but unable to keep up with the ferocious demand.
This human merchandise — whether imported or domestic — is still paraded, inspected and treated like animals.
What’s important to keep in mind is the great extent to which the sex trade involves real slavery (kidnapping and rape), widespread physical abuse, indentured servitude, exploitation of minors and many other forms of coercion. This modern-day variation on the ancient theme of bondage flourishes largely because of the indifference of the rest of us, and the misogyny that holds fast to the view of women — all women — as sexual commodities.
The case in Manhattan federal court involves a ring that, according to prosecutors, used massage parlors and spas as fronts for prostitution. Some of the women were in the U.S. legally. Others, according to the government, were brought in by brokers (more accurately, traffickers or dealers in flesh), who provided false passports, visas and other documents.
Elie Honig, an assistant United States attorney, said women brought in illegally were pushed into prostitution to earn money “to pay back the tens of thousands of dollars that the brokers charged the women as quote, unquote, fees for bringing them into the United States.”
He told the jury: “We are talking about a regional network of businesses throughout the Northeast United States and beyond involved in transporting and selling women.”
A jury will decide whether the five defendants in this case — all Korean women, and accused of running a prostitution enterprise — are guilty. But the activities alleged by the government mirror the sexual trafficking and organized prostitution that is carried out on a vast scale here in the U.S. and around the world.
There is nothing benign about these activities. Upwards of 18,000 foreign nationals are believed to be trafficked into the U.S. each year. According to the State Department, 80 percent of trafficked people are women and children, an overwhelming majority of whom are trafficked for sexual purposes.
Those who think that most of the women in prostitution want to be there are deluded. Surveys consistently show that a majority wants very much to leave. Apologists love to spread the fantasy of the happy hooker. But the world of the prostitute is typically filled with pimps, sadists, psychopaths, drug addicts, violent criminals and disease.
Jody Williams is a former prostitute who runs a support group called Sex Workers Anonymous. Few women want to become prostitutes, she told me, and nearly all would like to get out.
“They want to quit for the obvious reasons,” she said. “The danger. The physical and emotional distress. The toll that it takes. The shame.”
Why British Women are turning to Islaam
THE SPREAD OF A WORLD CREED
The Times (London) - Tuesday, 9th November 1993 -Home-news Page
Lucy Berrington finds the Muslim Faith is winning Western admirers despite hostile media coverage
Unprecedented numbers of British people, nearly all of them women, are converting to Islam at a time of deep divisions within the Anglican and Catholic churches.
The rate of conversions has prompted predictions that Islam will rapidly become an important religious force in this country. "Within the next 20 years the number of British converts will equal or overtake the immigrant Muslim community that brought the faith here", says Rose Kendrick, a religious education teacher at a Hull comprehensive and the author of a textbook guide to the Koran. She says: "Islam is as much a world faith as is Roman Catholicism. No one nationality claims it as its own". Islam is also spreading fast on the continent and in America.
The surge in conversions to Islam has taken place despite the negative image of the faith in the Western press. Indeed, the pace of conversions has accelerated since publicity over the Salman Rushdie affair, the Gulf War and the plight of the Muslims in Bosnia. It is even more ironic that most British converts should be women, given the widespread view in the west that Islam treats women poorly. In the United States, women converts outnumber men by four to one, and in Britain make up the bulk of the estimated 10, 000 to 20, 000 converts, forming part of a Muslim community of 1 to 1.5 million. Many of Britain's "New Muslims" are from middle-class backgrounds. They include Matthew Wilkinson, a former head boy of Eton who went on to Cambridge, and a son and daughter of Lord Justice Scott, the judge heading the arms-to-Iraq enquiry.
A small-scale survey by the Islamic Foundation in Leicester suggests that most converts are aged 30 to 50. Younger Muslims point to many conversions among students and highlight the intellectual thrust of Islam. "Muhammad" said, "The light of Islam will rise in the West" and I think that is what is happening in our day" says Aliya Haeri, an American-born psychologist who converted 15 years ago. She is a consultant to the Zahra Trust, a charity publishing spiritual literature and is one of Britain's prominent Islamic speakers. She adds: "Western converts are coming to Islam with fresh eyes, without all the habits of the East, avoiding much of what is culturally wrong. The purest tradition is finding itself strongest in the West."
