Thursday, June 30, 2016

Turkey, a Conduit for Fighters Joining ISIS, Begins to Feel Its Wrath

By Rukmini Callimachi
June 29, 2016
When the bodies of Islamic State fighters are recovered on the Syrian battlefield, the passports found on them have often been stamped in Turkey, which thousands of recruits pass through on their way to join the terror group.
Fighters who call relatives abroad often do so using Turkish cellphone numbers, and when they need cash, they head to Western Union offices in southern Turkey, according to court and intelligence documents.
From the start of the Islamic State’s rise through the chaos of the Syrian war, Turkey has played a central, if complicated, role in the group’s story. For years, it served as a rear base, transit hub and shopping bazaar for the Islamic State, and at first, that may have protected Turkey from the violence the group has inflicted elsewhere.
Now, the Turkish government and Western officials say the suicide bombings at Istanbul’s main airport on Tuesday bore the hallmarks of an Islamic State attack, and they have added them to a growing roll call of assaults attributed to the group in Turkey in recent months.
Analysts said Turkey was paying the price for intensifying its action against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. Under mounting international pressure, the country began sealing its border last year, as well as arresting and deporting suspected militants. And last summer, Turkey allowed the United States to use Incirlik Air Base to fly sorties over the group’s territory in Syria and Iraq.
“Turkey has been cracking down on some of the transit of foreign fighters who are flowing into as well as out of Turkey, and they are part of the coalition providing support, allowing their territory to be used by coalition aircraft,” the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John O. Brennan, said in an interview this week with Yahoo News. “So there are a lot of reasons why Daesh would want to strike back.”
Soon after the government’s decision to allow airstrikes to be carried out from the base in southern Turkey, the Islamic State began naming Turkey as a target, according to Michael S. Smith II, an analyst who closely tracks the group’s messaging. Last fall, the cover of the group’s Dabiq magazine ominously featured a photo of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, standing alongside President Obama.
The attacks attributed to the Islamic State began around then, too, including devastating bombings in the southern city of Suruc in July 2015 and in Ankara, the capital, in October. This year, two suicide bombings targeted tourists in Istanbul.
The Islamic State was blamed for all of those attacks, yet none of them were claimed by the group, despite its habit of reveling in its violence elsewhere in the world. While officials blamed it for the attack on the Istanbul airport, the group’s daily news bulletins for Tuesday and Wednesday made no mention of the bombing. Its main English-language channel on the Telegram encrypted messaging app instead posted a photo essay of fighters in fatigues posing with automatic weapons on a hill in Deir al-Zour, Syria.
Some analysts saw this as the Islamic State trying to have it both ways: punishing Turkey for starting to act against it, but leaving enough of a gray area that it avoids a full-on clash with a country that has been valuable to its operations.
Still, there has clearly been a shift.
“Since mid-2015, a significant rise in pejorative references to the Erdogan government in Islamic State propaganda has indicated Turkey is now in its cross hairs,” Mr. Smith said, adding that this kind of rhetoric also preceded attacks in Western Europe and beyond. “An increase in terrorist attacks in Europe, in North Africa, in Bangladesh and in the Caucasus region was all preceded by increased focus on these areas in Islamic State propaganda materials.”
The group’s long honeymoon with Turkey started with the country’s aid to rebel groups that were fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad of Syria, often with the blessing of Western intelligence agencies, according to analysts. At the start, the Islamic State fit into that category, though it then began focusing more on eliminating competitors than fighting Mr. Assad.
Among the competitors the group was killing were Turkey’s avowed enemies: Kurdish separatists sheltering in Syria and Iraq. Turkey’s Western allies began accusing it of clinging to ambivalence toward the Islamic State. Even when it began strikes against the group last summer, its actions against the Kurds were more numerous and intense.
The centrality of Turkey for foreign volunteers flocking to the Islamic State is evident in court documents and intelligence records. Dozens of young men and women were arrested by the F.B.I. in the United States and by officials in Western Europe after they booked flights to Istanbul. Because so many of the group’s foreign fighters passed through Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, the destination itself became synonymous with intent to join ISIS.
By 2015, the group was advising recruits to book round-trip tickets to beach resorts in southern Turkey instead and to be sure to spend a few days pretending to be a tourist as a ruse.
That was the technique used by Reda Hame, a 29-year-old Parisian recruit. He explained to interrogators last summer, after he was arrested upon returning to France to carry out an attack, that he had made sure to buy a package stay at a beach resort in southern Turkey specifically because he wanted to throw off investigators, who knew to look for suspects heading to Istanbul. “I bought an all-inclusive holiday so that I could pass myself off as a tourist,” he said, according to a transcript of his interrogation by France’s domestic intelligence agency in August.
Thousands of pages of investigative documents from the agency, recently obtained by The New York Times, show that nearly all of the recruits arrested by officials in Europe had passed through Turkey on their way to join the Islamic State, as well as on their way back.
Seamus Hughes, the deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, said that Turkey also figured heavily in the travel patterns of American adherents trying to join the group.
“The vast majority of American ISIS recruits used, or considered using, Turkey as their route,” said Mr. Hughes, who provided a breakdown showing that, of the 91 people charged with ISIS-related offenses in the United States, 18 purchased tickets through Istanbul, and 15 others either traveled through Turkey or considered doing so.
When Islamic State fighters communicated with worried family members, it was often with Turkish SIM cards. And investigation records reviewed by The Times show that two fighters who were arrested in Austria late last year, and who the police believed were supposed to take part in the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, had been sent money from their ISIS handler through a Western Union office in Turkey.
In his fortified office in northern Syria, Redur Khalil — the spokesman for the Y.P.G., the main Syrian Kurdish group fighting the Islamic State — keeps a stack of passports found on the bodies of the fighters his group has killed. He brings them out for reporters and turns the pages to show the Turkish entry stamps they all bear: proof, he said in an interview last summer, that the terrorist group’s foot soldiers are passing through Turkey.
Islamic State prisoners being held by the Kurds, whom The Times interviewed in the presence of a Y.P.G. minder, all said that they had moved freely across the Turkish border into Syria.
Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said Turkey and its Western allies had not been quick enough to recognize the threat the Islamic State would pose.
He said that when the rebel groups in Syria began to gain strength, Turkey had nods of approval from the C.I.A. and MI6, the British intelligence agency, to allow arms and volunteers across its border and into rebel camps.
“Where Turkey can be accused of negligence is failing to understand, just as Pakistan did with the Taliban, that these radicals who crossed Turkey to get into Syria would morph into an organization that not only threatened the West, but ultimately itself,” Mr. Aliriza said. “The threat assessment simply did not happen fast enough.”
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South Asians Everywhere Mourn Slaying Of Religious Singer

