Jan 22 2012

What went wrong?


Yesterday I stopped. There was a lighthearted discussion between friends about life in general and then talk about testimony in a disagreement. Someone said jokingly  “is it enough to have two female testimonies to prove you wrong?” Something in that direction.  We all knew the history of that ruling and it was a joke after all!

How did it come that things are in such a bad shape today in many Muslin countries especially with women rights and tolerance? And why is it that they are backward in many areas despite the immense material wealth under their feet in oil, minerals, gas etc.? One could argue that this wealth have been contributing to that fact, the reasons for it are open for discussion. Why is it that some Muslim countries with very little natural wealth have progressed better in areas of human rights and social welfare than those with riches?  This could be a very interesting research topic for a student thesis!

The birth of Islam 1400 years ago was a beacon light for humanity: no racism (all are equal before God), equal rights for all and caring for the less fortunate.  For instance the ruling that two women’s testimonies are worth of that of a man was revolutionary for the pagan Bedouin tribes of Arabian Peninsula.  At that time in Europe people were living in deep superstition despite of their Christian faith. And still 1100 years later witch-hunt and burning suspect (mostly women) alive authorized by the Church was common practice.

Christianity wrong understood by the religious elite. There were virtually no women rights at time in Europe. Only in the last couple of centuries women have reached through long campaigning equal rights, although they often still do not get the same salary for the same job done even in the most advanced countries.

Why is it that in too many Islamic countries that should be in the forefront in this battle of humanity backwardness and intolerance is dominant?  And women in the most conservative corners of societies are less fortunate in many ways than in the lifetime of the Prophet (pbuh). Not necessary to mention that the first wife of Prof. Mohammed was a confident businesswoman and his employer and after his death his wife Lady Aisha was an accepted Islamic scholar and became active in politics.

How can it be that today some scholars argue that women have no right to express their opinion, no rights in many ways when it is Clearly ruled in the Quran and no believing Muslim can argue against it?  In my opinion the reason can be found in the overemphasizing of  the Hadith’s, memorized stories from the lifetime of the Prophet and the years thereafter that in some Islamic rulings overrun clear statements of the Quran.

As the late Dr. Lila Fahlman (Founder of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women ) once wrote: “Man-written Hadith’s have ruined Islam”.

Islam introduced women rights concerning her own property, inheritance and the right to choose her husband. Please read on the right panel Topic No. 8 “Women and Islam”, too. For example

Qur’an 2:228 “Women shall, in all fairness, enjoy rights equal to those exercised against them.” (This statement occurs in the context of divorce.)

Qur’an 2:282. “O you who believe! When you deal with each other in contracting a debt for a fixed time, then write it down; and let a scribe write it down between you with fairness; and the scribe should not refuse to write as Allah has taught him, so he should write; and let him who owes the debt dictate, and he should be careful of (his duty to) Allah, his Lord, and not diminish anything from it; but if he who owes the debt is unsound in understanding, or weak, or (if) he is not able to dictate himself, let his guardian dictate with fairness; and call in to witness from among your men two witnesses; but if there are not two men, then one man and two women from among those whom you choose to be witnesses, so that if one of the two errs, the second of the two may remind the other; and the witnesses should not refuse when they are summoned; and be not averse to writing it (whether it is) small or large, with the time of its falling due; this is more equitable in the sight of Allah and assures greater accuracy in testimony, and the nearest (way) that you may not entertain doubts (afterwards), except when it is ready merchandise which you give and take among yourselves from hand to hand, then there is no blame on you in not writing it down; and have witnesses when you barter with one another, and let no harm be done to the scribe or to the witness; and if you do (it) then surely it will be a transgression in you, and be careful of (your duty) to Allah, Allah teaches you, and Allah knows all things.”

Arab women gathering at the Town wall, by American Orientalist painter Frederick Arthur Bridgman  (1847-1928)

Wishing you a happy, healthy and spiritually rewarding 2012 and hoping that this little drop in the ocean could initiate some small scale awakening to the realities of the modern world!


Mar 20 2011

Old habits are hard to overcome



Saudi women’s veil versus modernity

Thousands of years old ethnic traditions felt unplaced in 21st century-

from Emirates news:

Husband has not seen wife’s face despite 10 years of marriage

By Staff , Published Sunday, December 05, 2010

After nearly 10 years of marriage that produced five children, Mufleh Mohammed of Saudi Arabia still has not seen his wife’s face.

