Thursday, April 26, 2012

Women Under Islam

By Adrian Morgan

Back in the 1980s, few young Western Muslim women wore the Muslim headscarf, or hijab. In fact it was banned in some Muslim countries for teachers and those employed by the state. Turkey was the first country to campaign against its use. In 1981, Tunisia banned the hijab from public offices and schools, under law number 108. This was ratified by the late President Habib Bourguiba (1956 - 1987). In September 2006 Tunisian authorities mounted a campaign against the Muslim "Barbie" doll called Fulla, who wears a hijab, as it was thought to encourage use of the scarf. A month later, Morocco enforced a ban on images of the hijab in schoolbooks, even though the item can be worn legally. In predominantly Muslim Tajikistan in central Asia, the headscarf was banned from schools in October, 2005.

There used to be a time when only a few Western-born Muslims wore the hijab. Yet progressively over the past two decades, it has become increasingly common and more recently in the West, even the practice of wearing the face-covering veil, or niqab has become more common as well. There are political forces which have promoted the hijab as "obligatory" dress for Muslim women. The group Hizb ut-Tahrir has campaigned in British universities since the 1980s to force Muslim students to wear the item, using physical intimidation and threats to get their way. The group was banned from UK campuses in 1995 but continues to operate under other names. Other groups such as Tablighi Jamaat have been encouraging women to wear the headscarf as a religious obligation. This "missionary" group, founded in India in 1927, has been linked with terrorism, mounting coup attempts in Pakistan and shootings in north Africa.Two French members of Tablighi Jamaat, states Alexei Alexiev, were among gunmen who carried out the attack upon the Atlas Asni Hotel in Marrakesh, Morocco on August 24, 1999. Two Spanish tourists were killed. Jose Padilla, Lyman Harris, (who sought to bomb the Brooklyn Bridge), and the "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh all had Tablighi connections.In Morocco, Ilamado Yusef Fikri was sentenced to death on July 12, 2003. He was a member of Tablighi Jamaat, but also headed a terror group called Salafia Jihadia or At-Takfir wal-Hijrah. In letters to local press, he confessed to killing two people for being "against Islam". His terror group was linked with the Casablanca bombings of May 16, 2003, which killed 45 people.In Waziristan, near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, the Tablighi Jamaat has the support of Pakistan's Taliban, who are linked to al Qaeda. In France since 1972, the group has been involved with the radicalization of Muslim prisoners.

In Britain Tablighi Jamaat has been involved in the political campaign by a young Muslim woman to challenge traditions. Twenty-four-year old Aisha Azmi was employed as a language support worker by Headfield Church of England Junior School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. She did not wear a niqab (face-covering veil) during her interview. She was employed to assist young children who had poor English skills, but as soon as she started working, she began to wear a niqab. Children complained that they could not understand her, and after only a month, she was suspended. In September 2006 she challenged the decision at an employment tribunal.

On October 19, 2006, she lost her tribunal, where she had claimed that her employers had "discriminated" against her. She said: "It is clear that discrimination has taken place and I am disappointed the tribunal has not been able to uphold that part of my claim." It was then revealed by the Sunday Times that Aishma Azmi had been ordered to wear the face-veil by a Tablighi Jamaat cleric, Mufti Yusuf Sacha, who is based in West Yorkshire. The Daily Mail revealed that Azmi's father Dr Mohammed Mulk had until recently headed the secondary school attached to the Tabighi Jamaat "Markaz" in Savile Town, Dewsbury. The Markaz is the UK headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat.

Mulk's school was criticized by UK government schools inspectors as less a place of learning and more of a "madrassa". Their report claimed that the school's "over-emphasis" on religion meant secular studies were neglected. It wrote: "Teachers showed limited understanding of pupils aptitudes, needs and prior attainments." Mulk had claimed: "Parents send their children here for an Islamic education. They don't want their sons to take exams."

The "spiritual adviser" of the Muslim website IslamOnline is the radical Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is also "spiritual leader" of the Muslim Brotherhood. This website maintains that the hijab is obligatory. Similarly the Muslim Council for Britain, which was co-founded by the Brotherhood's European spokesman Kemal Helbawy, maintains that the hijab is compulsory. The MCB has acted as an adviser to the UK government, with the result that one naive politician - Ruth Kelly, the Communities Minister and Minister for Women - has claimed that there should be more hijab-wearing women on British television.

In France in September 2004 the hijab was officially banned from schools. The ban was general - no other religious items can been worn. On August 25, 2005, French-speaking schools in Belgium banned the wearing of veils. Five Belgian towns have gone further. Ghent, Antwerp, Sint-Truden, Lebbeke and Maaseik have enforced complete bans on burkas and face-veils being worn on the street.

In Maaseik, only one woman refused to comply with the ban, and wore a burka which only allowed a slit for her eyes. This woman was married to a Moroccan terrorist, Khalid Bouloudo, from the group GICM, which organized the Casablanca suicide-bombings of May 16, 2003. On February 16, 2006, Khalid Bouloudo was jailed for five years for assisting terrorist activities. On June 12 last year, Maaseik's ban on the wearing of the burka was upheld in court. It had been challenged by a Moroccan woman, Khadija El Ouazzanik.

The wearing of hijabs and their subsequent bans in schools, followed by legal appeals, have changed the political landscape of the West almost as much as terrorism. Constantly the issue of Muslim women's "rights" have been brought into the public eye through discussion of thehijab. Groups like CAIR have capitalized on the hijab issue to promote their narrow political agenda. In 2005 the group dishonestly doctored a photograph to place a crude hijab onto the head of an unveiled woman.

The political motivations of those who challenge the Western "status quo" are rarely mentioned in news reports. In Britain, a schoolgirl called Shabina Begum insisted upon her right to ignore school uniform guidelines to wear instead a gown which extended down to her feet. This item is called a jilbab . Begum took her case through the courts, assisted by her lawyer Cheri Booth Blair, wife of the then-Prime Minister. On March 22, 2006 the House of Lords overturned a ruling she had gained, which had condemned her school's actions. What was rarely reported was that her case was supported by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization whose stated aims are to destroy democracy, and her brother (and her legal guardian) was said to be a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a claim he denies.

The situation of appeals and demands about infringement of rights involving wearing of the hijab has gone on in various locations. A bus company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, had to revise its ban on face coverings, a move introduced for security reasons. In September 2005, a Muslim convert called Sultaana Freeman (born Sandra Keller) lost a legal appeal in Florida. She had tried to have her photograph on her driving license displaying herself wearing a hijab and face-veil (niqab). In 2001, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FDHSMV) had issued a license with a picture of her with only her eyes visible, but had later revoked it. A convicted child-batterer who became Muslim in 1997, Freeman had claimed that her 1st Amendment rights had been violated.

Two months later, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC) encountered problems when trying to have a photograph taken of a Muslim driving license applicant. Sarah Elfayoumi wears a hijab, and complained that she was asked to move the scarf further back to expose her hairline. She fled to the bathroom in tears before allowing a photograph showing part of her hair. Sharon Harrington of the NJMVC claimed that hijabs are allowed in license photographs, but problems with photographs were more frequent in northern New Jersey, where more Muslims lived.

In Britain in October 2006, Nadia Eweida, a 55-year old employee of British Airways, found herself in a battle to retain her rights to wear a small Christian crucifix, half an inch in diameter. Nadia Eweida is a Coptic Christian. British Airways allowed its Muslim staff to flaunt their religious credentials by wearing the hijab but discriminated against Christians. Nadia lost her appeal in November, but in January British Airways caved in to public outcry and officially removed its ban on crucifixes.

The veil issue in Norway has also raised questions about the mysterious death of a local politician from Oslo. Samira Munir was of Pakistani origins, and was a member of Oslo District Council. She opposed the wearing of the veil, a campaign she commenced in February 2004. As a result she was harshly criticized by Norway's Pakistani immigrant community. In October 2004, she was even pressured by Pakistan's ambassador to explain her beliefs in two meetings. In the second meeting, Ambassador Shahbaz Shahbaz noted that she still had family members in Pakistan. Samira did not give up her campaign. In November 2005 she died under a train at Oslo station. Whether she fell or was pushed has not been satisfactorily explained.

In Turkey, the veil issue has led to Islamist assassination. On May 17, 2006, five judges were shot in the Turkish Council of State (Supreme Court) in Ankara. One judge, Mustafa Yucel Ozbilgin, died of his injuries. Their attacker was an Islamist lawyer, Aslan Alpasan, who objected to a decision to enforce bans on state-employed teachers wearing the hijab. This had been made earlier in the year by Judge Mustafa Birden, who was shot in the stomach. Birden had been subjected to death threats for enforcing the headscarf ban.

The issue of the veil in schools is the most contentious topic across Europe. In Sweden in January this year, the government supported the "rights" of Muslim girls to wear head coverings in classes. In Norway in June last year, the Directorate for Primary and Secondary Education gave permission for the niqab to be banned in schools. The ban was aimed mainly at teachers.

In Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia recently became the eighth of the country's sixteen states to ban the headscarf for teachers. The first state to institute a ban was Baden-Wuerttemberg, which issued the ruling on April 1, 2004. On July 7, 2006, Baden-Wuerttemberg's outlawing of the hijab was overturned by an administrative tribunal.

In Switzerland last September, two Muslim women were employed by the Marie-Therese Maradan school in Fribourg. They were dismissed when they refused to remove their headscarves. Fribourg council ruled in October that the school acted within its rights. Since 1999, religious apparel has been banned for employees of Fribourg city council.

The veil controversy has affected virtually every Western nation. In South Africa in October 2005 a prison officer was sacked for wearing the headscarf. Fairouz Adams was dismissed from her post at Worcester Prison in the Western Cape for not removing the item. In March this year, a trainee prison officer was fired in Quebec, Canada, for refusing to remove her hijab. 19-year old Sondos Abdelatif had been training to be an officer at Montreal's Bordeaux prison. Naturally, the executive director of Canadian CAIR, Karl Nickner, condemned the decision.

Within all this controversy, the involvement of political factions in encouraging Muslim women to wear the hijab, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Tablighi Jamaat and Hizb ut-Tahrir, has been forgotten.Muslim women are portrayed in the media as wearing the veil through their own volition, ignoring the pervasive effects of peer pressure. For example, the biased and leftist BBC "educates" ignorant Westerners with comments from veiled women, such as this: "Yes, I do wear a Hijab and I am covered from head to toe but how does that illustrate I am oppressed? I do not dress this way because I am forced to. Instead, I feel this dress liberates me and makes me feel special because, a woman is a jewel, like a pearl. She doesn't need to be shown off for the world to glare at, her beauty is for the one she loves for the sake of Allah (swt), her husband. "

Another woman who wears the face-veil claims that she gains more respect while wearing coverings which only expose her eyes. Rahmanara Chowdhury, a part-time teacher in Britain said : "'It serves as a reminder that I'm Muslim and it helps me get close to God. Since wearing the niqab, I've become a lot more confident. Once you're covered up, people are forced to judge you not as you look as a woman but on your character. "

The full-face covering niqab is naturally controversial. In Britain, one 12-year old Muslim girl from Buckinghamshire, assisted by her father, had tried legally to challenge her school's decision to prevent her wearing a niqab. She lost her appeal in February this year. Shortly after this case faltered, British politicians granted schools the right to ban face-veils, on grounds of security. In November 2005 one prestigious London university, Imperial College (which has its own nuclear reactor), banned hooded garments and face coverings for security reasons.

The only Western nation to announce a country-wide ban on Muslim face coverings, including niqabs and burkas is the Netherlands. After much discussion, the Dutch parliament announced its intentions to ban the burka in November 2006, shortly before a general election. The ruling allowed police to enforce a ban on burkas being worn in buses, on grounds of security, or in educational establishments, on grounds of communication hindrances. About 50 Muslims in the Netherlands wear full burkas. The bill has still not become written into national law.

There have already been two cases where the full burka has been used by men fleeing the law. 25-year old Mustaf Jama was a Somali living in Britain as an asylum seeker. He was a prime suspect in the killing of a policewoman, PC Sharon Beshenivsky, during a robbery on November 18, 2005. After his accomplices were convicted, it was revealed that Jama had fled Britain, disguised in his sister's burka and using her passport. Yassine Omar was a suspect who is currently on trial for attempting to detonate a suicide-bomb on London Transport on July 21, 2005, a fortnight after the deadly 7/7 attacks. He had worn a burka to flee to Birmingham, where he had been caught.

Why should a 12-year old girl wear a face-veil, when the original Islamic injunctions about modesty were about protecting women from rape? The Suras which are used to argue that a woman should cover herself are generally considered to be 33:59 and 24:31. 33:59. They state (Dawood's translation): "Prophet, enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers to draw their veils close round them. That is more proper, so they may be recognized and not be molested. God is ever forgiving and merciful. "

24:31 states: "Enjoin believing women to turn their eyes away from temptation and to preserve their chastity; not to display their adornments (except such as are normally revealed); to draw their veils over their bosoms and not to display their finery except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons...etc ".

The word hijab, literally meaning a "curtain" only appears twice in the Koran (Sura 33:53 and 42:50). The word translated in 33:59 as "veil" is actually the plural of jilbab, the body-covering garment which does not cover the head. The Koran's supposed advocacy of head-coverings, let alone face-coverings, is highly ambiguous and open to various interpretations.

On October 14, 2006 Mohammad Hamdi Zaqdouq, Egypt's religious affairs minister, claimed that the face-veil was not a religious item. He said: "Nor is the niqab a duty deriving from the Sharia. I know I will be criticized for my words but I think some Muslims are committing a fundamental error, focusing on external and superficial aspects, without exploring more relevant themes, and hence providing a distorted image of Islam."

Muslims who go on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca are actually forbidden from wearing face-veils around the Ka'aba, so the position of the burka or niqab as a compulsory item of religious clothing is highly suspect. Women who wear such items in the West are making a political statement, not following the dictates of faith. Unfortunately, political correctness means that such items are viewed by many Western decision-makers as "religious apparel", whose use should never be questioned. In Britain, their use has been approved in court.

Shabnam Mughal is a lawyer, who caused a controversy on November 6, 2006, when she appeared as an attorney in an immigration case at Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire. Judge George Glossop maintained that he could not understand Mughal's speech as it was muffled by her niqab. She refused to remove her face-veil, and the judge sought advisement from Mr Justice Hodge, president of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal.

David Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth, said of the case: "You have to stick to the rules of the country you are in. The veil is alien to this country and it is certainly a nonsense to think it is appropriate in the context of a courtroom. I would urge the judge's ruling to come down in favour of common sense. A lawyer must surely have to show her face and be able to speak clearly in court."

On November 9, Mr Justice Hodge ruled that Shabnam Mughal or any other lawyer was allowed to wear a veil in court. This was conditional upon the lawyer having "the agreement of his or her client and can be heard reasonably clearly by all parties to the proceedings, then the representative should be allowed to do so." In April this year, the Judicial Studies Board's Equal Treatment Advisory Committee gave official guidelines, which allowed the wearing of niqabs in court. Decisions were to be made on a "case by case" basis, as long as such items did not "interfere with justice".

On October 5 last year, former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw initiated a national debate about the face-veil. In his weekly column in the Lancashire Telegraph newspaper, Straw wrote that "wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult. It was such a visible statement of separation and of difference." The issue was taken up by other politicians, including Tony Blair and also Gordon Brown, who said he would "prefer it and think it better for Britain if fewer people wore veils".

Even Romano Prodi, socialist premier of Italy, entered the debate. In many northern towns in Italy, face-coverings of any sort are banned, stemming from a ruling made in the time of Mussolini. Days after Prodi's comments, a right-wing Italian politician had to be placed under police protection because of objections to her comments about the niqab or face-veil. Daniela Santanche of the National Alliance had claimed on a TV show that the niqab was "not a religious symbol and it is not required by the Koran" and that it was "not a symbol of freedom". Her comments were attacked by Ali Abu Shwaima, the imam of the mosque in Segrate, Milan, who claimed Santanche was "ignorant, false, an instigator of hate and an infidel". He said: "I will not allow the ignorant to talk about Islam. The veil is an obligation required by God. Those who do not believe that are not Muslims."

The hijab may be seen by many Muslim women as an article of faith, but there is no doubt that in many instances, women and young girls are pressured by family and peers to wear the item. The face-veil and the burka have little religious justification, other than a desire to separate Muslim from Western women. A British woman wrote in the Saudi-owned Arab News : "I have lost count of the times that I have been admonished, chastised, ordered, requested, advised, politely reminded to cover my face. My usual stance is one of insolence. I invariably refuse with a 'Why should I?' partly because I can't stand being told what to do and partly because to draw a veil over my face just because someone has told me to and not due to religious conviction is nothing short of hypocrisy. Concomitantly, I have had many confrontations with those self-appointed vigilante types who want to give me free spiritual guidance. "

Behind the politicking surrounding the veil, and the dubious claims that the face-veil is even "liberating", the position of women in Islamic countries is hardly equal to that of men.

Legal Marriage and Forced Marriages

A man in Islam can have four concurrent wives, though a woman is denied more than one husband. In most Western nations, polygamy is illegal, but Britain allows tax-payers' money to subsidize welfare benefits for polygamous Muslims' extra wives.

