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(Reg. No. E-8900 (Mumbai)
Muslim Women’s Newsletter - Vol. 6 No.67, October, 2012.
Address: 602 & 603, Silver Star, Behind BEST Bus Depot, Santacruz (E), Mumbai: - 400 055. E-mail: email@example.com, Phone no: 91-22-26102089,26149668; Fax: 91-22-26100712
Edited by Qutub Jehan Kidwai
A STEP FORWARD
A Bosnian woman blazes a trail _ becoming nation's first hijab-wearing mayor
VISOKO, Bosnia-Herzegovina – When Amra Babic walks down the streets of the central Bosnian town of Visoko wearing her Muslim headscarf, men sitting in outdoor cafes instantly rise from their chairs, fix their clothes and put out their cigarettes.
The respect is only natural: Babic is their new mayor. The 43 year-old economist has blazed a trail in this war-scarred Balkan nation by becoming its first hijab-wearing mayor, and possibly the only one in Europe. Her victory comes as governments elsewhere in Europe debate laws to ban the Muslim veil, and Turkey, another predominantly Islamic country seeking EU membership, maintains a strict policy of keeping religious symbols out of public life. For Babic, the electoral triumph is proof that observance of Muslim tradition is compatible with Western democratic values. "It's a victory of tolerance," the wartime widow says. "We have sent a message out from Visoko. A message of tolerance, democracy and equality." She sees no contradiction in the influences that define her life. "I am the East and I am the West," she declares. "I am proud to be a Muslim and to be a European. I come from a country where religions and cultures live next to each other. All that together is my identity." For centuries, Bosnia has been a cultural and religious mix of Muslim Bosniaks, Christian Orthodox Serbs and Roman Catholic Croats who occasionally fought each but most of the time lived peacefully together. Then came the Balkans wars of the 1990s in which ethnic hatreds bottled up by Yugoslavia's communist regime exploded as the federation disintegrated. Bosnia's Muslim majority fell victim to the genocidal rampage of ethnic Serbs seeking to form a breakaway state. As an economist and local politician, Babic has played an active role in Bosnia's emergence from the ashes. She was a bank auditor and served as the regional finance minister before running for mayor. Now Babic feels she is ready to run this town of 45,000 people, mostly Bosnian Muslims, for the next four years. She wants to fix the infrastructure, partly ruined by the Bosnian 1992-95 war and partly by postwar poverty. And she plans to make Visoko attractive for investment, encouraging youth to start small businesses. It's all part of her strategy to fight the town's unemployment rate of over 25 percent. "We are proud to have elected her," says Muris Karavdic, 38, a local small business owner. "It doesn't matter whether she covewrs her head or not. She is smart and knows finances." Babic sees her victory as breaking multiple barriers, from bigotry against women in a traditionally male-dominated society to stigmatization of the hijab that sprang up under the communist regime. "Finally we have overcome our own prejudices," she says. "The one about women in politics, then the one about hijab-wearing women — and even the one about hijab-wearing women in politics."
Babic, of the center-right Party for Democratic Action, decided to wear her headscarf after her husband was killed fighting in the Bosnian Army, and views it as "a human right." Religion and hard work helped her overcome his death, raise their three boys alone and pursue a career. Babic says she is ready to work around the clock and prove people in Visoko made the right choice. This, she hopes, may clear the way for more women to follow her path. By Bosnian law, at least 30 percent of the candidates in any election have to be women, but voters have been reluctant to give women a chance. Only five of the 185 mayors elected on October 7 are women. Signs of the respect Babic commands in Visoko abound. Election posters still up around town have been scrawled with vampire teeth, mustaches or spectacles; none of Babic’s posters bear such graffiti. Older hijab-wearing women stop in front of her pictures as if hypnotized by her determined blue eyes. Some are seen crying and caressing the image on the wall. “They probably look at my picture and think of their lost opportunities,” Babic says. “They probably think: Go, girl! You do it if I couldn’t.”
The Lanarkshire Muslim woman who really is making a difference
Coatbridge’s Bushra Iqbal was asked to lead Holyrood’s Time for Reflection due to her contribution to Scots society. “When I go to my bed, if I can satisfy myself that today I have made a positive difference, then I’m happy.” It’s a simple statement, but powerful when that difference is helping hundreds of women from across different communities. Coatbridge’s Bushra Iqbal was recently chosen to lead Time for Reflection at the Scottish Parliament – a custom that gives religious and community leaders the chance to present to the country’s MSPs.
