Monday, February 15, 2016

First Muslim Woman Leads Prayer on Floor of Wisconsin Assembly

First Muslim Woman Leads Prayer on Floor of Wisconsin Assembly

Photo: The mosque will only have female imams. (Reuters/Olivia Harris)

A Women-Led Mosque in Denmark Is Eager To Challenge the Patriarchy
'Taliban Militants Publicly Flog Afghan Woman' For Going to Visit a Doctor with Her Brother-In-Law
Saudi Ministry Orders Separate Section for Female Members of Municipal Councils
Turkey's First-Time Director Öztürk’s Film about Women by Women Premieres in Berlin
UAE to Be A Part of UN's 'Every Woman - Every Child' Group
Hindu Marriage Bill Creates Row in Pakistan
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
First Muslim Woman Leads Prayer on Floor of Wisconsin Assembly
14 Feb 2016
Wisconsin, US (IINA) - A Muslim woman in Wisconsin in US offered prayers on the floor of the state assembly on Thursday in what is thought to be a first for the US state, The Express Tribune reported.
Janan Najeeb, a prominent member of Wisconsin’s Muslim community and a longtime participant in local interfaith efforts, was invited by Milwaukee Democratic Representative Mandela Barnes to offer the opening prayer.
“I’m honoured and excited. I’m also a little bit surprised because, based on what the clerk has sent, it’s safe to say I’m the first Muslim to do so,” Najeeb, who is the president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition and founder of the Islamic Resource Center, said.
Najeeb offered a general prayer as well as two citations from the Holy Qur’an that speak about the value of diversity.
She added that she hoped lawmakers “will realize that Muslims are part of the fabric of our society…and we are adding our story to the stories of the many communities that came before us and created this country.”
Barnes, who considers Najeeb a friend, said he invited her in an effort to promote diversity in what is a predominantly white, Christian body and to present a more balanced picture of Muslims than that presented in much of the current political rhetoric.
“There is just so much for us to get over in terms of our fears. Muslims want the same things everyone else wants to live peacefully, enjoy themselves and just live and breathe,” Barnes said.
Islamophobic attacks against Muslims have increased considerably after last year’s Paris attacks and San Bernardino shootings. Republic Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
Governor Scott Walker also drew outrage from Muslims and interfaith leaders when he declared during his 2015 presidential campaign that there are only a “handful of reasonable and moderate followers of Islam.”

A Women-Led Mosque in Denmark Is Eager To Challenge the Patriarchy
14 Feb 2016
Scandinavia’s first women-led mosque has just opened its doors in Denmark. It hopes to challenge Islam’s “patriarchal structures.”
The mosque in Copenhagen will be open to both men and women. However, the imams in the mosque will all be women. A similar all-women-led mosque has been proposed in the UK, and one opened last year in Los Angeles.
“Having women as leading figures in Muslim communities and mosques should not be seen as something new or surprising,” Latifa Akay, a committee member at the Inclusive Mosque Initiative, told Quartz. Instead, it should be seen as “a rediscovery and elevation of strong Islamic traditions of gender justice and equality.”
She points to Islamic feminist and reformist readings of Islam, which reveal how common Islamic laws have been influenced by subjective ideologies and cultural factors. A 40-volume biographical dictionary of female scholars in Islam, published in 2007, traces women’s crucial contributions to Islamic teachings back 1,400 years. Akay says that gender equality is at the heart of these teachings, which the Copenhagen mosque will use as its foundation.
Asma Bhol, a female imam (or imama) based in London, welcomes the Danish mosque. “It’s always nice to see other people taking this on,” she said.
She told Quartz it was after she “made a conscious effort to understand Islam” that she began her journey to become an imama and address “the large communities being excluded.” She dismisses the myth that it takes several decades to become an imam, adding that the word simply means “leader” in Arabic.
“You have to connect in a way that is pure and disconnected from the world, so it’s just you and Allah,” she said. You then build on that connection to be able to lead people and give advice.
Akay rejects the sexist interpretations of Islam that sideline women—sometimes even literally—in traditional mosque structures. Women are often relegated to small rooms that can be cramped and hard to access. Projects such as Side Entrance and the Inclusive Mosque Initiative have been keen to challenge these practices.
Bhol wants to make mosques more inclusive for LGBT and disabled people too. Since she started leading sermons and prayers, she says she’s not only been able to inspire Muslims with her inclusive message, but other faith communities too.