Sheikh Ahmad Nutty of the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, writes : "The stated requirements of marriage in Islam are as follows: Full consent of both partners to the marriage, expressing the above consent through ijab(offer) and qabul(acceptance), finally the presence of two reliable witnesses. Apart from the above, in the case of females, their guardian's consent has been considered essential for the validity of marriage according to the majority of imams and scholars. Imam Abu Hanifah, however, is of the view that a mature woman is fully capable of contracting her own marriage. Thus in his view, marriages finalized without guardian's consent shall be considered as valid so long the woman has chosen someone who is considered as compatible. "

The fact that a young woman has to have the consent of her guardian, or Wali, indicates that the woman is not really a free agent and cannot readily marry someone of her own choosing. In Malaysia last year, a 22-year old woman who had married a 32-year old man and was five months' pregnant, was taken to an Islamic court by her father. He claimed that, being her Wali, he was not consulted before the marriage. The Islamic court annulled the marriage.

There are other bizarre variations on standard marriage, including "temporary marriages" called mut'ah and misyar. Misyar is a Sunni custom and it became legitimized in Egypt in the early 19th century. Ibn Baaz, the Salafi Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia from 1993-9 made a fatwa sanctioning misyar, expecting it to make it easier for wealthy single women to get married. Traditionally, a Muslim husband presents his bride with a dowry or mahr, and misyar dispenses with this requirement. In misyar marriage the couple does not live together, but makes nuptial visits to each other.

On April 12, 2006 the Islamic Jurisprudence Assembly in Mecca gave its approval for such unions. Misyar marriages are becoming common in Saudi Arabia, with some Saudi marriage officials claiming that 7 out of 10 of their contracts are misyar arrangements. Misyar is a temporary marriage, but can be extended to become full marriage. It does not have a fixed time in which it must end, like Mut'ah marriage.

Some traveling Muslims use temporary marriages to engage in sex tourism 'Islamically". Last June, Indonesia's vice president, Jusuf Kalla quipped that he saw nothing wrong with Arab men engaging in "temporary marriages" with Indonesian women. In August 2006 five Saudis were deported from an Indonesian resort for engaging in temporary marriages with local women.

Mut'ah marriage can be engaged in for as little as a few hours, with the man paying the "bride" for this contract. Mut'ah is illegal in Saudi Arabia, but is allowed in Iran, where it is called sighe. Iranian sociologist Amanollah Gharaii Moghaddam has said of such marriages: "Short-term marriages are a form of legalized prostitution. A state must not and cannot legitimize prostitution."

Such a marriage appears to be sanctioned in the Koran, Sura 4:24, where it is written: "Also married women (are forbidden to you in marriage), except those whom you own as slaves. Such is the decree of God. All women other than these are lawful for you, provided you court them with your wealth in modest conduct, not in fornication. Give them their dowry for the enjoyment you have had of them as a duty; but it shall be no offense for you to make any other agreement among yourselves after you have fulfilled your duty. Surely God is all-knowing and wise. "

Mut'ah is also, since the fall of Saddam Hussein, permitted in Iraq. It is allowed in Bahrain, where it has been condemned by women's rights activist Ghada Jamshir. Ms Jamshir said on Al-Arabiya TV: "This is a violation of children's rights! This constitutes sexual assault of the girl. What does 'pleasure from sexual contact with her thighs' mean? It means deriving sexual pleasure from an infant. How old is an infant? One year, a year and a half, a few months?"

In Singapore, where temporary marriage is illegal, a Muslim businessman convinced several women that such marriages were Islamic. He fathered 66 children, and also convinced some of his "wives" that it was lawful to have sex with his daughters. He was sentenced in April 2006 to 32 years' jail and 24 strokes of the cane for raping five of his daughters.

Another bizarre form of Muslim marriage contract is Ash-Shihgar, where a man marries off his daughter to another man, and marries the other man's daughter in exchange. No "bride-price" (mahr) is paid. In January 2007 two septuagenarian businessmen from Riyadh married each others' daughters. The brides were aged 17 and 19. One of the old men said: "I did not ask my daughter. I don't have to. I know what is beneficial for her. When I told her what I had planned, she was happy. If she hadn't been, she would have told her mother."

Forced Marriage

After briefly describing some of the ways that marriages can take place in Islam, where a young woman can marry a man only of her guardian's choosing, it is not surprising that forced marriages regularly occur. In 2001, Syria amended its constitution to outlaw forced marriage. In Saudi Arabia, forced marriage was made illegal in April 2005. This resulted from a fatwa issued by Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan referred to this fatwa to urge Islamists in his country to abandon forced marriages. In November 2005, Afghan leaders committed themselves to abolishing forced marriage by 2008.

In Afghanistan, the minimum legal age for a male to become married is 18, and for a girl, 16 years. Despite this, marriages are arranged involving girls far younger than 16. In October 2006, the Globe & Mail reported that a 13-year old girl, who escaped a forced marriage with a 50-year old man, was placed in jail. The girl's crime was to have broken the marriage contract, which had been arranged by her father.

In 2004 the UN reported that as many as 57% of marriages in Afghanistan involved girls under 16. Some were only nine years old. In 2005, the US State Department quoted the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, who said that "between 60% and 80% of marriages in Afghanistan are forced marriages which give women no right to refuse. Many of those marriages, especially in the rural areas, involve girls below the age of 15."

In July 2006 the New York Times produced a report on child marriage in Afghanistan, containing startling photographs by Stephanie Sinclair of young girls sitting beside their grizzled, elderly husbands. When a bride is pre-pubescent, and unable to make a decision on her future, such marriages can only be classed as "forced". A UN report from 2005 quoted Paul Greening of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) who said: "Badakhshan [northeastern province] has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country and one of the main reasons is under-age marriages - even as young as seven in some cases. This needs to be addressed." A midwife at Malalai hospital in Kabul said: "It is a shame to say that even in the capital Kabul we treat pregnant mothers as young as 12 years of age."

In Turkey, forced marriage continues, particularly in the Kurdish communities of the southeast. A 2004 report stated: A study in several provinces in east and southeast Turkey found that 45.7 per cent of women were not consulted about their choice of marriage partner and 50.8 per cent were married without their consent. Women forced into marriages are often under age. Those of them who refuse their family's choice of husband risk violence and even death. Men have used forced marriage to evade punishment for sexual assault, rape and abduction. There are also cases in which families, either deliberately or through neglect, fail to ensure that the sale of their daughter to a potential husband does not end up with their daughter being internally trafficked for forced prostitution. In other instances families fail to protect children from sexual exploitation. "

On 24 May, 2006, Yakin Erturk, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, went to Batman and three other cities in southeastern Turkey, to investigate a curious increase in suicides amongst young women in the region. She later concluded: "I have found that the patriarchal order and the human rights violations that go along with it - for example, forced and early marriages, domestic violence, and denial of reproductive rights - are often key contributing factors."

In the West, forced marriages are becoming increasingly common. In 2003 in Norway, the authorities moved to dissuade the custom by demanding that foreign marriage partners should be over 23, or capable of supporting a partner. Last year, a school counselor claimed to be annually contacted by five to six students, who said their studies had to cease because they were being married against their will.

In March 2004 Norway’s immigration minister Ema Solberg launched a campaign to inform all immigrants that forced marriage and female genital mutilation were forbidden under Norwegian law. In May 2005 two people became the first to be jailed for plotting a forced marriage. The Kurdish father and brother of a 17-year old girl had planned to make her marry a man from northern Iraq. Between 1999 and 2004, cases of forced marriage tripled in Norway, with 60 cases in 2003 alone. In September last year Terje Bjøranger, who advises a government taskforce, claimed that there were 2,000 cases of forced marriage between 2004 and 2006.

Norway was the only country in Europe where forced marriage was illegal until last year. In March, 2006 Belgium's cabinet approved a move to outlaw forced marriage. A study from 1999 found that 27% of Turkish and Moroccan women over 40 had been forced into marriage. Forced marriages affected 13% of Turkish girls aged 17 to 24, and 8% of Moroccan girls of the same age. The proposed legislation would invoke a jail term from one month to two years, or a maximum fine of between 500 and 2,500 Euros (equivalent to $596 and $2,978 US). In November 2004, a Belgian senator of Moroccan origin, Mimount Bousakla, was forced to go into hiding, after receiving death threats. Her crime had been to criticize forced marriages, at a meeting held by the Council of Europe on this subject.

In France in 2003 a report by the government body the High Council of Immigration found that there were 70,000 cases of marriages in the country which had been arranged using force. A French women's rights group claims that 30,000 forced marriages have taken place in France since 1990. One arranged marriage which began with apparent consent ended in tragedy. Samira Bari, a woman brought up in France, had married a man eight years her senior, who had been brought up in southern Morocco. When Samira refused to have sex with him, he ripped out her eyes, a court heard in March this year.

Many French forced marriages have taken place with young people involved, and as a result in March, 2006 the authorities raised the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 years. One obstacle faced by young women who are not born in France and are subjected to forced marriages is the law itself. Even if she holds a permit of residence for 10 years' duration, if she is taken to live outside of France for three consecutive years, she loses the right to live in France.

Many marriages amongst Muslims are "arranged" marriages. In October last year, the Islamists who then ruled Somalia ordered that any marriages conducted without parents' permission were against Islam. In many cases, it is hard to say where an "arranged marriage" becomes a "forced" marriage. In Britain, the majority of cases of honor killings have involved victims who rejected arranged marriage, or chose their own partner. Most British forced marriage cases involve a girl being sent to the Indian subcontinent to become wed to a relative.

