Women in Islam Journal - Issue 2

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Daughter of the Nile, What Are You After? Meet Aisha Fellatiya, a pioneer of modernity in Sudan

The Female Frontier A legacy of pressure handed down from mothers to daughters

Being a Brother How suppressive traditional guardianship taught me to support my sister

When It is Political It is Personal Women and the veil a complex relationship on canvas


The Female Body - A Contested Land

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EDITORIAL 05 Three Questions To: The artist Ibrahim Sayed



06 Remembering Aisha Fallatiya A daughter of the Nile seeks modernity in Sudan 10 Egyptian Sheikh Ali Abdel Raziq Opposing State absolutism in the name of religion 12 Somalia’s songbird A tribute to Saado Ali Warsame 14 Caught by Abuhadia Educating girls to develop communities 18 With pots and pens: Awadiya Abbas A life’s work for women’s economic rights in Sudan



20 Account of a single mother Double standards burden motherhood in Sudan 24 Battles at the female frontier in Sudan How messages are transmitted from mothers to daughters 25 Think of getting married! ART: A film-to-read by Amin Albahari from Sudan 27 Women from Darfur A history of economic entitlements and participation shattered 30 Of kind people and a religiously tolerant country OPEN LETTER: I am a Christian Sudanese, says Nadia Waldo


32 C onnecting to the foremothers of Islam Sitaad: Somali women‘s traditional devotional space

WO-MEN 36 A manly job Abdifatah Hassan Ali, defending women’s rights in Somalia 38 Becoming a brother A Sudanese journey to the support of my sister 41 Palace Walk, by Naguib Mahfouz BOOK: Deconstructing patriarchy in Egypt 44 Matriarchy & Islam? Yes. The harmonisation of religion and culture in West Sumatra

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46 The worms are weak Male infertility – a female problem? 49 The unlawful law The Public Order Law of Sudan dissected

REVIEW 54 The way forward Words from a Tunisian woman scholar of Islamic jurisprudence 58 Boko Haram and others Women and girls rights hijacked in the name of Islam 61 Religious freedom The case Maryam Yahia from Sudan and the Islamic notions of free will


64 W hat does Islam have to do with it? A close look at the facts: FGM in the Horn of Africa 67 I nternational Women’s Day Celebrating IWD in a Ugandan mosque

THE PUBLIC AND THE PRIVATE 70 Migration, modernity and imported culture An argument in favour of Sudanese Islam 74 My Isl@m, by Amir Ahmad Nasr BOOK: Introspection on identity and religion by a Sudanese blogger 76 Have we come a long way? The resurrection of stoning


DOSSIER: THE FEMALE BODY, A CONTESTED LAND 80 The Sound of Music, by Akram Abdulquyoum and Salmmah Center BOOK: A piece of Sudanese women’s history 82 Stepping from the past to the future in Sudan A photographic essay reclaiming Sudanese women‘s fashion 88 A man admits it is happening FILM: Cairo 678, by Mohamed Diab exposes sexual harassment in Egypt


90 Women and the veil, by the Palestinian artist Laila Shawa ART: A conversation about a complex relationship on canvas 94 You’re dark but you can be fixed The politics and culture of skin bleaching in Sudan 96 Moolaadé, by Ousmane Sembéne from Senegal FILM: One woman’s fight against female genital mutilation 98 Feminine Pains, by Dahabo Ali Muse from Somalia POETRY: Words for survivors of female genital mutilation

100 The Echo 101 SIHA Publications

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EDITORIAL Impressum Editor Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Editorial Head Hala Alkarib Executive Editor Amira Nagy Editorial Team Alsir Alsayed, Reem Abbas, Carol Magambo, Shadia Abdelmuneim, Albarraq Alnasir, Laura Walusimbi, Abdulkhalig Elsir Proofreaders Rabab Ahmed, Rebecca Richards, Dalia El Roubi Translators Sam Berner, Shaima Mahmoud, Regina Akok Contributors Nesrine Malik, Fatma Sulaiman Ghazali, Reem Abbas, Peggy Reeves Sanday, Sara Elnagar, Regina Akok, Sagal Sheikh Ali, Miass Saif Abdelaziz, Hala Alkarib, Amira Nagy, Abdulkhalig Elsir, Carol Magambo, Shadia Abdelmuneim, Liv Tønnessen, Victoria Bernal, Dalia Hajomar, Haf iz Hussein, Samia Al Nagar, Akram Abdulquyoum, Sara Gadallah Gubara, Ned Meerdink, Dahabo Ali Muse, Zahia Salem Jouirou, Amira Mohamed, Aisha Mousa, Faisal Mustafa, Samia Nahar, Osman Mubarak, Abdifatah Hassan Ali, Nadia Waldo, Kamal Al Gizouli, Ahmed Ibrahim Awale, Marcia Claire Inhorn, Saleh Ammar Art Amin Albahari, Talal Nayer, Amel Bashir, Nusreldin Eldouma, Salah Ibrahim, Khalid Albaih, Hussein Mirghani, Laila Shawa, Ayman Hussein, Ibrahim Sayed, Marwan Alkanzy, Arnold Birungi, Khalid Bahar, Sali Yusuf, Safia Ishaq Design Tarek Atrissi Design ISBN 9-770231-104143 These compilations are © copyright by their respective authors or SIHA. All editorial content and graphics may not be copied, re-used, reprinted or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the authors or SIHA. Requests for permission should be directed to: Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) SIHA Regional Office Plot 3 Katalima Bend, Naguru, Kampala P.O. Box 2793, Kampala UGANDA sihahornofafrica@gmail.com www.sihanet.org

Dear Reader, The second volume of SIHA Journal: Women In Islam represents our tireless pursuit of enlightenment and justice as SIHA – a coalition of women rights groups in the Horn of Africa – and seeks to challenge widely held misconceptions, dogma, abuses and manipulation of Islamic religion that are promulgated to justify violence and unjust acts across the region, continent, and around the world. It is a joy to have succeeded so far, despite countless challenges, including our limited means and complex working environment. We have drawn together pieces from a vast array of geographic areas as well as areas of expertise that contribute to a thorough exploration of the complexity of gender relations and Islam. In my view, gender relations offer a critical entry point towards challenging the sort of militant Islamic-based ideology that serves to cement ideas of women’s exclusion and subordination, as well as exposes the experiences of suppression suffered by men and women active in resisting militant ideologies. Today’s regionally and internationally critical times necessitate that we adopt strong positions to become intellectually equipped if we are to effectively challenge the irrationality of militancy and violence. Fear of doing so must be overcome and as communities, we need to regain the connection with our religion and restore our ability to interact freely and independently with our beliefs. It will take time: This battle of minds and ideas is not always fashionable, nor is it a political crisis that can be ‘resolved’ by international actors. Patience and the building of knowledge and awareness are the keys to succeeding in what is sure to be an arduous journey. When we launched the first volume of the journal in Sudan, a man from the audience said to me: “You have said it all in this first issue, and it will be difficult for you to produce a second issue.” My response to him was: “We are only scratching the surface, you will see. This work will continue for decades.” We are overwhelmed by the incredible possibilities and avenues of enlightenment available to us, as well as astounded by the evident evolution around concepts of gender relations in Islam within the historical and contemporary frameworks. We were struck by how many unaccounted stories were waiting to be told, the wealth of expertise and guidance available from books long buried and forgotten and the vast array of narratives and experiences to be shared. Dear readers, in this issue you will find intriguing articles and opinion pieces on current issues, profiles of individuals who fought and fight for awareness and justice, and personal narratives from across the Horn of Africa region and the world. We have entitled the dossier of this volume “Women’s Bodies: A Contested Land.” It contains art, poetry and much more - among it is a story told by old photographs from Sudan. Sometimes, looking back helps to move forward. This second volume of the SIHA Journal has been made possible through the support of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Sudan. We are grateful for their contribution to this valuable and important work.

Hala Alkarib Editorial Head September 2015


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(noun) | a cultural attitude of hatred or dislike for females because they are female. Misogyny can be found within many societies and various religions. It manifests in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, belittling of women and girls, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women. As a belief system it underpins patriarchal or male-dominated societies, placing women in subordinate positions with limited access to power and decisionmaking. Though most common in men, misogyny also exists in and is practiced by women against other women or even themselves – having internalised their role as societal scapegoats, and being influenced by multimedia objectification causing fixations on plastic surgery, skin bleaching, anorexia, and other forms of self-loathing.


Ibrahim Sayed Ibrahim Sayed, of Sudanese descent, was born in Cairo in 1976, where he grew up and studied law. More interested in art and journalism than in becoming a lawyer, he worked as a caricaturist, an illustrator of books and stories for children, and as a reporter. Ibrahim, you called your painting “The Slave Queen.” What does it convey to you? It expresses a mixture of royal pride and the humiliation of a slave. I see the face of a beautiful woman, who was given away in an arranged marriage to a rich man to help support her poor family, thus making her sacrifice her love for another. She is my cousin. When I met her, she spoke little, was lost in thoughts, and I painted her just as she looked. I abided by the conventions of Nubian art, the long neck and the mysterious smile that contradicts the sadness of her eyes. Her clothing, as white as she is chaste, ascetic in its scarcity of detail, is weaving its way around her like the river Nile which embraces her. Warm in colour and countenance, she is donning a quiet smile, like millions of women in my country.

main Arab heritage had been poetry. A century later, a great culture of arts, letters and numbers, architecture and music were thriving, and would continue to do so for centuries more. Traces of that heritage are found all over the world, from Taj Mahal to Andalucía, from Istanbul to Cairo and Casablanca. Islam, in reality, supports art and encourages artists. There is a power in its simplicity, gravity and modesty, and in the fact that a painting or a piece of music can communicate with an aristocrat and a poor labourer at the same time, with a child and the elderly, with a man and a woman. It is from my faith that I learned modesty and it is my intention to paint women and men respectably and nobly. Art is meant to make humans transcend, not to break them down or give them excuses to do so.

Do you see yourself as an African, a Nubian or a Horn of Africa artist? How do these components relate in your art?

What do you feel, as an artist and as a Muslim man, when you see violent Islamist groups damage ancient world cultural heritage sites as has happened recently? If they blamed you for art being unreligious, how would you answer them? I feel contented with my work and my journey through art, religiously, socially and culturally. What those violent groups do is a disaster to our heritage, a disaster to the mind. When Islam began to spread in the Arabian Peninsula, the

Ibrahim, we see a powerful scene and the ability of art to figure the world. In one intense encounter she captivated us: one woman and many women at the same time, her gaze of the inward eye traveling into the distance at the same time. How about you, dear reader? Have you met her before?

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From Arabic by SAM BERNER

years ago, Uganda ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which is a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world, and was adopted by the United Nations in 1979. Out of 193 countries, 187 have ratified it. Two of the 6 countries remaining are in the Horn of Africa: Somalia and Sudan.

I am a mix of a few different cultures; Nubian, Arab, African and even European, as one of my great-grandfathers was a Bosnian. I think the most accurate description is that I am a human. I am saddened by what saddens others, and rejoice at what makes others happy. As a painter, I see myself more as a Nubian artist, for the very personal reason that it isn’t exposed enough to the outside world.



Daughter of the Nile, What Are You After? Can you give me a modern life in a Sudanese town- this is what I need!

The Artist Aisha Fallatiya: a Pioneer of Modernity in Sudan In 1943, Aisha Al Fallatiya walked into the National Broadcasting Station in Omdurman, Sudan to give the first ever performance by a woman in Sudan. At that time, it was rare for anyone to be a musician, but it was culturally less acceptable for women. Her arrival caused a stir - so much so, that Mohamed Ahmed Saroor, a musical icon of that time, threatened to leave the station if she stayed. Aisha had longed to perform at the station all her life and ignored Saroor’s insult and did what she knew best: she got behind a microphone and sang what later became a famous song, “I am sending my greetings to you my dear one from the radio station.” She ushered in a new era of attempts to modernise Sudan.

Aisha Al Fallatiya was born Aisha Musa Ahmed Yehia Idrees to parents from Sokoto, a city in north-west Nigeria and a hub for Islamic teaching for West Africa. Like many Hausa people, her parents settled in Sudan on their way back from pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, and Aisha was born in Kassala in eastern Sudan. Her father’s work as a sheikh and teacher of Islamic studies took the family to Gedaref, and later to the suburbs of Al Moslimeya, a town in central Sudan where he founded a khalwa, a religious school to teach the Qur’an and worked at the Jazeera agricultural scheme producing cotton.

An ardent lover of her country, Aisha sang for the Graduates’ General Conference, a nationalist movement formed by educated Sudanese youth who outspokenly demanded the increase of Sudanese staff in the civil service and self-determination for Sudan. Born to be an artist Aisha’s love for music started early. At the age of 10, the rebellious Aisha would run away from her father’s khalwa to


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sing at weddings. “I was very passionate about lyrics and was able to memorise and improvise songs,” she said in an interview with Rahimi Suliman from the Al Sahafa newspaper in the early Seventies. “I was never interested in dancing like other girls, singing was my passion.”

Her religious background played a major role in shaping her voice. Memorising the Qur’an taught Aisha to pronounce each word and letter accurately and articulately. She quickly gained popularity and people began to ask about her. Out of fear, Aisha dropped her father’s name and adopted “Al Fallatiya” as her stage name. It stems from the Sudanese word fallata, which refers to people of West African tribes like the Hausa, Bornu and Fulani.

Her father, a respected religious man, was very strict. He disapproved of her love of music and lashed her when she came home from singing at social events. Sometimes he would tie her to a tree in the yard to stop her from going out to sing. But she had an accomplice in her young sister, Jadawiya, and together they jumped over the wall countless times to perform at events. Jadawiya, who was equally driven by her passion for music and Sudan’s emerging world of artists, later became the first female oud player in Sudan. Resistance from her family and society pushed Aisha to persevere and work harder. Although she drew strength from her sister and others who supported her, it was her gift –her art– that kept her going. “Aisha was born to be an artist,” says Amir Al Nour, a close friend of Aisha’s late son who was a musician himself.

Drawing by NusreldIn Eldouma, Sudan

Stony path to a self-determined life

make up the Sudan. Aisha accompanied her mother to work in a gum-arabic factory and would sing along in her mother tongue Hausa, while cleaning the produce. Coworkers noticed her skills and at the age of twelve, Aisha was recruited into the Border Forces Music Group at a moment when a Sudanese choirmaster replaced his British predecessor - a step towards independence for Sudan, just as singing in this band was for Aisha.

At the end of the 1920s, the family moved to Omdurman, a cultural hub and microcosm of the diverse people who

One of Aisha’s inspirations was Rabha Khojali, the undisputed celebrity of the famous toom-toom drum beat.

Aisha's dedication to her art was evident in her public battles and personal struggles with her family and community, who drove her into two unhappy marriages from which she escaped. Her ardent love of art also prevailed over diabetes and the amputation of her leg, about which Aisha unforgettably said, “I will sing even if they cut my head.”

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Brought forth by former slaves and beer brewers, it had a distinct style of women’s singing and became popular as girls’ music. This urban novelty had a danceable rhythm and simple lyrics with romantic themes that illuminated the plight of Sudanese women in society.1 These early buds of Sudanese modern music marked a social shift; before Rabha, only men used to play the drums at occasions and Sudanese popular music had been exclusively a male domain. Aisha helped Rabha with housework and collected tips during her performances. It was while washing dishes and singing along to Rabha’s songs, that in 1936 Aisha had her breakthrough. A Greek owner of a recording studio came to invite Rabha to produce her music on vinyl discs in Egypt. Rabha refused. The idea of recording her songs to be purchased and listened to in her absence, perhaps even by men sitting in cafes, was too risqué . As they tried to convince Rabha, the guests heard Aisha singing in her kitchen and turned their attention to her.

When she was eleven years old, Aisha had been married off by her family to a relative who took her to Al Sokai in present-day Sennar State. The marriage lasted two months. In stark contrast to Aisha’s larger-than-life dreams the marriage stif led her, suffocated her aspirations to sing and limited her dreams to a small town. Her husband did not approve of her performing at weddings. Her family expected her to be a housewife and raise children, not sing. She asked for a divorce, which was unspeakable for a woman at that time. But Aisha, at a very young age, stood against her family and made her choice.

After a second marriage in 1939, Aisha gave birth to a son, Kamal Khamis. Motherhood proved difficult for Aisha as being a musician meant staying out in the evenings, travelling, and exposing herself to mixed-gender audiences. With all of the cultural expectations and customs, earning money as a woman carried the association of selling oneself and clashed with the traditional social role as wife and mother. Aisha’s family and husband expected her to be obedient and to stay With all of the cultural expectations and customs, earning home. Her husband accused her of money as a woman carried the association of selling oneself neglecting their son and their marriage soon ended. and clashed with the traditional social role as wife and

mother. Aisha’s family and husband expected her to be obedient and to stay home. Later Aisha recalled: “My father objected and told them I was too little to travel. I cried and screamed, finally the khawaja, the foreigner, succeeded in convincing my father who signed a contract for 60 Sudanese pounds. I travelled to Egypt and stayed at Khawaja Mishan’s home with his wife and children. I recorded many songs and produced my first record. My records were sold in central Khartoum at the Bazaar of Khawaja Cavendish and by his son Dimitri. Sudanese people started buying phonographs to listen to Aisha Al Fallatiya singing.” 2 Between 1936 and 1941 Aisha traveled to Egypt many times. She never stopped wearing the Sudanese tobe, not even at the height of the fashion waves in the 1960s and 1970s. She loved and identified with the traditional fourmeter-long Sudanese women’s wrap-around. Proud of her culture yet longing for modernity she sings in her song Daughter of the Nile: “You daughter of the Nile, what are you after? A modern life in a Sudanese town with softness, manners, art and decency.”


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An exception - even among artists

In the mid-1940s during World War II, Aisha sang for the Sudanese soldiers in the British colonial army. The songs’ lyrics lay bare the core of the Sudanese nature in the way people downplay the catastrophic nature of war and other events. While the Italians attempted to invade Al Qalabat and Kassala in eastern Sudan, Aisha sang: “A plane in the sky above Khartoum...dropping amounts of bombs…killed the poor donkey of the milk lady Kaltoun” With a keen ability to come up with interesting, cultural and humorous lyrics, Aisha drew from women’s folk songs to make her pieces come to life. In her famous song The Sesame of Gedaref, she likens a loved one to sesame, a seed of high cultural value in the Gedaref State in Eastern Sudan. This General Conference was the basis for what later became the National Unionist Party, Sudan’s first political party. When the Sudanese Women’s Union was formed in 1952, Aisha strongly supported an independent Sudan free from colonial powers. When the guests asked her to sing, Aisha proudly sang patriotic songs about her beloved Sudan.

Aisha Fallatiya also demonstrated the power of women in modern Hausa music in pieces like Muna Maraba da Sardauna Sakkwato, a welcome song composed for the then Premier of Northern Nigeria on a State visit to the country. She was backed by the “Sound of Sudan” string quartet with an accordion. The song found a ready niche in radio stations and urban clubs of northern Nigeria.3 In Egypt, she was known as the “Oum Kalthoum” of Sudan. Caught between tradition and talent When Aisha had decided to be a musician, male singers were considered “immoral” and women in the entertainment industry were believed to be “loose women”. It was common practice for female artists to abandon their family names and adopt new ones. Another famous musician of that time, Amna Kheir Allah called herself Muna Al Kheir to avoid dishonoring her family. Defying social barriers for Sudanese women, Aisha earned her own income, travelled abroad unaccompanied and was responsible for herself - a remarkable endeavor at that time. Similar to artists today, Aisha found herself among artists living a bohemian lifestyle, in which she freely mingled with male and female artists. This community was different than the one Aisha was accustomed to as her fellow artists dated openly and even lived together outside of marriage.

Aisha was the first female musician in Sudan to produce and compose her own music. She used only the beats of the oud which she memorised, her music had no written notes. Aisha’s journey garners much respect; she was a pioneer woman from Sudan exploring the world of music. A woman from a poor migrant family and an ethnic group that was largely discriminated against in Sudan, Aisha triumphed against all odds, overcoming discrimination, disapproval and scorn. While her memory lives on, Aisha’s greatest achievements go beyond her sweet voice and the music she had produced. Rather, they lie in her powerful sense of self as a strong woman, a Sudanese artist, and a Muslim without being confused in her identity and her life’s choices. Forty years on, a dignified modern life in Sudan remains but a dream with the political instability and economic deterioration caused by the conflicts raging in three different parts of Sudan, where women continue to bear the brunt. Reem Abbas, from conversations with Amir Al Nour – a musician, researcher and friend of the family and Aisha Fallatiya’s nephew Adil Harbi, a professor at the Faculty of Music and Drama at Sudan University. Edited

Aisha who never enjoyed formal education, amazed her listeners and fellow musicians with her ability to memorise songs and to create lyrics that were simple yet possessed the ability to reflect on the trials and tribulations of everyday life and to translate local motives to abstract messages. Aisha was the first female musician in Sudan to produce and compose her own music. She used only the beats of the oud which she memorized, her music had no written notes. Aisha passed away in February 1974 after a severe illness. Her son Khamis was young when she died, and until his death a few years ago, he carried a handful of memories of her wherever he went: some pictures of her glamorous days and discs in a plastic bag. Before his death, Khamis entrusted the bag to a friend in Al Daim. With the death of that friend some years later, there is no more trace of the bag. What remains of Aisha Fallatiya is a collection of over 100 songs she recorded before her death, many of them homeland-loving songs of timeless value. She left an indelible musical impression on the Sudanese collective memory, compulsively producing new content and deploying her voice in any way to support her country.


hmad Sikainga in A Shor t History of Sudanese Popular Music, pg. 150, A in The Sudan Handbook


In the same inter view with Rahimi Suleyman, Al Sahafa Newspaper


ary Kingsley Zochonis Lecture on Transglobal Media Flows and African M Popular Culture: Revolution and Reaction In Muslim Hausa Popular Culture, Abdalla Uba Adamu Center for Hausa Cultural Studies, Kano, Nigeria, African Studies association UK, pg. 23

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PEOPLE Sheikh Ali Abdel Raziq:

A Challenge to State Absolutism in the Name of Religion Party, and his brother Mustafa Abdul Raziq, a well known philosopher, were proponents of Islamic liberalism. He obtained his ‘Alim’ degree (equivalent to B.A.) at Al Azhar University in 1911, and then enrolled at Oxford to study Economics and Political Science. Two years later, shortly after the outbreak of World War I, he returned to Egypt where he was first appointed a qadi, a religious judge and later assumed various positions, including Member of the Parliament, Member of the Senate, and Minister of Endowments, one of the three highest positions in religious administration. He was also a member of the Language Academy. A graduate of Al Azhar, Sheikh Ali Abdel Raziq originated from the heart of religious institutions, yet acquired secular knowledge and education at Oxford University, which boosted his intellect and gave him analytical skills and methods of critical thinking. That said, not everybody exposed to Western education could acquire the ability to revise and analyse the status quo. The renowned Syrian philosopher Jalal Al Azm once respectfully remarked that some of Sheikh Ali’s colleagues taught philosophy for half a century without questioning their surroundings. Sheikh Ali had a brilliant, critical mind similar to Muslim scholars such as Imam Muhammad Abduh, Rifa‘a Al Tahtawi and Dr. Taha Hussein. This critical sensibility of his conflicted with the traditional religious teaching when he published his groundbreaking book Islam and the Foundation of Governance1 a research on the Caliphate and government in 1925. It drew the ire of both the clergy and political institutions, united by their interests at the time, as is often the case in contemporary Islamic history. Islam and the foundations of governance Drawing by Hussein Mirghani, Sudan

In 1925, an Egyptian scholar of Islam made the unprecedented argument that the Caliphate, or State ruled by Islamic law, was not in fact a requirement of the Muslim faith. It sparked a stormy debate among intellectuals and the gatekeepers of faith. He threw a huge stone into the stagnant pond of Islamic thought.

Ali Hassan Ahmed Abdel Raziq was born in 1888 in Abu Gerg village in Al Menia, Egypt, where he memorised the Qur‘an at the village‘s kottab, the Qur’anic school. Both his father, a large farm-owner and a founder of the Umma


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The controversy arose from the author’s call for the separation of religion from the State. His central argument claims that both the Caliphate and Imamate2 have no origins in Islamic legislation, judging by the two main sources, the Qur’an and the sunna. There is also no consensus (ijma), the third source of Islamic jurisprudence, on the rule of a Caliph or an Imam and neither did the Prophet Muhammad preside over any kind of institutionalised Islamic State, nor did he leave instructions for his followers to do so. He concludes that Muslims are free to agree on any government that serves the interest and common good of their society whether that is a religious or secular leadership and argues further that throughout history the Caliphate resulted in a series of disasters for Muslims and Islam, distorting the Prophet’s

essentially apolitical message. In his recount of the horrors of the Caliphate, it is safe to conclude that Sheikh Abdel Raziq may have been advocating for a democratic State – as a more humanist kind of governance, whereby separation from the State protects religion from political misuse. Both critics and historians consider the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate State in Turkey by the reformist statesman Kemal Ataturk as a trigger to Sheikh Abdel Raziq’s controversial book, which correspondingly states that Muslim Sultans were promoting the Caliphate among people “taking the religion as a shield to protect their thrones and force out their mutineers.”3 He considers this to be „the capital offence of the Sultans and their tyranny against Muslims. They led them astray from the right path, concealed the veracities away from them, and cloaked the light of faith and right guidance in the name of religion. They tyrannised, enslaved, and humiliated people in the name of religion, while they forbade them from cogitating in politics. In the name of religion they deceived their minds; they also controlled them when it comes to interpreting and understanding religion. They banned the people from tackling specific issues they set, and thereby those kings prevented them from studying any science or subject that might affect the Caliphate powers.“4 In its critique, the book does not address subject matter pertaining to the holy Qur’an and sunna, which is usually countered by threats from patrons of the religious orthodoxy. Instead, Abdel Raziq concentrates on the Caliphate, in which he cites history to determine that it was, “a disaster on Islam and Muslims alike, and it was the source of evil and corruption.” The Caliphate matter was born from political conflict over leadership after the death of Prophet Mohammed. The dimensions and goals of the Caliphate State crystallised later with Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan, the founder of the Amawai State, a tyrant who in order to sustain the power of the Islamic State instated the option of leadership to be inherited. Subsequently, the Islamic religion came under the political control of the Caliphate State until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century. The price of enlightenment The time of the book’s release explains the extent of the appalling attack Sheikh Abdel Raziq faced in challenging the concept of a State built on religion and controlled by people. Dr. Mohammed Katish, a writer and blogger, describes that, “the Ottoman Empire had collapsed, the Arab and Islamic countries had come under the European influence, and the revival of the Islamic Caliphate was in process. Meanwhile, Egypt was one of the countries nominated to assume the Caliphate, a number of the Arab and Muslim leaders were looking forward eagerly to occupy this vacant post. In that period, there was a deep sense of vacuity in the Islamic countries, and an urgent need to rectify the situation. Thus, in 1925, Al Azhar asked a group of clerics [to] hold a conference in Cairo to discuss the issue of the Caliphate. This conference resulted in resolutions [stipulating] that the Caliphate post

is necessary to the Muslims, as a symbol of their unity and association. Despite that, in order for this position to be effective, the Caliph must combine both religious power and civil power. In the meantime, there was a predilection to assign King Fouad I of Egypt the post of the Caliph of Muslims.“5 At this point Ali Abdel Raziq’s theories based on reason and an impressive set of observations and critical historical analysis posed a threat to the perceived rule of law. Rejecting an Islamic foundation of the Caliphate and exposing it as a rather mundane, worldly, political matter with no evidence in the Qur’an or in the prophetic hadiths to legitimise it, attracted controversy. What further caused a political rage against him was his highly critical opinion of the clerical apparatus – the Ulama – whom he questioned thoroughly for discussing all details of Muslim life, even menstruation issues, yet withdrawing from discussing the Caliphate, a core issue to every Muslim’s life. Why did they stand helplessly before philosophy and not research a better jurisprudence? Why did they miss taking into consideration the Republic by Plato and the Politics by Aristotle, though never ceasing to admire Aristotle whom they called “The First Teacher?” Why did they keep Muslims in absolute ignorance regarding the basics of politics and different types of governments in ancient Greece and instead made Muslims adopt the Syriac grammar, and teach them the Indian Bidpai fables 6 in the Kalīlah wa Dimnah book in Arabic. The Ulama mixed Islamic science with the Greek philosophy without any filtering to its good and bad. True ideas do not die Eventually, Sheikh Ali Abdel Raziq was humiliated and dismissed from all the government positions he held. The Council of the greatest Ulama of Al Azhar issued an order to withdraw his qualifications and his right to practice. He remained an outcast until he was re-instituted later at the time of King Farouk after allegedly retreating from ideas mentioned in his book. Ali Abdel Raziq published more than three books, but none received the same fame and attention. Sheikh Ali Abdel Raziq died in 1966. Dogmatic militants might have been successful in suppressing and humiliating him, but what they failed to understand is that true ideas do not die. The truth is that his opinions have thrived and are relevant today almost 90 years after his book came out and the idea that Islam must have some kind of role in politics still is very much the official view of the clerics. He revealed that this is a choice. Islam and the Foundations of Governance will remain a paramount work, constituting a landmark in the journey of Islamic reform and thinking. Sheikh Ali Abdel Raziq is remembered as one of the remarkable scholars whose infinite courage withstood the traditional Islamic jurisprudential consensus school (fiqh al ijmaa), a dominant school always supported by the political regimes and which represents a complex hurdle in the way of the advancement of Islamic societies. Abdulkhalig Elsir From Arabic by SIHA


l Islam Wa Usool A Al Hukm


his word, meaning T leadership in the Islamic religion, is derived from the word Imam.


ikipedia from W Kemal H. Karpat, The Politicization of Islam: Reconstructing Identity, State, Faith, and Community in the Late Ottoman State. Studies in Middle Eastern History. Oxford University Press, 2001, p.242-243.


h ttps://fakkerfree. wordpress. com/2014/06 /12language




halilah wa Dimnah K is the Panchatantra is an ancient Indian collection of interrelated animal fables in verse and prose, arranged within a frame story, translated into Arabic in 750 CE by Persian scholar Abdullah Ibn Al Muqaffa (Arabic: ).

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Drawing by Hussein Mirghani, Sudan

Saado Ali Warsame:

A Tribute to Somalia’s Songbird I was inside a local bank branch on a busy street in Mogadishu when I heard three gunshots. It was about 3pm on July 23, 2014, a day like any other. My initial reaction was that it was probably soldiers firing in the air to clear the traffic jam on the main road. A few seconds after the gunshots, a man ran into the branch screaming that a member of the Somali Parliament had been killed. No one in the bank that day could have imagined that the victim was Saado Ali Warsame, one of the country’s most beloved singers. Warsame also a member of the Federal Parliament (MP) and her driver were gunned down by unknown assailants in Mogadishu as she was being driven to a hotel. She was the fourth MP killed in Somalia in 2014 in militant attacks


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targeting members of Somalia’s Parliament. The President and Prime Minister of Somalia and diplomats from several countries expressed condolences to Warsame's family and condemned the assassination for which Al Shabaab claimed responsibility, as part of its assassination campaign against Somali legislators. Investing her art for social justice Saado Ali Warsame is a name that evokes powerful emotions in practically every Somali. Born in the 1950s near Buuhoodle, she found fame in Somalia’s capital city Mogadishu as a singer, after being discovered by a family friend. A young, skinny girl with the most beautiful of


afros Warsame stood out not just for her vocal chords but also for her beauty and demeanour. In 1973 she joined the band Waberi, one of the most famous in the country, which was made up of prominent musicians. She was one of the few Somali female musicians to go on stage without covering her head and she sometimes wore trousers, an unusual act for women in Somalia at the time. Women during that era copied her style and swagger. She was considered the Sophia Loren of the Horn of Africa. Theatre roles for musicians were common in Somalia in the 1970s and Warsame also starred in many plays. Warsame, who often attended international art festivals, receiving prestigious awards and representing Somalia, soon became a household name for not just her acting and singing but for her political activism against the hard-line rule of then dictator Siad Barre, who was toppled in 1991. This event triggered the civil war in Somalia. During the Siad Barre regime many artists in the country either faced jail or exile for their stance against the communist government. The young and famous Warsame played one of her most pivotal roles as the voice of her people. Her first brush with the law came after she joined a poetic movement with other prominent Somali artists, called “Deelley”. She wrote poems1 about injustice in Somalia and used the opportunity to defend the cause of northerners from the increasingly authoritarian southern-based regime. When the government found out about the long running serial poem, Warsame was arrested and sentenced to death. The sentence was eventually overturned and she only served six months in jail. In the late 1980s, Warsame released “Laand Karuusar gado” which translates to Buy a Land Cruiser. The song criticises the kleptocracy and wealth of the military and government officials in stark contrast to the abject poverty of the ordinary Somali people. A memorable part of this song goes: “Buy a land cruiser, beg for maize, whilst showing off that you are someone with calibre, in the horn of Africa” 2 . The lyrics speak about a country begging for maize while government officials cruise around in imported luxury cars. Warsame was arrested again. During her interrogation she asked the police officer at the station for a glass of water but he told her they did not have water. The station’s air conditioning unit did not work because there was no electricity. Warsame asked the officer why he had arrested her for merely stating the obvious in regards to the situation in the country where the government was pocketing tax payer’s money and leaving people without the basics – the police station was no execption.

A fearless leader In the early 1990s, Warsame spent several years in exile in the United States during Somalia's worst years of fighting. She returned in 2012 to serve in the newly established Federal Government based in Mogadishu, and represented the northeastern Puntland regional State’s constituency in Parliament.

