Friday, May 8, 2015

Taliban Pledge to Amend Their Hard-Line Stance on Women’s Rights

Photo Credit: San Diego Mesa College Communications Office, San Diego Mesa College's Muslim Student Association invited students of all religions to wear a Hijab for a day.

Sexual violence another legacy of the war in Somalia
Rescued Nigerian Women Tell Tales of Hunger and Lack
Canada Wants to Make Forced Marriage a Crime
Senior Muslim scholar defends Congo Niqab ban
Mesa students wear religious head covering to help fight Islamophobia
Tension grips Mathura after Hindu girl and Muslim boy elope
Islamic loans give Gaza's women a chance to survive poverty
New York Women Plead Not Guilty in Jihadist Bomb-Plot Case
Plans announced for England’s first women-only mosque
Jubail needs women friendly gyms
Woman, 70, filmed racially abusing Muslim couple on a train - before hero blonde commuter intervened - faces fine after police track her down
Meet The Incredible 11-Year-Old Nigerian Journalist Who Interviews Presidents
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau


Taliban Pledge to Amend Their Hard-Line Stance on Women’s Rights
May 08, 2015 
AL KHOR, Qatar—When the Taliban governed Afghanistan, their repression of women was renowned: They shut down girls’ schools, kept women out of the workplace and forced them to wear face-covering, head-to-toe Burqas.
Now they are delivering a different message: If we return to power, we won’t roll back the progress Afghan women have made in the interim.
Delegates who attended a meeting with Taliban representatives in the Gulf emirate of Qatar this past weekend described a softer stance by the group on women’s rights. They said the Taliban pledged to support women’s access to school and university, as well as their right to work outside the home—even in male-dominated professions like engineering.
They also said women’s participation in politics would be allowed, and that their right to inherit, as well as to choose their own husband, would be safeguarded.
The Taliban addressed women’s rights as part of two days of informal discussions with activists and people close to the Kabul government aimed at facilitating reconciliation between Afghanistan’s warring parties.
Since the Taliban’s fall from power in 2001, the condition of Afghan women has improved, but the gains remain fragile and repressive views on women are still widespread throughout the country—including among people close to the U.S.-backed government.
And a political solution to the Afghan conflict is still far away. The Taliban are still refusing to formally speak to the Kabul administration, and the war continues in Afghanistan, with both sides, as well as civilians, suffering high casualties.
After the Qatar talks, participants said they were surprised by the apparent willingness of the Taliban delegation to compromise politically on a number of issues. The three Afghan women who took part in the discussion said they were pleased by the Taliban’s apparent opening on women’s rights, even as they challenged them on their stance.
“I told them: Under your regime, you made us to wear clothes that forced us to see the world through tiny holes,” said Malalai Shinwari, a former Afghan member of parliament, recalling how she was forced to wear the all-covering burqa. “They said they won’t make the same mistakes that they made in the past. They said they would accept the rights we have today.”
The plight of Afghan women was a rallying cry in support of the U.S.-led toppling of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Much skepticism remains about whether the Taliban would genuinely change. Memories of life under their rule are still fresh, and Taliban insurgents continue to routinely shut down girls’ schools and target women teachers, politicians and activists.
“My worry is that the Taliban have a very different understanding of women’s right to education and political participation, and that it is based on their view that women are inherently inferior to men,” said Shaharzad Akbar, a Kabul-based activist.
Nevertheless, the meeting in Qatar has allayed some concerns that women would be excluded from possible peace talks, and that the hard-won gains of the past years would be sacrificed for the sake of a deal.
“This should get rid of the excuse that women shouldn’t participate at the negotiating table because the Taliban wouldn’t come if they sat at it,” said Heather Barr, a senior researcher on women’s rights with Human Rights Watch. “But it’s not enough for them to say they wouldn’t roll back rights: We need to know what that means.”
For instance, Ms. Barr says, while the movement in recent years has relaxed its position on girls’ education, it has also insisted schools be completely gender segregated.
In an official statement released after the conference, the Taliban said the movement “is committed to all the rights of women” but also said that “their human dignity and Islamic values [should not be] jeopardized.”
Participants of the Qatar meeting—which was organized by the Pugwash Council, an organization that works on conflict resolution—described the event as a first step in the right direction, and expressed hope it could eventually pave the way to formal peace negotiations.
While the Kabul government didn’t send an official delegation to Qatar, two members of Afghanistan’s top negotiating body and several people close to the country’s political leadership attended the event.
Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai, the head of the eight-member Taliban delegation, outlined their position on women’s rights in a speech, attendees said. Taliban representatives also held informal discussions with women participants during tea breaks and meals, and were open to suggestions to hold more discussions on the issue in the future.
Among the women delegates was 24-year-old Lina Shinwari. She was six when the Taliban came to power and shut down her school. After the Taliban’s ouster, girls’ schools reopened and Ms. Shinwari was able to complete her education. She is now a criminal lawyer, and she takes up cases that no one else wants: She defends suspected Taliban insurgents.
“It was good to hear them speak about women’s rights within an Islamic framework,” she said. “It made me happy.”