'Taliban Militants Publicly Flog Afghan Woman' For Going to Visit a Doctor with Her Brother-In-Law
Siobhan Fenton | The Independent | Feb 14, 2016
An Afghan woman has been publicly flogged by Taliban militants for going to visit a doctor with her brother-in-law, it has been reported.
It is understood that attackers wrongly thought that the woman had left her home with a stranger who was not a male relative, which would be contrary to some strict interpretations of Islamic code in certain parts of rural Afghanistan.
The man was also reportedly flogged. It later emerged that he was her brother-in-law.
Local media outlet Tolo News reports that the attack was videoed and footage has circulated online. They say that the video appears to show the woman pleading with her attackers and explaining that she urgently needed to visit the doctor but that her husband was not available to accompany her.
Local officials have confirmed the incident to the newspaper but said that "no one has officially filed a complaint against the Taliban."
A similar incident is alleged to have taken place in the same district last week whereby a woman was subjected to public flogging over accusations that she had had a telephone conversation with a male stranger.

Saudi Ministry Orders Separate Section for Female Members Of Municipal Councils
14 February 2016
RIYADH: The Ministry of Municipalities and Rural Affairs has ordered the allocation of separate sections for female members of municipal councils.
This was announced by Jedaie Al-Qahtani of the ministry.
“This is in implementation of Clause 107 of the 108 clauses of municipal council bylaws approved by the minister which requires sticking to Shariah restrictions when dealing with males and females,” he said.
He mentioned that all municipal council members, all over the Kingdom, should abide by this clause in meetings, workshops or any other activity.
“These venues should be provided with all equipment that facilitates communication between the members of the two sides during these activities, including closed interactive TV circuit and voice contact devices,” he stated.
This measure from the ministry has put an end to the controversy and argument over the presence of female members of the municipal councils with their male colleagues at the same table during council activities.
Some male council members strongly objected to female members sitting next to them at these council activities lately.
Male members refused to be seated at the same table with their female colleagues in a meeting of the Jeddah Municipal Council. The meeting was the council’s first since women were allowed to enter elections as candidates for municipal council membership for the first time in the history of the Kingdom.
The dispute was resolved when the two women agreed to be seated in the backseats at the meeting venue.