Her legislative work centred on political and social justice while her songs emphasised national identity and participation in the post-conflict reconstruction process, as well as urging unity in a country known for its tumult and division. She was critical in the secessionist administration in Somalia’s north-western Somaliland region, bravely accusing the leadership of a separatist agenda. In particular, her song "Libdhimeyside Laas Caanood, Laba maahaa Waddankeennu" hails the city of Las Anod for its nationalist, anti-colonial historical role. Somaliland troops began occupying Las Anod in 2007. The song title translates as “Oh Las Anod, you will always remain a part of Somalia, our country is one.” She humorously satirised political infighting and also supported former Vice President of Somalia, Muhammad Ali Samatar, during a civil lawsuit that had been filed against him in 2009, believing that he was being unfairly singled out as a member of the former regime. During her parliamentary tenure, Warsame was very vocal against the inability of the Parliament to fulfil the promises made to the very people it claimed to be serving. On several occasions she spoke out against alleged corrupt politicians and called for more accountability. Despite many death threats she received, Warsame soldiered on working for her constituency and speaking out against injustice. Even though Warsame is no more, she will forever be remembered for her voice both on stage and in politics. To me she was both the song my mother played in the kitchen when she was cooking our dinner, and the woman my mother spoke of with pride when she wanted to make us realize that being a woman and being Somali was something to be proud of. Somalia needed her. A fearless human rights advocate, she was a role model for women and is described as a born leader, who bravely stood up against corruption and injustice and used her fame to ensure the public knew what sort of government was in office. To most Somalis she will be remembered as the voice for the voiceless – speaking out for them despite the odds against her. Sagal Sheikh Ali, Edited.


he two most T famous poems are called: Kaa Qaad Qadirku and Diwaanku Ha ii dhigoo


L aand Karuusar gado, soo bari galey guxudhey mod gob ina kutahay geeska Afriko in Somali language

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Caught by Abuhadia A Beja man‘s quest for education and progress When tracing the features and accomplishments in life of the great human beings among us, it is necessary to look also at the historical time they lived in, at how things were before they appeared and how their fulfillment of their missions have changed things for good. One of those who can never again be seen as separate from the fate of his community and country, both of which he has impacted for generations to come, is Mohamed Badri Abuhadia. He saw the connection between development and women’s liberation and pursued the matter. In his traditional Bedouin community this could well have meant his death. The Beja are a group of nomadic tribes, who inhabited the mountains between the Red Sea, the Nile, and Atbara rivers in Eastern Sudan for about six thousand years1, where they have lived in isolation for most of their long history. Never subject to any authority, of whichever source, they kept their independence and freedom shutting out the outside world, and asking “for nothing in this world except to be left alone" 2 , as the historian Sulaiman Darrar put it. Their lack of trust in strangers stems from protracted bad experiences with invaders who arrived by sea, such as the Pharaohs, Ptolemies, Himyarites, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders and Turks, who came to loot the gold and bounties of the region and exploited the population. The Beja also remained suspicious towards education; it was brought by foreigners or in a foreign language. Many stories were spun around the immorality pupils would adapt from strangers, leading tribal leaders to shield their communities from education. The scarce resources and continuous peregrination of a people in search of water and pasture were already detrimental to modern education, as were their vehement rejection of Arabic, the language of education, and the long distances between villages and schools. The Beja people remained with religious education only. The Beja woman under these traditional conditions is a Bedouin woman, who is sheltered by her community from any contact with the outside world and from even laying eyes on a strange man. The handcrafts she produces at home are brought to the market by men for selling. In this community, even mentioning a woman of someone’s family could lead to a relentless fight and cause religious implications, let alone an attempt to bother with her living conditions or unmasking her subdued status.


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Building a house of trust

From the womb of such a protected Beja woman, the infant Mohamed Badri Abuhadia was born in 1929, in the far north-eastern town of Toker, as the place was just witnessing its most affluent days, owed to a boom in agriculture, mainly in cotton. His parents did not enjoy formal education, but conveyed a culture of supporting others. His father insisted on helping poor women and gave them from his livelihood. His grandmother crafted leather and her house, which was also her modest workshop, became a "trust house" for farmers, who deposited their crops with her. In this environment, Mohamed and his siblings received religious instruction and worked on farms and pasture with their peers. Each year between June and September, when life became unbearable in Toker due to heavy sand storms, the family used to shift to Suakin or Sinkat towns, where Abuhadia’s school life began in a kottab, a Qur’anic school, in 1941. While attending vocational school away from home, in Atbara, his longing for social change began to surface. He joined the Railway Workers' Union and participated in demonstrations against the British colonial authorities and against the formation of a Legislative Council in 1948 deemed an undemocratic colonial instrument. He became a technical labourer at the Port Sudan Railway Dock Workshop and would work in this field until his retirement in the early Eighties, promoted to an engineer, and having actively contributed to the formation of the Dock Workshop Workers' Syndicate and the Longshoremen Union in Port Sudan, as well as to trade unions all over the Red Sea State. Fly with one wing From the Fifties, Mohamed Badri Abuhadia began to work on what would become his main cause: encouraging and enabling Beja children to pursue modern education, what he saw instrumental for advancing his community. Initially, he addressed the education of boys. He followed their attendance and absence; he monitored their achievements and mediated them funds to continue their education. Being the attentive observer he was, a few years later he would find that “students complete their studies and automatically engage in the

available work positions, then they form their families - and no real social change is achieved. The cycle of illiteracy continues as long as women are still illiterate, especially since they are the most influential on their children.” He eventually concluded that “We cannot fly with one wing", and embarked on the rocky road of educating girls in particular. At that time, Beja women were in dire need of an advocate. Abuhadia’s daughter Saeda, who graduated from university

and is an activist for social change in Eastern Sudan, describes that traditions and habits have a strong influence on the Beja community, even stronger than religion. “People confuse those with religious provisions. Women are deprived from inheritance and married off without being consulted. In matters like female genital mutilation, mothers are not entitled to reject the procedure to be performed on their daughters. The Beja woman has no rights, no say or choice in the happenings closest to her. She is deprived of education and isolated by a

Drawing by Hussein Mirghani, Sudan SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015



language barrier, which keeps her from the simplest way of human communication. The language barrier prevents access to many other rights and women submit", she says. Forging social change The Beja were fighting tooth and nail to preserve their culture and it was a task for Abuhadia to convince his people of the necessity to embrace change. It took going to the surrounding towns and villages, one by one, to speak to people in their language and logic as well as facing Imams and clerics, convincing them, one by one, of the benefits of systematic education. During these journeys, he often got involved in other issues, such as arbitration of disputes between tribes and he gained deep insight into the region's inhabitants and their living conditions.

problem, but created the facilities needed. The first girls' school in Sankat, the Al Sharifa Mariam Al Merghinia Primary School was established in 1952 with his involvement as well as the first literacy and adult education classes for women in the Beja Social Club in Daim Arab in Port Sudan City. In 1954, three Primary Schools for girls in Port SudanSankat followed. For these he obtained approval from the Revolutionary Command Council, through Brigadier General Salah Salem, a member of the Egyptian Education Mission in Sudan. In order to establish the first secondary school in the entire eastern region, Abuhadia, as a member of the delegation who met the General Commander of the Armed Forces, convinced him to turn the Egyptian army barracks into the Port Sudan Secondary School. Later, in the early Nineties it became the Red Sea University4.

He urged for the establishment of the Beja Education Fund, A Beja man himself, Abuhadia opened the critical for needy students, which is active until today. One time, issue of women's rights in education as a precondition for after having secured a place for a girl at a secondary school, their economic independence. He advocated for women’s who was the first from her village to achieve this but had no participation in public life and fought against early marriage, means to afford staying at the boarding house, he took her immersing himself in thorny issues: one of these topics had to his home in Sankat, without further ado, where she lived been enough to make a Beja man draw his sword and stab with his family for three years to finish school. Five more him, as the mere mention of a man’s womenfolk is considered girls from her village would follow over the years. an offence that can only be answered with revenge. With courage, calm wisdom Abuhadiya maintained that Islam mandates humans to and broad awareness of the conditions learn and in this makes no difference in their gender. He of his community, Abuhadia went on to challenge female genital mutilation, was a very progressive figure and moderate Muslim who practiced on baby girls as young as seven offered his life’s work as his most religious deed. to forty days, causing many deaths. He discussed the matter with clerics and tribal leaders until he won them over, breaking the silence Many influential people from political and religious that cloaked women’s life in a conservative society that had no backgrounds worked to stop him, not wanting to lose power. space for women’s issues and established an organisation, as a People say he was like a palm tree: when pelted with stones, public forum advocating for women’s rights3. it gives you fruits. He was persistent, with a great deal of wit and skill. On one occasion Abuhadia had patiently waited at a His daughter Saeda, the first to be exempted from FGM, public institution to discuss an administrative matter of a female affirms how her father lived his vision. “He was a democratic man student for so many hours that the manager forgot him and who applied his ideas to his family. Often, when society refused a locked him in when leaving the office. He returned only late at certain idea, my father would introduce us as an example. Once, night when he remembered, and found Abuhadia there, waiting. he asked me to halt my education at Ahfad University for three He was the kind of person who would not let go - literally. On months to accept a scholarship in Cairo. At that time, daughters a daily basis, when he saw girls of school age in the street, he travelling abroad were unheard of. I became an example to follow would take them by the hand and walk them home, where he engaged their parents in a conversation about why they were not in a closed society that restricts girls’ movement.” at school, and solve whatever the impediments were. Leading by example and dedication Another time, he had requested a chance to speak during He knew how to persuade people but he was also a true the President's visit to Sankat in the early Nineties. He was practitioner. He did not call for educating girls in a society declined this chance, due to the full program, so he went with scarce resources and leave it to the people to solve the to the female students and asked them to stand before the


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stage and shout, "We need a College! We need a College". The President had to interrupt his speech and listen to their shouts, so he agreed to establish the university, from his platform, before completing his speech. One of his most far-reaching impacts was to have paved the way for numerous scholarships for women from Eastern Sudan at professional and vocational faculties in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Libya and in Sudan, like at the Ahfad University for Women, where they continue to be offered to this day. Meanwhile, his female students have reached into high positions in different aspects of life. One of them, Ghada El Nil, a graduate of Ahfad University and a teacher, says, "He helped me get the scholarship to study at university, and when he knew about the financial hardships I faced, he contacted the university administration and other institutions and succeeded to exempt me from paying the fees with no regard to the fact that I come from North Sudan. He did not discriminate against me for that reason. He did so for many others too." Ghada added, "Even after graduation, he helped the female graduates to get jobs". He placed development above tribal divisions; he supported anyone who wanted to help themselves and therefore was part of both the Rubatab Association and the Fellata Association among others. Abuhadia's efforts supported the establishing of tens of hospitals, health clinics and water plants. He worked hard to change the moneymaking patterns of Beja tribes, encouraging them to migrate to other parts of Sudan such as Al Soki and Al Fashka to work in agriculture projects that had been established for Beja people. As the historian Sulaiman Saleh Darrar, describes, “This noble man devoted all his life to promote the Beja and to care for the area. There was no educational or social service facilitated in this country, unless he participated therein."

Liberal and generous Abuhadiya maintained that Islam mandates humans to learn and in this makes no difference in their gender. He was a very progressive figure and moderate Muslim who offered his life’s work as his most religious deed. He devoted his life for enlightenment, opening fanlights before the Beja woman, so she can set herself free. Many women used to seek his advice, even in their personal issues like marriage, since he was trustworthy. He looked at both men and women equally in the light of humanity connecting them. He remained humble and generous. People recount how he used to leave the house in the mornings with money in his pockets and had to ask others for a banknote for public transport in the evenings, because he had distributed all his money to students who came his way during the day and needed school fees or other kinds of immediate help. Abuhadia had lived for 77 thriving years when he died in 2004; a great leader who left an indelible impression on his community and country and succeeded to forge significant social transformation. His inspiring biography and way of thinking deserve to be recounted in order to uplift men and women. SALEH AMMAR, from conversations with Almutalib Ibrahim and Saeda Mohamed Badri Abuhadia, Edited. From Arabic with translations by SHAIMA MAHMOUD


E ncyclopedia Britannica


I n his book Beja People in Eastern Sudan


buhadia Society A Women and Community Development, in Port Sudan, is active until today


buhadia’s A achievements collected by the journalist Alaa Aldin Al Bashir when documenting his biography for Al Sahafa Newspaper in 2006 Sudan

One of the leading founders of the Beja Congress in 1958, with Dr. Taha Balia and his comrades, Abuhadia was also a member of the National Transition Council in 1994, in addition to several other roles and responsibilities during his life. Due to his uncountable contributions and achievements, he was granted an honorary doctorate degree in Education from Kassala University in 1994, among other honours. Apart from the many stories and functions that tell of Abuhadia's determination and personality what speaks loudest is that he gained the exceptional right to interfere in other families' affairs. As Sharif Ahmed Taha, a most influential leader of the area, put it, "It is enough honor and reputation for Abuhadia to be the only person allowed to come into our houses while we are absent and check the matters of our female family members.”

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With Pots and Pens Awadiya Abbas works for women’s economic rights A food seller and a long time resident of Khartoum with extensive work experience and activism in the informal sector, Awadiya Abbas says what she does is “not an easy job”. She was born in the 1950s to a hairdresser who also sold clothes in Khartoum throughout the 1960s. It was her mother who instilled in her great work ethics, along with a sense of responsibility and selfreliance, and respect for what one does. Later, Awadiya worked in a clothing factory until she was detained and fired for her union activism during the attempted and widely supported socialist military coup in July 1971. She became a stay-at-home mother for a while, but when the economic condition in Sudan deteriorated in the 1980s, she went back to working as a food seller in the neighborhood market Souq Al Shabi in Khartoum.

Awadiya sold food in the market, and with others formed a women’s cooperative. She participated in many workshops and underwent trainings in India, Ethiopia, and Lebanon generating projects for the cooperative. With a proven hands-on approach, her life’s work lies in raising awareness and advocating for women’s economic rights in the informal sector, mediating legal support, and fostering democracy. That also entailed campaigning against oppressive regulations, for example the provision of the beyt al taha in the Family Law, which authorises displeased husbands to impose house arrest on their wives.

“We have to work together to raise children in the right way; to raise a democratic generation and to develop our society and country.” Awadiya, who attempted to run for a seat in the Legislative Council for Khartoum State in 2010 using a tea pot as her election symbol, says, “If we managed to influence women in


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the markets and solve their problems, we would solve several problems in our country. Women could reach a point where they teach themselves and gain access to Parliament and other offices in politics and economy and can demand our rights from the decision makers.” Working to improve women’s lives Awadiya focuses on women’s dignity and education. She is a founding member and the Secretary General of the Souq Shabi Women’s Food and Drink Cooperative, one of the oldest in Sudan, and the Secretary of Finance in the Women’s Corporate Union, the first of its kind in the country. To empower and mobilise women, these groups train women in the management and maintenance of small businesses. The women also save money together and give out small loans to members. Awadiya currently plans to establish further economic, educational, health care, and social institutions within these two bodies, which function through women’s solidarity and help them claim their rights from authorities.

PEOPLE Awadiya laughs as she tells of the day when she and about twenty women selling food and drinks in Souq Shabi market in Khartoum were challenged by a locality order that was to build public latrines right next to their work place. When the engineer came to take the measurements the women collectively stood up, beating their pots with their big spoons, and chased the engineer out of the market. He never came back. Such incidents make her persevere in an environment with an ambivalent attitude towards working women.

selling food and drinks, or brewing local alcohol in makeshift businesses in the streets and in markets. The sector is not regulated nor does it adhere to any labour laws. Women have no health insurance and endure long work hours, low income, the heat and dust, and a very challenging work environment in a male controlled public space where they are vulnerable to exploitation and harassment by customers and authorities. Public Order Laws and locality orders claiming to act in the name of Islam harass and target women.

Reminiscing about the women she works for, she singles out one who did not live to benefit from the project. Nadia Saboon was trying to escape a kasha, a raid on the spot by security men who confiscate work utensils and the seller’s produce, when she fell onto the metal leg of a chair which pierced her stomach. She bled for an hour before she was taken to hospital and died there. “Nadia is a martyr of tea selling,” Awadiya recounts sadly.

“The Islamist rule in Sudan not only has failed to provide a decent living for its women, but also denies them the right to improve their livelihoods which harms their dignity and is disrespectful to both Islam and women,” says Awadiya. Determined to improve women’s lives, Awadiya, with the resolve of a heroine of every-day life, challenges authorities and works to change legislation that is disadvantageous to women.

Countering prejudices In the past, urban working women in Sudan were often divorcees or widows. Exposed in public and unprotected by a man, it was considered a lowly and vulnerable circumstance. Today, due to economic decline and conflict, educated women with university degrees and students also sell food or goods to support their families and make ends meet. The diversity of these women is not only limited to the different regions they come from, but also in social, cultural, religious, marital, and educational backgrounds and life experiences. The notion of disrespect affects them equally. Being a working woman has moral implications. “Presently, Islamist ideology and misinterpreted religion subjugate women in Sudan, denying them their rights and freedom, and that’s why women are beaten and harassed in the streets. Islamist ideology claims to be supportive of women’s rights but such actions prove the opposite,” says Awadiya. She does not understand what is un-Islamic about working women. “Was not Khadija, the first and favourite wife of the Prophet a business woman and a very successful merchant?” she asks. Apart from that, the recent prejudices contradict both religion and Sudanese culture. Rural women in Sudan traditionally have always worked. In different ethnic groups they had their own farms, and had money to spend as they saw fit. In certain historic periods also urban working women in Sudan were not regarded with contempt. In the Sixties and Seventies, women worked in factories and ministries, and many were teachers, very few worked in markets. At that time also, women’s political participation was strong. Women activists and advocates called for “equal pay for equal work”, claimed an hour for working women to breastfeed their children, and advocated for end of service gratuity for women. Administration misinterpreting Islam

In 2000, Awadiya helped avert a governor’s draft bill that would prohibit women from working in the public sphere after 6pm, with the exception of schools and hospitals. She was one of three women to file a case at the Constitutional Court. Representative of markets across Khartoum, if one case succeeded, it could suspend the bill. A large amount of money was mobilised by the women and the campaign gained the attention of the international community until it was overturned.

“When you prohibit someone from doing something, you must offer an alternative,” Awadiya insists. Once, when her own produce and pots were confiscated in a raid in the evening, she spilt the milk she was selling on the ground so the men would not take it. Later, when the judge asked why, as a woman, she was working at night she replied: “Your honour, why are you working that late at night?” The mother of five was often questioned and hindered in her work but has a supportive family. “When I sold food, my husband chopped up the onions and carried my things for me. He has always stood against the laws that dehumanise and oppress women. He believes they are backward.” Hers is the steady, down-to-earth opposition against structures attempting to suppress a quintessential need of women to stay in motion, and to progress: work. A passionate leader, role model, and decision maker, her tireless labouring for justice engages women in the restoration of their rights and her message includes men: “We have to work together to raise children in the right way; to raise a democratic generation and to develop our society and country”. Oppression of women does not lead there. Miass Saif Abdelaziz, Edited.

The informal sector in Sudan encompasses a wide array of jobs, such as domestic work at the homes of wealthier families,

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Account of a Single Mother Whenever I ponder my life story, I think of potential wasted on oppressive standards in a collective society. In a social, political and legal framework which subdues women, and even more so single mothers, the decision to live by my own terms and values was never going to be easy. I wonder what my life would be like had I been born in a more progressive country with a stable justice system. I think I could have served my country productively, rather than spending years fending off attacks and working around obstacles. Mine could be the story of any woman and single mother in Sudan: an untold story of oppression and social exclusion. I grew up in my extended family’s paternal home with my grandparents, aunts and uncles. My father, a medical assistant, travelled a lot for work. He married a second wife, and my mom left him - and his extended family who she felt had orchestrated the second marriage. My grandfather was not well educated, but progressive in his thinking, and so was my grandmother. They valued education for all and invested in their girls and boys equally. They passed onto us the importance of knowledge, learning and good work ethics. My grandmother, beyond that, instilled in me the value of equality, a sense of freedom, and economic independence of women. Married to a wealthy leather merchant, she was provided for, but lived by the Sudanese proverb, “Let not your brother take control of your provision. He may give you and he may refuse”. She was breeding poultry and had a small business selling tobes, the delicate Sudanese women’s wrap around, for which she travelled to Khartoum and negotiated with Indian traders. After I graduated from university in the former Czech Republic in 1988, I got married back home in Sudan. A librarian, I would never further pursue the field I studied. I was blessed with three beautiful daughters. They were between two and six years old when my husband and I, after eight years of continuous fighting and disagreements, terminated our marriage. I discussed my plans for the girls with my father. My culture expects divorced or widowed women to return to their family of origin with their children. A woman living on her own is unheard of. Society does not trust women


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to be able to raise their children by themselves. It is ironic, though, that most Sudanese come from families where men’s presence is minimal because of polygamy or work. The same culture also discourages men’s direct involvement with children, because care giving is considered the natural role of women. Social expectations and misinterpretation of religious provisions create a dilemma. Divorced women, more than others, are treated like minors and placed under the guardianship of either their fathers or brothers. Although it is legitimate to divorce in Islam, the social order in place in Muslim communities like mine often silently punishes women for abandoning the institution of marriage. As if she were a time bomb which could hurt the family’s honour any time, an unwritten code of conduct is strictly imposed on her to control her life and movement in public and prevent any assumed humiliation. Despite these realities, I knew how I wanted to raise my daughters: as strong, independent women. I also wanted to keep a sense of normality after divorce which included not moving from our home and allowing the girls to continue going to the same school. My father listened to me carefully. He told me he supported me in my choice of how to raise my family. In theory, he said, my plans were great, well thought out and workable. He also said that I would face hostilities. Yet, he thought that it was my life to do with it as I pleased and that I had a chance to raise my daughters in the way I wanted. He encouraged me to be strong and be a great role model for women facing similar ordeals, adding that if I failed I would give society justification to continue controlling women. He was right about what I was up against. Shortly after I filed for divorce my ex-husband approached my father to hand over to him custody of my daughters. He instructed that I move back to my parents’ home in Kassala, for the girls to grow up under male guardianship and protection. My father told him that he had “no right to decide” how I live my life. The only right he had was to pursue custody for his children if he so wanted. A first battle had been won. I was working in an American organization headed by a Sudanese man. News of my marital status broke fast at my

Drawing by Amel Bashir, Sudan SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015



workplace – a personal detail that changed things for good. My colleagues and friends’ perception of me changed dramatically. I was subject to daily harassment, in particular by my director. I felt reduced from a respectable human being and mother to an object, easily available for hungry predators to consume. He assumed the right to stalk me and threatened to get me fired if I exposed him. It would be my word against his. Who would believe me against a powerful man, the director of an international agency? I needed the job. I rejected his advances and it cost me my job to keep my integrity. I went to universities, government organisations and companies to find a job. I had to wear hijab just to be allowed to enter their buildings, but the story was always the same: I could only get the job if I compromised my values and accepted sexual advances made by powerful men. My condition of being divorced became an obstacle to successful employment. I faced similar challenges with organisations headed by women. Just as the men did, they judged or criticised what I wore. They belittled me for being divorced or excluded me from company events and further training available to staff and outsiders. Often I was denied employee incentives and benefits and was paid very little money. Things got worse, school fees needed to be paid, and my heart broke each time I returned home empty handed and jobless, where three hungry mouths waited for me. I was running out of motherly miracles to feed them. There were days when I had to walk my daughter to the kindergarten although she was sick. She was little and I could neither leave her at home alone nor take her to work with me. We walked over a long distance under the scorching sun because I had no money for transportation, and I could not carry her all the way - I thought our misery would never end. Just when I thought things could not get worse, my exhusband’s friend paid me an unannounced visit one evening. Initially, I thought my ex-husband had sent him to mediate between us. This is a common practice among Sudanese


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people and a way of looking out for each other’s interests. Yet he did not mention anything about my husband. He seemed overly relaxed and made no move to leave even after he had been there for a long while. When I asked him to leave as I needed to help my daughters with their school work and with getting ready for bed, he bluntly told me he was planning on spending the night with me. When I again asked him firmly to leave my apartment, he asked me who I thought I was. Being what I am, he said insultingly, today it would be him, and tomorrow a different man. When I demanded he leave or I would call the police, he threatened to accuse me of prostituting myself. Once again I was put in a position where I could not defend my integrity. He was right. The police would not have been helpful, considering that the authorities defend a patriarchal system. They would have blamed me for being in a room with a man I am not married to. I ran from the apartment with the girls and locked him inside. My neighbour, an elderly widow who lives next door with her four daughters, had to watch as I unlocked the door and the intruder left without a word. My neighbour offered to help me beat him if he showed up again at my f lat. I no longer interact with male friends; several tried to take advantage of my situation. Female friends did not want to associate themselves with a divorcee and became protective of their spouses. To them, I became a potential seducer. My world became smaller and smaller. I ran out of options. I had no source of income and no support system to lean on. With no job in sight, I considered selfemployment. I decided to establish a small company for training, consultancy and developing libraries. Friends bought the idea and I used all my savings as capital to start. I prepared the paper work, sought legal advice and tried to meet all the requirements to establish the business. I was determined to make it work and the business did well in

the beginning. It had potential. Things changed when one of my co-partners expressed a desire to have a relationship. I was not interested and focused on my family. Out of this rejection he began sabotaging the company and compromising shareholders and business partners. He discredited me at the registry office and the legal office, and wrote letters claiming that I was an agitator against the governing system, a liar - and a divorced woman. Not long after that, our computers, fax and telephone were stolen from the office. A week later my apartment was burgled. I lost everything that was valuable to me. More than that, I found myself interrogated by men from the national security who began to bother me constantly. Some threatened my daughters. I was afraid for our lives. A friend convinced her husband to rent us a small room in their attic. It contained two beds, a small electric stove and a suitcase for our clothes. I resolved to work harder and to never leave my daughters alone. I made sure I took them to school and picked them up on time so no one would harm them. I tried to be both mother and father to them. It was a very rough journey. It was a life in insecurity providing for and protecting my girls. My daughters today reward my efforts with great discipline and intelligence, and with their appreciation for me as an individual and my efforts in raising them despite the struggles. Looking back, I am so proud of myself and my girls. Despite the arduous trek on a thorny path, we made it. They are all grown up. My oldest daughter graduated from the Faculty of Arts at a good university in Khartoum. My second daughter is about to graduate from the Faculty of Law at the same respected university, and my youngest is studying Rural Development and Sociology at the famous Ahfad University for Women in Sudan.

I have done my best to give them a decent life with what I had. More than that, I taught them the importance of independence, empathy and respect. I taught them about love, freedom and dignity. I tried to provide a democratic home where people share and discuss issues with respect. My daughters are open-minded young women who participate in life fully - and with free will. I want them to reach their full potential. There is an unseen war waged against women and particularly divorced women. The social condemnation of women coupled with the culture of shaming them and their silent punishment concerns everyone in society and needs to be addressed at religious, legal, police, familial and workplace levels. We need to review attitudes and regulations regarding the harassment of women. In fact, Islam respects the right of women and men both to marry and divorce if things do not work out. It promotes living in dignity. But our society is affected by distorted images about religion and confusing values about women which we have held for far too long. The result is a dysfunction in our society reflected in our current laws, interactions, and all other aspects of our lives. People like me, who oppose obsolete traditions, segregation and social injustice, are condemned by society. But it is a sacrifice I am willing to make to pursue human emancipation, and women’s rights for my daughters and fellow women in Sudan. In this, telling our stories and sharing experiences is a form of resistance. Shadia Abdelmoneim, Edited. From Arabic with translations by Regina Akok

SHADIA ABDELMONEIM, from Kassala, is a mother of three daughters, and a Sudanese blogger, political activist and a defender of human rights, especially women’s rights. A graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy of Charles University in Prague, she holds a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Juba. She has worked in a number of local and international organisations, and is among the founders of several civil society organisations in the field of women’s rights such as Tayba, No To Women’s Oppression and My Dignity.

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The Female Frontier A family visit was a reminder that women who fought the status quo are unlikely to support younger ones trying to do the same NESRINE MALIK was born in Sudan and was educated in Kenya, Egypt, Sudan and the UK. She is a writer and columnist with The Guardian based in London and an op-ed contributor to the New York Times, who specialises in Middle Eastern affairs and minority matters in the UK.

Copyright Guardian News & Media Ltd 2009


On a recent trip back to Sudan and Saudi Arabia to visit family, all my paternal uncles came to visit me. In Arab cultural tradition, they became my guardians when my father died – even though I now spend most of my time in London. As we met, I braced myself for awkward questions about the "impropriety" of living away from home and what would surely be the inevitable demand that I return. In fact, none of these were forthcoming. My uncles were polite and even a little curious about the nature of my work. Feeling that I had perhaps underestimated them, I breathed a sigh of relief, but then one of my paternal aunts appeared and said, unflinchingly and with an unsettlingly full sense of entitlement, "So, when are you coming back?" I stumbled in my response and looked to my mother, but she offered no support. "Yes Nesrine, when?" As a younger Arab/African woman growing up in a large traditional family, I always felt sympathy for my older female relatives. I saw them as victims, like the broken-winged Amina in the Cairo Trilogy, banished to her mother's house for daring to leave her marital home to pray in the mosque without her husband's permission. If the women in my family were ever mean-spirited, bitter or excessively voyeuristic – relishing scandal – I attributed this to their unhappiness and lack of fulfilment. It seemed to me ironic that there was such a romantic view of women, particularly mothers, in Arab and African culture. When the Prophet Muhammad was asked "Where do you find paradise?" he reportedly answered: "Paradise lies at the feet of mothers." In another famous hadith, frequently cited to rebut claims that Islam is inherently chauvinist, the Prophet answers the question, "Who among my kinfolk is worthy of my good companionship?" He replies, "Your mother" three times before saying, "Your father." As I grew older and became more familiar with the world of women, I saw the men in my family as less and less the petty female-obsessed guardians of the status quo and more like its final enforcers. When my Sudanese female cousin recently wed a white Canadian, the women of the family were whispering nastily on the wedding night at how the standards of the family had fallen, while the men maintained silence in the face of a fait accompli. The mothers, aunts and grandmothers mocked or criticised the men's silence behind their backs and saw themselves as the family's moral foundations, with the men wielding only material and physical power. I began to see that women were not the devoid-of-volition players I once thought they were. In fact, the most dominant

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forces in the subjugation of women appeared to be the older and more established women. While it is relatively easy for girls to build up the reserves of energy to confront emotionally distant fathers, uncles and other men in their lives, it is difficult to oppose female relatives, especially mothers who are in principle on your side, but in family politics are actually aligned elsewhere. When I was at school, it was not our fathers we feared when we were up to no good, but our mothers who were acutely attuned to those telltale changes in behaviour that only a mother can spot. This soft, tactile power is subtle. If men are the brute enforcers, mothers are the thought police, patrolling their daughter's mind, while other female relatives alert her to anything she might have missed. Cue the ubiquitous, fussy, interfering Auntie-ji character – matchmaking and meddling. While they may not be quite the kind who carry around photo albums of potential husbands (prevalent in Punjabi society) they still abound in Arab families. A veritable Rolodex of social networks, suitors and pithy oneliners (my own bete noire's favourite saying is "If you don't have what you like, then like what you have"), they are specialists in character assassination, deflating your achievements and, most infuriatingly, pressurising your mother just when you had talked her into talking your father round. This goes beyond the pervasive fear that someone, somewhere – younger, of course – might be having fun. In my experience at least, even fulfilled and apparently liberalminded women seem to bristle at younger ones challenging the status quo, or more precisely, challenging more of the status quo than they had done, stripping them of whatever forwardthinking uniqueness they imagined they had. A relative of mine, who became a pioneer in the 1970s by studying at a university in the US, was one of the main objectors to my studying in London, on the grounds that when she did it she was with a mahram (male guardian). The crossover point seems to be marriage. The happily unmarried woman is treated like an off-road vehicle that may damage and challenge the tidy spaces of married women who have arrived and finally inherited some role of authority, some credibility that they so painfully lacked when single. While this smug Bridget Jones divide may not be unique to more traditional societies, it further reinforces a barrier to female emancipation, a frontier that is less tangible, less exposed in the media and much more emotionally challenging. Nesrine Malik

“Marriage, Marriage” By Amin Albahari

Hmm... hmm... hmm... When I was little I played in the dust. Mama dressed me shoes and socks...

Mama, mama, look at my doll!

AMIN Albahari, born 1980, is a Sudanese animator and comic artist. Amin attended medical school in Sudan and is currently practicing Emergency Medicine in Dublin, Ireland. He founded Tartar Studio in 2011, a non-profit animation studio aiming to promote Sudan and its culture. In productions like “Marriage, Marriage”, Amin highlights how oppressive traditional concepts in society look at a woman’s life achievements as inferior to her getting married and children bearing.

What’s up Azza? What do you want? Think of getting married Azza!

Mama, mama, mama, mama..

Mama, mama! I passed, mama! Mama, mama, mama, I passed!

...t h


e g r adu a te

za , Az


M ah

mo u d Ab

de l A z

Mama, I passed, mama!

i z . ..

Azza, think of getting married!

Azza think of getting married!

Azza, think of getting married!



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. . .f o r


h e r at hle

t ic a

c h ie v

e me n t s .. .





Azza, think of getting married!

Azza, think of getting married!

Get on with it you good for nothing!