Sexual violence another legacy of the war in Somalia
May 08, 2015 
AFTER 14-year-old Fatima was raped by a tuk-tuk driver, she was arrested, detained for a month and raped repeatedly by a police officer, according to the child and her aunt.
Sexual violence is widespread in Somalia and rarely prosecuted. If anyone is punished at all it is often the victim, not the perpetrator.
“We are fighting to change that attitude of blaming the victims,” said Fartuun Adan, who runs the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in the Somali capital Mogadishu, where survivors of sexual violence can find refuge, medical care and support. “There must be consequences for men who rape,” she said, but instead those who report rape are frequently arrested themselves.
When it comes to rape cases in the socially conservative Horn of Africa nation, blaming the victim is the norm — and there have been no consequences for Fatima's uniformed attackers.
A slight girl no more than five feet (150 centimeters) tall, she lives in one of the squalid camps for the uprooted that dot the city. The UN children's agency UNICEF says young women and girls in the camps are “systematically preyed upon”, frequently by armed personnel. Last year the advocacy group Human Rights Watch accused some members of the 22,000 African Union force in Somalia of rape and sexual exploitation.
When not attending the Islamic madrassa that substitutes for school, Fatima (not her real name) and her aunt would make and sell sweets.
One slow day she got in a motorized rickshaw or tuk-tuk with a plan to try selling her sweets in another part of town, but the driver took her to a quiet spot and raped her instead.
Hearing the commotion, police arrested both the girl and her attacker. Soon afterward the man was released and Fatima was accused of being a prostitute. “The police arrested me, they blamed me,” she said, her voice a whisper.
Fatima's aunt spent a month seeking her release. The officers would joke when she visited, telling her they were training Fatima to work for them as a cleaner. Fatima had become uncharacteristically taciturn, telling her aunt to abandon her, to “consider her already dead”.
Fatima's aunt said she reported what was happening to the authorities. “They said I shouldn't talk like that and must leave,” she said.
Fatima was released after the Elman Center intervened but she was traumatized by the experience and still faces the threat of a court appearance for prostitution.
“She used to be full of life and joy,” said Fatima's aunt. “She's not the same person anymore.”
“If you can't go to the police without fear, where can you go?” asks Adan.
An answer to that question is found in the Elman Center in Mogadishu, which Adan runs with her daughter Ilwad Elman.
It includes a 15-bed safe house for victims of rape and a host of other forms of sexual violence and abuse, including the near-universal female genital mutilation — the cutting off of the clitoris — and widespread forced and early marriage.
Among the current residents of the safe house is 18-year old Marian (not her real name), who was forced to marry an old man. “The decision came from my father. I had no choice,” she said.
Mariam said her husband used to beat her and she ran away repeatedly. But each time she fled home her father would send her back to her husband. In the end she “became hopeless” and attempted suicide by setting herself on fire while at her father's house. Neighbors extinguished the flames, leaving her with a web of weeping sores on her arm and across her chest.
Despite the prevalence of sexual violence, as well as the stigma and shame that frequently follows, Adan said she has seen some modest improvement in recent years. “Rape is not getting less, but people are talking about it,” she said.
“The government, the family, the clan, none of them want to talk about it,” said Adan. “But women are coming out to speak.”
“When we started talking about rape in 2010 no one was saying anything. Now it's accepted there is a problem so we're in the second phase: how do you fix it?” Somalia's draft constitution includes provisions for new laws on rape and sexual violence, and sets the minimum age for marriage at 18. But political progress is slow, and the legislation is yet to be passed.
Like much else that is broken in Somalia, the causes of the pervasive rape can be found in the decades of anarchic conflict that began in 1991 and continues in some parts of the country today. “Sexual violence is another legacy of the war in Somalia,” Adan said. — AFP

Rescued Nigerian Women Tell Tales of Hunger and Lack
May 08, 2015 
Stunned that many of them could survive the days and months of agony as hostages of the Boko Haram terrorists, many of the women who are now heaving a sigh of relief in the rehabilitation camps are still recounting their ordeals with the terrorists and the twin issues of hunger and no clothings.
Zara Malam's son Mohammed was just five months old when Boko Haram stormed their village in northeastern Nigeria and carried them off to their stronghold in the Sambisa forest.
After several months as a hostage, the boy's head is enlarged from malnutrition and crinkled skin sags from the joints of his tiny, boney body.
"They (Boko Haram) did nothing for my son and the same for the other children... No food, no clothing, no water... Not a single thing," she said as she sits nursing him under her long hijab on the floor of the Federal Medical Centre in Yola.
Zara is one of 15 women hostages injured by gunshots or landmines when Nigerian troops freed them after storming Boko Haram bases in the forest last week.
But even here in the relative safety of Yola in neighbouring Adamawa State, they still have to have armed guards on the door.
"We were so happy when the soldiers came. Now, I just want him to get well," the 25-year-old told AFP.
Zara and some of the other women sit on the ward floor, leaving the beds to the more badly injured. Cradled in their arms, are emaciated, hollow-eyed children being treated for severe malnutrition and dehydration.
The former hostages were brought to the hospital on Tuesday from the Malkohi Camp on the outskirts of Yola, where 275 women and children arrived on Saturday after their rescue from the Sambisa forest in neighbouring Borno province.
Four other emaciated children were brought to the hospital at the same time. They, too, seem too weak to cry, unlike the "unaccompanied" young boys and girls, whose wailing cuts through the air.
"When they (the rescued hostages) arrived there were not less than 100 children," said nurse Ruth Ugwu, who works at the camp's clinic.
"When we started screening, we discovered that 31 were acutely malnourished, all of them under the age of five."
Some are now gaining weight through a diet of powdered milk, vitamins, juice and oatmeal supplied by local, national and international aid agencies, she added.
The prognosis for all the children now in hospital is good, including Mohammed.
"They should be OK," said Ugwu.
But away from the concern of how to urgently revive the malnourished children through deliberate diet scheme, is the greater worry of the children who will be born to the women in the camp in the months to come. About 10 to 15 women are in the early to mid-stages of pregnancy, said retired midwife, Mary Samuel Galadima.
"They will need attention," she added.
Meanwhile, women and girls lined up to receive second-hand clothes donated by the Adamawa State government in the courtyard outside dormitories containing bunk beds and mosquito nets.
One woman, in the ankle-length robe and head covering common in the Muslim-majority north, held up a pair of silver, flared trousers with a mixture of excitement and bemusement.
Across the dusty compound, which before the new arrivals already housed some 850 people who fled Boko Haram's rampage in northern Adamawa last year, deliveries of rice were offloaded from pick-up trucks.
Bags and boxes of foodstuffs are stockpiled in the warehouse alongside mattresses, coloured buckets, instant noodles, salt and wheelbarrows.
Some former hostages lie on mats or under the shade of trees. Others sleep.
"When they arrived on Saturday, they came directly to the kitchen for a cup of tea, bread, milk and water," said Hassan Bello of the Adamawa State Emergency Management Agency (ADSEMA).
"The women with children took more."
Clearly efforts are being made to help the former hostages recover both physically and mentally. ADSEMA, its federal equivalent and organisations such as the Nigerian Red Cross are all involved.
But the violence in the north of Adamawa and across Borno and Yobe States has seen Yola's population swell by hundreds of thousands because of its reputation as a safe haven.
Many are staying with host families or friends in the city.
With no indication of when it will be safe for refugees to return, local resources are stretched, volunteers said, with more supplies and longer-term support required.
An ambulance wasn't available to take Mohammed and the other malnourished children to hospital, so Turai Kadir did it herself.
"They were in the camp for four days without doctors," the community worker said, shaking her head.
"There should be doctors for women and children to see them first before camping them in a room. Health should be a priority...
"The government can't take care of the IDPs (internally displaced people)."

