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Friday, August 29, 2008

Ramadan to Start on Monday, September 1, 2008

From the Fiqh Council of North America


Ramadan 1429:  September 1, 2008

The Astronomical New Moon for Ramadan is on Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 19:58 Universal Time (i.e., 3:58 pm EDT, and 12:58 pm PDT). According to the criteria adopted by the Fiqh Council of North America, and European Council for Fatwa and Research, [the conjunction before sunset and moon setting after sunset in Makkah] first day of Ramadan is on Monday, September 1, 2008.

Eid al-Fitr 1429: October 1, 2008

The Astronomical New Moon for Shawwal is on Monday, September 29, 2008 at 8:12 GMT, 4:12 am EDT, 1:12 am PDT). According to the criteria adopted by the Fiqh Council of North America, and European Council for Fatwa and Research, the first day of Shawwal is on Wednesday, October 1, 2008.

Mideast Running on Different Clocks at Ramadan

From the Associated Press - August 28, 2008

Mideast running on different clocks at Ramadan

Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt — The start of the holy month of Ramadan next week is
causing clock confusion in the Middle East. Egypt and the Palestinians
are falling back an hour far earlier than usual, trying to reduce
daylight hours for Muslims fasting until sunset in sweltering summer

Politics is also adding a twist. The Palestinian militant group Hamas
is ending daylight-saving time at midnight Thursday in the Gaza Strip,
which it controls — while the West Bank, run by the rival Fatah
faction, is waiting until midnight Sunday.

The Palestinians have traditionally changed their clocks at different
times from Israel in a gesture of independence. Now for the first
time, they're directing the gesture at each other, reflecting the
rival claims for power in the more than year-old split between the
Palestinian territories.

"Hamas just wants to show they're different from the Palestinian
government, to pretend that they are the real government here," said
Jamal Zakout, a spokesman for the prime minister of the West
Bank-based Palestinian Authority. He said the PA chose midnight Sunday
because Ramadan is expected to begin Monday.

Egypt will also move its clocks back one hour at midnight Thursday, a
full month earlier than usual. The switch will put Egypt two hours
ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and at least an hour later than its
Mideast neighbors.

The creeping-up of the clock change reflects the complications of the
lunar Islamic calendar.

Ramadan comes around 11 days earlier each year. Currently, that brings
it more into the long, hot days of summer, making it particularly
tough for Muslims, who abstain from food and drink from sunrise to
sunset during the holy month. Even in September, temperatures in Egypt
are in the upper 90s.

Egypt's decision will enable its people to have their "iftar" evening
meal, breaking the fast, an hour earlier.

Israel goes off daylight-saving time on Oct. 5, before the Jewish holy
day Yom Kippur. It won't reduce the length of the 25-hour fast, which
goes from sunset to sunset, but makes it a bit easier by reducing the
number of daytime hours observant Jews must go without food or water.

Jordan and Lebanon will switch the clocks back as usual by the end of
October. Syria falls back in late September, while Saudi Arabia and
Iraq don't change clocks.

Ramadan, which commemorates the revelation of the first verses of the
Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, begins and ends with the sighting of
the new moon. During the month, families and friends gather for
sometimes lavish iftar meals, ending with the Eid al-Fitr, a three-day
holiday of the breaking of the fast.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

India: Islam Not Against Women Solemnising Marriage: Syeda Hameed (Interview)

From the Indo-Asian News Service

Islam not against women solemnising marriage: Syeda Hameed (Interview)

Posted: 8:15a.m. IST, August 24, 2008

New Delhi, Aug 24 (IANS) Islam does not prohibit a woman from solemnising a marriage and it was reflective of the 'slow and steady' changes happening in Muslim society, says Syeda Hameed, an official who courted controversy by performing the marriage rituals of a couple.

'As a religion, Islam does not prohibit a woman from solemnising marriage.
We have to move forward. It is the need of the hour,' Hameed, a member of the country's Planning Commission, told IANS in an interview.

Hameed is pleased to see no hue and cry because on Aug 12 she performed the 'nikah' (solemnising a marriage according to Muslim practice) of Naish Hasan and Imran Ali. She terms it a healthy sign.

'I had apprehended there would be some hard reaction, but I was determined to fulfil the desire of Naish and Imran. I have known them for a long time,' she said.