Ay o u y

o u yo u yo


u u. . .

. . .yo u yo u yo o u

u u.

Hehehehe... how’s it going auntie...


Azza, think of having kids!

Mother, I’m here. Welcome Azza.


Alhamdul’illah... may He keep you safe, may He bless you, may He keep you safe, may He bless you, may He keep you safe, may He...

The kids didn’t come with you Azza? They are here, coming behind me.



Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm... hmm, hmm... When I was little I played in the dust...

From Arabic by SAM BERNER


SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015

Watch the full film by Tartar Studio under: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_S4GdwZDFcY

Muslim Women of Darfur From pride to misery Women’s historical economic entitlements in traditional Darfur and their participation in the public sphere, tell of a rich cultural past where womanhood was more than being a victim of conflict. Islam and Darfur’s history have mutually influenced each other since the 13th century, when khalwas, Qur’anic schools, were established in Darfur and Islam flourished in its valleys and deserts. Darfuri people are known in Sudan for being passionate about their religion and its kings like Sultan Ali Dinar, who are famous for their generosity and staunch beliefs. His trek to Mecca at the beginning of the 20th century for pilgrimage to the holy Kaaba at Islam’s most sacred mosque, the Al Haram Mosque, is an oft recounted narrative in Sudan. A glance at the history of Sudan reveals frequent migration of people, cultural mixing, and intermarriage in this ancient land creating a diverse population with varied looks and languages, forging civilisations and famous kingdoms that have flourished for centuries. In history, the sub-Saharan strip stretching south to the northern rainforest, east to the coast of the Red Sea, and west to the Senegal River, called Bilad Al Sudan, was comprised of famous kingdoms such as the Kanem, Bornu, Bagermi, and Wadai Empires in Central Sudan, Sennar (1504-1821) in Eastern Sudan which is still a State in the current Republic of Sudan and among them the Songhai Empire, the Sokoto Caliphate and the kingdoms of Darfur (1445-1874) in Western Sudan. Since 2003, however, civil war has started to erase Darfur’s rich history. Recent memories tell of war, genocide and political conflict dominating a region previously renowned for its captivating landscape, cultural diversity, and wealth. The profound legacy of Islamic civilisation and thriving Sufi scholarship is overshadowed by narratives of injustice, displacement, and of rape and other kinds of violations of women - in stark contrast to a more dignified past. While experiencing a great deal of suffering and continuous assaults against them and their families, it is particularly the women of Darfur who remind you that above everything else they are women with dignity, not just victims of war. As Hawa Abdel Rasol a displaced woman from Al Malam says, “Just a few years ago when the government sought

donations to construct the road we, the women, gave from our gold and jewellery, taking rings and bracelets off our hands to give to the government. What have we become now?” And Fatima from Jogana, rural Grida, who also lives in a camp adds: “I was a primary school principle. I have worked all my life teaching girls over 30 years and serving this country as best I can. Now I don’t have a shelter over my head and I lost everything. My village has been burned down; my home is gone.” Traditionally, Darfuri women enjoyed a distinct social and economic status, especially those who belonged to sedentary tribes engaged in agriculture, such as the Fur, Daju, Tangor, and Masalit. Respect derived from the maternal lineage and women from royal families in the ancient Sultanates of Darfur enjoyed a high status in the community and had decision-making powers. An integral part of the complex historical and cultural events, women’s roles included selecting and appointing Sultans among others, which clearly illustrates a strong women’s presence in public life centuries ago. Traditional women leaders – the mayarem, sheikhat and habobat The mayarem were princesses - the daughters and sisters of the Sultan and female leaders in the Sultanate. The sheikhat were elderly women (female sheikhs) known for their wisdom and good counsel. The habobat were female elders who also crowned the Sultans according to rich traditional and religious rituals. No coronation was held unless the women leaders were consulted. Before coronation by the habobat, they initiated the new Sultan by narrating stories about former Sultans. Specifically, they stressed on their good qualities including generosity, bravery, impartiality, and piety. They explained how former Sultans embraced unity and encouraged reconciliation between conflicting parties both within and outside the Sultanate. There were stories about Sultans who were successful in governing their territories and others who maintained and safeguarded equality and justice in addition to other characteristics of magnanimity. The habobat also advised the new Sultan about pitfalls to avoid in managing the Sultanate affairs.

FATMA SULAIMAN GHAZALI MOHAMED, a writer and columnist from El Obeid in Sudan, holds a B.A. in Journalism and Publication from the University of Qur’an and Islamic Sciences and a Master in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution from the University of Juba. She has worked with Sudanese newspapers, including Al Dustour and Al Watan and has a column titled Bela Enhena’a (No Bowing). After covering the civil war in Darfur and displacement camps, she was motivated to be more engaged in human rights issues. She has a profound interest in women’s cases, especially in conflict.

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In her book The History of Women in Darfur, Fatma Mohamed Al Hassan, a writer and researcher on Darfur’s heritage, notes that apart from a prominent status of women and their role in decision making displayed in the process of selecting the Sultan, they usually played pivotal

“Just a few years ago when the government sought donations to construct the road, we, the women, gave from our gold and jewellery, taking rings and bracelets off our hands to give to the government. What have we become now?” roles also in the area’s economy. In addition to cultivating farmlands (hawakir), the owners also managed the affairs of the farmlands and the inhabitants. Farmland was given to the mayarem in appreciation of their political role in the Sultanate. They utilised revenues from agriculture to extend social services to the needy in form of grants and donations to Qur’anic schools and mosques. Women in Darfur were also highly skilled in handcrafts, food manufacture and food storage. They perfected the manufacture of prayer mats and other necessities for khalwas and mosques in different parts of Sudan. The mayarem farmlands were highly fertile, thus guaranteeing a high yield. Ordinary women who were successful in producing a large crop could join the ranks of the mayarem after an evaluation by the makashi, the collector of taxes and the zakat 1, religious dues. Many Darfuri women were great models in managing the farms and food production. Based on their profound religious values, women gave generously to charities, to the poor, to passersby, and to soldiers going out to war. Darfur’s heritage of women’s economic rights, managerial skills and political functions A well-known mayrem in Darfur history, Kaltoma Turgum owned farmland south of Nyala. She bought palm trees in Egypt and Iraq from the revenues of her agriculture and gave dates to the needy people and passersby. Kaltoma created strong diplomatic relations in the countries where she bought the palm trees. Other women leaders like Taja and Zamzam were famous for their horsemanship and war skills. Zamzam, in particular, taught horsemanship and martial arts to the kingdom’s youth. When Zamzam and the Sultan of the time had a disagreement, she migrated to Hofrat Al Nahas, south of Darfur near Western Bahr Alghazal State of the current Republic of South Sudan, where she established Qur’anic schools and stayed for two years. The Sultans of Darfur relied on women for news in the kingdom and for public opinion. The women regularly fed


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information they gathered to the Sultan through direct and indirect messages and deployed culture to help the Sultans make royal resolutions. For example, the haboba, the mother of a mayrem used a food dish called the mandola to transmit her messages. She made a specific drawing on the lid of the utensil before sending it to the Sultan. Depending on the subject matter of the message, the Sultan acted upon it or sent it back for clarification or reconsideration. About a century ago, West African Tuareg 2 entered the Darfur region, fleeing from French troops. Known in Darfur as kinin, they however created so much havoc that the women of Darfur sang: “Allah Almighty, the kinin have killed all of us including the infant whose age is less than 40 days.” Hearing this song, the Sultan ordered them expelled from Darfur, then relented and settled for disarming them only. The title ayabasi was given to an important woman, usually the Sultan’s sister, who then became a dignitary and enjoyed particular authority. She was no less than the priest or sheikh, and often her powers were greater than the queen mother’s. At public functions she was frequently seen riding her horse and speaking with anybody who approached her. The famous ayabasi Zamzam for example, a crucial figure in the history of Darfur during the reign of Sultan Hussein, was such a powerful figure in the kingdom that the Sultan himself feared her and did not dare disagree with her. A Sultan’s main two wives were typically highly regarded, yet not promoted to the status of senior State officials. The ayakari, or wife of the Sultan, was responsible for managing his quarters. Although she did not interfere in the kingdom’s governance, she had influence on the Sultan that could at times cause competition to the ayabasi. She was followed in rank by the second wife responsible for putting the turban and cloak on the Sultan, and whose title derived from her function: the Om Somonuq Dakhola was responsible for supervising the official guards of the barracks called the Somonuq Dakhola. Women with dignity not just victims Nevertheless, women’s situation in Darfur was not perfect under customary laws, and the local culture cannot be romanticised given the prevalence of early marriages, polygamy, domestic violence, and traditional suppression of ordinary women among both settled and nomadic tribes. However, today, the women of Darfur have been pushed to

Painting by NUSRELDIN ELDOUMA, Sudan

the lowest levels of social structure as a result of violence that occurred with the eruption of war in the region in 2003. Since then, being a woman in Darfur has been reduced to a narrative of violence, rape, and destruction, erasing previous perspectives on women. Clearly, their past depicts Darfuri women’s traditional opportunities to be self-reliant, to produce, and participate in economic development. It also shows them to be hard working farmers and adept homemakers. All this has been turned upside down to the grim reality witnessed today – with many women now lacking the most basic conditions of a decent life, such as security and having to depend on small subsidies from benevolent donors. The women in Darfur are descendants of a great history that enabled them to contribute to Sudanese culture in general and Darfuri civilisation in particular. An exalted history is being discarded from the memory of the young Sudanese generations with long-term consequences.

One of the greatest damages resulting from these senseless wars in Sudan is a loss of identity and ignorance of the region’s history and remarkable heritage to develop further and derive identity from. The Sudanese must address this to avoid being perceived as victims only and to regain responsibility for their own identity. Without one’s heritage the ability to move forward is lost and instead, people are doomed to wander aimlessly, shadows of themselves, as it happened to others who have surrendered to the idea that they are just victims. Compiled by Fatma Sulaiman Ghazali, Edited. From Arabic with translations by Shaima Mahmoud

References • Inspired by Fatma Mohamed Al Hassan’s book The History of Women in Darfur • Darfur Crisis, The Role of Traditional Leaders in Dealing with Violence Against Women, by Dr. Youssuf Takna


eligiously R motivated tax, which is meant to cleanse or purify one’s wealth for the will of God


he Tuareg T (endonym Imuhagh) are Berber people with a traditionally nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. They are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa

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OPEN LETTER Nadia Waldo completed her primary and secondary education in the Comboni Catholic Schools in Khartoum, and graduated from Sudan University with a BA in Accounting. She currently works in a development organisation.

To m y Country

I was born and raised in Sudan; my great-grandparents on both my father’s and mother’s side were also. I speak Sudanese Arabic, eat and cook Sudanese food, and dress like Sudanese do. I have Sudanese humour, I feel, sing and dance Sudanese. I am Sudanese of Eritrean origin - one of many ethnic groups that make up the diverse people of Sudan. Eritrean migration and settlement in Sudan is centuries-old, during which border tribes have naturally interacted and belonged to both countries whilst others have migrated for political reasons, like my ancestors, who arrived to Sudan in the 18th century. They rolled up their sleeves and established business es here, and their academic qualifications and command of the Italian, English and Arabic languages in addition to their mother tongue qualified them to help the modern Sudanese State. One of them was a General in the Sudan Defence Force, the seed of the modern Sudanese army. In the Sixties, the generation of my parents and uncles worked in various State bodies, like banks and as civil servants. I was born in Khartoum in 1986. We were a Christian family among a majority of Muslim families. Interaction with our neighbours has always been characterised by the friendliness and affection common in Sudanese neighbourly relations. We attend all their occasions and they attend ours, in accordance to Sudanes e tradition. My family has also had long-term friendships and business relations with Sudanese families of different origins, including Greek, Christian Syrian, Lebanese, and of course Italian. My mother, who was raised by nuns who taught her skills like cooking, sewing and embroidery, is a great cook, and prepares Sudanese, Ethiopian, Lebanese and Italian dishes at special occasions to experience different food cultures, while our daily meals consist of Sudanese dishes. My father’s strict upbringing entailed teaching us to respect others’ beliefs while holding on to our right of worship. My mother is a devout practicing Christian and a regular churchgoer who devotes some of her time for serving in the church. My brothers and I are members of a Christian youth group that collects food and support for flood victims as well as prepares meals and buys groceries for needy families during Ramadan. Our extended family is religiously diverse, like many Sudanese families are. Some of my maternal aunts and a cousin are Muslims. She usually fasts during Ramadan at our place, and this imbues our home with spirituality and a sacred joy. We all make sure to come home to attend the iftar rituals. One of the most enjoyabl e Ramadan evenings is the big feast my father always prepares for a large number of my parents’ Muslim friends, whom they know from their school years, and where we all enjoy stories and mutual memories. The religious diversity and toleranc e I grew up was extended also to Christians of other denominations. Once, on the first day of my high school complet ion exams, my mother took my pen to an Eritrean Catholic priest, who was known to be a pious and holy man, for him to bless it, although we are Protestant Christians. I grew up with the Islamic religion. I know many Qur’anic verses by heart, and I understand Islamic jurisprudence and worship, however, the idea of changing my religion and converting to Islam never occurred to me. I would not face problems with my family if I did, since my parents are very open-mi nded and tolerant. They raised us in the spirit of democracy and freedom of choice. I just feel like a faithful Christian. As a large family with devout Christians and moderate Muslims among us, we did not experience alienation for most of our lives, in the traditionally loving and welcoming Sudanese commun ity to which a natural religious tolerance is inherent. We did not feel any difference. Things changed dramatically, in the early Nineties. My paternal grandfather was a very open-minded and well-read man and my uncles grew up to be like him. Well educated, with interests in literature, journalism and politics, they were left-wing , including my father, although he was never involved in politics. But he was interested in publishing. He published a book about the Pope and was awarded a medal from the Vatican for it. This outraged the authorities. At the time, I did not understand why, but time would show that it had marked the beginnings of a new tendency of supressing any religion other than Islam in Sudan. My father’s assets were confiscated, including the publishing house which was our source of income. He and my uncle were thrown in prison for two years. We were penniless after having been well-off. This was a turning point in my life. My mother’s suffering to provide food, pay school fees and look after my grandfather and grandmother while my father was in prison, hurt me deeply. In those difficult times I lost my sense of security. Difficulties continued as I enrolled at university. As the clerk at the registration office read my full name he questioned whether I was Sudanese. To my reply that I was, he asked, “How could that be? Are you Muslim?” It was said in a sarcastic and disrespectful manner. I said no, I was Christian. I was just being made aware of a new type of treatment that neither my parents nor grandparents had experienced before. Some of my colleagues did not easily, or some not at all, accept my religion. On numerous occasions some of them would volunteer to convert me to Islam, often in a rude and hurtful manner. I would hear comments about me being the fuel for fire in hell on judgement day. I would be asked about the hijab a lot. I would be criticised if I ate a few biscuits during the day in Ramadan, questioning my being Sudanese for not following the Muslim fast. There were many nice students, who did not bother about my religion; however, the extremist minority was a source of lots of trouble. An incident followed, where I could not sit for exams, after the universit y guard banned me from entering the campus: I was not wearing a head scarf. Telling him I was Christian made things worse. The Sudanese think of Christians as either


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white (Egyptian Copts and Europeans) or black (from South Sudan or the Nuba mountains). The fact that I am brown like them makes them perceive my being Christian as a fraud. This displays racism towards those “white” and “black” ethnicities, whose religious orientation doesn’t count. My ethnic origins suddenly suggested that I am less of a Sudanese inside out. In addition to that, being female meant that I also had to abide by a certain look. I had to follow a dress code that had recently been imposed on Muslim women, in order to avoid punishment and oppression, as women are at the centre of such discourse and under observation in this regard. In 2011, my mother, my brother and I thought of going on holidays. As we were researching options that suited our budget and interests, many Sudanese friends recommended the advantages and beauty of holidaying in Asmara, the Eritrean capital. So, Asmara became a good option since we had never visited Eritrea before. We were very excited and began preparations by booking a hotel and reserving the tickets. As Sudanese, we had to obtain a visa for Eritrea. Ironically, the Eritrean authorities refused to grant us a visa because our passports were Sudanese while our names were Eritrean. At that moment, I felt we were in Greek mythological Lapidus, the permanent abode for lost tortured souls, those who died and did not receive proper burial rituals that would qualify them to enter heaven or hell. It was bewildering. We went to Syria instead. I am just as startled by the question of identity that the Sudanese have begun to address recently. For me, it is a malicious and sly question. The Sudanese are Sudanese. There is ethnic, religious and cultural diversity and in my opinion, it is what gives the Sudanese this beautiful social wealth. No matter how different their origins, features, cultures, colours and religions are, they remain Sudanese. It is an identity on its own, and it does not need to be built on Islam or Arabism. This idea of searching for an identity that has prevailed over the last twenty years is part of an endeavour that discriminates between citizens on religious basis. Does it make sense to consider a family that has been living in Sudan for three centuries to be non-Sudanese just because they are Christian? After how many centuries does one qualify? And did not the Arab influence itself also arrive one day? Sudan, before Islam, was a group of small Christian States. What does this current Islamic project aim at by discriminating between the Sudanese based on ethnic and religious grounds? An organised attack on Christians of all denominations can be noticed and a political momentum is obvious - pressure increases and decreases according to how much a particular denomination appeases the system. Incidents such as the burning of the church in Gireif, the sale of a church in Khartoum North to business investors, arrests of parishioners during prayers, and recent arrests by Public Order police to discriminate against 12 young Christian women, reflect a pattern of attacks on the Anglican Church. Its followers are Sudanese of different ethnic backgrounds, most of them from the Nuba Mountains, which suggests that getting rid of Sudanese Christians is primarily a political act. The Sudanese are used to religious diversity and freedom. The Islamism forced upon them, the extremism and religious violations we are experiencing now, are owed to temporary policies undermining the rich Sudanese identity in favour of an Arab Muslim project. This poses a great danger to the inner peace of the Sudanese community. Being a Christian, or of any religion, cannot become a reason to be afraid neither from judgement, nor from persecution, and yet there is a threat. On one occasion, I was questioned about a Muslim friend and warned about taking her to church with me. I had invited her to my cousin’s wedding. Someone told me bluntly that they would report me to the authorities on an evangelising charge if “it” happened again. Beyond striking fear among people and creating divisions in society, this presents a violation of social, religious and personal freedoms; as someone is trying to impose on you who to befriend and who to avoid based on their religion. In my opinion, public policies opened the door for such ugly behaviour. Reclaiming the space it occupies has to start within the community. My Sudanese brothers and sisters, check your hearts and your conscience.You are tolerant. Religion aims at the advancement of society, whereas religious discrimination is a hallmark of social decline. If religious discrimination has increased, we must ask ourselves what our role is in spreading religious tolerance and respecting religious freedom so that our society can live in peace and advance. We have to be kind to each other - that is Sudanese. I have never been to Eritrea, nor have my parents. I feel ambiguous in Eritrean celebrations, especially weddings where I marvel at the beautiful rituals which are so different. At the bride’s henna night, called kabro, when everybody dresses in beautiful white Eritrean attire and dances to the rhythm of Eritrean drums and music, I used to get a feeling of nostalgia. I feel that part of me belongs to this magic, but I find myself loving Eritrean music and rituals as a Sudanese - from a distance. When I wear the zuria, the traditional Ethiopian attire made of cotton, I feel its exotic beauty dressed on a Sudanese girl. All my memories are among my Sudanese peers. I dance with them at weddings, comfort them at funerals and recite the fatiha with them. I understand the Sudanese mentality more than any other. My culture is Sudanese, my behaviour is Sudanese, and our home is a Sudanese home; we eat kisra and mullah, and both my mother and grandmother wear the Sudanese tobe. Being treated like a foreigner makes me feel extreme oppression and loss, especially when I am asked to go back home. I am Christian Sudanese; I have no other home.

Nadia Waldo Khartoum, 23 June 2015

Recorded by Shadia Abdelmuneim, Edited. From Arabic by Sam Berner

Who is your letter addressed to? Do you want to contribute to the advancement of equality and fairness in society or tell us your story that challenges gender norms for the better? Are you a writer who wants to contribute to the growing voices against prejudice and gender inequality in Islam? Send us your open letter, your feedback, article or essay at: journal@sihanet.org

Sha re your thoughts !!!

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Sitaad: Somali women’s traditional devotional space In a bold attempt by a Somali author to write about a subject which has been ignored, AHMED IBRAHIM AWALE in his book, probably the first in Somali language completely devoted to the subject matter, introduces the Sufi women’s religious practice in Somalia known as sitaad, a cultural practice which claims women’s right to learn and practice their faith.

Looking into the history of sitaad and its place in the Somali culture reveals the transformation sitaad has gone through during the past two decades, and the impact of contemporary revivalist Islamic movements on its continuity. Women of sitaad have played an important role in disseminating some basic teachings and facts about Islam within the circles of womenfolk, but faced lamentable attitudes of men that deprived them the right to learn and practice their faith. Women were in most situations seen as “servants”, who assisted their husbands in fulfilling the latter's spiritual journey that leads them to paradise ( jannah). In the book, more than a dozen songs are presented from a large body of devotional literature discussing a wide range of topics such as spirituality, fidelity, peace building and philanthropy, documenting different aspects of the socio-economic and spiritual significance of the practice, such as resource mobilisation for holding the sitaad session and descriptions of the venue and ritual functions. Religious panegyrics and a yearning to connect with spiritual foremothers Sitaad is a genre of religious panegyrics laced with spirituality and a yearning to emulate, eulogise and fuse with some respected, earlier women of Islam – most notably Fatimah, the daughter of Prophet Mohamed and even others who lived before the coming of Islam such as Xaawa (Eve). Xaawaleey, a term meaning women in Somali language directly translated as “the party of Eve”, alludes to that common bond and shared identity among women which transcends time and space. Islamic texts are hung on the wall and perfumes and frankincense are important elements in the sitaad ritual


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Other than its spiritual significance, sitaad is a medium where women may turn up to temper any

negative feelings troubling them, and eventually it assists them to reconcile with the reality of the world they live in. When the chanting, often accompanied by clapping and drumming, reaches its climax, some participants pass into

in Islam. A woman who is regarded as a raalliyo can be contrasted with an arliyo, an unruly and rebellious one, who would challenge her husband’s guidance or take over in decision-making. The history of sitaad The world “sitaad ” originates from the Arabic term “sayidaat” (literally: Mistresses) – a direct reference to some respected early women of Islam. There is no accurate information on when sitaad was first introduced into the Somali peninsula. According to a popular tradition, however, it is believed that Fatimah, the daughter of Prophet Mohamed was the initiator of sitaad, and, while pregnant with Hassan and Hussain, she organised a feast for poor women and children, and by that noble act asked or begged Allah earnestly for a safe delivery. The tradition which was extended to the present day is maintained in what is known among the Somali women as taraaraysi – a ritual which is performed during the seventh to ninth month of the pregnancy.

AHMED IBRAHIM AWALE is a development worker and a writer based in Hargeisa. He has passion for environmental protection and the ancient history of the Somalis. His other published books include: Environment in Crisis (Qaylodhaan Deegaan, 2010); Dirkii Sacmaallada (The Progeny of Cow Milkers, 2012); and The Mystery of the Land of Punt Unravelled, 2013.

Organised, led and participated only by women, sitaad sessions extend religious and moral support and advice

religious ecstasy ( jibbo), after which, it is said, they later emerge stronger, relieved, full of optimism and energy to face the challenges of their immediate future. For children, sitaad is a festive occasion, and for wayfarers a place where they can quench and satiate their thirst and hunger respectfully. In contrast to many local contemporary women-run institutions focusing on female empowerment programs in the country, whose actions are often looked at by most men with suspicion, the women of sitaad never use it as a forum to conspire against men or challenge their hegemony. Instead, they use it as a medium for consoling those who suffered bereavement or experienced misfortune, helping the sick and the poor, as well as conjoining the good and advising against evil deeds. Every woman of sitaad wants to be identified with the ideal character of raalliyo (the good woman, who is subordinate, pious and virtuous) which is synonymous to the Arabic word mar’at-u-saliha and has a place of esteem

Still, some scholars attribute sitaad to nonIslamic Oromo songs for Atete, the goddess of fertility1. It is noteworthy that Somalis were also worshippers of Waaq (the Cushitic God) prior to the arrival of Islam in the Horn of Africa. In tracing the origin and development of sitaad, a direct link can be established between the Somali Sufi religious orders2 and sitaad. Some of the most popular Sufi orders in the Somali context are Qaadiriya, Ahmediya and Saalihiya. Qaadiriya is believed to be the oldest and has been around in the Somali peninsula since the 15th century. Therefore, it is very likely that sitaad developed in parallel with these male-dominated institutions, providing a devotional space for women. Sitaad also encompasses the oldest form of organised social work in Somali history that women turn to for issues relating to their spiritual and socio-economic needs. Core functions of sitaad Charity Benevolence, generosity and solidarity for the poor, infirm, sick and other vulnerable members of the community

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are some of the key aspects of sitaad. These attributes are eloquently described in the following song. It is on the basis of these humane and sublime ideals that such a strong social welfare bond among women through sitaad thrived for such a long period. Kuwii kici waayay kaalmeeyaa la yidhi; Waa is dhaantaane isu dhiibaa la yidhi; Kuwii goolmoon u garaababaa la yidhi; Middii dhaliwayday u dhabreeyabaa la yidhi; Middii gambo wayday gobol siiyabaa la yidhi. Extend your generosity to those among you who are infirm; verily that is what has been said to you; You are better off than another in terms of material resources, Pass the charity among you, from hand to hand; verily that is what has been said to you; Accept the argument of those among you who are in need; verily that is what has been said to you; Lend you back to the service of elderly barren women; verily that is what has been said to you; Give a strip (of cloth) to those who cannot afford a head cover; verily that is what has been said to you.

Cover picture: Suzanne Lilius

Sitaad: Is-dareen Gelinta Diineed ee Dumarka Soomaaliyeed, 2013, in English: Somali Women’s Self-teaching in Islam through Sitaad, by Ahmed Ibrahim Awale, Copenhagen: Liibaan Publishers. Writers who have studied the topic include Lidwien Kapteijns with Maryan Omar Ali, Francesca Declich and Marja Tiilikainen.


In the song above, the refrain “la yidhi” – that was said to you – alludes to Qur’anic and hadith 3 injunctions and instructions, as well as others in different bodies of Islamic literature. The reported form of the tense underlines the fact that even the scanty religious knowledge that women circulated among themselves came through the agency of men, as women in the past had no direct access to Islamic education and knowledge. Rain-making Drought episodes, though less common in the past than nowadays, used to be a recurring phenomenon that, during bad years caused a lot of suffering, including loss of human and animal lives. Therefore, the women of sitaad used to hold alle-bari 4, in the form of supplications asking Him earnestly to bring them rain and ease the hardships of drought and its effects. One of the particular rituals in a rain-making session, contrasting with the common congregational prayers led by men, is conducted as follows. After the main sitaad rituals, mostly devotional songs, once everyone present has been fed

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to his or her fill, the leader of the congregation calls loudly: “Tumaa Xaawaleey ah, oo xilo janno ah, oo ninkeeda u xil qarisa?” (Who among you is a true personification of Eve, and at the same time faithful to her husband, and keeps his secret and never betrays him?) These criteria also allude to an understanding that a woman who should respond to such a call is free from adultery and/or pre-marital sex. As everyone in the congregation is in anticipation of that woman, one of them stands up and emphatically says in public: “I am a true personification of Eve, faithful to my husband, I keep his secret and never betray him”. All of a sudden, the group turns to the direction of the woman and with admiration starts ululating. Immediately, her left hand small finger will be tied with a string and then she is asked to beseech God for his mercy (rain). She will say: Allahayow far beyxidhan; Fartuna waa faryarobidix; Allahayow biyaan xaday; Allahayow I soo furo! O Allah, a finger of mine is tied; And it is the left small finger; O Allah, I stole some water; O Allah, please compensate for that stolen water! To fulfill the ritual, an act of dragging the woman in the dust (for which she will volunteer) follows, while the empty pots and pans are picked by others to imitate as if they are scooping water from the ground. Then, as 86-year-old Awo Jama narrated to me, “Immediately after the roob-doon, the rain making, clouds used to gather and the settlement was relieved of the drought”. The foregoing process is deemed by many contemporary sheikhs as un-Islamic. But actually, those women understood that beseeching God with the agency of good personal deeds can be instrumental to His approval of the supplications. This is also in accordance with a hadith quoted from Prophet Mohamed, narrated by Bukhari, concerning three men who were locked in a cave, after a huge boulder had rolled onto the entrance and barred them from exiting the cave. The men did everything to push the rock aside, but with no success. Finally, they beseeched God with their most remarkable past pious deeds, and, as the hadith goes, it had the miraculous effect of freeing them from the rock prison.

Peace-building In a country where tribal conflicts used to be (and still are) a recurring feature, women and children are generally more vulnerable to the ensuing suffering, in comparison to the

is taking new forms where its practice is being extended to many new settings, for example, marriage ceremonies, farewell parties and welcome events for women returning home after a long stay in a foreign country. The different Somali communities across the length and breadth of the country are also experiencing a new trend of cultural revival, characterised by the popularity of traditional dances, dresses and folklore which will play a role in turning the tide that has almost burned the past. Those developments, along with the sharp interest sparked by the book presented here, may usher a new lease of life for sitaad and encourage the continuity of this rich tradition. AHMED IBRAHIM AWALE

Photos by Marja Tiilikainen, Finland Some women may experience religious ecstasy

male combatants. Even if women should be spared from the edge of the sword (according to traditional rules women, children and the elderly persons were categorised as bir-mageydo, those whom one should not take arms against for the purpose of harming them), the psychological damage on them was painful. Therefore, the women of sitaad used to hold sessions of solemn prayers seeking God’s intervention in defusing standing tensions between different clans. Sitaad in today’s Somalia Since the coming of the modern Islamic reform movements in Somalia since the late Sixties of the last century, and their onslaught on almost all forms of traditional practices which have been interpreted as un-Islamic, there has been an apparent decline in the practice of sitaad. This is more visible in the urban centers where the influence of such movements is very strong. However, in the rural areas, particularly among pastoralists, sitaad is still not dented by those new developments. Even in the urban areas, rather than being thought to be dying, sitaad

Bibliography Kapteijns, Lidwien, 1999. Somali Women’s Songs for the First Ladies of Early Islam. ISIM Newletter 3(1): 27 Kapteijns, Lidwien with Maryan Omar Ali, 1999. Women’s Voices in a Man’s World. Women and the Pastoral Tradition in Northern Somali Orature, c. 1899–1980. Portsmouth, NH: Heinmann Tiilikainen, Marja, 2010. Sitaat as Part of Somali Women’s Everyday Religion. In Marja-Liisa Keinänen (ed.): Perspectives on Women's Everyday Religion. Stockholm: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis, 203–218 Lewis, I. M.1998. Saints and Somalis: Popular Islam in Clan-based Society. London: Haan Associates Abdullahi, Mohamed Diiriye, 2001. Culture and Customs of Somalia. Westport: Greenwood Press Cawaale, Axmed Ibraahin, 2012. Dirkii Sacmaallada: Meel kasoo jeedka Soomaalidii Hore (Sooyaal, Rumayn, Ilbaxnimo). Hargeisa: Iftin Press

First published in: Afrikan Sarvi - Horn of Africa Journal 1/2014, under: http://afrikansarvi. fi/72-artikkeli/211sitaad-somaliwomen-s-traditionaldevotional-space Publisher: Finnish Somalia Network 1

K apteijns 1998


t uruq; sing., tariqa, "way" or "path"


c ollections of traditions including sayings of the Prophet Mohamed


a ceremonial act of beseeching God

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What Manliness Is to Me Working for Women’s Rights “My mother will beat me if she sees you with me,” she used to say when I asked her how she was. The neighbour’s daughter, the second of ten children, never attended school. While her five brothers did, she woke at dawn to do house chores and would not rest till late at night. At 29, she was not allowed to own a mobile or talk to young men. Her mother would beat her frequently for minor offences. Once, I remember she was clobbered with a stick for being late with dinner for her brothers who had come in from playing football.

ABDIFATAH HASSAN ALI, was born in Mogadishu in 1987 as the only son in a family of four, and has a degree in Information Technology from SIMAD University. Previously a teacher at a school for internally displaced people (IDPs) outside Mogadishu during the war, he currently works for Somalia Women Development Center (SWDC), a civil society organisation empowering women and as the Country Coordinator for Somalia on behalf of SIHA Network, the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa. He is married and has one daughter.

One day, her mother came to tell my sister to stop my sister’s daughter from schooling because eventually, she should get married and leave her mother anyway. Before my sister could reply, I said “You want to make my niece like your daughter? This will never happen.” I began to dig into girls’ education and women’s rights. As a young man, I witnessed my younger sisters being violated verbally in a shocking manner by school boys of a young age. As the only boy in my family, it was my responsibility to defend them. But I also felt the need to empower them and make sure they understood that it was not their fault and those acts were not acceptable.