Canada Wants to Make Forced Marriage a Crime
May 08, 2015 
When Jasmeet Gill looks at photos from her wedding day that took place in India 30 years ago, she's reminded of the terror and sadness she felt that day.
"You can just see it in my eyes," Gill told VICE News. It was only 10 days earlier that Gill, then 24, first met the man who would become her husband, when her parents announced that, no matter what, she would be getting married and moving to Canada. "I cried every day until the wedding, but they didn't listen. I did not want to be with this man," said Gill. "But I had no choice."
Gill had never been with a man before and didn't know what to expect. "On our wedding night, it was a scary thing, the way my husband was behaving," she said. He threatened to kill her if she didn't have sex him. A few days later, the physical abuse started. He started hitting and punching her. One day, he knocked her out completely. She was covered with bruises and her nose was broken.
In 1986, after her husband successfully sponsored her, she arrived in Mississauga, Ontario, with their seven-month-old son, hoping they would start fresh. But things got worse. Her husband started beating both of them. After three months, Gill couldn't take it and decide to get out. "He was going to kill me," she said.
At the time, she thought she had nowhere to turn for help. She didn't even know how to describe what she was going through. Now almost 20 years later, what happened to her has a name and is about to become a crime.
This week, Canada's parliamentary committee on citizenship and immigration heard from witnesses and other survivors of forced marriage about Bill S-7, the government's proposed legislation that would, for the first time, make forced marriage a crime in Canada. The bill, also known by its (widely criticized) official title, the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, is moving quickly through the House of Commons and is expected to become law in the coming months, making Canada one of about a dozen countries to criminalize forced marriage, including Germany, Belgium, Pakistan, and Turkey.
Aruna Papp, an activist and forced marriage survivor testified at the committee hearing in Ottawa on Thursday that even though Bill S-7 is not perfect, it will bring previously hidden cultural practices into the open and punish those who force women and girls to marry against their will. "This thrills my heart," she told the committee.
Yet while many women's rights groups agree that Bill S-7 is necessary to combat forced marriages in Canada, the bill also faces significant opposition from others who say it will only make the problem worse.
The difference between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage is consent. A marriage is forced when one or both parties does not freely consent to the union. Usually, one or both parties is being subjected to duress or coercion by outside forces, like members of their family or community. A forced marriage is not the same as an arranged marriage, in which it is possible for both parties to consent to the union.
Bill S-7, first introduced last November by Canada's Citizenship and Immigration Minister, will make it a crime to participate in or officiate a marriage that is forced, punishable by up to five years in prison. Special court-ordered peace bonds will be created to use against someone who is suspected of taking a child outside of Canada to get married. The new law will also make it impossible to immigrate to Canada if you are in a polygamous or forced marriage. This could also apply to women and girls fleeing these situations — rendering help even further out of reach, critics say.
The bill was introduced five months after forced marriage officially became a crime — punishable by up to seven years in prison — in the UK, where the problem is well-documented. In 2005, the UK government created its Forced Marriage Unit to respond to an increasing number of reported cases. In 2013, the unit said that it "gave advice or support" to more than 1300 people in "possible" forced marriage cases.
In Canada, however, statistics on forced marriages are scant. One of the only reports on the issue was released in 2013 by the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO), which provides assistance and legal advice to victims of forced marriage. Authors of the report interviewed workers at 30 social services agencies in Quebec and Ontario and found 219 confirmed or suspected cases across the two provinces from 2010 to 2012. Of these, 103 were Muslim, 44 were Hindu, 12 Christian, 24 were unsure of their religious identity, and five reported no religious affiliation.
SALCO is one group of many across the country that opposes the bill. Lawyers who work at the clinic argue that criminalizing forced marriages could drive the practice further underground and discourage women and girls from calling the police on family members. They also say that the Canadian criminal code is well-equipped to deal with the crimes associated with forced marriages, such as forcible confinement, kidnapping, and sexual assault. And it perpetuates harmful stereotypes about people in polygamous and forced marriages, they say. In a scathing statement SALCO released last year about the bill, signed by 15 other human rights advocates and women's shelters, the group calls on the government to focus its resources not on creating more crimes, but, instead, providing more health and social services to victims of violence.
Gill eventually divorced her husband and became a Canadian citizen. Now, 54, she works at a community centre as a counsellor for victims of domestic violence. She attends regular support meetings in Toronto with other survivors of forced marriage, and is elated by the new legislation, despite the criticism.
"I wish it had been in place at the time when I was in a forced marriage and being brought to Canada," she said. "Even if that meant I couldn't come here at all."

