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Monday, August 11, 2008

Moroccan Olympic Gold Medalist Becomes First Muslim Women Elected to Olympics Executive Board

By Karolos Grohmann

BEIJING (Reuters) - Moroccan Olympic gold medalist Nawal El Moutawakel has become the first Muslim woman elected to the IOC's powerful executive board.

Full article from Reuters - August 7, 2008

Gay Muslims Struggle to Reconcile Faith, Sexuality

From the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, CA

Gay Muslims struggle to reconcile faith, sexuality

By Phillip Zonkel, Staff writer
Article Launched: 08/07/2008

Salman Husainy was distraught.

The gay Pakistani native, who grew up in Central California, was struggling to reconcile his Muslim faith - which is an integral part of his life - with his sexuality, which is condemned by his faith.

At the same time, the then 18-year-old was pressured by family expectations to marry, have kids and pass on the family name.

"I tried to suppress it as much as I could. I wanted to make my family happy. But it didn't work," says the 33-year-old Long Beach resident. "I felt like I was suffocating inside."

Husainy found solace away from home when he attended the University of California at Irvine. He was able to think independently of his family and faith and ready to confront himself, he says.

Through friends and a local gay-support group, Husainy says he met other gay Pakistanis and Muslim people who were experiencing, or had experienced, similar conflicted emotions.

Within a year or so, Husainy reconciled his faith and sexuality, he says.

"I discovered I could be Muslim and gay and proud of who I am," he says. "All of these identities can be interrelated. I didn't have to give up any of them and live life in neatly packaged boxes."

Husainy's struggle isn't isolated, according to a new film.

"A Jihad for Love," which opened Friday at Laemmle's Sunset 5 theater in West Hollywood, is possibly the world's first feature documentary on gay Muslims. It introduces viewers to Muslims who share their internal strife of uniting their faith with their sexuality.

The movie was filmed in 12 countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, France, India and South Africa, and in nine languages, by director Parvez Sharma, 34, a gay Muslim filmmaker born and raised in India who now resides in New York City.

The movie was filmed in 12 countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, France, India and South Africa, and in nine languages, by director Parvez Sharma, 34, a gay Muslim filmmaker born and raised in India who now resides in New York City.

Since Sharma didn't receive permission to shoot in several countries, he shot many interviews posing as a tourist filming innocuous footage.

Viewers hear poignant stories from a gay imam in South Africa, an Egyptian man who spent at least a year in prison - and says he was raped - for being gay before fleeing to Paris, and four young men who fled for their lives from Iran and are living as refugees in Turkey.

Gay people can be executed in at least six Muslim countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Mauritania and the northern part of Nigeria, according to the 2008 report "State-Sponsored Homophobia" from the International Gay and Lesbian Association.

In Egypt, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, gay people can be condemned to prison, where the sentence can last from one month to life, according to the IGLA report.

In Western media, a "jihad" has been narrowly equated with a "holy war," but its deeper meaning is "an inner struggle."

In "A Jihad for Love," Sharma challenges those myopic perspectives, he says.

"A very loud minority has hijacked my religion and its pulpits," Sharma says during a phone interview from his New York City residence. "To see Islam depicted every day as a faith of violence is very frustrating to me.

"This film is an intensely political act. I wanted to talk about Islam from a different point of view," Sharma says.

Despite strong emotions on each side of this potentially volatile issue, Sharma deliberately avoids attacking Islam in the film.

"If you want to create change, you can't be angry. You have to work with respect for the faith," he says. "I confront the theology with humanity.

"This film takes the traditional gay documentary about coming out and turns it upside-down," Sharma says. "It's not about coming out as a gay person. It's about coming out as a Muslim, as a person of faith."

