Said Foundation’s Amal programme supports cultural initiatives to increase
understanding of Muslim communities in the UK. Its projects include storyteller
Eleanor Martin’s Theatre Without Walls. Courtesy Amal - Saïd Foundation
Rise of the Female Imam in France?
Say Women's Rights to Be Protected Under Islam, But Must Not Threaten Afghan Values
Francis Acknowledges Priests and Bishops Have Sexually Abused Nuns
Bakes Halal Mooncakes for CNY, Sales Rocket and Good Fortune Follows
Are Not a ‘Political Tool’: Afghan Women on Taliban Talks
These Muslim Activists Found at the Women’s March
Surviving Daesh Militia, Yazidi Women Ask To Go Home
by New Age Islam News Bureau
Hijabi Monologues: The Young Muslims in Britain Using the Arts to Reclaim Their
you know what it’s like to represent a billion human beings every day?” asks
Zainab Hasan. “It’s exhausting,” she tells the audience, brows raised,
incredulous that she’s expected to answer for an entire world religion.
Shifting her abaya to show patterned pyjamas underneath, she rails against the
pressure to pick outfits “for public relations purposes” and to prove that she
isn’t an “oppressed” Muslim woman.
performance of I’m Tired, written by Sahar Ullah, is part of Hijabi Monologues
London, a series of stories drawn from the experiences of Muslim women. The
tales are sometimes funny, and sometimes angry or sad, as they recount the
feeling of being watched on the Tube, confronted by strangers – or even
instances when they’ve assumed the identity of an imaginary superhero to face
the dangers of being a hijab-wearing woman in London.
they peel away the stereotypes and remind the audience of the different
cultures encompassed by a vast global faith. In Britain, where Muslims
represent the fastest growing minority group – accounting for a third of the
country’s black, Asian and minority ethnic population – young creatives are
finding ways to reclaim their representation in the country’s theatres, art
galleries, concert halls and community centres.
the arts to promote a nuanced portrayal of Muslim communities
Office figures show recorded hate crime has more than doubled in England and
Wales over the past five years, with more than 50 per cent of religiously
motivated attacks directed at Muslims. The Hijabi Monologues is part of a
growing body of work that is harnessing the arts to promote a more nuanced
portrayal of Muslim communities in an increasingly polarised political climate.
2017, it was among 39 projects to receive a grant from the Said Foundation’s
Amal programme, which supports arts and cultural initiatives to increase
understanding of Muslim communities in the United Kingdom. Grants were
distributed across genres including music, drama, poetry and dance to projects
that foster a stronger sense of belonging among British Muslims and improve
their access to the arts.
report by the Said Foundation on Amal’s first year shows the impact of the arts
in creating common ground. At the Stratford Circus Arts Centre in the London
borough of Newham, a small grant from Amal was enough to forge links with the
local mosque for a shared storytelling project, connecting neighbours who had
never met, over cups of tea.
report also contributes to a mounting body of evidence that underscores the
ability of the arts to “strengthen social cohesion by promoting empathy for
others”. It cites the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which described the
scope of cultural engagement as being able to “break down perceived barriers
between generations, between neighbourhoods, social classes and different world
of the biggest problems for Muslims in the West is lack of cultural capital,”
says Luqman Ali, co-founder of London’s Khayaal Theatre Company, which runs
dramatic productions inspired by Muslim world culture and heritage. It’s only
when this imbalance is redressed and Muslim artists become more visible that
these misconceptions will be dispelled, he says.
as a powerful medium for cross-cultural exchange
October, the British Museum unveiled the Albukhary Foundation Gallery,
showcasing a range of remarkable riches from across the Islamic world. Part of
the permanent collection, the eclectic display of art, archaeology, books,
textiles, games, scientific instruments and other artefacts conveys the
interaction between different cultures that characterised the evolution of
Islam across the ages.
helps to facilitate connections between grassroots enterprises and established
institutions such as this, to enhance Britain’s cultural landscape with an arts
scene that better reflects its diverse social fabric. Success stories include a
production of Othello by English Touring Theatre, a company that made its
international debut at Dubai Opera last week.
play invites viewers of all backgrounds to engage with one of the great
classics of western literature. “We’ve taken something that is central to
mainstream British culture and subverted it to show that this is a
multicultural play,” its director, Richard Twyman, says.
this version, Othello conceals his Islamic identity from a western society that
fears his faith. Keeping his prayer beads hidden, he encapsulates the
outsiders’ struggle to integrate while staying true to his beliefs.