In May this year, the Home Office reported that an 11-year old British Muslim girl had been rescued from a forced marriage, which had taken place in Bangladesh. A more typical case involves three sisters, aged 21, 22 and 15, who in 2000 had been sent to Pakistan, on the pretext of seeing their dying grandmother. Once there, the girls found that there were three men already arranged to be their husbands. The sisters were kept as virtual prisoners in their grandmother's house for six months. Narina Anwar said: "They wanted me to marry my first cousin. He was 26 and I had not seen him since I was 11. He was uneducated and could not speak English or even write Urdu." The girls escaped and telephoned the British High Commission who sent people to rescue them.

In 2001 the UK government suggested that it could make forced marriage a crime, but after many deliberations, it is still not illegal. In 2004, when 200 forced marriage cases were happening each year, the government again announced that it may change the law, and made the same claim in 2005. On June 6, 2006 the government announced that it had bowed down to Muslim pressure and had abandoned its plans.

The Muslim Council of Britain, co-founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, had argued that such a law would see children giving evidence at their parents' trials. This happens in abuse cases, and forced marriage is abuse. The MCB also said such cases would make the Muslim community further "stigmatized".

Sometimes, the threats and pressure involve emotional blackmail. In 2002, a marriage was annulled in Edinburgh which had taken place when the girl had been 16. Her mother later admitted that she had threatened to commit suicide to force her daughter into marriage. The girl had met her "husband" only a week before the wedding. The husband's mother had wanted her son to gain British citizenship.

In July, 2006 another forced marriage was annulled. The girl had been taken for a "holiday' in Pakistan, ostensibly to celebrate the end of her school exams. She was kept in Pakistan in a remote location, and had her passport removed. Both her parents threatened to commit suicide if she did not marry her cousin. After some months she relented and, aged 17, married. The judge in the case, Mr Justice Munby, told the High Court in London: "Forced marriages, whatever the social or cultural imperatives that may be said to justify what remains a distressingly widespread practice, are rightly considered to be as much beyond the pale as such barbarous practices as female genital mutilation and so called 'honor killings'."

In 2004 it was announced that The Council of British Pakistanis Scotland had found that nearly half the marriages between Scottish south Asians and a partner from abroad had involved coercion. Labour MP Ann Cryer announced that a 15-year old girl from Bradford was "sold" by her father for the sum of $30,000, to pay off his gambling debts. The girl was due to be sent to Bangladesh to marry a far older man, a friend of her father. Ms. Cryer said: "The girl is absolutely petrified. I am terrified the family will put her on a plane within the next few days."

In Scotland, which has its own parliament, it was revealed in one report that in Edinburgh alone, 85 people a year were being forced into marriage. Malcolm Chisholm, Scottish Communities Minister, suggested that imams and clerics who presided over forced marriage could be jailed for up to five years. This proposal was never made into law.

In Denmark, there is a law that requires that both partners in a marriage involving someone from abroad must be at least 24 years old. This law, introduced in 2002, has been claimed by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to have reduced cases of forced marriage. The Danish Immigration Service has guidelines to "root out" suspected cases of forced marriage. Earlier this month the Danish Social Liberal Party launched a leaflet campaign, aimed at teachers, to help them identify the signs of young people being pressured into forced marriage.

In Germany, a study amongst female Turkish immigrants, conducted in 1996, found that 24% of respondents had been forced into marriage. ARD, a German national television network, claims that there are 30,000 women who are in forced marriages in Germany. There are an estimated 3 million Muslims in Germany, mostly from Turkey. In Austria, where Turks comprise most of the 400,000-strong Muslim community, the figure for women in forced marriages is said to be less than 1,000. In Germany, women in forced marriages also come from Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Albania, Iran and India.

There is strong opposition to interference with Germany's culture of forced marriage and "honor". Seyran Ates is a Turkish-born woman lawyer, who specializes in defending women trapped in forced marriages or on the receiving end of domestic violence. She has been fiercely attacked by male relatives of the women she defends, and was once shot by the husband of a woman client.

Seyran Ates has condemned the liberal climate in Germany, where the politically correct turn their backs on what goes on in Muslim communities, and thus ignore the plight of many Muslim women. She has written : "I want to know, and many thousands of Muslim girls and women have a right to know, why understanding and infinite tolerance is practiced with particular cultural traditions that are clearly oppressive of women. Human rights are universal and unconditional. And that goes most certainly for religious objectives.

It is only girls and women who are forced to wear head-scarves. And it's also a majority of girls and women who are affected by forced marriage. I don't want to enter into the debate about women and schoolgirls who wear the headscarf of their own free will, or about the difference between arranged and forced marriages. Just one note: silence cannot be understood as assent. But very many girls are brought up to be silent on such topics....

...Of course, we mustn't forget the boys and men. They too are affected by these archaic traditions. They are forced to play the man, the protector of morals and family honour. They bear the responsibility for keeping the sexuality of the female members under control. A free, autonomous life, the esteem for a person's individuality is seen to endanger the far more important community feeling, the group identity. In extreme cases, men are turned into murderers because the social system demands this of them. Because otherwise, they cannot live after their honor has been violated. What will become of the Muslims who don't have the personal strength to defend themselves against the community and the clan because of this outmoded tradition? What will become of the little machos who already play the Pascha in kindergarten and grade school? "

In September, 2006 Seyran announced that the constant threats to her life had put her into so much danger she would retire. She felt that her daughter would be placed at risk. She received belated support from politicians within her own party, the SPD, and has since returned to defending her women clients.

A 2005 report by the Council of Europe's Directorate of Human Rights makes for grim reading. Even though forced marriage itself is not generally illegal in Europe, there are nonetheless laws against kidnapping and false imprisonment on many country's statute books. Sadly, these laws are rarely invoked.

Figures on such marriages in the United States and Canada are scarce, but is highly likely that the authorities are not geared up to look for such cases. In such a laissez-faire climate, as Seyran Ates noted in Germany, this abuse may be more common than the authorities would wish to acknowledge.

In Australia in 2005, tough laws were introduced to prevent young girls being sent abroad to engage in forced marriages. Many of Australia's Muslims are of Lebanese origin, and a dozen Australian girls under the age of 18 had sought help from the Australian consulate in Beirut. These girls, with one as young as 14, had been taken to Lebanon by their families to engage in forced marriages. Under Australian law, anyone who forces someone to engage in marriage, even outside the country, can receive a 25 year jail sentence.

Chris Ellison, the Australian Justice Minister, said: "This is an outrageous activity, one we won't tolerate and we're intent on stamping out. It is an offence to traffic a young person, a juvenile, overseas for sexual servitude, or indeed bondage, and a forced marriage could well constitute that sort of behavior."

Many young people who are made to enter forced marriage are sent to their parent's homelands to be married off against their will. In Europe, young people have been sent to Afghanistan, Mali, Morocco, Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey. For British victims of forced marriage, these homelands tend to be India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In the latter country, the traditions of marrying off children against their will carry on in full defiance of national law. What will shock Western readers is the way in which children as young as babies are promised in marriage, often to compensate a family for a crime committed by a male. Sometimes girls are sold in markets for marriage purposes.

Pakistan's "Compensation Marriages"

Most Muslim marriages involve becoming firstly engaged, followed by an official marriage. Such betrothal should involve partners who are able to give consent. However, in the Indian subcontinent, there are cases where families force children to make binding marriage vows. In May 2006 in Rajasthan, India, a 19-year old woman was forcibly separated from her husband, whom she had married when of legal age. The local community, supported by Muslim clerics argued that the woman's father had married her to another child on May 8, 1990, when she was only two years old. As local cleric Mufti Akhla-Ur-Rehman Kazmi explained: "Though it is wrong to marry a minor, it has been done. But she has not been divorced, how can she marry again? It is against our laws."

In Pakistan, not only do illegal child marriages sometimes occur, they happen on the orders of village councils of elders. Under Pakistan's Muslim Family Law Ordinance, a girl must reach 16, and a boy must reach 18, before a marriage can take place. Both parties must give consent.Pakistanratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Child in 1990. In February this year in Dera Ismail Khan in Punjabprovince, a four year old girl was married to a 45-year old man. The child had been ordered to marry as "compensation" to settle a family feud by a local council of elders, to settle a family feud. The girl's uncle had transgressed custom by eloping with the 45-year old man's niece.

This custom is known in Punjab and Sindh province as "vani", and in the tribal areas of North-West Frontier province, the practice is called "swara". Essentially it is the same in all three provinces; a tribal council (called a panchayat in Punjab, a jirga in Sindh and NWFP) orders a male to expiate a crime by sacrificing a girl relative in marriage. Vani marriage was outlawed at the start of 2005 by the Pakistani government, after a case in Multanin 2004 where a three-year old girl was married off to a 60-year old man. Muslim clerics solemnize these marriages, and even offer dire threats to girls and their families if they do not comply.

