Archive for March 30, 2014

Turkey elects three female metropolitan mayors in a first

From Daily News

Gültan Kışanak, will succeed Osman Baydemir, who also competed in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa in this year’s elections. AA Photo

Gültan Kışanak, will succeed Osman Baydemir, who also competed in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa in this year’s elections. AA Photo

By Daily News

None of Turkey’s metropolitan cities have been governed by female mayors until the March 30 local elections and now not one, but three women have made history after being elected to the helm on opposite sides of the country.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate for the southeastern province of Gaziantep, Fatma Şahin, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) co-mayoral candidate for the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, Gültan Kışanak, and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate for the Aegean province of Aydın, Özlem Çerçioğlu, took over three metropolitan cities, representing three different parties and gaining remarkable support from voters.

Şahin, former Family and Social Policies Minister, who was removed from her post as part of a cabinet reshuffle in December, has won the race against her male rivals, maintaining her party’s strong electoral support in the big city.

Besides serving as minister for over two years, she has served as an AKP lawmaker for three terms, as the first woman representing Gaziantep in Parliament.

She claimed more than half of the votes in the March 30 election to become the new head of the 1.7million-populated city that undertakes a remarkable part of Turkey’s trade.

Kışanak, another experienced parliamentarian and co-leader of the BDP, also beat her rivals in the Kurdish-dominated province of Diyarbakır, running for the post alongside Fırat Anlı, in line with her party’s co-leadership model adopted to support female presence in the political arena. Continue reading story here…

Female Imams

I remember a few years ago when some sisters in exasperation with the bureaucracy of a particular mosque said, “we need to have our own all-female mosque”. Well, it seems China and in particular, the province of Henan, has had that idea since the mid-Qing dynasty, over 300 years ago, and has continued with the tradition of mosques for women run by female-imams (a person who leads the congragational prayer)to this day. This practice started as women-only classes to learn basic Islamic studies, and later morphed into all-female mosques with women Imam.

The province of Henan has about a hundred female Imams, and 16 female run mosques, the highest concentration found anywhere in the world.  The Imams have to undergo extensive religious studies including three years of Arabic language, and issued a license to practice by the Islamic Association of China, a state controlled body.

The concept of female Imams in China, takes me to another female Imam during the time of Prophet Mohammad (Peace and blessing be upon him), Umm Waraqa. According to some narration, Umm Waraqa was a contemporary of Prophet Muhammad.  She was so well versed in the Quran, that Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessing be upon him), commanded her to lead her household/clan in prayer.  Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessing be upon him) even appointed for her a mu`adhdhin, a person who calls the faithful to prayer. After the death of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessing be upon him), and during the period of Umar’s caliphate, she went on to become an official of the market committee of Mecca and Medina.

What a phenomenon, I wonder if this concept will spread to other parts of the world.  What do you think of mosque for the women and by the women? Please share your thoughts with us here and if you like my post, please follow me on Facebook, and invite others to do so too.

Here’s a video of the Chinese female Imams. Enjoy!

Peace and blessings.

The sky is the limit or in this case, Mt. Everest

Mt._Everest_from_Gokyo_Ri_November_5,_2012_ By Rdevany at the English Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Mt._Everest_from_Gokyo_Ri_November_5,_2012_
By Rdevany at the English Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Last Sunday I skydived! That’s right; I jumped out of a perfectly good, albeit very tiny airplane from 12,000 feet, and my jump added to the approximately 3 million other jumps made by Americans every year. But my jump is nothing compared to these women featured in my post today, who were able to conquer the 29,035 feet summit of the world’s highest mountain, Mt. Everest, making them among only 4 million mountaineers in the world since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made their first conquest in May 1953. These women made history for themselves, their respective countries and even represented women from their religious faith.

On March 31, 2005, Farkhondeh Sadegh, a 36 year-old graphic designer and Labeh Keshavaez, a 25 year old dentist became the first Muslim women to conquer the 29, 035 feet mountain.  They were among a 20 member team from Iran that included seven women and 13 men. To understand the significance of their achievement, only 102 women in the world including these two, had climbed the mountain by May of that year.

Since their achievement, they have inspired more Muslim women in Iran and other countries to follow suit and some even made history for their respective countries.  Notably is Raha Moharrak, 25 from Saudi Arabia, who on May 18, 2013, became the first Saudi female and the youngest Arab to reach the summit.  A day later, on May 19, 2013, Samina Baig from Pakistan made her own history by becoming the first woman from Pakistan and the youngest Muslim woman at age 22 to reach the summit.

Mountain climbing is a very grueling and exerting sport, both physically and mentally. In addition to the physical fatigue experienced when climbing, there are other variables to contend with such as altitude sickness and weather conditions. However, once you are able to overcome the obstacles and reach the summit, the sense of accomplishment, in my opinion, far outweighs everything else; I should know, I climbed Kilimanjaro to the summit in 2007. After my skydiving experience last Sunday, my very wonderful and supportive husband asked me how was the experience, and my response was, “exhilarating, but it does not come anywhere close to Kilimanjaro”, and he understood, having climbed Kilimanjaro together.  And Mt. Kilimanjaro is nothing compared to the Everest; so hats off to these courageous women who pursued a passion for the mountain and followed through by making history of their own.

Here’s a video on the Iranian women who scaled the Everest and others that have attempted since then.

“He it is who has made the earth easy to live upon: go about, then, in all its regions, and partake of the sustenance which He provides: but [always bear in mind that] unto Him you shall be resurrected.” Quran 67:15

Peace and blessings.

