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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Struggles of Gay Muslims

From the New York Blade - May 17, 2008

Parvez Sharma's documentary 'Jihad for Love' follows gay Muslims in 12 countries. It opens May 21 at IFC Center in New York City.

Struggles of Gay Muslims

Local filmmaker Parvez Sharma discusses homosexual Muslims—and the trouble with U.S. activists who try to help them.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Parvez Sharma's documentary, "A Jihad for Love," traverses 12 countries and nine languages as it follows the lives of disparate Muslims who try to reconcile their sexuality with their faith. Produced by "Trembling Before G-d"'s Sandi DuBowski and shot during five years, "Jihad" offers a rare glimpse into a complex and controversial world.

After debuting in 15 countries, the film plays in New York starting Wednesday, May 21. Sharma, a gay immigrant Muslim from India now living in New York, spoke with The Blade about misperceptions Americans have about the world's fastest growing religion (Islam is also the second most popular religion, after Christianity).

"Jihad" covers a variety of Muslims, from those living under extreme sharia law to those practicing the mystical Sufism. Is it a challenge for American audiences to put each person's story in its proper cultural context? Even the term "jihad" is usually interpreted in the U.S. as "holy war" though you're reclaiming it to mean "inner struggle."

My primary audience was a Muslim audience, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to make a film that was respectful of Islam. I knew that if I could get to Muslims, I could open doors to other audiences. That's what the film has been doing: Educating people tremendously about the complexities of Islam.

I try to present Islam with a little bit of sanity and with a perspective only an insider Muslim can have. I tried hard not to attack Islam. If I did, it would have been an angrier film and would not have won any credibility with any Muslims.

This is not a traditional coming-out film. We're all coming out as Muslims. The primary identity of all these people—including the filmmaker—is religion.

That begs the question, Why stay in a religion that condemns you?

Answering that was my primary impetus to make the film. So many of us as queer people have abandoned religion completely. Islam calls upon you to be part of a family and culture outside of the mosque. So abandoning religion is a difficult choice—you're abandoning religion, family, culture, a lot of things that go with being a Muslim.

In your film, a gay South African Muslim challenges the anti-gay interpretations of scripture, saying, as many liberal Christians do today, that Sodom and Gomorrah isn't about homosexuality, but about rape or hospitality. Are more Muslims open to newer interpretation of the Koran?

Scholars of all descriptions are engaged in looking at the Koran in light of the 21st century. Islam maybe has more ground to cover in a modern context [compared to Christianity and Judaism]. But a lot of it is happening.

The last battle that remains to be won—around marriage—is true of all religions. In my lifetime, I don't see the Christian church or Vatican or Islam saying homosexuality is okay. What I think is going to happen is people will look at the religious text, for example of Sodom and Gomorrah, and come up with readings that are different.

You've shown the film around the world, recently in Canada, Australia and Turkey. Have reactions varied?

Toronto reacted from point a view of knowing a little more about Islam than Americans. In Sidney, as they were celebrating the hedonistic celebration that is Mardi Gras, people became aware of how hard it is to be gay in other places. And then in Turkey, which is 99 percent Muslim but also secular, young people said the film should be more critical.

Critical of Islam?

In Turkey, extremist Islam is making a comeback and a lot of people living in big cities like Istanbul feel threatened. They'd rather be part of the European Union than be an Islamic country that implements the headscarf. [Their criticism of the film] comes from that place that's fearful about Islam.

A lot of people make the case that the spread of Islam is bad for gay rights and human rights in general.

I don't agree with that at all. Islam is exactly the same for gay rights as Christianity or Judaism. There are only six Islamic states that implement sharia (Islamic) law, and this is where it starts becoming a problem. It is when the state starts interfering in personal sexual life. But again, I want to stress that a majority of Muslims are living outside sharia law.

Paradoxically, under even the extremist regimes, same-sex sexual encounters are not uncommon, correct?

Definitely. There's greater level of fluidity. You're not talked about if you're holding hands with another man. Or a woman with a woman. Certainly the avenues for having same-sex contact in a purely sexual context are much more easily available because many times the sexes are segregated. Sexuality is fluid and very open in most Islamic societies. The act is not associated with guilt. In Christianity, there is a lot of guilt around sex and reproduction. But if you're taking on a political identity like having a gay bar or gay pride or gay marriage, you start having a problem.

I take issue with a lot of Western activists, the ones who are bashing Iran for example, who have the arrogance to assume their models of gay liberation can be applied to this context. I know for a fact that they cannot.

Two lesbians in your documentary mention online dating. Is the Internet a popular and safe mode of gay liberation and communication?

Absolutely. Iran has the worlds' richest blogosphere. But what's also happening is that a lot of content is monitored in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran. A lot of activism is happening through the Internet, which has huge advantages and disadvantages. In Egypt, the government used the Internet to entrap (and imprison) gay men. So the Internet can be freeing, but [the users] have to use judgment with whom they talk to and how they talk.

Let's talk about asylum-seekers. "Jihad" follows an Egyptian who fled to France and Iranians who head for Canada via Turkey.

People have felt the film portrays the West in more positive light, like the West means freedom automatically. I don't agree with them. You see in the film how much the Egyptian has had to struggle. It's an uncertain freedom if you seek asylum in the West post-Sept. 11 where being a Muslim refugee of any color is a problem and having a Muslim name is a problem.

Is claiming homosexual persecution a viable reason to seek asylum?

Increasingly, it has been viable because there has been a wave of gay immigration cases. I'm afraid to say not all of them are genuine.

The question is: When people from Iran start seeking asylum in a Western country, does that give the opportunity in this climate to take that agenda of Iran bashing even further? I feel that a lot of this agenda picked up by gay activists in the West is Islamophobic and Iranphobic as well. I'm not the only person saying that. Even the Human Rights Watch has exercised a lot of judgment in how these individual cases are perceived in the press.

How would you rate Western gay press' coverage of LGBT issues in countries like Iran?

The U.S. gay press for the most part has been fairly immature. It's not entirely the fault of the gay press in U.S. It's part of a climate of ignorance. The sensationalism of cases out of Iran has been problematic. We are in political and social climate in which it is fashionable to attack Islam or to attack regimes that are seen as problematic regimes. When we attack these regimes, we make it more difficult for people living within those regimes. For example, when you accuse [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad of carrying out a systematic campaign against homosexuals you make that issue visible and force them to react a certain in which they weren't doing in the past.

There needs to be a greater responsibility exercised in criticizing regimes like Iran of carrying out pogroms against homosexuals. That is not the case. Ahmadinejad has bigger fish to fry.

Ahmadinejad was publicly ridiculed in the press for his infamous statement last fall at Columbia University.

I thought that was irresponsible reporting around the semantics of his comments, which was sensationalized profoundly. What he said was, "We don't have gays like you have in the West." The statement that was reported was "We don't have gays in Iran." He's quite right because of the different context of being. How do you explain these complexities? It's going to take a huge effort of responsibility not just of the press, but of filmmakers, activists, everyone, to do that.

Are Americans receptive to learning these complexities?

I think so. I've lived in the states for eight years. I'm as proud to live here as much as I've been alarmed. But Americans are definitely responsive to learning. The release of the film will engage them. I've seen that in so many countries. I see no reason for that to not happen in a city as rich as ours.

"Jihad for Love" opens Wed., May 21, at IFC Film Center, 323 Sixth Ave. @ Third St. Visit for details, including special events featuring the director, producer and Muslims from the film.

Iran's Arrest of Bahai's Condemned

From CNN - May 16, 2008

(CNN) -- Six Baha'i leaders in Iran were seized and imprisoned this week, the religious group said. The act prompted condemnation and concern from the movement and a top American religious freedom panel.

A U.S. panel says attacks on Iran's Baha'is have increased since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president.

Iranian intelligence agents searched the homes of the six on Wednesday and then whisked them away, according to the Baha'i's World News Service. The report said the six are in Evin prison and that the arrests follow the detention in March of another Baha'i leader.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment, and the incident has not been mentioned in Iran's state-run media.

"Their only crime is their practice of the Baha'i faith," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i international community to the United Nations.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement Friday "strongly" condeming the arrests, which it said were "a clear violation of the Iranian regime's international commitments and obligations to respect international religious freedom norms.

"We urge the authorities to release all Baha'is currently in detention and cease their ongoing harassment of the Iranian Baha'i community," the U.S. statement said.