By Irfan Al-Alawi
June 29, 2016

Amjad Farid Sabri. Fatiha.
Amjad Farid Sabri was a beloved Qawwal or Sufi singer known throughout Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, as well as the South Asian Muslim diaspora.
Drive-by motorcyclists murdered him in his car with a companion in Karachi on 22 June.
Just 45, Amjad Sabri was driving to a television studio for a celebration of Iftar, the end of the daily Ramadan fast, when the attack occurred.
Both the targeted men died.
Sabri leaves a wife and five children.
He was the son of the most famous Qawwal, Ghulam Farid Sabri who, with his brother Maqbool Sabri, revived the sacred Qawwali genre, performing at Britain's WOMAD Festival and New York's Carnegie Hall in the 1970s.
Qawwali is an intensely spiritual and loving form of devotion to Allah and the prophets, in verse with musical accompaniment.
It is a centuries-old form of devotion based on the meditative and metaphysical Sufi tradition within Islam.
The Hakimullah Mehsud faction of the Taliban took responsibility for the crime.
The fundamentalist terror group denounced Amjad Sabri as a 'blasphemer', supposedly because the singer praised Muhammad, which the Taliban and other adherents of the Deobandi sect label idol-worship.
Sabri was cited in a blasphemy case involving Geo TV in Islamabad's High Court in 2014.
The assailants in last week's assassination escaped but the murders seem of a piece with a wave of extremist – and some claim Wahhabi – inspired aggression against Sufi shrines in south Asia culminating in the 2010 bombing of the Data Durbar shrine in Lahore when 45 worshippers died.
The Data Durbar monument includes the tomb of the eleventh-century Sufi mystic Abul Hassan Ali Hajveri, known as Data Ganj Baksh, or 'the giver of spiritual treasures'.
Thousands of Pakistani Muslims turned out for the funeral of Amjad Sabri after gathering at his home to console his survivors.
Sohail Anwar Siyal, home minister of Sindh province in southeast Pakistan, which includes Karachi, offered a reward of 5 million Indian rupees (£55,000 or USD75,000) for information leading to the arrest of the killers.
Last Saturday (25 June), Sindh chief minister Qaim Ali Shah doubled the provincial budget outlay in the case, providing 10 million rupees to the family of Amjad Sabri for support of his widow and education of his children.
That same day, the Pakistan Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) leaked to the media the apparent arrest of five suspects in the case.
The main detained individual, whom they did not name, is reported to be a member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement [MQM].
MQM originates among Muslim refugees from India and has dominated politics in Karachi.
After Amjad Sabri's death, the MQM had condemned the murder and ordered a three-day mourning period for the singer.
Last Sunday, Aoun Sahi, writing in the Los Angeles Times, quoted Ali Raj, a friend of the dead singer, who declared, '"In a society like ours where sectarian lines and groupings are so clearly defined, Amjad Sabri lived life on his own terms. He was a devoted Sufi singer, passionate about where he was coming from and what he believed in."'
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Muslims, Catholics Break Bread, Build Bridges

By Donna Vickroy
June 29, 2016
Living in Lebanon as a child, Nuha Dabbouseh remembers how she and a Christian friend would help each other through their respective religious fasts. Her friend would observe the Muslim month of Ramadan with her and, in turn, she would observe the 40 days of Christian Lent with her friend.
It was a gesture shared by children a long time ago, Dabbouseh said, but on an evening when Muslims and Catholics were coming together over dinner and a mutual desire for respect, it was a fitting and relevant anecdote to share with tablemates.
The 19th-annual Catholic-Muslim Iftar, sponsored by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, was held Monday night at the Zakat Foundation of America in Bridgeview.
Nearly 200 people gathered to, first, hear experts talk about ways to build bridges across both religions, and then to break the day's fast at sunset in the Muslim custom of Ramadan.
n a large room inside the foundation that Helil and Donna Demir started just months before 9/11, Catholics and Muslims shared tables and stories as the evening's panel took turns addressing Islamophobia in today's volatile and violent world.
Calling the event "an important opportunity to learn more and become better acquainted with our neighbors," Cupich said, "This is a model for what can be done in neighborhoods all over Chicagoland."
Cupich said the recent killing of 49 people in Orlando underscores the need for more dialogue.
"After almost two decades of interfaith Iftars, thankfully, we have a solid foundation here in Chicago on which to continue to build rapport, to nurture our friendship and to address topics of mutual concern," he said.
Citing Pope Francis, Cupich told the crowd, "Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Evangelicals — we are all children of the same God. We have to live in peace. We want to be integrated."
Jamie Merchant, spokesman for the Zakat Foundation, said, "It's really important that faith communities come together right now with a strong message of solidarity. It's important that we back each other up and not allow each other to be demonized because of the actions of a few misguided individuals."
Azam Nizamuddin, adjunct professor of theology at Loyola University, challenged both Catholics and Muslims to look at the issue differently.
"A lot of people think Islamophobia is simply another phase of discrimination," he said. "But is it merely another rite of passage of immigrants from other lands who take their lumps for awhile and then find acceptance through social integration? Are we simply another version of Irish in early 20th century, or Jews in late 19th century, or even Catholics of 75-80 years ago?"
He said the issue demands that Americans dig deeper, into the pockets of those funding hate-mongering. The public needs to recognize that there are people who are funded to purposely promote bigotry and hate, he said.
That can be countered, he said, "by reaffirming our Christian and Muslim commonalities."
Rita George-Tvrtkovic, associate professor of theology at Benedictine University, brought her children, Luka, 11, and Anya, 9, to the event.
During her speech, she offered ways Catholics can fight Islamophobia. They include mutually studying the past and understanding the effect it still has today; by being open to newcomers; and by persevering in friendship.
The time to get to know the people at the nearby mosque is not after something happens, she said. "You have to establish friendships and relationships first, and then when things happen in the world, you can call your friends."
The Rev. Thomas Baima, vicar for inter-religious affairs with the Archdiocese of Chicago, said even though terror attacks, such as those in Paris, California and Orlando, are perpetrated by a few, too often the tendency is to blame an entire religion.
"The media understandably portrays the sensational side of things," he said. "The reason this (dinner) is so important is it shows the other side, the common side. Here are Muslims and Catholics who are neighbors getting together as friends, as they have for 18 years."
Baima said the Iftar provides a balance and projects an image of acceptance and understanding.
"We see the misuse of religion in the terrorist acts, which need to be condemned by all religious leaders. What we don't see immediately are the neighbourly acts, the common life of ordinary believers who reject violence in the name of religion. Frequently the Muslim community is asked where are the other voices? Tonight you see the other voices."
He added there are more similarities than differences between the two faiths, including the ease with which either religion can be misinterpreted.
"Anything that's being said negatively about Islam could equally be said about Judaism and Christianity," Baima said. "All of our sacred texts have passages that could be twisted by fundamentalists to condone whatever ideas they have. But that's not the way the mainstream communities interpret the texts."
After the speakers finished at precisely 8:32 p.m., which was officially sunset, the buffet line opened and Iftar, the meal served at the end of the day during Ramadan, began.
Muslims headed first to the foundation's prayer centre to practice their faith and then joined their Catholic dinner mates in line for shish kebab, chicken Tawook, Baba Ghanouj and hummus, supplied by Al Bawadi Authentic Mediterranean Grill in Bridgeview.
Nuha and her husband Muhamad Dabbouseh, president of the Islamic Cultural Center of Greater Chicago in Northbrook, were joined at a table by Melissa Keegan, who handles the ministry of care at St. Patricia's Church in Hickory Hills, and her father, Charles Keegan, deacon at the church. Medical student Catherine Jimenez, who attends the University of Illinois Chicago, also took a seat.
Much like at any dinner, discussion ranged from an explanation of religious practices, in this case Ramadan, to stories about family members and talk of health issues.
Muhamad Dabbouseh said: "We are just like everyone else. We are peaceful people who want to raise our families. The people who are violent have nothing to do with Islam. In any religion there are extremists. But a terrorist is a terrorist. If someone who is Christian creates a terrorist act, they don't say he is a Christian, they say he is a terrorist. And, around the world, Muslims are being killed by terrorists, too. If you don't agree with their ideology, they kill you."
Despite the efforts of many Muslims to show Christians in America and Europe that they strive to be law-abiding citizens, Dabbouseh said fear and hatred are still concerns.
Jimenez said she attended the dinner "just to learn more."
"I have several classmates who are devout Muslims. I just want to learn more about the faith," she said.
A devout Catholic, Jimenez said, "I guess I am following the Pope's example."
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Swiss Court Fines Muslim Man For Blocking Daughters’ Swimming Lessons