Turkey's First-Time Director Öztürk’s Film about Women by Women Premieres in Berlin
February 13, 2016
Selected for the 66th Berlin International Film Festival's Forum section, writer-director Ahu Öztürk's "Toz Bezi” (Dust Cloth) is one of the most significant Turkish films of the year.
The drama, which premiered on Saturday in Berlin, follows the story of Nesrin (Asiye Dinçsoy) and Hatun (Nazan Kesal), two cleaners of Kurdish origin in İstanbul as they struggle with a tough economy, the clutches of class division in the high-end İstanbul houses they work in and, on top of that, personal problems.
The film, both delicately and firmly, touches on some very topical contemporary social issues in Turkey. It also comes out as a very humane and witty female drama that manages to surpass the local to become a universal, heartfelt story.
Sunday's Zaman spoke with director Ahu Öztürk in the freezing Berlin weather ahead of the film's premiere about the process of making her first film and the state of independent Turkish cinema.
Can you talk about where you got the idea for “Toz Bezi”? And how did the creative process begin for you?
I was actually writing another feature-length screenplay when one day one of our distant relatives came to visit my young son. My son has green eyes and a fair complexion, so she said, "Of course it must be the Circassian blood in your family." She said this very calmly and determinedly, but I just couldn't say anything really. I couldn't say "No, we're Kurdish!" because it would just seem odd in the situation, and I just went along with it. I thought about this sentence for a couple of days, then I threw out the other story away and started writing this one. I created the character of Hatun from this sentence, and the only thing I knew when I started the process was Hatun's character. Then I added Nesrin. I made both of them house cleaners, the reason being that I am very familiar with the concept of workers and the hidden exploitation of these workers since my aunt had worked as one. It is a subject I'm very sensitive about. Maybe because I also feel a bit guilty, since I come from a poor background, though I later moved up in the socioeconomic ladder. I also had this huge anger towards middle-class women, those who hired these workers. In the first couple drafts this anger was uncontrolled but later I managed to take it to an esoteric place, and balanced my anger. This process was very difficult, to be honest. But the thing I worked on mostly in the screenplay were the characters as opposed to plotting, because I knew that if I had my characters laid out the story would come.
And how long did it take to complete the whole project?
Well, the writing took three years. In between I got pregnant and had a child. Then, after we got the support of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism's production fund, I worked with the actors for an entire year. The editing took another year. So it was five years in total. Really long, isn't it!
Well, that's how the process goes with independent cinema, isn't it? How about the casting? Nazan Kesal and Asiye Dinçsoy are spectacular as the two main leads who commute every day from the edges of the city to the high-end neighborhoods of Moda and Bağdat Caddesi. I can't imagine anyone else in the role.
I always imagined Asiye as Nesrin during the writing process. For Hatun, the older lady, I didn't have much hope because I was really scared that we couldn't find anyone for the role. I thought one day that it could be Nazan Kesal, but how would we reach her? Funnily, a couple days later she saw in the papers that we were going to shoot the movie and she called us! She said she would want to meet up and read the story. From then on, we knew it couldn't be anyone else for Hatun. She also really wanted the role. Nazan has a very wide range in her acting. Every day during the set, I could see this and I was amazed by her.
This is your first feature film. What was the hardest part of this journey?
The fact that I didn't know much about the technical process and that I wasn't a very hands-on person regarding this matter really scared me. Sometimes it was tough. But our cinematographer, Meryem Yavuz, was a huge source of support and she always very understood. She really understood the world I was exploring and she put in everything to make it the best possible. We also did a lot preparation with Meryem before the shoot, so that really helped. And because I knew the characters really well, the process wasn't so thorny. Normally I'm an indecisive person and I have difficulty asking people to do something, but for the film I was very clear about what I wanted.
On that note, we can call this project not only a female story, but also a film made by women right? Your cinematographer is a woman, your two producers Çiğdem Mater and Nesra Gürbüz are women. Almost all the decision-makers are of the female gender. Was this an intentional choice?
Of course, these choices were all intentional. I believe that a woman's perspective is entirely different and unique. I think they are more intuitive and have a capacity to see the subtext and the layers behind a situation. I respect very much the labor of women. So that's why I was careful to collaborate with these very talented women.
There are two very important themes in your film, one being class division and the other the Kurdish issue and the identity issues that come with it. Both themes are organically intertwined, in a balanced way.
There's a lot of layers to this story. The female issues, the class and the Kurdish issue. And also motherhood is a small parenthesis within the story. All these issues are my personal issues. My father was a political person, so I've been well aware of the Kurdish issue from a small age. Secondly I come from a poor family. But the most important thing here is that these issues are not invisible. I mean Kurds are really a part of the backbone of the city. Kurds are the construction worker, the trash man, the cleaner, etc. These two issues are organic by nature. There's also the struggle to make it in a big city as an immigrant. I really worked hard on these elements while writing the story, I mean, I didn't want to be frantic about it or have an in-your-face style, I wanted it to be organic and real. But it was tough to try to achieve balance.
Did you work with a script doctor?
Shortly before shooting we worked together with Gülengül Altıntaş. She was a great help, and of course she's a woman! I felt very much imprisoned in the gates of hell because I wasn't sure if it worked, but she pulled me up and guided me in the right direction. She was very supportive of the story.
Are you happy to be in Berlin? Did your film's selection come with a relaxation and relief?
Of course! I mean this is an independent film so you're aware your film is not going to be a box-office hit, so it's important that the film finds the right avenue, like this festival. You can't make movies for yourself; no one is going to invest so much money because you want to do something personal. Being in Berlin is very encouraging. Your story has a mission, and you want the story to reach people. "Toz Bezi" is also a political story and in that sense I am relieved that the film's political stance has gained visibility. I hope that I have contributed a helping hand to the struggle of the female house workers.
Do you think people in other countries, especially in Europe, will relate to the story?
When I first started the project, I was afraid that the international audience wouldn't relate, because of the specificity of the local characters. But we realized that especially many female producers from Europe immediately understood the story, perhaps because there's a similar issue, in which immigrants in Europe work as house cleaners. Deep down, there is an exile story, and I think especially Europeans today are familiar with this exile within their own geography. Beyond that, the power dynamics between all the female characters are very universal. The concept of power, being in power, exploiting power is a very human element that everyone experiences daily.
‘Not a typical employer-employee relationship'
Have you seen Emel Çelebi's 2014 documentary "Külkedisi Değiliz!” (Ain't No Cinderellas!) about a group of female house workers' struggle for their right for social security? What do you think about that film?
I love that documentary! I was so happy to see it. Because of that documentary many house workers got organized and fought for their rights, and the documentary actually had an effect in the public sphere. You see, the exploitation behind employing house cleaners is a very odd one, because it's not a typical employer-employee relationship. It's more like an elder sister and younger sister relationship. The cleaner calls her employer "sister" but this "sister" refuses to pay the cleaner's social security and instead gives her a bag of used clothes. Then the cleaner is grateful. I mean, there is this really complicated relationship, but nevertheless a power dynamic. That documentary achieved in exploring these dynamics.