'At the same time, I had thought that there would be acceptance of what I was going to do,' said Hameed, who had specially gone to Lucknow to solemnise the marriage.

'Things were changing 'slowly and steadily', she said, adding: 'Attitude is not as hard as it used to be. We have to move forward.'

What prompted her to take up a path-breaking initiative?

'I belong to a family where reformism has been a deep-rooted tradition. My great grandfather Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali was known for his reformist views. He spoke of reforms in Islam 100 years ago,' she said.

For her, being a reformist does not mean any compromise with the religion one espouses.

'We are deep into religion but are extremely liberal in outlook. What I did by performing 'nikah' is in consonance with my great family tradition. I shall be happy if more and more women come forward and take path-breaking steps, befitting Islamic ethos and values.'

Having ushered in a new trend by breaking traditional barriers, Hameed feels that a lot needs to be done for gender parity in Muslim society.

'Yes, more path-breaking initiatives are needed to reflect the true image of Islam. It will be possible when the forward-looking people take initiatives,' she said.

'There are enough enlightened people in society to bring change in society,' Hameed said.

Should a woman feel threatened in a society where there is a 'limited or restricted' role for women to play?

'Reformists never stop doing good things,' pat came her reply.

Related Articles:

India: Woman Performs Nikah, Bridges Shia-Sunni Divide Too

From the Indian Express

Woman performs nikah, bridges Shia-Sunni divide too

Tarannum Manjul
Posted online: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 0115 hrs

Lucknow, August 12: Picture this: A Muslim girl sitting across the table with her bridegroom. A maulvi enters, asks her if she would accept the boy to be her husband. She says she does. The maulvi asks the same question to the groom; he accepts it too.

What may seem different here is the fact that both the bride and the groom are sitting across the table from each other, and not behind a veil or curtain as in most Muslim weddings. But what really sets this wedding of Lucknow's Naish Hasan and New Delhi's Imran Ali apart is the fact that the nikah was performed by a woman.

Ushering in a new trend and breaking all traditional barriers, the wedding of two eminent social activists working for the rights of Muslim women was performed by eminent scholar and member of the Union Planning Commission Dr Syeda Hameed. Dr Hameed flew in from Delhi especially to perform the nikah and bless the couple. Although there has been no precedent of women conducting a nikah in recent history, women are known to have attained the position of qazi and mufti in times of the Prophet.

"I always wanted a wedding which did follow the proper guidelines of Islam and the Shariat but gave equal rights to Muslim women. The model nikahnama has been supporting Muslim women by giving them rights and I wanted my wedding to be according to it," said Naish, founder member of the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), a social organisation.

When Naish spoke about it to Ali, who also works for the rights of Muslim women, he readily agreed. "I knew that through this move of ours, we could actually lead a number of youngsters to follow. We are not doing anything un-Islamic," Ali said.

The nikah turned out to be a trendsetter in more ways than one. While the bride and the groom were Sunnis, Dr Hameed who conducted the nikah was Shia. Also, the four witnesses to the wedding were women. The nikah was performed following the model nikahnama, framed by the BMMA recently at New Delhi, after discussions over the past two years.

"According to the Shariat, anyone who is well versed in the Quran and is also a scholar of Arabic and Persian can perform the nikah. No degree or any other qualification is required to perform the nikah," said Naaz Raza, the state coordinator of BMMA. "And our nikahnama gives rights to both the Shia and the Sunni women," added Raza.

The wedding ceremony was performed in a simple manner. No baraat, no lavish expenditure and no ruksati.

The marriage has recieved appreciation from the chairperson of the All India Muslim Women's Personal Law Board Shaista Amber. "Although they have not followed our model nikahnama and have instead created another one, yet I appreciate this step taken by Naish and Ali. They are certainly not violating any rules or rebelling against the religion. Instead, they are just setting a new trend that may be followed by a number of Muslim youngsters and help in curbing evils like dowry in the long run."

Woman Performs Nikah, Gets Endorsement from Ulema

From - August 13, 2008

Woman performs nikah, gets endorsement from Ulema

Submitted by Tarique on Wed, 08/13/2008 - 16:20.

By staff reporter

Lucknow: In another instance showing a sort of revolution brimming underneath the otherwise calm socio-religious surface of the Muslim community, a well educated Muslim woman played the Qazi's role and officiated the nikah of two young people in Lucknow on August 12.

