The Taliban began by speaking about their interest in peace. They discussed the problems of the war itself, civilian casualties, kidnappings, injustice, narcotics trade and corruption, including the internal displacement of over a million people resulting from forced land grabs by commanders aligned with the Afghan government. They seemed genuine in their desire to engage.
Among the visitors, we women were given the first turn to speak. I spoke about working with women’s organizations, and the other women spoke about the right to education for girls and the need for a cease-fire. The Taliban acknowledged that girls would be able to go to school and women would be able to work.
The Taliban argued that progress on women’s issues can be made only in the context of Islam. The Afghan constitution itself declares Islam the religion of Afghanistan. My colleagues on the front lines in Afghanistan have been fighting against domestic violence by using commandments against such violence in the Quran and encouraging education of women by quoting the Prophet Muhammad urging Muslim women and men to seek education even if they have to go “as far as China.”
We recognize that Islamic interpretation of women’s issues will be at the heart of the debate on women’s rights in Afghanistan, but the basis for the defending of the right to education, work and political life already exists in Islam.
Book Launch - Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an
Does Islam call for the oppression of women? The subjugation of women in many Muslim countries is often used as evidence of this, while many Muslims read the Qur’an in ways that seem to justify sexual oppression and inequality. In this paradigm-shifting book, Asma Barlas argues that, far from supporting male privilege, the Qur’an actually affirms the complete equality of the sexes.
Asma Barlas is a Pakistani-American writer and academic. She is currently a professor of politics at Ithaca College. Barlas was previously the founding director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity at Ithaca College for twelve years, and held the Spinoza Chair in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. Her other books include Re-understanding Islam: A Double Critique and Islam, Muslims, and the US: Essays on Religion and Politics.
For Recording Her Boss’s Lewd Call, She, Not He, Will Go to Jail
BANGKOK — A school bookkeeper in Indonesia who recorded her boss’s lewd phone call as proof she was being harassed must serve at least six months in prison for distributing obscene material, the country’s Supreme Court has ruled.
Nuril Maknun, 41, who worked as a part-time bookkeeper at a high school on the religiously conservative island of Lombok, said on Friday that she was disappointed by the court’s ruling, which she called an “obvious injustice.” It was her final appeal in a case that has been closely followed across the country, and which became an issue during the recent presidential election.
“I, as a woman, should be protected, but then I was the one who became the victim,” she said in a telephone interview. “People should know that when we get harassed, there is no place to take refuge.”
Her boss, who goes by the single name Muslim, as is common in Indonesia, was the principal at Senior High School Seven in Mataram, Lombok’s largest city. Ms. Nuril recorded him using explicit language and hounding her to have an affair. He was never punished for harassing her and instead has been promoted repeatedly.
The case has highlighted the common problem of workplace harassment in Indonesia. President Joko Widodo said in the run-up to his re-election that he would consider granting clemency to Ms. Nuril once her legal appeals had been exhausted.
On Friday afternoon, the president told reporters in Manado, a city on Sulawesi island, that he would not comment on the Supreme Court ruling, but that Ms. Nuril should apply for amnesty as soon as possible so that his office could assume legal authority over her case.
“Since the beginning, my attention to this case has never diminished,” he said. “If it gets to me, then it will be under my authority, and I will use the authority I have.”
Women in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country, have little legal recourse and are expected to tolerate harassment and sometimes sexual relations if they want to keep their jobs, women’s rights advocates said.
Supported by AKDN’s Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative of Aga Khan Development Network, ZeN was started with some mothers as a response to 50% malnourishment amongst children in the basti and the need to ensure healthy snack habits.
Currently supported under the project, ZeN is thriving to become an independent women enterprise. The members of ZeN, perfecting their art day after day, are in the process of emerging into professional chefs and also managers managing their enterprise.
The main objective for the future is to function as a sustainable, profitable and independent enterprise providing sustained , enhanced and dignified incomes to its members.
The group has evolved into an enterprise owned by 10 confident women perfecting their art day after day, taking baby steps towards regaining their lost identities. It is not just empowering but also endearing to see the ‘bajis’ of Nizamuddin dressed in aprons and head gear, making haleem using their grandmother’s recipe in a fully safe and hygienic bawarchi khana.
When tradition meets enterprise, you get a ZeN kebab; when hundreds of ZeN kebabs meet their customers, Neha (a proud ZeN member) gets a scooty for her husband.
And when thousands of Nehas are able to buy scooties, we move a step forward to a better world and a tastier one too.
The Taliban Promise to Protect Women. Here’s Why Women Don’t Believe Them.
We traveled across the country and asked women about their fears of losing the hard-won freedoms they’ve gained in the last 18 years.
KABUL, Afghanistan — At just 29, Zainab Fayez made herself into one of Afghanistan’s foremost defenders of women.