It’s an honour available to only a select few, but just another small achievement in the the mum of three’s life. Just 18 years ago Bushra was trying encourage a few women to meet with her at a local community centre. Now the founder of the North Lanarkshire Muslim Women and Family Alliance is a special advisor to Strathclyde Police and helps the Procurator Fiscal. And there’s the small matter of an MBE following her surname. “I’m a workaholic,” she said. “I’m involved in all sorts of voluntary work because of the impact it can have on real people at community level. “At the end of the day, when I go to my bed, if I can satisfy myself that ‘today I have made a difference’ then that’s me happy. That’s my passion.” The Muslim Women and Family Alliance is a social, educational and support group for Muslim women and families living across Lanarkshire and the West of Scotland and currently supports more than 100 members. When Bushra started up the group in Alexander Resource Community Centre in 1994, she wanted to help Muslim women in the community who, because of young children or various other reasons, couldn’t attend mosque. In Muslim practice, men have separate religious, educational and social gatherings. So Bushra identified a need for young women, elderly women, young girls and young boys, children and babies to have somewhere to go to 4ocialize and learn in order to integrate into the wider community in Scotland. But with Islam often being associated with religious extremism in Britain, Bushra now finds herself trying to combat the negative perception of Muslims in the community. She said: “There is no other source in our community for children to be taught their religion. Mothers who stay at home will teach them what they know, but if they haven’t been taught, how can they teach them? “And if a young person’s knowledge is restricted, that leads them to look elsewhere to learn, such as the internet, which is very dangerous and can lead to extremist ideas.”
But it’s not just in Scotland Bushra is helping young people to learn about Islam in a safe, controlled environment. In 2005 she set up a women’s centre in her home village Monan, in the Jhelum District, Pakistan, where young women can go to learn the Qur’an. And she gets up at the crack of dawn every morning, to give them an Arabic lecture at 6am via Skype (10am in Pakistan). She said: “In 2004 I visited my home village and I felt that there was no building or centre for women and young girls for their religious education or any other social activities. “My mother had left a piece of land to the village mosque and with the blessing of Allah and help from my family the ‘Monan Women’s Centre’ was built for women and girls in the village.” When her old place of work was getting new computers, Bushra took the scrapheap PCs to the women’s centre in Pakistan, along with old computer course booklets, so that the women could learn. She received an MBE in 2008 for good community relations work in the West of Scotland. But far from being satisfied with the accolade, the humble community worker was left feeling frustrated. “I am never satisfied,” she said. “I always want to do more. I feel we should have better integration and understanding in the community, and that’s still not happening as much as I would like. “At the alliance we hold free events and send out hundreds of invitations to people in the community – government officials, teachers, the police, neighbours. These have been very successful with around 80 people attending, but the turnout is never as high as we would like.” As well as managing the Lanarkshire alliance and Monan Women’s Centre, Bushra is also vice chair of the Glasgow Volunteer Centre, the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal services advisory group’s representative for the Muslim community, an independent advisor for Strathclyde police, and on the adjudication panel at the General Teaching Council for Scotland. But for her it’s not about the titles, nor the groups, nor the individual jobs. “If the work I do isn’t going to make a difference, I shouldn’t be doing it,” she said. “I just want to make a positive difference in people’s lives at community level – they’re the people who matter to me.”
And so, with little time for anything else, Bushra powers on, living her life for others with a will and determination that won’t be swayed.
Muslim women in veils run for peace
Philippine Daily Inquirer
It was a fun run where participants wore pink hijabs (head scarves) and headbands. On the eve of the signing of a landmark peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), some 150 soldiers and Filipino Christians on Sunday joined “happy” Muslim hijabis (women wearing hijabs) in a run aimed at fostering religious understanding. Dubbed “Hijab Run for Peace: Religious Understanding Now,” the event, organized by the Young Moro Professionals Network (YMPN), was also held in support of the framework agreement expected to be signed by government and MILF representatives today in Malacañang. “We are happy and grateful to the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and all our partners for working with us in promoting peace and religious understanding,” said Samira Gutoc, chair of the YMPN committee on women and appointed member of the Regional Legislative Assembly of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. “We believe that the time for peace is now,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Gutoc stressed the importance of respecting religious beliefs in advancing peace efforts and ending the secessionist rebellion in Mindanao. “Without religious understanding, we cannot have peace. It’s a way of achieving peace, especially for a minority sector like us in a Christian-dominated country,” she said. “Although we have our own distinct Bangsamoro identity, we are still part of the Filipino nation,” she added. Respect for beliefs During the event, Muslim women wore pink hijabs symbolizing their campaign to promote respect for the traditional Muslim outer garment and their religious beliefs. Citing security reasons, two private schools in Zamboanga City banned the use of the hijab and niqab, a veil that covers the entire head except the eyes, among its students in August. To show their support, other participants in the fun run wore pink headbands as they ran from the People Power Monument on Edsa and White Plains Avenue in Quezon City to the AFP grandstand in nearby Camp Aguinaldo. “Today, with our ‘Hijab Run for Peace,’ we made history by supporting both the wearing of hijab as part of our Islamic faith and the signing of the framework agreement to show that we are continuously committed to peace and empowerment of our brothers and sisters in the South,” Bai Rohaniza Sumndad Usman of YMPN said at the closing ceremony. “We have fought for peace from one generation to another. We moved forward and became proactive to create positive developments toward just and sustainable peace,” she added.