Mohammed Hilal, another Saudi husband, could not identify his wife who was killed in a road crash until her veil was put back on her face.

Mufleh and Mohammed are among many Saudi men who have never seen the face of their wives as they insist on sticking to ancient tradition of keeping their face covered even in front of their relatives or husbands in defiance of ongoing changes brought about by the advent of oil and a massive foreign influx.

In a report on such habits, the Saudi Arabic language daily Alhayat said many women in the conservative Gulf Kingdom that controls nearly a quarter of the world’s oil still defy the winds of change and stick to their ancestors’ traditions.

Even after they get married, they never remove their burqu (face veil), leaving their husbands guessing how they look like. Mufleh is one of those husbands.

“My wife still keeps her face covered all the time even in front of her family and relatives because she has been accustomed to this since she was a child… I have to respect her wishes and not insist on seeing her face,” he said.

“I cannot deny that the woman’s habit to cover her face in front of her family and inside her house is a tradition that my tribe had inherited from our ancestors… but I have thought that social changes and openness will alter some of these habits since they have nothing to do with Islam… but they have not changed… although I have been married to my wife for nearly 10 years and have five children from her, I have not seen her face even once in my life.”

Most Muslim women in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf crude producers still wear face veils as part of long-standing traditions dating back before oil was struck more than half a century ago. But some of them, mainly the new generations, have started to unveil their faces while keeping a scarf on their heads.

In Saudi Arabia, local women taking off their face veils in public still face the wrath of the feared Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which usually deploys thousands of its members in public places to warn unveiled women. Women with “seditious” eyes must fully cover their faces.

Such practices run against recent statements by an outspoken Commission official, who said Saudi women do not have to veil their faces.

Sheikh Ahmed Al Ghamdi, head of the Commission’s Makkah branch, also said there was nothing in Islam to prevent women from driving.

Alhayat said Mohammed was another one among many Saudi husbands who are deprived from seeing the face of their wives.

“I could not identify my wife after she was killed in a road accidents…I asked security women to put the veil back on her face…after they did so, I recognized her and indentified the dead person as my wife,” he said.

The paper quoted an unnamed teacher at a literacy centre as saying she succeeded in persuading two of her female students to uncover their faces in class. But after a while, she noticed that they could no longer concentrate.

“They kept blushing and turning their faces away from their class mates although it is a female centre… after a few days, they quit the school,” she said.

Another Saudi women identified only as Ibta said she had agreed to her husband’s request to take her face veil off at home despite criticism from relatives. “My husband is an educated man so I agreed to his request… but my relatives then started to look at me with contempt and one of them later shouted in my face and said ‘shame on you… how could you do this,’….I stood their criticism with my husband’s encouragement,” she said.

But another Saudi man was not as open as Ibta’s husband. “I don’t see anything wrong if our women stick to old traditions,” said the man, identified as Saleh.

“Every society has its own traditions and habits and we have no choice but to respect them… we do not force them to do anything they don’t like, because some women in our tribe keep their face veil and some do not.”
.                                                    ……………………………………………………………….


From that article I remembered a Saudi woman from Riadh who saw the face of her mother the first time at her funeral, secretly she lifted the veil (as told in her life story, a book) .


How did it come that women in ancient times started wearing a full face veil in the vast Arabian desert? People inhabiting that huge inhospitable desert land were in the majority nomads living from their sheep flock and camels. Camel was and still is the Bedouins best friend. It is the “ship if the desert” and it is the source of meat and drink, milk and in Emergency (only*) blood from a vein on the neck when no water is available while a camel can survive for days with one drinking. Small farming communities existed in the oasis and in the coastal cities Mecca and some others flourished import-export caravan trade with spices and silk and other luxury items, badly needed vanities like pearls and perfumes by spoiled circles in Europe and elsewhere between the Mediterranean Sea and the East as far as the ancient China.


Photo By: Wendy Cocker,  Aslam Pilgrim caravanserai at Wadi Aslam,  northwest Saudi Arabia; 18th century


Let’s imagine the men going about their business looking after the animals. Tribal conflicts were every day matters, blood revenge the order. In that scenario especially the women were vulnerable and I can imagine why it became necessary to protect them, especially if they were still young and beautiful.

