FaithWorld

from India Insight:

An easier end to unhappy marriages in India?

India's cabinet this week cleared a proposal to amend the Hindu Marriage Act to allow "irretrievable breakdown of marriage" as a ground for divorce.

Hindu brides sit during a mass wedding ceremony in Noida December 26, 2009. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/FilesThe amendment had been resisted earlier and been pending for nearly three decades now. Other grounds for divorce, which can take anywhere from six months to 20 years, include cruelty, desertion and adultery.

The amendment, if approved by parliament, will make divorce easier for estranged couples, experts say, particularly in cases where a partner is deliberately delaying proceedings. Even family courts are notoriously ineffective and insensitive when it comes to separation, with judges often admonishing the woman to be more "adjusting" or offering advice thinly disguised as rulings.

The proposed amendment gives women, who are sometimes forced into marriage, an easier way to end an unhappy marriage and provides some safeguards against harassment.

Some counsellors have warned against making divorce too easy, lest couples do not even attempt to reconcile differences.

Skirts replace jeans as Indonesia’s Aceh enforces sharia

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A sharia police officer escorts women caught wearing tight pants during a street raid in Aceh province on May 26, 2010/Junaidi Hanafiah

In a bid to implement Islamic law to the letter, Indonesia’s West Aceh district on Thursday started giving away long, loose skirts to cover up Acehnese women caught wearing tight jeans. The westernmost province of Aceh on Sumatra is the sole upholder of sharia law in the predominantly Muslim, but secular Indonesia. The previous local parliament passed a controversial law in September allowing adulterers to be stoned to death.

Wilayatul Hisbah, the Aceh sharia police who began this year conducting raids on unmarried couples caught together as well as gamblers and drinkers, on Thursday set up road blocks to search cars and buses for women wearing tight trousers.

After minarets, will Switzerland ban burqas too?

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Zurich and the Limmat River, April 20, 2008/Arnd Wiegmann

Full Muslim face veils could become the next divisive religious issue to take centre stage in Switzerland, where voters last November approved a measure banning the construction of new minarets. The Swiss federal government said in February it saw no need for a “burqa ban.” Politicians at the national level say there’s no “burqa problem” in Switzerland. But few thought there was a “minaret problem” either, until the question was put to a national referendum and the minaret ban campaigners won.

Like the minarets, of which there are only four in Switzerland, there are very few veiled women in Switzerland. The most likely place to see them is Geneva, where many rich Middle Easterners do their banking. Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey recently told the newspaper Blick that she’d once seen fully veiled women there and was “furious, because the burqa is a symbol of the enslavement of women.” But she insisted to her interviewers: “I’m against burqas. And I’m against a burqa ban … we don’t have a burqa problem in Switzerland. Very few women wear a burqa here. Have you even seen one?”

Similarly, Economy Minister Doris Leuthard, who is also serving this year as the country’s president, has said  “we’ve got much tougher, more important problems.” Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf has said “we don’t really have a burqa problem in Switzerland now.” She did add, though, that she was watching to see whether a “parallel society” was developing. “We are not ready to let our legal system and our values be compromised,” she said.

Sarkozy says Muslims should not feel singled out by full veil ban

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A veiled woman in Nantes, western France, on April 26, 2010/Stephane Mahe

France attempted the arguably impossible on Wednesday by presenting a bill to ban Muslim face veils and asking Muslims not to feel it was singling them out in the process.

President Nicolas Sarkozy made a brave effort of it at the cabinet meeting that approved the government’s draft “burqa ban” that we reported on here.  Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, who Sarkozy’s UMP party always seems to call on when things get tough, did her best in an interview (here in French) that got the part about Mecca wrong. There will be more of this in the months ahead as the bill moves through the National Assembly and Senate.

It’s hard not to single out Muslims when they’re the only ones who wear full face veils. The bill avoids mentioning them as such, saying only that the ban applies to “concealment of the face in public. But nobody’s fooled, a fact Sarkozy acknowledged in his comments to the cabinet: “This is a decision one doesn’t take lightly. It’s a serious decision because nobody should feel hurt or stigmatised. I’m thinking in particular of our Muslim compatriots, who have their place in the republic and should feel respected. Laïcité means respect for all beliefs, for all religions.