Senior Muslim scholar defends Congo Niqab ban
May 08, 2015 
The leader of the Republic of Congo’s highest Islamic scholars’ council has said that the council had accepted a recently-imposed government ban on the niqab (full Islamic face veil for women) out of a “keenness to preserve national security.”
“I met with Interior Minister Zefferan Mboulou on April 23 for talks on security issues, in which he said public spaces needed protection from delinquents disguised as niqabi women who carry out criminal acts,” El Hadj Djibril Habdoulaye Bopaka, leader of the country’s Supreme Islamic Council, told Anadolu Agency.
“So we accepted this measure because we care about the security of our country and our citizens,” Bopaka said. “Living in a secular country requires handling some matters responsibly.”
Interior Minister Mboulou had earlier told a delegation sent by the Supreme Islamic Council of Congo that the niqab ban – imposed in late April – was due to the “risks” posed by the full face veil, which, he asserted, “allows thugs to secretly infiltrate popular gatherings.”
The move, however, was met with derision by numerous members of the country’s Muslim community, some of whom argued that the ban violated the freedom of belief, which the national constitution describes as “inviolable.”
“We have accepted the procedure [i.e., the ban]… to preserve Muslims’ image from infiltrators who harm others while disguised as Muslims,” Bopaka said.
“In public places like markets and streets, there is a risk of infiltration by Boko Haram [militants],” he added, referring to the Nigerian militant group that has staged several cross-border attacks in recent months.
In addition to the niqab prohibition, the Interior Ministry also issued a ban on hosting foreign nationals – including Muslims from the Central African Republic and Cameroon – in mosques or other houses of worship.
The decision comes amid a major security crackdown in the Republic of Congo aimed at combating crime and illegal immigration.
About 800,000 Muslims live in the Republic of Congo, accounting for roughly 5.8 percent of the total population, according to official estimates.

Mesa students wear religious head covering to help fight Islamophobia
May 08, 2015 
San Diego Mesa College allowed its Muslim Student Association to invite students of all religions to wear a hijab for a day during April 29 in order to raise awareness toward false Muslim stereotypes. A hijab is a veil worn by Muslim women that covers their head and chest while in the presence of men outside of their immediate family as a form of modest attire. Due to false Muslim stereotypes that indicate the wearing of a hijab as oppressive toward women, The Muslim Student Association decided to hold an event that would deter these misconceptions of sexism. They elected to do so by providing female students with hijabs that they could wear all afternoon before meeting up in later that evening to discuss their experiences. According to all the Muslim women who participated in this event, they primarily choose to wear the hijab to honor the will of “Allah” (Arabic term meaning “God”) and for their own self-liberation. While these particular Mesa students said they don’t judge those who do otherwise, these women would prefer to be known solely for their personalities and not for their bodies. Although Muslim men aren’t asked to entirely cover up their bodies they are taught to lower their gaze when in the presence of another woman if they are already in a relationship , illustrating that both Muslim men and women are asked to carry out duties for their religion even if the duties aren’t exactly same. “Men and women are equal in Islam,” Hayatt Yasin, San Diego Mesa College student, said. “There is no such thing as sexism in our religion; it is utterly forbidden. When God talks about the equality of men and women, when he mentions them in the Quran he says, ‘and we believe men and women.’ He’s always mentioning men and women together.” The general consensus among most of the non-Muslim female students who decided to take part in the event was that it was very eye opening. Many felt that their peers began to look at them differently while they wore a hijab; even claiming that there were students on campus who would talk to them in a manner suggesting that these women needed help. Having now become aware of the true intent behind Muslim women wearing a hijab, students were able to grasp a better understanding toward the adversity a female Muslim in America currently endures. Several of the Mesa Muslim students indicated that what they see as the constant false portrayal of Muslim beliefs by mainstream media outlets has helped create stereotypes of Islam as being synonymous with terrorism for many American citizens. Unfortunately, because of this, plenty of Muslims in America are left to deal with unwarranted scorn and ridicule. “It’s not even just Islam,” Isaac Noorwala, San Diego Mesa College student, said. Nowadays they just want drama to make money. Look at the coverage for Baltimore or back then during Ferguson.  Whatever can cause dispute, that’s where the money is so that’s what they’re going to do.” While all of the Muslim students acknowledged that there are Muslim terrorists who believe that they are acting within their religion, these students want it to be known that they denounce those terrorists and that their false interpretation of Islam doesn’t represent the vast majority of them. The purpose of this event was meant to help improve religious and race relations across the country.Essentially, to inform people that despite two kinds of people being different they can still live amongst each other in peace so long as both groups aren’t a detriment to each other’s well-being.