Bloody tribal conflicts were the menace of those times and until today tribal thinking is still strong in some areas.  In fact Prof. Mohamed was invited to Medina as arbitrator between warring tribes and was able to achieve peace between them, the main reason why people of Medina converted to the religion he was preaching, to Islam.

It was the custom in those times that after lost battles women and men were taken prisoners and often sold as slaves, sometimes the women were married legally. We can understand why women needed special protection in those days.

Small scale model of an ancient Arabian city, at Tayabat House in Jeddah

But times change. Today those countries are predominantly Muslim and it should be without thinking clear that women are safe from male harassment without covering their faces.  From religious point of view the face veil  is not required and the most powerful argument against it is the fact that when women perform the ritual pilgrimage (Omrah and Hajj, equally required from both sexes if affordable), they are not allowed to cover their faces in the Grand Mosque of Mecca. And they mix with men while doing it. In the Quran there are only two Suras, which mention in some way the veil. One of them says that the wives of the Prophet are not like other women and one should talk to them through a shade. A word that can be translated in different ways, but the root word can be any garment, a curtains or similar. The face veil comes from that, a shade, a covering, a curtain.

The other verse is in my opinion misinterpreted. While the Prophet was talking about covering bare breast (often the case while nursing, especially slave women) some are interpreting it meaning as an order to draw the head cloth (worn against the heat of the sun) over the face to the bare breast.

This is my personal view and I can see that I am not alone in this. I think that to develop a country it cannot forgo the huge potential of half of its population!  In those oil rich countries today the girls are getting an education but they find it really hard to get a  job. Only in education as teachers in girl’s schools or as women doctors were jobs open, and only if male relatives agreed. But slowly they are getting out and taking on office and administration jobs that until now were done by foreign male employees.

And they are driving cars, occasionally. Until recently foreign male drivers were hired from abroad which is actually Totally against the same old custom that women cannot be in the same room without males who are not close relatives. But it is still just a modest beginning in many areas.

Not to forget the fact that the huge number of foreign employees and workers send their savings back home for families they are supporting. That money is away from the country where it would otherwise stimulate development of the society. The good side of it is of course that poorer countries without oil reserves are profiting from it.

(* Blood and the meat of swine and some other animals are forbidden in islam, but in order to save lives in emergency allowed.)

Salaam for later


Apr 05 2009

Little Woman at the Age of Nine?

News from the small Scandinavian country Finland (yet well known for NOKIA and Mika Hakkinen).  It used to be a hidden tolerant island and cultural conflicts sounded like echoes from overseas.

Imam Chehab Khadr Finland The Lebanese born Imam Chehab Khadr of  Helsinki Muslim community

defended in an  Aamulehti newspaper interview the notion that girls as young as nine years old could be wed into marriage with parental consent and that what is against the law some countries is permissible in others.

It followed on outcry in the country with unbelievable amount of feedback, blogger comments and phone calls what made him change his position the next day.

Nobody could be fooled; words are cheap and even cheaper by the dozen.

The damage is done and once again the image of Islam was badly tarnished in a place which is known to be very welcoming and tolerant.  They have for centuries a small Muslim community originating from the east with no problems whatsoever with human rights or marrying little girls. Today many Muslim immigrants are causing trouble and controversy, mostly through the growing rape rate in bigger cities (mostly by Somalis) and  small time criminality like snatching ladies handbags in broad daylight. People do not walk in the streets at night time anymore!

My first reaction was that this man is mega stupid!  But he is a regular guest at state banquets, and TV talk shows. This middle aged man probably close to his fifties has been living large part of his life in a Western country with an excellent human and especially women rights record. Finland was the 1st country in Europe to grant women voting rights and women make up almost half of the parliamentarians and they have a woman president in her second term already. I would have wished at least a little more openness of mind and some critical thinking.

From a man in his position one would expect more common sense. How can he advocate Stone Age practices marrying little girls when there are lots and lots of unmarried young women waiting to get married?

A grown up man wishing to marry a six or even a nine year old girl is a man with sick fantasy, a pervert and a pedophile, there is no way around it. This Imam went so far as saying that in Western societies youngsters at that age are involved in sexual acts but in Islam he is accepting it in a marriage. Not to mention that elsewhere hardly any 6 yr. or 9 yr. old girl is sexually active, so he was simply lying.