That journey toward reconciliation mirrored the experiences of Husainy and other gay Muslims living in the Los Angeles area, who have been supported in their coming out by Satrang, a social, cultural and support group for South Asian gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Formed in the mid-1980 s, the organization was co-founded by Mushtaque Jivani, a gay Pakistani Muslim who recognized the need to combat the isolation, confusion and alienation endured by gay Muslims.

More than 20 years later, Jivani says gay Muslims, particularly Pakistanis and Indians, in the L.A. area have achieved impressive strides in their struggle for acceptance. On Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, Satrang participated in a march in the heart of Little India in Artesia.

"What I thought 20 years ago isn't true now," says the 59-year-old Long Beach resident. "I thought we would be outcasts forever, but now we are part of mainstream society."

Husainy's Muslim parents also have accepted their son's homosexuality and have a "wonderful relationship" with his Indian boyfriend, Husainy says. They frequently talk with him on the phone and have embraced him as a part of the family, he says.

"It was wonderful to get their acceptance," Husainy says. "At the end, did I break my family's expectations? No, I shared a part of me that they didn't know, and they've come to terms with it.

"I'm still the son they wanted me to be," Husainy says. "I'm honorable and successful."

With Arts and Films, Delhi's Gay Celebrate Nigah Queer Fest

From Sindh Today - August 10, 2008

With arts and films, Delhi's gay celebrate Nigah Queer Fest

Aug 10th, 2008 | By Sindh Today | Category: India

New Delhi, Aug 10 (IANS) With roses in their hands and banners voicing their angst against the law which makes homosexuality a crime in India, Delhi's gay community will celebrate the 16th anniversary of its first public protest Monday.

Coming a month after the city's first gay parade, which was a huge success attracting more than 500 people, the celebration will be part of a 10-day art-film-photography festival, which culminates Aug 17.

The Nigah Queer Fest, as the festival is called, is in its second year and, as activist Gautam Bhan puts it, is 'bigger and better' than last year.

"We had so many entries from around the world for the film screening section that we didn't know which to reject," Bhan told IANS.

Skimming through the entries, the organisers finally zeroed in on 47 films which have been screened over the weekend. And the films, in languages varying from Spanish and German to English and Tamil, are as varied culturally as they can be, but with a common message.

One of the films, "Jihad for love" is a daring documentary filmed in 12 countries and in nine languages. The film explores the complex global intersections between Islam and homosexuality.

Then there is an art festival showing a variety of moods of the queer community. Panel discussions on topics such as Visualising Sexuality and performance nights, throwing open ideas on how to use creative mediums like arts or photography to express one's sexuality, are also part of the parcel.

Monday, however, will be even more special for the community since it is on this day 16 years ago that the city saw the first queer protest out in the open.

Gay rights activists, human rights activists and those working on issues of HIV/AIDS led the protest against police arrests of several gay men walking in the open in the Central Park in Connaught Place in the heart of Delhi.

"t was our Stonewall," said Bhan, referring to the a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place in the early morning of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York City.

The protest marked the first instance in American history when gays and lesbians came out against a government-sponsored system that persecuted homosexuals, and it has become the seminal event marking the gay rights movement in the US and around the world.

"On this day we will have panel discussions and remember our historical past and have talks," Bhan added.

Book Review: The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics

For some people today, the veil has become a symbol of terrorist tyranny. For many feminists, veiling is synonymous with the oppression of women

A member of the Bhopa tribe who lives with her family in the desert state of Rajasthan India.

The Queer and the Qur'an

From the Williamette Week Online - Portland, OR - August 6, 2008

The Queer and the Qur'an

Ali is gay. And Muslim. Can he be both?

DOUBLE LIFE: Ali struggles with being gay and Muslim.

DOUBLE LIFE: Ali struggles with being gay and Muslim.
IMAGE: Tim Gunther


At 29, 150 pounds and 5-foot-10, he has the looks of a male model: piercing brown eyes, the thin outline of a beard, glistening studs in each ear and the shaved, fit body of someone who works out.