Dr Syeda Hameed, a member of the Planning Commission, performed the nikah of Naish Hasan and Imran at a hotel in the city. Naish runs her own NGO and Imran, a PhD from Aligarh Muslim University, works for another NGO.

It is perhaps the first time in the modern history of Islam, at least in India, that a woman has performed the nikah.

There were many other things that took place yesterday at the nikah ceremony that may agitate hardcore fundamentalist followers of a particular school of Islamic law.

Dr Syeda Hameed who is a Shiite performed the nikah of a Sunni bride and bridegroom.

Besides, the nikahnama signed by the couple was also not the conventional one. It was drafted by Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, the NGO run by Naish Hasan, the bride. Why the new nikahnam? Because the conventional one had a male bias, Naish was quoted saying.

Moreover, the families of the bride and bridegroom had planned to have only women witnesses. But reportedly after the intervention of the woman member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board Begum Ikhtidar Ali Khan, a male witness was included.

The story does not end here. Naish had insisted that Imran will not come in a baraat procession. Good. But she also insisted that contrasting the conventional practice, the bride and bridegroom will not sit in separate enclosures for the nikah. She sat with Imran with the woman Qazi in between.

According to The Hindu, Kalbe Jawwad, noted Shia scholar and member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, has endorsed the idea of that nikah. "There is nothing wrong if a woman conducts a nikah if she has the same knowledge as her male counterpart," he has been quoted saying.

Noted Islamic scholar and member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangimahali has also supported it saying that as there is no bar on women performing a nikah, this nikah is not unIslamic.

Very surprisingly, the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board president Shaista Amber has not welcomed the idea wholeheartedly. "Although women are known to have performed as Qazi and mufti in earlier times, it would be better if religious work is performed by men. Women can take over in the absence of men," she said.

Women-Led Muslim Wedding Sparks Debate in India

From the Associated Press - August 18, 2008

Women-led Muslim wedding sparks debate in India


LUCKNOW, India (AP) — A Muslim marriage in northern India officiated by women has sparked an angry debate, with one of the most influential Islamic seminaries in South Asia calling it an affront to the religion.

Naish Hasan, the 28-year-old bride and a women's rights activist, and Imran Ali, the 41-year-old groom, were married last week in a ceremony that is believed to be the first of its kind in India.

Muslim marriages are traditionally officiated by a man, often a local community leader. The signing of the wedding contract is also witnessed by four Muslim males, two each for the bride and groom.

But the marriage last Wednesday in the northern city of Lucknow was presided over by a woman and all the witnesses were female. The only man involved in the wedding was Ali.

Women's rights activists have greeted the marriage as a symbolic step forward for Muslim women, but the ceremony sparked a firestorm of criticism from conservative Islamic institutions, especially the Dar-ul-Uloom seminary in northern India.

The seminary is an intellectual hub for South Asian Muslims. Many of its theologians have publicly denounced terrorism but their work has nonetheless provided the intellectual underpinning for some of the most radical and violent Islamic movements in the region, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan.

An official at Dar-ul-Uloom, Ahmad Khizar Shah Masudi, called the marriage a "cruel joke on (Islamic) laws."

Another Muslim group, the Lucknow Idgah Committee, has said the marriage is invalid under Islamic law.

Hasan, the bride, works for Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan, or the Indian Muslim Women's Movement, a rights group that seeks a greater role for women in Indian Muslim society.

Hasan brushed off the criticism. "I do not care. Islam says there cannot be anyone between Allah and his disciple. How come these clergymen are interfering in our matter?" she said Thursday.

India, a predominantly Hindu country with a sizable Muslim minority, allows marriage, divorce and inheritance matters to be determined by religious laws, and the couple's unorthodox ceremony was approved by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which sets the rules on Muslim religious matters.

But Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangimahali of the board said, "I won't ask anyone to go for this kind of marriage."

Muslim religious leaders have for decades closely guarded the powers accorded them under the so-called personal laws and have resisted any attempts to dilute their authority.

But a small group of liberal Muslims in India have made several attempts in recent years to challenge traditional male dominance within the religion.

In 2005, a group of Muslim women established the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board, saying that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board wasn't doing enough to protect women's rights.