As the first and only female prosecutor in Kandahar Province, deep in the conservative south of the country, she sent 21 men to jail for beating and abusing their wives or fiancées.
I thought I should speak with her. I had gone to Afghanistan to ask women one of the most urgent questions hanging over the peace talks now unfolding between Taliban leaders, the Afghanistan government and American diplomats: After 18 years of gains for Afghanistan’s women, what are these women thinking now that the Americans might leave, and the Taliban might return?
But as I prepared to travel to Kandahar to meet Ms. Fayez, I discovered that she had fled the city.
She had received a warning she could not ignore: a handwritten note, tacked to the windshield of her family car, folded over a bullet.
“From now on, you are our target,” the letter said, “and we will treat you like other Western slaves.” It was signed “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the formal name the Taliban use for themselves.
Inclusive peace in Afghanistan means ‘women at the centre’ urges UN deputy chief in Kabul
The UN deputy chief issued an impassioned plea on Sunday for Afghans to reconcile with the past and put “women at the centre” of all efforts to forge a durable peace, and a truly inclusive political process where women’s voices are truly heard.
Amina Mohammed was speaking to reporters in the capital Kabul, after leading an all-women delegation of top UN officials for an intensive two-day “solidarity mission”, focussed on women, peace and security. She was joined by UN Political and Peacebuilding Affairs chief, Rosemary DiCarlo, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Natalia Kanem, and the head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
The Deputy Secretary-General said they had come ahead of the key presidential election, due to take place at the end of September, but also to lend their support for a peace process “which is integral to the future, and the sustainability of all the efforts and aspirations, the Government and people of Afghanistan have.”
Only a few days ago, a bomb attack just outside Kabul University, reportedly killed 10 people - students and a traffic officer - and wounded 33 others, while Taliban militants reportedly detonated a bomb outside police headquarters in Kandahar city, killing 11 and wounding nearly 90. Despite the on-going violence, Afghan political leaders held ground-breaking talks in Qatar earlier this week with Taliban representatives, with both sides calling for a reduction in civilian casualties.
“At the end of two days we have been impressed with the leadership at all levels of government from Kabul out to the local areas, where you see that there is an investment in people, in particular in women’s empowerment’, said Ms. Mohammed.
In Pakistan, a Feminist Hero Is Under Fire and on the Run
NEW DELHI — Gulalai Ismail is one of Pakistan’s best-known women’s rights crusaders, speaking out about forced marriages, gang rapes and crushed dreams.
Her groundbreaking work has carried her around the world, winning her awards and audiences with high-powered women such as Michelle Obama and Queen Elizabeth II.
But in her own country, Ms. Ismail has become an enemy of the state, accused of inciting rebellion. And now she is on the run.
For two months, practically no one has seen her. Pakistan’s security services, known as among this region’s most cunning and brutal, can’t find her. They have raided her house several times and deployed scores of officers, and, according to Ms. Ismail’s family, abducted and tortured family friends to extract information.
Her associates said Ms. Ismail, 33, is leading a phantom-like existence, shifting from house to house, timing her movements carefully, stepping out only with a scarf over her face and relying on an underground network of fellow feminists across Pakistan’s cities who are risking everything to hide her.
Her family says they have had no contact with her since she vanished in May — “All our phones are bugged,” said her younger sister, Saba.
In the initiative started by Aga Khan Trust for Culture, under Insha-e-Noor, their women’s enterprise at the slum, products are handcrafted and the revenue from sales goes directly to the artisans.
NEW DELHI: Shabnam Shakir (40), a resident of Nizamuddin Basti, has been working on a project, one which is a symbol of religious harmony. Her project sees Muslim women make and sell rakhis for the celebration of the Hindu festival of Rakshabandhan. She says the ongoing project like others, undertaken by Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in the slum, is “fulfilling” and “full of fun”.
“The number of orders that were placed was quite high. We kept getting calls. We would finish working on one design and there would be another design waiting for us to take up. It kept us busy and we enjoyed the pressure of meeting the deadline,” Shakir said.
In the initiative started by AKTC, under Insha-e-Noor, their women’s enterprise at the slum, products are handcrafted and the revenue from sales goes directly to the artisans.
“I really want all of the rakhis we have made to be sold and that we can get even more to make,” Shakir said. The products are available for as cheap as Rs 50 to Rs 60 per piece for thread and zari collections respectively. People can also place an order via Insha-e-Noor’s Facebook or Instagram accounts. At present, there are around 80 women practising the craft forms of zari embroidery, hand embroidery, tailoring and crochet.
Peace Road Map for Afghanistan Will Let Taliban Negotiate Women’s Rights
Afghanistan must “be free of fear and abuse” under a final peace deal, says the country’s ambassador to Washington. An agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban, for new talks with Kabul, raises concerns that women may lose rights in future Afghan governments.