He and his partner, "Bill," who works in advertising, live in a lavish condominium in Northwest Portland. They travel often, collecting art and artifacts from across the globe. They drive nice cars, sport designer threads, eat at the best restaurants and are seen at all the right events.

In certain circles, Ali is called a "power gay," or "A-list gay," not unlike the local restaurateurs, doctors, and other queer power brokers of Portland. You see them every second Tuesday of the month at "Salon Q," a mixer—Bill is one of the organizers—for affluent gay guys that's become a de facto queer "networking" community.

And although Ali may look like he worships at the temple of all that is gay, none of that really matters.

That's because Ali is a devout Muslim. And to Muslims, queer is not just wrong—it is wicked.

"I'd be just as happy to live a humble life as it is written in the Qur'an," says Ali, who in many ways is a devout Muslim. He prays several times a day. He doesn't eat pork. He celebrates Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. His life is full of the customs of his faith, including the ritual cleansing of the body prior to one of five daily prayers. He follows Islamic teachings religiously.

And he knows very well what the Qur'an says about homosexuality.

"It is wrong," he said.

It's the reason Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a group of students at Columbia University last year: "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country."

Even in 2008, in a progressive city like Portland, there are gays who remain in the closet: They don't want their employer or co-workers to find out; they worry their families or friends might not understand. Sometimes it has to do with the fact they haven't come to terms with it themselves.

Ali has a different reason he stays—and will continue to stay—in the shadows. He knows his religion could denounce him or, in some countries, something much worse. Gays in the Middle East have been arrested, stoned, beheaded or hanged in the public square (it was widely reported this was the fate of two gay teens in Iran in 2005). This summer there have been several arrests of men who've reportedly displayed gay behavior in Middle Eastern countries.

That said, it's not the fear of death that concerns Ali.

His fears run much deeper. If he were to come out as a gay Muslim, he would lose things dearer to him than his own life: family, community, identity.

IN THE SUBURBAN HILLS OF SOUTHWEST PORTLAND, 10 minutes from downtown and not far from Interstate 5 and a strip mall that includes a McDonald's and a Starbucks, stands a two-story building surrounded by a white picket fence.

This is the home of the Islamic Center of Portland, Masjed As-Saber—the largest of seven mosques in the greater Portland area. Worshipers from about 40 countries gather here to pray and commune. In 2002, the mosque made national headlines when some of its leaders, known as the "Portland Seven," an alleged terror cell made up of local Muslims, tried to join al-Qaeda forces in their fight against the U.S. military and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Sheik Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye is the Somali-born imam, or spiritual leader, of Masjed As-Saber. Kariye was arrested by the Joint Terrorism Task Force on Sept. 8, 2002, as he tried to leave the U.S. for Dubai. He was held for allegedly having traces of TNT on his luggage, an accusation later proved unfounded in tests by the FBI. He was charged with illegal use of a Social Security number and unlawful possession of government documents. Kariye eventually pleaded guilty to fraud charges in March 2003 and was sentenced to five years' probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.

Despite his notoriety, Kariye remains one of the most influential Muslim leaders in the Portland area. And he is quite clear about the conflict between Islam and homosexuality.

"I don't understand how anyone could say they are gay and Muslim. It is not compatible with our teachings," said Kariye from inside the mosque. After thoughtful consideration, the skullcapped, heavily bearded imam said, "If someone was to claim they were gay, they would not be allowed to be a Muslim anymore."

The imam, who doesn't see why there should be a separation of church and state, went on to say Muslims view the acceptance of homosexuality as one of the downfalls of Western civilization.

In fact, in an interview with WW on Wednesday, July 30, he was asked if it was OK to kill gays. "Yes," he said, "our teachings say it's OK."

The next day, when this reporter read him back his quotes, he said the reporter had misunderstood his words.

MOST MAJOR RELIGIONS FROWN ON HOMOSEXUALITY. That said, few faiths are as rigid as Islam.

