FaithWorld

Berlusconi allies seek to ban burqas in Italy

niqabItaly’s anti-immigration Northern League party is pushing for legislation to prosecute women who cover their faces with burqas and veils, prompting a new debate on Muslims’ religious freedom in the Catholic country.

The Northern League, allies of conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, want to amend a 1975 law, introduced amid worries over homegrown guerrilla groups, which punishes with hefty fines and up to two years in jail people covering their faces with anything preventing their identification by police.

It would extend an existing partial ban on face-covering clothing to include “garments worn for reasons of religious affiliation,” and removes the expression “justified cause” which has prompted some courts to allow them on religious grounds.

Read the whole story here.

(Photo: Woman in niqab, 23 Oct 2007/Ali Jarekji)

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Bumps on the road towards a burqa ban in France

burqa-libraryRemember all the talk about France banning the burqa and niqab Muslim veils for women a few months ago? That project is now in the parliamentary inquiry phase, a six-month fact-finding mission expected to wind up late this year and produce a draft bill to outlaw them. That’s the way France handled it in 2003 when it wanted to stop Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to state schools. But the process seems more complex this time around. There’s less passion and more hesitation in the debate. A smooth progression from the inquiry to the ban and to its implementation no longer looks assured. (Photo: Woman in a niqab outside a public library in Ronchin, northern France, 9 Aug 2009/Farid Alouache)

To get a feel for the debate, I dropped by the panel’s latest open hearing late on Tuesday and listened to the arguments being made. Five mayors from suburbs with Muslim minorities were due to speak to the panel, which is led by a Communist deputy named André Gerin who makes no bones about his view that a ban is needed. Mayors like these men play a key role in an issue like this, because they are on the front lines dealing with social change and are taken seriously when they clamour for change. Several are also deputies in the National Assembly – France allows them to occupy multiple offices – so they can easily lobby at the national level for something they want.

Sitting alone at the press table in the committee room, I soon saw why the drive towards a ban seems to be hitting some bumps. The mayors don’t know what they want. All think something has to be done, but most are worried that an outright ban wouldn’t work. Here’s my news story on the session.

Killing of women and child “witches” on the rise, U.N. told

ojhaMurder and persecution of women and children accused of being witches is spreading around the world and destroying the lives of millions of people, according to United Nations officials, civil society representatives from affected countries and non-governmental organization (NGO) specialists working on the issue.***
(Photo: An ojha, or witch doctor, in India’s northeastern state of Assam, 7 Sept 2006/Utpal Baruah)

***“This is becoming an international problem — it is a form of persecution and violence that is spreading around the globe,” Jeff Crisp of the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR told a seminar organized by human rights officials of the world body in Geneva.******Aides to U.N. special investigators on women’s rights and on summary executions said killings and violence against alleged witch women — often elderly people — were becoming common events in countries ranging from South Africa to India. And community workers from Nepal and Papua New Guinea told the seminar, on the fringes of a session of the U.N.’s 47-member Human Rights Council, that “witch-hunting” was now common, both in rural communities and larger population centres.******Read the whole story here.******Click here for a statement to the meeting by the International Humanist and Ethical Union.******Following are three Reuters videos about children and women beaten and killed on suspicion of practicing witchcraft. These are disturbing documents but they provide background to the issue being debated at the United Nations in Geneva.******The first video (12 Sept 2008) shows the fate of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo accused of sorcerery and bringing bad luck to their families:************This video (22 May 2008) reports on eleven mainly elderly people suspected of being witches being burned to death in western Kenya:************In thisvideo from Bihar state in India (28 March 2008), a woman accused of witchcraft is tied to a tree and beaten in her village:*********

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Saudi co-ed university highlights need for education reform

kaust (Photo:KAUST under construction near Jeddah, 19 Oct 2008/Asma Alsharif)

Saudi Arabia is launching its first co-educational high-tech university, but unless clerical influence is removed the state education system will not move into the modern age, analysts say.  King Abdullah has invited heads of state, business leaders and Nobel laureates next week to the opening of a technology university which has attracted top scientists and is meant to produce Saudi scientists and engineers.

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is the first institute in one of the world’s biggest oil exporters that is outside the reach of the education ministry, where clerics opposing cutting religious content have a strong say. Men and women will be able to mingle, a stark contrast to otherwise strict gender segregation in the Islamic kingdom.

Despite its immense financial resources, the parameters of Saudi school and university education are governed by religious strictures and many subjects are off-limits for women to study.

Belgian court to rule on headscarf ban in Flemish schools

belgian-scarf (Photo: Muslim women with Belgian flag protest against headscarf bans, 4 Feb 2004/Yves Herman)

A Belgian court is due to rule next week on a ban on the Muslim headscarf at two schools in Dutch-speaking Flanders, an issue that has led to a death threat for one school principal and graffiti sprayed on walls. The schools in Antwerp and nearby Hoboken introduced the ban at the start of the school year last week, arguing that Muslim girls were being pressured to wear headscarves by their families and peers.

Angry pupils have staged protests outside the school and one girl filed a complaint with the Belgian Council of State to contest the ban. The court will rule on the matter next week and one of its chief advocates has already advised it to overturn the ban. The advocate’s advice is followed in 90 percent of cases.