Photo: Representative images

Muslim Women Do Not Feel Secure In Britain: Report
Muslim Women Also Ask For 'Birthing Pants' During Check-Ups
Record Number of Women Terror Suspects Arrested In Britain
Life on the Frontlines with the Peshmerga's Female Fighters
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau


Swiss court fines Muslim man for blocking daughters’ swimming lessons
JUNE 30, 2016
GENEVA (Switzerland) — A Muslim father was fined in Switzerland on Wednesday (June 29) for refusing to allow his daughters to take swimming lessons at school, in the latest case exposing the challenges of integration in the Alpine country.
The unnamed 40-year-old man was ordered to pay 4,000 Swiss francs (S$5,400), the ATS news agency said in a report.
He had also refused to allow his daughters to go to camps and other school events, insisting they ran counter to his religious beliefs.
The Altstaetten district court in the northeastern Swiss canton of St. Gallen found the father guilty of among other things violating the law on obligatory schooling and of disobeying previous orders by the authorities, ATS reported.
The court reached its verdict after the father appealed a previous ruling faulting him last December.
The prosecutor had requested that the man be sentenced to four months behind bars, in addition to a fine, maintaining that the Bosnian national who has been living in Switzerland since 1990 had resisted integration and had no respect for Swiss legislation.
The family has reportedly been in conflict with the local authorities for years.
Last year, the parents were sentenced by a lower court for refusing to allow their daughters go to school unless they were permitted to wear an Islamic veil.
But the country’s highest court overturned that verdict, ruling that the eldest girl should be allowed to wear the veil to school in the name of freedom of religion.
Wednesday’s ruling came after a high-profile case involving Muslim pupils refusing to shake hands with their female teachers caused uproar across Switzerland.
Last month, the norther Swiss canton of Basel country reversed one middle school’s controversial decision to grant exemptions for two Muslim pupils unwilling to shake hands with teachers of the opposite sex, and threatened hefty fines for those who refused to toe the line.

Muslim women do not feel secure in Britain: Report
JUNE 30, 2016
One in five British Muslim women do not feel secure living in Britain, according to Tell MAMA, a London-based group monitoring anti-Muslim incidents that released its 2015 annual report on Wednesday.
The monitoring group has released statistics on anti-Muslim incidents reported to Tell MAMA, and to police forces as well, in the UK in 2015.
“We documented 437 anti-Muslim crimes or incidents that are classified as 'offline', meaning they happened in-person between a victim (or property) and a perpetrator," said the report. “Our 437 incidents represent a 200 per cent increase over the previous reporting period.”
The group, which was established in 2012, has emphasized in its findings that Muslim women were “disproportionately affected” by hate crimes.
“Anti-Muslim hate is clearly gendered,” the report said. “[The] largest proportion of incidents involves Muslim women, usually wearing Islamic garments, facing attacks from white men.”
According to the reports, almost 19 percent of British Muslim women, i.e. one in five, said they have felt “insecure in Britain”.
The group said the anti-Muslim abuse and attacks relied on the misrepresentation of Muslims in Britain from “certain media sources, politicians and public figures”.
Meanwhile, various reports have also indicated an increase in instances of hostility towards Muslims and immigrants in the U.K. since the referendum vote to leave the EU.
The Muslim Council of Britain has announced that it had compiled “over 100 incidents reported of hate crimes following the referendum result”.
The Leave campaign has been blamed for putting “xenophobic” rhetoric at the center of their argument for Brexit.
National Police Chiefs’ Council announced Monday that following the Brexit vote, “there has been an of increase [sic] in reporting to True Vision [an online site that receives hate crime reports] since Friday compared to this time last month.”
“With the backdrop of the Brexit vote and the spike in racist incidents that seems to be emerging, the government should be under no illusions: things could quickly become extremely unpleasant for Britain’s minorities,” chair of Tell MAMA and former Labour justice minister, Shahid Malik, warned in the report.

Muslim women also ask for 'birthing pants' during check-ups
JUNE 30, 2016
Muslim expectant mothers receiving treatment at public hospitals are concerned about their aurat (modesty), and not just during childbirth, a gynecologist at a public hospital said.
According to the public hospital gynecologist, Muslim women also requested to use "birthing pants" during check-ups, so they could cover their aurat as much as possible.
It is generally accepted that Muslim women can only show their face and hands to members of the opposite gender they are not related to.

Record number of women terror suspects arrested in Britain]
JUNE 30, 2016
A record number of women terror suspects were arrested in Britain in 2015/16, official figures have revealed.
A total of 36 females were held as part of counter-terrorism investigations in the 12 months to the end of March - the highest number in any financial year on record.
Rising numbers of youngsters are also being detained, with under-18s the only age group to see a rise in the number of arrests year-on-year - increasing from eight to 14.
Overall, there were 255 terrorism-related arrests in 2015/16, a decrease of 15 per cent compared to the previous year when there were a record 301.
A Home Office report accompanying the data said: “Although a fall on the previous year, the number of arrests in the year ending 31 March 2016 was still higher than most other recent years.”
Since the year ending March 2011, around the time of the Arab Spring, there has been a “general upward trend” in the number of arrests for terrorism-related offences, the paper said.
Security services have been on high alert since the emergence of Islamic State in 2014. Britain’s official terror threat level for international terrorism currently stands at severe - indicating that an attack is seen as “highly likely”.
Earlier this year it was revealed that police and intelligence agencies have disrupted seven plots to attack the UK in the previous 18 months.
The 36 female suspects held means they accounted for one in seven arrests over the period.
This was one more than the previous year and the number follows a steady increase since 2010/11, when it stood at 10.
All but two of the females arrested in the most recent year were considered to have links to international-related terrorism, the Home Office report said.
The number of under-18s detained was at the joint highest level for a financial year since records started. All but one of those in the youngest age group were considered to have links to international-related terrorism.
The statistics appear to chime with fears of increasing numbers of women and teenagers being drawn into extremism.
Schoolgirls and young families are among those feared to have fled the UK to join Islamic State. By contrast the number of 18 to 20-year-olds arrested more than halved, from 44 to 20.
Arrests in the international and “domestic” categories both fell, down from 217 to 212 and from 32 to 10 respectively, while the Northern Ireland-related tally was up from three to six.
The overall fall in the number of arrests was driven by a dip in arrests of people from white ethnic groups, which was down by a quarter from 88 to 66, and black ethnic groups, which nearly halved from 49 to 25 arrests.
Arrests of those from Asian ethnic groups, which made up more than half (55 per cent) of all arrests in the year ending in March, remained relatively stable, the report said.
Over three quarters of those held were British or had British dual nationality. A third of the arrests - 86 - resulted in a charge, with 76 of those individuals charged with terrorism-related offences.
The figures showed 97 people (38 per cent) were released without charge, 64 - or one in four - were bailed to return, while eight faced alternative action.