The hadith, which are statements ascribed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad, contain numerous statements about homosexuality. One such passage, attributed to Muhammad in his farewell speech, says, "Whoever has intercourse with a woman and penetrates her rectum, or with a man, or with a boy, will appear on the Last Day stinking worse than a corpse; people will find him unbearable until he enters hellfire, and God will cancel all his good deeds."

By contrast, members of some faiths are moving slowly to acceptance of gays and lesbians. The Metropolitan Community Church—an international fellowship of Christian congregations with 250 member groups in 23 countries—specifically reaches out to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families and communities. Even the Episcopalian Church has elected a gay bishop.

Judaism has in many cases become sympathetic to homosexuality. "There has been a massive policy shift in the Conservative Jewish world," says Sandi DuBowski, director of the 2001 documentary Trembling Before G-d, about gay and lesbian Orthodox and Hasidic Jews. "They now permit ordaining gay and lesbian rabbis and same-sex marriages. But it's up to the actual rabbinical seminary, synagogue and communal organizations. Not all of them are that open."

Tara Wilkins, who is a lesbian, is executive director of the Community of Welcoming Congregations, a statewide coalition of nearly 100 faith-based organizations in Oregon that reach out to gays and lesbians. The group's members include Quakers, Mormons, Jews and Methodists, but no Muslims.

"Like Islam, Christianity is struggling to figure out how to be faithful in the 21st century. In a word, it's shifting," says Wilkins. "But all [religions] are not created equal in their position on homosexuality."

Professor Norman Metzler, chair of the Division of Theology at Concordia University, a Christian college in Portland, says, "I know Islam to be generally more restrictive [than other religions] about homosexuality."

Adds Paul Powers, associate professor of religious studies and a specialist in Islam at Lewis & Clark College: "Same-sex sex acts have been a human practice forever, but prior to the past 200 years, there is no religion on the planet that even considered the possibility of homosexuality in the way we think of it today in the West. Yes, it's true that Muslims both in America and the rest of the world have trouble accepting this version of homosexuality."

Is Islam the least tolerant? "Saying that Muslims are the worst," says Powers, "gives us a false sense of comfort about how tolerant the world is today."

ALI IS WELL AWARE OF HIS FAITH'S ATTITUDE about his lifestyle. It's the reason he has yet to visit a local mosque, even though he's lived here for two years. It's also why he doesn't want to use his real name.

Which raises the question: If Ali is gay, why does he continue his devotion to a faith that rejects and renounces his sexuality?

It's a twist on an age-old question other persecuted minorities—African-Americans, women—have faced throughout history. What do you do when your faith considers you a second-class citizen?

"It's all about my purpose in life," says Ali. "The world is evil; my [faith] gives me something to value more than myself. My passion is the shadow of my soul, my devotion is for my God, and the purpose of my life is love."

Then why continue to behave in such a fashion that so violates his faith?

"If I could, I would not choose to be gay," he says. "Why would I choose this life?"

While Ali leads something of a double life today, it pales in comparison to his upbringing.

Born in Denmark to poor, Muslim parents from Pakistan, Ali says his father was distant and abusive, he was the quintessential "mama's boy," and his family was very pious.

"My father, and sometimes my mother, would beat me if I didn't say my prayers," he recalls.

Although he felt pressure from his family to date women, which he has done, including having sex with them, he says he has known he was gay since the age of 9.

He knew he could never openly express his gayness and still be a member of his family or community.

At 19, his secret caused him to become depressed; he stopped eating and lost half his body weight.

"I went from 150 down to [close to] 75 pounds," says Ali.

Hospitalized for four months, Ali harbored thoughts of suicide. He said he would never take his own life, due in part to his faith—and some good meds.