France’s burqa debate stokes passions in North Africa

Anne, an assumed name, a 31-year old French woman who has been fined for wearing a niqab while driving, speaks to the media during a news conference with her husband Lies Hebbadj in Nantes, western France, April 26, 2010.  REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/Files

Veiled French woman Anne (an assumed name) fined for wearing a niqab while driving in Nantes meets journalists on 26 April 2010/Stephane Mahe

A French proposal to ban full face veils has stoked debate in Europe and also provoked strong reactions across the Mediterranean in North Africa, where many of France’s Muslims trace their origins.

Former French colonies Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are still tied to France by history, language and migration, so their views on the “burqa” issue could have a direct influence on how Muslims inside France react to a ban.

Church of England paves way for women bishops, traditionalist departures

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Canterbury Cathedral in England, December 23, 2009/Suzanne Plunkett

The Church of England has moved a step closer to the consecration of women bishops, setting up a possible showdown with traditionalists who back all-male clergy in the Anglican communion.  Draft legislation introduced at the weekend said women should be consecrated as bishops on the same basis as men, disappointing the Anglo-Catholic and evangelical wings of the Church which had wanted a “two-tier” system.

Some are now likely to consider Pope Benedict’s offer last October to make it easier for Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism.

The draft proposals will now go forward for debate at the Church’s General Synod, or parliament, in York, northern England, in July, and will still have to pass a number of stages before England could see its first woman bishop, possibly in 2014.

Saudi liberals see hope as clerics argue over gender segregation

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Saudi women praying at Eid al-Adha in Riyadh on November 27, 2009/Stringer

Divisions among senior Saudi clerics over the legality of gender segregation could mark a new drive by reformers allied to King Abdullah to push social reforms in the puritanical Islamic state.  The divisions came to the open when the kingdom’s morals police, or the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, reversed a decision to sack Ahmad al-Ghamdi, its regional head for the Mecca region.

After the kingdom opened its first co-ed university in September — a project sponsored by King Abdullah — Ghamdi published a research paper that questioned the legality in Islam of gender segregation as enforced by the Commission.

“The commission was forced to cancel the decision to sack Ghamdi. This will strengthen the state’s role,” said Khaled al-Dakhil, a prominent Saudi political writer.  “The state has been gaining influence while that of the religious establishment has been declining, simply because it has gradually been given a lesser say over decisions taken by the state.”

French foreign minister gets ready for criticism over planned burqa ban


(French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Europe 1 radio, 2 May 2010/Dailymotion)

France hasn’t even presented its draft bill to outlaw Muslim face veils yet — in contrast to Belgium, which has started voting on its ban — but Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is already preparing for the wave of criticism from abroad it will provoke. He told Europe 1 radio on Sunday that he’d already warned the government at a cabinet meeting about what to expect.

“The United States are very attached to religious liberty and there will be lots of NGOs and American foundations that will want to point out our mistake,” he said (in the video above in French). “I think they’ll also be convinced that we are for religious liberty but there is no religious recommendation to veil one’s face.

Belgian vote on Muslim veils could echo in Europe

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Salma, a 22-year-old French woman living in Belgium who chose to wear the niqab after converting to Islam, speaks to Reuters television outside the Belgian Parliament in Brussels April 26, 2010/Yves Herman

Belgium’s vote to ban full face veils in public is the furthest any European country has gone to confront a tiny minority whose choice in clothing has come to symbolise the issue of integrating some Muslim minorities.

The issue is being debated elsewhere in Europe, especially in France, and the example of two countries moving towards a ban has raised the stakes in a dispute pitting politicians and public opinion against Muslim leaders and human rights groups.

French Muslim rejects polygamist charge, says has wife and 3 lovers

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Liès Hebbadj and his wife Anne after she was fined for wearing a niqab while driving, in Nantes on April 26, 2010/Stephane Mahe

France’s debate about Muslim face veils has taken an ironic twist. An Algerian-born Muslim man who is a naturalised French citizen has fought back against charges of polygamy by saying he doesn’t have four wives, but one wife and three mistresses (and 12 children among them). What could be more French than that? he asked journalists on Monday as politicians debated how they could strip him of his citizenship.

“If one can be stripped of one’s French nationality for having mistresses, then many French could lose theirs,” Liès Hebbadj, a halal butcher in the western city of Nantes, said after visiting the lawyer for his wife, who was fined for driving while wearing a full facial veil.