WASHINGTON — Roya Rahmani is neither royalty nor from a powerful family, so she was initially surprised when she was appointed as the first woman to be Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States. Now she understands why: to signal Kabul’s commitment to women’s rights as the Trump administration pushes for a peace deal with the Taliban.
Ms. Rahmani, a longtime women’s rights activist, remembers all too well what Afghanistan was like during the 1990s, under the Taliban’s rule, when women were beaten for leaving their homes and barred from attending school or holding jobs. “People were drained of hope” and were “living zombies,” she said this week in an interview. Today, she noted, women make up 28 percent of the Afghan National Assembly — more than in Congress.
But as the Taliban and the United States move toward a preliminary peace agreement — which could be released in days — there are growing fears that Afghan women will lose the gains they have made over nearly two decades.
The agreement, hashed out over months of talks between the Trump administration and the Taliban, is expected to outline steps for the eventual withdrawal of 14,000 American troops and pave the way for future talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Officials said the preliminary deal is not expected to include specific assurances that women will continue to have equal opportunities in education, employment and government.
Women’s rights are supposed to be addressed in the future talks, which could result in a power-sharing arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Although some American and Afghan officials say the Taliban appear to be more receptive to women’s rights than in the past, others worry that women will be given lip service in that final accord, or left out entirely.
“Afghan women have made it loud and clear that they want peace without oppression,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The Trump administration, she said, “needs to fully recognize that Afghan women are our greatest asset to advancing the cause of freedom in this war-torn country.”
“Their rights and future must not get lost in these negotiations,” she added.
After American troops forced the Taliban from power after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan in pursuit of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, Afghan women literally came out of their homes. Now, more than 3.5 million are enrolled in primary and secondary schools and 100,000 women attend universities, according to the State Department. American auditors estimate that nearly 85,000 Afghan women work as teachers, lawyers, law enforcement officials and in health care. More than 400 women ran for political office in elections held last fall.
In April 2019, three Pakistani women set out on a journey to collect climate change narratives from communities all across the country. Our team – comprising an environmental scientist, an educationist and a documentary filmmaker – had just won a grant from the National Geographic Society. This grant allowed us to observe how ordinary people in Pakistan are being affected by climate change and how communities are tackling it. Pakistan is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change.
As a documentary filmmaker I am used to traveling in the country either on my own, or with teams that have both men and women working together. However, this project was my first time ever working with an all-woman team for such an extended period of time and the experience turned out to be quite different. It turns out that in Pakistan if three women traveling together are unaccompanied by a man, they will still be called teen akeli larkiyaan (three lone girls).
Being a young all-woman team also means that like everywhere else in the world, you will not be taken seriously enough and you would certainly be mansplained to. There was an instance in our fieldwork when a gentleman at a certain NGO’s office was bombarded with a series of curious questions by us and when he began running out of answers he said to us, “It looks like you people have just ended up here from Karachi without doing any prior research!” We were stunned and one of us firmly replied to him, “Sir, can you please not underestimate our research and answer our questions?” This was followed by an awkward silence after which the official gave us all the information we needed.
Early on in our research, we also began observing an interesting pattern. In order to get access into communities, we would first contact a focal person there. These focal persons were always men, and when we would request them to help us meet community members from their area they would only arrange our meetings with other men there.
Iran’s ‘Blue Girl’ Wanted to Watch a Soccer Match. She Died Pursuing Her Dream.
Her dream was to watch a soccer match from a stadium in Iran, where women are barred from attending most sports events.
So Sahar Khodayari, 29, sneaked into Azadi Stadium, Tehran’s main sporting venue. But she was arrested.
Sentenced to six months in prison, she set herself on fire in front of the courthouse on Sept. 2. She died in a Tehran hospital this week from severe burns covering 90 percent of her body.
Her death has sparked an outcry from Iranian and international soccer players.
Many Iranians, including a former captain of the national team, are calling for a boycott of soccer games until the ban on women attending matches is lifted. Several officials expressed shock and outrage at what had happened to Ms. Khodayari.
Chitral, Kalash handicrafts to be showcased during Milan Fashion Week
by the design and embroidery style that is native to the women of the rural mountainous areas of Chitral, Kalash, Gilgit and Baltistan, Stella Jean has decided to incorporate their craft in her spring/summer 2020 collection at Milan Fashion Week (MFW) starting from September 21,” Commerce Secretary Sardar Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera said.
Secretary said that the Ministry of Commerce in collaboration with Stella Jean, a leading Italian designer and UNIDO have launched an initiative to empower the women in Chitral, Gilgit, Hunza and Kalash.