UAE to Be A Part of UN's 'Every Woman - Every Child' Group
February 14, 2016
The members were drawn to include global representation from government, the business community, philanthropists, young people, civil society and multilateral system.
The United Arab Emirates has received a formal request from Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, to join the High-level Advisory Group for 'Every Woman - Every Child' affiliated with the UN, which was announced by the UN Secretary-General last month in Davos.
This came in a letter received by  Shaikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women's Union (GWU), Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation (FDF) and President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, in this regard.The choice of inviting the United Arab Emirates to membership of this global institution reflects the outstanding efforts and initiatives implemented by the UAE in the field of women and children care and protection.The UAE has nominated Reem Abdullah Eisa Al Falasi, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, as a representative of the country in the Advisory Group.
In her reply to the message sent by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Shaikha Fatima bint Mubarak hailed the considerable efforts undertaken by the United Nations in the field of women and children care and protection.Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood confirmed that the nomination of the UAE for membership of the UN Advisory Group is a major global recognition reflecting the outstanding stature achieved by the UAE in various fields.
The High-level Advisory Group advises the Secretary-General, guides the transition of the 'Every Woman - Every Child' movement and the newly launched Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health, and will link to other advocacy or advisory groups to encourage collaboration and integration with relevant areas of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The group is co-chaired by Michelle Bachelet Jeria, President of the Republic of Chile, and Hailemariam Dessalegn, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, and two alternate co-chairs, Tarja Halonen, former President of the Republic of Finland and Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania.
The members were drawn to include global representation from government, the business community, philanthropists, young people, civil society and multilateral system, and reflect the diversity of the 'Every Woman - Every Child' movement.

Hindu Marriage Bill Creates Row in Pakistan
February 14, 2016
Islamabad,(IANS) A clause in the draft Hindu marriage bill, which states that a marriage will be annulled if either spouse converts to another religion, has triggered vehement contest between its opponents and supporters in Pakistan.
Seeking an end to the controversy, Senator Nasreen Jalil, chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice, has called a meeting of the panel to discuss the matter, Dawn online reported.
The draft legislation has been passed by the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Law and Justice.
Senator Jalil said: "We would like to discuss the matter. If there is a consensus, the committee will forward its recommendations to the speaker of the National Assembly to get the clause deleted."
At its meeting on February 8, the National Assembly Standing Committee witnessed serious opposition from Mohammad Khan Sheerani, the Jamiat Ulma-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), to the clause.
But Shugufta Jumani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Ali Mohammad of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) clearly said if any of the spouses embraced Islam, the marriage should be terminated.
Clause 12(iii) says a marriage would be annulled if either spouse converts to another religion.
The patron-in-chief of Pakistan Hindu Council, Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, said the matter was related to the basic human rights of Hindus in Pakistan.
“There are fears the clause will be misused for forced conversions of married women the same way young girls are being subjected to forced conversions," he said.
He referred to the kidnapping of teenage Hindu girls who were then presented them in courts with a certificate that she had married after converting to Islam.
PPP Senator Taj Haider opposed the idea in the law.
"I do not understand how the marriage will be annulled if any of the partners converts to Islam," Haider said, adding the clause will also discourage cross-marriages.
Civil society activist Kishan Sharma, who is also the chairman of REAT Network, an independent civil society organisation, said this clause was added by the CII and it was not a part of the original draft.
“The key concern is that only one option of dissolution of marriage has been included in the law and that too where the partners might be willing to live together despite different faiths."
“As societies change, attitudes of individuals also change and even now we see youths belonging to Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities deciding their fate to live together," Sharma said.
"But stopping this change through laws will only add to discontent and frustration in society," he said.

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