Earlier this year, the group's leader, Shaista Amber, led a group of women in prayer at a major mosque in Lucknow, breaking with tradition, which does not allow men and women to pray together.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Do Kill: Gays in Iraq

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Do Kill

Nobody wants to talk about gays in Iraq, much less who is killing them.

Lennox Samuels
Newsweek Web Exclusive

Updated: 2:58 PM ET Aug 26, 2008

Lennox Samuels
Gays in Bagdad keep their sexual orientation secret

When militiamen from the Mahdi Army came by the compact, two-story stone home in the Doura neighborhood of Baghdad, they weren't looking for Sunnis to harass. They were hunting gays. "Bring us your son's cell phone," one ordered the middle-aged man who came to the gate. They wanted to check if his son, Nadir, had been calling foreigners--and in fact he had only hours earlier called this reporter to set up a meeting, and he had repeatedly called a gay nongovernmental organization (NGO) in London. Fortunately, Nadir was ready for them and produced a "clean" phone he keeps for just such a threat. This time they left, but vowed to come back if they found any evidence he was gay--or was talking to undesirable foreigners. Now that Iraq's sectarian war has cooled off, it's open season on homosexuals and others whose lifestyles infuriate religious hardliners.

Sometimes the act of reporting a story is revealing in itself--especially when it proves particularly difficult. This was the case when NEWSWEEK began looking into the problems of Iraq's homosexuals after hearing reports of secret safe houses around Baghdad where many of them were taking refuge from the militias' self-appointed morality police. After weeks of inquiries, NEWSWEEK managed to find Nadir and persuade him to arrange a visit to one of the safe houses he helps run. Instead, the Mahdi militia rousted him the night before. Established in 2004, the militia is the armed wing of the organization led by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has been an implacable foe of the Maliki government. Terrified, Nadir contacted people at the London-based gay NGO that finances the safe house, and they instructed him to break off the visit.

That was only one of many problems reporting on gays in Iraq. Iraqi authorities scoffed at the subject--when not scolding a reporter for even asking about it. Some of NEWSWEEK's own local staff were wary of the story. Virtually no government officials would sit for an interview. And the United Nations human-rights office, which has a big presence in Iraq, dodged the subject like a mine field. As with a number of Muslim societies where homosexuality is officially nonexistent but widely practiced, the policy in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule was "don't ask, don't tell." But that has changed. Iraqi LGBT, the London NGO that Nadir works for, says more than 430 gay men have been murdered in Iraq since 2003. For the country's beleaguered gays, it's a friendless landscape.

Many officials say they feel that in a country at war, there are more pressing concerns than gay rights. A Ministry of Justice judge rebuked a reporter for wasting time on such an issue, noting that "crimes of sodomy" are "very rare" in society and even rarer in the courts. "Most acts of homosexual people are being done in dark corners and, with corruption and paying bribes, they will be kept there for a long time, for it is not on the top of our priorities list, which is occupied by issues of terror, kidnapping and killing," said the judge, who would not allow his name to be used discussing gays. An adviser to the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that of all the meetings he has attended, none ever touched on the rights--or even the existence--of homosexual Iraqis.

The only recourse for Iraqi gays seems to come from activists abroad. Iraqi LGBT, which was founded to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iraqis, looks after about 40 young men between the ages of 14 and 28 in several Baghdad safe houses. There they are fed, can watch TV, hang out and sleep in cramped quarters, their beds inches apart. They stay away from neighbors and rarely leave their immediate area. "I hope you can see how sensitive and very important the security issue is for the safe houses," said Ali Hili, who fled Iraq and received asylum in Britain.

Hili continues to use a pseudonym to protect himself and insulate relatives still in Iraq. He has not returned home in eight years but does visit Syria and Jordan to raise money and check on an underground railroad that helps spirit some gay men out of Iraq. He says the government tries to monitor the group's activities. Saif, one of the older residents at an Iraqi LGBT house, recalls Saddam's repressive but secular regime wistfully. "Those were the most beautiful days of our lives," he says. "The fall [of Saddam] was the worst thing to happen."