“Through this initiative, Stella Jean has incorporated embroidery done by Chitral Women’s Handicrafts Centre – an NGO by Fortune Magazine under 30 fame Karishma Ali & in Gilgit-Baltistan through ‘Karigar’ a women empowerment initiative by AKDN,” he added.
The commerce secretary said that the spring/summer 2020 collection will be showcased at the MFW which is the most important annual international fashion event.
The article below illuminates the role pious women played during the Fatimid rule.
A Petition to a Woman at the Fatimid Court (413414 Ah/102215023 Ce)
The Genizah of the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat preserved dozens of petitions addressed to the Fatimid and Ayyubid chanceries in Cairo and decrees that they issued in response. This article provides an edition, translation, and discussion of a petition housed among the Genizah documents of the Bodleian Library. The petition is addressed to Sitt al-Mulk, half-sister of the caliph al-Ḥākim (386–411/996–1021).
While at least one chronicler mentions that Sitt al-Mulk received petitions, this is the first documentary evidence for that claim. It shows Sitt al-Mulk to have headed the Fatimid state between her brother's death and her own in 414/1023.
Geoffrey Khan had previously identified two petitions, housed in Cambridge and New York, addressed to a Fatimid princess. It is likely that these, too, were addressed to Sitt al-Mulk. The article offers possible explanations as to why petitions such as this one, which concerns an Ismaili mosque, found their way to the Jewish community of Fustat whose members reused them and preserved them in the Geniza.
It also suggests some broader conclusions about the dispersal, survival, or disappearance of
pre-Ottoman Middle Eastern archives and document
FIFA Must Pressure Iran to Let Women Attend Soccer Matches
My country’s exclusion of its 41 million women from sports stadiums is a clear violation of the organization’s charter and of our human rights.
I grew up in the Iranian city of Shiraz after the 1979 revolution. Girls like me were barred from going to stadiums to watch sports because, our religious leaders said, it would be an improper mixing of men and women. Still, I grew up loving soccer. I would watch matches on television with my family, cheering on our favorite teams and players.
My brother Masoud is a gifted player and became Iran’s national-team captain. He has played in three FIFA World Cups. But my mother, sister and I have never seen a game in our home country. My mother has never had a chance for her heart to swell with pride as her son scored a goal, nor could I ever have cheered him on while I was living in Iran.
Iran’s exclusion of its 41 million women from sports stadiums for the past 40 years has led women and girls to risk jail and even their lives to challenge the ban. That could all change this month.
After our years of fighting for this fundamental right, we have finally gotten the leaders of FIFA, the governing body that oversees all soccer, to start upholding its own rules prohibiting this discrimination. On Thursday, for the first time, some women will be able to buy tickets and sit in Iran’s largest stadium, Azadi.
Following Haajar’s Footsteps to a Feminist Reading of Islam
A personal experience with the Hajj brought to life the iconic figure of Haajar, whose tenacity and stoicism highlight the importance of women in Islam.
The Life and Times of Haajar
The story of Abraham is not the only source of the Hajj rituals. The connected story of Haajar, Ismail’s mother, is equally important and perhaps less well-known.
As mentioned above, Abraham was commanded by God to leave Haajar and their baby boy alone in a barren desert, with only some dates, a little water, and her faith. Haajar was confused, but accepted her fate when she realised that Abraham was carrying out the will of God. However, survival was difficult in the heat of Arabia, with no oasis in sight. After her food and drink had run out, scripture has it that Haajar started running desperately between two hillocks (close to where the Kaaba is situated, although it was not built at the time) to see if she could spot anyone—or any water.
She ran seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwa (around 2 miles in total), urgently hoping and searching for help. After Haajar had completed her seventh frantic dash from hill to hill, a well sprung up from beneath the feet of baby Ismail. Seeing the gushing water, she rushed back to her baby and started cupping the water, saying “Zam Zam” (Stop Stop) as she did.
With a source of water now established, passers-by began to settle around the area, and a community began to form. The well of Zamzam still exists, and it quenches the thirst of millions of pilgrims to this day. Zamzam water is special to all Muslims, and pilgrims fill their bottles to carry some of this water home to serve to guests who arrive to greet the Hajjis (the title “Hajji” is ascribed to a person who has completed the Hajj pilgrimage).
This strong woman, a slave and a woman of color, practically a single mother, had the strength to survive. Her memory is kept alive every day because her running between the hills of Safa and Marwa is a crucial part of the Hajj rites. Pilgrims re-enact Haajar’s search for help by walking between the two hills seven times while absorbed in prayer. Enter the holy mosque at any time of the year and you will see thousands of pilgrims walking in Haajar’s footsteps, because the walk between Safa and Marwa is also an obligatory part of the other Muslim pilgrimage (known as Umrah, which can be performed at any time of the year).