My parents never had the opportunity to go to school. In traditional Somali families education is not given much priority, but they sacrificed a lot to have us educated. They left us in Somalia to go and work in Saudi Arabia. My mother suffered violence and humiliation during 15 years as a migrant domestic worker. My father who worked in construction, fell from a building one day and lay in hospital paralysed for two years before he passed away. My mother became the only caretaker and breadwinner. Seeing her work so hard to better our lives inspired me and I could not comprehend why society mistreated women. This contrast spurred my interest in investigating gender inequality. Traditional Somalia is a patriarchal, maledominated society where women are second class citizens. They are not considered mature adults, but are dependents of their male guardians. When a baby girl is born, it is common for families to be unhappy, and to express preference for a boy. From an early age, a Somali girl labours at


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home: washing, cleaning the house, cooking, but she eats her brothers’ leftovers. She will not go to school or, if she does, she will drop out at puberty when she marries a man she has never met before. If her husband mistreats her, going back home is not an acceptable option. The family is likely to send her back. My uncle was different. He is also a well-known and respected man in our community who promotes gender equality in education. He managed to enroll two of my sisters at school even though several members of my family opposed him. They believed that it is a shame for girls to go to school and accused him of trying to change tradition and our culture. All three of my sisters attended school, and two of them eventually obtained a Bachelor’s Degree. Watching how my uncle countered traditional beliefs that reject education inspired me to take my own education seriously. It also taught me the benefit of having an education to do positive things around you and help build a better society. He taught me to work hard in every aspect of my life. It is due to the education I enjoyed that I can differentiate between culture and religion. This is key for my work as a women’s rights activist. SWDC, the Somali Women Development Center, a local organisation promoting women’s human rights, access to justice and participation in politics and decision making was my gateway into women's rights activism. Working in a predominantly female environment is nothing strange for me. I have always been surrounded by women: my mother and my aunt who raised me for a long time, my three sisters, my wife, and now I have a baby girl. I think it opened my eyes to their realities. Society confuses tradition, culture, and religion. People falsely believe women’s subjugation to be part of a Muslim man’s identity. The Qur’an clearly shows that Islam intends to uplift women and has a high regard for them. Islam

supports my work of promoting women’s rights. As a Muslim in Somalia, being a man is an advantage. It gave me the opportunity to learn about my religion and practice it without being hindered by misinterpretations of it. Women here do not have that privilege.

Some fellow men think I should do a more ‘manly’ job than defending women’s rights. In several situations I have been insulted and humiliated by fellow men. Once, when travelling downtown, security officers at a check point asked me if I was perhaps cleaning women’s clothes because my ID card says Somali Women Development Centre.

Growing up in Mogadishu life was affected by a war which lasted more than 22 years. Like many Somalis, I have been in and out of displacement camps from the age of three. War and the collapse of community structures render women particularly vulnerable. Mass displacement due to ongoing armed conflicts exposes women and children to grave living conditions and poses multiple threats like poverty, lack of education, and gender-based violence. Sexual violence has become an epidemic within the Somali society and is accelerated by a lack of access to justice. The perpetrators’ clan power and supremacy results in their impunity, backed up by traditional beliefs. It saddens me to see women being treated like that. It makes me feel ashamed. Ultimately, it means stripping someone of their basic human rights and it just feels wrong to me. There are men who criticise the work I do. They do not understand why I work to improve women’s lives. Most of them do not even know that women are subjugated. They are unaware of the concept of gender altogether. Even educated men still believe in traditional norms which ascribe a subordinate position to women and restrict their freedom of movement. Those who allow women to work believe in a limited capability of females which qualifies them for careoriented jobs only, like teaching and nursing, which are not far from their roles as mothers and home makers. Technical and decisive professions like Engineers, Police Officers, and Military Officers, are typically seen as male jobs. Some fellow men think I should do a more ‘manly’ job than defending women’s rights. In several situations I have been insulted and humiliated by fellow men. Once, when travelling downtown, security officers at a check point asked me if I was perhaps cleaning women’s clothes because my ID card says Somali Women Development Centre. Being a women’s rights defender has been very challenging in this patriarchal context but I am willing to accept this challenge as I strongly believe that a change needs to be made and equality to be reached. Traditional attitudes change slowly. After extensive advocacy of local and international pressure groups, the 2012 Garowe Principles were adopted, a governance framework for Somalia, which provides for a 30% quota for women’s political participation. However, this rate was not reflected in the road map and bylaws of the country and as a result in the 2012 elections, women

MPs received only 14% of votes. This was inf luenced by clan elders and the local perception that women are meant to stay at home. Society expects women not to partake in social decision making, and thus there are no women elders or female clan leaders. I place my hope in working for change. Despite their subordinate position, women in Somalia are very resourceful actors in their families and communities. For the last two decades, due to the war, they have been the bread winners and heads of households. Women have gained grounds. Indeed, an ongoing political and gender revolution in Somalia has opened new windows of opportunities for women. For the first time in history, a female Minister of Foreign Affairs was nominated, Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adan, who also served from 2012 to 2014 as Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia, a position which most African countries would not accept to be held by women. More girls are now attending schools and in one university in Mogadishu over 90% of students are girls. Civil society organisations play a more crucial role in advocating for women’s political participation and provide trainings to young women, preparing them to be political candidates in the 2016 elections. Manliness to me is about being a good father, a respectful and attentive husband and son, and a good brother; to feel responsible for my family and everyone around me. I try to make men more aware of women’s rights and use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to highlight issues which affect women. I have also received many encouraging comments and my family supports my work although they are concerned about my safety. In 2013 two of my co-workers, both lawyers engaged in women’s issues, died in an explosion at the courthouse in Mogadishu. Working in Somalia is risky and it is even riskier for those working on women’s rights issues. But I have to help my people even if death knocks at my door. I dream of a Somalia where women are given priority, can live free from all kinds of violations, become leaders, and have equal rights with men; a Somalia where women will be the change makers. I believe in that better society. Recorded by Carol MAGAMBO, Edited.

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Being a brother Most men worked outside the village during the rainy season, laboring somewhere between the cities of on large scale farms. My Sinnar and Damazin. There were about father too was mostly 1000 people living in the village before absent from home during people began to abandon rural life for the week to provide for the family. The women used the seemingly more attractive urban to remain in the village centers. In my village, people mainly and were responsible for survived on subsistence farming. They the animals and farming grew sorghum, beans and okra and plots around the homes. tended sheep, goats and cows. In typical Sudanese tradition, my mother, seven brothers, two sisters and I shared life and one housh, a compound of the extended family, with my uncle’s and my grandmother’s households: about two dozen children, youth, and adults altogether. I was born in a small village on the

fertile banks of the Blue Nile in Sudan,

HAFIZ IBRAHIM, is a Sudanese researcher from Blue Nile State, born in 1975. He has a Master in Statistics from Khartoum University and worked as a researcher on gender, sexuality and human rights on behalf of Epilab and UNAIDS in Sudan. His research interest is in HIV/AIDS, sexuality and minority rights. He now works for SIHA in Sudan as a Senior Program Officer.


In this traditional social fabric based on the lineage and male ancestry, everyone knows their place. Individuals act in the group's interest, safeguarding territory and forming important ties with other families by marriage. Usually a family leader is a respected elder - or a group of men - who is to protect the family and make decisions on their behalf. This concept presumes female obedience towards the men of the family but also a deep division of gender roles, whereby a woman's world is considered domestic and the man's world public. Most Sudanese families hold on to such traditional values, even in today’s rapidly changing world. In the family it is common for girls to take care of younger siblings. Boys on the other hand are expected to act as heads of households and protectors of their female relatives from a young age, and are granted the privilege and responsibility to guard and guide their sisters, often even if the latter are older than them. It was in this sense that I, too, grew up guarding my younger sister and making decisions on her behalf. From an early age, the men in my community are taught that they are responsible for their sisters’ protection. Fathers tell their sons: “You have to be man enough to guard your sister even if you have to beat her.” Boys learn to exercise domination over their sisters or they are not considered manly. Much later I would come to know that what I thought to be culture or custom, in more urban settings had been adopted into the Sudanese Family Law as a formal guardianship. This placed women under male superiority and control for which a gendered worldview is engrained into boys and girls in numerous avenues.

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From everyday meals to formal socializing, such as wedding feasts and funerals, males and females are segregated from childhood. Society is particularly protective of teenage girls and unmarried young women who are watched and restricted from many activities. But the imperative for boys to watch over their sisters has more to it. It manifests the subjugation of women under the pretext of “protecting” them. When I was about nine years old we used to play “ fattish arusak” (Find Your Bride), a hide-and-seek game played at night, where boys sought a ‘bride’ – a girl hidden by her friends. The boy who succeeded in finding his bride would bring her back to the group proudly holding her hand. It was other girls from the village, rather than the boys’ sisters, who were the ‘bride’. This innocent game fortified a local proverb that says, “The pride of a horse lies in its reins and the pride of a woman in her guardian.” In our society grooms have a choice who to marry. Brides do not. Fathers, uncles, and brothers decide who girls will marry. Women and girls are considered incompetent and unable to make decisions of major importance; apparently they lack the wisdom required to make such a choice. On the other hand, education is widely considered unnecessary for girls as they are mainly raised to be wives who serve a husband. He will do what they cannot. My younger sister was a beautiful girl with a strong character. Two years younger than me, she was actually

physically stronger than me, which frequently upset my worldview. Our society is very fearful of a bad reputation, so I was taught to ensure she never had a sexual relationship outside of marriage. In the strict but vague rules governing her chastity, the most innocent interaction with a man could qualify as a sexual relationship. I was to determine the severity of an incident. So I was angry if I saw her interacting with any man, regardless. I thought I had to be. I also thought I acted in her best interest – avoiding the shame of an unwanted pregnancy. It happened in the village from time to time, and is in our society commonly blamed on the girl. To a greater extent I was worried for myself. I was brought up to think the stigma would taint me, as such occurrences would generally be considered prostitution. One day, when my sister was about 15, I forbade her from going to a feast in the village. A tradition in our area, it was arranged to welcome someone back from travels. She complained but our mother endorsed my rule and said, “If your brother said so, you will not go. He is a man, so there is no way.” My sister argued that she would go nevertheless. “Maybe he is right,” she said, “But at the same time I can evaluate things well, because they concern me and not him.” Of course I went to that party myself - I wanted to chat with girls and enjoy myself. I found her there in the yard dancing. The next day, when questioned, she replied, “How could you prohibit me and you go there yourself?”

I was afraid of her simple logic. Instead of reasoning, I remember that I beat her for her disobedience. I had to struggle with her because she defended herself instead of sitting quietly and enduring her punishment as I expected. This challenged my manhood - or what I thought at that time that manliness meant. I didn’t feel good beating her. It hardly assuaged my anger, nor did it solve my problem.

Fathers tell their sons: “You have to be man enough to guard your sister even if you have to beat her”. Boys learn to exercise domination over their sisters or they are not considered manly. In a previous incident she was in 4th grade, and volunteered to act as a traditional drummer and singer for a theatre show at school. These cultural figures have a bad repute because they receive payment for their performance. At home I complained to my mother and told her I had decided that my sister should not participate. My mother again defended my decision, confirming that my sister was not allowed to perform in public. My sister didn’t give up. She told her teacher, who then came to our house to discuss the issue. In the end, my sister was allowed to perform and I felt humiliated and overpowered – again she had had her way. She was 17 when a man proposed to marry her and I had already joined university. When my father consulted me about this man’s reputation, I lied. I knew that he was a heavy

Cartoon by Talal Nayer, Sudan SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015



In the strict but vague rules governing her chastity, the most innocent interaction with a man could qualify as a sexual relationship. I was to determine the severity of an incident. So I was angry if I saw her interacting with any man, regardless. I thought I had to be. drinker of ill repute. In order to punish my sister and to free myself of the burden of being responsible for her I told my father that he was a good man and he should marry her off. After only one year, when my sister, pregnant with twins, came home to give birth at her mother’s house as is Sudanese custom, she arrived in a grave mental and emotional condition she would live with for years to come. Apparently, her husband was not treating her well. She refused to return to him after delivery. Her husband abandoned her and she never married again.

I discovered that my perspectives as a boy and young man were based on injustice and discrimination. The foundations of my manliness were based upon an assumed weakness and inferiority of women and their subjugation. While I was at university, a dear friend shared her own experience with me. Something in it echoed in my conscience, triggering an awareness of wrongdoing on my part and setting off a thought process that has changed my life. At secondary school age a man had proposed to marry her, and she refused. Her mother supported her but her father was angry and ashamed as the aspirant was a relative. In order to settle the family unrest, an uncle offered his own daughter in exchange. This young woman had no choice but to walk into a life without affection, without warmth or trust in her husband, who had no interest in her. Eventually she became an unhappy woman who cried all the time. My friend felt guilty - she was lucky to continue her education and live her life as she wanted, but at the cost of someone else’s lifelong pain. I began to feel responsible for the suffering I caused my sister and for her unhappy marriage - with my mindset, my ignorance and my lack of skills to act otherwise. Making use of the ample material available at the university I began to read about women’s movements, and immersed myself into books about women’s rights. I attended film screenings with friends and discussed the situation of women in depth. This helped me to see things as they are, and not as I wanted to see them. It was a painful learning process that required me thorough inspection of myself, my behavior and my society. I discovered that my perspectives as a boy and young man were based upon injustice and discrimination. The foundations of my manliness were based on an assumed


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weakness and inferiority of women and their subjugation. This revealed a structural injustice in my society which instills superiority into boys who are, at the same time, not equipped with principles of rights, justice, fairness, and kindness. Overburdened with the responsibility they misuse their privilege by hurting their sisters, wives, daughters, and eventually themselves. I became very sensitive towards violence against women. I now support women if they are being sexually harassed in public transport, which I would not have done before. In such cases, my society commonly blames the victim – she who is being harassed. I chose a career that helps uncover cultural patterns and gender relations, and seek to contribute to the development of my community within forms appropriate of our time - in both an Islamic and human rights framework. As a Sudanese Muslim man, I work in promoting women’s rights. I encourage the girls in my family to be educated. I also publically condemn underage and forced marriage. Equality between men and women is inevitable for a just society. Women and girls have to be raised to be responsible for themselves. This requires an environment where they can exercise their human rights, which has to reflect improvements on different levels protecting them: economic empowerment, education and cultural awareness – of both men and women. Finally, I believe a massive change has to happen in our understanding about masculinity. Who are we protecting girls and women from anyway, if not from us, the men? Today, I know that manliness lies in respecting others regardless of gender. Manliness is not about domination and exerting power. More than that, I am convinced, that being human means acknowledging one’s responsibility, instead of denying it. I should have talked with my sister about my fears, instead of choosing to get rid of her by means of that marriage. I know that had she continued her education she would have been a brilliant woman contributing to her community. She is more brilliant and stronger than me. I have cared for my sister’s twins as best I could through the years. They have grown into two beautiful and well educated girls who will join university soon. I am proud to say I have raised them to a great extent. We talk a lot about human rights and women’s rights. Then we conclude that women should go anywhere they want to, and that any woman can do so – if she is strong enough. I have never managed to tell my sister how sorry I am, but I am sure she knows. Over the years, I have finally become a brother. Recorded by Amira Nagy

Patriarchal Oppression of Women Reviewing Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk

Like most of his contemporaries in the Arab world, Naguib Mahfouz, the Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1988, wrote about Egypt’s historical changes in the early 20th century. Mahfouz achieved global recognition when he was nominated for and eventually awarded the Nobel Prize. His novels were translated into numerous foreign languages.

demands acts of flattery from them as well. When he is home, his wife spends most of her time sitting at his feet and his children kiss his hands when he is frantic and nervous.

With tact and courage, Mahfouz skillfully brings together the complexities of gender relations. Through Sayed and Amina, he illuminates Egyptian society’s double standards and hypocritical attitude towards women, namely that women are systematically denied various rights but are expected to accept men’s errant behaviour as normal. In one instance, Sayed rebukes his wife, Amina, for daring to respectfully question his going out every night and returning at dawn. Sayed’s patriarchal power is invoked through his control over Amina is expected to accept his disrespectful treatment without any women, specifically by secluding and veiling his female family complaints. She is completely subservient members and denying them the right to access public life. to Sayed’s will and demands, furthering his tyranny. Throughout the narrative, Amina seems physically worn out and broken in spirit. The From the Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk lives and private and public sphere relationships of Sayed Mahfouz is best known for his seminal work – Cairo Trilogy. and his family demonstrate various themes and critiques of Considered one of the greatest classics ever produced in Egyptian culture. modern Arabic literature, this masterpiece is made up of three volumes. The Arabic titles of the volumes are taken Power and patriarchy from actual street names in Cairo where Mahfouz grew up, namely Bein el Qasrein (1956), Qasr el Shouq (1957), and El Mahfouz highlights the dynamic forces of gender to underscore Sukkareya (1957). These titles were translated to English as: the importance of power and patriarchy seen in 1919 Egyptian Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street, respectively. society where the events of the story take place. The reader The epic series follows three generations of Sayed Ahmed catches a glimpse of what was happening in this Islamic setting in 1919 and is able to take into account Egypt’s strong Abd al Jawad. This review will focus on Palace Walk. influence on culture, literature and politics in the region. In Sayed Ahmed, the patriarch of the family is a typical the novel, Mahfouz insightfully captures the patriarch’s web autocratic character who rules his family with strict of relationships including that with his current wife, ex-wife regulations but allows himself to live a secret, self-indulgent and male and female children and with friends, neighbours, life. The self-centred Sayed, demanding wholehearted mistresses and customers in Sayed’s daily interactions. obedience from his wife and children, epitomises the typical Mahfouz’s absolute authoritarian patriarch represents Egyptian male trying to assert ultimate power. Not only does he enjoy total dominion over the family, but he habitually a “dictator” who imposes on his family a set of limitless Some of the most striking and thought-provoking subjects Mahfouz produced covered gender relations, male domination and subjugation of women. Mahfouz’s blunt communications covered a broad range of topics, including socialism, nationalism, gender relations, homosexuality, and God. Writing about some of these topics was perceived as taboo in Egypt and led to the censoring of some of his writings. Mahfouz‘s stories are always set in the urban quarters of Cairo, where his characters, mostly ordinary people, try to survive and adjust to modernisation and its paradoxes.

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NAGUIB MAHFOUZ, author of the Cairo Trilogy, published 34 novels, over 350 short stories, dozens of movie scripts, and five plays over a 70-year career. Most of his works have been made into Egyptian and foreign films. Born into a lower middle-class Muslim family, his mother often took him to museums. Later, Egyptian history would become a major theme in many of his books. Two other major influences on Mahfouz were the Egyptian Revolution of 1919 when he remembers seeing British soldiers firing on male and female demonstrators and fellow Egyptian Salama Moussa, the Fabian intellectual. Moussa influenced Mahfouz’s thoughts on science and socialism in the 1930s.


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conventions and rules on how they should conduct themselves at home and in the outside world, which is largely inaccessible to his daughters and wife. Interestingly, as soon as Sayed leaves his home, he becomes a completely different person. His friends, neighbours and patrons see a different man from what his family sees. At home he is an authoritative figure - extremely oppressive, close-minded and rigid, he keeps his wife and daughters indoors ostensibly to ensure they do not tarnish the family’s reputation. Conversely, away from home Sayed is regarded as a humorous, open-minded, peaceful, loving and sweet man, particularly by his friends and mistresses (known as Awaleem1 ). To outsiders, Sayed is a highly respected businessman.

and defends this aggression by rationalizing that his feelings are legitimate and that being irritated is his natural right. Mahfouz describes the seemingly fragmented personalities of Sayed to show a sick person who wants to control and protect in an unnatural way. The complexity of Sayed’s character is augmented through his perception of women, who he does not value as equals or partners. Neither does he trust or respect women as is evident from the way he treats his wife. At one point in the story he bluntly tells Amina that she is “just a woman” and that every woman lacks “brains or intelligence.” In an attempt to present and analyse Egypt’s middle class social and psychological apparatus truthfully, Mahfouz has to provide Epyptian realities with candour. As such, Amina is portrayed as almost invisible simply because she is a woman with a muted voice and limited independence. In Sayed’s view, his wife’s body was created to manufacture children and to be totally submissive and blindly obedient to her husband.

It is worth noting that in the book, Sayed does not devote Sayed’s patriarchal power is invoked through his control over women, time to his family. There is no mention of him having dinner specifically by secluding and veiling with his wife and daughters. Amina always prepares the his female family He is the only one in the family permitted to express members and denying them the right to any positive or negative emotion. access public life. He justifies this by maintaining that this family meals and is seen occupying a small and controlled is the only way to protect the family’s space. She never looks her husband in the eye but only waits reputation and honour, even while he for a signal from him to act. The couple’s relationship lacks exposes and exploits women who are any equality or mutual respect. Sayed incorrectly regards Amina’s fear of him as respect and he delights in keeping her not part of his family. in her place. The truth is Sayed Abd Al Jawed is more concerned about satis-fying his Fear replacing respect own selfish desires with little regard to how his actions affect the people Amina is intimidated by Sayed’s constant bullying and around him. He indulges in all forms the book shows the evolution of their relationship. At the of lavishness and pleasure. For instance, beginning of the story, Amina actually admires her future he consumes alcohol, enjoys art and husband. She is charmed by his sense of humour and frequently enters into casual sexual sociability, especially in the way he presents himself to acquaintances and friends. She has no idea that there is a relationships with women. dark side to him until early in their marriage, when she Sayed’s control extends to the voices mild disapproval of his frequent late nights out. Sayed psychological realm. He is the only one pulls one of her ears and reprimands her sternly, reminding in the family permitted to express any her that he is the one to command and forbid anything and positive or negative emotion. Often he that he is not to be criticised. He threatens to use physical takes out his frustrations on his family punishment if she dares pass judgment on him again.

Amina has no say in the lives of her daughters or granddaughters either. Their fate is left to Sayed who does not consult his wife and decides that they will not receive education beyond primary school as girls only need to learn basic reading and writing. His word is final in any decision he makes and no one has the courage to reason with or confront him. Sayed is not aware of his hypocritical authoritarian stance and how it goes against his religious beliefs. He misuses power, absolute freedom and religion itself, explaining away his ruthlessness and unfaithfulness by twisting scriptures from the Qur’an to his advantage.

affect women in incredibly disproportionate ways as seen through Amina’s character. When she commits what her husband deems an unforgivable mistake -visiting relatives in his absence- he has the right to send her away from their home. Her terrified children look on helplessly as their powerless mother is kicked out onto the street. Their inability to stand up against this obvious injustice stems from years of witnessing a misogynistic and dysfunctional life at the cost of their mother’s dignity and rights. Extremist Islamists and fundamentalists in our society today are not much different from Sayed. They are calling for women’s return to the darkest ages through laws that prevent women’s rights and progress. Just as in Amina’s case, women today are discouraged from being seen or heard.

By remaining married to Sayed, Amina inevitably condones his abusive manners, probably because she sees no way out. As the story progresses, Sayed is defiant to all, including to religious Sayed is not aware of his hypocritical authoritarian teachers like El Sheikh Metwally who stance and how it goes against his religious beliefs. He criticise him for misconduct. Sayed is convinced that God will forgive his misuses power, absolute freedom and religion itself, misdeeds. As Amina stoically controls her explaining away his ruthlessness and unfaithfulness by emotions and suffers silently, her husband twisting scriptures from the Qur’an to his advantage. continues to enjoy absolute freedoms he draws from decayed traditions and Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy is a masterpiece that offers religious verses. He takes no responsibility for his actions and is not accountable to anyone. Sayed’s male status critical insights of Islamic culture which are still relevant ostensibly elevates him above the law, religion, morals and to women in the modern Arab world. Its timeless value and insights into systemic misogyny in Islam offer ethics. valuable insights for the women’s rights movement in Arab Mahfouz’s depiction of Sayed, though fictitious, is sadly countries today. Shadia Abdelmoneim prevalent in many Arab and Islamic societies. Sayed’s From Arabic by Regina Akok character is thoroughly believable. He represents the hypocritical characteristics of many religious Arab men in the 20th century who live contradictions. Tradition and misrepresentation of religion to serve ones’ selfish interest combine to create both Sayed’s flawed character and Amina’s fragmented one, in a dysfunctional misinterpretation of Islam and gendered power structure which is passed on from generation to generation.


he term awaleem T is a plural for aalem which translates to "knowledgeable". In this context the word has a derogatory connotation. It was used especially in reference of cabaret singers and dancers who were not respected.

In this novel and others, family is presented as a controlled unit led by a dictator who lives without consideration for anyone else, a tyrant imposing his views and rules on his subjects whom he regularly abuses. This environment is detrimental to both women and men in Arab and Islamic societies, and lacks innovation or creativity because of the atmosphere of control that is created. Such social norms

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Mothers and Muezzins How matriarchy and Islam harmonise in West-Sumatra Known among anthropologists as the largest matriarchal society in the world, the Minangkabau are the fourth largest ethnic group in Indonesia. Four million Minangkabau are indigenous to West-Sumatra. They are committed Muslims, who also follow ethnic traditions from before the arrival of Islam, the so called adat - the unwritten rules and context of matrilineal customs, handed down from one generation to the next, which are central to the Minangkabau culture. PEGGY REEVES SANDAY, born in 1937, is a professor for anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, USA. Starting from creation myths and society structures she has been researching patterns of male dominance in different societies, among them the Minangkabau in Sumatra.

How does one imagine that? For example five times per day the Muezzin calls for prayers. Yet the entrances of the houses face Mount Merapi, the holy site of the Minangkabau since pre-Islamic age. This is to ensure the wellbeing of the families. Amidst the modern and traditional houses that, according to matrilineal traditions, daughters inherit from mothers you will find the prayer house. There, young men are being initiated into the knowledge of the Qur’an by elder men and are taught the traditions and customs of the adat.

reminding them of the cultural roots and the legacy of maternal principles. On the other hand Islam with its religious practices helps to protect the adat from the influences of a secular modern age. Whereas Islam constitutes the spiritual foundation in the Minangkabau culture, the matrilineal customs and adat are justified by natural philosophy: the principles of nurture and care are considered the main pillars of the eternal cycle of nature. The connection to nature is reflected in the story of the origin of the Minangkabau.1

An old saying illustrates how Islam and adat got together “The adat descended and Islam ascended,” as according to popular belief the adat customs are believed to be inherited from preChristian times, when the Minangkabau still lived atop their mountains. When Islam was established between the 14th and 16th century, the Minangkabau combined both practices. They declared the matrilineal inheritance to be sacred and placed it on par with Islam. As both are considered to be God-given, the two practices are not supposed to compete or to contradict and have to be brought into harmony with each other.

Thus children are connected to the mother so that they are never dislodged from their natal home.2 Like seeds in soil, children too have to be nourished to grow strong and mature. It is in this tradition that the matrilineal inheritance is to be understood, which stipulates that men move into the house of the wife after the wedding. In this way both the mother and the child are guaranteed shelter in case of a divorce.

The fundamental importance placed upon the safeguarding of the Minangkabau culture is obvious when it comes to challenges posed by modernity. The adat ceremonies protect men from the temptations of fundamentalist Islam, by


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Men and women are granted the right to seek divorce. If a woman wants to separate from her husband, she would put his slippers in front of the door. If men leave their wives, they either return to their family to wait until both families find a solution for the problems of the couple – or they move on to start a new life in other parts of Sumatra. In case of a definitive separation both men and women are allowed to remarry.

Painting by SALI YUSFU, Uganda

Some older women I met have been married up to five times. The privileging of the “mother” places senior women at the social, emotional, aesthetic, and economic center of daily and ceremonial life.3 The Minangkabau culture may appear as a system with a female rule, but the term ‘matriarchy’ doesn’t apply to the Minangkabau if it implies a society dominated by women – as an opposite to male domination given in patriarchy. Their culture is based on a balanced system of a community where men and women share their tasks, barring a few exceptions. For example, preparing of meals is a solely female task while sowing and ploughing is the responsibility of men. Important decisions are made by the male tribal leaders after having consulted the women. Males in the matrilineal line play an important legal and teaching role as uncles. The role of fathers is to help wives, mothers, and children. Therefore, I suggest rethinking the definition of the term “matriarchy”. Because never in the history of human kind has there been a society in which women would have ruled according to patterns typical of male dominance. As the culture of the Minangkabau illustrates, a matriarchy is rather a culture based on principles and values of motherliness and not on dominance and power. Peggy Reeves Sanday

First published in KULTURAUSTAUSCH 4/2007 1

he Minangkabau T and Matriarchy: Women at the Centre, Dr. Peggy Reeves Sanday, Sino-Canadian Symposium, 2012 August 17-20





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The Worms are Weak Male Infertility - a Women’s Problem? Although male infertility is a major global reproductive health issue, women typically bear the social burden of childlessness when their husbands are infertile. MARCIA INHORN deliberates on the effects of male infertility on gender relations or its reference to patriarchy, an issue that is rarely spoken about in Muslim communities.

REGINA AKOK, was born and raised in Sudan and South Sudan. She relocated to Canada in 2000. She has a BA in English from the University of Cairo/ Egypt, and a B.A. in Media Studies and Journalism from the University of Regina. She is currently completing an MA in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of Regina while working with Regina Catholic School Division in Canada. Regina is interested in social justice issues, human rights, culture and women’s issues. She loves stories and various forms of arts.


Inhorn’s study brings to light how men’s bodies are perceived to hide the evidence of reproductive defects, whereas women’s bodies are “proof ” of infertility when they fail to get pregnant and bear children. In Egypt, 12% of all married couples have difficulties conceiving1, but it is the women who are stigmatised because of deep-rooted patriarchal ideologies and relations2 embraced by both men and women. From the 256 cases Inhorn studied, three women’s experiences with their partners’ infertility and how each dealt with the issue exemplify the matter, distinctly considering each couple’s unique circumstances and personal experiences. These women, two of whom married the same man, express frustrations with painful medical and non-medical procedures that they were forced to undergo to conceive, and also share a sense of guilt. They are often blamed for infertility, not because they are responsible, but because they are women. Madiha and Ahmed’s Story Madiha, 28, an attractive woman, married Ahmed, 28, a carpenter, five years ago. They both relied on his salary, as she had to stop working. Ahmed despised the thought of her on crowded public transportation with strangers. He was also afraid that a job would distract her from fulfilling her domestic obligations.

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On top of these demands, three months into their marriage, Madiha’s mother and sister-in-law began pressuring her to start infertility treatments. She had to undergo several redundant and painful procedures, including one that involved her motherin-law administering black glycerin suppositories to remove any infection she might have in her vagina. Another traditional method entailed painful cupping on her back to “draw” humidity out of her womb and urinating on top of an eggplant to “unbind” infertility, producing a condition known as kabsa or mushahara. Various rituals of circumambulations at religious sites followed. After Madiha was forced by her inlaws to undergo a surgical procedure to correct a supposedly “folded” uterus, the doctor referred her husband to a specialist and subsequently Ahmed was told that he had pus and weakness in his didan, literally, “worms” - a reference to sperm. In Egypt male infertility is termed “the worms are weak”. Ahmed’s family would not accept his diagnosis, and remained convinced that Madiha was the reason they could not conceive and insisted that she continue visiting clinics. As more tests proved there was nothing wrong with Madiha’s reproductive organs but that Ahmed’s sperm was of “poor quality” in terms of count and mobility, the physicians recommended artificial insemination by her husband since their religion prohibits artificial insemination by a donor. Despite these events, Ahmed publicly denied any culpability in the matter in an effort to dissociate it from his dignity and manhood. Madiha felt alone, not just because she had no children, but also in her yearning for children. She described, “If I tell him it’s his problem, he doesn’t answer me. He never goes for treatment even though he knows I want him to. Every time I tell his family that it’s from him, they don’t answer me.

Instead, every time I tell them that I’m going to the doctor, they encourage me, as if it’s my problem.” She felt abandoned by her husband, who made her take the blame on his behalf by her in-laws and her own family who would not interfere as long as there was no threat of divorce. According to her community Madiha is a miskina, a poor little thing. Hala, Shahira, Mohamed, and their Intra-Cytoplasmic twins Shahira, 25, got married to Mohamed, 43, a lawyer who was the son of a former powerful politician. He owned a villa, which he rented to embassies and a business center, which was run by Shahira. Previously, Mohamed was married for seventeen years to Hala, now in her forties. Having been diagnosed with severe male-factor infertility caused by insufficiency of semen, he had undergone repeated courses of hormonal therapy, none of which improved his condition. He and Hala also underwent several cycles of artificial insemination using concentrates of his sperm, and five cycles of in vitro fertilisation, three times in Germany and twice in Egypt. Unfortunately, these attempts were unsuccessful. The perceived inability to cause pregnancy in a fertile woman made Mohamed defensive and angry, in order to avoid being judged and blamed. The situation drained their relationship and eventually the couple divorced. While Hala remained single, Mohamed remarried just over a year later hoping that his new wife would give him the children he desired. Shahira, his second wife, said, “In Egypt, if a man knows he doesn’t get his wife pregnant, he’s always upset. And if you’re pushing him all the time, and he’s the reason for the problem, he feels like giving up on the marriage, because there are no children to keep in the house.”