In November 2005 a panchayat in the villageof Sultanwalain Punjabordered that if five girls did not comply with orders of vani marriage, they should be abducted, raped or killed. The girls had been ordered as vani compensation in 1996, when they were aged between six and 13 years, after a male relative had shot a family rival. The girls had then been married "in absentia" by an Islamic cleric.

Vani marriages can be ordered against girl children who have not even been born. In Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab on April 7, 2006, a case of vani came to light where a council ordered that four as-yet unborn girls from one family should be promised as compensation for a murder committed eight years earlier.

A few days later Naheed Akhtar, a 24-year-old woman from Mianwali in Punjab, lodged a police complaint against her father for having her married off. She and her "groom" had been only one-year-old at the time of the "marriage". The vani contract had been agreed in 1982, for a murder which had happened in 1960. The woman also sued Irfan, her "husband" who had been one at the time of the marriage. She also sued the "husband" who was married to her elder sister as part of the vani arrangement. An imam, Maulvi Noor Muhammad, had performed the "marriages".

In the same month (April), a jirga had ordered a family in North-West Frontier provinceto provide a girl in "swara" compensation to a family whose daughter had eloped with one of their kin. The "guilty" family had no girl children, so it was ordered by the jirga to purchase a girl. A 13-year old girl was bought at a market in Peshawarfor 53,000 rupees ($876). Because the girl was emotionally distraught, she was rejected by the family.

On April 17, 2006, it was reported that two girls from Mianwali, aged 12 and 7, had been ordered as vani for an affair carried out by their brother. The 12-year-old was to be given to a 28-year-old man, and the 7-year-old to an 8-year-old boy. A Muslim cleric had performed a marriage ceremony without the girls present, but no marriage papers had been filed.

In May 2006, a 9-year-old girl from Dera Ghazi Khan petitioned to have her father sued under Islamic law for marrying her off in a vani deal. Her brother had engaged in an affair with a girl from the family of her "husband". Her husband, Shaukat Hussain, had forced her to engage in sexual intercourse. The petition stated that an Islamic cleric, Manzoor Hussain, had been bribed to falsify marriage documents to claim that she was 18. A court petition was also launched by the girl's brother against the cleric, the girl's "husband" and father-in-law.

Vani and swara marriages are abuses of young girls' human rights. In May last year an 11-year-old boy was strangled after being offered as a vani marriage partner to a family who had earlier kidnapped his elder sister. In June a local government minister in Sindh province was named as one of the members of a jirga which gave a girl away in vani marriage. Dr Sohrab Sarki of the Pakistan People's Party was a former member of the national parliament.

The denial of a child's rights was highlighted in June where a man from Punjabprovince "sold" his 13-year-old step-daughter to one of his friends, to cover a 16,000 rupees ($266) debt. In the same month two Sindh girls, ages six and eight, were given in marriage to cover the price of three buffaloes. In the same month, the highest court in Pakistan annulled the marriage of five girls who had been given away by the jirga attended by Sohrab Sarki. Five girls had been involved, with the youngest being one year old, and the eldest five years. The same court also ordered an inquiry into the "buffalo" transaction.

At the end of June 2006 a nine-year-old girl was given away in vani marriage to a 60-year-old man, to pay off the cost of an 880 pound bag of rice owed by her father. Maulvi Nek Mohammad, the Muslim cleric who solemnized the marriage, was under police interrogation. In July 2006, a jirga ordered that a 9-year-old girl be married to a 58-year-old man, and her 10-year-old sister should be married to a 50-year-old. The girls' parents refused to comply with the ruling, snatched their children back, and called the police. In the same month in Punjabprovince, a 16-year-old girl was given away in vani marriage to a 65-year-old man. In Sindh province, two infant girls aged one and two were promised in vani marriage to two infant boys, but the police were called before the "vows" were made.

In August 2006 in North-West Frontier Province, a Muslim cleric, Umer Saeed, was among others arrested and charged after presiding over a swara marriage involving two baby girls aged three and eighteen months. By this time the laws against compensation marriage had been in force for 19 months. Officially, the maximum sentence for vani/swara is 10 years' jail, but no-one had been convicted. After Pakistan's then-Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry ordered a police inquiry into a jirga apparently attended by a PPP local minister in Sindh, and the marriages of five children were annulled in June 2006 the reporting on cases of vani diminished in the Pakistani press. However it seems that to this day not a single person has been convicted under the vani laws.

Though Muslim clerics have approved vani marriages, even when those they married were too young to talk, let alone be old enough to know what marriage entailed, vani and swara are tribal customs, not Muslim customs. Tribal councils - jirgas and panchayats - were given authority over local "justice" by the Islamist dictator General Zia ul-Haq who ruled Pakistanbetween 1977 and 1988. As a matter of policy, the dictator allowed local village courts to settle issues of "domestic" justice, without recourse to police or judiciary.

Allowing jirga justice to decide issues has progressively eroded women's rights. The most famous abuse of such justice came in June 2002, when a 28-year-old woman from the villageof Meerwala Jatoiin the Punjabwas ordered by a panchayat to be gang-raped. Mukhtar Mai had committed no crime but her younger brother, aged 12, had been spotted walking with a girl from another clan. Mukhtar Mai was gang-raped by four men from the village, and then publicly paraded naked. Her case would have been ignored, had it not been for a local imam who condemned the action during Friday mosque prayers. A journalist who attended the mosque wrote on the case, and it attracted world-wide attention.

Mukhtar Mai was awarded compensation, which she used to build a school. She became a leading advocate of women's rights in a country where 72% of women are illiterate. On March 8, 2006, Mukhtar Mai led 3,000 women in a march for equal rights. Six of the men who were involved in her rape were convicted with firstly two, then five of these, sentenced to death. On March 6, 2006 however, the five appealed against their convictions to the High Court and won. Mukhtar Mai said: "My life is in danger, I am receiving death threats but I am more worried about my family. I and my family need government's protection." Shortly after this, Mukhtar Mai claimed: "The traditional landowners want me dead. And the government doesn't want me around either."

Rape as a punishment continued. In April 2006 in the same region where Mukhtar Mai had been gang-raped, a woman was kidnapped and gang-raped because her brother had allegedly ran off with a member of another clan. Gang-rape is common in Pakistan. The Pakistan Human Rights Commission (HCRP) stated that there were 151 cases of gang rape in the first seven months of 2004. In 2005, there were 207 recorded cases of gang rape in Pakistan, according to HCRP. It is as a direct result of Islamic laws that a situation was created where rapists acted with impunity.

Islamic Laws That Encourage Rape

Sharia Law is derived from the Koran and the Hadith (traditions of Mohammed). Sura 24:4 states that anyone who accuses a woman of adultery, and cannot provide four witnesses, shall receive 80 lashes.

As a result, Iran's law on adultery, implemented in July 1991 states: "Article 74: Adultery, whether punishable by flogging or stoning, may be proven by the testimony of four just men or that of three just men and two just women. Article 75: If adultery is punishable only by flogging it can be proven by the testimony of two just men and four just women. Article 76: The testimony of women alone or in conjunction with the testimony of only one just man shall not prove adultery but it shall constitute false accusation which is a punishable act. "

In Iran, punishments prescribed under Islamic law are called hodud in plural, and hadd in the singular. On February 10, 1979, General Zia ul-Haq introduced the so-called Hudood Ordinances, which imposed Islamic law onto issues of "zina" or illegal intercourse. These laws effectively removed any distinction between rape and adultery. Any woman who complained that she was raped would find herself convicted of adultery if she could not find four male Muslim witnesses (or combinations where two women counted as one male witness). The maximum punishment under these laws was stoning to death. Between 1979 and 1998 there were 26 sentences of stoning to death issued by courts. These were successfully appealed against, but despite this, raped women were imprisoned for transgressing the Hudood laws.

The notion that a raped woman should be punished is, to Western minds, unthinkable. In Islam, such behavior is "justified" by Muslim clerics. In Bangladeshon March 24, 2006 a 16-year-old victim of rape was sentenced to 57 lashes in Gaibandha district in the north of the country. The judgment was passed by two clerics from a local madrassa. The two rapists were also sentenced to be flogged, but they ran from the scene after receiving 27 lashes. The girl, Kanti Begum, endured 51 lashes before falling unconscious.

In Saudi Arabia, similar injustices occur. In November last year a woman who endured a vicious gang rape by four men was sentenced to 90 lashes, because she had been alone in a car with a man - "khalwat". Being alone with a man led one 70-year old disabled woman to be thrown in jail in Saudi Arabiain June 2006. The woman had entered a shop where only the male storekeeper was present.

In Pakistan, the Hudood Ordinances led to hundreds of women, often accompanied by their children, to be jailed. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stated that of the 6,000 women and children held in Pakistani jails in 2005, 80% of the women were jailed forHudood infringements. A report by Human Rights Watch claimed that most cases of Hudood are registered by a woman's husband or father.