Rear Adm. Miguel Jose Rodriguez, AFP chief for civil-military operations, reiterated the military’s support for the government’s efforts in ending the armed conflict in Mindanao. “More than any other group, it is the (AFP) which is very interested in winning this peace because it is our soldiers who are being sent to the forefront. We share the suffering, misery and misfortunes in (the armed) conflict,” Rodriguez said in his speech. “This is a very good opportunity… to send out a message that we should understand… that we, as a nation of diverse people, get our unity and cooperation from our own diversity,” he said. For his part, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Jessie Dellosa said the gathering “demonstrated the favorable response to and support of the Muslim community for the signing of the framework agreement… as well as for more understanding and tolerance among every religion in the country.”
Muslim women react to Pakistan girl’s shooting ‘Malala is what the Taliban will never be,’ Pakistani-Canadian says
As Malala Yousafzai fights for her life after having a bullet removed from her neck at a hospital in Peshawar, an outpouring of shock, grief and anger has swept across Pakistan and the world. Shot by a Taliban gunman as she boarded a school bus on Tuesday, Malala was already a wellknown icon for her anonymous blog chronicling her life as a school girl in Pakistan’s perilous Swat Valley. By the age of 14, she had been recognized by international organizations and Pakistan’s own government for exposing the Taliban’s atrocities and advocating girls’ education in the face of extremism. Pakistani government officials, the army and the public responded quickly and angrily to the attacks. Schools shut their doors, candlelight vigils were held and a school in Peshawar was renamed as Malala Yousufzai Government Girls Secondary School.
In one of the country’s leading newspapers, Dawn, an editorial demanded to know why Malala had not been provided security by the government, particularly after receiving a national peace award in 2011 from then-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. “The moot question is when security could be provided to the ruling elite, why was Malala left at the mercy of militants?” it said. “Returning from school without any security guard, she was a soft target for those who wanted to eliminate her because of her thinking.” Condemnation Malala’s story also created a stir across the blogosphere and social media. Within minutes of the attack, comments on Malala’s Facebook timeline rose by the hundreds and the Twitter hashtags #Malala and #Swat were created. Amna Nawaz, a journalist with NBC News, tweeted: “Taliban added #Malala to hitlist early 2011. She continued to speak out and advocate for peace. Bravery beyond her own nation’s leaders.” Others condemned the Taliban, saying that it was time for Muslim scholars in Swat Valley to step up and publicly denounce their actions. “Over here we can say anything we want,” Amin Elshorbagy, the president of the Saskatoonbased Canadian Islamic Congress, said. “But Islamic scholars in these regions need to state in very clear terms, that don’t carry double interpretations, that these acts are not Islamic.” Raheel Raza, a Canadian-Pakistani author and consultant, said she was particularly perturbed by messages she received in response to her posting on Facebook of a public letter the Taliban wrote justifying the attack. The letter boasted responsibility for the shooting, in response to Malala’s “campaign against Islamic law and secularism.” Raza received a torrent of messages from Muslims after the posting, claiming that the Taliban were not Muslim. “Somehow if the accused is not a Muslim it’s not considered their responsibility. People distance themselves by saying they’re not Muslims,” she says. “The unfortunate truth of the matter is that they are Muslim. Saying they are not Muslims does not solve the problem. “If we go back to our history, we will see that the people who killed the grandson of the Prophet were also Muslim – and said their prayers before committing the act. But there is a deafening silence when I bring this up.” Source of inspiration To others, Malala’s story brings hope and inspiration for change. One Canadian woman wrote to a Toronto-based Muslim organization suggesting that a “Women’s Rights Day” be held in honour of Malala’s courage against the Taliban. Another group of Toronto-based Pakistani youth based in Toronto also proposed holding a demonstration outside Parliament Hill in Ottawa condemning the attack. For one Pakistani-Canadian writing in Dawn on Wednesday, Malala’s struggle for justice symbolizes hope and strength against all odds. “Malala is what the Taliban will never be,” says
Murtaza Haider, an Associate Dean at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. “She is fearless, enlightened, articulate, and a young Muslim woman who is the face of Pakistan and the hope for a faltering nation that can no longer protect its daughters.”
Indian women, students hold rallies against Taliban attack on Malala
NEW DELHI – Women, including students, and the Muslim community in particular, took to the streets of Thane and Lucknow in India’s Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh states over the weekend to protest against an attack by Taliban militants on Malala Yousafzai.
In Thane, school girls and women took part in a rally against the attack on the 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl. They said Malala should be brought to India for treatment.