The cool air-conditioning and marble floors that now adorn the sacred precincts are a far cry from the hot desert of yesteryear, when the pilgrimage was first performed, back in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, over 1,400 years ago. But even though Zam Zam water is now cooled with ice and flows out of taps, and the hills of Safa and Marwa are now enclosed within the holy mosque’s walls, the symbolism of the ritual acts remains intact.
Haajar’s story is symbolic for single mothers and women of color, as well as all Muslim women looking to find strength and representation within their faith. It offers a way toward a feminist reading of Islam that does not require an abandoning of religious identity. Scholars, like the philosopher Amina Wadud, have started to reclaim Haajar’s story in their re-readings of religious history and scripture. Arguing that Islam has been read, written, and interpreted mainly by males, contributing to its patriarchal culture and stifling the principle of gender justice, feminist Muslim scholars have started to highlight the heroines in Islam.
The scholar Simonetta Calderini, in analysing Wadud, says that her work and activism is still contextualized through Western feminism. Nevertheless, she also notes:
…that today Muslim women’s movements, even though historically heavily influenced by Western theories on women’s rights and social justice, have developed into acknowledging the need for an indigenous Muslim theory and practice of reconstruction in human rights discourse.
They have also initiated a process of re-reading religious texts from a gendered perspective. The author Mohja Kahf has written a book titled Hagar Poems (Hagar being an alternate spelling of Haajar), using the story of Haajar as a starting point to explore women in Islam, combining the ancient and contemporary to bridge the gap between Haajar then and Haajar now. The book’s foreword, by Wadud, says of Kahf’s work:
The women in these poems can birth a nation and then come back to destroy it. With that destruction we are all invited to destroy our tendency to rely upon a single narrative in what truly matters in life stories. Not only does she take on the patriarchy in all its guises, she avoids the bland attempts to then make women out to be perfect.
My personal experience with the Hajj this year brought to life the iconic figure of Haajar, her tenacity and stoicism, her vital role in Islamic history, and the importance of women in Islam. While it seems that the stories heard and recounted around Hajj time often focused on the male Prophets, the story of Haajar was alive as well, and provided a comforting counterpoint to the idea that men are the inevitable leaders in Islam. The notion of a “single narrative” of Islam, women, and women in Islam, was challenged by my experience of the pilgrimage – after witnessing the countless women on their own personal spiritual and religious journeys, I was reminded that Muslim women come in many different forms, each with individual contexts and cultures shaping their life narratives. We cannot be reduced to a single notion or image. Added to that, the story of Haajar, a constant undercurrent in ladies gatherings, re-enforced the idea that women can and do take care of themselves, and that even in Islam, women place reliance on God and not on men. When it comes to the rite of walking between Safa and Marwa, all Muslims, men and women alike, have to follow in the footsteps of a brown slave woman. Only after retracing her steps does one complete the pilgrimage.
Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness
Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness by Francesco Cozza, 1665 via Wikimedia Commons
The impact of Haajar’s story may be even broader, according to one team of researchers. David Clingingsmith, Asim Ijaz Khwaja, and Michael Kremer studied the impact of the Hajj on social tolerance and found, when comparing Pakistanis who had completed the pilgrimage with those who had not, that the experience of the pilgrimage “increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment.”
Personally, before experiencing the pilgrimage, I clung to academic notions of Islamic feminism. Academic inquiry into areas such as the overlap between Islam and feminism have an important role to play in overturning the patriarchal culture that persists in many Muslim societies. It works as a means to prove that patriarchy is cultural and not religious, and that patriarchy cannot be upheld on the basis of religious doctrine.
However, during the pilgrimage, the historical symbolism of Haajar’s story overtook academic theory, and I felt as if I were living the principles of Islamic gender justice without the need for arguments or proof. Perhaps spiritual experiences have a transcendental power, an ability to skip a few steps that logic usually must pass through. Additionally, during the second night of Hajj, in which the millions of pilgrims sleep under the stars with nothing but thin reed mats, unadorned clothing, and whatever they can carry in their backpacks, the nature of equality and submission that Islam and the Hajj try to inculcate between all Muslims, regardless of gender and status, is brought home.
While experiencing the rituals of Hajj, the crowds and the chaos, the calm and the heat, the traffic and the peaceful moments of contemplation, all of life seems to be squashed into small spaces in small pockets of time. Walking between Haajar’s hills of Safa and Marwa, I was reminded that the Islamic feminist scholars of today still walk in the brave footsteps of one of the noble mothers of Islam: Haajar.