storyteller and actress Eleanor Martin was with Amal in 2017 at Greenbelt, an
annual Christian festival that has been running for 45 years. Muslim arts are
not a regular feature on its programme, but the Amal tent was “heaving”, says
Martin, who captivated the audience with the true tale of a persecuted Muslim
community given refuge by a Christian king in the early days of Islam.
are a powerful medium for cross-cultural exchange because they “remind us of
our shared humanity,” says Martin, who is also an associate director at Khayaal
Theatre, which received a grant from Amal in 2017 to deliver its Theatre
Without Walls project – a series of multifaith drama workshops – across the
country. This enabled them to engage a large Muslim audience, many of whom were
experiencing theatre for the first time. Dozens of families also contacted
co-founder Ali afterwards to enrol their children in drama and storytelling
a bright future for Muslims in the arts
Luqman Ali launched the theatre back in 1997, there were very few Muslims on
the scene. “It was barren terrain,” he recalls. Since then he has seen a
notable rise in Muslim engagement with the arts, but representation remains
disproportionate and role models scarce for a generation of upcoming artists
seeking inspiring acts to follow. Prejudice and discrimination are compounded
by recent budget cuts across the creative industries, which have had a
particular impact on minority groups, he says.
partnerships with the Southbank Centre, Cheltenham Festivals, Bradford
Literature Festival and others, aim to remove some of the barriers for young
Muslims participating in the arts. The Said Foundation’s report states that
around two-thirds of British Muslims are aged 30 or under, and that this
“overwhelmingly young demographic represents a great prize in terms of their
potential contribution to the future of the country”.
and poetry are particularly effective in engaging a younger crowd. As part of
Makrooh, a Muslim creative collective that runs open mic nights in North
London, performers find expression through music, verse and other mediums.
Spoken-word artist Fahima Hersi, a regular headliner at the collective’s
events, described art and creativity as “the best place to bridge the gap
between people of different groups” in an interview with The National last
events also offer a safe space to explore sensitive subjects, giving young
people a voice they might otherwise lack. Without it, there’s a danger that
people can start to feel excluded and become more marginalised, says Abid
Hussein, director of diversity at the Arts Council England and an advisor on
the Amal board.
there has been a low uptake in the arts among British Muslim communities, but
that’s beginning to change among generations born and brought up in the UK.
“More and more British Muslims feel that Britain is their home and want to
contribute to the wider cultural landscape of the country,” he says.
starting to happen now and it gives me a lot of optimism for the future.”
submitted a proposal in November 2018 to construct a house of worship known as
the Fatima Mosque, where weekly prayers would alternate between a male and
female imam. Congregants of both sexes would be invited to attend the service,
although they would be separated on different sides of the main prayer hall.
proposal, which is in the initial stages of securing financing and a possible
site for the mosque, was co-sponsored by Faker Korchane, a freelance journalist
and philosophy professor.
39, has a doctorate in Islamic studies from France’s prestigious École Pratique
des Hautes Études. She said she was driven to become an imam because she feels
out of step with how Islam is taught in traditional and hardline Salafist
major problem with Islam today is that it is viewed through the lens of a man
whose understanding of society is patriarchal, if not misogynist,” Bahloul told
FRANCE 24 in an interview in January. “We should be able to approach religious
texts differently in the 21st century.”
important that Muslim women make themselves heard, that they take their place
in houses of worship,” she added.
has fought for years against what she described as “misogynist Salafist
rhetoric and other conservative factions in Islam”. But it wasn’t until the
November 13, 2015 terror attacks in Paris that she felt compelled to become an
was so shocking I told myself that I had to do something as a French Muslim,
and as a woman,” Bahloul recalled.
many mosques do not allow women to enter the main prayer hall, let alone lead a
lot of people aren’t ready for a woman to take leadership, especially when it
comes to religion,” Bahloul said.
Delphine Horvilleur, a model of progress
would be far from the first woman in the world to become an imam. In China, the
Hui Muslims have a tradition of female imams and mosques, while women have also
been known to lead prayers in the United States, Canada, South Africa, the
United Kingdom and in other European countries.
most recently, Sherin Khankan made international headlines in 2016 when she
became Denmark’s first female imam, with some hailing her as the future of
of these women come from a more progressive, reformist version of Islam that
embraces female imams. For them, there is no theological argument against a
woman leading prayer.
the issue is not so simple for everyone. Sylvie Taussig – a researcher with the
French National Centre for Scientific Research who recently co-authored an
article on female imams for The Conversation website – said that there is still
room for theological debate over how the role of imam can and should be
female imam conducts marriages (the equivalent of a civil ceremony in Islam),
but does not perform funeral prayers (which requires the presence of an imam),”
went on to point out that because of all the attention Khankan had received in
the press and on social media, she has come to be known more as a symbol of
change rather than an agent of it within the Muslim community. Taussig argued
that the Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, leader of the Liberal Jewish movement of
France, is a far better role model for progress.