“The advocate said that such a ban is not lawful, and that only the umbrella organisation of state schools can decide on whether or not to introduce such a measure,” a court spokesman said.

from Africa News blog:

A tussle over trousers in Sudan

One moment everything was quiet on the streets outside the Khartoum courtroom where Lubna Hussein was on trial this morning, charged with indecency for wearing trousers.

The next, a three-way fight had exploded between riot police armed with crackling electric batons, women's rights protesters waving banners and posters, and Islamists fuelled with righteous indignation and pious chants.

You couldn't have asked for a better illustration of the opposing forces that have come piling down on Sudan's government since the start of the case -- opposing forces that also compete for influence at the heart of the Khartoum regime.

Trouser-wearing Sudan woman to be fined or jailed, not whipped

lubnaLubna Hussein, a Sudanese woman arrested in Khartoum for wearing trousers despite the country’s Islamic decency regulations, was found guilty of indecency on Monday and ordered to pay a fine or go to jail for a month. She was spared the possibility of 40 lashes for wearing trousers at a party in July with 12 other women. Ten of the other women arrested with her have pleaded guilty and have been whipped.

Read the whole story here.

Hussein’s case was seen as a test of Sudan’s Islamic decency regulations, which many women activists say are vague and give individual police officers undue latitute to determine what is acceptable clothing for women.

After the verdict, Hussein said: “I will not pay the money, and I will go to prison.”

Why beer doesn’t mix well with mainly Muslim Malaysia

beerBeer, which as an alcoholic beverage is forbidden in Islam to its believers, has long had it easy in mainly Muslim Malaysia. The country’s population of 27 million is made up of about 55 percent Malay Muslims and mainly Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities who practice a variety of faiths including Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism. The personal right of the non-Muslims to drink alcoholic beverages is legally recognised, a sign of tolerance despite the special status of Islam under Article 11 of the Malaysian constitution.  So beer is not difficult to find in convenience stores, supermarkets and entertainment outlets. (Photo: Beer drinkers, 20 July 2009/Nguyen Huy Kham)

But this easygoing attitude towards beer has hit the rocks of late amid what some suspect has been a growing religiosity of the country’s Muslims.  Last month, 32-year old Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarnor very nearly became the first woman to be caned in Malaysia for drinking alcohol under rarely enforced Islamic criminal laws.  Caught drinking beer in a hotel lobby in the eastern state of Pahang by religious enforcement officers, she was sentenced to six strokes of the cane and a fine.  This was possible because Malaysia practices a dual-track legal system. Muslims are subject to Islamic family and criminal laws that run alongside national civil laws.

malaysia-1A Malaysian Islamic appeals court judge ordered a review of Kartika’s sentence, but a public debate is still raging. Opinions are divided even among Islamic scholars with some questioning what the exact punishment for the offence, which isn’t specified in the Quran, should be. Others are in full support and believe that Kartika’s sentence was mild.

Waiting in France for a fatwa against forced marriages

dioufIt’s Ramadan and on a bustling shopping street on the fringes of northern Paris, the holy month is in full swing. Bearded men in long robes collect alms, women in headscarves sell sweet pastries. But the period of fasting and charitable acts has little impact on the work of activist Christine Jamaa, whose office is in a secret location not far from the busy street market.

Jamaa, who heads the Voix de Femmes (Women’s Voice) group helping victims of forced marriage,  met me there last week for a interview for my feature “New school year puts French on forced marriage alert.” In the feature, another activist, Fatou Diouf (pictured above in a photo by Jacky Naegelen), told of her family’s attempt to kidnap her and force her into marrying her uncle in Senegal at the age of 18.

While I was in Jamaa’s office, her phone was constantly ringing with emergency calls from threatened girls and women – most of them Muslims of Africa, Asian or Middle Eastern descent. Jamaa herself is a Muslim, like many of the activists who help victims of forced marriage here, and she keeps telling the families and the women at risk that Islam bans forced marriage.

GUESTVIEW: Young British Muslims are speaking, but who’s listening?

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. Sughra Ahmed is a Research Fellow at the Policy Research Centre, which is based at the Islamic Foundation in Leicestershire and specialises in research, policy advice and training on issues related to British Muslims.

By Sughra Ahmed

hijab-flagIt may seem well and good to think children should be seen and not heard – there’s nothing wrong with a touch of Victorian, especially true during a good movie! But what if the censored are not young children at all? What if they are flashpoints in our conversations on not so trivial subjects, you know, things like national security, integration and democracy. And what if, instead of listening, we systematically speak on their behalf, saying what they are thinking and how they fit into the whole social and political spectrum. (Photo: Woman at “Muslims Against Terrorism” rally in London, 11 Sept 2007/Toby Melville)

Enter young British Muslims, but please sit down over there in one group, and mind you don’t speak – we have interpreters for that: a choice of representative institutions, community spokespersons, experts on what young people think, and media sound bytes. Yes, much is said and written about young Muslims, not only in black ink but leapfrogging from blog to blog and showing no signs of tiring. Rarely though, is it the young voices themselves. Commentators of many persuasions seem keen to tell us how and what a silent majority from British Muslims think. If it’s not the majority then certainly a large proportion .