There is a HUGE  difference here: the first one is not acceptable although it happens occasionally  (mostly rape by someone close) – the latter one is sanctioned by higher authorities, and what is worse: sanctioned by God itself?!

I went to find facts from Wikipedia.

What I found very shocking that Lebanon which is trying to appear the most modern and advanced Middle Eastern Muslim country has the worst record of women rights! Nine year old girls are children and sexual acts with them is pedophilia, married or not.  It makes me sick, this is not Islam.

From the list of some countries with marriageable ages for male/female I pick up Lebanon, the former home country of this Imam:

Lebanon: 18 for males and 17 for females; scope for judicial discretion on basis of physical maturity and wali’s permission from 17 for males and 9 for females; real puberty or 15/9 with judicial permission for Shi’a; 18/17 or 16/15 with judicial permission for Druze.

Nine years minimum age for little-girl-wives and this country is bragging to be a model to the Muslim Middle Easterners.    HOW can a 10-year old be a mother to an infant, or perhaps this possibility is not taken into consideration in those male chauvinistic minds?

In a few days I will write, Inshallah,    about the Prophept’s young wife Aisha. The Hadith’s suggest, that she was married to him at the age 6 yrs.  By Hadith’s  of which I am very critical about. They were collected as late 250-300 years after the death of the Prophet (p.b.u.H.). From 600 000 stories f.e. Bukhari selected 7,397 based on their truthfulness.

Truthfulness? How can a lengthy recitation transmitted by word of mouth over half a dozen generations be truthful in every single word? Human mind is not a computer, it can err with the best of intentions.

Prophet Mohammad discouraged in his lifetime writing down these stories in fear they would be confused with the Quran itself. Well, yes, it looks like it happened after all.

There are several surviving written document from the lifetime of the Prophet from which we can reconstruct the events and we find that Aisha was in her late teens, probably early twenties when marrying as it happened in Medina after he Hijjra (emigration).

Especially the shia-Muslims (most Iranians, half of the Iraqis, Persian Golf Emirates, part of Saudi Arabia, and Southern Lebanon) still hold on to this practice and what disturbs me most is that the media and especially the internet is full of hate speech regarding this matter and Islam is regularly called a “Pedophile Religion”. Opponents are using a very powerful image,  and it is working.

One of my favorite quotes is from the late  Dr. Lila Fahlman,  founder of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW):   “Man-written Hadith’s have ruined have ruined Islam. “

I am trying my very best to shake up and wake up the Muslims themselves into critical thinking ( it is our duty trying to change things we think are wrong) and at the same time trying to build bridges.

There is no other way.


Dec 26 2008

Girls, Schools and Taliban vs. Islam

How bad can it get?

Uncertainty, violence darken Afghans’ hopeBy Paul Wiseman, USA TODAYDOAB, Afghanistan — For the first time, the girls in this village were starting to learn — reading, writing, geography, history, math, science. They were starting to dream, too: Star student Roya Noori, 15, illiterate two years ago, wanted to become an architect. Harzoo Mohammedy, 14, planned to go to medical school. And Zuhal Noori, 12, saw herself at the controls of a commercial jet.Then the learning stopped.The new schoolhouse came under rocket fire last spring from the surrounding hills. Mysterious letters turned up at night, threatening to kill any girls who stayed in school and their principal…”

These days one cannot read world new without getting really upset about the state of the Muslims and their ever-worsening image due to ignorant self-tought extremists.

Yesterday the Taliban announced on their (banned) radio station in Northern Pakistan (which is in fact Taliban controlled territory) that they are going to kill girls who go to school.

“Taliban extremists in Pakistan’s troubled northwest Swat Valley have banned girls from attending school, threatening to kill any female students.The threat was delivered this week by local Taliban commander Shah Durran in an address carried on an illegally-run radio station in the area……Swat residents said Taliban fighters had already destroyed scores of government-run schools, leading some to set up private schools in their homes to educate girls.An official at the Pakistani education ministry said there are more than 1,580 schools registered in Swat – once known for its top-flight schools.”Already Taliban militants have destroyed 252 schools, mainly those where girls and boys were studying together,” he added…. “

This campaign against girl’s schools has been going on for some time.