Most people seem to prefer that the subject just go away. A written request for an interview at the Legal Section of the Ministry of Human Rights was greeted with a suggestion to delete the word "gays." A sympathetic senior government official warned that a direct request to talk to a minister about gays could result in a short conversation. "I would ask about women, displaced people, children and others before you get to that," he offered. Officials at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Human Rights ministry maintain that they do not keep statistics about gays, largely because the number is so small, "barely mentioned in Iraq" according to one of them.

Even relatively liberal people in Iraq seem to have harsh attitudes toward this subject. "These people are not welcome in the society because they are against the social, natural and religious rules," said one well-educated Iraqi who did not want to be identified more closely. A Baghdad executive said religion and tradition have made the overwhelming majority of Iraqis hostile to homosexuals. "Nobody is interested in talking about this at all," he says with a grim chuckle. A handful of gay men told NEWSWEEK harrowing stories about being cast out of their homes or savagely attacked by the storm troopers of virtue: Shia extremists among Badr Corps operatives (many of whom are now in the Iraqi Security Forces) or groups like the Mahdi Army, and sometimes both. But when told of such atrocities one Iraqi acquaintance blamed the victims, calling them "the lowest humans."

Persecution of gays will stop only if Iraqis can abandon centuries-old prejudices. They would have to acknowledge that human rights don't cover only the humans they like. Insisting that gays are just a few undesirable perverts who "should be killed"--as one Iraqi who works in journalism put it--encourages an atmosphere of impunity no matter the offense. Killing gays becomes "honorable." And raping them is OK because it isn't considered a homosexual act--only being penetrated or providing oral sex is.

Ali Hili says the government, security forces, judiciary and religious establishment are complicit in terrorizing gays. Since the late-evening visit by the militiamen, Nadir has moved to another part of Baghdad and stayed away from home. "They said, 'We will get you even if you fly to God'," he says. Changing Iraq's attitudes toward its gay minority may prove even harder than ending the war.

©  2008

Al Jazeera: Talking Politics with Faith; Muslims Join Interfaith Meeting at Democratic Convention

From Al Jazeera

Talking politics and faith

Sunday's event had the markings of a religious ceremony, but an unconventional one

The Democratic party's first interfaith meeting at its annual convention was certainly not short of drama.
Before a speaker had even reached the stage three anti-abortion protesters were ejected from the event after they began hectoring the crowd for their "anti-Christianity" and over Obama's perceived weak stance on the emotive issue.
The incident showed how politics and faith have become such intertwined – and explosive - issues in US politics, but it was the relations between religions themselves, most notably Christianity, Judaism and Islam, that pre-occupied the minds of most attendees of Sunday's gathering.
To the sounds of a rousing gospel choir, Reverend Leah Daughtry, chief executive of the Democratic National Convention and pastor of the House of the Lord Church in Washington DC, noted to thundering applause that "we didn't need to bring faith to the Democratic party, the faith was already here".
The Democratic party is keen to wrest control of the religious debate away from the Republicans, and the interfaith meeting was its latest effort as the battle for religious voters picks up speed ahead of the US presidential elections in November.
Daughtry herself told the Los Angeles Times newspaper last week that the event was aimed at closing the so-called "god gap" in US politics, and in addition to the interfaith gathering the Denver convention will also for the first time hold a People of Faith "caucus".

Unconventional ceremony

Certainly Sunday's event had all the markings of a religious ceremony, albeit a rather unconventional one, with readings and joint prayers held by imams, pastors and rabbis, Quranic and Biblical stories read and people attending in smart attire more suitable for church or the synagogue than the downtown convention centre.

Fatema said there were signs the US was moving towards religious unity

Fatema Biviji, a business owner, elected representative for the town of Irving in the southern state of Texas and practising Muslim, told Al Jazeera she felt the meeting was "extremely important" for the future of the Democratic party.
"In the past we've seen the Republican party embrace conservatism but we were shunned for not engaging with all faiths that are a very big part of our social life in this country," she said.
"Today we saw signs that we can embrace each other and move this country forward."
The traditional "Democratic" themes were strongly reinforced throughout the meeting, with its emphasis on social justice, ending the war in Iraq, aiding those affected by the ailing US economy and providing quality healthcare for all.
The issue has not been without controversy, with some critics castigating the party – and its presidential nominee, Barack Obama - for courting the religious vote at the expense of the United States' long cherished constitutional right of the separation between church and state.
However, it was a message that would have largely fallen on deaf ears among the thousand-strong crowd, which roared its approval as Bishop Charles Blake of the Church of God of Christ in West Angeles, said it was crucial to use faith to support Democratic values, and to emphasise that "the Democratic party pursues more of the positions relevant to the lives of our people and the people of the world".