At an Egyptian IVF clinic where Mohamed had previously taken his ex-wife, physicians confirmed that Shahira’s chances of conceiving with intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection were higher because she was younger than Hala. This newest in vitro fertilisation variant facilitates the fertilisation process through the injection of a single viable spermatozoon retrieved from a semen sample or directly from the testicles into the ovum. With a price tag of approximately $3,000 per trial, ICSI heralds a revolution in the treatment of all forms of male infertility to those who can afford it. The medication used to stimulate Shahira’s ovulation came with uncomfortable side effects and aggravated her gastric ulcer symptoms, resulting in abdominal cramping and pain throughout the treatment. Yet when the procedures came to an end, just as she began to lose faith in its success, several pregnancy tests and three ultrasound exams confirmed that Shahira was

pregnant with twins. Her happiness was shaded by her concerns about the potential difficulties associated with a twin pregnancy and caesarean childbirth, and the demands of taking care of two infants simultaneously. She had no intention of ever repeating the procedure, and said, “Once is enough. One operation, one delivery. It is too difficult and too frightening.” The Burden of Infertility is Always Placed on Women Male infertility in Egypt, according to Inhorn, creates four main “patriarchal paradoxes”: who gets blamed for infertility in a marriage; whose gendered identity is diminished by infertility; who suffers in an infertile marriage; and who pays the price for infertility treatment. This is closely related to how Egyptians imagine the formation of life. In Egypt and in other parts of the Middle East3, under educated people assign men the primary responsibility for procreation. Specifically, most poor urban Egyptians believe men create pre-formed foetuses

which they then ejaculate into women’s waiting wombs. As long as a man can ejaculate his semen into a woman’s womb, he is deemed both virile and fertile. Women, who contain three types of “equipment” – the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, are to the contrary widely regarded as mechanically fragile and thus subject to injury and failure. The implication is they deserve blame and scrutiny and they have to seek ways to resolve the issues whether through traditional methods or through medical centers. Yet even when they are given a clean bill of health and it is clear that it is the husband who is infertile, women continue to be condemned as infertile by their husbands’ relatives, neighbors, and sometimes the husbands themselves. Given the above circumstances, it is not surprising that many women accept and internalise reproductive blame under the assumption that something must be wrong with them, too. In order to protect

Illustration by Hussein Mirghani, Sudan


her husband from embarrassment and thus preserve his dignity and masculinity, women do whatever it takes even though they know they are not to blame for the infertility. MARCIA CLAIRE INHORN, PhD, MPH, a medical anthropologist, is a Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs in the Department of Anthropology and The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University. A specialist on Middle Eastern gender and health issues, Inhorn has conducted research on the social impact of infertility and assisted reproductive technologies (ARTS) in Egypt, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, and Arab America over the past 20 years. She is the first anthropologist to study infertility in the non-Western world. Marcia C. Inhorn’s paper, The Worms are Weak, was published in Lahoucine Ouzgane’s book Islamic Masculinities: Men in Africa from the late 19th century to the present (Palgrave, 2005).

Quests for conception typically involve painful and tortuous therapies and also create financial burdens, especially on low-income families who cannot afford the cost of quality treatment and care. Often they may create infertility problems where none existed. The quest is encouraged, even mandated, by husbands and husbands’ families, who may call the childless wife “useless”, “worthless”, “barren”, “incomplete”, “a tree without dates” and “unwomanly”. The failure to support male procreation The relationship between male infertility and patriarchy involves relations of power and authority of males over females, which operate on many levels and cut across social classes, religious boundaries, and household types. This is even more pronounced among the rural and urban lower classes living in extended family households. 1

E gyptian Fer tility Care Society 1995


Inhorn 1994a, 1996


rapanzano C 1973; Delaney 1991; Good 1980; Greenwood 1981


uzgane, Personal O Communication


G offman 1963


M acLeod 1991


The dominant view is that male infertility is profoundly emasculating, particularly given two major conflations: first, of infertility with virility or sexual potency; and second, of virility with “manhood”, the meanings of which are closely linked in North Africa.4 In this case, infertility, a condition over which men have no control, threatens “norms of being”5 – those attributes of a man

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felt to be so ordinary and natural that failure to achieve them leads to feelings of shame, incompleteness, self-hate, and self-derogation. Given the threat of infertility to normative masculinity, it is not surprising that the condition is deeply stigmatizing and the source of profound psychological suffering for Egyptian men who accept their infertile status. Because male infertility is deemed as spermatic “weakness”, many infertile Egyptian men take this cultural idiom to heart, believing that they are weak, defective, and even unworthy as biological progenitors. Yet despite that, infertility always mars a woman’s femininity, no matter which partner is the “cause” of the problem, whereas male infertility does not similarly diminish a man’s masculinity. Another view held by many Egyptians of all social classes says that “a man is always a man”, whether or not he is infertile, because having a child does not “complete a man as it does a woman.” Whereas it is expected that a woman’s full personhood can be achieved only through attainment of motherhood, a man’s sense of achievement has other potential outlets, including employment, education, religious/spiritual pursuits, sports, leisure, friendship groups and the like. Delaying marriage and parenting for many years as they pursue education, seek employment, even abroad, and accrue resources to set up a household is totally acceptable. Although more and more women in Egypt are joining the workforce6, the notion of a married “career woman” who remains childless by choice is still unthinkable. Thus, while men and women in Egypt, almost without exception, eventually marry and expect to become parents, the truly mandatory nature of parenthood is experienced much more keenly by women, whose other avenues for selfrealization are limited and who are judged harshly when they are unable to achieve motherhood early in their married lives. Additionally, infertility stemming from a husband rarely leads to wife-initiated

divorce, articulates Inhorn. It may, in fact, strengthen marital bonds. Yet, a husband may divorce or remarry, whether or not female infertility can be proven. When a wife is known to be infertile, on the other hand, many men consider their Islamically condoned options of polygynous remarriage or divorce. Husbands in Egypt typically experience significant family pressure to replace their infertile wives and perpetuate the patrilineage. Thus, even when men choose not to divorce their infertile wives and resist the patriarchal scripts engendered by Egyptian family life, a wife’s infertility still leads to marital disruption and insecurity. Many infertile women live in fear that their marriages will collapse, for Islamic personal status laws consider a wife’s barrenness as grounds for divorce. Conclusion A delicate and “invisible” subject, the issue of male infertility presents a crisis of masculinity for Egyptian men, where their manhood is shaken to the core. More stories should be told about male infertility. Among them, the stories must attend to infertile men’s perspectives on their marriages, identities, and experiences as members of a society in which men are subject to stressful, competitive, hierarchical forms of hegemonic masculinity. But the extent of such masculine crises does not end there. They include the wife who, by virtue of marriage, is expected to uphold the man’s masculinity at all costs, including keeping it a secret. Summarised by Regina Akok References Crapanzano, V. (1973) The Hamadsha: A Study in Moroccan Ethnopsychiatry. Berkeley: University of California Press. Delaney, C. (1991) The Seed and the Soil: Gender and Cosmology in Turkish Village Society. Berkeley: University of California Press. Good, M.-J. D. (1980) Of Blood and Babies: The Relationship of Popular Islamic Physiology to Fertility, Social Science and Medicine, 14B: 147–56. Greenwood, B. (1981) Perceiving Systems: Cold or Spirits? Choice and Ambiguity in Morocco’s Pluralistic Medical System, Social Science and Medicine, 15B: 219–35

Hostility Towards Women: Islam and Public Order in Sudan Is it possible to consider the Public Order Law in Sudan as fair in accordance to Islamic principles and values, and the standard of equality between citizens? Is the law in general consistent with the cultures and perceptions of those to whom it is applied to the extent that it will become acceptable to them? KAMAL AL GIZOULI unmasks a law which fails the check for legality.

Introduction The State, as the main political regulator of the power of the economically dominant class, utilises Law as the main instrument to control the population’s behaviour according to the yardstick of that class. To this end, the State uses different tools from its arsenal of coercive and repressive measures to enforce its interests. In principle, Law is a social construct, i.e. a historical form of control of the citizens’ lives, and is determined by the mode of production in that specific society. Law cannot be perceived as external to the State, or as existing separately from it. State and Law are so inextricably linked that any attempt to separate the two entails the elimination of both. Stability is the ultimate long-term requirement of any regime, and it needs to avoid, to a reasonable extent, the potentially negative confrontation between the class-based Law with the citizens’ expectations of a better existence. The regime needs to present legislation as a useful Justice mechanism for the security and peace of its citizens. Since the successful attainment of this objective is contingent on a reasonable response to the perceptions of justice in the collective psyche, consideration must be given to the equation of “right and duty". It thus becomes necessary to distinguish between the concept of "law" and the concept of "justice", since the former is an authoritative tool of control wielded by the State against its citizens regardless of their wishes, whereas the latter is the tendency to react in accordance with inborn common sense1. It is wrong to consider justice as a collection of legal texts whose author is deluded into believing that life will follow the laws, and thus wanting to obtain rights, suppress wrongs, advocate for virtue and combat depravity all through legislation. The reason humans were created as humans – not as men – was to inherit the Earth with the view of improving it, as various verses in the Qur’an indicate, and God did not leave humans to blunder blindly like animals but instead honoured them, again as humans, not as men. God lifted humans above the station of angels and gave them the moral compass that

leads them to rightfulness, goodness and beauty. The compass is made of common sense and reason. In addition, God blessed humans with freedom, so that even belief was not enforced on them; and humans are judged eventually for what they did freely. This ultimate justice revolves around what humans do out of free will and reason.

KAMAL Al GIZOULI, was born in Omdurman and is one of the foremost Sudanese experts in International Human Rights Law. He is a prominent lawyer, writer, poet, human rights activist and the former Secretary-General of the Sudanese Writers Union. He handled high profile and public interest cases since the mid1980s having chaired the prosecution team against the leaders of Nimeiri’s regime who ruled the country between 1969 and 1985. His last major public interest case was Amira Osman, who was charged under the Sudanese Criminal Law for wearing indecent clothing.

It becomes clear, therefore, that any law derives its legitimacy from the respect accorded it by the people and their commitment to abiding by it because their common sense tells them that such commitment reasonably expresses the most common moral values and ideals of the grassroots. The totality of these values and ideals represent the best elements of the society’s perceived moral past and its crystallised internal convictions. They strongly affect the sociohistorical process as the defining form of social consciousness that cannot be imposed from outside the society, but emanates instead from the reality of social being and the practical conditions of economic activity. Nevertheless, it would be incorrect to confuse between morals based on the influence of the public opinion and law which cannot be imposed without physical oppression. This is because any legislator of a legal rule would aim at the least not to make the rule contradictory to the notions of morality within the society, as such contradictions have high costs for the society and the regime.

Since we are using social cultural norms as argument, we need first and foremost to define this culture as mainstream. Not the culture of the dominant class in the narrow meaning of the term, but the complex historical totality of social consciousness generated through the creativity of the widest social base, and expressed in philosophy, science, laws, literature, arts, mythology, and religious and moral values that distinguish mental and emotional constructs of various visions and concepts, most specifically those of life and death; in the most ingrained perceptions and impressions of the people as represented in the mode of production and livelihood; in the approach to changing the natural environment, the ways of

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eating, dressing, grooming, building, forming relations between genders and ages, approaches to teaching and learning, marriage and birth traditions and burial ceremonies, etc. The Public Order Act The notion of Public Order is about as confusing as the notion of Law. In fact both concepts do not refer to the value system intended to be binding on all social classes, but to a system of repressive authoritarian economic, political, social and cultural perspectives of the dominant class.

all other categorisations, such as "mother - son", "father daughter", "brother - sister", and "husband - wife". Neither does it acknowledge the relations between neighbours, colleagues at work or study, or even engaged couples, since this last is a taboo for the prohibitive mentality that produced the text. Secondly, prohibiting women from dancing with men or in front of men means banning women from attending any party at which men are present. If, however, women do attend, they are only allowed to sit and watch men dancing with men - what makes an interesting proposition. Thirdly, taking into consideration that:

The Public Order Act for the State of Khartoum (1996) is a repressive instrument whose inequities have been criticised since its inception by both the legal and political sector. It is women in general, and especially Muslim women, who have been most severely affected by the Act. The criticism focuses in principle on the Act’s tragic incompatibility with the values and principles of human rights and freedoms, and also with the totality of people’s perceptions of good and evil, right and wrong, beauty and ugliness, morality and immorality. This incompatibility has catastrophic consequences for the psychosocial development of the nation’s public morals and values. The Public Order Act is based on Islamic tenets. Since the dominant influence in Sudan emanates historically from Islam and its culture, it becomes necessary to stress those cultural values which control the behaviour of both genders. Such values need to be expressed legally and constitutionally. They should not be based on the “legality of power” emanating from narrow authoritarian opinions, but on the “power of legality” formed in the minds of Muslims and in the human psyche through common sense comparisons. Even a cursive glance on the legislation would not miss the provisions of the 1996 Public Order Act that substantially threaten the life of women and their social existence. We propose to discuss and criticise here the most important of these provisions. .7(1) “Every person granted permission for a party with music A shall respect the following restrictions: (b) There shall be no dancing between men and women and women shall not dance in front of men.” This provision runs counter to many profound human and social values in addition to its remarkably paradoxical position. Firstly, in using the words "men" and "women", the legislator categorises parties to any celebration, including family celebrations, in a purely sexualised manner, shedding


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a. the law is limited in geographical scope to the national capital only; b. from the second half of the last decade of the 20 th century to the present, citizens from different regions of the country suffering poverty and deteriorating living conditions have migrated to the national capital, as stated in an official strategic report from that period 2; and c. the legislator is aware of the cultural context of these regions, where mixed celebrations are prevalent; The only possible deduction to be reached is that the legislator assumes that the national capital is a separate country where the applicable legal logic is based upon the assumption that citizens from foreign States shall be subject to the prevailing laws. A. 9(1)(a) Each vehicle used for public transportation within the State shall specify a door to be used by women and reserve ten seats for women, (b) men may not sit in the seats reserved for women. The usual tedious justification for both these laws maintains that it aims at honouring women. However, two points can raise serious doubts as to the credibility of such a justification.

Firstly, the number of seats stated in article 9(1)(a) is tiny in comparison to the number of women using public transport in the capital. Thus, it fails in its claim to honour women, while giving additional privilege to men. Secondly, the logic of this justification itself begs the question: is it only women in this society who need to be honoured? What about special needs groups and the elderly? Should they not be honoured? This proves that the matter of honouring women in this context is a pure falsehood, and that the real aim is to limit their role in public life by curbing their daily movement. Chapter Five: Women’s Hairdressing Venues The legislator dedicated an entire chapter to regulating women’s hairdressing venues and their code of dress in the same theocratic mentality suspicious of women in their role as the source of all evil in the world. The following provisions prove our point. A. 14(a) Men may not be employed in the hairdressing business, (b) Men may not start a hairdressing business, (…) (d) the sole entrance of a business must be facing the street and any other entrances or exits are prohibited except in buildings with many floors. A . 15(2) to grant a license pursuant to this subsection, the business must be managed by women even in the event it is owned by men. Further, . 16(a) The owner or managers of the business shall not employ any A woman in the business unless being sure of righteousness and good reputation, (b) an employee must be technically qualified and have been awarded a certificate from the competent authorities, (c) the manager must not be less than 35 years of age.

A. 17 The license authority and Public Order Police may enter the hairdressing business at any time for the purpose of inspecting and making sure of the compliance with the provisions of this Act. A. 18(a) The profession of making women’s dresses is prohibited unless a license is obtained from the local authority However, for some illogical reason, the profession which is solely permitted to women is not subject to the same limitations imposed upon the hairdressing profession, leaving the matter to the discretion of the local authorities. All that notwithstanding, there are a few pertinent issues that these provisions raise. Firstly, prohibiting men from entering women’s hair salons raise the legal question as to whether this is the only profession where men are likely to enter into physical contact with women. There are other respected professions, such as medicine for example, where contact takes place and perhaps

Cartoons by Rayah Ombaddi, Sudan

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in a manner far more intimate than in the hairdressing profession. However, the legislator does not apply legalised virtue to those other professions. Secondly, the strictness with which the legislator laid down the provisions for women’s hair salons – the entrances, the streets, the age limit of hairdressers and their gender - brings to mind the working conditions of the disreputable brothels during the British occupation. The rules plant seeds of doubt and uncertainty regarding the integrity and decency of this profession, and question the morals and ethics of those who earn their living from the said profession, their clients, and even their families. Thirdly, the

on women's inequality that claims to be based on the teachings and values of Islam, two questions logically arise that need to be addressed: a. Is it possible to consider this law as fair in accordance to Islamic principles and values, and the standard of equality between citizens regardless of their gender? b. Is the law in general consistent with the cultures and perceptions of those to whom it is applied to the extent that it will become acceptable to them?

In regards to the first question, it is impossible, even for the most The elasticity with which the aforementioned provisions were drafted, and discerning person, to deny the major the unlimited discretionary powers given to the officers from the Public Order thrust against women in this law. This adversarial stance comes as a Police, open the doors wide for application to any matter not been explicitly result of the male view based upon stipulated by this Act and happens to cross the imagination of the police officers. economic and social situations that is generally biased against women legislator stipulates that no woman can practice as a hairdresser since it is derived from an intellectual situation inherited from without obtaining a qualification from a competent agency, the historical mindset of the Muslim Arab community in the knowing that no such agency exists in Sudan. Finally, there region and in Sudan. It bears the hallmarks of Greek, Roman is a contradiction in the claim that men can compete with and Persian influences that are at variance with the basic women in owning and earning their living from hairdressing tenets of Islam. Under both Greek and Roman civilisations, salons, yet at the same time there is a requirement that men women were marginalised or considered protected chattels, to and women not work together in the same place. In other the extent that even Aristotle’s later thoughts about women’s words, the legislator emphasises prohibition when addressing education were considered revolutionary. Persian thought the matter from the perspective of suspicion about the female considered women as evil creatures capable of bringing about sex, but permits the practice from the perspective of capitalist misfortune and the destruction of the world, and were to be investment. It is not clear how a man can own and manage dealt with accordingly! The Amazigh, German, Serbian and a salon himself. How will the male owner transact business Aryan societies of the medieval ages considered women to be with his female manager if men are prohibited from entering weak creatures and enhanced their marginalisation at a time the salon especially since the rule also stipulates that working when theocratic views shored up the prevailing jurisprudence to justify exclusion and marginalisation. relations shall be conducted at the workplace? The elasticity with which the aforementioned provisions were drafted, and the unlimited discretionary powers given to the officers from the Public Order Police, open the doors wide for application to any matter not been explicitly stipulated by this Act and happens to cross the imagination of the police officers.3 Such practices may include boorish interference in what women wear, an imposition of hijab on them, or harassing women on the streets and in the markets, especially the ones trying to make a livelihood from selling food and tea, unable to generate income from any but the most marginal economic activities. There cannot be any criticism aimed solely at the enforcement mechanism for the provisions of the Act, namely the police, the prosecutors and the courts, without first analysing the errors in the law itself. Conclusion Since it is possible to notice the predominant economic, social and cultural injustice of this text, in addition to a clear focus


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However, Islam since the earliest times has had a positive attitude towards women. The Qur’an describes women without attributing to them any of the Satanic qualities associated with the female of the species. It states: "And their Lord responded to them, "Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another" and "Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember God often and the women who do so - for them God has prepared forgiveness and a great reward." This last verse specifically states that both sexes are equal because of being part of the group of believers. God singles out people who are entitled to receive his reward not on the basis of gender, but on the basis of piety and desire

to serve and obey Him4. Additional examples of this can be found in the Prophet’s life, the behavior of his followers, and the righteous successors. Thus, a legitimate question arises about the provenance of the concept of "women (harem) as the source of evil" which supplanted the beliefs and culture of Arab Muslims in general and of Sudanese people in particular. The answer is Turkey. The concept, which is not Islamic in origin, came to Sudan and all the other Eastern [Arab] countries during the Ottoman rule. Turkish culture was heavily influenced by the culture of the Aryan tribes from the Balkan region, purveyors of the Persian concept of "woman-as-evil" that, combined with the Roman idea of "woman-as-chattel" set the tone for the negative attitude that continues to inform the mindset of the average European male conduct towards women. The end of the Rightly Guided Caliphate and its transformation into oppressive rule successively in Syria and Baghdad, that is in the centre of the influence of both Roman and Persian civilisations, played a major role as an obstacle to enlightened Islam and its teachings, with specific emphasis on women; hence the departure from the basic tenets of the Qur’an and the Sunna. When the Caliphate came under the rule of the Sublime Porte, the negative effect of Turkish culture permeated all the countries it ruled, including the Sudan. Although this culture failed to embed within the masses, it did gain favour among the educated classes, and this elite in turn adopted it and strived to disseminate it among the masses.5 As to whether this law could be deemed consistent with the culture of the people upon whom it should be enforced within the region of Khartoum which, as mentioned before, has witnessed an influx from the countryside, one only needs to refer to a statement made by the Public Order Police commandant at a workshop organised by the Legal Training Centre in Khartoum: “All those who do not want to be subjected to this law, should not come to this State!”6 Given that it is not possible to look at the Sudanese as a single nation, by that same token it would be impossible to speak about one unifying culture, except hypothetically. This is owing to the reality of our country, which comprises hundreds of ethnic groups and communities, as well as religions, cultures, languages, all impacted by the legacy of the multiple factors that hampered our identity formation process. The most notable influences are perceptible in our fragile heterogeneity, a situation due to the arrogance of most Arabists, enhanced by colonial plunder and the failure of the Muslim Arabist elites that have ruled the country since independence. The statement made by the Public Order Police Commander meticulously summarises with military precision the conceited attitude based on AraboIslamic hegemonism with roots in the culture of the 'Golden

Centre Triangle' (Khartoum, Kosti and Sennar States) while alienating the other marginalised Sudanese cultures. An enormous belt of slums, created when natives abandoned their villages in search of a better future, now surrounds the capital city. Despite that, this statement continues to be an oxymoron, because the Public Order Act is also at variance with many deep-rooted cultures from the Golden Triangle region, whose natives have indeed embraced the Islam construed by the legislator as the basis of the Act. In the final analysis, the dogmatic, social and intellectual foundations of the Act have been confined to a very narrow space that does not exceed the perceptions of the ruling elite. Kamal Al Gizouli From Arabic by Sam Berner

This paper was first presented at a workshop organised by the Training and Legal Reform Institute in Khartoum (Arkaweet), on the experiences of the Public Order Act and the extent to which it impaired rights and freedoms, held between 8 and 10 February 2000. It was subsequently presented at a workshop held by the Women's Initiative Group, in conjunction with the German organisation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, entitled "Women and the Law" at the Sharjah Hall in Khartoum, 11-18 April, in 2000. It was serialised in the Al Sahafa Newspaper during June 2000. Since then, it has been presented at many seminars, conferences and workshops held by various Sudanese civil society organisations.


he distinction between law and justice was underscored by that very eminent lawyer Lord T Denning in his book The Road to Justice. He quotes William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who in opening an address to lawyers said: “I cannot say that I know much about law, having been far more interested in justice.”


" 83% of countryside residents [suffer] from malnutrition and their income is below the pover ty line. 45% of them [live] in extreme pover ty, which is consistent with the claims of unequal development marginalising the rural as opposed to the urban areas." Sudanese Strategic Repor t 1998, Strategic Studies Centre, Khar toum, Sudan, p.359, 361


onfusion between "Public Order and "Social Security" usually occurs. Ten years after the C establishment of the police, prosecutors and cour ts with the jurisdiction to implement the "Public Order Act of 1996", another police organ, prosecutors and cour ts were established to handle "Social Security". In addition to this law, the new agencies deal with other legal provisions of the "Penal Code of 1991", such as ar ticle 152/1, which states: "Any person committing scandalous behaviour in breaching public morality, wears scandalous clothing in contravention of public decency, or disrupts public morals, shall be subject to lashing of not more than for ty strokes of the cane, a f ine or both penalties concurrently." Paragraph 2 of this ar ticle states: "The act of committing a breach of public morality shall mean such acts as are condemned in accordance with the religion or the customary law of the country where the defendant commits the offence." It is to be borne in mind that these “criteria" and "customs" are in turn subject to the level and depth of the "faith" and "culture" of the policeman, prosecutor or judge, who assesses this conduct from the angle of "religion" and "morality".


F atima Al Mernisi, "The Political Hareem- the Prophet and the Women", v.2, Al Hasad Print House, Damascus 1993, P.150. M ohammed Al Mekki Ibrahim, "The Sudanese Celebration, its Origin and Development", v.2, Aro Print House, Khar toum 1989, p.11.



he Chief of the Public Order Police in the State of Khar toum was per tinently correct in his T accurate grasp of the political economy logic forming the backdrop to the relationships in this text. He expressed it clearly in his comment on our opinion which we presented at the previously mentioned workshop at the Training and Legal Reform Institute in Khar toum.

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“Combine Independent Judgement & Rationalism!” Listening to a modern, female scholar of classic Islamic jurisprudence, Dr. Zahia Salem Jouirou My success contributed to the change in local mentality and the denigrating perception of girls. It allowed the girls in my village to obtain permission for continuing their studies outside the village. Intellectually, I am indebted to the Tunisian Islamic school of thought which combines independent judgement with rationalism. Here I learned that free rational thought is needed to contemporise our religion to our times and demands without divorcing our cultural identities, balancing between modernism and heritage. Here I also learned that the essence of Islam, both as doctrine and law, is always forwardlooking. Unfortunately, Muslims have abandoned reasoning, causing a rift between Islam and the current knowledge, systems and laws. Dr. ZAHIA SALEM JOUIROU from Tunisia obtained her PhD in 2014. Her

At University, I met my professor Abdel Magid Al Sharfi, who later Denominational Hammer and the Anvil of History. Among her published works provided the framework for my are the books Popular Islam published in Beirut, The New Live Burial – Essays academic research. He played a big on Casuistry and the Jurisprudence of Women, and Retribution in the Sacred Writ, role in building my knowledge about Islamic thought. A Muslim man a Historical Study, both published in Tunisia. She is the mother of two young who respects women, he is also the adults, Dujla and Furat, both studying at the university where she teaches. supervisor for most of the work women researchers carry out at my university. I specialised in the Maliki jurisprudence, learning how it A scholar of Islam and a lecturer of Islamic Studies at was formed and what its particular components are, until I the University of Tunis, you publish books and imporcame to know the details of the details. tant writings in academic journals. How did you bethesis, published in Beirut by Dar Al Taliah, was on Casuistry between the

come who you are? I was born in a small village in Tunisia and my aim was to succeed at school and be independent. I owe a lot to my late parents who challenged the conservative environment I grew up in and encouraged me to continue my studies. I was the first girl in my village to leave alone for the capital to continue learning, and despite the social pressure my father experienced, he continued to support me. For me, this was a debt I have been careful to repay all my life through hard work.


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You chose a complex field of work which is dominated by men, and you master it brilliantly. What personal experiences made you decide to focus on Islamic studies? Ever since I was a child I have looked at the women in my family, seeking ways to help them. I asked myself: can Islam be unfair to women? As my awareness increased, I began to see that the unfairness lies in a mix of customs and traditions, and the abuse of religion and its functions. It is a mentality dominated

on the one hand by close-mindedness and fundamentalism, and on the other by political practice driven by material and ideological interests. Such use of religion nearly obliterates its spiritual aspect and basic role in offering meaning to believers. It has turned religion into a tool by which worldly conflict over power and influence is managed - persistently taking a violent path, which results in Islam being perceived as an extremist religion and characterising Muslims as terrorists. Many of the regimes in Arab countries and the Muslim world continue to use Islam as an excuse for their autocratic power, to legitimise rule devoid of any popular legitimacy.

As another problem, close-mindedness and extremism in understanding Islam, and the unreasonable adherence to old methods and ideas, lead to enmity and condemnation of differing opinions to the point of considering them apostate. The ease with which a person with differing opinions about Islam can be deemed an apostate is a real problem facing researchers, including myself.

Religion stagnates if the understanding and exegesis produced by its forefathers is elevated to a sanctity almost equivalent to the religion itself.

Is free rational thinking the way forward today?

You yourself were accused of apostasy.

These factors convinced me that the development of the Muslim world is a project in dire need of revision – especially the matter of engaging with religion politically and socially. The project also needs to change religion from a tool that legitimises political autocracy and social injustice, especially against women, to a tool for liberating minds and conscience, and for reforming the problematic status quo. This was the original position of religion: a divine message sent to liberate humanity from all forms of worldly domination and injustice, making faith a force for liberation and progress.

I wrote Popular Islam to show that we don’t all express Islam in the same way. Scholars expressed and practiced Islam in one way, and lay people express and practice the religion in different ways. It was an academic objective study, for which I studied the Awlia’a1, Sufis. I was forbidden from publishing in Tunisia and had to publish in Beirut; it was also banned from Tunisia for a long time. The book led to me being considered an apostate, which caused me to question the discrepancy between my aspirations of convincing people of the pluralism of religion and the accusations thrown at me. It made me more persistent in practising my faith in accordance with my convictions and the way I want to live. I don’t have a need to prove my faith to anyone.

What difficulties do you deal with as a scholar working on interpretations of the hadith and the Maliki school of thought? Firstly, there are epistemological problems caused by the need to engage modern knowledge in comprehending religion and its functions; in reading its history and people’s expression of it as opposed to what traditional knowledge imposes. The pressures that force many people to hold on to the past as if it was the ultimate and final word, considers any other approach to be a corruption of our forefathers’ orthodoxy and their way of understanding and engaging Islam. In my view, Islam’s capacity to keep pace with the times is conditional upon Muslims’ ability to understand and practice their religion in line with new knowledge and progressively growing awareness. Religion stagnates if the understanding and exegesis produced by its forefathers is elevated to a sanctity almost equivalent to the religion itself.

With academic excellence you became an expert in the Maliki school of thought. What have you discovered on your journey into a religion presented from a patriarchal perspective? I made discoveries related to Islamic jurisprudence in general, and some related the jurisprudence and laws about women. We know from the jurisprudential system that the sources of Islamic legislation are the Qur’an and the tradition of the Prophet (sunna), followed by consensus (ijma), the reasoning by analogy (precedent), and other sources. I understood that the Qur’an is the main source and that all the other sources are a burden on the Qur’an and do not carry the same weight. My studies made me see though, that in reality the Qur’an is only used in very few cases by the legislators, while the other sources have been

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REEM ABBAS from Omdurman in Sudan has earned her B.A. in Journalism and Mass Media with a Minor in Sociology from the American University in Cairo and a Master’s Degree in Gender and Migration from Ahfad University for Women in Sudan. A journalist, her works were published in The Guardian, Open Democracy, The Christian Science Monitor, the Index on Censorship, The Niles, and BrownBook Magazine among other print and online publications. Reem is an award-winning blogger. She is currently the regional Advocacy and Communications Officer at SIHA Network. She was born in 1989.

placed in a more powerful position than the Holy Book. As an example, we find that rulings based on consensus, or custom, and tradition, occur more frequently than those based on the Qur’an. Unpacking this, the whole structure crumbled. It led me to differentiate between knowledge based on faith where the Qur’an comes first, and knowledge based on procedures, where the Qur’an comes last.

Your colleagues say “Don’t pass judgement when the king is in town”, in reverence for your work. It is an annotation to Malik (king), the founder of the Maliki school of thought, who came from Madina (town) in current Saudi Arabia. Tell us about your findings in Islamic legislation! Islamic legislation became my central field of interest. I discovered that current Islamic legislation is based on a very small and narrow nucleus of rulings that are of a truly “Muslim” origin. In fact, the majority of legislations – be it at the level of supplementary rules, or at the level of tools, methodology, and deduction of legislating – are historical and of human origin. This means that they were created by human beings whose judgement was inf luenced by the historical context and societal needs of their times. However, the jurists took extra care to make these human rulings look like divine, Islamic commandments so that they would be adopted more easily and practiced in societies whose conscience was mostly of religious nature. As time passed, these varied rulings were amalgamated into a single whole, sanctified, and their human historical origins forgotten. Another notion I reached was that modern day Muslims had no issues revising all the economic, criminal, and even State-governing laws inherited from the Sultanate. They also did not have any issues adopting laws from various jurisdictions, including ones from the West, to reorganise the State. However, when it came to Family Law, the legislation was left encased in the barbed wire of conservatism and close-mindedness. We should then inquire about the causes of this phenomenon, from a feminist perspective. I was always surprised by the image of women constructed in Islamic ideology, and I attempted to understand it as one


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belonging to specific historical conditions. However, it is hard to see how this portrayal can be made today; women have left the private sphere for the public one, they work and contribute to the family’s wealth. Nevertheless, the image spread by political Islam diminishes women and is used to persecute them. So how can we come up with a portrayal of women in harmony with their reality? This motivated me to review jurisprudence concerning women and to be able to prove this discrepancy.

Is there "Islamic Feminism" and what is your critique of it? Is Islam compatible with feminism? Islamic feminism is real. Interestingly, it has “masculine” origins. This might sound like an oxymoron, but it was men who first defended women’s rights in the Muslim world, and they did so in the name of Islam. Not just in the case of Tunisia, they were men and feminists in the precise meaning of the term. The reason for this, in my opinion, was their context by which women were excluded from the public sphere and deprived of education. Therefore their awareness was lagging behind that of the educated intellectual male elite. Among these, there were men who saw the correlation between a developed society and liberating women from exclusion and marginalisation they were subject to for a very long time. So they believed that the liberation of the Muslim mind from the closure imposed on it in the name of religion, goes hand in hand with liberating women from the inferiority imposed by patriarchy disguised as religion. The Tunisian reformer Taher Haddad represents this stance well. In his book Our Women in the Sharia Law and Society, he attempts to rebuild Sharia law based on values representing the aims of legislation: freedom, justice, equality, dignity – which go together with his respect for women as human beings. After this initial phase, women slowly started to build their own future. Many women’s associations, organisations, and feminist movements were established. Among these was the Islamic feminist movement, which uses Islam as the referential pivot point for its liberation project. Using new interpretations of Islam’s sources and legislation, the movement attempts to reclaim the liberating spirit of Islam, and to achieve harmony between the reality of women’s lives and Muslim values.

That leads to a secular State. What do you think about secularism?

What are gains made by Tunisian women after the Arab Spring? Are those gains in danger?