The Hudood laws were also used to discriminate against Christians. Between 1986 and 2004, 2,000-2,500 Christians in Sindh and nearly 5,000 in Punjabprovince had been charged under Hudood Ordinances. Michael Javed, then president of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) claimed that victims were frequently booked by police on false charges.

In such a climate, where rape victims were too scared to report their attacks, lest they be charged with adultery, rape cases proliferated. Rape was also used as a means of forced conversion to Islam. In the fall of 2005 a 12-year-old Christian girl named Sara Tabasum claimed that she had been abducted and raped by 16 Muslim men, who tried to force her to convert. It was subsequently revealed that her family was being threatened in an attempt to have the case withdrawn.

Twenty-two-year-old Christian woman Riqba Masih from Punjabprovince was also subjected to rape in September 2005 as a means of forcing her to convert. Her sisters were forced to leave school, taunted as "prostitutes" and Riqba and her family were threatened to make them drop charges. When a 13-year-old Christian girl was raped in front of witnesses in a church inBahawalpur, Punjabprovince in 2005 by an influential Muslim, police were reluctant to pursue the case. The girl, named Rukshana, her family and also Pastor Binyamin who witnessed the rape, were threatened with violence to abandon the case.

Hindus were also subjected to rape as a means of conversion. Three sisters had been kidnapped and raped before they became Muslim, and their claims were sent to the Supreme Court in December 2005.

In September 2006 the US State Department criticized Pakistan's Islamist laws, including the laws against blasphemy and the Hudood laws which "impose elements of (Islamic) law on both Muslims and non-Muslims and different legal standards for men and women." Article 25 of the Pakistan Constitution states that equal rights are guaranteed for everyone, irrespective of gender, race, religion or creed.

A month later, a report by the group Sahil claimed that from January to June 2006, 213 girls had been gang-raped. Nearly 1,164 children were abused, with 401 cases of girls being abducted.

In May 2006, Pakistan's minister for justice, Wasi Zafar, announced that his government intended to repeal the Hudood laws. A proposed law on women's rights was passed before Islamic committees, and on July 7, 2006 President Musharraf announced that a clause (497) of the Criminal Procedural Code, was withdrawn. This clause had denied bail to women accused ofHudood "crimes". 1,500 women were to be freed, but the process was slow. Many women had been rejected by their families and had no place to go.

The plans to amend the Hudood laws were greeted with stiff opposition from the six-party coalition of Islamist parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal or MMA. This coalition has 65 of the 344 seats in the National Assembly. After Musharraf announced that bail restrictions would be lifted on jailed women, he asserted at the end of July that he would repeal the Hudood laws. At the start of August there were mass protests in Karachi, demanding an end to the Hudood laws. The MMA interfered and threatened, demanding so many amendments that in September 2006 the decision to shelve the Hudood laws was itself shelved.

The government had intended to replace the Hudood laws with a law entitled the Protection of Women Bill, 2006. On November 14, this bill was finally introduced. It allowed a woman the right to choose to be tried under secular law if accused of adultery, and to choose to pursue charges of rape without being herself jailed under Islamic ordinances. A compromise was made in a vain attempt to satisfy the Islamists. A new crime was added to civil law, under Section 496B in Clause 7 of the Penal Code. This forbade "lewdness", offering a maximum penalty of five years and a fine of 10,000 rupees ($165).

The government also agreed to a clause in the Penal Code which stated that the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed would have effect "notwithstanding anything contained in any other law." Asma Jahangir of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission called the amendments "the nail in the coffin.... They have hoodwinked women into believing that this is a law for the protection of women. It is a law for the protection of religious extremists."

For the Islamists of the MMA, the amendments which had been introduced to appease them were unsatisfactory. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman of the MMA said: "This is an attempt to create a free sex zone in Pakistan. Existing laws are correct and should be maintained. There is no need for any amendment. The changes are not in line with Islamic teaching."

Two months later, Islamists from the Red Mosque in Islamabad, with the full support of the MMA, took over a children's library, threatening suicide attacks if the government intervened. The Red Mosque's students demanded that Sharia Law be implemented across Pakistan. The situation has not been resolved, and has become the greatest internal crisis since Musharraf came to power.

If Islamic law dictates that the testimony of a woman is only worth half that of a man, then women are not equal under Islam. Where people are not regarded as equal, they are open to abuse. Pakistan, which was founded in 1947 by Mohammed Jinnah as a secular state, has enforced Islamic law to the detriment of its women and girls. In the final part of this series, I will examine how traditional Islamic customs and the pronouncements of modern Islamists have been employed to subject women to barbaric acts of cruelty.

Female Genital Mutilation

Much has been written on the so-called "circumcising" of women, more appropriately called female genital mutilation or FGM. Globally, 130 million women and girls are said to have been "circumcised". As a cultural practice, FGM has probably been in existence for thousands of years. It has traditionally happened across Equatorial Africa, yet in the East and Horn of Africa it appears more widespread, probably as a result of Islamist influence.

In Yemenand Saudi Arabiathe custom takes place, but in Saudi Arabiait is common only in the south of the kingdom. In the United Arab Emirates FGM is not illegal, though public hospitals are forbidden from carrying out the procedure. It was primarily a custom of Somali, Omani, and Sudanese expatriates. However, there have been stories of European Muslims been sent to private clinics in UAE to have the operation. A study from the mid-1990s found that 30.8 percent of girls between the ages of 1 and 5 had undergone FGM.

In Egypt, at least 90 percent of women are believed to have undergone FGM. In 2005, a report by UNICEF had claimed that 97 percent of Egyptian women aged 15-49 had undergone the operation. Here, the issue has been a source of controversy. A CNN broadcast from 1994, in which a 10-year-old girl in Egyptwas shown being "operated upon" by an unskilled practitioner, caused a hostile reaction. Egyptsued CNN for $500 million for damaging its reputation, but the case was thrown out by courts.

In 1995, after President Hosni Mubarak announced his intention to ban the practice, he was persuaded to drop prohibitive legislation. The move to ban FGM had been supported by Dr. Mohammed Syed Tantawi, the Mufti of Egypt, but had been fiercely opposed by the Sheikh of Al Azhar University, the largest Sunni theological college. Even a gynecologist from CairoUniversity, Dr. Munir Fawzi, stated: "Female circumcision is entrenched in Islamic life and teaching." However, FGM was banned in general in Egyptin 1996, but was allowed in some circumstances if carried out by a doctor.

In November 2006 an international conference of scholars took place at Al Azhar in Cairo, and the general consensus was that the practice was "un-Islamic". In a final statement, the scholars announced: "The conference appeals to all Muslims to stop practicing this habit, according to Islam's teachings which prohibit inflicting harm on any human being." Finally, on June 28 2007, it was announced that the Egyptian health ministry had banned the medical profession from carrying out FGM, effectively outlawing it universally. On Sunday June 24 the Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa had said that there was no Islamic justification for FGM.

The edict by the Mufti and health ministry had come after an 11-year-old girl, Budour Ahmed Shaker, died after such an operation on June 21. Budour's mother had paid a doctor in Mina, just south of Cairo, $9 to perform the operation. The procedure had gone wrong and the girl died from an overdose of anesthetic.

There is one Hadith in the collection of Sunan Abu Dawud which claims that Mohammed approved of the practice for girls. Book 41 (Kitab Al-Adab or "General Behavior"), Hadith 5251 states: “Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband”.

Though Sunan Abu Dawud is not regarded as "sahih" or "authentic" in the manner of the Hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim, the above Hadith is often quoted by Islamic scholars as a justification for FGM. The "spiritual leader" of the Muslim Brotherhood is Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He has stated : "It is reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to a midwife: 'Reduce the size of the clitoris but do not exceed the limit, for that is better for her health and is preferred by husbands'. The hadith indicates that circumcision is better for a woman's health and it enhances her conjugal relation with her husband. It's noteworthy that the Prophet's saying 'do not exceed the limit' means do not totally remove the clitoris... Anyhow, it is not obligatory, whoever finds it serving the interest of his daughters should do it, and I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. "

The World Health Organization has long campaigned for FGM to be abolished. Three "types" of FGM are described. The method approved of by Qaradawi is Type 1: "Excision (removal) of the clitoral hood with or without removal of all or part of the clitoris. " Type 2 is "Excision of the clitoris, together with part or all of the labia minora (the inner vaginal lips). This is the most widely practiced form. " Type 3 (sometimes called infibulation) is extreme: "Excision of part or all of the external genitalia (clitoris, labia minora and labia majora), and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening, leaving a very small opening, about the size of a matchstick, to allow for the flow of urine and menstrual blood. Also known as pharaonic circumcision." There is a Type 4, which refers to pricking, stretching or cauterizing. Type 4 rarely happens in Muslim communities.