The group -- regarded as the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran -- says the arrests are reminiscent of roundups and killings of Baha'is that took place in Iran two decades ago.

"Especially disturbing is how this latest sweep recalls the wholesale arrest or abduction of the members of two national Iranian Baha'i governing councils in the early 1980s -- which led to the disappearance or execution of 17 individuals," Dugal said.

"The early morning raids on the homes of these prominent Baha'is were well-coordinated, and it is clear they represent a high-level effort to strike again at the Baha'is and to intimidate the Iranian Baha'i community at large," she added.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom -- a government panel that advises the president and Congress -- condemned the Wednesday arrests, as well as another in March. The commission chairman called the acts the "latest sign of the rapidly deteriorating status of religious freedom and other human rights in Iran."

The commission said the seven were members of an informal Baha'i group that tended to the needs of the community after the Iranian government banned all formal Baha'i activity in 1983.

The commission chairman, Michael Cromartie, echoed the fears that the "development signals a return to the darkest days of repression in Iran in the 1980s when Baha'is were routinely arrested, imprisoned, and executed."

The Baha'is are regarded as "apostates" in Iran and have been persecuted there for years.

"Since 1979, Iranian authorities have killed more than 200 Baha'i leaders, thousands have been arrested and imprisoned, and more than 10,000 have been dismissed from government and university jobs," the commission said.

The commission said that since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power a few years ago, Baha'is "have been harassed, physically attacked, arrested, and imprisoned."

"During the past year, young Baha'i schoolchildren in primary and secondary schools increasingly have been attacked, vilified, pressured to convert to Islam, and in some cases, expelled on account of their religion."

The commission said other groups in the predominantly Shiite Muslim country of Iran, such Sufis and Christians, are subject to intimidation and harassment. Ahmadinejad's inflammatory statements about Israel have "created a climate of fear" among the country's Jews.

The Baha'is say they have 5 million members across the globe, and about 300,000 in Iran.

The Baha'is say their faith "is the youngest of the world's independent religions" and that its basic theme is that "humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in one global society."

They say their founder, Baha'u'llah (1817-1892), is regarded by Baha'is as "the most recent in the line of Messengers of God that stretches back beyond recorded time and that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Being Both Queer and Muslim Proves Fodder for Discussion (in Boston)

 From the New England Blade

Being Both Queer and Muslim Proves Fodder for Discussion
Conversation Comes as MFA Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Ends

by Blake Evans
May 14, 2008

Using the film "A Jihad for Love" — screening Sunday as part of the MFA Gay and Lesbian Film and Video Festival — as a starting point, Massachusetts Area South Asian Lambda Association (MASALA) will sponsor a panel discussion on what it might mean to be Muslim and Queer, especially in 2008 in the context of an increasingly globalized world, on Sunday, May 18.

The panelists, coming from South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, represent to some extent the range of diversity within Islam as well as what it means to be Muslim (and Queer), from practitioners and agnostics to atheists and those who simply identify culturally as Muslim.

Panelists will include Imtiyaz Hussein, Saadia Toor, and Mohammed El-Khatib. Dr. Rakshanda Saleem, a local activist involved in a range of social justice issues including LGBT rights and those focused on South Asia and the Middle East, will moderate the discussion. Hussein founded MASALA in 1994 in an effort to connect his "Indian-ness" with his "gayness." Formerly chair of the Board of AIDS Housing Corporation, he worked in a number of community organizations before going to business school and moving into the corporate world. He doesn't see any conflict in being gay and Muslim.

"Allah created all of us and loves all of his creatures," said Hussein.
Toor is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at The College of Staten Island, City University of New York. She believes there is a divide: "When I was Muslim I was not queer," she says, "now I'm queer but not Muslim."

El-Khatib y works with the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston. Raised in a secular setting, he came out to himself at 17 and found faith as a way to reconcile with his homosexuality.

"Islam gave me the strength to face a homophobic home and social life," he says, though he also agrees with Toor that bringing together the two sides of himself has been difficult. "The irony is that since coming out, I've found it harder to practice Islam without feeling like I'm in personal conflict with my identity as a gay man."

"A Jihad for Love" screens at 3:45 p.m. in the Remis Auditorium. The panel discussion follows immediately after in the Riley Seminar Room at the Museum of Fine Arts.


A Diversity of Opinion: Being LGBT and Muslim (in Boston)

From Bay Windows

by Ethan Jacobs
associate editor

Thursday May 15, 2008

As an adolescent questioning his sexuality while growing up in Qatar in the 1990s, Mohammed El-Khatib found the homophobic attitudes of his parents, particularly his father, toxic. His parents were secular Arabs whose views on homosexuality were strongly informed by Western attitudes, and his father would complain that homosexuality was unnatural and a "biological defect." To escape this rhetoric El-Khatib found refuge in a place that might seem counterintuitive to many LGBT people: the local mosque. El-Khatib said that while homosexuality was frowned upon by the clergy, they counseled him that it was a temporary phase rather than a permanent pathology.

"I had to choose the lesser of two evils. There were my parents ... versus people telling me there is spiritual redemption, that it's just a phase, that there's a way out, and I believed that. ... Western homophobia is much more toxic, much more virulent than homophobia in Islam," said El-Khatib.

On May 18 El-Khatib and other local LGBT Muslims will give their perspectives on Islam and LGBT identity at a panel discussion sponsored by the Massachusetts Area South Asian Lambda Association (MASALA) at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). The discussion will follow a screening of A Jihad for Love, a film by Parvez Sharma documenting the lives of gay and lesbian Muslims struggling to reconcile their faith and their sexuality. For many of Sharma's subjects this conflict is a matter of life or death; gay men from Egypt and Iran, which criminalize homosexuality, are forced to flee and live in exile. To provide a counterpoint to the harsh realities depicted in the film MASALA, which is co-sponsoring the screening as part of the MFA's Gay and Lesbian Film/Video Festival, will be hosting a panel discussion to give viewers perspectives from local LGBT Muslims whose experiences are far different from those of the men and women in Sharma's film.

Imtiyaz Hussein, another of the panelists and the founder of MASALA, said that he hopes to show the audience that Islam's response to homosexuality is not monolithic. Hussein, who was born in Tanzania to Indian parents and who grew up in Toronto before coming to Boston for college, said that growing up within the Ismaili sect of Islam he faced no conflict between his religion and his sexuality. Hussein said the Ismaili sect, a branch of the Shia community that follows a spiritual leader called the Aga Khan, allows for multiple interpretations of sacred texts, and that openness has allowed adherents with more liberal views on issues like homosexuality and women's rights to take part as full members of the Ismaili community. When Hussein, who lives in Jamaica Plain, first began attending the local jamaatkhaana (mosque) in college, he brought his boyfriend with him to the congregation's celebrations. He said he is one of about a half-dozen LGBT members of the congregation who are more or less out of the closet.

"Today there's a good more than a handful, six or seven, out-to-varying-degrees people in the congregation here. And for the most part people are fine with that. ... I found a lot of freedom, especially over time, to be myself, and I've found the community here in Boston to be pretty receptive," said Hussein.

For Saadia Toor, who was born in Pakistan and who teaches sociology and women's studies at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York, there was no conflict between her Muslim and queer identities because she began to explore her sexuality long after she had left behind her Muslim faith. She said when her friend Nikhil Aziz, the organizer of the panel, asked her to participate she initially declined, saying that since she is no longer a believing Muslim she did not fit the bill.

"I was like, I can't because when I was a believing Muslim I wasn't queer ... and by the time I realized I was queer I was no longer a believing Muslim," said Toor.

Yet for Toor the decision to leave behind her faith had nothing to do with sexuality; instead she said she felt that her faith conflicted with her rational worldview, and rationality won out.

Toor said that she travels to Pakistan about once a year, where she has a handful of lesbian friends, some of whom live openly within a small feminist community in the Islamabad area.

"They're very open within our community of friends. ... Obviously I managed to find them all, that's the way these things work in smaller community spaces, but it's not something known in the larger public," said Toor.

She said that while she thought Sharma's film was well made, she worries that by focusing the film on the apparent conflict between Islam and homosexuality it gives viewers the sense that the religion is uniquely homophobic.

"What I would have liked to see embedded within, it should have been a film about religion and sexuality, and religion and homosexuality, because the issues that were coming up were not specific to Islam," said Toor.