As much as I believe in the historical inevitability of the secular State, necessitated by both the constant striving of nations for justice, freedom, and equality, and our continuing suffering from the tyranny cloaked in religion, I do have my own vision of secularism. It takes into consideration the special character of Islam as an inherently liberating religion and the particular character of Islamic historical experience. Therefore, my view of secularism is one at peace with religion. It is able to optimise the benefits of religious values, the power of belief, and its social functions, which hold members of a society together. It is also a secularism that respects individual rights and freedoms, especially in countries with religious diversity, where the secular State guarantees the rights of all its people based on citizenship, not on religious affiliation.

It is a known fact that women in Tunisia have achieved more than the rest of their sisters in the Muslim world in general, and that they did so more than 60 years ago. These gains were guaranteed by the Code of Personal Status issued on the 13th of August 1956 – when Tunisia became independent. They were guaranteed prior to the Tunisian Constitution being published, and then again in the Constitution itself which stipulates the equality of all citizens. Whereas these gains were threatened to some extent after the Arab Spring when the Islamist Ennahda Party ascended to power, women achieved a very quick victory and imposed their gains in the new constitution through the re-affirmation of the principle of legal equality. Women also played a big role in neutralising the threat by removing Ennahda from power through the ballot box, in what is considered the most democratic experience in the Arab world. One of these gains was the quota in the election law, which states that all parties participating in an election must provide candidate lists with equal numbers of men and women. All this was achieved because of organised women’s work, through many organisations with electoral weight on the one hand, and coordination between these organisations and civil society on the other.

When people condemn secularism to be a foreign ideology, which examples do you name for secularism being an integral part of the history of Islam? In the 6th century, Arwa from Kerwan in current Tunisia, rejected polygamy and told her father that she would never be part of a polygamous marriage. The Islamic Caliph Abu Jafar Al Mansur, who was f leeing the Amouyan in Bagdad and came to stay in the home of Arwa’s family, fell in love with her and asked her father for her hand in marriage. Arwa’s father told the Caliph he could only marry his daughter under the condition of her being his only wife. Taking a concubine would also be impossible. If the Caliph broke the contract, Arwa had the right to divorce herself from the marriage. This arrangement was not something new. Apparently many Kerwan people had practiced it between 724-743. It was called the Dowry of Kerwan. Arwa married the Caliph and he remained true to his commitment until the day she died. This being part of both the Tunisian and the Islamic heritage, it was not unusual practice in Tunisia to choose to marry based on the Dowry of Kerwan. Eventually in 1956 when Tunisia gained its independence, the State adopted and codified the terms of the Kerwan Dowry and polygamy has been banned in Tunisia to the present day.

Islamic feminism is real. Interestingly, it has “masculine” origins. This might sound like an oxymoron, but it was men who first defended women’s rights in the Muslim world, and they did so in the name of Islam. Do you have a message to our female readers? From my studies and personal experience I can say, God is true and just. He does not approve of injustice against anyone He created. Your pursuit for justice and equality is in line with the Divine Will and with the sublime aim of the message of Islam, and derives from the liberating spirit which is intrinsic to this message. Reem Abbas spoke with Dr. Zahia Salem Jouirou


wlia’a Allah Al A Saliheen – in folk Islam, Muslim holy men

SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015



Boko Haram:

Not the Only Armed Islamic Group Abducting Women and Girls, Just the Easiest to Expose Looking at both the violations committed against women and girls in Muslim countries around the world and the international response, ABDULKHALIG ELSIR questions the interest in this incident when Muslim women’s lives are being hijacked systematically across the Islamic world.

In April 2014, the notorious radical Islamic group, Boko Haram, rose to the level of ignominy abducting more than 270 girls from their boarding school in Borno State, northeast Nigeria. In a video tape Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnappings and the group’s leader announced that according to Allah’s command, the girls would be sold and married. The incident attracted worldwide attention and the Government of Nigeria continues to receive international, regional, and national support in form of anti-terror expertise, logistics, and advisory services to address the Boko Haram terror insurgency. Despite increased media

The cooperation between the Nigerian government and the international community may or may not help end the captivity of the unfortunate school girls. Certainly the nature of intervention lacks the scope to address the challenges the Salafi ideology poses, which underpins the acts of Boko Haram. It is worth investigating the root causes of abduction in Salafi jurisprudence and interpretations which continue to influence the majority of Muslims worldwide.

Boko Haram draws its legitimacy from inherited traditional Islamic jurisprudence, precisely from the radical version of Salafism it adopted. The kidnapping of the girls - which has political motivations should not detract our focus It is wor th investigating the root causes of from Boko Haram’s hatred abduction in Salafi jurisprudence and interpretations of modernity and their belief which continue to influence the majority of that Western education is a sin. This opposition to Muslims worldwide. modernisation, which to a attention, the incident itself is merely certain degree is permissive of women’s another chapter in the continuous social and economic empowerment, is agony of women in Muslim societies. shared with other militant Salafi groups. More precisely, what Boko Haram did is neither unique nor new under About context and underlying the expansive Salafi 1 doctrine, where patterns underage girls as young as 9 years old have been abducted into forced It can also not be denied that the marriages throughout the Islamic world. intensification of the Boko Haram issue


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is directly linked to decades of harsh social and economic injustice committed by the political regimes in Nigeria. The Human Rights Watch Report 2013 stated that: “The failure of Nigeria’s government to address the widespread poverty, corruption, police abuse, and longstanding impunity for a range of crimes has created a fertile ground for violent militancy. Since the end of military rule in 1999, more than 18.000 people have died in inter-communal, political, and sectarian violence”.2 Those injustices provided a fertile ground for the Salafi teachings which have proven to be highly effective in mobilizing young men when there is an ideological vacuum and intense economic and social disparity. Boko Haram emerged as a reflection of this miserable situation. Interestingly enough, the same patterns of dogma and extremism have emerged in Somalia with the appearance of Al Shabaab groups out of the Somali Islamic Courts, a political organisation that carries the same pattern of Salafism (Al Mahakim Al Islamiya of Somalia) for nearly identical reasons. Another issue worth investigating in-depth is the ‘legal’ misogyny that Muslim women and girls face. Every day girls are abducted across the Islamic

world where misogyny is more or less a central feature in the legal frameworks of most societies. In all the different versions of current Islamic teachings, controlling women is a core concept in the discourse, law and norms. And although patterns and methods of undermining women might take different forms, at the end of the day all of them work to reduce women to a subhuman level.

the Constitution women are equal citizens in rights and responsibilities, while the Personal Status Law, Inheritance, and Penal Code laws openly discriminate against women. According to them, women are only recognised under the guardianship of male family members.

Due to the pressure of modernity, women have access to education and employment in most modern Islamic States. However, this is only artificial liberation. Beneath this achievement lies child marriage, Personal Status Law (PSL), and systematic discrimination and gender inequalities that are justified based on traditional jurisprudence on a daily basis. The contradiction between the Constitution and Personal Status Laws in many modern Islamic states shows the absurdity and the dilemma of Islamic societies in modern life. In Sudan, for example, under

Before appreciating the broad international outcry related to the abducted Nigerian girls, we need to understand why less noise has been made on other major incidents such as the attempt by the Iraqi parliament to legalise underage marriage. The draft law, supported by the Islamic Shia‘at clerics and traditional leaders, aimed to reduce marriage age from 17 to 9 years old. It would also prevent women from leaving the house without their husband’s permission, automatically grant the father custody for children over two years old in case of divorce,

Some forms of abduction are more tolerated than others

and significantly limit women’s rights in matters of inheritance. Is this not a form of abduction?

CARTOON by Khalid Albaih, Sudan

Though the pending Ja’afari draft law has not been passed, it presents a serious threat to the wellbeing of women and girls in Iraq. Considering the absurdity of this proposed law, it is surprising how lightly this has been taken and the minimal attention it received in specific circles. In Saudi Arabia, women are deprived of many rights. They are subjected to all sorts of odd marriages including exchange marriages, in which two old men trade their daughters to each other. There are marriages concluded to settle debts as well as spinster marriages. All this is in addition to severe forms of corporal punishment such as death by stoning based on adultery (zina) charges. The daughters of the late Saudi king, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, were imprisoned for their pro women’s rights views. In a rare interview to the New York

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ABDULKHALIG ELSIR is a Sudanese writer, translator and researcher who lives and works in Australia. With a background in Social Science he is a freelance journalist with a special focus on Political Islam and progressive Islamic thoughts, and a regular contributor in various newspapers and websites. He works as an interpreter and is the Editor-in-chief of The Gazelle, the AfroAustralian voice’s website.

Post, Princess Sahar, the eldest of the four daughters, detailed the miserable life of Saudi women and how princesses have been buried alive behind closed doors. “We are cut off and isolated and alone,” she told the New York Post. Sadly, the matter faded away, like most things related to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the largest oil producer in the world. Child marriage is prevalent in neighbouring Yemen. Its social and psychological impact on the whole society is undeniable. Nevertheless, the government is struggling to pass any change or amendment in the law to abolish this practice. In 2009, the Daily Telegraph reported, an attempt to make 17 years the minimum age of marriage for girls but was blocked by traditional and religious leaders and the Parliament’s Sharia committee.

Is there any hope that dominant Islamic guidance can integrate modernity and incorporate values of equality between men and women? There is no clear cut answer. No wonder then that there has been a u-turn towards the past in search of an authentic solution for the present and the future by extremely desperate Muslim societies, seeking the ultimate cut from modernity, which is perceived by these Salafi groups as a product of the West.

The multiculturalism dilemma

The claims and rhetoric of multi-culturalism are widely spread in western nation States. However, Muslim patriarchs have succeeded in getting into the soft point of it. In his book Secularism Confronts Islam, Oliver Roy demonstrates that theoretically, western multiculturalism might look fair and full of good intention, but in reality, it maintains the status quo of division in a given society 4. Typically, multiculturalism is used to legitimise the marginalisation of minorities by virtue of culture specificity. It draws lines between who has the right to belong to a nation State and who does not. It leads the minority to internalise their alienation and accept the definition of ‘others’. Muslim misogynists in western States are the legatees of multiculturalism. Under the pretext of maintaining their culture, they succeeded in turning their


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immigrant communities into isolated territories. This situation gave Salafism and other forms of militant Islam the leverage to spread their teachings for decades in western countries. Muslim women in these communities are the ones with most to lose. They are isolated inside their communities and face ongoing constraints in every aspect of their lives. The Boko Haram abduction issue emphasises the oft-repeated question: Is there any hope that dominant Islamic guidance can integrate modernity and incorporate values of equality between men and women? There is no clear cut answer. No wonder then that there has been a u-turn towards the past in search of an authentic solution for the present and the future by extremely desperate Muslim societies, seeking the ultimate cut from modernity, which is perceived by these Salafi groups as a product of the West. Groups like Boko Haram, Taliban, Al Shabaab and other militant political Islamic forces are a natural offspring of this ‘puritanical’ version that actively and openly work towards abducting Islam itself. Abdulkhalig Elsir From Arabic by Shaima MAHMOUD


he word Salafi comes from the Arabic T phrase, 'as-salaf as-saliheen', which refers to the way of living assumed by the schools of Salafi Jurisprudence led by the first three generations of Muslims (starting with the Companions of the Prophet), otherwise known as the Pious Predecessor


orld Report, Human Rights Watch 2013: W http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/ country-chapters/nigeria


h ttp://nypost.com/2014/04/19/a-saudi-arabianprincess-reveals-her-life-of-hell/


livier Roy is a research director at the O French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and lectures at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and the Institut d'Études Politiques (IEP) in Paris

Maryam Yahia alias Abrar Mohamed Apostasy on the grounds of law and politics in Sudan The story of sentencing a woman to death in Sudan for allegedly abandoning her Islamic faith has deep roots in the history of freedom of religion and conscience and the freedom of thought on both national and global levels. Apostasy, by definition the abandonment or renunciation of a religious belief, is not unique to Islam but for Maryam Yahia, it is about apostasy in Islam in particular. Her case infringed on her individual right to religious belief pitting the individual against assumed expectations of the Islamic religion. Maryam Yahia Ibrahim Ishaq, alias Abrar Elhadi Mohamed Abdallah Abugadeen as her accusers refer to her, was imprisoned on charges of apostasy, initially sentenced to death based on Article 126 of the Sudanese Criminal Law, and eventually released. A Sudanese woman married to a South Sudanese Christian man, Maryam was six months pregnant when she was arrested. She was not a public figure and had no known political or intellectual affiliations. Maryam was reportedly turned in to the authorities by one of her paternal relatives, who claimed she was committing adultery by marrying a Christian. Despite her family’s insistence, Maryam adamantly declined to renounce her Christian beliefs even though she knew it could lead to death by hanging. Inherent to her story are two suppositions: the first being that she is an apostate as claimed by the complainants and the second is her claim that she was not Muslim in the first place since she was brought up Christian. The proponents of the first summarily dismissed the latter. During her trial in 2014, Maryam, a mother of two, told the court she was raised Christian after her father left the family when she was six. Her two names epitomise an identity related both to Islam and Christianity and also stand for a person’s choice. Maryam was given three days to convert but she refused to assent to her father’s religion and the court sentenced her to hang for apostasy, a crime punishable by death in Sudan, as governed by Sharia law since 1983. Maryam, well aware of her rights, bravely confronted the religious, state and legal institutions by standing her ground

whereas authorities appeared confused, giving differing responses in their attempts to justify their actions - one time referring to current law and at another quoting old jurisprudence. Following the sentence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in particular, was obliged to respond to queries from around the world about the legitimacy of the case against her. With the internet and communication revolution having removed information barriers, it is becoming increasingly difficult for an individual or regime to blatantly disregard human rights and get away with it. Dogmatism has less chance to survive in a world calling for the abolishment of corporal punishment of this nature. On June 24, 2014, Maryam was released on the order of a Sudanese appeal court. Although she was rearrested the following day as she was about to board a plane with her family to the United States of America, Maryam was eventually released and left Sudan the following month.

ALSIR ALSAYED MOHAMED ALAMEEN from Atbara in Sudan is a theatre critic, a radio presenter and a writer for several daily newspapers with a special interest in theatre education and theatre for development, on which he has published two books and gender issues. He currently works as the Department Director and Producer of radio programs for the Sudan National Broadcasting Corporation. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the Arab Network for monitoring the image of women and men in the Arab media and of the Sudanese Writers Union and a frequent contributor of artistic know-how in development projects. Alsir has two sons and a daughter and lives in Khartoum with his family.

The Islamic religion has witnessed many trials of apostasy in various countries, in particular after the rise of two contemporary Islamic movements namely, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Wahhabism1, in the course of which many fatwas 2 have been issued also against Sudanese. Their circumstances suggest some inconsistency in application of the practice and points to motives other than religion.

Several fatwas were issued against Sheikh Hassan Al Turabi, a controversial political and religious figure and the mastermind of the Islamist political project in Sudan: one for having released a fatwa stating that women were to be deemed equal to men in legal testimony, and another for stating that a predominantly Muslim country being ruled by a Christian or a woman is not

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The public gathers during Maryam’s trial at Haj Yousif Court in Bahri, Khartoum, 2014

Photo by MARWAN AL KANZY, Sudan

against Islam. A third time, he was accused of apostasy for having said that a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity should not be persecuted – proposals in stark contrast to the otherwise radical Islamist stances of Turabi. A fatwa was issued against Sadiq Al Mahdi, a sectarian Islamist and a former Prime Minister of Sudan,3 accused of apostasy for criticising concepts of hijab and female genital mutilation, and stating that women in prayers should not be standing behind but on the same line as men. Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, charged with apostasy, was executed on January 18, 1985 by the Nimeiri regime. Taha, a trained engineer and a popular religious thinker and leader, called for an end to Sharia law in Sudan. He had also proposed and published a draft constitution for a presidential, federal, democratic, and socialist Sudan. As a Muslim, I have always considered Islam a religion of mercy, justice, human dignity, and honesty


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– and as a global religion whose holy script addresses all people as much as it addresses Muslims. The Qur’an instills compassion in its believers and calls for solidarity against injustice. It challenges oppression and oppressors by advocating for the protection of vulnerable women, men, and children, regardless of their religious identity. My religion obliges me to believe in all scriptures, prophets, and doctrines and to respect other people’s beliefs. It has taught me that choosing and believing in Islam can be fulfilled only by freewill and choice, not by compulsion or coercion. Islam, therefore, places freewill at the core of either embracing or abandoning the religion, because God does not expect faith born from fear, hypocrisy, or coercion. A quick look at some Qur’anic verses will confirm this stance. It states that: "…whosoever of you turns away from his religion and dies as a disbeliever, then his deeds will be lost in this life and in the Hereafter, and they will be dwellers of the Fire. They will abide therein forever."4 And, “…whoever seeks

a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers."5 Another sura states: "How shall Allah guide a people who disbelieved after believing and after they bore witness that the Messenger is true and after clear proofs had come unto them? And Allah guides not the people who are zalimun, polytheists and wrong-doers."6 A study published by the Sudanese Islamic philosopher Dr. Mohamed Magzoub titled, Is The Punishment of Apostasy Islamic taken together with the aforementioned verses and others not mentioned here, clearly reveals how the Qur’an does not call for the killing of apostates, who to the contrary are provided a chance to repent to God and therefore need to live. Dr. Mohamed says, "We see that all the Qur’anic provisions agree on delaying the punishment of those who turn into disbelievers after they were Muslims till Doomsday, and no one may murder them under the punishment of apostasy as claimed by some scholars.” Qur’anic verses that address apostasy do not mention any criminal punishment but rather defer punishment to Doomsday. There are, however, prophetic sayings that call for the death of an apostate only if he/she initiates armed action accompanying his apostasy. This is referred to as haraba, as in the case of Maqees bin Hababa, who murdered a Muslim man after he was accused of apostasy. With the benefit of hindsight, it is evident that most cases where apostates have been executed were actually political executions, disguised in the garment of religion and doctrine. This includes the wars known in Islamic history as "the wars of apostasy." More often than not, history has proved that the so-called apostates did not defect from their Islamic belief. Dr. Magzoub asserts that politicians tend to use atheism, infidelity and apostasy as weapons against their opponents and that apostasy in the Sudanese Criminal Law is nothing more than a political instrument to be raised against opponents whenever the authority deems it necessary. However, it is worth mentioning that the general intellectual and jurisprudent current in the ruling Sudanese Islamic Movement does not believe in the penalty of apostasy. Maryam Yahia is the first woman ever accused of apostasy in Sudan. Of all the alleged apostates in Sudan, she is the only one of no notable political or intellectual

It was freedom of religion and conscience that Maryam defended with her life. An act worthy of utmost respect, it was also an act of religious maturity more than the denying of it. persuasion. The charges against her as a woman point at misogyny in Sudanese tradition, which gives more intellectual entitlement to men and is mistaken for religion. It appears as if the respective sheikhs did not do enough research in this case to understand the fact that punishment for apostasy is not supported by Islam or the Qur’an. The heroine of this story opted for Christianity, choosing death over Islam. Her detractors could not understand why Maryam rejected Islam even with the threat of death hanging over her. Those working in the Islamic Da’wa and Comparative Studies Centre in Khartoum, a body tasked with the spread of Islam among believers and non-believers, claimed that she either had a psychological disorder or had been paid to claim she was a Christian, revealing just how misunderstood the concept of religious freedom is. When she refused to give up Christianity, the same entity called for her imprisonment and execution. This is a patriarchal Islam practiced, manufactured by traditions. That may explain why they did not dare challenge Al Turabi and Al Mahdi - prominent, economically empowered men and politicians - whose apostasy cases had no consequences, as opposed to Maryam’s. It was freedom of religion and conscience that Maryam defended with her life. An act worthy of utmost respect, it was also an act of religious maturity more than the denying of it. In conclusion, as a Muslim I would say, that religion is open to all those who wish to embrace it. Those who want to respectfully renounce it after dialogue and sound advice are also free to do so. No one should be coerced into anything they are not comfortable or happy with. Alsir Alsayed From Arabic by SIHA with translations by Shaima Mahmoud


ahhabism is a W religious movement or branch of Sunni Islam variously described as “orthodox”, “ultraconservative”, “austere”, “fundamentalist”, or “puritanical” or as an Islamic “reform movement” to restore “pure monotheistic worship” (tawhid), by scholars and advocates and as an “extremist pseudoSunni movement” by opponents. Adherents often object to the term as derogatory and prefer to be called salafi or muwahid.


fatwa is a ruling A on a point of Islamic law given by a recognised authority.


f rom 1966 to 1967 and from 1986 to 1989


(al-Baqarah: 217)


(al-Imran: 85)


(al-Imran: 86)

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FGM in the Horn of Africa What does Islam have to do with it? The horn of Africa has the highest prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in the world, including in its most severe forms. Islamic texts are often used to justify FGM/C in this region; this despite the fact that the majority of the world’s Muslims do not practice it. While there is clear support in the sunna (Prophet Mohamed’s teachings and actions) for male circumcision in Islam, there is none for FGM/C. The suppor t for male circumcision in Islam has been wrongfully applied to women. There is not a single verse in the Qur’an that can be used as a basis for FGM/C; on the contrary there are many verses that condemn the practice. There are strong stipulations in Islam that uphold the sanctity of the human body; causing harm to the human body without any religious justification is strictly prohibited. LIV TøNNESSEN (PhD) is a senior researcher at Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) Bergen, Norway. Her research focus is on the intersection between gender, politics and religion. She has conducted extensive fieldwork in Sudan, including teaching at Ahfad University for Women. Tønnessen has published international peer reviewed articles with publishers like Duke University Press, Routledge, Brill, Oxford University Press and Taylor Francis.

Definition of FGM/C and prevalence in the horn of Africa Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for nonmedical reasons. More than 130 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM/C is concentrated. FGM/C has emerged as one of the most significant challenges affecting women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health in the horn of Africa where the prevalence of FGM/C is particularly high. In the age group 15 to 49, the prevalence in Somalia is currently at 98%, Djibouti at 93%, Sudan at 88%, Eritrea at 89% and Ethiopia at 74%.1 The most severe form of FGM/C (infibulation), often referred to as pharaonic, is most commonly practiced in Somalia, Djibouti, and Sudan where the prevalence is the highest in the world. International, regional and national law FGM/C is a violation of girls’ and women’s human rights. FGM/C is condemned by a number of international and regional treaties and conventions, as well as by national legislation. FGM/C violates the right to health and bodily integrity as stipulated in article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In other international conventions FGM/C is regarded as violence against women 2 , a form of torture3 and a traditional practice harmful to the girl child.4 Regionally, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter) and its Protocol on the Rights of


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Women (Maputo Protocol) in addition to the Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child have emphasised the promotion and protection of women’s rights. The clearest and most explicit language is found in Article 5 of the Maputo Protocol, which prohibits “all forms of FGM” through legislative measures and sanctions. FGM/C has been criminalised in most of the countries in the horn of Africa; in Djibouti (1995, amended 2009), Ethiopia (2004), Eritrea (2007), and Somalia (2012). There are ongoing efforts to criminalise it at the national level, but conservative religious and political actors have blocked these attempts deeming them against Islamic law.5 FGM/C and the link to Islam There is a range of reasons given for the practice of FGM/C, one of which is closely related to the control of women’s sexuality; it is a necessary rite of passage to womanhood that ensures ritual cleanliness, virginity and marriageability.6 In fact, Arabic speakers often refer to circumcised women as mutoharat (cleaned or purified) and to uncircumcised as ghulfa’a (unclean or impure).7 In the horn of Africa there are both Christian and Muslim communities who practice FGM/C, often believing that the practice is required by religion. Yet, nearby societies in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa of the same religion do not engage in FGM/C, and worldwide the overwhelming majority of Christians and Muslims do not follow the practice. The use of religious terms to refer to the practice has given it an Islamic identity and strengthened the belief that Islam requires FGM/C. The sunna is used to legitimise type 1 of FGM/C employing Islamic justifications. But

88% of Sudanese girls and 98% in Somalia have undergone female genital mutilation. The practice mistaken for a religious mandate predates both Christianity and Islam.

In Sudan for example, efforts to criminalise FGM/C in all its forms by both civil society and even the Islamist government itself have been met by a stark counter mobilisation by the Salafi movements there is no consensus between the four law schools in Sunni Islam; known as Shafi’ i, Maliki, Hanafi, and Hanbali. It is only the Shafi’ i law school which regards circumcision as obligatory for both men and women. 8 With the exception of Sudan, all the countries in the Horn of Africa follow the Shafi’ i law school.9 The practice of FGM/C pre-dates Islam which makes it difficult to separate culture and tradition from Islam, especially within the realm of control of women’s sexuality which is often embedded within both custom and religion.10 It is clear that patriarchal ideals placing women in a shamehonor paradigm reinforces the practice of FGM/C.11 Islamic arguments have been used to legitimise a practice in areas where FGM/C was already prevalent before Islamisation.12 This has made it even more difficult to abandon the practice, including through criminalisation, as efforts to eradicate FGM/C often face both religious and cultural arguments for the continuation of the practice. If efforts to eradicate FGM/C have funding or support from the international community, then these efforts are often deemed ‘Western’ or ‘foreign’ by conservative political and religious actors. In Sudan for example, efforts to criminalise FGM/C in all its forms by both civil society and even the Islamist government itself have been met by a stark counter mobilisation by the Salafi movements; a conservative trend inspired by Wahhabi Islam. In addition to regarding criminalisation of FGM/C as contrary to Sharia, they view the attempt as Western cultural imperialism.13

The Qur’an makes no mention of FGM/C, but Prophet Mohamed’s actions and teachings, the sunna, makes reference to it. There are a range of hadiths that the proponents of FGM/C use to justify the practice (the hadith of Ummu-Attiya, the hadith of Al Hajjajibnu Arta, the hadith of Abdallaibnu Umar, the hadith of Aisha, and the hadith of Abu Hureira14. The most commonly quoted of these is the hadith of Aisha. In this hadith, the Prophet, is reported to have said “if the two circumcisions meet, then it is obligatory to take ritual bath”. This is regarded as a statement about ritual cleansing after sexual intercourse. Intercourse in this context refers to “when the two circumcised [genitals] meet”. This statement can be taken as evidence that FGM/C existed at the Prophet's time, but on the other side there is no authentic directive that the woman must be circumcised according to Islam. In contrast, there are clear guidelines on how and when male circumcision should be done. Proponents have argued that FGM/C is Islamic, because the practice can be compared to male circumcision. This argument is based on a principle in Islamic jurisprudence called qiyas which translates into analogical deduction. Both religious scholars and activists argue that such comparison cannot be made as the two practices do not share a common feature or cause.15

Photo by Ayman Hussein, Sudan

Islamic teachings against FGM While it is only the Shafi’ i law school which regards sunna circumcision as an obligation for both women and men in Islam, the other law schools regard female circumcision as optional and/or honorable. There are contemporary religious scholars and Islamic feminists who argue against

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its eradication in all its forms. In their opinion it is neither obligatory nor honorable and they argue that the hadiths which are employed as evidence for FGM/C are weak; evidence can only be taken from those hadiths with a strong chain of transmission. Further, it is a pre-Islamic custom that has been erroneously read into the Islamic texts in certain areas like the Horn of Africa. Scholars such as Ziba Mir-Hosseini are deconstructing Islamic jurisprudence ( fiqh) by interrogating the stereotyped constructions of gender. She points out that classical fiqh was based on men's experiences, male-centered questions, and the overall influence of the patriarchal societies in which they lived. The patriarchal societies in which FGM/C prevailed prior to Islamisation used the practice to control women’s (and not men’s) sexuality.

Since female circumcision is not something required and no evidence from religious sources proves that it is either an obligation or a sunna, what remains is that it is an absolute damage that has no benefit The most frequent argument against FGM/C is that it is a custom and that Islam condemns harmful practices that contradict the teachings of Islam. FGM/C in all its forms should be deemed against Islam in the same way that female infanticide, a practice which also existed in pre-Islamic Arabia, was. It is a fundamental teaching in Islam that where there is conflict between religion and a cultural practice, Islam takes precedence. In the words of Mohamed Lutfi Al Sabbagh: “Since female circumcision is not something required and no evidence from religious sources proves that it is either an obligation or a sunna, what remains is that it is an absolute damage that has no benefit.”16

Based on a paper by Ibrahim Lethome Asmani and Maryam Sheikh Abdi (2008), Delinking Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting from Islam.


The other most frequently cited argument against FGM/C within a religious framework is that causing harm is unlawful in Islam. The guiding principle in Sharia states: “Cause no harm and do not reciprocate harm.” FGM/C is clearly a harmful practice that affects women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health. If an action has both benefits and harm, it is allowed if the benefits outweigh the harm. Male circumcision may be viewed as harmful. However, it has been proven to be a religious practice and that the resulting benefits are also significant. These benefits are both religious (male circumcision enhances cleanliness) and medical (male circumcision can reduce penile cancer and HIV transmission). FGM/C on the other hand, does the exact opposite.17 This is further strengthened by the Qur’an which stipulates that the beauty of a human body is to be left as it was created by God unless there is an authentic basis allowing interference with it.18

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Conclusion While there is strong support in Islamic sources for male circumcision, the evidence found in the sunna upon which proponents of FGM/C rely is weak at best. Further, there is no mention of FGM/C in the Qur’an. Even the Islamic jurists (Hanbali, Maliki, Hanafi, and Shafi’ i) during the 8th and 9th century found absolutely no evidence for the most severe form of FGM/C, namely infibulation. Yet in today’s Horn of Africa, infibulation is widely practiced using religious arguments. According to contemporary scholars and activists, FGM/C is a pre-Islamic custom based on patriarchal ideals about the control of women’s sexuality which have been erroneously read into the religious texts by men. The guiding principle in Sharia is that causing harm is unlawful and clearly FGM/C causes great harm to women’s and girl’s sexual and reproductive health. Liv Tønnessen


F emale Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Statistical Overview and Exploration of the Dynamics of Change - http://data.unicef.org/corecode/ uploads/document6/uploaded_pdfs/corecode/FGM_Report_Summary_ English__23August_hi-res_94.pdf


onvention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination C Against Women(CEDAW) - http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ ProfessionalInterest/cedaw.pdf


onvention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, or C Degrading Treatment or Punishment - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CAT.aspx


onvention on the Rights of the Child - http://www.ohchr.org/en/ C professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx

5 Criminalizing FGM in Sudan: A Never Ending Story? - http://www.cmi.no/ news/?1509-criminalizing-fgm-in-sudan-a-never-ending-story 6

I brahim Lethome Asmani and Maryam Sheikh Abdi (2008), Delinking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam, Population Council Frontiers, pp.2


Ibid, pp.3


S ee the entry on “Khitän” in the Encyclopedia of Islam (2nd edition) edited by P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E Bosworth, E. Van Danzel and W.P Heinichs


S udan has traditionally followed the Maliki law school which views FGM/C as obligatory for men, but sunna (optional) for women.


E llen Gruenbaum (2001), The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropological Perspective, University of Pennsylvania Press, pp.50


Ibid, pp.36-47


nne Sofie Roald (2001), Women in Islam: The Western Experience, A Routledge, pp.244.