In Somalia, the types of FGM most commonly employed are Type 1 and Type 3. The latter method is extremely dangerous. The woman is bound for a period of up to 40 days for scar tissue to form, increasing the risk of infection. It also increases the risks when a woman becomes pregnant. The US State Department quotes a 1999 study which found that in Somaliland (north westSomalia), 91 percent of women had undergone Type 3, and 9 percent had undergone Type 1 FGM. In many parts of the nation, people believed the custom to be a religious obligation.

In Yemen, a 1999 study found that in the coastal region, 69 percent of women had undergone some form of FGM. Overall, the figure for FGM was around 23 percent of women aged 15-49. In outlying areas, the prevalence of FGM rises to 40 percent. Surprisingly, FGM was more common amongst educated women than the illiterate, though most girls were subjected to FGM during infancy. Only 9 percent of those who had been operated upon had the procedure performed by a doctor. The US State Department maintains that in Yemenmost FGM is of the Type 2 variety, with Type 3 happening mainly amongst East African immigrant communities. The State Department quotes studies which claim that the Shafi'i sect demands FGM, and the Sunnis regard it as optional. One third of respondents to a 1997 survey claimed the custom was compulsory on cultural or religious grounds.

FGM occurs in south Jordanand Iraq. In the rural area of Germian, in Kurdish Iraq, a study found that more than 60 percent of women had undergone FGM. There is circumstantial evidence that FGM occurs in Syria, and suspicions that it also happens in Iran. It does not occur in Afghanistan, nor is it a practice in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Libya). The Bohra Muslims who live in Pakistanand parts of Gujarat in India do practice FGM. The Bohra are mostly Hindu in origin, who became converts to an Islamaili subsect of Shia Islam. A Bohra woman wrote : "I was circumcised when very young. I do not remember at what age. But I do recall the incident. My mother took me to the house of a woman in our Bohra mohalla. Except for the lady, no one was at home. I was told to lie down on my back on the floor and spread my legs. It hurt me bad and brought tears to my eyes. The whole thing was over in a matter of minutes."

There have been moves by many countries to outlaw FGM and to educate people of its dangers. However, in the West, where immigrants and refugees have settled, some have imported with them the problem of FGM. Many Western countries have introduced legislation to combat the practice. In France, where most victims of FGM come from Africa, a fine of 150,000 Euros ($204,107) and a 10-year jail term can be imposed for FGM against an adult, with a 20 year jail term for FGM against a minor under 15.

In Australia, six out of eight states have outlawed FGM. In the United States, FGM was banned under Federal Law in 1996 and between 1994 and 2006 it was also outlawed under State Law in 17 states. Britainoutlawed FGM in 1985. Swedenoutlawed FGM in 1982, but it soon became obvious that some migrants were taking their girl children abroad to have the procedure. As a result, a new law was imposed in 1998 to ban trafficking of girls outside of Swedento undergo FGM.

In June 2006, 41-year-old Ali Elmi Hayow became the first person to be convicted underSweden's FGM laws. Hayow had arrived in Swedenin the 1980s and had gained citizenship. In 2002, when his daughter was 12 years old, he took two of his children to Somalia, where the daughter underwent the surgery. He claimed that "other people" had done the operation and denied the charges against him. He had taken the two children to Somaliawith, he claimed, their mother's permission. The court was told that he had held his daughter down while she was mutilated.

The District Court at Gothenburg found him guilty of illegally taking the two children abroad, and guilty of arranging for his daughter to be mutilated. Both judgments were passed unanimously. Hayow was further told to pay his daughter 300,000 kronor ($41,000) in compensation, though she had demanded 650,000 kronor ($88,818).

The issue of FGM has become political in Swedenand Norway. Nyamko Sabuni becameSweden's first black minister in October 2006. She was the country's integration minister. Ms. Sabuni had previously argued against girls under 15 wearing the Muslim headscarf, she opposed honor killings, and suggested that all girls should undergo compulsory checks to ensure they had not been subjected to FGM. Muslim commentator Kurdo Baksi said : "I am very disappointed that a person whom I consider to be an Islamophobe has been appointed integration minister. It is a very poor start to a centre-right government's integration policy."

Norwayoutlawed FGM in 1995. In 2000, Kadra, a brave woman of Somali origins used a hidden camera to expose the way in which imams in Norwaywere encouraging FGM. This action caused her to be resented by the some members of the Somali community. In April this year she was beaten senseless by seven or eight Somali men. She said: "I was terrified. While I lay on the pavement they kicked me and screamed that I had trampled on the Koran. Several shouted Allahu akbar (God is great) and also recited from the Koran." Kadra received broken ribs in the attack.

Last week Oslo's largest hospital announced that over the past three years they had assisted 260 women who had suffered physical after-effects of FGM. Sarah Kahsay, a midwife said that young women had been suffering from urinary dysfunction and infections after their vaginal openings were sewn shut in "infibulation" (Type 3 FGM). Mostly the victims came from several Muslim African countries and Northern Iraq, where Kurdish girls as young as 11 or 12 had undergone FGM. Kahsay noted that 90 percent of referrals were of Somali origin, but her clients had also included young women from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Gambiaand Senegal.

One famous Somali-born woman is Ayaan Hirsi Ali who fled to Europewhere she became an MP in the Dutch parliament. She had been held down by her legs to undergo Type 2 FGM when she was aged five. She wrote: "I heard it, like a butcher snipping the fat off a piece of meat." Though Hirsi Ali acknowledges that FGM is not exclusively Muslim, does not happen in all Muslim countries and pre-dates Islam, she writes in her book Infidel that FGM is often "justified in the name of Islam".

Indonesiadoes not have a culture of FGM, but many of its Islamist leaders have Yemeni and Middle Eastern origins, such as the leading figures in the Front Pembela Islam and the officially disbanded group Lashkar Jihad. This group was founded by Umar Jafar Thalib in 1999. Thalib, who fought alongside bin Laden in Afghanistan, led this group to commit some of the worst atrocities in the religious sectarian conflict known as the Moluccan War. Between 1998 and 2003 this conflict claimed the lives of 9,000 people in the Indonesian islands, most of the victims being Christian.

In 2001, Lashkar Jihad used FGM as a tool in its forced conversion of 3,928 Christians living on six islands in the Moluccas (the Spice Islands). The converts, male and female, were forcibly circumcised without anesthetic. Researchers from Ambonisland stated that those who carried out the circumcisions were Muslim clerics. Young girls, pregnant women, and even elderly women up to the age of 70 were forced to endure the procedure. A Christian priest said: "But we have never before seen anything like forced circumcisions in these islands. This is especially terrible for the women. How can they do that? Even Muslim women are not circumcised like this... it is forbidden in Islam."

Violence In The Name Of Allah

Afghanistanmay not be one of the countries where FGM is "justified in the name of Islam" but the treatment of young girls is harsh. I have discussed forced marriage and child marriage, as well as honor killings in Afghanistan. One aspect of Islamist ideology in the country is the opposition to the education of young girls. The Taliban, friends of Al Qaeda and supposedly the "fundamental" proponents of Islam have consistently tried to prevent women from being educated.

The word "Taliban" meant "students". They tried to revive the form of Islam practiced in the 7th century. Most Taliban leaders had been educated at Deobandi madrassas, such as the Haqqania seminary in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. Deobandi teachings accord women second-class status. Deobandis believe that "Women must not mix with men in public. Deoband tradition teaches that men are more intelligent than women and that there is no point in educating girls beyond the age of eight."

The Taliban came to power on September 27, 1996, when they castrated and tortured President Mohammed Najibullah, and hung him from a lamp-post alongside his brother. During their rule, the Department for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice enforced the Taliban decree that women should stay at home and not be in employment. They beat women with sticks, wire cables and hose pipes. Women were forced to wear the burka, which even covers the eyes with a grille of crochet work.

A US State Department report claimed: "In 1977, women comprised over 15 percent ofAfghanistan's highest legislative body. It is estimated that by the early 1990s, 70 percent of schoolteachers, 50 percent of government workers and university students, and 40 percent of doctors in Kabulwere women. Afghan women had been active in humanitarian relief organizations until the Taliban imposed severe restrictions on their ability to work."

Forced to live indoors, unable to make an income, with many widowed, the regime of poverty and privation led to women becoming malnourished. As one 35-year-old widow said in the State Department report: "The life of Afghan women is so bad. We are locked at home and cannot see the sun."

Confined indoors away from sunlight and starved, many developed osteomalacia, a symptom of rickets, caused by a lack of sunlight and Vitamin D. The condition involves softening of the bone, making it liable to green-stick fractures. Dr Sima Samar was given the John Humphrey Freedom Award for her work for the human rights of women in Afghanistan. She ran schools and health clinics, and was subjected to death threats from the Taliban. She said at her medical clinic in Kabulin 2001: "Almost every woman I see has osteomalacia. Their bones are softening due to a lack of Vitamin D. They survive on a diet of tea and naan (bread) because they can't afford eggs and milk and, to complicate matters, their burqas and veils deprive them of sunshine. On top of that, depression is endemic here because the future is so dark."