For El-Khatib, his relationship to Islam began to change after he moved to Boston and became more deeply involved with the gay community. He said most gay men he has met have had very secular values, and they were uncomfortable with open displays of faith.

"For someone who's Muslim who says, 'Excuse me, I don't drink,' or, 'I have to go pray now, it's seven o'clock,' while people are drinking martinis, people just start looking at you," said El-Khatib.

As a consequence El-Khatib said over time he has grown less observant as a Muslim, which he viewed as an unfortunate but necessary trade-off to becoming more integrated into the gay community.

"Here, to find that being Muslim and being gay puts you at odds from the gay community at large, because it requires so much from you, it's such a pervasive part of your lifestyle that you've got to be Muslim or you can't be something else. ... I think that's how it played out. I read the Koran, I'm theologically engaged with my religion, but I'm not as much a practicing Muslim as I'd want to be," said El-Khatib. He said despite the initial negative reaction towards his religion within the gay community he has actively worked to become part of the community, volunteering for the past several years with the Boston Pride Committee and AIDS Action's Male Center.

Hussein said he hopes the panel discussion shows audience members that the stories depicted in Sharma's film are not the whole story.

"One of the things we really wanted to do with the panel is have people who could convey some of the diversity in Islam and have positive experiences of people being able to reconcile multiple identities," said Hussein.

A Jihad for Love screens at the Museum of Fine Arts May 18 at 3:45 p.m., with the panel discussion to follow. For tickets visit

Ethan Jacobs can be reached at

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How Iraq Became a Prison for Women

From the Vancouver Sun

Tuesday » May 13 » 2008
How Iraq became a prison for women
Daphne Bramham
Vancouver Sun

Friday, May 02, 2008

When there were no weapons of mass destruction, U.S. President George W. Bush reframed the Iraqi invasion as a means of building democracy and restoring women's rights.

But like the entire misadventure, things have gone badly wrong. From the 1960s through most of Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraqi women were among the most liberated and liberal of all Muslim women. Girls went to school, women worked, wore what they chose, drove cars, ran for office and spoke their minds.

It was the international sanctions against Iraq that destroyed the economy and drove women from the labour force.

Yet far from restoring women's rights, on the Americans' watch, Iraq has become a prison for women.

Its constitution, passed in 2006, says no law can go against Islam. It is now barely safe for women to go out without wearing not only a burka, but gloves.

An estimated 10,900 women have been killed since the 2003 U.S. invasion until the end of 2007. Many were killed because they were women. Some were targeted because they were secular professionals, liberal politicians, journalists and women's advocates.

In Full Cover Girl, Swedish director Folke Ryden profiles several Iraqi women who were interviewed periodically between 2003 and 2007.

The documentary premieres Monday at 9 p.m. on the Knowledge Network.

Through the women, Ryden poses some very troubling questions. What is the nature of democracy? Can it be something other than liberal and secular? And, what about equality rights? Are they antithetical to Islamic values? Or, can rights be circumscribed to conform?

Jenan al-Ubaedy is the full cover girl, her moon face shining white against the burka and her black gloves. Far from hiding behind the burka, Jenan is an elected member of the Iraqi parliament. Representing a conservative Islamic party, she is a steely-eyed, outspoken proponent of shariah law.

One of the most interesting scenes was shot in Jordan in the fall of 2004 when Western women described as "experts" were "training" Iraqi women to be political and community leaders. Two experts talked about how women often apologize, under-estimate their abilities and have to work twice as hard as men. Jenan was having none of that. She said Iraqi women don't believe that; Muslim women don't believe that.

As Jenan spoke, the "experts" called time, insisting that the session was over. They tried to ignore her as Jenan talked about how the Koran gives women more rights than other religions.

In a later interview about Islamic, or shariah, law, Jenan said if a thief steals, it is only right that his fingers should be chopped off. If her husband asked to take a second wife, she wouldn't oppose him: "It is unfair of me to say no."

It is okay for a man to beat his wife, if he leaves no marks. But Jenan says, "We are training our daughters to be cleverly with their husbands." They are training them to "absorb" their husband's wrath to forestall the blows.

Three years later in 2007, burka-clad Jenan is filmed against the backdrop of the White House, where she and other leading Iraqi women had been invited by Bush, who praised them for what they were doing for their country.

Bush talked about his hope that Iraqi women would be equal, free, prosperous and educated "not in the same way as in the United States of America, but in a way suitable for the Iraqi culture."

Small wonder the Iraqi emancipation has been such a failure. Small wonder Charlotte Ponticelli, head of America's Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative, was so reluctant to comment on camera about women's rights in Iraq and kept insisting, "Iraqi women would never accept a rollback of rights."

Only two years after the invasion, Baghdad was divided into hostile camps. Militias stopped women and punished them for not being veiled. Western experts fled and soon after, so did Abir Absilani.

She had moved back to Baghdad from Sweden soon after Saddam Hussein was deposed. Hoping for peace, Abir and her father hoped to establish a secular party and help write a new, secular constitution. She eschewed guns and declared "Our passion is our protection."

Their party won one seat in the first set of elections, but it was the father, not the daughter, who took the seat. By 2006 as Jenan was rising in prominence, Abir fled back to Sweden. Her cousin had been kidnapped. He returned bearing a death threat against her.

But Abir loves her country and returned in 2007, dressed more conservatively but still unveiled. Abir is shown tucking a handgun into the waistband of her pants. She pats the gun, calls it "my best friend," then looks at the camera, conscious of the irony.

Using the American government's own yardstick, Rydsn's documentary measures its failure in Iraq. Far from being a polemic, it is understated and left me wishing that someone would do similar reporting on the women in Afghanistan -- preferably before the next federal election.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Jihad for Love Launches U.S. Theatrical Release on May 21st at IFC Center in NYC

Please forward far and wide, especially to folks in NYC.  Apologies in advance for any duplicate emails.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Sandi DuBowski <>
Date: Thu, May 15, 2008 at 6:42 PM
Subject: A Jihad for Love Launches U.S. Theatrical Release on May 21st at IFC Center in NYC

If you have problems viewing this, please click here:

A Jihad For Love Premieres in New York on May 21st. Be a part of it!

Dear friends and colleagues,

The U.S. theatrical release of A Jihad for Love launches at IFC Center in New York on Wednesday, May 21st! Two weeks only! May 21st- June 4th. Buy your ticket online at

After Premieres in 15 countries and five awards, the film comes to the U.S. and NYC. Please bring friends to see this incredible work directed by Parvez Sharma and produced by myself and Sharma. If you come the first five days, you can significantly impact the film's theatrical life in the U.S. and other countries. Joining Parvez and I in the cinema are Imam Muhsin Hendricks, the first openly gay imam from Cape Town, South Africa and Mazen from Egypt/France, featured stars of the film. We will turn the cinema into a town hall - for debate, change and transformation. Click here for our dazzling line-up of Q & A's and forums on Islam, Human Rights, South Asian Sexualities, Interfaith... Looking forward to Q & A's and to celebrate with you!

With your incredible support, Trembling Before G-d played in NYC theaters for over 4 1/2 months - let's ensure A Jihad for Love has long-lasting impact. Get involved!

Right Now:

Hit the streets:

Support The Cause:

Watch the trailer, and read what Time Out New York had to say about the film.

See the trailer on YouTube


Sandi DuBowski
Producer, A Jihad for Love
Director/Producer, Trembling Before G-d

Parvez Sharma
Director/Producer, A Jihad for Love
Parvez Sharma is blogging at

*Please feel free to use the film description below to help spread the word online.

A Jihad for Love U.S. Theatrical Premiere at IFC Center Opens May 21st – Two Weeks Only

-NPR Talk of the Nation

-Wall Street Journal

-The Guardian

Fourteen centuries after the revelation of the holy Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad, Islam today is the world's second largest and fastest growing religion. Muslim gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma travels the many worlds of this dynamic faith, discovering the stories of its most unlikely storytellers: lesbian and gay Muslims.

Produced by Sharma and Sandi DuBowski (director of the award-winning Trembling Before G-d), A Jihad for Love was filmed over 5 years in 12 countries and 9 languages and comes from the heart of Islam. Looking beyond a hostile and war-torn present, it reclaims the Islamic concept of a greater Jihad, whose true meaning is akin to 'an inner struggle' or 'to strive in the path of God.' In doing so the film and its remarkable subjects move beyond the narrow concept of 'Jihad' as holy war.