After he got out of the hospital, he moved into his own place and lived the double life of a gay party boy and a devout Muslim son. During his early college years, he was paid by the Danish government to travel throughout Denmark and lecture on what it was like to be an "ethnic role model" (i.e., someone with darker skin, including Africans, Arabs and Indians) in Danish society. At the same time, Ali performed in Sweden as a go-go dancer at gay and straight clubs for the same fee he received to lecture.

"Every day is a double life for me," says Ali. How he speaks to his sisters (he has three who still live in Denmark) is very different from how he speaks to friends. "I have learned to keep everything separate."

For all the complications in Ali's life, the reason he came to Portland was a common one.

Ali met Bill online. Shortly after, Ali moved to Portland to be with him.

While Ali still tries to be discreet about his sexuality, he is at least partially out of the closet. He and Bill, who is not Muslim, registered as domestic partners in Oregon. Most of Ali's close friends here, including a handful of fellow Muslims, know he is gay. That said, he doesn't go to Muslim events, nor does he spend much time in gay bars. "They are so boring here," says Ali. "I'd rather go to a circuit party in Miami." As for visiting a mosque, he continues to go daily—that is, when he is home in Denmark.

"My family, and most of my Pakistani friends back home, don't know I am gay," says Ali, who is in the third year of a five-year student visa. Currently enrolled at a local college in design management, he works on campus.

Ali doesn't know what the future holds for him. He doesn't plan to return to Denmark, he doesn't want to get married to a woman, and he definitely doesn't want to come out of the closet. It is something that he believes will never happen.

Truthfully, Ali's life may not be all that much different from that of a "cafeteria Catholic" who takes communion but supports abortion rights and the death penalty, or a "Jack Mormon" who maintains his faith but doesn't always show up for church. But Ali says his faith is paramount. "My identity is being a Muslim. Before I am gay, Danish or Pakistani, I am a Muslim," says Ali. "It's my purpose in life."

At the same time, he adds, "Being gay allows me to love someone else, and feel that love in return."

DARIUS REJALI, 48, is chairman of the political science department at Reed College and author of the book "Torture and Democracy." He's Muslim. For many years, he served on the board of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. He's reluctant to discuss his own sexuality, for reasons he says are far more complicated than simply because his faith so completely rejects homosexuality.

Rejali believes, for Middle Easterners, there are much more important things than letting people know you are "gay." He also maintains that the benefits of faith outweigh whatever pain is caused by the fact that his faith spurns being gay.

"For Westerners, the opposite of freedom is slavery. But for most cultures, the opposite of slavery has never been freedom but community," says Rejali, by which he means that whatever loss of freedom gays suffer from Islam's rejection of homosexuality is more than made up for by the sense of community and belonging that Islam provides gays.

ALI PRAYS SEVERAL TIMES A DAY, including on the floor of his condo, where he faces Mecca. On one particular Thursday, his prayers were for his deceased mother. He knelt several times and whispered his prayers. Then he prepared an offering, which on this night was fruit. When he was done, he said, "I want to be allowed to be both gay and Muslim," though he didn't offer much hope. "I will never give up my faith, and I will never come out."

According to a 2000 report by the Pennsylvania-based Association of Religion Data Archives, there were an estimated 3,939 Muslims in three congregations in Multnomah County. Imam Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye now believes that number to be much larger - between 7,000 and 10,000.

When Bill goes to see Ali's family in Denmark, as he recently did, he goes there as his "boss."

A recent book, Illegal Citizens: Queer Lives iIn the Muslim World, follows gay Muslims in more than 20 countries. "In many of these countries, people disappear without a trace," says author Afdhere Jama.

A recent documentary about gay life in Muslim culture is titled A Jihad for Love. For six years, filmmaker Parvez Sharma followed and filmed gay Muslims in 12 countries. The film doesn't yet have a Portland screening date.

Islam is the religion of more than 1.2 billion people worldwide.