Life on the Frontlines With the Peshmerga's Female Fighters
JUNE 30, 2016
Late last year, Captain Khatoon Ali Krdr, 36, the commander of an all-female Kurdish peshmerga unit, visited a family in the village of Kocho in northern Iraqi Kurdistan to see a woman who’d had nearly everything taken away by the Islamic State (ISIS). Like Khatoon, the woman and her surviving family members are Yezidis, an ethno-religious Kurdish minority group. ISIS has long enslaved, tortured, and killed, Yezidi women. Khatoon tried to speak to the woman, but she could not answer. These days, she is mute and can only stare ahead.
The woman’s family members told Khatoon that, while the woman was in captivity, ISIS members forbade her to breastfeed her newborn son. So, the child cried. Irritated by the infant’s wailing, one of the captors snatched him from his mother’s arms and silenced him by cutting off his head. Then, ISIS members lit a fire for roasting.
During a recent visit to a peshmerga army base located near Dohuk, on the Iraqi Kurdistan border with Syria and Turkey, I spoke to Khatoon about why she joined the peshmerga. From the base’s dusty parking lot, one can look into the desert expanses of all three countries and even spot the main pipeline that carries Iraqi oil through Turkey. The base serves as a training facility for the Hezi Roj, or Sun Force unit, whose 126 Yezidi soldiers range in age from 20 to late-30s.

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Murdering Amjad Sabri of the Sabri Brothers: These murderers and only these murderers of divinity are the true enemies of Islam

By Khaled Abou El Fadl
27 Jun 2016
One of the truly sublime Muslim voices that for decades had been chanting endless mystical devotionals communing with God has been silenced by the bullet of an assassin. Amjad Sabri of the Sabri Brothers has been killed, and his unfortunate companion injured, by radicals in Karachi, Pakistan.
A year earlier, a frivolous blasphemy case was filed against Sabri because radical Muslims did not like some of his Sufi lyrics about the Prophet and his family.
As has become the pattern and practice among extremists, they kill and destroy what they do not like - that is, everything that has as much as a scintilla of beauty, intellect, or mercy.
Every time such criminal elements that associate themselves with Islam commit a new act of murder and mayhem, millions of Muslims around the world mourn. Today is no exception.
Sufi Qawwali Music
For those who do not know, the Sufi Qawwali music of the Sabri Brothers is not a recent fad or a modern invention of Westernised Muslims.
The Qawwali music is a devotional mystical supplication that goes back seven centuries or more.
Invented and popular in South Asia, the Qawwali originated with the Chishti Sufi order which fused Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Indian musical elements to create its own unique style of Sama' (listening to the sounds of divinity).
Qawwali itself derives from the word "Qawl" or the utterance of words. The significance of this is that like all forms of Sufi music, the Qawwali is premised on the theological centrality of listening to creation, and in return reverberating the ecstatic sounds of love, longing, and devotion to the Divine.
Typically, the Qawwali will sing the praises of God and the Prophet Muhammad and his family, lament separation and loss, or perform ghazals, which are supernal love songs couched in sometimes highly metaphorical and symbolic terms of intoxication and even hedonistic oblivion for the sake of the beloved.
Like so much of Sufi music, the Qawwali played a critical social role in transcending social, sectarian, and even religious divides.
In South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the Qawwali plays an unmistakably unifying and integrational role in bringing various classes, sects, and religious groups together over universal themes.
Bridging the Divide
In fact, well beyond South Asia, Sufi music - and especially the Sabri Brothers - have been bridging the divide between Islam and the West.
Like so much of Sufi music, the Qawwali played a critical social role in transcending social, sectarian, and even religious divides.
The Sabri Brothers performed in Carnegie Hall in as early as 1975, collaborated with Western artists and record labels, and performed in sold-out venues throughout Europe and the US.
Perhaps it is precisely the conciliatory and unifying role played by groups like the Sabri Brothers that make them so detestable to radical groups.
In truth, the Sabri Brothers and the other Sufi performers act as ambassadors of a very different Islam than that espoused by radical groups.
It is a far more tolerant, loving, and beautiful message than the typically divisive, intolerant, and bloody visions fantasised by the radicals.
For the radicals, Sufis with their Qawwalis, Ghazals, laments, and longings are nothing more than heretical unbelievers. Yet, the historical reality is that Sufi Islam is older and far more original to the tapestry of Islam.
Indeed, as recent scholarship has proven, up until the 17th century, it was not uncommon for Muslims to belong to Sufi orders.
In short, some argue that Sufism is more anchored in the lived historical reality of Muslims than many other theological interpretations.
Different Genres of Musical Composition
Sure, radical groups are quite adept at spewing out many pedantic arguments about why music is forbidden in Islam, but the fact remains that the view prohibiting all forms of music was an ignoble marginality until the mid-20th century.
The fact also remains that from the time of the Prophet to this very day, every Muslim society has produced many different genres of musical composition and performance.
When I learned of Sabri's murder, I could imagine the heavens crying for the beautiful hymns that have been silenced, and like millions of Muslims, I wished I could defy the murderous goons by uniting the entire world in a divine hymn against their ugliness.
The truth is that they, just like al-Qaeda, ISIL (also known as ISIS), Boko Haram, and of course their theological "teachers", methodically and systematically destroy everything beautiful in Islam. They target and destroy the artefacts and historical sites that defy their pedantic and false sense of history.
They even target the manuscripts that preserve the rich intellectual tradition of Islamic civilisation. Without conscience, they murder divinity itself when they kill human beings who are, regardless of faith or creed, nothing but bearers of the divinity of their Maker. These are the true radical extremists. They and only they are the true enemies of Islam.
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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Claims Evangelical Christian Churches Preach Gay Hate in Public Schools