'People of the book'

Ayah, left, said US Muslims were joining politics in order to be heard
All those attending spoke of how strongly interwoven the three faiths of the "people of the book" – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – were, and how all three must work to overcome much of the ignorance surrounding Islam in particular, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.
Dr Ingrid Mattson, director of the MacDonald Centre for the study of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations in the US state of Connecticut, told the crowd it "saddened" her that "so much out there is being done because of my religion", but took pains to stress both the work of the US Muslim community with local officials to combat extremism and the support she had from leaders of other faiths.
"There have been problems, but I am glad to say I am in a country that values my faith," she said to loud applause.
Afterwards, a group of young Muslim women attending the event said that the gathering had made a small step towards providing a voice for their faith and others in the political realm as the elections loom closer.
"I don't think Muslims joining a particular party makes any difference, but we want to have a voice," Ayah Safi, a Denver resident, told Al Jazeera.
"It's hard to say [what will happen], but we can only hope that Obama can reach out [to all faiths]."

Veils Fuel Harassment in Egypt, Some Say

Veils fuel harassment in Egypt, some say

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post / August 24, 2008

CAIRO - In a Muslim country where the numbers of women wearing the
veil are rising, and so - by most accounts - are incidents of groping
and catcalls in the streets, the message in ads circulating
anonymously in e-mails here in Egypt is clear:

"A veil to protect, or eyes will molest," one warns.

The words sit over two illustrations, one comparing a veiled woman,
her hair and neck covered in the manner known to Muslims as hijab, to
a wrapped candy, untouched and pure.

The other picture shows an unveiled woman, hair flying wildly and hip
jutting, next to a candy that has had its wrapper removed and is now
covered in flies.

No group has claimed responsibility for the online ads, which so far
have drawn little attention outside Egyptian blogs.

But the campaign comes at a time of converging debate on two keenly
felt issues in Egypt: the growing social pressure on Muslim women to
veil themselves and the rising incidence of sexual harassment of women
by strangers.

Surprisingly, some Egyptian women say their veils don't protect
against harassment, as the ads argue, but fuel it. A survey released
this summer supports the view.

"These guys are animals. If they saw a female dog, they would harass
it," Hind Sayed, 20, a sidewalk vendor in Cairo's Mohandisseen
district, said, staring coldly at a knot of male vendors who stood
grinning a few feet from her.

In accord with her interpretation of Islamic law, which says women
should dress modestly, Sayed wore a flowing black robe and black veil.
They covered all but her hands and her pale face with its drawn-on,
expressive eyebrows.

Still, Sayed said, she daily endures suggestive comments from male
customers and fellow vendors.

"I think a woman who wears hijab can be more provocative to them,"
Sayed said. "The more covered up you are, the more interesting you are
to them."

Zuhair Mohammed, 60, a shopper on the same street who stopped wearing
the traditional covering long ago, agreed: "I feel like with the
hijab, it makes them wonder, 'What are you hiding underneath?' "

Mona Eltahawy, 41, an Egyptian social commentator who now lives,
unveiled, in the United States, said she was harassed "countless
times" while wearing hijab for nine years in Egypt. Eltahawy has
concluded that the increase in veiling has contributed somehow to the
increase in harassment.

"The more women veil the less men learn to behave as decent and
civilized members of society," Eltahawy wrote in an interview via
Facebook. "And the more women are harassed, the more they veil,
thinking it will 'protect' them."

Female travelers consider Egypt one of the worst countries in the
world for harassment on the streets - second only to Afghanistan,
where the Taliban forced all women behind the veil and into seclusion
in their homes.

The United States and Britain both warn female visitors in travel
advisories of possible unwanted attention or sexual attacks in Egypt.

This summer, Egyptian lawmakers called Britain's advisory a slur;
Britain responded that more female British tourists were harassed,
assaulted, and raped, while in Egypt than in any other country.

A new survey by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights makes
harassment on the streets appear not a risk but a virtual certainty:
98 percent of the foreign women and 83 percent of the Egyptian women
surveyed said they had been sexually harassed in the country.