Benzine, a prominent scholar of Islam, also praised the strides Horvilleur has
made in a profile of the rabbi that recently appeared in French newspaper Le
Horvilleur has done a lot of good for French society. She’s not encapsulated by
her community. I know a lot of young Muslim women who read and admire her work.
She speaks first and foremost as a woman. She just happens to be Jewish. We
need female imams like her to shake things up,” Benzine said.
now appears this may be just a question of time. In addition to the Fatima
Mosque, the founders of the Voice of Enlightened Islam organisation, Eva
Janadin and Anne-Sophie Monsinay, have also submitted a proposal for another
inclusive mosque. The two women hope their Simorgh mosque will embody a more
progressive, non-traditional form of Islam by housing “an entirely mixed
congregation”, where men and women can sit side-by-side at prayer.
Say Women's Rights to Be Protected Under Islam, But Must Not Threaten Afghan
peace negotiators have said they are committed to guaranteeing women their
rights under Islam - but failed to dispel fears that any deal will lead to a
roll-back of the fragile freedoms gained by women in the past 17 years.
envoys said their movement wanted to protect the rights of women “in a way that
neither their legitimate rights are violated nor their human dignity and Afghan
values are threatened”.
lead negotiator, Sher Mohammed Abas Stanekzai, went on to criticise women's
rights activists for undermining Afghan traditions, prompting concern from
insurgents' representatives used talks with Afghan opposition figures in Moscow
to outline their stance on some of the thorniest issues facing any political
well as demanding an end to the American “occupation”, the 10-man Taliban
delegation demanded a new constitution. The current one had been imposed by the
West and must be replaced with a new governance based on “Islam, national
interests, historical achievements and social justice,” Mr Stanekzai said.
also laid out where the movement stood on women, who were denied education,
employment, or the ability to leave the house alone during the Taliban's 1990s
Stanekzai said the Taliban movement “considers woman as the builders of a
Muslim society and is committed to all rights of women that have been given to
them by the sacred religion of Islam.”
said Islam gave women rights in areas including “business and ownership,
inheritance, education, work, choosing one’s husband, security, health, and the
right to a good life”.
he denounced “so-called women's rights activists” who were encouraging women to
break Afghan customs.
to corruption, the expenses brought and spent under the title of women rights
have gone to the pockets of those who raise slogans of women rights,” he said.
the name of women rights, there has been work for immorality, indecency and
circulation of non-Islamic culture. Dissemination of western and non-Afghan and
non-Islamic drama serials, paving the way for immoral crimes, and encouraging
women for violating Afghan customs are other instances that have been imposed
on Afghan society under the name of women rights.”
women fear a peace deal will see rights enshrined under the Afghan constitution
bartered away as part of a settlement. The constitution currently guarantees
full equality with men, though in practice they still face severe
discrimination. In Taliban-controlled areas girls are now often allowed to
attend primary school, at the insistence of local leaders, but must frequently
stop at puberty.
rights campaigners said it was unclear from Mr Stanekzai's remarks that women
would be any better off than they were in the 1990s.
Frogh, a women's rights activist, said: “While [the Taliban] are not ready to
talk to women, they keep making laws for them.”
Taliban spokesman said earlier this week that the movement would allow women to
take part in “medicine, education, and other aspects of social life” outside
Francis said Tuesday that the Roman Catholic Church had a persistent problem of
sexual abuse of nuns by priests and even bishops, the first time he had
publicly acknowledged the issue.
nuns have accused clerics of sexual abuse in recent years in India, Africa and
in Italy, and a Vatican magazine last week wrote about nuns having abortions or
giving birth to the children of priests. But Francis had never mentioned it
until he was asked to comment during a news conference aboard the papal plane
returning to Rome from his trip to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
true,” Francis said. “There are priests and bishops who have done that.”
said that it was a continuing problem and that the Vatican was working on the
issue and had suspended some priests. “Should more be done? Yes,” Francis said.