By Robert Burton-Bradley
28 June 2016
Evangelical Christian churches are using some New South Wales schools to preach homophobic messages, SBS can reveal.
Recordings of sermons obtained by SBS include teachings that the punishment for gay sex is death, marriage and sex is between a man and a woman only, and that the gay "lifestyle" is "unhappy".
The sermons are being delivered by members of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. Many of the churches are housed on public school grounds in NSW, where they conduct weekly services by arrangement with the individual schools.
One recording of a sermon on homosexuality and the Bible's book of Leviticus from the Lakes Christian Church, based inside the Berkeley Vale Public school on the NSW Central Coast, includes references to the "death penalty" as a punishment for the "sin" of homosexuality.
"In Chapter 20, He [God] states the death penalty for those who disobey. And notice throughout...if it is not the death penalty, it’s being cut off from the people of God, which is still death, not just instant death and so God is serious about sexual purity,” the pastor claims in the recording, which has since been removed from the church's website.
The sermon goes on to preach that: "God’s good design for sex within marriage" is between "one man and a woman".
"Even though books have been written and studies have been conducted to show that the gay lifestyle is not a happy one, people persist in the rejection of God. Let me encourage you that if you are in any doubt about how destructive that sexual sin is...have a look at the research and I can, I can point it out to you.”
A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said it was forbidden to use school facilities to spread homophobia.
"The Department of Education does not allow any group or church to use school grounds to preach homophobic messages," he told SBS, referring to the NSW Department of Education’s policy on the use of school facilities.
Berkeley Vale Public School, Lambton Public School and the Lakes Christian and Maitland Evangelical Churches did not respond to requests for comment by SBS.
Maitland Grossman High School said it did not wish to comment.
Darrin Morgan, from the lobby group Human Rights Advocacy Australia (HRAA), said he complained to both the Department of Education and Berkeley Vale Public High School in April this year but said other than asking the church not to preach homophobic messages; no further action had been taken.
“HRAA believes that NSW public school facilities should not be used to promote beliefs which marginalise members of both the school and wider community,” he told SBS.
In response to a complaint from HRAA to Berkeley Vale Public High School, the acting principal confirmed the school was aware of the sermon and that it was not appropriate material.
"I have determined that the sermon described in your complaint was not consistent with the expectations of the community use agreement between Tuggerah Lakes Secondary College Berkeley Vale Campus and The Lakes Church," she wrote in response to HRAA's complaint.
However the church continues to operate from the school.
Mr Morgan said religious groups with these views should not be accessing school facilities.
"HRAA is simply asking the minister for education and the Department of Education to implement the department’s own policies and procedures in an objective and neutral manner. This requires such organisations to be deemed 'inappropriate organisations' and therefore must be denied use of public school facilities," he said.
SBS can reveal at least two other churches from the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches based in NSW public schools have made anti-gay sermons.
In two recordings posted online by the Hunter Bible Church, based at Lambton High School in Newcastle, a pastor states that homosexuality is a sin and wrong.
"Homosexuality is one of the things that send people to hell," the pastor states.
"Anything outside of that, whether it is homosexuality, or adultery or pornography or sex before marriage; anything that doesn't conform with what God created us into, is wrong."
A spokesman for the Hunter Bible Church denied anti-gay sermons had been preached on the school site.
"No message that fits what you’ve described has been given on school grounds," he told SBS.
When SBS drew his attention to the recordings about homosexuality on the church's website, the spokesman did not respond further.
An audio recording from the Maitland Evangelical Church discusses the evils of incest, homosexuality and adultery in the same sermon.
"God does not want us sinking in a sea of shame," the Pastor says.
"If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, with the wife of his neighbour; both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death. Now that sounds drastic doesn't it and it is - God will judge sexual sin - the Israelites didn’t get away with it back then, and we will not get away with it either."

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Reckoning With the Lone Wolf

By R.K. Raghavan
28 June 2016
It is important to bring about greater coordination among countries and chalk out a strategy to exploit the fault lines between terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
One question uppermost in many minds since last week is whether Brexit will have an impact on the fight against terror. There is nothing to suggest that when Brexit becomes a reality, the British resolve to counter jihad and all that goes with it will be greatly diluted.
But then, the country will have to contend with a possible disruption of international law enforcement networks and its effect on counterterrorism. There is one view that in isolation from the rest of the present European Union (EU), Britain may actually be better equipped to deal with infiltration of jihadist elements through stricter border control and monitoring of traffic from the EU countries, which have had a considerable influx from West Asia last year.
All this is in the realm of speculation. Much will depend on the course terrorism takes in the next few years. In this context, one cannot ignore how Hafiz Saeed, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief and mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, has reacted to Brexit. In his view, the U.K. was now paying for its past sins, especially the support it lent to the U.S. and other European nations in working against supporters of ‘jihad’. In a public address in Faisalabad, Pakistan, a few days ago, Saeed is learnt to have appealed to his followers to step up their campaign with a view to seeing “the end” of other nations like France, Germany and Italy as well.
New-Age Decentralised Terrorism
The U.S. State Department’s annual Country Reports for 2015 released a fortnight ago highlights the growing decentralised and diffused nature of terrorism globally. Gone are the days of al-Qaeda’s undisputed leadership. It is certainly present in many regions, but with much less authority and spread. The Islamic State (IS) has undeniably stolen a march over it with its magnetic appeal, stark brutality and the enormous resources it commands through sheer looting and control over oilfields, mainly in Iraq.
The silver lining is that there are indications that the IS has not lately been able to weather the onslaught of coordinated action by Western nations. The substantial expulsion of IS fighters from the cities lying on the routes connecting the two strongholds of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq is evidence of this. Air strikes at modular refineries, petroleum storage tanks and crude collection points have also resulted in an erosion of IS resources. The close monitoring and check on volunteers from around the globe wanting to go to Syria and Iraq has also reduced the strength of active fighting forces available to it.
The various reverses in West Asia have, however, been somewhat neutralised by the IS’s move to establish affiliate organisations in Asia, especially Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are uncorroborated claims of small actions in the latter countries, but there have been counter-attacks by the Afghan government, coalition forces, and particularly the Taliban, which has not taken kindly to the rise of the IS. Support from the local population has also been insignificant.
All this has to be reckoned with against the backdrop of reports last year of escalating tension between al-Qaeda and the IS in some regions that triggered local violence. In particular, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has shown itself to be a resilient force in an already conflict-ridden Yemen. Ultimately, it seems, counter-terror strategists will have to exploit these ego clashes to gain at least temporary operational advantage. The 2015 Country Reports reveals the greatest concern about the unmitigated violence in Africa. Perhaps the most deadly of the groups which are active is Boko Haram of Nigeria, which declared its affiliation to the IS last year.
The greatest strength of Boko Haram, as also of a Somali outfit like al Shabaab (that was responsible for the attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi in September 2013), is its capacity for unleashing high-decibel attacks on unwary and soft targets. Governmental efforts to thwart terrorism in the region have been commendable though the outcome has been only a modest reduction in violence. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), to which many countries including Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda contributed soldiers, has been fairly effective against al Shabaab. In the process the joint force suffered a large number of casualties last year, somewhat stalling the offensive.
Coordination and Law Enforcement
The U.S. State Department believes that whatever gains have been made in countering terror have been the result of greater coordination among nations across the globe. This has taken the form of enlarged and up-to-date watch lists shared with many nations affected badly by terror. Worthy of mention here is the evolution of a comprehensive Passenger Name Record (PNR) that makes it mandatory for airlines to let authorities know names of passengers on a flight in advance of take-off. A European Counter Terrorism Centre in Europol (something equivalent to Interpol) was another development to beef up the offensive.
The question that is repeated again is whether such arrangements can help to thwart the lone wolf who is becoming more and more the rule rather than an exception. The answer is ‘no’! How do we frustrate a person who is convinced that a Caliphate established after liquidating all other religions is the only answer to what he considers an unequal world order, before he inflicts mass casualty on innocent communities?
My response is that an ounce of optimism is preferable to a pound of cynicism. Simultaneous to efforts aimed at deradicalisation will have to be the strengthening of law enforcement and the rest of the criminal justice system.
Preventive detention at the merest suspicion — as long as such action is provided for in law and is subject to eventual oversight by the judiciary — of persons who share and disseminate (orally or electronically) an ideology that incentivises killing of fellow beings is the only way to help prevent atrocities like the one we witnessed recently in Orlando, U.S. Human rights activists will cry foul at this. But we must remember that they are getting marginalised every time a Paris, Brussels, Orlando takes place.
R.K. Raghavan is a former CBI Director and current Chairman of the Special Investigation Team, Gujarat.
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Those in Pakistan Who Accused Amjad Sabri of Blasphemy Are Now Mourning His Death

By Fatima Tassadiq
Amjad Sabri, a master of Qawwali, the devotional music popular across South Asia, was murdered in Karachi last week. A spokesperson of the Tehrik-e-Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and declared Sabri a blasphemer. The militant outfit is not alone in considering the qawwali, which has long been part of the Sufi tradition in the subcontinent, as heretical. Many Sufi practices are frowned upon as deviant within the more puritan religious movements that have become increasingly popular in Pakistan during the last few decades.