For showtimes and tickets please visit

For more information, visit and

Buy your ticket at
Box Office: 212.924.7771 323 Sixth Avenue (at W. 3rd St.)

Kick-off Bollywood dance party this Saturday night, May 17th for A Jihad for Love – visit Movie poster and T-shirt giveaways!

A Jihad for Love New York Premiere Events

May 21st - May 29th Show Times: 11:20am, 1:15pm, 3:10pm, 5:05pm, 7:00pm and 9:30pm

Q & A's and forums with Parvez, Sandi, Muhsin, Mazen, Faisal, and others after 7pm & 9:30pm shows

Wednesday, May 21st, 7pm
Opening Night Premiere

Thursday, May 22nd, 7pm
Special evening with Sholay Productions and Al-Fatiha

Friday, May 23rd, 7pm
Dialogue with Progressive Muslims Meet Up Group

Saturday, May 24th, 7pm
Human Rights Watch and Scott Long present in association with A Jihad for Love: Before the Crusade Passes By: Trapped in the middle of a "clash of civilizations."

Sunday, May 25th, 7pm
Q & A on Films For Change

Tuesday, May 27th, 7pm
Interfaith dialogue with Imam Muhsin Hendricks and
Bishop Zachary Jones, Rev. Edgard Danielsen-Morales,
Rabbi Steve Greenberg, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum; co-sponsored by Unity Fellowship Church, MCC, CBST

Wednesday, May 28th, 7pm
Q & A on HIV/AIDS and Islam with GMHC

Thursday, May 29th, 7pm
Panel on South Asian, Diaspora, gender and immigration issues; sponsored by IAAC and Breakthrough

Click here for more!

To make a donation, please visit: and feel free to contact us and share any ideas of foundations, donors or fundraisers.

Join our Facebook Groups, A Jihad for Love and Films That Change The World

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Muslim Women Redefine Feminism

From The Connection (in Sacramento, CA) - May 1, 2008

Muslim women redefine feminism

Hanan Salem

Issue date: 5/1/08 Section: Opinion

They speak in a heavily accented version of English, suffocating beneath tent-like cloaks. Voiceless and enslaved, these Muslim women wrap themselves up in head scarves in public.

While the rest of American women take the slightest sunray as a signal for baring flesh and flaunting assets, these fully covered women stand out as more than unfashionable but as victims of oppression.

Such are the tragic misconceptions of American Muslim women-barbaric, veiled housewives victimized by an Islamic lifestyle.

To about 10 million Muslim women, that lifestyle includes the female head covering, an Islamic dress code called Hijab and a symbol of modesty and freedom.

No, not of oppression but of true liberation. But how can restrictive dress be anything but suppressive?

According to the North American Council for Muslim Women, Hijab liberates females from the shackles of male scrutiny and sexual objectification. Muslim women who adhere to the Islamic dress code, as ordained by God in their holy book the Quran, are judged based on their minds and not on their physical appearance.

In a society where most women cannot walk in the presence of a man without being visually undressed and checked out like potential sex partners, the Hijab serves as a shield from such dehumanization.

Through loose coverage and modesty, Muslim women reassert their humanity, their worth as more than just another plunging neckline.
Islam says that every woman is a jewel and when she respects herself enough to preserve her beauty for herself and her loved ones, she rejects being objectified by a society that does not value her.

As a Muslim women and one who non-verbally proclaims it from a half mile away, I have been a target of pitiful double-takes, harassment, the "aren't you hot under the there" remarks that stem from those who assume a headscarf is drilled like a screw permanently into my skull.

Not only are these pathetic misconceptions, they are based on biased media. How dare they portray Islamic modesty as oppressive when, in our culture, 1 out of every 6 American women are rape victims?

If not rape, 1 out 3 American women have been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime, according to the U.S Department of Justice.

Consider our American lifestyle, women subjecting themselves to plastic surgery, drugs, and diet under societal pressures. Even at the age of 15, girls are sticking their fingers down their throats and retching three times day out of desperation to fit Kate Moss' jeans.

And they claim Muslim women are the oppressed ones? Just because we don't look like what Cosmo or Calvin Klein think we should?

By all means, we choose the Islamic way of liberation, one that doesn't sacrifice health and self esteem. Not mute or meek, a Muslim women is valued for her intellect and personality rather than curves or cleavage.

It's because Islam has raised their status that Muslim women are liberated at a whole new level, one high above any traffic-stopping Hooters billboard.

Taliban Ban TV in Afghan Province

From Reuters - May 13, 2008

By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents have ordered residents of a province near the capital Kabul to stop watching television, saying the networks were showing un-Islamic programmes, officials and local media said on Tuesday.

The order is the last in a wave of curbs that the resurgent militants have announced in areas they are active.

A senior Afghan information ministry official, Najib Manelai, said that dozens of masked men with weapons entered mosques in Logar province at the weekend and threatened residents against watching television

"They threatened the people that 'if you do not give up watching televisions, you will face violence'," Manelai told Reuters.

Media reports quoted residents as saying that the Taliban imposed the ban because TV networks were showing programmes that were "un-Islamic and anti-Afghan culture".

Removed from power in 2001, the al Qaeda-backed Taliban who lead a insurgency against the government and foreign forces, could not be reached for comment.

But while in power from 1996 until their ouster, the Taliban Islamists had banned television, music and cinema. More than a dozen private TV networks and scores of radio stations have been launched in Afghanistan since their fall.

The information ministry along with security forces was taking action against the Taliban move, minister Manelai said, without giving details.

The ban on television programmes in Logar follows demands in recent weeks by a group of religious scholars and the information minister that some private television stations must stop broadcasting several Indian soap operas on religious grounds.

But the demand has been largely ignored.

The Taliban have in recent months also ordered mobile phones operators to shut down the networks, saying foreign troops were using the phones to track them down. They have also warned girls in several parts of the south and east not to attend schools.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pakistan: Female Officers Challenge Tradition

From The National in UAE - May 12, 2008

Female officers challenge tradition

Amna R Ali, Foreign Correspondent

ISLAMABAD // It is a thankless task to direct traffic in the afternoon sun. But Anila Altaf, 27, keeps her cool as she conducts a steady stream of cars, vans and buses at a busy intersection in Islamabad.

The sight of women directing traffic is becoming increasingly common in Pakistan's larger cities as women push the gender boundaries and take on jobs traditionally reserved for men.

Many young women said they see the jobs as an opportunity to be independent and distinctive.

"I would have joined any force," said Asma Rauf, 27, who holds a master's degree in education. For others it is economics that drives them to seek a second income for their families. Sumaira Batool, 27, a constable from the Islamabad traffic police, said she and her female colleagues were role models. "My mother was a driving force behind my career, and told me never to back down," she said.

Although more Pakistani women are challenging the status quo that has for decades confined them to traditionally "female occupations" – such as fashion-designing or teaching – deep-rooted opposition to their foray into the police or armed forces has not made the transition easy. "While women are changing their attitude about the kind of work they choose to do, men need to change their outlook on how they view women in a man's domain," said Imran Rizvi, a consultant who conducts gender sensitivity training in the public and private sector.

Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, upheld women's rights as part of his policy of "enlightened moderation", a useful catchphrase for a leader on the front lines of the US-backed "war on terror". He received lavish aid packages to develop Pakistan's moderate image in the face of severe militancy at home.

Critics said his schemes were arbitrary, but many new projects included measures for women to join the mainstream workforce.

Despite censure from the conservative Islamic lobby, his government created a women's ministry, which launched a Gender Reform Action Plan to bring women into the mainstream through participation in politics and the public sector.

More than 40,000 women are employed in local government and 205 in the national and provincial legislatures. Pakistan's police force has for decades hired a small percentage of women, but the growing numbers come with their share of backlash from conservative quarters. Naheed Mukhtar, 27, said her brothers – members of the traffic police in Islamabad – were unhappy when she decided to join, but she did not let that deter her. "I was committed to what I wanted and I'm glad the opportunity came along," she said.

The Islamabad traffic police set up a special unit to recruit female staff two years ago, following the model of the efficient motorway police – the first traffic unit to induct women into the force. But their numbers are still small.