L iv Tønnessen and Samia Al Nagar (2013), “The Women's Quota in Conflict Ridden Sudan: Ideological Battles for and against Gender Equality”, Women’s Studies International Forum,41, pp.122-131

For details on these hadiths, see Lethome Asmani and Sheikh Abdi (2008), , pp.8-13



Lethome Asmani and Sheikh Abdi (2008), pp.16


ohamed Lutfi Al Sabbagh (1996), Islamic Ruling on Male and Female M Circumcision, World Health Organisation - http://applications.emro. who.int/dsaf/dsa54.pdf, pp.40


Lethome Asmani and Sheikh Abdi (2008), pp.18-20


Ibid, pp. 18

International Women’s Day in a Ugandan Mosque Uganda’s precious religious tolerance must be protected In this environment, mosques were turned into a representation of misogyny the local community of Namasuba. I was informed that the event was to and exclusion. My present take place in a mosque in Namasuba, on Entebbe road. My last memories experience of mosques is of mosques go back as far as my childhood days in the mid-1970s. Back limited to hearing Imams’ then mosques were more accommodating for both men and women. deafening Friday khotbah1 coming out of their Unlike today, they were open to all kinds of people. speakers. More often than The idea of celebrating International Women’s Day in a not, they spew forth curses and intimidating speech against mosque sounded rather intriguing and out of the norm. My women. On Fridays, in the last two decades in my homeland awareness of mosques and their role has been reconstructed Sudan, I listened to their loud voices from several mosques, under the cruelty of political Islam which hijacked the faith- speaking about their fancied images of naked women who based and symbolic institution of the mosque and created a they claim present a threat to society and must be controlled deep rift and dichotomy between women’s spirituality and and suppressed. It was almost impossible to relate mosques to recognition of women’s humanity and equality. their human rights. In March 2014, I was invited by the Kampala based Muslim Centre for Law and Justice to join their International Women’s Day celebration alongside

Illustration by by Arnold Birungi, Uganda

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However, the day I was to visit the mosque in Namasuba I woke up excited and pondered what to wear. As a Muslim woman, before I walk in the streets of Khartoum, Mogadishu or Hargeisa, or even in a country like Djibouti where it is claimed that women’s rights are observed, I consume a considerable amount of time engineering my outfit. This is because ultimately, a woman is defined based on how she looks before anything else about her is considered. In some places it is okay to leave some hair exposed, parts of your arms or parts of your legs, while in many others it is unheard of. Until they die, women’s bodies seem to be the core quest of political Islam. That day I decided to wear what I wanted and hit the road towards the crowded village about 5km from Kampala’s city centre. Situated in the hilly village of Namasuba with its narrow roads and friendly faces is the unassuming mosque. First, I got lost as I was looking for a huge mosque with tall minarets, as has been common recently. To my surprise and delight I found a mosque whose modesty resonated well with its surroundings. Its main distinction was an intimate round minaret in the corner of the village. This was a far cry from today’s mosques typical under political Islam ideology, which could easily be mistaken for royal palaces, as you see them frequently in the midst of poverty across the region. Once I was shocked to see a glamorous but unused mosque in a poor village in Gezira State in Sudan. When I asked about it, I was told that the villagers are afraid to pray in it. Apparently, an important government official visited the village many years before. As he made his way through the village, the villagers told him about their lack of hospitals and schools. In his wisdom, the official decided they needed a glamorous air-conditioned mosque with fancy carpets, generators and bright lights instead. The villagers accepted his offer since they could not say no to a mosque. Building materials arrived within days and out of their honesty, faithfulness and love for God and his prophet, the villagers spent long days constructing the mosque. Within


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a few months the poor village had a glamorous mosque. Its grand opening attracted government officials and people from far and wide. Village women cooked plenty of food and had the guests eat and drink to their fill. After all the festivities, the local leaders of the village had a small talk among themselves and decided to lock up the mosque and hide the keys. The villagers continued to pray in their old mosque under a big Neem tree. This story played on in my mind next to overwhelming happiness when seeing how humble, warm and spiritual the Namasuba mosque was and the reverence it exuded. I was welcomed by Musa, a lawyer from Muslim Centre for Law and Justice (MCLJ), and the Imam of the Mosque who greeted me with gentleness. I realised that I was neither judged nor resented but accepted the way I was. I took my shoes off and entered the mosque to find everybody seated. The women sat in the centre and the men on the sides listening to a female nurse giving a presentation on HIV/ AIDS. The presentation was followed by a question and answer session. After that, a community mobiliser spoke about domestic violence and how both women and men in Muslim communities ought to stand against it in order to reform their communities and raise the noble values of their spirituality. Next, Musa from MCLJ talked about the importance and urgency of girls’ education in Muslim communities. Later, I humbly accepted the opportunity to speak to the pleasant gathering. There was a deep sense of solidarity which I have found missing among many Muslim communities in the Horn of Africa. It is sad to realise that our spirituality as Muslim men and women has been hijacked by political Islamic groups making it difficult to appreciate our spiritual identity apart from them. The feelings of solidarity brought back vivid memories of my grandmother’s return from haj. She was met by the madahat (spiritual singers) and together they sang and chanted while banging the tars. 2 My grandmother and her female friends had danced and worshiped God and his prophets. Now, years later, women are openly denied the chance to enjoy and exercise their spirituality. Suppression

is legitimised with the endorsement of gowama - male guardianship - in Muslim communities in the Horn of Africa. I spoke about the concepts of equality and the closest model I had in my mind from Islamic history was Al Sayda Khadija’s legacy that presents the era of revolutionary Islam and women’s leadership. Despite her wealth, she was able to overcome human greed and support the Messenger and his message with both her money and thoughts while calling for an end to poverty, slavery, and the killing of infant girls. Lunch was served under a big tree and the Imam humbly served us at his home making sure everyone ate. People from all walks of life - professionals, students, women with and without hijab - kept coming in all through the day. The event broke off for prayers twice: for Al Dohr and Al Asr. There were more speeches, a photo session and then the donation for the Women Community Association. In my view, it was the best International Women’s Day because we were able to just be ourselves in our community. Uganda has a considerable Muslim population officially estimated at about 12% though this could be much higher. They live in peace with the rest of the population. What is interesting about Islam in Africa is how the tolerant African culture shines through, bringing out the tolerance of Islam evident in many African families that have both Christians and Muslims living together in the same house with appreciation for each other.

Cup games in two local restaurants. Though the majority of the victims were Ugandans, some Eritreans and other foreign nationals were killed. The Somali based Al Shabaab group claimed responsibility for this atrocious act. They said it was in retaliation for Uganda’s engagement in the African peace keeping mission in Somalia. For the first time, Uganda experienced the horror of religious militancy. Since then things have taken a different course. Counter terrorism policies and legislations that are blind to context and social dynamics focusing on security only have proven to be problematic. They implant fear in society. The Ugandan people have to avoid a situation where Muslim communities are singled out as a source of terror, undermining the inherited diversity of communities and contributing to deepening of frictions between them. The issue adds to the struggles of the African postcolonial State where issues of poverty, unemployment, and unequal access to services are far from being resolved. For peace to last, the precious religious tolerance Uganda is enjoying must not be taken for granted. It can only be protected by awareness, enlightenment, and ongoing efforts to end exclusion and polarisation. Hala Alkarib


a pulpit address of prescribed form that is read in mosques before the Friday prayers


tar (Arabic: ) A is a single-headed frame drum

Sadly though, signs of exclusion have been emerging lately. The imported political Islam with its prefabricated institutional religious construct and dismissive ideological position of cultural diversity leads to the emergence of fanaticism in Sub Saharan Africa and in Uganda. Some youth are currently shunning secular mainstream education in preference for madrasa (Islamic religious schools) and this is prevalent among poor Muslim youth who are subject to alienation and are often angry. In June 2010, Kampala experienced an attack claiming the lives of more than 70 people during the finals of the World

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Paintings by Hussein Mirghani, Sudan

Migration, Modernity and Islam in Rural Sudan For the villagers of Wad Al Abbas in northern Sudan, transnational migration has generated new understandings of what it means to be a Muslim. From the mid1970s through the 1980s, Wad Al Abbas’s incorporation into the global economy was mediated primarily by Saudi Arabia. The Saudi kingdom influenced Sudan at the national level by pressuring then-President Jaafar Nimeiri to institute Sharia law in 1983 and funding opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, Saudi Arabia attracted ordinary Sudanese from all walks of life as labour migrants. Villagers from Wad Al Abbas found work in Saudi Arabia as truck drivers, electricians, factory workers, and sales clerks. The national economic and identity crises of Sudan and the labour migration of villagers to Saudi Arabia were catalysts for change, stimulating the rise of “fundamentalist”1 Islam in the village. For the villagers, embracing a new orthodoxy represented a move away from local, parochial identities toward perceived conformity with a universalistic set of beliefs and practices.

The rise of new orthodoxies Wad Al Abbas is located on the bank of the Blue Nile River in the Blue Nile Province of northern Sudan. Its inhabitants are Muslims whose mother tongue is Arabic. Wad Al Abbas was founded by a Sufi faqih. Its inhabitants have always practiced Islam, but villagers’ religious life has not been


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static. The pace of recent changes has astounded me. I returned to Wad Al Abbas in 1988 after a fiveand-a-half-year absence and found villagers boldly critiquing an array of local practices while articulating new Islamic standards. Mourning rituals, wedding customs, and reverence for holy men in particular were held up as examples of local deviation from true Islam. One villager, after describing in detail the pattern of mourning practices (bika’) in Wad Al Abbas, ended his account with the caveat, “but in Islam and shari‘a there is no bika’.”

One way villagers expressed new understandings of Islam was through the medium of feminine modesty. During the 1980s, female seclusion increased as villagers adopted new forms of architecture and dress. Until the early 1980s compounds were demarcated by low mud walls or thornbrush fences, if at all. By the late 1980s, well-to-do villagers were building high brick or cement walls around their homes,


definitively separating domestic and public space. Less fortunate villagers strove to achieve similar effects by placing burlap screens over their mud walls. Some women had begun to wear ankle-length robes underneath their tobe (the headto-toe cloth wrap worn by adult women), rather than the short, sleeveless smocks (shuwal) common in the early 1980s.

Wedding rituals were another focus of fundamentalist discourse in the village. At weddings the bride dances tobe-less before a mixed audience, moving to the lively beat of the daluka (Sudanese drum) and the singing of unmarried girls. This practice was now said to be “against Islam”, and some villagers argued for the abolition of the bride’s dance. Although such practices had never been impervious to change before the late 1980s, they formed part of how villagers defined themselves. New Islamic sensibilities were calling into question the morality and legitimacy of local practices. This process of religious change was intimately connected to other upheavals in villagers’ lives. The social relations of kin and community that once structured many aspects of villagers’ lives have been increasingly subordinated to or supplanted by relations to global markets and the State. The social map in which villagers locate themselves and others now includes not only Khartoum and other Sudanese towns where sons of the village live and work, but Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Yemen, and other destinations as well. Transnational migration and Islam The villagers of Wad Al Abbas have been linked to the global economy as consumers of imported goods and producers of

cotton since the 1950s. But improvements in transportation and communications over the past three decades have profoundly altered the character of villagers’ participation in the world beyond the village. By 1980, international labour migration had become a way of life. By the 1980s, every villager knew someone working in Saudi Arabia. Because of Saudi restrictions on immigration, migrants could not settle there and usually left their families at home. This gave rise to a steady traffic between the village and Saudi Arabia. As one villager explained, “Before people went to Saudi just for the hajj. They didn’t see anything else. But now they go everywhere.” Through the 1980s it was common practice for villagers making the hajj to travel as a group and to take along most of the supplies they expected to use on the pilgrimage - dried meat, clarified butter, spices, and various ingredients for meals and drinks. In contrast, labour migrants, who usually stay for a year or two and are generally employed in urban areas, experience life in Saudi Arabia more fully. They shop in the markets, ride public transportation, and interact with Saudi employers and the public. Those who work abroad are referred to by a special term: mughtaribin (singular, mughtarib). Salaries are much higher abroad, so mughtaribin are associated with wealth and luxury consumption. A returning mughtarib is greeted like a king. Ideally, a sheep is slaughtered before the migrant’s foot crosses the threshold of his home and a karama, a feast with an animal sacrifice, is performed to give thanks for the safe return. The ritual of karama infests the occasion with religious as well as social meaning. Men shoot off rif les and women ululate. Migrants bring back suitcases loaded with gifts to distribute among relatives and neighbors. Migrants brought home clothes, shampoo, tape decks, TVs, VCRs and even refrigerators (years before the village was electrified). They arrived in the village with savings, consumer goods but also with a new sense of the world and their place in it. When they returned home, villagers reported what they saw in other places, and sometimes

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Professor VICTORIA BERNAL’s research has addressed a range of issues relating to gender, migration, nationalism, transnationalism, development, cyberspace, and Islam. She has carried out ethnographic research in Eritrea, Tanzania, and the Sudan. Her book analysing rural transformations and the complex interplay of development policies, labour migration and peasant households, Cultivating Workers: Peasants and Capitalism in a Sudanese Village was published by Columbia University Press. Her articles and chapters have appeared in interdisciplinary journals, including Cultural Anthropology, Comparative Studies in Society and History, African Studies Review, and Political and Legal Anthropology Review.


altered their own standards of behaviour. The hajjis and the more numerous labour migrants to Saudi Arabia returned with new understandings of Islamic culture and Arab identity. In the early 1980s, most villagers understood that being Muslim meant being and living like them. Before the advent of new notions of Islamic dress, a woman described the tobe to me as “from God.” By the late 1980s, however, the locus of moral authority had shifted. Islam clearly had its center outside the community; local culture and behaviour were now to be measured against new standards derived from external sources, particularly Saudi Arabia. Orthodoxy as modernity Adopting fundamentalist practices was a way to assert one’s sophistication, urbanity, and material success. The new interpretations of Islamic propriety were associated with new consumption patterns. House construction materials and skills, once shared by all, are now commodities. The new robes some women wear are brought from Khartoum and Saudi Arabia or fashioned after imports by local tailors.

just as they view village poverty and local Islamic traditions as intertwined. The association of luxury consumption with piety and morality is significant in terms of the relation of villagers to national and international hierarchies and villagers’ relations with one another. Income disparities among villagers are growing, and these differences are due to the participation of villagers in work outside the community, in Sudan, and the Gulf. Villagers who build high courtyard walls and adopt new forms of dress are making statements about their wealth and their piety. Economic success and moral superiority are being demonstrably connected in the village just as Saudi wealth and Saudi orthodoxy are understood by villagers to be related. Islam and identity

Fundamentalist Islam is therefore identified with progress and prosperity, exemplified by the life of leisure, technological advancement and material comfort that Saudi Arabia has come to represent.

Moreover, while State power may assert Sudan’s Islamic and Arab identity for strategic political and economic reasons, villagers are responding to profound and personal encounters with relations of power in global hierarchies. Migration confronts villagers with questions about culture and identity. As immigrant workers, as blacks, as peasants, and as Muslims from a poor country, Sudanese villagers’ position in Saudi Arabia is a lowly one. No migrant I spoke with had ever been invited into a Saudi home, something they were well aware of, given the open hospitality for which Sudanese are rightly renowned. In the words of one mughtarib, “There, even if you work with someone a long time, they don’t invite you to their house. If you knock on the door, they don’t say ‘welcome,’ they dress and come outside to you, hear what you have to say and go back inside.”

Wealth and piety are interconnected in the stories villagers tell about Saudi life. Villagers perceive Saudi adherence to “orthodox” practice, their wealth and the abundance of goods and modern conveniences in Saudi Arabia as interrelated. Modernity and Islamic orthodoxy are seen not as contradictory (as they may appear in the West) but villagers associate the luxury consumption enjoyed by Saudis with a more literate, urban understanding of Islam,

Among a group of women talking about Saudi Arabia, one said, laughing at these uncomfortable thoughts, “They won’t give their daughters to a Sudanese. They don’t want us. They call us ‘abid al‘arab (slaves of the Arabs).” One of the most humiliating experiences labour migrants from Wad Al Abbas report is being called ‘abid by Arabs in the Gulf. Sudanese themselves use this term to refer to the descendants of slaves in Sudan, a stigmatised group with whom other Sudanese

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do not intermarry. But returning migrants generally do not dwell on the denigrations they have experienced in the Gulf, perhaps because it would detract from the prestige accorded to them in village circles. While Sudanese are called ‘abid by Gulf Arabs because of their dark skin and African ancestry, the term connotes religious as well as racial inferiority, since Islam forbids the enslavement of fellow Muslims. One way Sudanese can assert their Arab identity (which for villagers is synonymous with Muslim identity) is by embracing Arab cultural forms - such as orthodox Islam as practised in the Gulf. “Fundamentalist” Islam thus arises from conditions of modernity, including labour migration, and is misunderstood if interpreted as a return to “tradition.” The changing

configuration of Islam at Wad Al Abbas thus is linked in complex ways to migration, globalisation, and to the attempts of elites to define a Sudanese national culture. Local identities are being reconstructed in relation to transnational identities such as “Arab” and “Muslim.”

Previously published in: www.merip.org 1

I have chosen to use the term “fundamentalist” rather than “Islamist” because “fundamentalism” implicitly invites comparison to other religions. “Islamism,” moreover, seems inadequate to capture the multiple and contested orthodoxies within Islam.


F rom: http://www. anthropology.uci. edu/anthr_bios/ vbernal

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Sudan can be viewed as part of the decline of the local community as the centre of moral and social power. The case of Wad Al Abbas may help explain why the movement toward “orthodox” Islam has appealed to so many Muslims in the post-modern age. Victoria Bernal

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A Frank Debate About Identity and Islam A young Sudanese author explores his fraught relationship to religion A new Sudanese generation is raising its voice. They are finally addressing an issue central to their existence, an issue that has long been held hostage by the ruling elites, the older generation, and a few academics, but which has never been simplified for public consumption

questions. In the course of his autobiographical yet deeply philosophical account, Amir charts a painful and often treacherous journey in the search of his own personal "truth."

or opened up to wider participation. Now, at last, we can finally get

Born to Sudanese parents who left Sudan shortly after he was born in 1986, Amir's first stop was Qatar. There he received a primary education that included an orthodox and dogmatic version of Islam with a heavy anti-Jewish/anti-Israeli accent. Although his parents are moderate Muslims, his school environment was far from tolerant and did not encourage his persistent questioning, which his teachers equated with "weak faith" and "the work of the devil."

on with a debate that has, until now, been frozen in time - about the relationship between Islam and identity.

There is no more fitting moment to open this debate than today. It is one of urgent relevance, both globally and locally. This is especially true in Sudan, where 24 years of rule by fundamental Islamists have led the country to the brink of imminent disintegration and State collapse. Sudan is a place where Islam and the national identity have been reconstructed through the narrow lens of Arabism and fundamental/political Islam. This has marginalised the majority in one of Africa's most ethnically diverse countries. In his first book My Isl@m: How Fundamentalism Stole My Mind-and Doubt Freed My Soul, the 29-year-old Sudanese blogger Amir Ahmad Nasr, known as "Drima" in the blogsphere, courageously, eloquently, and unapologetically asks the tough

E SMACKED HER ACROSS THE FACE - a violent thundering slap. The television seemed to reverberate with the impact. It was the climax of the show, and I had entered the living room uninvited. “Why did he hit her?” I asked my mom. “Shush, not now,” she replied, her eyes still fixed on the screen. I hated being ignored. “What happened? What did she do?” I continued, insisting that I get an answer. “I said, not now!” Mama snapped back, now obviously annoyed. The woman collapsed on the floor and broke down in tears. The man who had hit her, clearly still enraged, stood tall above her, and then shouted in her face, “You’re divorced. Divorced. Divorced!” The words marched out of his mouth, decisively and with absolute vengeance. I didn’t want to risk getting a similar response from my mom, but I couldn’t resist. “Why did he say that three times? What happened, Mama?” “How many times do I have to tell you, not now,”

When his parents moved to Malaysia, Amir was placed in a Western international school where all his presumptions about his identity and the Islam he has been taught so far were put to the test. He refers to his relationship with Islam as "an arranged marriage" that took place without his consent. It's a marriage that, like so many others, gradually moves toward divorce and ultimately culminates in reconciliation (at least of a sort). Amir's quest for his "truth" is one that focuses on empiricism and sound reasoning. As Amir puts it, one of the first and

Mama shot back, still not fully acknowledging my presence. “Will you tell me later then?” I asked, desperate to know if I would ever get to find out what the mystery was all about. “Khalas, fine, yes,” she assured me. My mom was busy watching an Egyptian series, and I was bored out of my six-year-old mind. I did my best to amuse myself, but neither my brother’s Michael Jackson tape, nor my Ninja Turtle action figures, nor my well-worn superhero fantasies did the trick. After what seemed like forever, I sensed movement outside my room. My mom was done with her television show, so I rushed out to demand my answer. “Will you tell me what happened now, Mama? Why did he hit her? And what was that thing he said three times?” “He got angry at his wife and divorced her,” she responded at last. Still, I wasn’t satisfied. “Why did he get angry? What did she do?” I continued. “Later, Amir, later,” Mama replied. Later - many years later - I’d finally come to better understand part of what happened in that memorable scene.


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toughest questions is: "How did Islamdom really lose its virtue?" In trying to find an answer, his quest takes him to the ninth century and the war of ideas between two schools of theological philosophy: one that advocated reason, free will, and an allegorical reading of sacred texts (Mu'tazila); and another that advocated tradition, predestination, and a more literal reading of the Qur’an (Ashariya). Eventually Al Ashariya's school of thought prevailed because it was supported by the stronger political establishment of the time; and eventually it became the predominant mode of thinking about and for interpreting Islam. According to Amir, "this would later prove to be politically useful in getting the masses to accept their rulers whether just or unjust," and to obey without questioning. This is the Islam we have inherited today. But his crisis of faith was not the only crisis he experienced. He was also simultaneously obliged to straddle multiple cultures and assimilate the values of his parents to create what he calls, "a colorful culture of my own." The drastic shift in his schooling and cultural surroundings eventually made Amir feel "sandwiched between two worlds, between two planes of existence: the Afro-Arab Muslim ingrained within me, versus the liberal ‘Westernised' me." Feeling utterly lonely, Amir goes on a frantic search for answers in the place that is most natural for his generation to seek answers from: the Internet. Here he stumbles, by accident, on the diverse world of the blogosphere and comfortably finds a voice and a community. He blogs anonymously for six years; he goes "on a quest to learn and unlearn. To blog and to grow." It is in this virtual world that Amir starts to feel that he is not alone; he learns that "Arab dissidents and political ‘heretics' of all stripes were discovering one another online and slowly forming a massive self-organised network." The Egyptian blogsphere, for example, had prominent voices of dissent which later became known to the rest of the world at the height of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, such as activist and blogger, Alaa Abdul Fatah and Mahmoud Salem. The American-Muslim blogosphere, or the "Islamosphere," was another virtual space that was diverse yet accommodated, for the most part, respectful and non-dogmatic debate.

DALIA HAJOMAR, is a human rights activist and blogger from Sudan, who works as a freelance consultant to different civil society organisations. Since 2006, her work has focused on Sudan and promoting peaceful civic engagement in the country. She studied at the American University of Beirut and has two M.A.s in international relations and development economics from the University of Notre Dame and the John Hopkins University. Dalia considers herself a global citizen and currently lives in France.

freedom of thought and critical inquiry, and freedom from organised religion. It will create a stir in a closed society like Sudan where the debate on religion, the secular State, and identity has been stunted. Although My Isl@m is appearing first in English, there is already interest from readers in the Arab world for an Arabic translation. This book will also resonate regionally and globally. For countries with Islamist regimes who are clamping down on freedom of expression, this book is a treasure trove that can equip normal citizens with an accessible counter-dialogue to Islamist rhetoric that the people in Muslim countries are rarely able to respond to, since the way Islam has been taught for centuries has all too often discouraged questioning and critical thinking. In My Isl@m, Amir is calling for a "revolt against the abusive dinosaur preachers of our times." He argues for a paradigm shift in the way Islam is taught and understood. More importantly, following the footsteps of the Sudanese scholar Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim, he explains in a very accessible manner how Islamic theology isn't holy or sacred, but is in fact man-made and has developed over time in certain ways due to socio-political and other factors. For the West, whose relationship with Islam is often contentious, My Isl@m offers a possible reconciliation of East and West through an acceptance that the rich philosophical traditions of both worldviews can lead to an "integral Islam" that marries the empirical, the rational, and the spiritual. Dalia Hajomar

First published in under: http://www. foreignpolicy.com/ ar ticles/2013/ 07/30/a_frank_ debate_about_ identity_and_ islam?page=0,1

This book is a gift to a generation that grew under the lack of religious freedom. It is a song to freedom of expression,

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“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” Stoning: A manifestation of dark times yet to fully prevail A controversial practice revived: What are the temporal and spatial circumstances of the striking re-emergence of the ancient practice of stoning in today’s context? HALA ALKARIB places the harsh form of justice into a global perspective. It is peculiar how the world coldshouldered the phenomenon of stoning which re-emerged in many Islamic countries in the late 20th century. One of the most ancient forms of execution in the world, stoning had already been applied in Judaism and later in Christianity. As one of the most common forms of death penalty described in the Bible, it prompted Jesus’s famous anti-death penalty statement, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7).

Illustration by HUSSEIN MIRGHANI, Sudan


The reappearance of stoning in modern Islamic legal systems is closely linked to the

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expansion of political Islam after World War II and in the second half of the 20th century, as a reaction to the growing communist and socialist ideologies in and around the Middle East and Africa, which intimidated not only Muslim communities but also Western actors during the cold war. But it is more complex than that. Vast oil resources found in countries of the Middle East have prompted their leaders to seek an ideological legitimation to sustain and control their accumulative wealth. Political Islam serves as a simplistic

means for leaders to maneuver power and to manipulate the desperate and isolated masses. Stoning is incorporated into today’s legal systems of a number of predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Nigeria (in about one-third of its 36 States), Pakistan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia1, Mauritania, and Yemen 2. In Afghanistan, stoning was practiced during the Taliban’s rule but was halted after. In 2013, when a proposal was presented to parliament to reincorporate stoning into the legal system, the government backed away from it after a leak of the draft law attracted strong international condemnation.3 Although stoning is not part of the legal framework in Somalia, many women

and one man have been stoned in the Al Shabaab militia-held areas since 2008. The latest was Safia Ahmed Jimale, a 33-year-old mother from Lower Shabelle region in Somalia, who struggled with mental illness. She was executed in October 2014. A man presenting himself as an Al Shabaab judge said that Jimale confessed to having three husbands, none of who were aware they were married to the same woman.4 All three men testified against her. According to the unidentified judge, Jimale admitted her guilt before the court and declared her readiness to be stoned in order to attain God’s forgiveness. The confession of an alleged adulterer supercedes the obligation of the accusing tribunal to “prove” that adultery occurred5. The punishment of stoning and traditional jurists The punishment of stoning is the most controversial form of corporal punishment under Islamic guidance (hudud)6. Although stoning is not mentioned in the Qur’an as punishment for adultery (zina), it emerged later as an additional had - a form of corporal punishment for adultery in the traditional jurisprudence. It concerns the muhassin, a term referring to Muslim men and women who, being in a marriage contract, are free to be sexually active, as opposed to the nonmuhassin who do not fulfill these conditions. Currently, the legal

legitimacy of stoning largely derives from the sunna7 and the guidance of traditional jurists. However, even when examining sunna and the overall consensus (ijmaa) of traditional jurists’ views in the 8th century, stoning remains controversial. The establishment of zina as a crime, as Islamic traditional jurists agree, depends on a confession and several verifications of the confession, or on testimonies of four adults who witnessed the act while it was happening. However, there is a great deal of disagreement in different schools of jurisprudence about approving a confession which requires different forms of evidence and quality of testimonies for making a ruling8. For example, the Hanafi and the Hanbali schools of jurisprudence require the confession of zina to be uttered four times, while the Malikis consider one confession sufficient. A main challenge inherent to the practice of stoning is that women are disproportionately accused of adultery compared to men, which raises political questions. This is most noticeable in the Maliki jurisprudence where pregnancy can serve as evidence for adultery. In a desperate attempt to circumvent stoning, the majority of Maliki Imams agree on “prolonging” the duration of pregnancy in zina cases, and thus suspending the act of stoning for up to seven years before the case would be revisited, out of concern for the relationship of mother and child. It is hoped that after that time the interest in the case subsides. Besides, a review of the matter requires placing the views jurists held in the 8th century into the social and historical context of their time.

The wisdom of African elders: concepts of sotra 9 and reparation Muslim communities across Africa have developed intelligent strategies for reconciling historical norms and traditions and for their integration into their adaptation of Islam, particularly for zina and other moral matters of importance. African traditions are known to focus on collective rights and community interest. For example, elders in Somalia, despite a heritage of patriarchy and a traditional tendency to subjugate women, never exercised stoning and instead would use reparation or other means of justice provided for in customary law to settle violations of cultural norms, especially those related to sexual behaviour. However, with the state structure in Somalia failing, traditional systems have largely disintegrated and are losing legitimacy. Traditional systems in Somalia are consistently manipulated by whoever holds power in the local context. Militant groups such as Al Shabaab who present themselves as an alternative in terms of governance and ideology fill the vacuum left by a weak State and a collapsing traditional system. The killing of Safia Ahmed Jimale, despite her family repeatedly having communicated her mental illness to Al Shabaab prior to the sentence and her execution, not only reflects the absurdity of political Islam, but also presents an insult upon Muslim jurists who had already in the 8th century displayed logic and objectivity when addressing sexuality and persecuting immoral acts. Those

HALA ALKARIB, an activist for women’s rights and a researcher from Sudan, is the Director of SIHA Network – the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa. With a background in Psychology and Women and Development Studies, she has worked as a refugee counselor and community worker in Canada, and on different missions in countries in East Africa and the Horn. She is currently based in Uganda. Having a long history of activism promoting the rights of women and minorities in Sudan, she has published a number of articles and reports in her field of interest.

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jurists had unanimously agreed that individuals with mental illness were not qualified to undergo trial or punishment. The case of Laila Ibrahim Issa Jamool, a 23-year-old from Sudan, further illustrates the preposterousness of actors of political Islam. The young woman from Kordofan had fled conflict and the destruction of livelihoods in rural Sudan and had been residing with her family in Mayo, a quarter in the peripheries of Khartoum, when she was sentenced to death by stoning in July 2012, for zina under Article 146 of the Sudanese Penal Code of 1991. She was reported to police for adultery by her former husband, after the couple had been battling their divorce at court for over 12 months, and her family did not have the resources to return the dowry payments he once made. Meanwhile, after having separated from her husband, Laila had met another man and they had a child together. Laila, who had no legal representation, communicated to the judge that she planned to marry her fiancé immediately after the divorce was finalized. By then, a family dispute had turned into an execution case. After only three court sessions, including a referral to the High Court, Laila was sentenced to death by stoning, and detained and shackled at her ankles with a six-month-old baby at her side. Eventually, she was released after her case gained the attention of local and international advocacy groups who campaigned for her. However, stoning remains alive in Sudan’s legal system, awaiting its next victim. An interesting dimension of Laila’s story is the position her family and her local community took. They were all extremely shocked by the charges and could not make sense of them logically or through their understanding of Islam. For generations, such matters have been addressed through local traditions of the community and were resolved through reparations, such as the application of sotra values, which concede concealment and respect of individual privacy. This form of reconciliation has long


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been used in support of Islamic values when dealing with matters related to family and children. The current harsh and random proceedings by political Islamic forces lead to great confusion in local communities over social values, demoralising communities who are caught between conforming to militant Islam or becoming targets and victims of its repressive power. Dreadful consequences of the re-emerging of stoning in present legislation The reemergence of stoning as a punishment leads to many other tragedies apart from the horrific day-today threat to women’s and men’s lives. Hundreds of children born outside of the formal institution of marriage in Sudan are left by their mothers in dumpsters and by the road side, often to be gnawed by dogs and rats. Unmarried mothers are terrified to approach the department of social welfare and hand over their children as it used to happen decades ago when mothers’ data was concealed and their confidentiality respected. Under the current legal system, confidentiality is not given and unmarried mothers are exposed to a number of threats. Unmarried as well as married women who become pregnant from men other than their husbands have their pregnancy used against them as evidence for zina and are at risk of harsh punishments such as imprisonment, lashing and death by stoning. Traditional values and concepts such as sotra and reparation, which would otherwise help in resolving conflicts in family and personal relations, are undermined by a legal system that invades individual privacy and promotes persecution of individuals based on their personal behaviour. The incorporation of stoning into today’s legal systems of many countries of the Sahel and Horn of Africa is politically motivated and geared at controlling communities through intimidation. The impact on communities and their values, on their understanding of their faith and

heritage and on their traditions which previously supported them in becoming better Muslims, is catastrophic. Further, there is a gender dimension to the punishment which primarily targets women since presenting four witnesses to verify adultery is practically impossible, and pregnancy is used for accusing and criminalising women. Looking at the temporal and spatial relations of the increase in the prevalence of stoning, it reveals to be part of a larger pattern of manipulation of religion by political Islamic forces to access and retain power. In fact, the Islamic traditional jurists in history have done their best to distance themselves from and avoid stoning as a punishment and traditional Muslim communities in Africa were perceptive in their use of cultural and historical customs regulating unwarranted personal behaviour. However, it remains a tragedy that in the 21st century, political Islamic actors succeed to enforce their dogmatic agenda without being challenged or held accountable by the world or by Muslims themselves. Hala Alkarib


h ttp://www.violenceisnotourculture.org/faq_ stoning


ornell Law school http://www. C deathpenaltyworld wide.org/country-search-post. cfm?country=Oman


h ttp://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/ nov/28/stoning-not-brought-back-afghanpresident-karzai: accessed on June 4, 2015


h ttp://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/27/ussomalia-stoning-idUSKCN0HM08K20140927: accessed on June 4, 2015


h ttp://www.somalilandpress.com/stoning-inlower-shebelle-recent-incidents-highlightcontinued-brutality/: accessed on June 4, 2015


singular had, meaning final restriction or end line


t he body of traditional Islamic law accepted by most Muslims as based on the words and acts of Prophet Mohamed


ir-Hosseini, Z. Criminalising Sexuality: Zina M Laws as Violence Against Women in Muslim Contexts in Mir-Hosseini, Z (2010). Control and Sexuality: The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts. Women Living Under Muslim Laws.


f the Arabic word O means : concealment and respecting individual privacy

How does the size of fabric on a female’s body determine the extent of her Muslim faith? How does it reflect the morality of her parents and family? When militant and political Islamists seize power, their first edicts are often to ensure that women are covered: hair, arms, legs, feet, and even faces. Women’s bodies are a contested land: centralised to represent an overall religious identity, fenced in, governed, owned, criminalised, beaten, altered by genital mutilation and bleaching, turned into spoils of war, and raped to settle scores.