The Position of Women in the Creation A Qur'anic Perspective/ Muslima Theology
This article attempts to examine the creation of the first woman, Eve,according to Islamic teachings, with respect to the first verse of Sūra Four (Nisa /Women) in the Qur’an. The emphasis will be on the interpretation of the verse, particularly in the exegetical works from past to present. However, before embarking on the examination of the verse,it is important to underline, for the sake of clarity, that it is a concise verse. It is inferred, thus, that although Allah does not seek to recount the matters of creation with this verse and others, He still alludes to these issues, which are also the subject of scientific thought. As a result,since the topic of this verse has been explored deeply through sciences like biology, physics and astronomy, it is not possible to elucidate this problem through an exploration of only religion and proof texts (naṣṣ). These caveats should be borne in mind to emphasize that although this article does not aim to finally resolve the biological aspect of creation, its purpose is to contribute to the theological and religious aspect of the question through exegetical interpretations.
Since 2001, 23 public and private pools have appeared in Kabul, but only two allow women. They’re a welcome refuge from suicide bombings and the threat of a Taliban takeover.
KABUL, Afghanistan — When Fatema Saeedi is in the pool, she cannot hear the crowded, chaotic noise of the city around her. She does not think about suicide bombings or Taliban attacks. She concentrates on her breathing as she moves through the water. One hand in front of the other. Exhale.
For Ms. Saeedi, 26, the swimming pool is a refuge. The clean water, the walls and the women around her — all sealed off from the male patrons nearby — are a welcome respite from Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.
Though the city has become markedly more politically progressive in the nearly two decades it has been governed by a Western-backed democracy, Kabul is still steeped in a socially conservative Afghan culture that often relegates women to hidden or subjugated roles.
“In Kabul, women can’t go anywhere,” Ms. Saeedi said recently as she finished a swim. “But here, I don’t have to cover up and pretend anything. I am just myself.”
These Syrian Women Rarely Left the House. Then the Men Disappeared.
ALEPPO, Syria — The women of eastern Aleppo were rarely visible before the war, but now they shape the bitter peace. In the poor, conservative districts of Syria’s ancient commercial capital, many women seldom used to leave the house, and only with their husbands if they did; the men not only won the bread, but also went out to buy it.
Then came the civil war.
Eight years and counting of bloodshed have condemned a generation of Syrian men to their deaths, to prison or to precarious lives as refugees. Now, with most of the country once again under government control, yet ruptured beyond recognition, moving forward is up to the women left behind: part survivors, part mourners, part mop-up crew.
Grandmothers are raising orphaned grandchildren. Single women worry they will never find husbands. Widows are supporting families gutted by losses that once seemed unendurable, and that the world now treats as routine.
In many cases, women are leaving the house on their own and working for the first time, old customs succumbing to the extremities of war and an economy in collapse — nothing new in large cities like Damascus, the capital, but a swift transformation for some of the more traditional corners of this socially and religiously conservative country.
Zainab Samad: Reaching new heights in national healthcare
When Zainab Samad was 13 or 14, she accompanied her mother to see a physician at Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan. The doctor her mother consulted for treatment was a woman, a heart surgeon. “I was struck by her ability,” Zainab says now of that doctor. When Zainab applied to medical schools, she applied to AKU.
“I am the oldest of five siblings. Two others also went to AKU and did better than I did. Both became top cardiologists,” she says modestly. “My own mentors start with my mother, who pursued a career and raised five children, and returned to her career later.”
Zainab’s mother was herself a gynecologist. So from an early age, Zainab could picture herself becoming a doctor. But a leading role at a university was a leap beyond her imagination.
Still, in 2018, Dr. Zainab Samad, after 16 years at Duke University, returned to Karachi to lead the Medicine Department at AKU. She is the youngest person ever to hold that position, and the first woman.
Growing up, she did not see people like her in that role. “I saw leaders as people who were in administration. Now that I am in this role, I see it as a chance to make changes that are aligned with a certain vision. It is about building consensus around a mission and a vision,” she says. “Leadership means bringing stakeholders together and empowering and uplifting others."
Zainab’s journey to new heights was long, but she hopes that it will inspire other women to follow in her trail.
“I hope it changes the perception of a leader as someone you could be one day, someone who has your back,” she says of her new role. AKU has had female chairs in other departments, including Obstetrics-Gynecology and Anesthesia. “I hope it means we will have more.”
Aga Khan University became the leading healthcare institution in Pakistan through excellence in teaching and research. Now it influences healthcare practice and policy across the country. With its expansion, AKU Hospital will continue to develop skills of healthcare professionals like Zainab to deliver world-class care.
AKU alumni are in leadership roles in schools, hospitals, clinics, and more. “Having women in prominent roles is important. The change is starting to trickle up. In medicine, we in our department are finding multiple ways we can mentor women.”
Those new ways include an initiative for mentoring women through the phases of their careers, providing leadership and communication skills. “We start small and want to scale up,” says Dr. Samad.
This article was first published on the Aga Khan Foundation USA website.