In 2006, Punjab province trained 3,000 graduates to be traffic wardens, 150 of whom were women. Another 33 women were recruited for Rawalpindi. In another development likely to cause controversy, female traffic police in Rawalpindi and Lahore are being trained to use heavy motorcycles.

Despite the country's conservative nature, women in Pakistan have often broken stereotypes. Benazir Bhutto was the country's first female Muslim prime minister, and Fehmida Mirza is the first female parliamentary speaker in the country and in the Muslim world. Ms Bhutto, who led the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was assassinated in December.

There have been other landmarks for women. In Jan 2006, Pakistan International Airlines, the country's national carrier, made aviation history when an all female crew of four flew a domestic flight with 40 passengers aboard. The airline has a total of six female pilots.

In March 2006, the first four inducted in Pakistan's Air Force received their wings after three years of intensive training.

Female officers have also joined Pakistani men in UN peacekeeping missions in conflict-areas around the world. Khadija Tasneem was the only officer from Islamabad selected to go to East Timor where she spent one year. Internationally, Pakistan ranks 43 out of 128 countries for women's empowerment on the World Economic Forum's 2007 Global Gender Gap Report (GRAP). But the indicators on economic participation of women are still weak, where Pakistan stands at 126.

On the participation of women in the labour force, Pakistan ranked at 121 among 128 countries.

"Pakistan now has a commitment to furthering gender equality through GRAP, but decisions must not be arbitrary," Mr Rizvi said."Gender equality should be built into the system through budgeting commitments and proper institutional restructuring."

Mr Rizvi said that unless men claim the gender disparity as their issue, society will remain patriarchal. "The new government cannot lose focus since changing attitudes is key."

Within the government, the Pakistan Muslim League is seen as the more conservative of the two coalition partners when it comes to women's rights. The next batch of female traffic wardens will be launched in the province's capital of Peshawar in the coming months. "Whether she is a peon or a prime minister, every woman has to be strong when she steps into a male dominated environment," said Ms Tasneem, of the Islamabad traffic police.

Capital of West Sumatra, Indonesia Imposes Islamic Law on All Citizens


April 24, 2008


In Padang, Islamic law is now imposed on all
by Mathias Hariyadi

The controversial local laws inspired by sharia are now being applied to non-Muslim citizens. Female students who do not wear the headscarf are suspended, and few have the courage to rebel, because of fear of reprisals from fundamentalists.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - In Padang, capital of the province of West Sumatra, the atmosphere is increasingly that of an Islamic state. Female students who do not wear the headscarf (hijab) are frequently suspended from school. The requirement to observe Islamic customs, sanctioned by the controversial regional law of 2005, is also imposed on non-Muslim girls, and has generated an atmosphere of strong pressure on religious minorities. The proliferation of local laws inspired by sharia (perda syariat) is a growing phenomenon in Indonesia, but the central government has chosen not to intervene for now, in spite of protests from religious minorities and human rights NGO's.

The situation is not limited to Padang alone, where the most active promoter of Islamic laws is the mayor himself, Fauzi Bahar. In this province, which has an overwhelming Muslim majority, since 2002 more than 19 districts have ratified the so-called "perda syariat", norms that are, however, supposed to be applied only to Muslim citizens: some of them criminalise behaviours prohibited by Islamic law, like adultery, prostitution, games of chance, and consumption of alcohol, while others restrict the freedom of women. Men as well are required to wear Islamic dress: the traditional white robe called the "koko".

The application of the headscarf law in Padang is going beyond all imaginable limits, the inhabitants of the area say. An anonymous Catholic young woman admits: "Wearing the headscarf is not pleasant for me at all, and it bothers me while I am studying in school". Other female students in various schools complain about the same thing. If they are interviewed by journalists, the young women ask not be named, because they are afraid of "being persecuted by fundamentalists". "We have to adapt", they say, "we have no choice, otherwise they will send us home". Sudarto, one of the members of a local NGO that works for interreligious dialogue, reports that the headscarf law is applied strictly in at least four schools in Padang.

Other residents report with concern that since 2003 in Padang, mayor Fauzi has moved forward "enthusiastically" the project of "creating a more Islamic atmosphere" in the city. Among the other norms inspired by sharia, they recall the obligation for students in the elementary schools to learn the Qur'an by heart.

Emirati Women Emerging as a Strong Economic Force

From The National of the UAE

Emirati women an economic force

Rania Abouzeid

May 13. 2008 10:57PM UAE

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Minister of Foreign Trade, wants to
correct misconceptions about the opportunities open to Emirati women. Jaime Puebla / The National

ABU DHABI // Emirati women are emerging as a strong economic force and their contributions to the country’s non-hydrocarbon GDP, while recognised at home, are still considered novel overseas, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Minister for Foreign Trade said yesterday.

There is a global misconception about Emirati women that should be redressed, Sheikha Lubna said. As part of her efforts to do so, the Minister has lent her support to a research project that will document the contributions of Emirati women to the fields of business, the humanities, the arts and sport.

The initiative, entitled Empower: The Emergence of UAE Women as an Economic Force, has been undertaken by the Dubai-based firm Marketing Pivot with contributions from female university students. The results are to be published early next year in a book which will be distributed to key decision-makers including foreign dignitaries, cabinet ministers and business leaders. It will also be offered to universities and libraries around the world.

“When I travel I want to make sure that people know that I’m not the odd example, that there are many like me,” Sheikha Lubna said. “I’m a walking example of defying stereotyping, not only of the UAE but also of [the] Arab and Muslim world. These books will be a reference.”

According to the World Bank’s latest figures, females comprised 13 per cent of the labour force in 2004. The figure was five per cent in 1980. Mariam Mohammed Khalfan al Roumi, the minister of social affairs, told the UN General Assembly in March that number had risen to 22.4 per cent.

“It’s not that women weren’t there,” Sheikha Lubna said. “My grandmother was an entrepreneur, a businesswoman. The culture itself has always been open for women, what is different is really the confidence of the women themselves. Sometimes women are self-deprecating.”

The key force driving the changing attitude of Emirati women was education, Sheikha Lubna said, adding that females now account for 70 per cent of university students nationwide.

Women were more of an economic force in the country not just because of how much money they have and the spending power that entailed, but also because of how they made that money in the first place.

“You see a lot of women who have wealth, like an inheritance, but that’s not really what we’re talking about. We’re talking about women as a natural force, evolving, developing, handling their money themselves, independently,” Sheikha Lubna said. “We see a lot start-up companies created by young women, organisations run by women.”

According to Forsa, a Dubai-based investment company run by women that exclusively deals with female clients, Arab women are becoming increasingly savvy about how they invest their money.

The firm, which launched last year, would not reveal how many clients it has on its books.

The minimum investment is one million dirhams, part of the firm’s bid to build a Dh1bn investment fund. The majority of Forsa’s clients are “high-end investors,” said an executive who requested anonymity.

In addition to female entrepreneurs, women were also making other inroads in the workforce.

There are more women than men employed in government organisations and ministries, according to the Dubai Women Establishment.

In 2004, there were 4,470 women to 4,271 Emirati men working in state organisations.

The Dubai Women Establishment declined to provide more recent figures, which will be included in its forthcoming report. But Maitha Buhumaid, the group’s communication’s director, said the numbers would indicate that women had made further advances.

“The numbers of women in business are shooting up, and our current research shows that we’re going to see more women leaders in different sectors,” said Ms Buhumaid.

“There are more opportunities offered for women, and women are more aware and better equipped through education and experience.”

The main obstacle to the further participation of Emirati women in the workforce was the age-old balancing act between work and family, Sheikha Lubna said.

“Balancing home and work is a critical matter to all women, regardless of where they come from,” she said. “The difference in a society like ours is that you actually have an assisting environment, whether there’s a nanny, a maid, extended family. That helps.

“But there are no sectors here that are restricted and men-only.”

Ghana: Defying the Odds, a Muslim Woman Treads the Thorny Path of Politics

From - May 5, 2008

Ghana: Defying the Odds, a Muslim Woman Treads the Thorny Path of Politics

Defying the Odds, a Muslim Woman Treads the Thorny Path of Politics

Public Agenda (Accra)

5 May 2008
Posted to the web 5 May 2008

By Basiru Adam/ And Leticia Annan

There are few women holding positions in political parties in Ghana. Besides, there are fewer Muslim women holding positions in political parties in Ghana.