“Do we have the will? Yes. But it is a path that we have already begun.”
answering the question, Francis recalled that his predecessor, Benedict XVI,
had been “a strong man” who he said had sought to remove priests who committed
sexual abuse and even “sexual slavery.”
said that he, too, wanted to move forward on the issue of the clerical abuse of
nuns. “We’re working on it,” Francis said. He also expressed willingness to
mediate in the Venezuela political crisis, if both sides wanted it, and talked
about his historic trip to the United Arab Emirates. But the pope generally
avoided specifics about his conversations with officials in the United Arab
Emirates about their involvement in the war in Yemen or his efforts to tackle
abuse in his church.
about Yemen, where his hosts are allied with Saudi Arabia in a brutal war that
has brought devastation to civilians and has starved tens of thousands of
children, the pope said that he had the chance in his roughly 40-hour visit to
broach the issue with only a few people. But, he said, he found “goodwill” on
the part of the Emirates to “start a peace process.”
also said he was not bemused by his hosts’ welcoming ceremony, which included
jet fighters screaming overhead. “I interpret all the gestures of welcome as
gestures of goodwill,” he said. “Everyone does it according to their culture.”
majority of the pope’s visit was focused on interreligious dialogue with the
Muslim world, and it culminated with his signing a sort of manifesto for
brotherhood between the faiths between himself and Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam
of Egypt’s influential Al-Azhar mosque.
about the conservative criticism that he had been Pollyannaish in his approach
to the Middle East and been taken advantage of by the Muslim sheikhs, Francis
joked, “Not only the Muslims,” and noted that his critics felt he had been
manipulated by just about everyone. But he said the document he signed was on
strong theological footing.
want to say this clearly, from a Catholic point of view, the document has not
moved a millimeter” from church teaching codified in the Second Vatican
Council. He said he took the extra step of having the document vetted by a
tough Dominican theologian in the papal household, who approved it. “It’s not a
step backward,” he said. “It is a step forward.”
also made it clear that he had continued to voice his concerns about the
persecution of Christians in the region — which he said his flock knew all too
well — but that either “me or another Peter,” meaning a successor pope, would
surely visit more Muslim countries.
Tuesday, the pope celebrated Mass at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi
before roughly 135,000 Catholics, many of them migrants from India, the
Philippines and South America, who had come to the Emirates to work.
Mass, also attended by 4,000 Muslims, was the largest public celebration of a
Christian rite in the history of the Muslim country, where the worship of other
faiths is tolerated but is not typically done so publicly.
next major event on the pope’s schedule is a meeting with presidents of the
world’s bishops’ conferences at the end of February in Rome to focus on a
response to the global sex abuse crisis that is threatening the pope’s legacy
and the moral capital that is the currency of his pontificate.
pope is less than eager to receive questions about the issue. But he mentioned,
in his positive appraisal of the United Arab Emirates, that it had held a
conference last year on the protection of children from online predators.
“Pedo-pornography today is a big-money industry,” the pope said.
JAYA: Mooncakes are not difficult to find in Malaysia but the ones Farizah
Jaafar bakes are special.
many containing yolks from salted duck eggs to represent the moon, are
traditionally eaten while moon-gazing during the Chinese mid-Autumn festival.
as they are also given to elders as a mark of respect, they often appear at
family gatherings for Chinese New Year.
mooncakes and all of the other Chinese cakes and cookies Farizah bakes are
different – they’re halal.
37, has always enjoyed cooking and could bake various type of cookies, cakes
and biscuits from the age of 11. Her friends always loved eating her baked
few years ago, she started getting requests from Malay friends who wanted halal
mooncakes but couldn’t find any.
one to turn down a challenge, she taught herself how to bake them with the aid
of YouTube tutorials.
Farizah, originally from Melaka, was turning out batches of halal mooncakes in
her tiny kitchen in Petaling Jaya.
Muslim friends bought all she could bake and kept ordering more.
got around about how good her cakes were and soon Indian and Chinese customers
joined the queue.
business began to take off. Her husband, Abu Huzaifah Ismail, worked as a
rubber tapper at that time. Sometimes after work, he helped her deliver
mooncakes and cookies to her local customers.
posted about her cakes online and was soon receiving orders. She and her
husband boxed up the cakes and sent them through Pos Laju.
took orders and baked even while pregnant. But it was difficult to keep up with
in quantity was hard in KL, as we only had a small place. The rent for a bakery
shop was too pricey for us.”
2015, they moved to Jempol in Negeri Sembilan with their six children. “A large
house is much cheaper here. The kitchen in our new house is enormous. Plenty of
room for baking.”
realised her new neighbourhood had no bakery shop. So she decided to start one
was tough in the beginning as we had only limited money to kit out the kitchen.