Qawwali singer Amjad Sabri who was shot in Karachi last week. Credit: Youtube grab
Nevertheless, Sabri’s brutal murder came as a shock to many. His funeral procession was attended by thousands of men and women who openly wept at the loss of the much-loved Qawwal. There was also the predictable outpouring of ‘thoughts and prayers’ from politicians and public figures followed by the usual chest thumping about defeating terrorism.
These expressions of shock and grief are only notable for their convenient amnesia that appears to have afflicted many amongst us. It was not the Taliban or the much-maligned mullahs who accused Sabri’s famous qawwali ‘Ali Ke Sath Hai Zahra Ki Shadi’ of being blasphemous during the Geo TV versus the establishment showdown in 2014. The Qawwali had been performed at a morning show on Geo TV, at a time when the news channel was locked in a political tussle with the intelligence agencies over the attempted murder of their star reporter Hamid Mir. When an ordinary smear campaign against the channel failed to mobilize sufficient support, the establishment played the religious card: the channel was accused of committing blasphemy by disrespecting members of Prophet Muhammad’s family who were mentioned in the qawwali. Protests were held and FIRs filed. The Islamabad high court issued notices to several individuals involved in the row, including Sabri and poet Aqeel Mohsin Naqvi who had penned the Qawwali, before the whole issue eventually blew over.
Then it was not the bearded clerics but the clean shaved TV show host Mubasher Lucman who drew national attention to the alleged blasphemy and devoted two episodes of his talk show to protesting this ‘assault on the sentiments of the nation’. Declaring in no uncertain terms that the particular Qawwali performed on Geo TV was “blasphemous”, Lucman went on to declare the entire practice of Qawwali singing as antithetical to Islam. In fact, it was his guests – two religious scholars – who pushed back and insisted that it was not the Qawwali that was sacrilegious but the setting which was disrespectful as it involved fun and games that are against the proper etiquette of listening to such devotional music. In another episode, Lucman invited Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi of the Ahle Sunnat Wa al Jammat (ASWJ) to further malign the rival TV channel. ASWJ is the proscribed front for the banned militant Sunni outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Lucman has of course expressed ‘shock’ at Amjad Sabri’s murder and also discussed the need for the state to provide security to artists and performers. No doubt artists in the country need protection when they are made vulnerable by the likes of Lucman.
Imran Too
Imran Khan, the harbinger of Naya Pakistan, has also expressed grief at Sabri’s murder. In 2014, he threw his weight behind the accusations against Geo TV which resulted in actively endangering Sabri’s life as well as those associated with the program. Even as the rest of the country is reeling from the shock of the latest Taliban attack, Khan has defended his decision to fund the pro-Taliban Darul Uloom Haqqania in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), is currently in power. PTI has slashed funding for minorities and allocated a whopping Rs 300 million of taxpayers’ money to the private madrasa known for producing many Taliban leaders including Mullah Omar, Mullah Mansoor and Jalaluddin Haqqani. Khan’s argument that the madrasa has agreed to reform rings hollow as there are no clear guarantees or deliverables required from the institute. Moreover, the funds have been allocated for construction and rehabilitation of the institute. Trying to understand how constructing new buildings will lead to ‘deradicalisation’ is something I leave to Khan’s avid followers.
But let us come back to Sabri. This is not the first time public figures have fanned religious extremism for political mileage or TRPs and later expressed shock when the individuals they actively endangered were gunned down.
It was not a cleric but popular TV anchor Mehr Bukhari who conducted an extremely inflammatory interview with Salman Taseer in 2010, where she accused him of attacking the sanctity of Prophet Muhammad by trying help a Christian woman accused of blasphemy. Taseer had also been trying to reform the country’s controversial blasphemy laws. She was of course very shocked when Taseer was murdered by his security guard in 2011.
A few weeks ago, actor and TV show host Hamza Ali Abbasi led a controversial and much talked about discussion on the channel Aaj TV regarding Ahmadis, a religious sect declared as non-Muslim by the state. A little known anchor Shabbir Abu Talib from the rival TV One decided to cash in on the controversy and promptly invited Maulana Kokab Noorani to shed light on Abbasi’s ‘audacity’. The two proceeded to accuse Abbasi of blasphemy and Noorani openly incited people to murder Abbasi. No case has been filed against these two even though incitement to murder is a criminal offence under the penal code as well as the Anti Terrorism Act. No doubt, Abu Talib will be very distressed if someone actually shot Abbassi. He will probably go on to do a show on the deteriorating law and order situation in the country.
It is nauseating to see those who wanted Amjad Sabri’s head on a platter only a while ago now ‘mourning’ his death. Our collective amnesia regarding the promotion of violent narratives serves the dual function of reducing religious extremism to anti-state outfits like the Taliban while at the same time re-affirming the educated urban upper class as the rightful custodian of the nation. This paternalistic discourse that displaces violence on to the so called uneducated masses and the much vilified clerics, effaces the active role played by the state and elites in mainstreaming extremism for political and professional gains.
Fatima Tassadiq is a doctoral student of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania
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Making Art from Pakistan’s Chaos