This does not mean they have not or are not contributing to the fortunes of political parties. The Hajias are usually the first group of people one encounters in front of many party offices. They are very good praise singers. In fact, they form the vanguard of political parties in the Zongos.

But one woman who professes to be a devout Muslim is defying the obvious odds that are and is making strides in the Convention People's party (CPP). She is Hajia Hamdatu Ibrahim Haruna, who has risen through the ranks to become the party's National Women's Organiser.

Public Agenda caught up with her in the party's head office in Accra and an interesting interview ensued.

A self-assured looking Hajia Hamda said she was born in Bolgatanga, although she traces her routes to Tamale.

She attended the Bolgatanga Secondary school and later Joy Professional Academy in Kumasi.

From there she moved to Accra and started teaching at a pre-school. Her exploits endeared her to other schools and later she was poached to teach in a school near the CPP offices at Asylum Down in Accra.

This started her love affair with the CPP although she had long admired the party's founder. "As a northerner, I know what Nkrumah's policies did for me."

After school, she would make herself available at the party's office and take part in every activity around. The party's Youth Wing and the Women's League have known her contribution.

Currently, aside being the National Women's Organiser, she serves as the Treasurer of the Dome Kwabenya Constituency office of the CPP.

Hajia Hamdatu is married to Alhaji Yakubu Haruna and they have an eight year old daughter. Her husband works in Libya and comes home every eight weeks. "But there are times he spends four months here, because when I was going around campaigning for my Women's Organiser position I remember he went to some of the regions with me."

"Do you, as a Muslim woman, feel restricted in anyway in the pursuit of your political career", asks Public Agenda (PA).

"No, not at all", came her emphatic but quick reply. " I think the one am supposed to seek permission from is my husband, and he supports me. He supported me even at congress. So am not sure I feel restricted, no, not at all."

PA: What about the general perception that the Muslim woman is supposed to be quiet and live under the tutelage of the husband.

"My brother!" she shouted, "now if you go to Metro TV women are preaching. Women are talking about Islam. Now if you are saying we should be quiet then our children will go astray; because they wouldn't know what the Qur'an says about what to do and what not to. But am not sure Maybe because people do not understand politics well, they think a woman in politics is something else. But I beg to defer. That is not correct."

PA: Some people say politics is a dirty game.

Hajia: Ahhh that is when you want it to be dirty. When you want it to be dirty you will see it as dirty. Politics is not supposed to be dirty. It is not supposed to be dirty It is the people who rather make it dirty. It depends on the individual.

PA: How do you see the future of women and the Muslim woman in particular in Ghanaian politics?

Hajia: Yah, I think it's bright. But it will be brighter when more capable women involve themselves. So far we don't have many. Most of the women are still shying away from politics. Some people would say maybe I don't want to come, stand, and talk for somebody to insult me. You know some people don't like that. Maybe since some of us are in it, it is incumbent on us to go round there and talk to our own people on the need for women to be in politics. We shouldn't just be following political parties. Let me borrow Mallam Musah's words that we follow them and the only reward we get is that they take us to Makkah. We shouldn't limit ourselves to only being sent to Makkah to perform Hajj but we should be part of ministers, MPs and what have you. A lot of the women are also not educated. We need to educate our women. Education is very important. I am going back to school you know.

PA: Do you have a role model in politics?

Hajia: Coming from the northern part of this country, I remember in 1992 the late Hawa Yakubu was the only female voice from the north that you could hear talking about national issues. Even though I don't belong to her political party I quite remember her telling me once that my sister I am going to get a constituency, put you there and you will win. I said but you are in NPP and she said it doesn't matter. That is what Hawa was made off. She looked beyond her party. Her interest, first and foremost, was women, no matter where you belonged. So in fact, I really remembered her when I was vying for the Women's Organiser position. Hawa was a kind of inspirational figure for young people in politics, for that matter those from the north. But I take my greatest inspiration from Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. I am still reading his books and I will continue to read his books. And I think he has left us a book of knowledge. I think if we adopt Nkrumah's what have you, I don't think we as a country will move from country to country begging for people to support our budget and what have you. That's my belief. I nearly stopped driving yesterday when choice FM was playing Nkrumah's speech, I tell you when I reached Achimota forest I was touched and I nearly lost control of my steering. So I said YES! This was the man. So my greatest gratitude is to my Allah who has seen me through all these years because it is easy to be in politics. But I think with God everything is possible.

PA: And how is the future like for Hajia Hamda?

Hajia: You know now I am the Women's Organiser. You see you climb the ladder in politics with caution. You don't just jump and say I want to go and do this. I told you I am thinking of 2012 to go to my village and contest. But if am to contest for a position in this party again definitely I think I would still go for the Women's Organiser position. I would have loved to go for maybe a Deputy General Secretary because you cannot just come straight to a General Secretary. You have to have some in-service training in the party as a Deputy General Secretary before you can be a General Secretary. But I think maybe, who knows, in the near future I will be the first woman General Secretary of the Convention Peoples' Party. I am working seriously towards that because I don't see myself leaving politics. It is only God who will decide when I will leave politics. I am in politics because I think I have a lot to do for my people. In our small way, we are helping our community. But I think we can do better. When CPP wins, our human centred policies will stop my younger sisters from drifting from the north to the south. I don't go to Kantamanto and Agbogbloshie markets anymore. Even if I go I don't give them the load to carry.

PA: Why?

Hajia: Because I can see able bodied people wasting.

PA: Is it a waste for them to come here, make some money and go back home?

Hajia: Of course! They should acquire some skills. Because for how long can they continue carrying loads? If a twenty-year-old is carrying loads, can she do it for the next twenty years? The body will be weak. So why doesn't she learn a trade? And I wonder what those of us from the three northern regions are doing to stop this thing. An individual cannot do it. It should be a policy by government. We need education.

Copyright © 2008 Public Agenda. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (

Gender Discrimination 'is Embedded in Arab Culture'

From the Daily News of Bahrain - May 14, 2008

Gender discrimination 'is embedded in Arab culture'

DISCRIMINATION against women is embedded in the culture of the Arab world, delegates at a conference on women's leadership role heard yesterday.

Prejudice and inequality existed at every level of society, particularly in its education and legal systems, said former United Nations General Assembly president Shaikha Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa.

She said the rapid economic development of the Middle East was leading to greater opportunities for women to become economically independent and said now was the time for them to play a more prominent role in their communities.

Shaikha Haya made the comments during the opening ceremony at a one-day Women and Leadership conference at the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa.

"True gender equality can only be achieved if more women assume leadership positions," said the lawyer.

"The concept of human rights is based on the notion that all human beings are born with equal rights and freedom.

"Yet in the Middle East, women face multi-layered and multi-dimensional discrimination that is embedded in our culture, education systems and the legal framework.

"This discrimination often goes unaddressed, not only by men or states but by women themselves who more often that view their predicament as natural."

Shaikha Haya was president of the UN General Assembly for 12 months until September and was the first Muslim Arab woman to hold the post and only the third female in the history of the UN to do so.

She said arguments used to justify the deficit in female empowerment were often religious in nature, but historically Muslim, Arab women participated in all aspects of life politically, socially and economically.

"Women's rights are often restricted if they are perceived to conflict with the rights of the family unit," said Shaikha Haya.

"Often traditions are associated with religion, making them far more difficult to criticise or change."

Shaikha Haya also argued bi-cultural anxiety brought about by rapid socio-economic change meant some parts of society were keen for men to keep control over women to ensure that tradition was not lost.


"It is up to women, now more than ever before, to be critical in redefining their roles, whilst keeping in view their responsibilities towards their families," she said.

Shaikha Haya added action must be taken to reverse restrictions against women in the legal sector, particular in relation to family laws.

"In the case of divorce, women cannot obtain one without court proceedings and judge approval, whereas men can divorce their wives by a mere verbal declaration," she said.

"These rules deprive women from maintaining peace and security within their home as they are constantly threatened by divorce or polygamy."

Shaikha Haya said Bahrain's educational system also required further modernisation, including more emphasis on subjects like philosophy and theology to nurture critical thinking.

Former UN General Assembly President Urges Quota for Women's Political Participation in Arab World

From the Daily News of Bahrain - May 14, 2008

Special quota plea for women


A SPECIAL quota is needed to guarantee women's participation in municipal council and parliaments across the Arab world, a leading Bahraini lawyer said yesterday.