We used our savings to buy everything we needed,” she recalled.
with a large, well-equipped kitchen she was ready to move her business up a
husband quit his job and together they turned baking into a full-time business.
children help too, when they’ve finished their schoolwork. It seems impossible
but it works because we have each other.”
bake various types of cookies and cakes. At Chinese New Year, I receive so many
orders for mooncakes.
can get them in different flavours including pandan, salted egg, red bean, Oreo
and even durian.”
also bakes tau sar piah – Hokkien bean paste in flaky pastry – and the
bite-sized biskut tambun, a Penang favourite. Also on the menu are Chinese
almond cookies and special Hello Kitty cookies.
started a baking class for women who live nearby, and there’s also a distance
learning course through Pendidikan Jarak Jauh Malaysia.”
she is a successful businesswoman, with a substantial Facebook and Instagram
presence, but she is still a hands-on baker and insists on doing everything
herself from buying the ingredients, to preparing and baking.
of her Chinese customers like to order halal rather than regular mooncakes when
the festival season comes around.
thinks it’s probably because they want to be hospitable to their Muslim friends
who visit and celebrate with them.
worn a hijab from the age of 29, Farizah, now also known by her celebrity name
Kak Fie, changed to a niqab a year ago. She said she always wanted to wear one
but it took her a while to build the confidence to do it.
first, it was difficult moving around in her niqab but she’s comfortable
wearing it now and only takes it off at home.
cooking students are all women but she still wears her niqab in class just in
case one of their husbands drives their wives to the class.
hard work has finally paid off and she has appeared on morning television to
demonstrate baking her now famous mooncakes. Although, it would be wrong to
call her a recognisable celebrity on the show, as she wore her niqab throughout
her spot, with only her eyes visible.
opened the popular Si Manis Café and Bakery in Jempol, though her other
increasing number of commitments mean she can’t devote much time to it.
her fame spreads, she is getting a lot of invitations to demonstrate and teach
am very busy teaching classes up and down the country and even abroad. I have
just received an invitation to teach in Jakarta, Indonesia, which I’m looking
having to put my bakery shop and café on hold for a while so I can focus on my
she dons her niqab and sets out to teach another class, she reflects on her
decision to cover up. “Although I wear a niqab, I’m quite comfortable in it
now, and it has not negatively affected my business.”
fact it might even be a selling point, as although niqabs are meant to shield
the wearer from attention, wearing one could be making her and her halal bakery
products stand out from the crowd. And that’s got to be a good thing.
who lived under the harsh rule of the Taliban urged senior Afghan politicians
to ensure their hard-won freedoms are not bargained away when they talk peace
with the insurgents on Tuesday.
Afghan Women’s Network said their rights should not be used as a “political
tool” in dealings with the Taliban, who barred women from schools and jobs and
drastically curtailed their personal liberties when they ruled Afghanistan from
1996 to 2001.
appeal comes as the Taliban meets with a high-ranking Afghan delegation in
Moscow, and a week after the insurgents held unprecedented talks with United
Taliban said the Moscow meeting -- their most significant with Afghan
politicians in recent memory -- would discuss the withdrawal of foreign troops,
peace terms and its vision for governance.
two-day gathering is separate from the US-Taliban negotiations in Doha in
January, that ended with both sides touting “progress” and a draft framework
which could pave the way for peace talks.
representative from President Ashraf Ghani’s government -- which the Taliban
considers a US puppet -- was invited to either occasion, angering officials in
women, also largely excluded from the table, fear seeing their hard-won rights
eroded if negotiators seek a hasty truce with the Taliban.
should not be used as a political tool by these politicians. If they (Taliban)
return and impose restrictions on women, we will not accept that,” Mashal
Roshan, a coordinator from the Kabul-based women’s network, told AFP.
the past 17 years Afghan women have gained some hard-won achievements. We don’t
want to lose that. It’s our right to go to school and to work, and everyone
should respect that.”
a statement ahead of the Moscow meet, the network said they would not accept
peace at the cost of their freedoms and urged delegates to defend the rights of
half of Afghanistan’s 35 million people.
is no need to reinterpret Afghan women’s lives,” the statement said.
their brutal interpretation of Sharia law, the Taliban confined women to their
homes, only allowing them outside with a male escort and hidden beneath a
were banned from schools and colleges and women prohibited from the workplace
save in a few areas such as medicine.
militants have indicated they would provide a safe environment for women’s work
and education under an “Islamic system” they have proposed for Afghanistan’s
involvement of the Taliban in any government frightens many women, who recall
the stifling restrictions under the insurgents.
and de facto prime minister Abdullah Abdullah have urged the Taliban to
negotiate with Kabul, saying all Afghans should agree on the need for peace and
a troop withdrawal.