About half of all the women said they were harassed daily on the
streets. Foreign women identified Egyptian policemen and other
security officials as the most frequent harassers.

The survey polled 2,020 Egyptian men and women and 109 non-Egyptian women.

Two-thirds of the Egyptian men surveyed admitted to harassing women,
in actions ranging from staring openly at their bodies, shouting
explicit comments, touching the women, or exposing themselves.

'Racism in a Bottle': Middle Eastern Women Paying for Whitening Creams

'Racism in a bottle': Middle Eastern women paying money for whitening creams

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Friday, August 22, 2008

CAIRO: Marwa wants a paler face and is willing to try a whole range of
lightening creams that promise beauty, love and success to Arab women.
Such products have been slammed as "racism in a bottle."

The 19-year-old Egyptian works for a hairdresser in the poor Cairo
district of Bulaq al-Dakrur, and is spoilt for choice as cheap blends
share shelf space with brand-name products that have now found a niche
in the Arab world.

Skin-whitening using home-made or store-bought products has long been
a tradition in Asia and Africa, but has taken off commercially in the
Middle East with Dutch-British company Unilever leading the market
with its "Fair and Lovely" brand.

As women in the West compete for a year-round copper glow and pages in
lifestyle magazines are devoted to self-tanning lotions, in much of
the Arab world beauty is defined by the paleness of a woman's skin.

While beaches may be teeming during the summer months, many women go
to great lengths to shade themselves from the sun, particularly in
Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia.

They cover their bodies up for weeks on end before a wedding, for
example, striving for what is deemed to be an ideal alabaster

"What is rare is expensive," according to Hassan Ahmed, a professor of
sociology at Cairo's Ain Shams University. "Since in Egypt, like in
the rest of the Arab world, olive skin is the most common, we prefer
white skin."

"White skin is the dream of all women, especially in the Gulf," added
a blonde television presenter of a shopping program on the Saudi-owned
satellite channel MBC4. People, she said, "suffer" from olive skin.

The Middle East and North Africa market was a godsend for Unilever,
which recognized the enormous potential in those countries mainly
because of a growing young population. Sales of heir product have
risen by 15 percent a year in the region since 2005, with an 18
percent peak in 2007.

Television ads for the cream deliver a simple message - that whiter
skin is the key to a more successful life. Each ad has a similar
theme: whether she wants to be a dancer or a doctor, a young woman's
olive skin is an obstacle. After using the cream she clinches her
dream job, earns the recognition of her peers or gains the attention
of the man she wants.

The ads have been criticized as racist. Two groups on the social
networking Internet site Facebook condemn the brand, some humorously.
"Fair and Lovely Cream is racist," one group writes, "but I still use

"Ban Fair and Lovely," another writes, "racism in a bottle."

Habiba Hamid, who created one of the Facebook groups, said whitening
creams "exacerbate and capitalize on the kind of racism which
privileges lighter skin over darker. If the products themselves aren't
banned, any form of advertising for them should be. They are clearly
racist adverts."

Unilever defends itself, saying that the product responds to a market
need. "The desire to change/modify skin tone is universal," the
company wrote by e-mail. "Depending on the notion of beauty prevalent
in a particular society, this may be manifested either as lightening
or darkening the existing skin tone. This desire cuts across cultures,
income levels, educational levels and gender. Given the above there is
nothing to suggest that the marketing of Fair and Lovely or its
position of skin lightening is therefore imperialist, racist or

The attraction of white skin cuts across class lines in the Middle East.

Salwa comes from a wealthy family and is educated, well-traveled and
sharing many Western values. Her boyfriend told her, "I love you
despite the fact that you have olive skin."

Lightening creams are available in many forms, from unregulated,
unbranded bottles to prescription creams aimed at treating acne scars
and removing blemishes.

Dermatologist Rihab Sobhi says she has had to treat damage caused by
the use of non-prescription skin products, including everything from
marks and scars or even burns.

Some creams contain bleaching agents that are dangerous if used
"incorrectly," at high levels or too often, said Magda Abdel Samie, a
Cairo beautician.