Tension grips Mathura after Hindu girl and Muslim boy elope
May 08, 2015 
Tension and fear gripped the holy city of Mathura after a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy eloped from Kosi Kalan on Saturday.
The Saunkh area of the district, where the duo come from, is reeling under a curfew-like situation.
More than 50 families have locked their houses in the area and left the place, fearing violence.
The lovers had been missing since Friday. However, on Saturday, the police found the girl, who hails from Sahajua-Thok locality, and the boy Mohammad Naeem, a resident of Muslim Mandi, from Kosi Kalan.
The police had to let the duo off after members of the Muslim community surrounded them and pelted stones. Since then, an eerie silence has engulfed the area.
The situation was aggravated when members of the Hindu community convened a panchayat in Sahajua-Thok on Wednesday and called upon the police to find the girl.
While Magorra Station House Officer Vinod Kumar Mishra and Circle Officer (CO) of the Sadar area, Rajesh Sonkar, were present during the panchayat, they couldn’t pacify the situation.
Some people even attacked religious places and markets on Wednesday evening. Later, an agitated crowd demonstrated against the delay in the arrest of the Muslim boy, Naeem.
While the Circle Officer called some of them for discussion, some youths fanned across the area and forced shopkeepers to shut shops in Muslim Mandi. They also ransacked many shops and broke open the doors of houses and allegedly damaged properties.
As more people joined the mob, some of them attacked two religious places. While the police rushed to Muslim Mandi, another group of youths attacked some more houses in the neighbouring areas and ransacked a minority education institute.
Meanwhile, the state government has shifted Manjil Saini, SSP from Mathura, to Etawah. Rakesh Singh, Etawah SSP, has been sent to Mathura. The police have also shifted a large number of women and children of the locality to other areas.
A huge paramilitary and police force have been deployed there.
Laxmi Singh, deputy inspector general, who rushed to the spot to take stock of the situation, said: “Everything is in control. The police and PAC have been deployed there. The rioters have been identified and efforts are on to arrest them.”
Saunkh has been divided in four sectors for security reasons. The area borders Rajasthan, where there is huge population of the Pal community, to which the girl belongs.
Sources in the department claimed that a large number of people from Rajasthan had attended Wednesday’s panchayat.
“They have been mobilising in Rajasthan and may enter Mathura to spread violence. However, we believe that the lovers have eloped to Allahabad for court marriage,” said a police officer on the condition of anonymity.
But he also claimed that their mobile location was in Rajasthan’s Alwar on Tuesday. Satyaveer Singh, inspector-incharge of Saunkh, said: “We have registered cases against 300 people, including named FIR against 17 people.”
However, the role of police is under scanner. Even the DIG has said the police could have handled the case in a better manner.
While the police had allowed the lovers to escape, it didn’t deploy force in the area when some people called for a bandh from Sunday. Mathura has witnessed two riots in the past three years.

Islamic loans give Gaza's women a chance to survive poverty
May 08, 2015 
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Women in the Gaza Strip face increasing economic pressure as poverty rates reach up to 38.8% — particularly after Israel's latest war — and unemployment rates climb to a staggering 47%. This situation has pushed many women to become the breadwinners of their families and to seek sources of funding to establish small and sustainable enterprises by obtaining Islamic loans.
A "good," or true, Islamic loan is a loan provided by nonprofit and nongovernmental associations, offering support for women and poor families to help them out of poverty and to promote economic development. This type of loan carries a 0% interest rate, with a specified maturity date and a grace period, following the provision by the guarantor of a guarantee for the recovery of the loan value. This type of loan represents an opportunity for the poor to obtain financial services and facilities, and it encourages the marginalized workforce among women and the poor class in general to help their families.
Despite the existence of only a few lending institutions, most women resort to financial institutions to obtain these loans, also known as interest-free loans. According to the Palestinian Monetary Authority, there are nine lending institutions that have more than 62 branches and offices distributed throughout the West Bank and Gaza.
“The association implemented the good loan project to empower women who are the breadwinners of their families, as the need for such loans increases following the rise of unemployment and poverty rates among Palestinian households," Majed al-Zabda, the project manager at Rowad Society for Social Development in Gaza, told Al-Monitor. "The association’s project also aims to empower widows, who have increased in numbers following repeated Israeli wars.
“Under the financing of Viva Palestina ​​Malaysia — which aims at enhancing development and aid projects in Palestine — Rowad Society for Social Development chose 15 small enterprise proposals out of dozens submitted by women who are the breadwinners of their families and gave these women a good loan to support the first phase of their enterprise," Zabda said. "These enterprises ranged from agricultural enterprises, such as raising sheep and rabbits, and small food-processing units. Moreover, the association seeks to launch a new phase to provide interest-free loans to a new number of poor families. The project will continue to support new numbers of households through the settlement of previous loans.”
According to a 2013 labor force survey conducted by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, one out of 10 Palestinian households is headed by a woman. The survey also indicated that 10.1% of the total households in Palestine are headed by females. In the West Bank, 11.1% of families are headed by women compared to 8.1% in Gaza. Female-headed families in Palestine are relatively small in size, with the average size of female-headed households in 2013 totaling 2.8 members compared to an average size of 5.7 for male-headed households.
Hiam Zahir, 60, is one of the women who obtained such a loan, offered by Frontiers Ruwad Association. She opened a small grocery store with her 23-year-old son to ensure a source of income for herself and her 10 daughters, since Hiam’s husband, who was the family’s breadwinner, died of cancer in 2009.
Hiam told Al-Monitor, “The interest-free loans are highly beneficial to marginalized women. The best option for them is to create their own enterprise that they are able to manage under Islamic rules but away from usury, which is prohibited.”
Several poor women refuse to resort to predatory lending institutions or banks to obtain funding for their enterprises since it is prohibited by Sharia.
Maher al-Huli, a doctor in Sharia at the Islamic University of Gaza and the head of the fatwa department at the Palestinian Scholar’s League, explained why interest-bearing loans are prohibited by Sharia. “This type of loan is an exploitation of human needs, and its economic and social damage lead to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small group, to poor distribution of wealth, complacency and greed," he said. "The defaulting debtor in this kind of loan is stripped from all of his properties by the lender.”
According to Huli, “The good loan falls within the scope of humanitarian aid, as it provides relief to the needy, relieves stress and leads to good social networking between people since it does not bear interest.”
While Hiam is still at the starting stage of her enterprise, Um Alaa, 49, a resident of Wadi al-Salqa east of Deir al-Balah governorate in central Gaza, managed to run a small beekeeping enterprise. Her enterprise was financed through a loan provided by another charitable organization in 2003 and is ongoing.
“My husband was banned from working in Israel after the start of the second intifada in 2000, and this is when our economic situation started to deteriorate, especially after the numerous diseases that he contracted and prevented him from working again," said Um Alaa. "Therefore, I decided to take out a good loan to start an enterprise similar to my father’s during my childhood.”
Over the course of 12 years, Um Alaa managed the beekeeping enterprise. She started out with 10 hives and developed her enterprise to include up to 52 hives. These hives were destroyed in the war of 2007 and only eight hives remained. They were also affected by the winter storm named Alexa that hit the Middle East in December 2013, and the 2014 Gaza war, which was coupled with a ground invasion that weakened and destroyed many of Um Alaa’s hives. Despite all this, she continued to run her business.
Um Alaa said that her business faced risks after the war as the beehives were also destroyed. “One day, the bees returned but did not enter the hives, and most of them died and fell to the ground in several piles," she said. "They were poisoned by an unknown fatal type of gas capable of exterminating all forms of life in the targeted area, which the Israeli army has been releasing on several occasions on the borders of the Gaza Strip since the end of the 2014 Gaza war to be able to monitor any movement there. This was done for a security reason aimed to spoil the agricultural soil and monitor the border area to have a clear vision and spot any infiltration by any Palestinian national or resistance member.”
Um Alaa speaks about the damage to her beehives with a broken heart, as she considers the beehives as dear as one of her seven children. No one offered her compensation for the damage she suffered.
“Regardless of all the circumstances, I prefer to invest money allowed by the Sharia and to steer clear from usury and interest-bearing loans, which is totally unacceptable,” Um Alaa said.