Taliban are expected to meet with US negotiators again later in the month.
few times every block along the route of the third annual Women’s March in Washington,
Khadija Husain heard a voice call out from the crowd: “May I take your
picture?” Each time, she paused and held her poster high, smiling as the
photographer offered a “thank you” or thumbs-up before moving on.
she wore a fashionably fuzzy cream-colored coat and crimson, striped Harry
Potter scarf (Gryffindor), most likely it was her hijab that drew much of the
attention. Her head scarf, a sign of her Muslim faith, along with her purple
poster from the Muslim Women’s Alliance helped her stand out from the crowd.
poster read: “No Muslim Ban Ever. Black Lives Matter. Believe Women, Believe
Survivors. Human Rights are Women’s Rights.” A quote often attributed to the
Rev. Martin Luther King—“No one is free until we are all free”—was emblazoned
across the top.
was one of scores of Muslim women who participated in the Women’s March in the
nation’s capital in January, drawn there by a passion for a range of issues.
The Chicago-based Muslim Women’s Alliance was an official partner of the event.
The non-profit was founded in 2007 by a group of women frustrated with the lack
of leadership opportunities for women in mosques, and the alliance has since
broadened its scope beyond the mosque to become a voice for Muslim women’s
empowerment. With 13,000 people on its mailing list, the MWA raises money for
scholarships, runs a mentorship program for Muslim girls, hosts events, and
works with the boards of mosques to build greater gender equity inside
Raheemullah of Chicago is part of the MWA leadership team. Her sister was a
founder of the group. She says the MWA began with a fairly straightforward
idea: “We’re going to have our own board, and we’re going to have women on it,
to give women the opportunity to lead.”
Women’s March’s sponsorship was an example of the alliance stepping onto a
national stage. Raheemullah and Husain, the MWA communications director, led a
group of about a dozen Muslim women from Chicago to D.C. for the event,
chartering a bus for the overnight drive across 700 miles of dark, snow-swept
highways. A contingent of more than 50 Muslim women from the D.C. area met them
there. Many of the women marched in matching bright blue hijabs.
faith calls for speaking out for justice, not just for our own community, but
for others,” Husain said, speaking into a microphone at the front of the bus as
it made its way east through Indiana. “So today I march for Indigenous women, I
march for any woman who’s ever said ‘me too.’ There are so many reasons that we
can all come up with why we march, but for me I will continue to raise my voice
every single time when any issue comes up, whether it’s the wall, whether it’s
Latino rights, I will continue to march, and I will continue to demand justice
for all communities.”
the weeks leading up to the march, media attention focused on reports that the
Women’s March national leadership was fracturing, holding tearful meetings and
navigating allegations of anti-Semitism after a former board member, Vanessa
Wruble, said she left the organization after hearing anti-Semitic comments from
march leaders. Women’s March board member Tamika Mallory came under fire for
attending a Nation of Islam rally and praising Nation leader Louis Farrakhan on
social media. The Southern Poverty Law Center, while acknowledging the Nation
of Islam’s programming and theology is aimed at uplifting African Americans,
designates the Nation of Islam as a hate group for its leader’s racist,
anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBT rhetoric.
controversy had an impact: Women’s marches took place in cities around the
country, and some, concerned that the tensions in the D.C. group had tarnished
the brand, took pains to separate themselves from the march in Washington.
many of the Muslim women at the D.C. march, the issues were complex. No one in
the MWA contingent was a member of the Nation of Islam; just two percent of
African American Muslims ally with Farrakhan, whose racist theologies are
anathema to the racially inclusive theology of mainstream Islam. Many of the
women, however, had watched the controversy play out in the media, and several
commended the Women’s March leaders for listening to criticism and responding
by expanding their leadership team.
know we condemn anti-Semitism fully. It’s a no-brainer for us,” said Wardah
Khalid, who participated in the march and is the founder of an organization
aimed at boosting Muslim participation in politics and civic life. “Inclusion
is an important issue for us.”
said the focus on the controversy was drawing attention away from more critical
issues. “It is a distraction. It’s to divide us,” said Tiffany Blanton, 34, of
Milwaukee, who rode the MWA bus from Chicago to the march. An African American
who converted to Islam as a college student, she said it’s common for people to
make assumptions about her faith. “If I tell people I’m Muslim, they
automatically think I’m in the Nation. ‘Oh, you hate everybody,’” Blanton said
with a sigh. “Uh, no.” She said she does not believe the march leaders are
anti-Semitic, and that the larger women’s movement, not Tamika Mallory, should
be the focus. “That’s her views. That’s what she does. That doesn’t take away
the fact of what she started,” Blanton said, adding that she doesn’t expect a
broad coalition of women to agree with each other on every priority. “By having this march and all coming
together, maybe we can work these issues out. We have to at least speak to each
the march meandered from Freedom Plaza down Pennsylvania Avenue, pausing for a
few minutes outside the Trump International Hotel, Blanton held up a homemade
sign with pictures of some of her icons that she had cut out of magazines,
including writer and actress Issa Rae; Trayvon Martin’s mother, activist
Sybrina Fulton; and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters. She’d written this message across
the poster in purple marker: “Time 4 U white women & non-black women to put
in work! Signed, Black Women.”
