Women fight conservatism by leading prayers

By: Mohani Niza

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KUALA LUMPUR: Mandeera Mohamed*, 40, has always been concerned about the status of women in Islam and several years ago she mustered the courage to lead a mixed gender prayer congregation.

It took courage because leading a congregation in prayer is generally regarded as a man’s role in Islam.

She said she had looked into the Quran to see whether the holy text barred women from leading prayers, and could not find any such ruling.

“For me, this is patriarchy, authority and power which are not the Islam I know, love and embrace.

“(For me) it’s an inner calling, (I get) a sense of liberation from the Islamic framework and I feel so blessed,” she said.

She said gender socialisation meant that she had been ‘trained’ to believe that the role of the imam belonged only to men.

But despite the Quran’s lack of mention on whether women can lead men in prayers, the dominant Islamic thought about the issue has always been negative.

The Hanbali, Shafii and Hanafi schools of thought allow women to lead only other women in prayers, while the Maliki school of thought forbids women from leading prayers altogether.

But according to an article by the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation International, forbidding women from leading prayers contradict the egalitarian essence of Islam.

The article further states that the Prophet Muhammad allowed his companion Umm Waraqah, a woman well-versed in the Quran, to lead mixed gender-congregations.

 

And in 2005, Amina Wadud, an American scholar, made international headlines when she led a mixed-gender prayer congregation.

 

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A generous life

By Mohani Niza

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She's been a regular volunteer for years, and in 2010 started the Pertiwi Soup Kitchen which feeds the poor in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia four nights a week.

But Munirah Hamid's lesson in generosity started early. At the age of five, she began helping her mother dole out food to men outside the local mosques in their hometown of Alor Setar, Kedah.

The men had trekked from neighbouring Thailand, and were starving as they arrived for Friday prayers. Her housewife mother would cook for them "bubur susu" (rice pudding): A nourishing mixture of rice and milk with a sprinkle of sugar and a slice of banana on top.

Little Munirah's role? To cut the banana leaf that held the rice pudding.

"I would cut the banana leaves into little patterns. I had to make sure they would hold the rice pudding perfectly to go into the Tiffin carrier," Munirah recalled proudly.

The youngest of nine siblings — 5 of them girls — Munirah had what she called "an interesting childhood."

"My siblings and I were encouraged to be outspoken and independent," she said.

Munirah said her mother shaped her a lot. Her mother was the only child of divorced parents.

In an unsuccessful bid for more kids, Munira's maternal grandparents each went on to marry a total of eight times — a fact Munirah's mother was shy of.

"My dad was the sociable and confident one. My mom was insecure but also kind-hearted.

She always felt sorry for people and wanted to do things for them," Munirah explained.

Munirah said her mother instilled in her a spirit of giving, even though she passed away when Munirah was just 16.

A year after that, she started volunteering for Pertubuhan Tindakan Wanita Islam (Pertiwi), a Muslim women's organisation that does projects-specific charity. She involved herself with everything from selling tickets to raising funds.

"I was roped in by my sisters to help out at Pertiwi, and didn't even think much about what I was doing. Each time Pertiwi called, I would volunteer. Even at times when I wasn't on any committee, I would be doing this and that," she said.

It's the kind of passion she said she saw in volunteers at her mobile soup kitchen.

Launched last March, the Pertiwi Soup Kitchen goes out four nights weekly (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays) to Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and Kota Raya at the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Each night the soup kitchen hands out 200 packets of food to the disadvantaged, including drug users, sex workers and the homeless. A completely voluntary effort, the soup kitchen attracts volunteers from all backgrounds.

For example, youths from the Young Muslims Project help out regularly -- and not all them are Muslims! Munirah says that what unites her diverse mix of volunteers is "a sense of wanting to do more."

"They're not comfortable with what's handed to them. They have an unconventional take on life, and are always searching," Munirah said.

In fact, being against the norm is what Munirah prides herself in. Describing herself as a "non-conformist", she left school at 16 much to her mom's disapproval. School was the prestigious Tunku Kurshiah College, and young Munirah was simply ... bored.

"I understood the lessons quickly. At the start of each year, I would read my textbooks within a month. What was I going to do for the rest of the year?" Munirah said, laughing.

She went on to tutor herself and obtain an LL.B. (Hons) from the University of London. She's had her hands involved in various things ever since, including publishing and television producing. Together with her husband Robert Hercus, they founded Malaysian Genomics Resource Centre Berhad, a leading firm in genome sequencing and analysis.

To add to the already impressive portfolio, she's the managing director of a few companies, including Synamatix Sdn Bhd and Neuramatix Sdn Bhd.