New York Women Plead Not Guilty in Jihadist Bomb-Plot Case
May 08, 2015 
Two New York women accused of plotting a terrorist attack in an attempt to “make history” pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and distributing information about making a weapon of mass destruction.
One of the women, Asia Siddiqui, also pleaded not guilty to a charge of making false statements to investigators about contributing poetry to a jihadist magazine and about being in contact with an Islamic militant propagandist.
Siddiqui, 31, and Noelle Velentzas, 28, are among several U.S. citizens recently charged over alleged terrorist plots or attempts to join groups like Islamic State. In court documents, the U.S. alleged that Velentzas told an undercover officer that she and Siddiqui were “citizens of the Islamic State,” the group designated a terrorist organization by the United Nations.
Also known as ISIL or ISIS, the group has won control over a swath of Syria and Iraq. It also gained notoriety with broadcasts of public executions of its captives.
The women, who are in custody, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Gold during a brief appearance Thursday in Brooklyn federal court that they understood the charges against them. They said little else. Velentzas wore a dark headscarf over her hair while Siddiqui’s hair wasn’t covered.
“We’re going to fight this case,” Siddiqui’s lawyer, Thomas F.X. Dunn, said after the hearing. “We’re looking forward to discovery and we’ll see how it goes.”
A lawyer for Velentzas, Sean Maher, declined to comment.
Evolving Threat
The U.S. is part of a coalition battling Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The group, which has been recruiting young people and westerners through social media, “represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in February. At the time, she was U.S. attorney in Brooklyn.
In discussions with the undercover officer last year, the women allegedly said they were learning “science” in order to build a bomb. They later said they were reading technical books and learning about making homemade grenades, pipe bombs and pressure-cooker bombs, the U.S. alleged. The women had not made plans for a specific target, according to court papers.

Plans announced for England’s first women-only mosque
May 08, 2015 
CANTERBURY, England — The country’s first women-only mosque will open in Bradford, a 19th-century industrial boomtown and one of the most heavily Muslim-populated cities in the U.K., the Muslim Women’s Council announced.
The plan seeks to provide women with a platform where they can play a larger role in the religious life of their community, a role that would include women leading prayers on Fridays and the introduction of female imams.
“Details will be announced within the next few days,” said Bana Gora, chief executive of the Bradford-based Muslim Women’s Council.
Earlier, she told a Bradford paper, the Telegraph & Argus, that the services offered by mosques were not always adequate for women.
“Rather than complain, we decided to do something about it,” she said.
There are almost 2.8 million Muslims in the U.K., representing 4.4 percent of the population.
The announcement of the Bradford Mosque Project marks the culmination of a yearlong effort to find a suitable facility from among the city’s existing mosques. What this will cost and when the mosque will be open to the public is expected to be announced next week.
Asked how many women belong to her organization, Gora said: “A few thousand.”
Abdullah Hasan of the Holborn Mosque in central London described the decision to create a mosque for women only as “ a wake-up call to men.”
Too many mosques are run by out-of-touch males, he said.
“Some have no idea about what’s going on in the outside world,” he added. “They’re completely out of touch, politically and culturally. And let’s face it. This is not just a Muslim problem or a problem for Islam. It has taken such a long time for the Church of England to accept women as priests and bishops. So women have had a tough time of it. I completely understand why women in Bradford want their own mosque.”
An all-women mosque recently opened in Los Angeles. The Women’s Mosque of America is the first in the U.S., and it provides monthly women-led Friday jumah prayer for women and children under age 12.
Five years ago, Canadian civil rights activist, author and academic Raheel Raza became the first Muslim woman to lead a mixed-gender British congregation through Friday prayers at a small prayer session at Oxford.
She was invited by Taj Hargey, an imam and academic who offends many Muslim traditionalists because of his liberal interpretation of Islam, which includes his belief that men and women should pray together and that women imams should lead mixed congregations in prayer.
Three of the four mainstream schools of Sunni Islam allow women to lead exclusively female congregations for prayer. But the overwhelming majority of Muslim jurists are against the notion of women presiding over mixed congregations outside the home.
Women such as Raza and Goma argue that nowhere in the Quran are female imams expressly forbidden.
Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