to her marched Marina Hayes, 27, a special education teacher at a Chicago
public school. Raised in a Greek Orthodox family, Hayes converted to Islam a
few years ago. She said she marched because she was frustrated by the Trump
Administration’s policies banning travel from several Muslim-majority
countries. Diana Cruz, 45 and a Muslim convert, said she marched for families
separated at the U.S.-Mexican border. She’d added a bright pink beret to the
top of her pink hijab for the march. “I’m trying to change the narrative.”
women’s political activism is growing nationwide. The recent elections of the
nation’s first Muslim congresswomen—U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and U.S.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan—are parts of a much larger movement, says
Najeeba Syeed, associate professor of interreligious education at Claremont
Theological Seminary in Southern California. Syeed, who teaches a class on
Islam, Women, and Social Movements, notes that groups such as MWA are led by
women who are adept at building coalitions. “What’s been really fascinating to
me is some of the cutting-edge, anti-racism work within the Muslim community
has been largely led by Muslim women,” she said.
U.S. Muslim population is extremely diverse, a fact underscored by a 2017 study
by the Pew Research Center, and this diversity was evident in the MWA group,
which included women who were white, black, Latina, and of South Asian and Arab
descent, and included converts as well as lifelong Muslims. Of the
approximately 3.45 million American Muslims, about 20 percent identify as black
or African American and 28 percent identify as Asian. Although the majority are
American citizens, those with immigrant roots trace their ancestry to more than
we’re not from one background, we all come with our issues that are most
important, and it’s our faith that pushes us out here,” said Husain, who was
born in Saudi Arabia and has lived in the U.S. for 30 years. Syeed uses the
term “embodied pluralism” to describe how American Muslim women learn to
navigate complex racial, ethnic, and religious identities, even as they
navigate gender in secular and religious spaces. These experiences have helped
shape leaders who are particularly skilled at leading diverse coalitions such
as the ones seen at the Women’s March, she said. “Some Muslim women talk about
being the ‘unicorn at the table,’ but that’s their normal, everyday,” Syeed
said. “And they’re not exceptions. There are whole communities like this.”
diversity was evident at a recent MWA event in Chicago, a workshop on gender
equity in mosques titled “Muslim Women Reclaim the Masjid.” (Masjid is the
Arabic term for mosque.) The workshop attracted about 100 women to share their
frustrations around the lack of women’s leadership, cramped prayer spaces, and
sexist attitudes from men inside mosques. A 2011 study on the status of women inside
American mosques found that while nearly six in 10 of the nation’s
approximately 2,000 mosques have had at least one woman board member, many fell
behind in recruiting women leaders and making worship spaces “women friendly.”
Raheemullah, who helped lead the workshop, urged the audience to go back to
their mosques and include men in the conversation. “This is not a women’s
problem. This is a community problem. We need to help each other to make the
month later, Raheemullah was on the long overnight bus ride to the D.C. march,
her 10-year-old daughter curled up on the seat beside her. Raheemullah also
attended the first Women’s March in January 2017, the day after President
Donald Trump took the oath of office. “I marched in 2017 because there was a
heightened sense of anti-Muslim rhetoric out there, and I was scared. I did not
want to bring my daughter in 2017 because it was a really terrible
environment.” As the bus ride got underway, she said, “At that time for people
of color, people of my faith, nobody knew what direction things were going to
be going in. But two years later, I march again because the last two years and
the last march taught me that fear, if we let it, will cripple us, but love
will [uplift] us.”
fear hasn’t gone away. Nearly every woman on the bus reported experiences of
harassment. A 2018 poll by the Michigan-based Institute for Social Policy and
Understanding found that six in 10 American Muslims reported experiencing
religious discrimination in the past year. Nearly 70 percent of those targeted
wasn’t the only Muslim marcher who returned to the streets of Washington D.C.,
hoping to tap into the atmosphere of compassion and solidarity many experienced
during the first march. Saira Toor, part of the MWA group, said the 2017 march
was the first time since the Sept. 11 attacks that she felt she was back in the
welcoming, inclusive country she’d grown up in as a child. “I was amazed by the
outpouring of support and love. People saying, ‘Thanks for being here,’ like we
were VIPS,” Toor recalled. Husain agreed. “Everywhere we’d go, people were
giving us hugs. It was very loving.”