When the USinvaded Afghanistanin late 2001 the cruel regime of the Islamofascists in the Taliban came to an end, but their influence has not gone away. They continue to fight coalition forces and the Afghan government, but they also continue to deprive women of education. Those who defy their edicts against educating girls are dispatched in revolting fashion.

In November last year, 46-year-old Mohammed Halim from Ghazni paid the price for educating girls. He was snatched at night by Taliban members. He was partially disembowelled and then his limbs were tied to motorbikes. As the bikes sped apart, his body was ripped. His remains were publicly displayed as a warning to any who dared to teach girls. Halim was the fourth teacher in succession to be killed in the region. Fatima Mustaq is a woman director of education in Ghazni, and she and her family of eight children were subjected to death threats for educating girls.

On July 23, 2006, Michael Frastacky, a Canadian carpenter from Vancouver, was shot dead inAfghanistan. His crime had been to help build a school in the NahrinValley, a remote part of theHindu Kush, where half the students were girls.

On March 8 2006, on International Women's Day, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said: "From fear of terrorism, from threats of the enemies of Afghanistan, today as we speak, some 100,000 Afghan children who went to school last year, and the year before last, do not go to school."

A 2006 report by Human Rights Watch stated that last year, attacks upon teachers, students and schools increased dramatically, particularly in the southern regions. In January, there were 24 such attacks, in February there were 14, 8 attacks in March, 28 in April, 22 in May and 12 in June. From January to June 2006, the highest number of such attacks took place in Kandahar(36 incidents), followed by Helmand(27), and then Ghazni and Khost with 16 cases each.

A report from Oxfam from November last year paints a gloomy picture for the future of education, particularly for girls, in Afghanistan. More than half of Afghan children of school age - 7 million - do not attend schools. This is in denial of Article 43 (1) of the national Constitution, adopted on July 11, 2006, which states: "Education is the right of all citizens of Afghanistan, which shall be provided up to secondary level, free of charge by the state."

Only one in five girls is able to make her way to primary schools, but only one in 20 girls receives a secondary education. Human Rights Watch and Oxfam agree that the presence of accessible schools is a problem, and where there is access to education, it is often provided by poorly trained teachers working in run-down buildings, often with only one or two rooms. These schools can be in need of repair, and most have no clean drinking water or toilet facilities. Textbooks are few and far between.

Oxfam claimed that 53,000 trained primary school teachers are needed immediately, with a further 64,000 in the next five years. There is a need for more women teachers, as only one in three is female. Teachers in Daikundi province in central Afghanistanreceive only $38 per month. Sometimes these teachers have to offer bribes, just to receive their wages.

There are 20,000 "ghost" teachers who are paid salaries but do not attend schools. The international community, states Oxfam, must donate $563 million to rebuild 7,800 schools across the country. An additional $210 million is needed to print and distribute textbooks over the next five years. Currently, $125.6 million has been given to Afghan's education sector. The largest donors of these funds are USAID and the World Bank. Coalition military forces in Afghanistanalso contribute towards education.

When the Taliban were in power, their behavior towards women was contemptuous. A woman doctor was stopped while traveling without a male escort (mahram) in a taxi. She said: "The Religious Police chased my taxi, and when I got out in front of the hospital, they stopped me and asked why I was traveling alone. I said I was a doctor and had to go to work, but they said women of Kabulare just prostitutes and addicted to traveling in cars alone. I had to call my boss to identify me as an employee of the hospital, but my boss said he could not confirm who it was because I was wearing a chadari (burka). The Taliban asked me to put up my veil, and once my boss identified me, they hit me with their wire on my head and injured my eye. It took fifteen to twenty days to heal. "

The Taliban may be seen as extremists, but there are plenty of "devout" Muslims who are still funding their activities. The Taliban experiment, which allowed Osama bin Laden a refuge where his cronies could plot atrocities such as 9/11 and work on chemical weapons and bombs in the Derunta training camp, was designed to be a return to original "Islamic values". Islamists and "devout" Muslims criticize the decadence of the West, but rarely if ever do these same people consider the social abomination that made up the Taliban regime.

All of the worst, most primitive aspects of Islam were exemplified by the Taliban - who were true "fundamentalists". They took to heart the notion that a woman's testimony was worth only half that of a man, and with their Deobandi ideology they even believed women were half as intelligent. They denied women education, health and human rights, and did nothing to prevent the Afghan culture of honor killings and violence against women. They believed in Sura 4:34 which gives a man the right to beat his wife to keep her under control.

Currently we have politicians in both the United Statesand Britainwho are trying to "negotiate" with the Muslim Brotherhood. The true face of the Brotherhood can be found in the Gaza Strip, in the violence of Hamas against their opponents. Although the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood may dress in suits and ties, they are still ideologically primitive and rooted in the sexist tyranny of the 7th century. Their spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi supports Type 1 female genital mutilation, and preaches that it is acceptable to kill Israeli civilians. For Hamas, women are expected to go around veiled, and like women under the Taliban they are denied sunlight. Not surprisingly, cases of rickets amongst Palestinian children have increased with the rise of Hamas' Islamist factions. The WHO reported last year that more than 4 percent of all children on the Gaza Strip aged between 6 and 36 months were suffering from clinical rickets.

There are no women with positions of authority either in Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. Until there are, there is no point in discussing issues with these groups. Women in the West have equal rights to men, and that means having access to power. Islamists would deny women that power, and until they can acknowledge women as equals, they live in another ideological universe to our own.

Muslim women are probably more oppressed today by Islamist conventions than they were 20 years ago. Two decades ago women did not have to wear veils to prove their religiosity. Now, women who do not cover their hair, or even their faces, are bullied by their peers into compliance. For women to have genuine equal rights under Islam, the tenets and texts of that faith would have to be interpreted allegorically and not literally. Islamists do not understand allegory. They are slaves to dogma and expect everyone else, their womenfolk included, eventually to become their slaves.



  2. Actually, women who cover do so ONLY out of their choice so to be honoured and respected for who they are as humans and not objects displayed in the street where anyone and anything can say or do anything that pleases the filth in their hearts! ISLAM liberated women! NOT democracy, socialism, communism, or what ever type of "ISM" or "SKiSM" that exists! Same story, same objective, same goal, its a fight against ISLAM and what it holds as a POWERto change and reform peoples hearts and minds and overall their behaviour and conduct, the world fears ISLAM!! not the Hijab, NIQAB after all what can a fabric do ..really! Pose a threat to national security... Well let me tell you we are already secured in our Hijabs and Niqabs and we don't need the western, or the people of desires version of security and liberation. Allah SWT the Creator of the heavens and the Earth and all that exists has liberated the women from every for of oppression till the day of Resurrection.

    هُوَ الَّذِي أَرْسَلَ رَسُولَهُ بِالْهُدَىٰ وَدِينِ الْحَقِّ لِيُظْهِرَهُ عَلَى الدِّينِ كُلِّهِ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْمُشْرِكُونَ
    يُرِيدُونَ أَن يُطْفِئُوا نُورَ اللَّهِ بِأَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَيَأْبَى اللَّهُ إِلَّا أَن يُتِمَّ نُورَهُ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْكَافِرُونَ

    "It is He who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of Truth, so that He may make it prevail [ideologically] over every other religion, however much the polytheists may hate this.
    They want to extinguish Gods light with their mouths, but God seeks only to perfect His light, no matter how those who deny the truth may abhor it.
    (Quran 9:33-34)

    So my respected liberators of the world, you can do whatever you want Allah SWt will protect His Deen!
    STOP liberating us, ie: the Muslim women, cuz we already are free to think and wear what we want! But do worry about yourself! B/c you may tear down a piece of garment but not our souls!

  3. You mentioned that muslim women are not allowed to wear the niqab around the kabah. That is a false statement. I suggest you check your facts before you set out to write fancy articles. If you even had the opportunity to go to saudia arabia the place is swamped with veiled women even around the kabah. There is a certain part of the religious pilgrim where the niqab must be taken off for a short while as nothing is meant to touch the face. It is part of the method of the pilgrim. There after its adorn. It annoys me when people like you know absolutely nothing about islam attempt to wave your wand of knowledge and claim to state facts when in fact you distort and place your own corrupted views. Not a day do muslims hunt Christians, Jews on the web and write articles pertaining to their fate. Because we are not threatened by any religion but rather Islam seems to threaten and worry other people. So much so they set out spending hours of time writing sad pathetic articles yet I must thank you because you advertise islam and naturally peoplw want to know more than your bias article. After atudy and research they find the truth and end up turning to islam. We don't even need to defend Islam for it is the religion of Allah Swt and He is the most powerful the most merciful and the most independent. Don't for second fool yourself into thinking your 2 cent article can shake the throne of Allah. Its like a fly on the nose, smack it off and we muslims say "bring it on"! I hope you find the truth inshaAllah ameen.


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