A Tradition of Women in Science: Creating the Scientists, Researchers, Doctors, Nurses and Professors for the Developing World
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, famously called for the education of girls and women in the early 1900s. In 1905, he established several schools, which admitted girls. In 1945, he said that "If I had two children, and one was a boy and the other a girl, and if I could afford to educate only one, I would have no hesitation in giving higher education to the girl."
For over a century, the AKDN has been investing in access to quality education for girls. Over the last 30 years, more than 10 million girls and young women across all levels of education have directly benefited from the AKDN’s efforts—in Afghanistan as well as Tanzania, Egypt as well as Pakistan. Today, almost 70% of the graduates at the Aga Khan University are women.
Education may start in the schools, but it continues in an array of educational institutions, from primary through to tertiary education levels, and then beyond in hospitals, schools, hotels, businesses. Each AKDN institution is designed to nurture the home-grown talent that will create societies in which everyone, regardless of sex, can realise their full potential.
“What these developments mean,” said His Highness the Aga Khan at the opening of the Academy in Hyderabad, India, “is human resources have become more important than natural resources in determining the wealth of a society.”
Women are a key to successful societies. For example, when 10 percent more girls go to school, the GDP of a country increases by an average of 3%. Women spend 90% of their earned income on their families. Evidence shows that corporations run by women are more focused on sustainability.
Developing those home-grown human resources for developing societies, many of them women, are central to the agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). By creating ethical scientists, nurses, doctors, pathologists, teachers, professors, development professionals, administrators, bankers and businessmen – to name a few – the AKDN is creating the human resources needed by developing countries to take the next step up the economic and social ladder.
They Killed Their Husbands. Now in Prison, They Feel Free.
Violence against women is rampant in Afghanistan. For some, murdering their husbands was the only way they could escape their abusive marriages.
The 15-foot walls that surround the Herat Women’s Prison are common to government properties in Afghanistan, as is the corrugated-metal gate, which is guarded by security personnel day and night. The concertina wire that encircles the walls gives the compound a cagelike feeling, but the barriers are meant to keep intruders from getting in as much as they are intended to keep inmates from getting out.
One hundred nineteen inmates and their 32 children live behind the robin’s-egg blue walls of the prison, located in the northeast sector of Herat city in western Afghanistan, just off the main road. First opened in the 1990s, before the Taliban took power, the facility is now run by the provincial government with some support from local nongovernmental organizations. At least half the women in Afghan prisons have been charged with so-called moral crimes like drug use, running away from home and sex outside of marriage — including in the case of rape, evidence of which may be uncovered through forced virginity tests. Despite pressure from Western governments and human rights groups to change these laws, such offenses continue to be recognized as serious crimes under Afghanistan’s Constitution.
In Herat Women’s Prison, as many as 20 women have been charged with and in some cases found guilty of murdering their husbands. Many have similar stories: As teenage girls, their families forced them into marriages with much older men who were known criminals, insurgents, drug addicts or all of the above. The girls were subjected to physical and verbal abuse with no access to money, no legal protection and no means of initiating divorce proceedings. There is little legal consequence for violence against women — in a country where nearly 90 percent of them will experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime, according to a 2008 study by the United States Institute of Peace.
In 2019, Kiana Hayeri, an Iranian-Canadian photographer based in Afghanistan, visited Herat Women’s Prison. The images she captured there stand in stark contrast to the essentializing portraits of the women in blue burqas common in Western news coverage of Afghanistan. Having spent years photographing women who had endured abuse but chose to stay with their husbands, Hayeri wanted to understand how far someone could be pushed before she did something to protect herself.
She found that many of these women’s lives were dominated by fear, but years of physical and verbal abuse had transformed that fear into anger. They were so tired of being afraid that their instinct to survive drove them to kill. By the time Hayeri met them, imprisoned and facing lengthy sentences, they had become different people entirely. “All these women were full of emotions, resilience, life and most importantly hope,” Hayeri says.
Behind bars, they have found a semblance of peace — or at least a place less violent than the one they killed to escape. The prison grounds are a quiet world of cement walkways, courtyards carpeted in artificial turf and overgrown gardens of trees and weeds. Barefoot children play on what remains of a playground. Mothers watch as their sons and daughters play and grow, as if this were a backyard in any ordinary neighborhood.
“Warm up your own food!” Some things Pakistani women say make Pakistani men really angry.
KARACHI, Pakistan — Last week, outside a shopping mall in the city, two somber men stood holding a banner that read: “Men are guardians of women.” In other parts of Pakistan, other self-appointed guardians have been busy tearing down posters that women activists put up to announce Aurat March, a series of rallies across the country to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8.