Despite her tight corporate schedule, Munirah volunteers regularly. She says she hardly misses a night at the soup kitchen.

Last year, Munirah found herself stressed out when her company underwent a listing exercise. She would rush home to eat and pray, before rushing out again to head to the soup kitchen. Helping at the soup kitchen turned out to be a calming process.

"It kept my feet on the ground. It helped me to sleep at night," she said. 

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First ever ‘Girls’ Hygiene Day’ held in Afghanistan

REPORT from UN Children's Fund

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KABUL, Afghanistan, 30 AUGUST 2017 – The first ever ‘Girls’ Hygiene Day’ in Afghanistan was marked today with a high level event at the Marble Palace under the slogan, ‘Nothing can stop me going to school’, to raise national awareness of the importance of girls’ hygiene and the availability of a private and dignified space at school for girls to take care of their hygiene needs to enable them to stay in school until 12th grade.

Launching the Day, First Lady, Ms. Rula (Bibi Gul) Ghani stressed the importance of girls’ education. “It is our duty to support the girls of Afghanistan to get educated and to be able to go to school and home where they can take care of their personal hygiene with access to water and sanitation facilities so they feel confident enough to go to school every day of the week”, said Ms. Ghani.

Addressing the need to prevent girls dropping out of school as they enter puberty, Minister of Education, Dr. Assadullah Hanif Balkhi said, “We have learned that retention of older girls is higher when we have more female teachers and the Ministry is working hard to increase the number of female teachers all over Afghanistan. Schools should have proper WASH facilities, with running water, separate toilets for boys and girls and dedicated washrooms for girls to manage their personal hygiene in privacy and with dignity.” Dr. Assadullah also highlighted the importance of the Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) programme currently being implemented nationwide, to combat iron-deficiency anemia among adolescent girls.

In his remarks, Minister of Public Health, Dr Ferozuddin Feroz, outlined that ignorance about their monthly cycle will negatively influence the health and hygiene of girls, not only during school but also at home and later during their family life. Similarly, Head of the Health Council, gynecologist, Dr. Nasreen Oryakil underlined the importance of “girls knowing how to manage their personal hygiene in particular during their periods to avoid infections.” She said that teaching girls to eat a well-balanced diet, to promote healthy growth and good concentration at all times including during school hours, will give all families in Afghanistan a chance to do well in life.

UNICEF Representative Ms. Adele Khodr described the Day as an important occasion to break taboos and encourage girls to grow into healthy and informed women who can share their well-being with their families and communities. “Healthy girls menstruate every month,” said Ms. Khodr, “and nothing in their daily habits, from their hygiene to their nutrition to their exercise routine, need be affected by their monthly period. Menstruation only becomes a problem when people refuse to regard it as a normal function of the female human body: when people stigmatize it, create myths about it, treat it as an illness, and put restrictions on females during their reproductive years.”

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Research points to lack of education and enduring taboos surrounding menstruation and women's health

By LUCY PASHA-ROBINSON 

     @lucypasha

Nearly 60 per cent of women also found lessons on periods to be too old-fashioned or unrelatable / Getty/iStock

 

Nearly half of girls (44 per cent) do not know what is happening to them the first time they have their period, a new report has revealed.

A majority of women felt scared (60 per cent) or embarrassed (58 per cent), and half did not feel confident enough to tell anyone else they had started their period. 

Commissioned by period education campaign Betty for Schools, the research found women and girls continue to suffer from a lack of menstruation awareness. 

Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Paula Sherriff told The Independent that the research highlighted a clear need for a more open conversation about periods.  

“Women need to feel they can talk openly about periods to ensure that future generations feel better informed and prepared,” she said. "It’s vital that young people, boys as well as girls, are educated to tackle the culture of embarrassment around periods."

Primary school teacher Jade Dalrymple said often educational conversations with children about periods occur too late. 

“When they get the information is really important. Some girls might not know what’s happening to them because they haven’t even started menstrual education in school,” she told The Independent. “I would like to think that parents and mothers talk to their daughters but it’s about when you start that conversation - how young is too young, do you wait until they start their period?”

The study also pointed to enduring taboos surrounding women’s health that affect multiple generations of women and girls. 

Nearly three quarters (70 per cent) of women over 55 remember school lessons about periods to be awkward and embarrassing - a figure that worsened with the younger generation, increasing to 76 per cent for 16-24-year-olds. 

Nearly 60 per cent of women also found lessons on periods to be too old-fashioned or unrelatable. 

“If they don't relate to the material, if the films they are being shown have outdated fashions in, then kids will not relate to them,” Ms Dalrymple said. 