Former United Nations (UN) General Assembly president Shaikha Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa did not specify what percentage of candidates should be female, but said the move was the only way to guarantee more equality in the region's politics.

"Few women stand for office even when they are allowed to do so by law and whenever they resume high positions like ministerial ones it is often by appointment," said Shaikha Haya.

"The adoption of a quota system in parliament and government positions could be the best bet for securing a role for women in politics.

"A pre-assigned number of seats for women in the elected municipal and representative councils would ensure that women's voices are heard within the legislative and decision-making bodies."

Shaikha Haya was speaking at the Women and Leadership conference.

More than 200 people attended the event, including leading businesswomen and executives from across the Gulf.

Organised by BNP Paribas, it aimed to explore the important role women play in the Middle East and challenges facing them in empowerment.

Shaikha Haya was president of the UN General Assembly for 12 months until last September and was the first Muslim Arab woman to hold the post and only the third female in the history of the UN to do so.

She told delegates that preventing women's political rights being curtailed in the Arab world would also make parliaments more effective and accountable to their citizens.

Shaikha Haya praised the Bahrain's government in developing strategies to help women achieve more decision-making positions and economic independence. She also hailed the role of Her Highness Shaikha Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, the wife of His Majesty King Hamad and Supreme Council for Women chairwoman.

Women in Lucknow Defy Tradition by Praying at Mosque

In a rare sight on Saturday, some Sunni women gathered in a Lucknow mosque and prayed together with men.

These women normally offer namaz at their homes, but they're trying to make a statement. The All India Muslim women personal law board wants mosques across India to open their doors to regular visits by women.

''We are only practicing what Islam has been has been saying, we are not doing anything that goes against the principles laid down in the Shariat,'' said Shaista Ambar, President, All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board.

But the clerics aren't happy and have labeled this as defiance.

''If a woman is in the market during the time of namaz she has the right to go to a mosque, there is a separate section over there for women and she can offer her prayers there. But this cannot be allowed to become a regular practice,'' said Khalid Rashid, a Sunni cleric.

But the women are convinced that there's no looking back. Mehrunissa said, ''We don't care about those who issue these fatwas.''

A few days ago, the board had issued a model nikahnama for Sunnis and upset clerics for doing away with triple talakh.

Now with a move to pray at mosques, it's their way of doing away with gender inequality.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Underground Sport: Saudi Women Shed Veils to Play Basketball

and fans of the all-women Jeddah United basketball team gather in front
of a basketball court at the First Women's Welfare Society in Jiddah,
Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, April 30, 2008. Such is the start of women's
sports in Saudi Arabia, a Muslim country so conservative that the
fledgling women's sports leagues and teams that have begun to appear
here in recent years remain almost entirely underground, far from
public scrutiny or religious clerics' eyes. (AP Photo/Donna Abu-Nasr)

From the Associated Press - May 9, 2008

Underground sport: Saudi women shed veils to play basketball


JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The players bounded into the gym, shedding their long black cloaks and veils to take to the basketball court. Up this night: Jeddah United against the Jaguars, as 30 women spectators hooted and hollered from the stands.

Such is the start of women's sports in Saudi Arabia — a Muslim country so conservative that the fledgling women's sports teams that have begun to appear in recent years remain almost entirely underground, far from public scrutiny or religious clerics' eyes.

"One day we're going to look back on such events and hopefully say, 'Wow, we've gone a long way,'" said Lina al-Maeena, the founder and team captain of Jeddah United.

"Future generations won't have to start from zero."

It is a far cry from Title IX, the landmark 1972 U.S. anti-discrimination law that spearheaded women's equal treatment in sports at a time when the women's rights movement was gathering steam across the West.

In Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive or vote and have few legal rights. The restrictions stem from the strict version of Islam the kingdom follows. Many conservative adherents believe that women's emancipation will lead to decadence and a dissipation of Islamic values.

For these religious conservatives, keeping the sexes segregated and maintaining male guardianship over women is not enough. They want to ban anything they believe might encourage women to abandon conservative Muslim values.

Because of the influence conservative clerics have on government and society, sports and physical education classes are banned in state-run girls' schools. Women's games and marathons are canceled when the powerful clergy get wind of them, and female athletes are not allowed to participate in the Olympics.

Despite such obstacles, Saudi women have quietly been forming soccer, basketball, volleyball and other teams throughout the kingdom in the past few years. Some operate under schools and universities, others are under the umbrella of charities. A few, like Jeddah United and the Jaguars, are independent.

The teams have none of the privileges that men's leagues — which have existed for decades — enjoy.

They're not part of the General Presidency for Youth Welfare, the federation that oversees sports. They find it hard to get corporate sponsorship. They don't have proper facilities where they can train, or even certified referees. And they are not allowed to participate in international competitions.

And while men's games are broadcast on TV and take place in huge stadiums, women rarely advertise their games — or even talk openly about them — for fear the clergy will stop them. That makes it difficult for them to reach spectators from outside their immediate circle of friends and family. And teams in one city often do not know that teams in another exist.

In March, Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheik, the kingdom's mufti, or senior cleric, told Okaz newspaper he had ordered a university in the capital, Riyadh, to cancel a women's marathon. Last year, clerics barred a women's soccer game in the Eastern Province.

Abdul-Kareem al-Khodair, a professor at Imam University, wrote on al-Muslim Web site that introducing physical education classes for girls at government schools would be tantamount to "following in the devil's footsteps" — an argument conservative clerics make to highlight the corrupting influence of women's sports.

That attitude is one reason why the rate of obesity among Saudi women is higher than among men, health care officials say. About 52 percent of Saudi men and 66 percent of women are either obese or overweight, according to Saudi press reports.

The women playing basketball on a recent night last week were conscious of the controversies.

Al-Maeena, 29, stressed that her efforts to promote sports are aimed at combating such "social ills" as obesity, osteoporosis and depression, and providing healthy alternatives for women, who spend their time shopping and smoking waterpipes. She and the others emphasized they do not seek broader liberties, such as an end to segregation of the sexes or the wearing of veils and abayas, the black cloaks all women must wear in public.

"We look at it as part of our national duty. It's not just for getting into the Olympics or competing in international games," al-Maeena said before the game started.

Did she worry the game would be canceled?

"The key is to have publicity later," she said. "It's also a matter of luck, but you're more likely to get lucky in Jiddah compared to other places" because the seaport city is the kingdom's most liberal.

One of the toughest things for the women's teams is finding coaches, said Lina Abouznada, board member in charge of the sports center at the First Women's Welfare Society, which fields its own team.

The society, which cares for 36 female orphans, was the venue for last week's game. The players bounced into the center around dusk, dressed in loose-fitting, knee-length shorts and jerseys underneath their flowing abayas.

No men were allowed in. The players had trained in courts they rent at gyms, or in those attached to private homes.

Before playing, the women shed their cloaks — permitted under the country's laws because no men were around.

Jamila Antone, the Jaguars' American coach, compared the game to amateur league play in the United States — even though the two Saudi teams are among Jiddah's top four.

"If the girls had facilities like boys do for all sports, they would do better than the boys," she said.

Norah Ashrur, a 22-year-old special education teacher, watched as her team, dressed in Jeddah United's colors of raspberry, white and gray, played.

"It bothers me that nobody cares," said Ashrur, who lived in Fort Collins, Colo., from the age of 7 to 12. "In the U.S. everybody would be there."

But because of segregation rules, not even her father could come to the game.

In the end, the Jaguars — whose colors are blue, yellow and gray — won.

Abouznada insisted the situation of Saudi female athletes will change for the better. "Doing things step by step is better than doing it in one step," she said.

"But we need to speed it up," al-Maeena interjected.
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Op-Ed: Acquiring Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia: Between Gradualism and Haste

From Al-Hayat - May 9, 2008

Acquiring Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia: Between Gradualism and Haste

Raghida Dergham Al-Hayat - 09/05/08/

Riyadh -- During the relatively historic National Experts Meeting on Domestic Violence held at the Marriott Hotel in Riyadh, a glass shield was installed to separate the male and female sides of the audience.