Only in its third year, Aurat March has become the most important day on the calendar for many Pakistani women. I recently asked a roomful of students in their early 20s what was the defining historical feature of their lifetime. After the war on terrorism, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, Malala’s shooting and TikTok, many women said that Aurat March was what had most affected their lives.
But much like the event has politicized many young women across Pakistan, torrents of misogyny have been unleashed by the prospect that women might get together in large numbers in public spaces and not invite a man as their chief guest. Some religious political groups have threatened to disrupt this year’s gatherings; others have announced that they will mark the day as the day of Muslim Women’s Dignity.
Grown men are asking, frothing at the mouth, what do these women want?
Organizers of Aurat March have put out a comprehensive list of what they want, including safety from sexual harassment, access to property rights and equal pay. But that’s not what men are really scared of. They are worried about hundreds of young women huddling in small groups with paint brushes, markers and stencils to make placards.
The signs from the last march have been giving our men nightmares for a year. The ones from the year before still rankle. These placards and their slogans have poked neat little holes in Pakistanis’ collective idea of “mardangi,” or manhood.
Sayyida Hurra: The Isma'ili Sulayhid Queen of Yemen
Sayyida Hurra, Sulayhid, Yemen, Fatimid, education of women, Sitt al-Mulk, Adris 'Imad alDin, Uyun al-akhbar, Sulayman, Sulayhi, Al-Afdal
This article explores the career of queen Sayyida Hurra, she was the political and religious leader of Sulayhid Yemen, which was an extremely rare occurrence and privilege for a woman in Fatimid times. Hurra was closely linked with the Ismaili da'wa in Cairo, and rose up the ranks of the Fatimid da'wa to receive the rank of hujja. Hurra was the first woman in the history of Ismailism to gain high rank in the Ismaili hierarchy, thus making this appointment a unique event. Daftary traces other events such as the Must'ali-Nizari split and looks at how Hurra dealt with these incidents and the implications for the Isma'ili da'wa.
The career of the queen Sayyida Hurra is a unique instance of its kind in the entire history of medieval Islam, for she exercised the political as well as religious leadership of Sulayhid Yemen; and in both these functions she was closely associated with the Isma`ili Fatimid dynasty.
Daisy Khan on Women’s Rights, Sharia, and Extremism
EDITORS’ NOTE: Daisy Khan — Executive Director of the Women’s Islamic Initiative for Spirituality and Equality and previously listed among TIME magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People’ — discusses her insights on misunderstandings of Sharia, Polarization, Extremism, Women’s Rights, her vision for the future.
1. To start, you’ve done extensive work on Sharia, which is often loosely defined as Islamic Law, and how Sharia has been misunderstood in the social, legal, and political context of America, could you help us understand the background and the current state of the situation?
2. Now what can we do to provide people in positions of powers to help them better understand Islam in general?
3. Speaking particularly of the world today, and even the more distant future, you’ve expressed that polarization and extremism is another top challenge for America.
Could you speak about some of the root causes? Of course, we can’t generalize completely but are there common causes of it today?
4. After finding yourself at the center of a national debate surrounding the Ground Zero controversy with Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, you became executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, where you spent eighteen years creating groundbreaking intra- and interfaith programs based on cultural and religious harmony and interfaith collaboration. Speaking specifically about intra-Muslim, Muslim-to-Muslim relationships, in these times, how can Muslims better support each other?
5. What has come of the work of the Cordoba Initiative since the Ground Zero controversy?
6. I want a talk a little bit about WISE — Women’s Islamic Initiative for Spirituality and Equality. WISE initiated the creation of the first global women’s shura or (advisory) council, which advances women’s rights through scriptural interpretation. Could you speak a little about the council and its work?
7. Then you’ve worked on a book – The WISE Up Report: Knowledge Ends Extremism which was produced with the help of 72 academics, scholars, imams, and activists. It took over 2 years and is a 365 page evidence based report, clarifying the differences between Islamic theology and extremist ideology and the best practices for preventing extremist recruitment and hate crimes against Muslims. There are 100 mosques and 50 interfaith centers which have signed up for the report. What do you hope this report will achieve?
8. In your memoir, Born with Wings, you describe your journey of self-actualization and your success in opening doors for other Muslim women and building bridges between cultures. What opportunities do you think women have to make a difference?
9. I believe you grew up in Kashmir, what do you make of the past and current political situation there?
10. If I may ask, what would be a question, even a faith-related question, that you are still searching for a satisfying answer to and for which you would even welcome other perspectives on?
11. And finally, we need to think about a vision for the future. We end up talking about these in general terms, but could you name a specific objective, perhaps, you see the world can achieve, let’s say in 25 years, and what insights and suggestions would you offer that might help achieve this vision?
You cannot post new topics in this forum You cannot reply to topics in this forum You cannot edit your posts in this forum You cannot delete your posts in this forum You cannot vote in polls in this forum