Jubail needs women friendly gyms
May 08, 2015 
More and more women in Jubail are joining gyms to get healthy despite a lack of sports facilities in the city, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported.
As a result, many women are calling for more women-friendly gyms, lower gym membership fees and improved female-friendly privacy at centers.
Noora Al-Harthy regularly goes to a gym. She said that women in Jubail have limited access to gyms as the ones in the city are situated in far-flung areas.
“Some women get discouraged by the high fees while others are discouraged by the very unfriendly locations of these gyms. As a result, many women stay at home and don’t bother working out,” said Al-Harthy.
Rana Al-Qahtani said many women have become obese because they cannot afford to join gyms. “I’m sure women will go to gyms and become more interested if they had several options. Unfortunately, there’s a large number of women who opt for plastic surgery in order to look slim; they cannot continue living overweight and are unable to visit gyms because of the extortionate amounts that gyms charge,” said Al-Qahtani.
Just like men, women need to work out to feel invigorated and fight stress, she said, adding that many gyms are not suitably equipped to attract women and make them want to engage in physical activities.
Lujain Al-Kaltham feels gyms also need to provide facilities for disabled women and the elderly. “This is an important section of society that needs our moral support and encouragement. There are many physically challenged women who often do not go out and live bitter and boring lives as they do not have many choices when it comes to gyms,” she said.
These views were echoed by Reham Al-Saif, who complained that gyms offer limited services to women and overcharge. “Many women have recently signed up to gyms to lose weight and keep shape; this is a good indicator of high public awareness. The problem lies in the fact that most sports centers are small and are unable to handle the large numbers of women members,” she said.
“I signed up to a gym and shed 13 kilograms. But after a while, I got fed up and stopped going to the gym because I had to wait a long time to use machines. Besides, there’s no restricted time for using machines. I found that a great deal of my day was spent at the gym when I should’ve spent only an hour or two,” she said.
Khloud Al-Zain is a female trainer at a gym in Dammam. “Obese women need to spend a lot longer in order to shed extra weight and improve their fitness. Good things come to those who wait. The more a person works out, the better will be the results,” she said.
She also advised people working out to watch what they eat. “This will ensure quicker results. Some recent studies have shown that working out has the same effect as anti-depressants—working out helps women maintain a good psychological state,” she added.

Woman, 70, filmed racially abusing Muslim couple on a train - before hero blonde commuter intervened - faces fine after police track her down
May 08, 2015 
A 70-year-old woman has been slapped with a fine for racially abusing a Muslim couple on a train in Sydney last month.
A video of the shocking incident went viral when it was posted online by Stacey Eden, 23, who defended the couple and filmed it on her mobile phone after witnessing the ranter 'bullying' the commuters on an Airport Line train around 1.40pm on April 15.
Following Daily Mail Australia publishing the video last month which prompted police to look into the matter, officers spoke to a woman, from Lisarow on the NSW Central Coast, on Thursday afternoon and issued her with an infringement notice for behaving in an offensive manner on a public train.
Ms Eden switched on the video camera on her mobile phone to record the vile rant before rushing to the Muslim couple's defence with a fiery spray towards the abusive woman.
A police spokeswoman contacted Daily Mail Australia, the day after the incident occurred and the video was published, to say they would 'definitely encourage' witnesses of the incident to come forward.
In her recording of the incident, Ms Eden is heard fuming:  'She wears it (her hijab) for herself, OK!'
'She wears it because she wants to be modest with her body, not because of people like you who are going to sit there and disrespect her.' 
Ms Eden said she became really upset after the woman allegedly branded 'all Muslims ISIS supporters' and insulted the woman's husband and headscarf.
Ms Eden was not having a bar of it. 'That is not her doing it. That is a minority of people. Not a majority of people OK?
'It doesn't matter what they're doing... Have some respect, have some respect,' she said, as the woman continued on her tirade.
'It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. What's that got to do with this poor lady? What's that got to do with her?'
'Nothing,' the ranter replied.
'Exactly!' Ms Eden fired back.
'You're the one who started the argument!' the woman said.
Ms Eden then instructed the woman to be silent. 'No, you're the one sitting there saying things under your breath, shut your mouth, simple.
'You shut your mouth,' the woman replied.
'No, you shut your mouth. You've got nothing nice to say, don't say anything, simple.'
Ms Eden recorded a short snippet of the incident - not the whole alleged tirade - on her phone, ending with the passenger telling her to 'breathe'.
She told Daily Mail Australia the Muslim couple and the angry woman alighted the train at Sydney International Airport.
'I missed my stop because I wanted to stay on and make sure they were OK,' said Ms Eden, who was on her way home to Mascot.
Ms Eden said the woman was saying 'horrible and hurtful things'. 
'She told me if I was in their country I would have been stoned to death because I was wearing a dress.
'She was saying a lot of things I just got to the point where I had heard enough.'
The Muslim couple were 'very grateful' for her stand, she said.
Police and Sydney Trains have not yet received any reports of the incident.
The Islamophobia Register Australia group issued a statement praising Ms Eden's actions shortly after Daily Mail Australia's report.
'We are heartened by Stacey's actions - she is a reflection of 'Team Humanity' and we hope that her actions inspire others to stand up against racial or religious vilification,' it said.
The group said they were disappointed by the remarks of the woman in the video. 
'The sentiments expressed by the woman however sadly form part of the broader false and deeply damaging narrative whereby the criminal actions of groups like Daesh [Islamic State] are extrapolated to all 1.5+ billion Muslims'.
The group's founder, Mariam Veiszadeh, told Daily Mail Australia incidents of abuse against Muslim women were becoming increasingly common.
''I'm very conscious of ensuring that I have sufficient storage space on my phone to ensure I will be able to record incidents should I either be the victim in an incident (or a witness),' she said.
A hijab-wearing woman told the ABC last month she was subject to a physical and verbal assault on a Sydney train, with a man allegedly shoulder-charging her and hitting her with his bag and leg.
'It was a fully crowded train but nobody said anything. People were just listening. I know they were scared,' Hina said.  
As for Ms Eden, she told Daily Mail Australia she was already overwhelmed by positive comments she had received online, having posted the video just yesterday.
'Good on you for sticking up for whats right more people should be doing the same,' wrote punter Rachel Lambert.
'Well I don't know you but thank you, thank you for understanding,' said Shahiq Sarkar.
'I hope some day when you need help and are boxed in a corner someone as bright as you is there to support you just like you did for those poor souls.
'We really need to look for the best in people and understand that its a few rotten apples who try to spoil the lot.
'All the best wishes for you.'
One comment even asked: 'RU single? Lol'.