One of the protesting students, Faiza, said prayers were being offered for Malala’s speedy recovery, Zee News reported.
“She was one among us, I will pray to God for her speedy recovery. We want such people in our country who fight for the rights of the women. Mumbai people will pay for her medication. I am standing in support of her because I also hate militants,” said Faiza.
Malala is still fighting for her life after being shot by Taliban gunmen in Mingora on October 9 for speaking out for progressive education based on western mode of academics as for girls.
Talking to the reporters, protester Afshan said, “The reason we have staged such a big rally is because, we want to appeal to the prime ministers of India and Pakistan to get Malala in Mumbai... Malala initiated and took stand for the rights of schoolgirls, so we are with her and we pray to God for her.”
The attack on Malala has been condemned across the world and has fuelled ire among the people specially Muslim women, who have now taken to the streets for the rights of women.
Meanwhile, young students in Lucknow also took to the streets. Talking to reporters, a protester said the entire country was united against crime and injustice.
Islamist group, Ahle Sunnat, passed a fatwa condemning the Taliban who tried to kill Malala.
Amid Glares, Female Weight Lifters Compete
Marina Dzhumaeva Women weight lifters in the United Arab Emirates, like Amna Al Haddad, are competing in what is thought of as a “man’s sport.”
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — In a private gym tucked away in the warren of villas in the ritzy Jumeirah district here, Amna Al Haddad, a 22-year-old, adjusted her head scarf, bent to a dumbbell rack and jerked 100 pounds, roughly her body weight, into the air. “I can lift a boy up,” she said. Al Haddad is one of 12 women who train as competitive weight lifters in the United Arab Emirates, combating the stigma of lifting as a “man’s sport” in the Arab country, whose local population — despite the presence of bikini-clad foreigners for decades — holds to its conservative Muslim tradition. Weight lifting is often confused with bodybuilding in the Emirates and women who take part are often seen as masculine, or lesbian, which is a crime in the U.A.E. In the summer, Khadija Mohammed, 17, became the first female Emirati lifter to make the Olympics. More conservative Emiratis say the sport “should be for a man, that your body will be changed,” said Faisal al-Hammadi, the secretary-general for the U.A.E. Weightlifting Federation. Female lifters say they are told that the sport will make them unattractive to male suitors; marriage is still considered the most important event in a young Emirati woman’s life.
“A lot of women say, ‘Wow, look at her body,’ ” Al Haddad said. “They ask me how to get lean, and when I say I weight lift, they get scared. But it’s the 21st century now. I don’t want to get married until I make the Olympics.” Her sinewy frame is a testament to the grueling daily training sessions that include clean-andjerk and snatch lifts or core and strength training. Weight lifting remains the only women’s national team of the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. “We tried to make a team with other countries like Kuwait and Bahrain, but they also faced that negativity,” al-Hammadi said. The U.A.E. allowed women to weightlift starting in 2000. In 2008, it separated the bodybuilding and weight lifting federations, lessening the decidedly unfeminine imagery attached to lifting compared with that of bodybuilding’s hulking muscles and popping veins. With support from the Dubai Sports Council, the federation has put an emphasis on the sport, recruiting athletes who would not gravitate toward lifting. In 2009, it brought in a new head coach, Najwan El Zawawi, an Egyptian who competed for her home country at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Last year, the International Weightlifting Federation lifted a competition ban on head scarves, effectively opening the sport to female Muslim athletes. In April, the U.A.E. sent a team to the Asian Weightlifting Championships in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, the first time they had competed internationally. The group performance there was good enough to win Mohammed a berth to the London Olympics, effectively placing the Emiratis on the sport’s global map. But the program is still badly underfinanced, and stigma against the female athletes is rampant. “Our resources are less than other countries with a female athlete culture, like Kazakhstan,” alHammadi said. He hopes the Olympic hype will change things, like in 2005, when Dubai hosted the Asian Weightlifting Championship. It was the first time most Emirati women had heard of weight lifting. “After that, they knew it was something they should join,” he said. “Friends, sisters joined the team together.”
It could help that the woman onstage, clean-and-jerking the dumbbell, is wearing a head scarf. Al Haddad said of her sport, “Close friends are interested now.” “People like us, when they see someone like them doing it, they can identify,” Al Haddad said. They realize that “you can still love and respect your beliefs,” but be an athlete. Hopes are high that the women’s team will eventually catch the men, who lift in a different gym at Dubai’s sprawling Al Shabab Al Arabi Club, and who number more than 35. At a recent workout, Al Haddad, in the company of a male trainer, wore full arm and leg compression skins under her shorts and a short-sleeve shirt with the word “beast” printed in bold across it, a concession to tradition. Sweat running down her face, she chugged an amino acid drink supplement and said she pushed through the pain — and the negative comments — by thinking about four things: “Focus and breathe and stretch and Olympics.” ----- * *------
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