By Aatish Taseer
June 27, 2016
A drain, clogged with pink plastic bags and filled with black water, separates Bahar Colony, a Christian neighbourhood, from the rest of this city. On one side is the Arfa Software Technology Park, a soaring modern complex of steel and green glass. On the other, the broken facades of low-lying brick houses are hung with rags. A sign reads: “Faith Gospel Assemblies, Lahore.”
This is the landscape of Julius John Alam’s reality — and his imagination. Mr. Alam, the 26-year-old son of a tailor, is part of Pakistan’s Christian community, some two million in a country of more than 180 million. But he is also part of something bigger: He represents the tremendous artistic energy that has come to Pakistan, even as — and perhaps because — its traumas have multiplied. A few weeks before I was to meet Mr. Alam in New York, where he is studying at the Parsons School of Design, a bomb went off on Easter Day at a park in Lahore, killing more than 70 people, many of them women and children celebrating the holiday.
“The themes I deal with are influenced by my lived experiences as a Christian,” he told me. The Christian experience is one of trauma in a country whose catalogue of calamities includes terrorism, religious extremism, crime, coups and sectarian strife. This chaos has nurtured a dazzling array of artists whose work is on display in the great cities of the world.
“The confusion is a kind of blessing because there is no consensus,” Quddus Mirza, another artist, told me one hot morning in Lahore. “India has this thing about Indianness. Here, there is no identity.” It was a strange thing to say: Pakistan, founded in 1947 as a homeland for India’s Muslims, once had a very strong identity. But it has been discredited, at first through successive military coups that undermined civilian governments, and later through terrorism, insurgency and the vanishing writ of the state from great sections of the country.
We sat in Mr. Mirza’s office at the National College of Arts, where he is the head of the fine arts department. The beautiful red-brick building, in the heart of colonial Lahore, has served as an incubator — “an island of freedom,” Mr. Mirza calls it — for artists like Mr. Alam.
The National College of Arts has been a vessel for a combustible mixture of individual personality and tradition. It has achieved what Nadezhda Mandelstam, the Russian memoirist and the widow of the poet Osip Mandelstam, describes in “Hope Abandoned” as “the flash point in art,” which “comes through contact between what has been accumulated (or concentrated in the bloodstream) over the ages and something occurring at a single passing moment.” This has the power to “spark off new ideas and words never before spoken.”
On the day of my visit, I ran into one of the National College of Art’s most famous alumni. Imran Qureshi’s paintings have been shown at the greatest museums of the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Barbican Art Gallery in London. It’s a National College of Arts tradition that former students, no matter how famous, return to teach, and when I saw him, Mr. Qureshi was on his way to class.
He told me a story from his student years, when a class was dismissed because everyone showed their work on identical 20-inch-by-30-inch pieces of white paper. “We’re all individuals,” the teacher told them, “we all have our own style.” The class was sent away and asked to come back with materials that better reflected their individuality. Mr. Qureshi returned with old Urdu newspapers, carrying headlines of violence and unrest, on which he set to work in charcoal.
Pakistani art is unsettling. One of Mr. Qureshi’s most famous paintings depicts trees splashed with blood. And Mr. Alam’s work has a similar darkness. “The Curtain of the Temple Tore Into Two,” a white metal bathtub filled with black enamel paint, represents the sewer separating the Christians of Bahar Colony from the rest of the city. Next to it, like a tombstone, is a symbol of muted rage and anguish: a lurid red Christmas tree.
Mr. Alam had seen very little art before he began to produce it himself. There were many like him at the college, and this was part of what gave their art its power and vitality. His main influence, barring a few examples of Christian calendar art, was life itself. “During summer nights, when we would sleep on the roofs, and there would be long hours of blackouts, and the way everything would be reduced to shapes and shadows,” he said, casting his mind back to Bahar Colony. “I never thought of myself as an artist at that time, but those were the themes I returned to when I began to see myself as an artist.”
Two experiences stand out in Mr. Alam’s mind. He remembers a few years ago when the Lahore Development Authority demolished a number of Christian houses. That, he said, made him aware of what he calls the “infrastructure of power.” He came to recognize the drain as a “social divider.” The other incident came in 2014, when a mob burned alive a young Christian couple in a town not far from Lahore. Mr. Alam’s wife, like the woman burned alive, was pregnant at the time, and it brought the horror of it very near.
Upheaval is known to do good things for art. Certainly Mandelstam, who lived through the Stalinist terror of the 1930s, and whose husband, Osip — the greatest Russian poet of the last century — died in a labour camp, would have understood what is occurring in Pakistan today. She would have known that for societies faced with dehumanizing levels of distress, the defiance of artists like Mr. Alam and the redemptive power of art, more generally, cease to be romantic notions. They become a form of survival.
Aatish Taseer is the author, most recently, of the novel “The Way Things Were,” and a contributing opinion writer.
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Two Women Appointed As Shariah High Court Judges in Malaysia

Photo: Gov't plans to allow only female doctors to assist in childbirth

Malaysian Gov't Plans To Allow Only Female Doctors to Assist In Childbirth
Yazidi Victim Demands Genocide Trial for Islamic State Leaders
Volleyball In Iran: A Litmus Test for Women’s Rights
Muslim Brotherhood Statement on Release of Seven Damietta Girls Monday
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

Two Women Appointed As Shariah High Court Judges in Malaysia
June 28, 2016
Two women have been appointed as judges of Malaysia’s Islamic Shariah High Court for the first time in the history of the judiciary of the Muslim-majority country.
Noor Huda Roslan, 40, and Nenney Shuhaidah Shamsuddin, 41, received their official letters of appointment from Selangor’s Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah during a ceremony at the Istana Bukit Kayangan.
Roslan and Shamsuddin said it was a positive development for the judiciary.
Shamsuddin said Malaysia had ratified the UN’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the appointments were in line with empowering women.
Shariah High Court, also known as Syriah High Court, refers to Sharia law in Islamic religious law and deals with exclusively Islamic laws, having jurisdiction upon every Muslim in Malaysia.
“I believe more women will be appointed to take charge of important responsibilities in the future,” she said.
Both women graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies and later studied Psychology (Counselling) and International and Comparative Legal Studies respectively.
Shuhaidah was a senior Shariah officer at the Attorney-General’s Chambers while Huda was a chief Registrar at the Selangor Shariah Judiciary Depart­ment.

Malaysian Gov't Plans To Allow Only Female Doctors to Assist In Childbirth
The government plans to allow only female doctors to assist in childbirth at public hospitals, Deputy Health Minister Dr Hilmi Yahaya said.
However, the plan is on hold because there are not enough female doctors in the obstetrics and gynaecology line, Hilmi told reporters in Balik Pulau yesterday.
"There are more female doctors (than male doctors) in public service but not many female doctors are interested in obstetrics and gynaecology.
"So we have to wait until there are more trained female doctors in this line," Bernama reported Hilmi as saying, after distributing Hari Raya hampers and contributions to 50 patients at Hospital Balik Pulau.
In 2013, the Health Ministry received a petition to only allow female doctors and nurses to work in the labour room and maternity ward, in the interest of the aurat (modesty) of Muslim patients.
The petition, signed by 6880 people, urged the ministry to incentivise women to take up obstetrics and gynaecology, and raise awareness among medical professionals of the aurat requirements during childbirth.
It is generally accepted that a Muslim woman can show only her face and hands to members of the opposite gender that she is not related to.
Some Muslim women have also opted to wear "birthing pants", which cover the mother's thighs, ankles and knees during childbirth to fulfil this obligation.

Yazidi victim demands genocide trial for Islamic State leaders
June 28, 2016
GENEVA: Nadia Murad, a slight, soft spoken Yazidi woman from Iraq, endured a three-month nightmare as a sex slave of the Islamic State (IS) group.
After her harrowing escape with the help of a fake religious ID nearly two years ago, Murad has a message for world leaders striving to crush the extremists: IS leaders must stand trial for genocide.
“Genocide must be recognised,” the 23-year-old told AFP through a translator in Geneva.
As Iraq wages an offensive against IS, with government forces retaking full control of the militant bastion of Fallujah on Sunday, UN investigators are making a renewed push for justice for the militants’ victims.
The Yazidis, neither Muslim nor Arab, are an ancient religious minority of more than half a million people concentrated near the Syrian border in northern Iraq.
The IS group has said it despises the Kurdish-speaking group because Yazidis are not “people of the book”, meaning their faith does not adhere to the theological tradition that begins with Abraham of the Old Testament and extends through the Koran.
In 2014, IS militants massacred Yazidis in Sinjar, forcing tens of thousands of them to flee, and capturing thousands of girls and women as spoils of war.
The UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) for Syria earlier this month said it had compiled evidence proving that IS was continuing a genocide against the Yazidis.
With Iraqi leaders hailing their recent victories over IS in Fallujah and weighing a new operation to flush them out of their northern strongholds like Mosul, Murad insisted that the need for accountability should not be forgotten.
She was taken by IS from her home village of Kocho near Iraq’s northern town of Sinjar in August 2014 and brought to Mosul.
“The first thing they did was they forced us to covert to Islam,” she said. “After conversion, they did whatever they wanted to do.”
In a December speech at the UN Security Council, Murad recounted her so-called “marriage” to one IS captor, who subjected her to horrific abuse.
“I was not able to take any more rape and torture,” she told the council, so she decided to flee.
On the run in Mosul, Murad said she was terrified that no one would take her in, but she ultimately found shelter with a Muslim family in the city.
“They made me an Islamic ID,” she said, which she used to cross the border into Iraqi Kurdistan.
There she lived in a camp for displaced people and, with the support of the Yazidi welfare organisation Yazda, relocated to Germany, where she now lives with her sister.
The United Nations and several Western powers first suggested last year that the IS assault on the Yazidis amounted to a premeditated, genocidal effort to exterminate an entire community.
The evidence presented by the COI earlier this month was more conclusive.
COI member and former international prosecutor Carla del Ponte described the commission’s report as “a roadmap for prosecutions”.
Supported by witness testimony, the COI found that IS “sought to erase the Yazidis through killings, sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment”.
Referring heinous, mass crimes to the International Criminal Court often meets obstacles in the UN Security Council for political reasons.
But COI members expressed hope that the Yazidi case could be investigated by The Hague-based ICC, because the IS group has no public political support.
Murad, one of 376 people and organisations nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, broke down in tears as she told a UN audience the extent to which her people felt abandoned by the international community.
Speaking at a Human Rights Council event in Geneva last week, she said that anger would intensify if the IS attempt to exterminate the Yazidis did not lead to prosecutions.
“For you to regain the trust of the Yazidis will take a lot of work,” she said.