Once more fear stalks the streets of Kandahar.

girls acid attack Afghanistan

Al Jazeera network reports of  acid attacks on school girls.

“Afghan girls scarred in acid attack Five Afghan schoolgils have been attacked with battery acid by suspected Taliban fighters in the southern city of Kandahar.The attack on Wednesday occurred when two men on motorbikes confronted the students outside the Mirwais Nika Girls High School.Two girls were seriously injured by what was discovered to be battery acid.School girls in Kandahar are easily identifiable by their uniform – black trousers, a white shirt, black coat and a headscarf.”


Where did the Taliban come from?

This is a crucial question. Before the invasion of Afghanistan by communist Russia it was despite of grave poverty a striving country, almost a role model for other backward countries with almost a half of the people on government payroll were women, mostly women teachers.

“The government began to bring in much-needed reforms, but with restraint and prudence. Labour unions were legalized, a minimum wage was established, a progressive income tax was introduced, men and women were given equal rights, and girls were encouraged to go to school.

On September 1, 1978, there was an abolition of all debts owed by farmers. A program was being  developed for major land reform, and it was expected that 
all farm families (including landlords)  would be given the equivalent of equal amounts of land… “   

During the Russian occupation thousands of “Quran schools” were established close to the Afghan border in Northern Pakistan in order to educate “mujahedeen” (freedom fighters). Religion was a very powerful motivation as communists are known atheists.  Generations of students  (meaning “Taliban” in Arabic) have graduated from them by now. After they had successfully driven “the infidel Russians” out of the country they turned to other threats to their ideology . And it was the Western interests in their strategic position in the middle of an oil and natural gas rich region.

Taliban are the most strict and extreme interpretation of Wahhabism coming from Saudi Arabia. In Islam the education is one of the most important duties for both sexes (as it is stated in the Quran and which should be the first and foremost source of understanding) . These extremists get their ideology of  the Hadith’s,  traditions of which I am quite critical about  (human memory can fail even with best intensions). They were collected and selected only after 250-300 years after the death of Prophet Mohammed.  In many cases they contradict direct advice found in the Quran.

Since in Saudi Arabia the first girl’s schools opened just 2 years after the opening of the first boy’s school they  have never been closed.

Building Bridges: A Conversation with Princess Loulwa Al-Faisal Princess Loulwa AlFaisal

Question: What concerns you about the perception among Americans about the role of women inSaudi Arabia?  Princess Loulwa al-Faisal:

female pilot SA Well, if they were to listen only to the media they would think that the women in Saudi Arabia are completely suppressed, not educated, and don’t have any jobs. The reality is that while education started for men in 1960, it started for women just two years later in 1962. Actually, prior to the start of the Ministry of Education there already were schools for women, private schools, including Dar-Al-Hanan which my mother [Queen Effat] opened in 1955.You should also know that at that point in our history we were a country of 5% literacy and at the moment we’re a country of 5% illiteracy. That shows how far we have come in just seventy years – even less if you consider that formal education started 50 years ago.

From another article about schooling in Saudi Arabia we learn, that the government did not interfere in teaching methods or in the content of the school books for a very long time, it was left to the Muslim clerics alone:

The Saudi government has allowed Muslim clerics to control education for many years and it’s modern version is The Ministry of Education, founded during the reign of King Saud and with the current King Fahd as the first Minister and he was responsible for the creation of the education system and curriculum. What went on in the classrooms, though, was largely invisible to the government bureaucracy. The curriculum itself was modeled on traditional education methods, emphasizing memorization at the expense of critical thinking. The texts, heavily influenced by religious authorities, compounded the narrowness of the education. No outside analysis of the Saudi textbooks had been made before 2002, so the content of those books is not really known. Following analyses in 2002, however, the Saudi government concluded that there were problems with the books…

Yet from another article I learn that “Saudi Arabia Discovers School Busing for Girls” schol busses for girls in SA

While researching for this theme I became a little more optimistic after all since Saudi Arabia which has an enormous influence in being a role model for many have started to show the way for the radical elements within the Muslim community. Too long these matters were left to the Clerics alone.

The world changes and Mulims must adjust to it, otherwise we will have  enormous problems when modernity and tradition collide. There is no other way than building bridges and find a way to live peacefully in a shrinking world.

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