"Some of these creams are very cheap. They are found everywhere and
are very easy to buy," Sobhi said. "The problem is young girls want to
use them all the time, which is very dangerous." - AFP

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Suggestion Hamas Setting Women Back is An 'Old Notion'

From the Associated Press - August 24, 2008

Suggestion Hamas setting women back is an 'old notion'


In her year on the vice squad, Lt. Mariam al-Bursh has been on narcotics busts, interrogated male drug dealers and fought off a female assailant with her fists.

The 27-year-old is one of 53 women serving in the 11,000-strong Hamas police force, established after the Islamic militants seized Gaza by force more than a year ago.

Since taking power, Hamas has put some educated, motivated women in government jobs, promoted athletics for women, and boosted their presence on male-dominated TV.

Hamas says it wants to recruit the best and brightest, regardless of gender, and improve women's status in Gaza's conservative society.

But al-Bursh's working conditions show the limits of Hamas' tolerance.

On drug busts, she is unarmed and wears a long blue-and-gray robe and head scarf that reveals only her blue eyes. When she interrogates a drug dealer, a male colleague must be present, because Muslim custom doesn't allow her to be alone with a strange man.

No problem, says Al-Bursh - the measures are meant to protect her. "These limits are to the benefit of women. Not against them," she says.

After Hamas violently routed the secular Fatah movement during last year's takeover, many feared the Islamic group, whose ultimate goal is to establish an Islamic state, would enforce a strict social code.

Gaza does seem more conservative these days, but Hamas officials say it's happening by persuasion, not coercion.

"We are in politics, in technology, in advanced studies. We are in parliament," said Jamila Shanti. The suggestion that Hamas is setting women back is an "old notion," she said.

Shanti, 51, is one of six Hamas women elected to the 132-member Palestinian parliament.

The Hamas government says it employs more women than Fatah did. Women students outnumber males at Gaza City's Islamic University. Several girls and women appear in a children's show and a woman's program on Hamas' Al Aqsa TV whose programming includes extolling the virtues of the head scarf and teaching viewers how to be good Muslims.

But women's rights campaigners in Gaza claim these changes are misleading and that Hamas' long-term strategy is to restrict their rights.

Activist Nadia Abu Nahla said it's impossible to get permits for women's rights demonstrations. "This democratic mobilization is not present," she said. "Women are afraid."

When Fatah ruled Gaza, female police officers trained with male colleagues. Now it's a problem because the instructors are male.

Hamas has had to fine-tune the dress code, allowing the female cops to have side slits in their robes to allow for easier movement while running. Al-Bursh can now wear pants under the robe.

She says the dress code helps, because the robe gives her an air of authority and suspects can't identify her. Her conservative family, she says, has been assured by her bosses that there won't be any "unnecessary mixing" with men.

At a recent drug bust, her job was to search the women, and she found marijuana seeds hidden in a suspect's bra. "We know the secrets of women," al-Bursh said.

During her year of policing she gave birth to her fifth child and is back at work after maternity leave, saying she feels energized.

In her office, after locking the door, and with no males present, she unveiled herself, showing a young pale face and a slight physique.

Hamas, meanwhile, is trying various ways of adapting the Islamic dress code to modern life.

Hamas supporters have opened a covered swimming pool in the town of Jebaliya, offering swimming classes to women wearing body-covering spandex suits. Previously, several pools offered women-only days, but devout women stayed away because the pools didn't have the religious seal of approval.

"We now have an Islamic pool, and we can get comfortable," said Asma Abu Ward, 20.

Still, some women privately say they are covering up for fear of harassment, rather than out of religious conviction.

In Gaza, there's little public mingling of the sexes. Gaza City's Islamic University, for example, has separate campuses for men and women. In the more liberal West Bank, young men and women sit together in coffeehouses and restaurants without attracting attention.

Hamas offers a police hot line for women who feel harassed, and publicly scolds those who give women without head scarves a hard time. But in some cases, vandals have sprayed graffiti on posters that show women's faces.

Noha Shattat, a deputy director general in the Education Ministry, is one of a few Hamas women in senior government posts.

The 50-year-old Ph.D holder wanted to teach at the Islamic University but her seniors rebuffed her, saying it would be a waste of resources because she could only teach girls. Male professors teach both sexes, but women are not allowed to teach male students.

"The view that women ... can't lead can't be changed overnight, particularly among the Islamists," Shattat said with a shrug.

Valentine's Day Across the Muslim World (2012)