Wikipedia on legality of homosexuality: "In some Muslim-majority nations, such as Turkey, Jordan, Indonesia or Mali, same-sex intercourse is not specifically forbidden by law.... Homosexuality, while not legal, is tolerated to some extent in Lebanon, which has a significantly large Christian minority, and has been legal in Turkey for decades."

Wikipedia on "modernization" of Islam's approach to homosexuality: "Some liberal Muslims, such as the members of the Al-Fatiha Foundation, accept and consider homosexuality as natural.... They regard Qu'ran verses condemning homosexuality as obsolete in the context of modern society, or point out that the Qu'ran speaks out against homosexual lust and is silent on homosexual love."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Iran and Women: Can Appearances Deceive?

From Reuters - August 8, 2008

The image
Iranian women walk on the beach.

August 8th, 2008

Iran and women: Can appearances deceive?

Posted by: Edmund Blair

Iran is a land that cannot be easily pigeon-holed.

America's sworn enemy which brands the United States the "Great Satan" is the only country in the Middle East where citizens went onto the streets with a candlelit vigil in a spontaneous show of sympathy immediately after 9/11.

The Islamic Republic, the embodiment of radical Islam in the eyes of many a Western politician, is also the place where the most popular public holidays hark back to Iran's Zoroastrian past that pre-dates Islam.

And then there are the women in their veils. Many you can hardly see, shrouded in their black chadors — a word which literally means 'tent' — holding the edges of the cloth in their teeth to keep it tightly bound round their faces.

Look elsewhere, particularly in the upscale parts of town, and the veil hardly covers their heads, pushed back behind bouffant hair styles, more Yves Saint Laurent than Islam. "Bad hejab" it's called. (Persian and English share the same word for "bad", perhaps testimony to ancient linguistic roots.)

But the omnipresent veil tells you little. Whether all enveloping or pushed back on the head to the limits - and beyond - of acceptability, it gives no indication of where women see their place in society or their political view.
I first travelled to Iran in 1999. Politically a very different time. Pro-reform politicians had swept to power. Change was in the air although, as it happened, it didn't last long.

On that occasion, I was travelling with a U.S.-Iranian friend who was touring the Islamic Republic as part of some research. The trip took us to Ardebil, a city in northwest Iran.

We had met a kindly man on the flight. He insisted we stay with his family. We declined many times, but this was not traditional "taarof", the Iranian tradition of making an offer that the recipient is expected to decline. He meant it. And we agreed.

We were having lunch. The wife with her neat veil served the food, with her daughter's help. The men were seated. The women chose to eat in a separate room. We tucked in. Then, after finishing, the wife and daughter joined us for tea. We chatted.

So what has the revolution achieved? my friend asked, speaking 20 years after the Islamic Republic emerged.

The husband answered, well, it's been tough, we still have many problems, but we have made progress. He listed the advances. His wife was listening with increasing agitation.

Finally, unable to hold herself back, she blurted out her  response. In short, he was talking nonsense, she said. She laid into his account with vigour - in front of the visitors - perfectly confident that her opposing and less rosy view of Iran's progress was just as valid.

That's what struck me. It's not what the wife said that mattered. It was her assertiveness. There seemed no inequality in that room. Eating apart and wearing a headscarf were just tradition or polite custom, it was not a statement about her position. Her words that spoke volumes.

That scene in 1999 is just as relevant today. But the political landscape is different. Reformists are no longer in government pushing for social and political change. Hardliners hold the reins of power. And different images now come to the fore: those of women battling to change their status in the eyes
of the law.

It is the era after Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Peace prize in 2003 for her work on democracy and human rights. She was the first Iranian, first Shi'ite Muslim and first Muslim woman to be so honoured.

She and other activists are fighting for the same divorce rights as men, to have their witness given the same weight in court and seeking other changes that will put them on a par. They pay a heavy price.

Suspended jail sentences for their actions or even time inside are not uncommon . The Iranian authorities deny discrimination and say they are simply implementing Islamic sharia law.