Volleyball in Iran: A litmus test for women’s rights
An international volleyball tournament in the Iranian capital has thrown into sharp relief a debate in international sporting associations on how to deal with nations that restrict women’s rights as athletes and/or spectators.
How the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) evaluates next month’s World League in Tehran is likely to shape debate on how international sports should handle countries guilty of violations of women’s and human rights.
At stake in the debate is whether international sports associations should refuse hosting rights to nations who restrict women’s rights or use the awarding of tournaments as a means of fostering domestic pressure for the lifting of restrictions. The debate focuses on Iran, which unlike Saudi Arabia, the only other country that bans women from attending male sporting events and men from watching women’s competitions, is eager to host international tournaments.
FIVB, in contrast to world soccer body FIFA which refuses to award hosting rights to Iran, has argued that a refusal would penalize players and male rather than female fans in the Islamic republic.
FIVB has moreover suggested that forcing women’s entry into Iranian stadiums was likely to provoke violence against women wanting to exercise their right. The fact that awarding rights would provoke violence would seem to favour a refusal to award hosting rights to Iran rather than accept a reality that is imposed in part by threats of violence.
Iranian backtracking on earlier promises to lift the ban on women for international volleyball tournaments like the World League in Tehran and an earlier Asian Football Confederation (AFC) tournament in Iran further calls into question whether engagement instead of boycott is the more effective approach.
The glass is half full and half empty in the debate. The dilemma is built into the charters of international sports associations like FIVB that champion anti-discrimination but restrain them becoming embroiled in political and religious issues. Both sides in the volleyball debate sum up aspects of Iran’s reality and the volleyball federation’s experience in the country to argue their positions.
Proponents of engagement note that Iran has proven in the battle over its nuclear program that it is willing and able to sustain sanctions and unlikely to bend easily when penalized. Iran, they argue, drove a hard bargain when it finally agreed to serious negotiations.
For their part, opponents of engagement charge that Iran has repeatedly backtracked on promised concessions. At stake, the opponents say, is given the failure of the engagement approach the need for international sports associations to uphold principles and their commitment to values of equality and universal human rights.
Refusal to demonstrate that commitment, they say, would reduce their adherence to those principles to lip service and turn it into a farce. It would also hand a victory to those who threaten violence, a striking move in a world that vows not to be intimidated by indiscriminate political violence by the likes of groups like the Islamic State.
FIVB, which has been pushing for Iranian concessions not only during the World League but also more permanently in Azadi Stadium, Iran’s flagship sporting facility in Tehran, says it will evaluate the effectiveness of its engagement in the wake of next month’s tournament.
The FIVB first backed away from its earlier threat to boycott Iran when it last year went ahead with its Beach Volleyball tournament on Kish Island, a Muslim-tinted Las Vegas style resort developed before the 1979 Islamic revolution, despite Iran’s backtracking on its consent to women’s attendance of matches. Iranian officials justified their reversal by pointing to threats by religious groups that blood would be spilt if women were allowed to attend.
The FIVB secured a women’s section in the stadium despite the threats and women believed to be relatives of Iranian volleyball federation executives rather than from the public attended a couple of matches. Women fans who travelled to Kish to watch matches were barred entry.
The situation in Tehran next month is likely to be no different as supporters of President Hassan Rouhani, widely viewed as an advocate of reduced social controls, and Iranian hardliners battle over Iran’s future in the wake of the lifting of the nuclear-related international sanctions. The fact that the battle over women’s unfettered right to attend sporting rights is part of a larger struggle in Iran significantly reduces the FIVB’s chances of influencing Iran.
Hard line threats of violence designed as much to intimidate their opponents as to attempt to keep Iranian moderates in line are not restricted to sports.
Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, in an unprecedented response to this week’s likely deportation by Bahrain of Shiite Sheikh Isa Qassim, warned that the Gulf state had crossed a red line.
Bahrain stripped Sheikh Isa at the beginning of this week of his Bahraini nationality. The move against Sheikh Isa was part of a renewed crackdown on Bahrain’s majority Shiites by the Gulf island’s minority Sunni rulers.
General Soleimani said the it would spark “the beginning of a bloody uprising” that would lead to the “annihilation” of the country’s “bloodthirsty regime.”.
The warning by General Soleimani, who commands IGRC forces in Syria that support the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and who played a key role in shaping Shiite militias confronting the Islamic State in Iraq, was directed as much at Bahrain as it was at those in Mr. Rouhani’s government who want to reduce tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Ironically, Bahrain’s move against Sheikh Isa serves the purpose of Saudi Arabia which has been seeking to strengthen Iranian hardliners as part of its struggle with Iran over regional dominance in the Middle East. Like when it executed a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric in January, Saudi Arabia hopes that strengthened Iranian hard liners will obstruct Mr. Rouhani’s US-backed efforts to return Iran to the international fold.
The Iranian power struggle and its role in the covert war between Iran and Saudi Arabia constitutes a high stakes battle that is far beyond the paygrade of internationals sports associations like the FIVB. With Mr. Rouhani and Iranian moderates having bigger fish to fry, it precludes the FIVB from getting any real foot on the ground in its effort to secure women’s rights. Under the circumstances, the FIVB and international sports associations are best served by upholding principles and standing on the side lines until the dust settles and new opportunities arise.

Muslim Brotherhood Statement on Release of Seven Damietta Girls Monday
The steadfastness and the will of Damietta Province girls triumphed over the will of the tank and the junta after more than 420 days in military prisons... a tribute to the women of the January 25 (2011) Revolution, their resilience, and their families who stand firm behind them.
However, their acquittal and release will not erase the shame of jailing them in the first place. That will continue to be a curse on the military junta for their crimes, which afflicted more than 1,500 girls and women over the past 3 years – since the start of the murderous treasonous military coup.
A tribute to the men and women of the 2011 Revolution, for their persistent protests and selfless devotion, especially over the past few days, and all Egyptians on social networking websites, who blogged in support of the values of truth and freedom.
Soon, the people will exact retribution from each and every official and henchman guilty of crimes against Egyptian women.

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