Some say the conversions are prompted by the rise of comparative religious education. The British media, offering what Muslims describe as a relentless bad press on all things Islamic, is also said to have helped. Westerners despairing of their own society - rising in crime, family breakdown, drugs and alcoholism  - have come to admire the discipline and security of Islam. Many converts are former Christians disillusioned by the uncertainty of the church and unhappy with the concept of the Trinity and deification of Jesus.
Quest of the Convert - Why Change?
Other converts describe a search for a religious identity. Many had previously been practising Christians but found intellectual satisfaction in Islam. "I was a theology student and it was the academic argument that led to my conversion." Rose Kendrick, a religious education teacher and author, said she objected to the concept of the original sin: "Under Islam, the sins of the fathers aren't visited on the sons. The idea that God is not always forgiving is blasphemous to Muslims.
Maimuna, 39, was raised as a High Anglican and confirmed at 15 at the peak of her religious devotion. "I was entranced by the ritual of the High Church and thought about taking the veil." Her crisis came when a prayer was not answered. She slammed the door on visiting vicars but travelled to convents for discussions with nuns. "My belief came back stronger, but not for the Church, the institution or the dogma." She researched every Christian denomination, plus Judaism, Buddhism and Krishna Consciousness, before turning to Islam.
Many converts from Christianity reject the ecclesiastical hierarchy emphasising Muslims' direct relationship with God. They sense a lack of leadership in the Church of England and are suspicious of its apparent flexibility. "Muslims don't keep shifting their goal-posts," says Huda Khattab, 28, author of The Muslim Woman's Handbook, published this year by Ta-Ha. She converted ten years ago while studying Arabic at university. "Christianity changes, like the way some have said pre-marital sex is okay if its with the person you're going to marry. It seems so wishy-washy. Islam was constant about sex, about praying five times a day. The prayer makes you conscious of God all the time. You're continually touching base.
1 This is one of the reasons why there is an onslaught of bad press against Islam and the Muslims. Whoever considers Islam carefully with its principle belief Tawheed (the Uniqueness of Allaah, His and His sole right to subservience, worship and legislation), the sum total of its injunctions, formulated by Allaah (which are harmonic and define the true nature, position, rights and responsibilities of both sexes), and its justice in every sphere of life (social, economical and political) for all categories of people - wives, husbands, children, orphans, women, the poor and indigent, the poverty-stricken - will realise why it poses a threat to the leading elite of the western civilisations (i.e. those who benefit most from the unfair and unjust forms by which the people are governed). It is in the hands of such people that the control of peoples beliefs and ideas lie (via television, Magazines, Films, Education) and naturally this advantage is used to maintain the existing status quo. Muslims are not governed by and enslaved the false beliefs and ideas of humans, they are enslaved to and governed by Allaah alone. This is the essence of Islam - That enslavement is to none but to Allaah alone and everything besides Him is undeserving of worship and subservience.
2 It is now an established fact that around 5,000 of the US Troops who were stationed in Saudi Arabia became Muslims during and shortly after the Gulf War.
3 Much of the alleged oppression of women is due to localised culture which is based on a superstition that is more akin to Hinduism. It is, however, portrayed as being Islamic in origin which in turn seriously affects the 'independence of thought' of those who do not bother to pursue the matter in an objective manner - which includes most people.
4 One of the biggest industries in the West is that of entertainment and amusement. This is essential to maintain the false idea of progress, that what comes next is better and worth enduring for. Peoples minds are preoccupied with their own pleasures and other pursuits while others are being murdered, slaughtered, women raped, innocent babies and children butchered with axes and knives, innocent by-standers in robberies and muggings killed, the aged battered to death by adolescents, thousands dying of drug abuse, thousands of innocent lives destroyed by the consumption of alcohol, drunkards beating their women and children... the list is endless. The entertainment industry is one of the effective tools in the 'normalisation of the thought process', the 'desensitisation of the humanistic concern', and the intensification of the 'my pleasure and gratification is what is most important' syndrome.
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