Menstruation education researcher Chella Quint said children often lack confidence in seeking out more information about menstruation. 

“Kids I spoke to complained that school toilets were inaccessible during lessons and worried about not being able to take their bags to the toilet during exams,” she told The Independent.

Ms Quint is also the founder of #periodpositive, a menstruation education campaign that aims to tackle the long-standing cycle of “secrecy, fear and misinformation about menstruation.”

 

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Manto’s Saugandi

By Noor-ul-Ain Lashari

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“A man remains a man no matter how poor his conduct. A woman, even if she were to deviate for one instance…is branded a whore…if both are equal, why are our barbs reserved for the woman?”   Saadat Hasan Manto

Saadat Hasan Manto has been one of the most prolific writers in the Indian sub-continent for his audacious language and bold subjects. He pulled in audiences of all classes and age groups  by exposing the darker side of society. This was at the time when british india was in the throes of the independence movement and Manto’s contemporaries were afraid of even asking such questions. Manto, from the very start of his career, conveyed through his writings, to the world that he was going to be the most acknowledged writer across both sides of the border that he should not be taken for granted. His aim was to lift the veil from the corruption of the society and one of his major themes was “Womanhood”. This theme has been exhausted before Manto but the trait  that makes him stand out is that he not only represents the typical roles of a woman like mother or housewife, but he also portrays the assumed ugly face of the fair sex that is a “Prostitute.”. The so called civilized societies have always been forbidding even to utter the name of these make-belief sinisters but Manto was the one who dared to bring it to open. Keeping aside the reputation he had for his temerarious characters one should look for his share in representing a woman and decide either he dilapidated the already bruised or did he do her a favor.

First thing to look at is the way a woman is portrayed by Manto. One of his most scandalous short stories “Hitak” is about the disgrace of a prostitute and how she is physically and emotionally exploited by men. Manto in his story has deliberately used the words “Physical labor” that implies that his protagonist Saugandi was not engaged in sexual activities by desire of pleasure but it was her labor like all other labors done to earn living. Saugandi is treated as an object by her customers, her pimp and her lover. Her physical condition is sufficient for a man to reject or accept her and there is no concept of free will or choice on her part. Manto pulls attention on the idea that a woman no matter what her character or profession is she only contributes in what is reserved for her by the society. It is to his credit that a whore who has always been thought of plaguing a society is presented as a victim. Although Manto is very blunt and honest in his narration but there is an unneeded description about the figure of Saugandi as he writes about her ample breast and rounded softness of her thighs. Maybe this way of writing was to target on mankind who are programmed to comprehend a woman physically but such monograph was avoidable as her being a prostitute was enough for the readers to sketch her but no piece of literature either it is written or visual is a complete package without such details.

An exigent question that is demanded by Saugandi’s character is to ask why a woman who sleeps with men for money is labelled a prostitute, but the men who are her customers can remain “gentlemen”?

“Nobody knows the gentlemen of my city better than the whores of my city” Sa’adat Hasan Manto

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7 Saudi Arabian Fashion Brands That Are Completely Redefining the Industry

Ashi Studio Spring 2017 Couture
 
Photo: Courtesy of Ashi Studio

The last few years have brought about an influx of designers from Saudi Arabia who are reshaping and broadening the womenswear market with their modern and contemporary designs. Some you might have already heard of or read about on Savoir Flair, and some have been off-the-radar but have been dressing Hollywood celebrities the likes of Chrissy Teigen and Elizabeth Banks. Here, Savoir Flair presents the seven Saudi Arabian brands you need to add in your fashion repertoire (there’s something to suit each discerning taste). Scroll through to meet and discover the brands to check out now.

1 Yousef Akbar

It’s been less than a year since Saudi-born Yousef Akbar debuted his brand, but he already has celebrity bragging rights and design awards up his sleeve. The likes of Chrissy Teigen and Kelly Rowland are fans of Akbar’s fluid drapings, sensual silhouettes, and industrial-themed detailings.

You’ll Like This If You Like: Christopher KaneGivenchy, and Maison Margiela

2 Ashi Studio

Headed by creative director Mohammed Ashi, the Beirut-based Saudi Arabian designer produces jaw-dropping creations with such precise attention to detail and drama that often result in creations that leave one utterly breathless.

You’ll Like This If You Like: Giambattista ValliLanvin, and Alexander McQueen

3 Arwa Al Banawi

Eternally inspired by contemporary arts and modern silhouettes, Arwa Al Banawi is a young Saudi Arabian brand that gets stronger by the season. Originally started a range of playful printed suits, the brand is now slowly broadening its collection with easy-to-wear, cool-girl separates that can effortlessly take you from work to play.