What women are fighting for highlights their aspirations but their determination tells you more about where they see themselves, as equals, even if the activists number just a small
minority in this country of 70 million.

The Islamic Republic often seems as intricate and complex as the mosaic tiling on its mosques. It's difficult to categorise. Veiled women, whether covering up for conviction or because the law demands it, suggest appearances can indeed deceive.

Running for Her Life: Afghan Athlete Seeks Asylum in Europe

From Spiegel

07/14/2008 03:32 PM


Afghan Athlete Seeks Asylum in Europe

Mehboba Ahdyar was to be the poster-child for the Olympics but the 19-year-old Afghan runner ran away from an Italian training camp last week. She has since told her parents she is too scared of reprisals and plans to seek asylum in Europe.

Mehboba Ahdyar was shouldering the heavy burden of overwhelming expectations. And in the end, it proved more than she could bear. The 19-year-old from Kabul was to be the only female athlete representing Afghanistan in this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. Now the young woman has run away, leaving a training camp in Italy and telling her family she is applying for political asylum in Europe.

Mehboba Ahdyar has opted to seek asylum instead of competing in the Olympics.
Getty Images

Mehboba Ahdyar has opted to seek asylum instead of competing in the Olympics.

The young runner, who competes in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters, had become the poster girl for the Olympic movement, with her face adorning the International Olympic Committee's Web site.

But being in the international spotlight had attracted the wrong kind of attention. Although Ahdyar always ran in a headscarf and wore long tracksuit bottoms she still received death threats from extremists who objected to a Muslim woman taking part in sports at all.

When she received visits from Western media earlier this year, her neighbors called the police telling them she was obviously a prostitute working for foreign clients. Her father, a carpenter, even spent time in jail until the issue was cleared up.

The attempt to revive women's sport in Afghanistan has been an uphill battle. The 2004 Olympics marked the first time female Afghan athletes had competed in the games since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The country had been banned from the 2000 games because the Islamist regime had not allowed women to compete.

Afghanistan is now fighting a resurgent Taliban and in a country where women are still regarded as second-class citizens, militants often target organizations and individuals who champion women's issues.

The German coach of the Afghan women's soccer team, Klaus Stärk, told SPIEGEL ONLINE earlier this year that he had to train his players on a small pitch at a US army base in Kabul because it would be too dangerous for them to play anywhere else. He even brought the female players to his native Stuttgart to give them the chance to play on regulation-sized fields.

While those women were happy to return to their lives in Afghanistan, Ahdyar took the decision to flee her country and gave up her chance to compete at the Olympics.

She had been training with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) at a facility at Formia in Italy and was due to travel back to a high-performance center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on July 7. Instead she went missing, taking her luggage and passport with her. There were initially fears that she could have been abducted. The Afghan Olympic Committee then claimed that she had a leg injury. Its deputy chairman Sayed Mahmoud Zia Dashti told the Associated Press last week that she was receiving treatment for her leg in Italy.

However, Ahdyar contacted her family late last week. She told them that she was in Europe and would not be coming back. She said she was scared of reprisals because of her sports career. Her parents are now reportedly under pressure from members of the Afghan Olympic Committee, who say that if she does not come back they will be held responsible and could be thrown in jail.

Jordan to Have a Female Flag Bearer for Beijing Olympics

From China View - August 2, 2008

   AMMAN, Aug. 2 (Xinhua) -- Jordan's woman table tennis player Zeina Shaban will hold the national flag at the Beijing Olympics' opening ceremony, official news agency Petra reported on Saturday, noting that female seems to have dominated the Arab team.

   The upcoming Beijing Olympics will see the participation of four women Jordanians Nadeen Dwani (taekwondo), Zeina Shaban (tennis) Razan Fareed (swimming), and runner Bara' Marwan, as compared to three men of Anas Hamoudeh (swimming), Ibrahim Bisharat (equestrian) and athlete Khalil Hanahneh, it said.