Gender Separation Barriers in Mosques; Islamic or Cultural?

This year’ s Oscars drew a lot of attention from the Muslim community in both Twitter and Facebook, when Zaineb Abdul-Nabi, a University of Michigan student became the “first hijabi” (a Muslim woman who wears the headscarf) to grace the red carpet.  Zaineb was one of six students who won the “Team Oscar” national film competition. With so much hype about this young lady, I decided to look up other hijabi filmmakers who may not necessarily have graced the Oscars’ red carpet, but have established themselves as filmmakers. That’s where Zarqa Nawaz comes in!

Zarqa Nawaz is a writer and producer, best known for the Canadian comedy sitcom “Little Mosque on the Prairie” which ran on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for six season, from 2007 to 2012.  As the title suggests, the show was about a small Muslim community in a rural town in the Canadian prairies, and their interaction with the rest of the town folks.  As much as it would be more enjoyable and straightforward to focus on this lighthearted sitcom, I am instead going to focus on her more controversial work, her earlier film, “Me and the Mosque.”  I know, I asked myself the same question, “”oh why, oh why do I do this to myself?” I guess it started with this blog and getting out of my comfort zone, and now, there’s no going back.

Me and the Mosque deals with the question of whether the gender separation barriers in the mosques is Islamic or cultural; whether it is consistent with the practice during the time of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him); if not, what brought about the cultural changes, and how can Muslims go back to the original practice of worshiping without the barriers; finally, how easy or difficult is it to change cultural practices and perception.  This is a very thought-provoking film and I am sure it has and will continue to bring out great emotions on both sides of the aisle.

Having been blessed to live in three continents for a long period of time and having experienced a wide range of practices, from no mosque attendance for women in India in the early 90’s, to a separate accommodation allotted to women in Kenya and Tanzania beginning in the early 80’s, to mosques without barriers as found in some mosques in North America, I can say that this documentary will invoke a wide range of reaction.  Depending largely from which part of the world you come from, this matter may be dismissed as being a non-issue; the filmmaker may even be considered a rabble-rouser who is trying to stir discord in the community.  However, to others, this issue may very well be relevant, and the filmmaker may be applauded for bringing the issue to light.  I am sure there may even be a third view, but I am leaving that to you. Feel free to express yours by starting a dialogue in the comment section.

One thing for sure, though, it takes courage to question status-quo and Zarqa Nawaz has exhibited loads of it.

Watch the video below and come to your own conclusion. Enjoy!

Me and the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz, National Film Board of Canada

Peace and blessings.

Happy One Month.

My picture

When I started my blog a month ago, my intentions were to highlight stories of Muslim women around the globe who have excelled in various fields, with the hope of bringing more understanding about them, and in the process help dispel negative stereotypes.  Little did I know that, the first person to be enlightened would be me, before I even reached anyone else.

In my most popular post “Lean In: Our Feminist Manifest”, I learnt that the current role of women in Islam is not necessarily what was practiced during the Prophet Muhammad’s time.  In his time he turned a “patriarchal society on its nose”, women were part and parcel of society, he supported women in the military, women at work, he acknowledged them, and celebrated their achievements.  However with the onset of western colonialism, it brought with it, attitudes towards women and their role which became detrimental to the Muslim woman. Unfortunately, what we now perceive to be the role of women in Islam is actually the western thought of the role of women during the period between 16th and 20th century, prior to the western feminism period. Accordingly, “the situation of Muslim women today is not one that would be recognizable by our prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)”

Although the media plays a great role in shaping attitudes about Muslims, I also realized that some Muslims, even if it’s a small minority, contribute to the negative stereotype. Thus, the federal employee who said he was surprised every time he saw a Muslim woman in America drive, had his view shaped by Saudi Arabia’s law. See my post “From driving cars to running countries; Muslim women head of states”.

I was oblivious about the Muslim woman’s spy who fought against the Nazis in World War II until I stumbled upon a friend’s Facebook update after he came back from the film’s world premiere.  It introduced me to the bravery of this woman and thus my post “Spy you say?  Noor Inayat Khan’s story”.

When I decided to highlight Ayesha Farouq, the Pakistan first female combat pilot, little did I know I would discover something more significant; that the world’s first female combat fighter pilot was actually from the Muslim Ottoman Empire, present day Turkey, more than 50 years before women were allowed as combat fighter pilots in the rest of the world. See my post “Muslim Women Fighter Pilot”.

I particularly enjoyed listening to the oral history by the African American Muslim women pioneers, who shared with us invaluable piece of American history. My 19 year old Canadian nephew, Ali, found it particularly interesting to the point of posting it on his Facebook timeline and invited his fellow young “peeps” to watch it.  This is the only post that got that honor from him.

Finally, although I celebrated International Women’s Day by highlighting the four Muslim recipients of the 2014 International Women of Courage Awards I was a little saddened that there is actually a need for their activism, to improve the lives of others. These women are supposed to have come from a community that the Quran in Chapter 9 Verse 71 and other chapters describes as “…They command that which is just, and they forbid that which is evil…” If these countries did what is just as commanded in Islam, there would not have been any cause for these courageous women to advocate for.

I appreciate all who have come along on this journey with me, and I hope you have benefited from it as much as I have. I do hope, I will continue to be inspired and enlightened along the way as I learn more about the courageous women around the globe.

Peace and Blessings.

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