You’ll Like This If You Like: 3.1 Phillip LimDerek Lam, and J.Crew

4 Nora Al Shaikh

For those who are inclined towards classics with a twist, then look no further as Nora Al Shaikh could be one of your newfound favorites. Founded in 2012, the Los Angeles-based designer’s strengths are creating timeless, chic, and glamorous pieces that every fashion-savvy woman needs for her closet.

You’ll Like This If You Like: Johanna OrtizEllery, and Isa Arfen

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Hummus unites Jews and Muslims in Argentina

Participants at an event dubbed the First World Championship of Hummus held in Buenos Aires, Sept. 17, 2017. (Courtesy of Muslim and Jewish Fans of Hummus)

(JTA) — “Make Hummus, Not War.”

That was the message behind a recent event that brought local Jews, Muslims and other Arabs together in Argentina’s bustling capital city of Buenos Aires.

On Sunday, 20 amateur chefs participated in a hummus-making competition at the Tetuan Moroccan Grill restaurant in the trendy Palermo Soho neighborhood. About 300 people showed up to see judges award a winner of what was unofficially dubbed The First World Championship of Hummus.

The event was less about competition and more about bringing people of different cultures and religions together through the food they all love.

But there was a winner: Myriam Kabbara, who runs an Islamic school in Buenos Aires.

“We all want to respect each other,” said Turkey native Beynazur Ors, whose colorful hummus contained beet and red cabbage.

Her husband, Burak, agreed.

“We all want another event like this, more time to cook and eat together,” he said.

Participants in the Buenos Aires hummus event await the results at the Tetuan restaurant, Sept. 17, 2017. (Courtesy of Muslim and Jewish Fans of Hummus)

Though it may have been the first hummus competition of its kind in Buenos Aires, the evening germinated over the course of informal get-togethers with members of the Latin American Jewish Congress and local Muslim youths. The group started three years ago simply getting coffee or tea together, but soon they invited each other to Passover and Iftar dinners. The hummus contest was an offshoot of the group, but while members of the Latin American Jewish Congress attended, there was little institutional presence.

There has been a heated debate over the years as to whether hummus is an Arab or Israeli invention — or, maybe more accurately, an ancient Jewish creation, since Israel was officially founded in 1948, long after the chickpea dish had become a Middle Eastern staple. But such discussions were not on the table Sunday.

“Instead of importing conflicts, we are exporting coexistence,” Luciano Safdie, who like the event’s other organizers wore a “Make Hummus, Not War” T-shirt, said at the end of the night.

The judges were Matias Cedarbojm, a former Jewish contestant on Argentina’s version of “MasterChef”; Gustavo Massud, owner of an Arab restaurant in Buenos Aires called Al Shark; and Argentine chef Victor Manuel Garcia.

 

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Freddie Mercury's family tell of singer's pride in his Asian heritage

Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara

Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara
Photo: IMAGES COURTESY OF SHEKHAR BHATIA

 

By Shekhar Bhatia

 

To his legions of fans, was a flamboyant - and very British - rock star.

But in the background was a much more complex sense of identity, summed up by one picture: a black and white image of a baby called Farrokh Bulsara smiling in his pram, watched over by an African nanny in the gardens of the home in colonial Zanzibar where his Indian parents lived.

The little boy in the pram would go on to change his name to Freddie Mercury, achieving wealth and fame before a life cut short at 45 by AIDS.

As he became a worldwide star, little was said of his boyhood in the dying days of Empire, being brought up by his Indian parents in wealth - then having to flee a bloody revolution which took the family to London to build a new life.

The pictures of life before fame were revealed as his family prepare to mark the twentieth anniversary of his death and discuss their pride in his Asian heritage.

Mercury's background - his family are Parsees, followers of the Zorastrian religion whose ancestors came from Persia - was never in the forefront as he sang in Queen. There were sometimes whispers in the Asian community that he ignored his heritage.

But to his family it was an essential part of his identity.

His father, Bomi, was born in India and like many went to a British possession in Africa to work as a registrar for the colonial government, taking with him his wife Jer.

They brought up Freddie, his younger sister Kashmira, in Zanzibar, now a part of Tanzania, but then a colony in its own right.

When he was eight Mercury was sent to St Peter's, a boarding school near his parents' home city of Bombay, now Mumbai, and showed a natural talent for the piano.

Mrs Bulsara recalled: "He was quite happy and saw it as an adventure as some of our friends' children had gone there.

"Right from the start, Freddie was musical. He had it on his mind all the time.

"He could play any tune. He could hear something and play it straight away."