   The delegation is also headed by a female -- Lana Jagbeer. She is supposed to be the first Jordanian woman ever to lead an Olympic delegation.

   Shaban qualified for her second Olympics in February when she clinched the sole berth from the West Asia Zone. En route to Beijing, she beat Jordan's Siwar Abc Yumun and Syria's Suha Anous, before overcoming Lebanon's top players Mariana Sahakian and Lara Kejebashian.

   Moreover, Jordan's delegation this year abandoned the foregone idea of mere participation and adopted the slogan of competition in hopes to grab a platform crown, the report added.

   The Beijing Olympic Games will be held from August 8 to 24. Approximately 10,500 athletes from 204 countries and regions are expected to participate in the Games.

High Hopes of Iranian Women Rowers (for Beijing Olympics)

From the Fars News Agency - August 2, 2008

High Hopes of Iranian Women Rowers

TEHRAN (FNA)- Not many Tehran cabbies could find their way there, but hidden close to the centre of the Iranian capital is a six-lane, 1,000m rowing course.

The lake was dug for the 1974 Asian Games. Behind the finish is the 100,000 seat Azadi stadium. In the background, the magnificent Alborz mountains that form Tehran's northern boundary.

It has taken a while for Iran to take to the sport of Oxford and Cambridge, Henley and Pimm's.

But two years ago, they finally took the plunge.

A group of 300 young women was brought to this course from across the country to test their suitability for the sport. There was a similar program for the men as well.

One of the young candidates, Homa Hosseini, graduated from the class and now, two short years later, she is travelling to take part in the Beijing Olympics.

If the approach sounds eastern European, it is.

The current women's coach comes from one of the great nations of women's rowing, Romania. Another coach is half-Russian.

We are not short of anything, and in fact sometimes women get better support than men because of the sensitivity of the issue, Homa Hosseini told BBC.

As the rowers begin to arrive at six in the morning, it is already 28C. Soon the temperature will be up in the high 30s (over 100F).

Asked if her Islamic dressing troubles her, Hosseini said, "Yes, our clothes are warm. But since we began to work with such clothing we got used to it.

"Personally I do not have any problem with that and I don't think it is stopping me from making progress."

Asked if men and women athletes are treated fairly and if she feels restricted because of being a woman in an Islamic country, Homa said, "The facilities we are using are the same as the men and we get a very strong support from our federation."

"So we are not short of anything, and in fact sometimes women get better support than men because of the sensitivity of the issue."

Over the last two years that support has included four foreign coaches. The boats are Chinese.

The blades look like they are from a top American manufacturer.

In the gym, there is a small fleet of rowing machines.

"In the two years that I have been a member of the Iranian rowing team, I have only had two months holiday. We train six hours a day. It takes all of our time," says Hosseini.

She knows that she is not in the medal hunt this time round. But Iranians love their sport and are proud of their Olympic achievements.

But, the delegation of Iranian athletes going to Beijing Olympic games includes more women.

One of Iran's leading competitors in Beijing is in the - distinctly unladylike - sport of Taekwondo.

Some women complain that Iranian women's sports only get a third of government sports funding and that Iranian men still do not take women's sports seriously.

But then again, you might well hear the same story in Britain or the United States.

Wrestling is Iranians' specialty. Not to the mention the proud achievements of the football team, one of the few sides from the Middle East to qualify for the World Cup finals in recent years.

Every Friday, on their day of rest, Iranians of all ages clamber up the Alborz mountains in their thousands. It is a tough climb but women are up there in equal numbers with the men.

It is all very different from the Arab world. Few if any Jordanians, for example, would ever be seen walking in Jordan's fine national parks.

But Iran has a very different ethos, a dynamic attitude to sport and perhaps to life. Iranians love getting out there and proving the rest of the world wrong.

So, sporting world, watch out. The Iranians are coming.

Valentine's Day Across the Muslim World (2012)