The meeting was historic because it was the first of its type to openly address domestic violence, including sexual violence against women, and because the program to eliminate domestic violence was established by royal decree. Were it not for political will, such a program would have never seen the light, and neither males nor females would have met under the same roof with nothing separating between them but a low wall of glass, an accomplishment by all means in the long and difficult path to openness and breaking the walls of gender segregation! Desegregation in hospitals between male and female doctors is permissible, as female autopsy teachers and students from the opposite sex revealed. But those female doctors and professors participating in such a progressive convention have almost rejoiced at the glass shield, as they compare it to the separate closed rooms where members of the two sexes could only convene through low-quality video screens during regular seminars.

Ultimately, the status of women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains different in contrast to the status of women in the rest of the world, including Arab women in several Arab countries. However, the developments in the Kingdom are stimulating evident curiosity among Western media, which constantly perceives the Saudi woman's path as a barometer indicating whether change will be short-lived or will be institutionalized, as women and human rights organizations wish.

Coincidentally and in parallel with the two-day meeting on domestic violence, the "Scientific Seminar on the History of King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz" convened at the Intercontinental Hotel along with an exhibition on the late King organized by Al-Faisal family and descendants of both sexes. The memorial photograph included only sons and grandsons though the seminar and the documents clearly indicated that King Faisal and Queen Effat have raised in tandem the banner of educating girls and establishing the model school for mixed education.

Today, Princess Loulwa bint Faisal chairs the Dar al-Hanan School and the Effat College board of trustees. She co-chairs with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, the World Economic Forum's C-100. The chairpersonship was assigned to Princess Loulwa who was nominated by her brother Prince Turki al-Faisal, in a move approved by King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz and perceived as a symbolic precedent with significant implications.

Princess Effat's upraising in Ataturk's Turkey where she was born before returning to the Kingdom at the age of 16 (she is of Saudi origin from Al-Thunayyan family) may have had an impact on King Faisal's perceptions of the education of girls and desegregation in secondary schools even though Islamic education enjoyed a much higher position among the King's priorities. The relationship between the two was based on respect and openness and was translated into the desire to entrench these two values in society.

Several factors obstructed this desire. These factors were the subject of debate, as the participants in the meeting discussed the background, causes, and elements behind the declining respect for women's fundamental rights and the hindered openness to religious regulations and legislations that offer women basic protection against the violations of men who have used religious traditions to achieve selfish goals.

A part of the women who belong to the openness-to-education generation under King Faisal and who later became degree-holding professionals is angry. These women are angry at the "step-by-step" gradual approach to acquiring self-evident rights of women. They are also angry at the "delight" of their comrades with the separating glass shield. Another part insists that the Saudi environment can only tolerate a gradual approach to attaining women's rights patiently and diligently, away from the media, and yes…celebrating the glass shield because, as one participant put it, "at least we now breathe the same air."

One of the women upset with the slow gradual approach says, "So many decisions and initiatives have been made, only to die in the crib because of the absence of administrative institutions. Institutionalism does not exist. Everyone behaves according to his cultural, tribal or regional nature and background." She adds that what practically happens is "one step forward and ten backward." Hence, "gradual change is not successful; we need a set of laws and a system to protect us."

According to this opinion, "no progress in science, education and health can be achieved without desegregation. Isolation is tantamount to backwardness and will persist even if the segregating wall is made of glass." This view admits that "something new is happening and there is change, namely the state's policy to improve the status of women." Those who embrace this view, however, speak of the control exercised by the clergy over the decisions issued or to be issued by the state. They refer in particular to the tradition of guardianship.

Dr. Asia Al-Ruwaf, who has been standing next to men inside the surgery room for 27 years and established a ward for pediatric surgery, blames the religious tide which started in 1979 with the Khomeini revolution in Iran and left direct marks on the progress of women everywhere. She says, "The problem lies in customs not in religion or law." She points out to "the divide in the religious voice between the hardliners and the moderates who are closer to the reformist movement." She sums up the situation as follows: "The politicians side with women, the clergy are divided, and the public still side with the hard-line religious current."

According to news from Riyadh reported in Al-Hayat this week, dwellers of Saudi mosques will notice new expressions such as "human rights" uttered by preachers during Friday prayers, "as the Ministry of Islamic Affairs vowed to mobilize its imams and preachers to spread awareness about human rights as part of a new partnership with the official rights entity." The task will cover this time the rights of children, girls, wives and servants.

According to the international definition of human rights, the concept of guardianship, like gender segregation, opposes the fundamental human rights. The Saudi woman is subjected to these practices because traditions - not religion or laws - require that she demand permission from her father, brother, husband, or son, even when she is in need of urgent healthcare, not just in matters of travel, education, work, and marriage. In confronting domestic violence, a woman has to practically seek her husband's permission to file a complaint against him.

None of this is the result of enacted laws but rather, the result of the lack of legislation that bars these violations and practices. This is exactly what the Saudi woman is gradually breaking down to eliminate the discrimination against her and to develop herself into a member of society that deserves respect and protective laws prohibiting such humiliating practices. Hence, women themselves are not divided over the need for change.

Yet, they disagree over the pace of change. In the eyes of some women, the participation of businesswomen in the official delegation that accompanies King Abdullah on official visits represents an unprecedented move that highlights the significant official support for women and proves King Abdullah's determination to support women in the path of change.

The advocates of gradual change believe that hasty change could be counterproductive, whereas gradual change offers more guarantees for women's rights. They speak of the importance of raising awareness among men and women alike. They say that there is no need to clash with the opposition, since the path is paved for change. As such, there is no need to rush things and end with a confrontation.

One woman underlines the importance of focusing on women's needs to have these needs met calmly and given the necessary care instead of being turned into a matter of rhetoric. The Breast Cancer Association, for example, established by Dr. Suad bin Amer and now headed by Princess Haifa al-Faisal, is a leading association in the region specialized in raising awareness, assisting female patients and setting up testing centers for women.

Led by its Secretary General Princess Moudi bint Khalid bin Abdul Aziz, Al-Nahda Association currently deals with girl unemployment and women empowerment as a means to help women retrieve the economic value they once enjoyed before the oil boom.

In turn, the executive officer of the National Family Safety Program (NFSP), Dr. Maha bint Abdullah al-Munif, concluded the National Experts Meeting on Domestic Violence by reading 22 recommendations reached by the male and female participants, including judges, police officers, lawyers, and psychiatrists. The first recommendation was the recognition of domestic violence cases in the Kingdom in such a magnitude that draws concern and demands immediate intervention to confront and prevent such practices.

Recognizing and speaking openly about these phenomena is in itself a matter of change. However, the recommendations demand actions and not mere recognition and admission. Efforts must be exerted to incriminate all kinds of domestic violence harmful to the victim or her family, and to impose reinforcing and deterring penalties against the perpetrator.

There is talk about compulsory reporting of assaults, protection to informants, and punishment of perpetrators. There is talk about the need to set up administrations that prevent and counter domestic violence, administrations that would promote cooperation within all concerned ministries and official institutions thanks to efficient mechanisms. Next year's plan of action will also focus on training and rehabilitating professionals engaged in domestic violence cases and on obliging workers in security entities to receive complaints. There are also recommendations to publish a Sharia'a-compliant log of personal status in the Kingdom to limit domestic violence. The recommendations also demand the activation of family courts to rule on cases of domestic violence.

This is not the first time that the issue of violence against women, children and the elderly is discussed in the Arab region. However, this is the first time that men and women speak out in Saudi Arabia about these matters. Princess Adila, King Abdullah's daughter who sponsors the program says, "We are benefiting from the Arab and western experiences because they have achieved far more progress than us." She specifically refers to Jordan, Yemen and Tunisia, where Arab expertise are of help. She adds that several steps are being taken in different areas, from public affairs to economics, to test the Saudi woman's qualification and responsibility as a new partner in national development. Half the population, about 49%, is female. Half the population, she adds, is under 15 years of age, and society cannot move forward by relying on one half.

Be it slow or fast, this process is part of the change underway in the Kingdom. Women are now part of change as a result of a serious political decision, a fact that must be acknowledged and encouraged. Incorporating the talk about human rights into religious preaching is commendable. However, the slow pace remains an enemy threatening the path of change, as it leaves it vulnerable to the forces that resisted and continues to resist this kind of change.

The best deterrent that offers protection for gradual change lies in the quick enactment of laws. It is also the best deterrent against those who mistakenly think that traditions offer them permanent immunity and impunity. Let the removal of the glass shield be gradual one step at a time, but let it be accompanied by a quicker enactment of laws and lying of institutional foundations.

Valentine's Day Across the Muslim World (2012)