He honed his piano skills by playing Indian tunes, then joined his first band, called The Hectics.

When he left school, now known as Freddie, a nickname given to him by schoolmates, he returned to Zanzibar, but its independence in 1963 was followed by a revolution which saw the largely poor Africans involved in riots which targeted the wealthier Indian population.

The Bulsaras fled to London in 1964 and settled in Feltham, swapping a life of servants for a semi-detatched home in the suburbs.

Mercury enrolled at Isleworth Polytechnic to study graphic design, but it was music which entranced him, shifting from the Indian tunes he had played in Bombay.

Mrs Bulsara, 89, said: "He would write songs from an early age. I kept on saying, as all mothers do, carry on with your studies and clean up your bedroom.

"Once when I went into his bedroom at our home in Feltham, I told him I was going to clear up all the rubbish including the papers under his pillow.

"But he said 'Don't you dare'. He was writing little songs and lyrics then and putting them under his pillow before he slept.

"It was more music than studying and my husband said he didn't understand what this boy was going to do.

"I made him type some letters for jobs and when he posted the applications he said' I hope I don't get these jobs'.

"The applications were for graphic design. Had he got one of those jobs, things would have been quite different.

"In the end, he thought it was too much because he was in his bedroom most of the time and an elderly neighbours were complaining about the noise and he decided to leave home."

Mercury formed Queen with Brian May, Roger Taylor and John and the band's first major concert was as a support act to Mott the Hoople at Hammersmith Odeon in 1973.

His parents were the very antithesis of the glam rock movement which was sweeping the nation, but they were there, somewhat to the surprise of members of the audience.

"My favourite memory of him is that very first concert at Hammersmith Odeon," Mrs Bulsara said.

"My boy was showing the best of himself as support to Mott the Hoople,

"When the show was over people came over to me and my husband and said it was nice that we supported him. I said simply: 'Well, he is my son.'

"Rock and roll was not my lifestyle, but I said I would attend every concert. It was very exciting for me. It was 1973 and he always used to dress flamboyantly.

"But I used to tell him to have his hair cut short as it was long. He said 'No, no mum, that is the way I am.

"But when short hair came into fashion he said: 'You see I've had it cut short. I did it'."

As he was on the verge of musical success, he failed his driving test, but told his family not to worry.

His mother said: "He said it didn't matter. I said he didn't want to spend his life on buses and he said: 'It doesn't matter because one day I will be chauffeur driven everywhere'.

"I thought that my boy certainly had a dream."

As he became more famous, his Asian upbringing and heritage faded increasingly into the background.

But it was never something he forgot himself, his family say; being Asian was part of his life.

 

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Teach Yourself Italian

For a writer, a foreign language is a new kind of adventure.

By Jhumpa Lahiri

 

Exile

My relationship with Italian takes place in exile, in a state of separation.

Every language belongs to a specific place. It can migrate, it can spread. But usually it’s tied to a geographical territory, a country. Italian belongs mainly to Italy, and I live on another continent, where one does not readily encounter it.

I think of Ovid, exiled from Rome to a remote place. To a linguistic outpost, surrounded by alien sounds.

I think of my mother, who writes poems in Bengali, in America. Almost fifty years after moving there, she can’t find a book written in her language.

In a sense I’m used to a kind of linguistic exile. My mother tongue, Bengali, is foreign in America. When you live in a country where your own language is considered foreign, you can feel a continuous sense of estrangement. You speak a secret, unknown language, lacking any correspondence to the environment. An absence that creates a distance within you.

In my case there is another distance, another schism. I don’t know Bengali perfectly. I don’t know how to write it, or even read it. I have an accent, I speak without authority, and so I’ve always perceived a disjunction between it and me. As a result I consider my mother tongue, paradoxically, a foreign language.

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Naguib Mahfouz to finally get his Palace of Desire

by Ahmed Fouad

Egypt has stepped up efforts to open a museum to honor its 1988 Nobel Literature Prize laureate Naguib Mahfouz by the end of the year.

The president of the Cultural Development Fund, Ahmed Awad, said in a Sept. 4 press statement that the museum will open in the next 40-50 days, marking a breakthrough in the decadelong delay in opening the museum. Culture Minister Helmy El-Namnam said Aug. 11 that the museum will open on Dec. 11, on the occasion of the 106th birthday of Mahfouz.

Namnam had promised to open the museum in December 2016, in time for the writer’s 105th birthday, but did not deliver. He argued that the delay was due to renovations at Muhammad Bek Abu El Dahab Complex, even though the alternative venue at Beshtak Palace was available. He repeated his promises on Aug. 10, asserting that the museum will open in December.

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