Meet The Incredible 11-Year-Old Nigerian Journalist Who Interviews Presidents
May 08, 2015 
SHE’S AN award-winning documentary filmmaker who has interviewed some of the world’s top leaders and just last month made history by becoming the youngest person to be interviewed by Forbes magazine.
But Zuriel Oduwole maintains she is a regular 11-year-old girl who enjoys nothing more than to play her Nintendo Wii and board games with her family.
“I do all the usual things like go to the mall with my mum and sisters and ride my bike with my neighbours,” she says, although she is more than aware her life differs slightly from most girls her age. “I am in a home school-based curriculum, so that allows me to get ahead in my school work and then I have some time to travel for my extra curricular programmes like my Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up programme, or interviewing leaders for my documentaries.”
Touted as the next Oprah Winfrey, Zuriel is committed to rebranding Africa by showing the positive things about the continent, and campaigning for education for girls.
Some of the high-profile names Zuriel has enjoyed exclusive one-to-one time with include Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan and her personal favourite, Prime Minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson.
“She held my hands and prayed for me and then she put me on her lap to take official pictures with her, which was very different from all the other 13 presidents and prime ministers I have interviewed.”
Zuriel, which is Hebrew for ‘God is my Rock’, believes by leading by example, girls may be inspired by her journey and do the same. That, she believes, can show her peers and the world the need to educate the continent’s often forgotten girl child.
Zuriel’s vision for her Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up programme is to inspire girls to “accomplish their dreams like me” by using it as a platform to push the influential work she is doing around the globe.
When talk moves to the future of the 200 girls kidnapped by Islamic extremists in Nigeria last month, the 11-year-old said she was both “sad but relieved at the same time.”
She explains: “Sad because I can’t imagine being taken to some strange place by some strange people, but relieved because the whole world is talking about it so maybe something can now be done.”
Keen to prove age is nothing but a number, Zuriel wants to show parents – and the world – by “using me as an example, what their children can do”.
Zuriel began pursuing documentary-making and journalism when she was nine after entering a competition in the United States, where she resides with her Mauritian mother and Nigerian father and three siblings – two sisters and one brother. The competition asked applicants to produce a documentary “about a revolution or reaction in history”.
“I knew right away what I wanted to do even though I was only nine. It was my opportunity to find a successful revolution and show the world that Africa is not all bad.”
In a typical day, Zuriel and her nine-year-old sister are made to watch an hour of news and asked to write – and later discuss – what they have heard with their parents.
“When I watch the news, I find that most of the news about Africa was always negative, so I thought I could show something that was positive like a successful revolution.”
She then began research on the Ghana revolution, the 1979 uprising which arose out of a combination of corruption, bad governance, lack of discipline in the army and frustrations among the general public. Her research took her to the African continent where she was able to interview flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, who led a coup and later became the country’s head of state.
“I had to take my own camera to interview President Rawlings, set it up, write my own questions, shoot the clips and do the editing because that was the rules of the competition,” she says. “It was hard, but I did it. Sometimes I was working late after doing my homework to complete it.”
But her hard work has paid off. Last year, aged 10, Zuriel made history by becoming the youngest person ever to be interviewed by the prestigious Forbes magazine.
“[At the time] I didn’t understand why they wanted to interview me,” she says coolly. “It wasn’t until they said even though the work I was doing for girls’ education in Africa was not about wealth creation, it was too special to ignore. They wanted it in their women’s future leader edition.
“I think it’s pretty cool now. I understand what it means and more importantly, a few months before, Mr Aliko Dangote, the richest black man in the world, who I have interviewed, was featured in the magazine. I feel really special.”
Though Zuriel hopes to explore her chances in basketball and robotic engineering, her life-long goal is to become president of the United States.
“People always ask why I don’t want to be the president of an African country, but I feel if I am president of an African country, I might be able to affect one or two other countries, but if I am president of the United States, not only would I be able to affect the United States, but most countries in the world including those in Africa and the Caribbean region. That way, I can change the way girls are educated around the world.”

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