this year’s march wound down, Raheemullah said she noticed the “electric”
feeling of the first march wasn’t as palpable this time. “People seem tired,”
she said. At one point, she had reached protectively for her daughter after a
shouting match erupted nearby between protesters on either side of the abortion
debate. Abortion rights were not mentioned on the MWA signs at the march, a
sign of the complexity of the issue for many Muslim women, Husain explained.
mood seemed to lift an hour or so later, as the Chicago group gathered around
Brooklyn political activist Linda Sarsour, who is Muslim and a co-chair of the
Women’s March. Sarsour greeted many of the women by name and offered words of
encouragement for the work ahead. “Where I am, my sisters are,” Sarsour said.
“I’m ecstatic, I’m inspired, I’m refueled.”
lingered for several minutes, offering hugs and posing for selfies before
heading back toward the rally stage.
OIL FIELD — Among thousands fleeing the crumbling dream of Daesh (the so-called
IS) group “caliphate” in eastern Syria are alleged militants but also survivors
of some of their worst atrocities.
never forget,” 40-year-old Bissa says softly, as she recounts being “bought and
sold” by six different militants.
did everything they wanted to do with us. We couldn’t say no,” says the Iraqi
woman from the Yazidi religious minority, after fleeing her Daesh captors.
was one of at least seven Yazidi women and girls to finally escape captivity
last week, after years as “sex slaves” at the hands of the extremist group.
to AFP in territory held by US-backed forces, the women — and at least one
teenager abducted when she was 13 — say they just want to go home.
would sleep with us against our will,” Bissa tells AFP, wearing a dark red
headscarf and appearing years beyond her age, her face and hands etched with
than 36,000 people have fled a crumbling Daesh holdout near the Iraqi border in
recent weeks, among them 3,200 alleged militants.
now in territory held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), none
perhaps have tales so harrowing as the Yazidi women.
2014, Daesh militants rampaged across swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq —
including the northern Iraqi region of Sinjar, home to a large Yazidi
Kurdish-speaking Yazidis follow an ancient religion rooted in Zoroastrianism,
but Daesh considers them to be “apostates”.
Sinjar, Daesh fighters killed the men, forcefully enlisted boys as soldiers and
kidnapped more than 6,000 women.
I see my Mom’
Bissa was captured, she was “bought and sold” by six different militants —
including three Arabs and a fighter who said he was Swedish. She was repeatedly
brutalized, but was too scared to escape.
said whoever tried... would be punished by a different man sleeping with her
every day,” she says inside an SDF center near the Omar Oil Field.
17-year-old Nadine, who militants kidnapped from Sinjar when she was just 13,
says she twice tried to escape.
times the militant group’s police caught her.
flogged me with a hose. It left marks on my back, and I couldn’t sleep on it,”
second time, they said I couldn’t eat for two days,” she added.
they abducted Nadine, Daesh militants took her across the border to the group’s
then de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa.
four years, she says, six different men bought her — Arabs and a Tunisian.
had to adapt to their brutal interpretation of religion, and adhere to their
strict dress code of covering from head to toe in public.
love color, and I used to wear trousers,” Nadine tells AFP.
the SDF center, she wears a black-and-white bead bracelet around her wrist,
bearing the name of her little brother in English.
she can’t bring herself to remove her black face veil.
got used to it. I can’t yet take it off,” she says. “But I will do so when I
see my Mom.”
escaping, Nadine says several cousins are still being held in an Daesh pocket
in eastern Syria.
the height of its rule, Daesh controlled territory the size of Britain, but
today it has lost all but the eastern patch to various offensives — including
by the SDF, backed by airstrikes of the United States-led coalition.
2015 and 2018, at least 129 Yazidi women and girls were handed over to the
Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), who are part of the SDF.
definitely... fighting Daesh to free more captives — and not just Yazidis,” YPJ
spokeswoman Nasreen Abdallah told AFP.
the YPJ center, Sabha, 30, waited with to take her 10-year-old daughter to
hospital, after a kettle of boiling water fell on her legs.
a Yazidi woman, Sabha fled the last patch of Daesh territory with her six
children, after the man she was forced to marry was killed in an airstrike.
of her children are from a first husband killed by Daesh after they overran
her 18-month-old girl was fathered by a Kurdish militant from the Iraqi region
of Kirkuk, who said he spent 15 years of his life in Britain.
says the militant beat her and threatened to kill her children if she
I could think of was how to get out,” says Sabha, wearing a green headscarf.
wish him dead so I could escape.”
Sabha looks forward to going home to her family, she says.
what makes me most happy is that I saved my children.” — AFP
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