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The Sound of Music Part of the history of Sudanese women 1900 – 1980 A book review by Sara Elnager

Sawt Al Musiqah, The Sound of Music, looks at the history of Sudanese women through a study of their clothing over an 80-year period from the beginning of the twentieth century. The book’s title derives from a particular 1960s design of the traditional attire of Sudanese women – the “tobe”, which was named after a famous 1965 musical. Indeed, the cover features the red material with the white band of musical notes embroidered at the bottom which characterised “The Sound of Music” tobe’s design.

been marked by the rise of political Islam which retains power in the country, and its implication for women. There are a few references to the mounting organisation of politicised Islamic groupings at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s, such as the “hijab fairs” that were being held at girls’ schools. However, the book does not delve into this period in detail. Until 1983, when President Nimeiri declared the September Sharia laws, women’s clothes were largely a matter of choice influenced only by social, religious or cultural norms. From the September laws onwards, the kind of clothing women wore in public began to be dictated by the State. The 1900 – 1950 era

Sawt Al Musiqah written by Akram Abdulkuyoum Abbas is a 2011 publication in Arabic inspired and produced by the Salmmah Women’s Resource Center, Khartoum

Sawt Al Musiqah covers this rich and largely undocumented history through a combination of academic research, the testimonies of Sudanese women and reproduction of old photographs. The author divides the book into three broad chronological periods: from the turn of the century until independence, the post-independence years, and finally 1970s. These periods are not only significant for a study of the situation of Sudanese women, but they also mirror the wider changes in Sudanese politics, economy, society and relations with the outside world including external influences. And although the central theme is women’s clothing in Khartoum, the capital, the book also offers fascinating glimpses of the great contrasts between life in the capital then and now, and of life in Sudanese society as a whole. Aside from providing a record of what have so far been mostly oral accounts of the history of Sudanese women’s clothing, the importance of Sawt Al Musiqah is that it offers a version of history that counters the heavily politicised and ideology-loaded narrative which is being imposed by the State. From the bride dancing bare-chested in public in the first half of the 1900s to the woman being flogged for wearing “indecent clothes” in the latter part of the century, this book is an invitation for Sudanese to embark on a process of soul searching and to begin to understand these apparent contradictions and come to terms with what is essentially a crisis of identity. Sawt Al Musiqah ends at the beginning of the 1980s, so it does not cover the last 25 years of Sudan’s history which have


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The first period covered by the book, - roughly 1900 -1950, was a time “when Sudanese society was being prepared to accept women’s participation in all aspects.” During this period women’s unions, movements and associations were being created. Not surprisingly, only a few first-hand accounts of this period survived and the author relies on second or third-hand accounts. He also makes good use of a number of unpublished academic papers which provide an excellent resource for future studies on women’s issues in Sudan. London’s swinging sixties had echoes in Khartoum. This was almost inevitable considering the relationship between Sudan and former colonial power Britain, and the number of foreign communities who remained in the country after independence in 1956. This not only influenced women’s clothing in the capital but also engendered a sense of post-independence optimism prevailed. As one of the interviewees puts it, this was a time of “great and courageous change”. A photo of a fashion show shows models on a catwalk in Khartoum wearing mini-dresses, their hair piled high in the fashion of the time. During this period women became active players on many scenes, joining political parties, trade unions and sports clubs. Women now had the right to stand for elections at various levels of government, and Fatma Ahmad Ibrahim became the first female Member of Parliament. Changes during the Eighties In the 1970s, women began to participate in the State’s executive bodies and regional and international forums. In terms of fashion, it was a time of “garish colours” a time of “personal freedom when everyone wore the colours they wanted.” It was marked by increased migration to the capital from rural areas emphasising the difference between “banat al Khartoum” Khartoum girls and “banat al qaleem”, rural girls and their traditional clothing. Instability within the Nimeri regime

around the middle of the decade played to the advantage of the Islamist forces seeking power. By the end of the Seventies, the Islamic Movement became active in advocating an Islamic code of dress through organising workshops and seminars on the hijab. In 1983, under the influence of the Islamists and in a bid to maintain power, Nimeri declared the September Islamic laws. This, and an aggressive policy of nationalisation, saw the departure of many of the foreign families who had settled in Sudan, often for several generations. Under these circumstances, and with ties being strengthened with Saudi Arabia and Gulf States, the “abaya”, the black cloak worn by women in these countries, was introduced as a form of Islamic dress for women in Sudan. Testimonies of contemporary witnesses To me, the most compelling parts of the book were the passages where women talked about their own experiences or those of their mothers or grandmothers. While reading the passages transcribed in Sudanese colloquial Arabic, the reader can imagine him or herself sitting listening to these strongwilled, feisty Sudanese women who recall their past with a sense of ownership. Indeed, every Sudanese woman will at some time have listened to an older female relative or family friend talking authoritatively about how the tobe is best and censoring the interference of the State in what women wear. Through their stories, glimpses of a very different Khartoum from the current capital emerge. This is a place where women had their clothes tailored and where the fabric for them came from London and Europe. It is a place where a tramway connected Khartoum and Omdurman and a city which went to bed at nine “when the tram made its final run into the station for the night.” This is a cosmopolitan Khartoum where foreigners have settled and opened businesses; the Kronfli’s fabric store, Atine’s coffee shop and bar and Shashati’s pharmacy – Syrian, Greek, Armenian and Lebanese families and Muslims, Jews and Christians all coexisting. One interviewee says, “I think the Sixties, from beginning to end, was the good time in Sudan’s history.” The name says it all Another typically Sudanese characteristic highlighted in the book is the naming of various fashion designs after famous personalities, trends, political events or, as in the name of the book, popular films. This trend continues today but even if only used as a marketing ploy by retailers, it reflects the national sense of humour and keeping abreast with developments. Until the 1950s Sudanese women only wore white tobes, a tradition acquired from the asceticism of Sufi Islam espoused by most Sudanese. And although women continued to wear white tobes to work and school, the introduction of new coloured fabrics meant tobe fashions took off. Before independence, one tobe design was called Bit Al Basha Al Mudir - daughter of the Pasha. Later there was Zarrouq’s Eyes, named after Sudan’s first Foreign Minister famed for his good looks, which featured

SARA ELNAGER, a freelance journalist and translator living in Khartoum studied languages at the University of Khartoum and in the UK and is currently undertaking a Master’s programme in International Journalism. Previously a freelance translator and writer for a news agency and CARE International she has also worked as an administrative assistant for the UN and on several collaborative projects such as an exhibition of the Queen’s 1965 visit to Sudan for the British Embassy and the TEDx conferences Khartoum Women and Soba Women as well as advising the film “Shokran Toni” produced in Khartoum. Sara is interested in researching and documenting Sudanese heritage and cultural issues.

shiny circles on a plain background. Nehru was a design to coincide with the visit by the Indian President. Names were also given to dress styles. For example the mini dress called Jaksa On the Six Yard Line referred to the famous footballer of the Sixties. Sawt Al Musiqah is a valuable addition to the study of the history of Sudanese women and serves as a good reminder of a rich cultural heritage that has almost disappeared. It tells a very different story about Sudan than that which is being engineered by its local, State-controlled media. It also paints a fuller, more detailed picture of Sudanese women’s history: one that the international media tends to ignore when it tells selective and sensationalist stories about women in Sudan.

More tobes from the Sixties and Seventies

Azhari fi Bandung, was fashioned as an annotation to the participation of Sudan’s First Prime Minister in the important Afro-Asian Bandung Conference in Indonesia in 1955, opposing colonialism and neocolonialism. Another one, the “Meeting of The Two Sirs” marked a historic meeting where two Sudanese political leaders reconciled: Sayed Abdelrahman Al Mahadi and Sayed Ali Al Mirghani. Kibeida al Mazlum, meaning “Kibeida The Innocent”, mocked the instigator of a failed coup d’état in Sudan. There were Al Hasoub – “The Computer”, and another one called “Freedom”. The Ramla al Beida design was dedicated to the “White Sands”, one of the many colours of the desert sands. The coquettish Rimoosh Shadia translates to “Shadia’s Eyelashes” and Khartoum be-l Leyl, made of dark, transparent chiffon with sparkles, celebrated Khartoum City as seen from a plane at night: lit up and beautiful.

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Must Look Back to Move Ahead PHOTO STORY

“When I was a university junior studying Psychology in 1980, I used to wear that dress to university, for family visits, and when hanging out with friends or running errands. Women were not yet wearing trousers a lot and I liked dresses and skirts on casual days. They were never ‘maxi’. The first time I covered my hair with a tarha was in 1995 when I worked at a company owned by Wahabis who requested I cover my hair during working hours. Now I have two wardrobes: one for Sudan - mostly the traditional tobe - and another when I am out of Sudan, I wear maxi skirts and long sleeve shirts and throw a tarha loosely on my head. I used to warn my daughter: once you start wearing a scarf, you’ll get used to it.” Amira Mohamed, a mother of two, Khartoum

Friends, fiancé and university colleagues at a farm, Soba, 1981

Borrowed Identity Dr. Samia Al Nagar, are hijab and abaya in Sudan socio-political phenomena rather than religious?

Samia Al Hadi Al Nagar (PhD) is a women's rights activist and social anthropologist, who worked as a researcher on women's rights for several national and international organisations. She teaches courses on gender and governance at the Regional Institute of Gender, Rights, Peace & Diversity at Ahfad University for Women.


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The hijab emerged in Sudan in the late 1970s. Until then, even leaders of the Sudanese Islamic Movement wore a traditional tobe. When University students of the political Islamic Movement uniformly began to wear hijab, after the Iranian revolution, they were imitating the look of Iranian women. With Islamic groups in Sudan increasing their activities and one of their core topics being “women”, they addressed schools, organised religious classes for women in neighborhoods, and spread the idea of veiling through TV programs for women. By time, some educational institutions and companies began to impose the hijab on their employees. This coincided with social, economic, and political changes which

had an impact on fashion. For example the deterioration of the Sudanese economy caused prices of imported, modern textiles to increase. At the same time generations of labour migrants who went to Gulf countries and to Saudi Arabia brought the hijab and abaya – cultural elements from there with them. Economic reasons may have advanced the use of the abaya, as it conceals simple clothing. Certainly it has affected the culture of clothing in Sudan. With these events fashion has become a primarily socio-political matter linked to women’s behavior and attitudes. It also lead to divisions among women - hindering women’s struggle to unite and take an interest in improving their situation.

A bride of 24 years dances the subheya, the Sudanese bridal bellydance in the wedding tent among men and women in Madinat Al Nil, Omdurman, 1982. Today women are forced to dance it among women only.

Fahima, a nurse and wife of one of the first Sudanese ambassadors, and her little boy, Khartoum, in the Fifties

Nafisa and Salah, a pharmacist: newlyweds, Omdurman, in the late Sixties

“These beautiful photos, as great as the era in which these women lived, document the times Sudan has seen. They do not just show how wonderful the women were, but also how kind and tolerant our community was then. The photos reflect a high level of psychological and social safety of Sudanese women then. They were not afraid of anyone, because there was no harassment, no policeman to decide the length and width of their skirts, no magistrate to charge them with debauchery and lack of respect just because they did not cover their heads. No executioner engraved his lashes on their dainty backs because they dared to make a decent living in a public place. We can infer what the men were like by looking at these photos of beautiful women from beautiful times. They show how much men respected women and valued them, how they refused to criminalise their bodies and make them a site for suspicions to a diabolic extent. We ask your forgiveness, women of Sudan. We failed to protect you from the whips!� Osman Mubarak, 35, a lawyer, White Nile State

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PHOTO STORY Photo: www.facebook.com/groups/sudanzaman

Prof. Abdelrahman Shadad with students, at a yearly school festival with cultural, sportive, and academic competitions at Omdurman High Secondary School, 1967

AKRAM ABDULQUYOUM, a Sudanese linguist, is a researcher at the Afro-Asian Institute in Khartoum and a consultant on capacity building. His main research interest is Islamic Studies. Having two previous publications - on social movement in Sudan and a documentary on the campaign for the reform of article 149 the rape paragraph - he wrote The Sound of Music in cooperation with Salmmah Centre, namely with Fahima Hashim and Eiman Mohamed Saeed.

Talking tobe with Akram Abdulquyoum At the centre of the discussion about Sudanese women’s dress is the tobe, the four meters long, Sudanese women’s wrap-around. What is it about the tobe? The Sudanese tobe was not just fashion, but rather a means of cultural and social expression. It reflected women’s participation in the national discourse and political consciousness altogether. From the 1980s, the creative force of expression inherent to the tobe declined. Imported items such as the abaya, a socio-political instrument used to limit women’s movement, don’t have that. There is no element of beauty to it. With economy as a driving force, the more


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recent “carina” appeared - a Chinese, polyester top with long sleeves that girls wear with a long skirt and a headscarf – it is neither healthy, nor beautiful, nor classy, but it is akin to a uniform expected of girls. Wherever I go in the market, I find “carinas”. Women in Sudan today have fewer choices to pick their outfits.

Do you have a favourite tobe? Yes, for example Zarrouq’s Eyes. Dedicated to a handsome political and social figure from a large family who had lovely eyes, it is a bit flirtatious. It shows the maturity of a society reflected in a clear, relaxed, and appreciative relationship between men and women. It was what I would call normal. Today the relationship between men and women in Sudan is disturbed, confused, and hesitant. That natural appreciation lacks.

How can Sudanese women today reconnect to their cultural identity in a way appropriate to their time? I think women need to reestablish a relationship with the history of the women's movement. In order to work for change, you need to know your history. There is a lack of documentation of the history of the women's movement in Sudan and what it was about. Today the young are severed from it. I am not saying that returning to the tobe is the solution - but in an attempt to find identity and rights, it is important to find common ground between generations. When women used to wear their tobes in the way the book describes, they represented women's culture of their time. This icon of expression connected people. I think new generations need to read history with a sharp eye and induce their own movement for change in a way that expresses them. The tobe has evolved just like that; it was initially white in colour.

“Sudan was an open country and we were exposed to different cultures at school. We had girls from Greece who were putting on short summer dresses and we were fascinated with the cinema and the fashion magazines that came regularly to the different bookshops. In 1960 the Khartoum High School principle organised a competition for the best dress designed by a student. I remember Amona Hussein Osman won that competition.” Aisha Mousa, a retired lecturer and translator, Khartoum

Hairstyle by Madam Soso’s saloon: Nemat’s 18th birthday, Wad Madani, 1971

“The Sudanese community was diverse, so you saw different fashions. I am from the Zaghawa, so my grandmother used to dress a lawe, a wide fabric tied at one shoulder only, leaving the other uncovered. We, the schoolgirls wore short dresses. There were coloured African dresses brought by Southern Sudanese ladies and trousers called Charleston. All young women were wearing them. Political Islam interfered with women’s dress and was a threat to working women. It mainly propagated women to retreat to homemaking and delivered messages idealising women staying at home as ‘protected’, when caring for their children only.” SAMIA NAHAR, a university lecturer, Omdurman Photo: www.facebook.com/Old.sudan.photos

If there is a tobe to be named in present day Sudan, it should be called “The National Unity” because we have problems with unity beyond the secession of South Sudan. Sudan is now ready to split into even more parts. That tobe could return to the white colour and to local materials to express the current social and economic circumstances. As a counterpart to the one called “Sot Al Mara”, The Women’s Voice, there could be a contemporary tobe called "The Sudanese Woman" expressing that after all we went through, including the abaya and the “carina”, it is yet their own look that defines Sudanese women.

Reem Abbas and Amira Nagy spoke with AKRAM ABDULQUYOUM

Like a white canvas for women to imprint their style, their time and choices on. If you were to dedicate one or two tobes to today’s generation of young women – what would they be called?

Different fashions worn at a wedding in Atbara, 1960

SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015


Photo: www.facebook.com/Old.sudan.photos


Employee of Sudan TV

Employees of Barclays Bank, Khartoum, Omdurman, Hasa Heisa, Atbara and Port Sudan

Photo: www.facebook.com/Old.sudan.photos

“I miss those afternoons, albeit dry and mercilessly hot, when we used to literally ‛travel’, by bicycles and buses form Omdurman to the Sports Centre of Khartoum I, to cheer for the Al Hilal female basketball team Maryam Al Nijumi, captain Awadiya and her team playing against the Maktaba Al Gibteiya girls or others. They wore common sports attire of course. Photos from those times speak volumes of where the Islamist strategy of “social engineering” has reached since its beginning in September 1983, through the phase of tamkeen, an Islamist campaign taking over power in 1989-1999, until today.”

Photo with cour tesy of: Old Sudanese Photos Facebook, Ceham Abbas

Faisal Mustafa, a retired army officer, Omdurman The Al Hilal women’s basketball team with coach in the Seventies

The Swimsuit: A Word with Sara Gadallah When you were racing for medals what did you wear? I wore a swimsuit and I felt very normal in it. I was concentrating on swimming and winning. Everyone knew this is formal swimming attire.

What was it like for a girl to swim publicly during the Sixties and Seventies? Big audiences used to attend the races and encourage me. For example, in the 45km Blue Nile long-distance race we were many swimmers from different regions. Also passersby watched and cheered. Men used to shout the loudest and tell me who was ahead for me to catch up. They memorised the swimmers’ names and were proud of me defeating boys. A good number of girls were swimming in various clubs. Competitions were mixed


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Sara Gadallah during the 35 km Blue Nile Competition, Khartoum Soba, in 1972. She won the women’s race and finished third overall.

SARA GADALLAH GUBARA, born in 1958 in Khartoum is a filmmaker, and an international swimming champion. She learned to swim as part of her treatment of polio and then started to participate in competitions until she won the Sudanese national championships ten years in a row. Today, a grandmother of four, Sara is a swim coach for groups and for students at an international school.

region. They wore shorts, as did our running heroines, and we had a ladies tennis team in miniskirts. All female sports had a huge audience and sponsors, and the media broadcasted them. Community had no reservations.

As the most successful Sudanese swimmer, you competed in World Championships: in Nairobi (1967), Beijing (1975) and Italy (1975, 1977, 1978) and you are a role model. Which challenges did you face?

Beyond swimming you were the first Sudanese woman to motorcycle. How did that come about and would the public react differently today?

Having to overcome traditions was not easy, being a woman and also disabled. But all this did not stop me from representing Sudan. It made me persevere. My father was a liberal man who encouraged me, attended the competitions, and traveled with me. He worked in media, which enabled him to reflect on my achievements and female sport in general to make society respect our achievements, rather than control us and criticise female dress. In the Seventies we also had the strongest basketball team in the Arab

Because of my walking disability, my father bought me a small bicycle to ride to school. At age 17, when I participated in the championship in Capri, Italy, I saw a beautiful motorcycle and loved it on the spot. I insisted on having it. My dad helped to buy it and to ship it to Sudan. The first day I rode it, I fell and broke my legs because it was fast and I did not know the traffic rules in the main road. But the reactions to a young woman riding a motorbike were never censoring. Once in a while someone whistled, but it was with admiration and encouragement.

I used to ride to the college of Music and Drama at the University of Sudan. Everybody knew. Once, my brother borrowed it and the traffic police stopped him, thinking it had been stolen. When investigated, my brother said it was his but the policeman said, “No, it is Sara Jadallah’s.” Society was different then, more tolerant. Now there are intimidating laws, bad laws which lead to social oppression. Actually, if a girl rode a motorcycle today she would likely be punished. Girls have become timid. Maybe they lack the conviction to defend their positions and their rights. I think if you are convinced that what you do is right, just do it and I'm sure you will have the argument and logic to defend it. What is halal or haram is clear and one’s style of dressing is a personal issue. I grew up wearing shorts and trousers and was comfortable in these outfits. Sometimes I wear dresses, this is my choice and I feel it fits my personality. It is problematic if girls adapt or imitate things without being aware that clothes are part of a person’s personality. If one dressed in a blouse and trousers and walked down the street it is about being confident of herself and of her freedom; it is about her internal conviction.

SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015



and boys and girls trained together. All the coaches were men. The boys did not see in me Sara the girl, but a fierce competitor. They exercised to outperform competitors, and so did I.

Cairo 678 Asking for a Swift and Direct Response to Sexual Harassment of Women in Egypt and Beyond

MOHAMED DIAB was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 1977. Having migrated to Egypt, he earned a degree in Commerce at Suez Canal University in Ismailia, east of Cairo, before following his passion and studying film at the New York Film Academy. Prior to making his directorial debut, he wrote four scripts which were all made into films. Cairo 678 is his first feature film. Before the first case against a sexual harasser in Egypt in 2008, Diab like many, wasn’t aware of the issue to be that severe. When he began to research it, he found out that this was an underworld, that women are living in a different world from men. “I felt somehow guilty that I didn’t know about it. It needed a man to admit that this is happening. This is a confession from a man that this is happening in our society”, he says about the film Cairo 678. During the work on it, he also found that women condemn the girls who speak up even more than men. “It’s a society thing and this is what we are trying to fix here. The film is about silence and the film is about breaking the silence”.1

Following a mob’s public sexual assault on a woman during the celebrations of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi’s inauguration in 2014, a video went viral on the internet exposing to the wider world the commonplace nature of street harassment and sexual assault in Egypt. After these events, legislation passed in June 2014 which made sexual harassment a crime punishable by fines from $400 to $7.000 and up to five years imprisonment. However, incidents remain at endemic levels in Egypt where according to a UN Women study in 2014 on Ways and Methods to Eliminate Sexual Harassment in Egypt, 99.3% of Egyptians have suffered sexual harassment.


SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015

Sexual harassment experienced by women and girls in Egypt was on the international register prior to that. Cairo 678, a film released in 2010 and directed by Mohamed Diab, tells the story of three women and their experiences with sexual harassment in Cairo. With the release date coinciding with the 2010 uprising in Egypt that led to the ouster of then-president Hosni Mubarak, Cairo 678 turned up the heat of the Arab spring, revealing that sexual harassment can be experienced by anyone, of any class, and of any political or religious affiliation. The film is a call for justice. The film earned top prize at the 2010 Dubai International Film Festival but drew significant controversy. Egyptian attorney Abdel Hamid Shabaan allegedly attempted to have the film blocked from showing at Dubai for what he perceived a negative portrayal of Egypt. The Egyptian singer Tamer Hosny complained about Diab’s use of one of his songs in a scene that led to a violent incident. In the scene, a man listening to a Hosny song, which can be interpreted as misogynistic, then attacks a woman. The three central characters in the film all experience harassment and sexual violence in daily life and respond to it in different ways. Working-class Fayza, a government employee is regularly groped on Cairo public buses, which causes her to reject her husband. Upper-class Seba, a jewelry designer suffers a violent gang rape. In her case, the husband who could not help her cannot cope with the tragedy and


they separate. Nelly, an aspiring comedian and call centre employee is grabbed in the street and also harassed verbally by a client at work. Their ways of dealing with these transgressions are as diverse as their backgrounds. Fayza begins stabbing potential attackers in the groin before they can harm her, and replies to a friend’s critical remark: “You expect me to be sane? They deserve what they get.” Seba learns and teaches self-defence to women and supports two women who also suffered violence. Nelly pursues the legal route, filing a case against her attacker. Diab based Nelly on the real life of Noha Roushdy, who in 2008 sued a man who sexually attacked her. Roushdy won the case, which led to her attacker’s imprisonment and to new legislation for the prosecution of sexual violence. Presenting the survivors’ backgrounds, class and status and their responses to violence as diverse as they are, Diab makes an important statement: harassment in Egypt is not based on class orientation but on gender alone. Women are, Diab argues, all equally at risk. The diverse responses of the main characters to the violence they experience, as well as the reactions of their community, also signify the need for Egyptians to counter sexual violence on all fronts, using all the tools at hand to respond to a very real threat. Critics of Fayza's stabbing would-be attackers argued that this was incitement to violence but they miss the point of Diab’s hyperbolic and metaphorical use of depicted violence. Rather than violence, a swift and direct response to sexual violence is being advocated for. Despite viewer responses that ranged from adulation to condemnation, Diab remained consistent with what his motivation for making the film was. Diab commented that, “As a man I really felt that we should apologise, not because all Egyptian males are harassers… [T]he majority of the rest of the men in Egypt know nothing about this, because in their circles, the women who get harassed never tell them.” 2 The detective character in the film is presented as misinformed. He takes the issue of reported violence lightly, and does not learn of the gravity of sexual violence until it arrives at his doorstep. This gives credence to Diab’s claim that the film partially serves as an apology on behalf of Egyptian men not just for instigating violence but for permitting a culture of ignorance and non-recognition of the issues surrounding sexual violence to persist. Non-recognition of the problem is a central difficulty in advocating for its opposition and resolution. Mariam Kirollos, a women’s rights activist in Cairo, commented

that the word taharush, which means “harassment”, was only adopted in the context of sexual assault in the last decade. “Instead, people used to say “flirtation” (mo’aksa) - they sugar-coated the problem,”3 she said. The detective’s transition during the film from an antagonist to an ardent supporter of justice for the three main characters, demonstrates as well the ability for societal change despite widespread Egyptian non-acknowledgement and nonrecognition of the issue of sexual violence.

“I felt somehow guilty that I didn’t know about it. It needed a man to admit that this is happening. This is a confession from a man that this is happening in our society” One of the more poignant scenes of the movie also communicates the need for change: Nelly, with her face painted in the colours of the Egyptian flag while attending a mass celebration for a victory in a football match, is soon absorbed into the crowd and attacked. This is a common occurrence during demonstrations and mass events in Egypt. Egyptian musician Yasmine El Baramawy, who was attacked in Tahrir Square during the uprising, described the pattern, “Men surround the woman, rip off her clothes and then perform manual rape, while an outer circle fends off anyone who might try to help her with sticks, blades and belts.” Following the attack, Nelly removes the paint, apparently equally humiliated and angry to have celebrated the nation that refuses to protect her and bring perpetrators like her attackers to justice. Reviewed by Ned Meerdink

The official trailer: https://www. youtube.com/ watch?v=nMc7YD CIORQ 1

uoted from an Q interview with Studio Draken, https:// www.youtube.com/ watch?v=HPI6f mELuXw


h ttp://africasacountry. com/egyptiandirector-mohameddiab-talks-abouthis-film-on-sexualharassment/


h ttp://www. aljazeera. com/indepth/ features/2013/08/ 2013814 94941573782.html

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The Prisoner

An Endangered Species

When It is Political, It is Personal Women and the Veil - a complex relationship on canvas by Laila Shawa Laila Shawa had a privileged and sheltered childhood between Gaza and Cairo, until 1948, when she was eight years old. Growing up in a politically engaged family in a country under occupation and in a constant state of war,

too, and my life changed course from that moment.

There weren’t many women artists in our region at that time. My parents which she still carries with her today. It also initiated a life-long desire to believed in education and for them pursuing art was as good as any other understand, and a compulsion to transform experiences of injustices and line of study. I am not certain whether oppression into compelling visceral works of art. they thought I would become the next Michaelangelo or not - it did not seem to matter very much. They supported me. Of course, whilst my When was the moment when you decided to become parents encouraged my serious pursuit, others probably looked an artist and how did society see art and female artists at art as a mere pastime which would end once I got married! at that time? About three weeks after having joined the American University in Cairo (AUC) Egypt to study Politics, I was You gradually developed into one of the most famous having lunch with my father and an architect friend when artists of the Arab and Middle Eastern region. What they asked me how I liked university. I did not. My father’s major challenges did you face establishing yourself as friend offered to enroll me at the art college where he was an artist nationally and internationally? Do you think teaching. He thought I was quite gifted. I agreed, my father it made a difference that you are a woman? she grew up with a persistent sense of uncertainty and of imminent danger,


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I have faced and still do face many hurdles as a woman, Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, who belongs to a certain class. They manifest in various locations and situations. Overcoming that is only due to the fact that I do not get intimidated, and I am very serious about my work. But it has never been easy. One of the worst challenges to my work was my husband, who initially seemed proud of my work, but later was extremely jealous of my success, and tried in many ways to discourage me from pursuing my work. Being a female artist in a male dominated world means that an implicit role as a “woman” should come first: as a wife, daughter, mother and the like. Germaine Greer, a major feminist voice of the 20th century, called it, The Obstacle Race, in a book about the fortunes of women painters and their work. It happens that male artists try to reduce my importance in the Arab arts or that when I feature in a book about art I am sidelined and ignored while others who comply, who are not controversial but “harmless”, are praised. Being controversial, challenging people, and igniting discussion by itself comes at a cost. But it is not just all about men. Once, for a solo exhibition of my series Women in the Veil in Amman, there were concerns about showing my piece The Bride of Galilee,

Impossible Dream

people don’t understand the mechanisms of oppression if they wish to get rid of political oppression as a group but not of the oppression of women in the same male dominated societies because of the naked woman in it. During the criticism in the run up to the opening, a woman who had begun to veil recently, said, “As women, we are very disappointed in you, how could you be so nasty to us?” She hadn’t seen the exhibition yet, so I invited her to come and discuss instead of condemning things beforehand. I had to be guarded for security reasons as a group of about 40 veiled women came and gave me a lecture consisting of prefabricated opinions. I pointed out where exactly and how the hijab is mentioned in the Qur’an and the discussion ended there. They didn’t expect the profound thoughts behind the work pointing at concepts that are man-made and thus in need of analysis. It was a disturbing experience to find women going against their own kind. Women are accomplices in keeping young generations down.

Your paintings tend to carry socio-political messages. Your enormous body of work shows a sophisticated intellectual project about Muslim women and the various themes of their reality. What is your motivation to do so?

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As a woman, primarily, and a Muslim I resent the degraded status of women in the Muslim world today. Islam, 15 centuries ago, liberated women from centuries of abuse, and gave them rights that women in the West only achieved about a century ago. In my view, this decline is partly due to the inability for Muslim thought to progress with time. The interpretation of the Qur’an (ijtihad ) came to a grinding halt in the 10th century, isolating Islam from any thought process associated with logic. This led to a decline in the status of both men and women, under rigid laws applied. With the revival of extreme Islam and the prevalence of fanaticism, given the high degree of ignorance and illiteracy in the Muslim world, women have become prime easy targets.

woman, which I find degrading. Women and girls seemed like a burden and a liability that must be gotten rid of, traded under the banner of respectability, with no regards to what they actually wanted. I was very fortunate to have had enlightened parents who insisted on education, and totally rejected the idea that a woman must remain dependent on her husband. My mother was an ardent follower of the feminist and existentialist writer and philosopher Simone De Beauvoir, and totally believed that a woman must have an education that will enable her to be independent regardless of marriage. It should not be the ultimate goal, nor should it define women.

In the Bride of Galilee, I was trying to emphasize the innocence of the bride, the central figure, who is being prepared for her wedding night. She is fully nude with open eyes. What she does not suspect is that she will lose her innocence (in actual fact, her freedom as a woman) and will As a woman, primarily, and a Muslim I resent the degraded status end up as part of a blind herd of anonymous veiled women around her. Her body is being prepared to of women in the Muslim world today. Islam, 15 centuries ago, be consumed by the husband who will marry her, after which that same body will need to be covered liberated women from centuries of abuse, and gave them rights in order to protect her from the eyes of other men, that women in the West only achieved about a century ago. taking away her will power and her ability to decide for herself. If as an artist I can speak out and criticise, and reach the minds and hearts of Muslims, perhaps I can contribute to spreading some awareness that may lead to change.

Perhaps translating a call for change, your painting The Prisoner, explores female identity and stereotypes. A young woman, entrapped by “camouflaged” veiled women, stares at us from it, holding a bird. Could it represent her personality or her freedom? Is her look questioning us? The Prisoner could apply to either the girl in the centre of the picture, with open eyes in contrast to the blank eyes of the surrounding figures, or to the bird she is holding in her hands. I was posing a question, rather than giving an answer: Who is really the prisoner, the girl or the bird? Art works with symbols and often subconsciously. The bird just appeared in front of my inner eye to be put there. It may stand for something different in different people’s perception. But it is a piece about the circle of control.

As a young artist you broached the dichotomies in society which manipulate women. You began questioning marriage and produced works on prostitution. What made you include the idea of arranged marriages in it?

Photograph: Inzajeano Latif


I looked at marriage as a form of bondage, and to take it to extremes, a form of prostitution. In my family, many brilliant female cousins who seemed to have great academic potential were married off before they could reach it, because that was the expected norm. At times I noticed that marriage was greatly dependant on the financial status of the husbands. Also, it seemed to be the only way to “contain” a

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Your series from 1987 forms a critique of the veil. The piece An Endangered Species shows veiled women in uniquely designed veils which are mask-like and appear empty. What inspired it? This was a direct reaction to one cousin in Gaza being threatened by some youth on the street to cover her face or else they would throw acid at her and her daughter. This was 1988, just when the first Intifada had started to boil over. During the years of the uprising, women stood up to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to defend their children who were pursued when they threw stones at the soldiers. The men folk were hiding for fear of losing their jobs in Israel’s factories where Palestinians were employed as cheap labor. Children lost respect for their fathers, and mothers became the defenders. I believe that faced with this unexpected empowerment, the proud peasant women, who never covered their faces but wore the traditional Palestinian dress with a head cover loosely worn, were suddenly forced to veil, by their men, in an attempt to restore the lost authority and respect of the husbands. With a slow resurgence of political Islam in the region, this form of control over women began to manifest. Once you can cover them, they cannot challenge or threaten men. The image that sparked in my head was of herds of women with no identity, hence the series that followed regarding the re-veiling of women.

So your intention was to point out that the veiling of women results from socio-political events and is cultural rather than Islamic. Did this trigger your painting of Ayesha? A distant connection is the last wife of the Prophet who was very strong willed and defiant. The question of protection of wives of the Prophet arose because of an incident that happened to her. Later this eventually led to women being veiled. In the Qur’an, the word hijab was metaphorical, and never imposed in a literal sense. It stressed on the distinction of the wives of the Prophet only. The Arabs copied the veil from the Byzantines in the 7th Century after they invaded Syria, where Byzantine women of the upper class covered their face. It was never part of Islamic teachings by the Prophet, and therefore is a bid’aa, but very convenient for men to keep control!

Your piece Impossible Dream shows women with cones of ice-cream in front of their veiled faces. What did you hope to convey by it? I often try to disguise my message by using humor. This work is about the conflict that Muslim women face, while attempting to westernize themselves, albeit superficially, and their failure to do so. After 26 years of painting that work, I still come across heavily veiled women from the Gulf, in Italian restaurants in London, trying hard to eat spaghetti!! The conflict, however, is much deeper than eating ice-cream or spaghetti.

Since foreign models aren’t always transferrable what do you recommend? Women must understand the price of achieving their rights and equality with men. Women in the West fought for those rights and many of them sacrificed a great deal in their pursuit. Nothing comes out of compliance and servitude, no matter what! Education of both men and women would be the only way for change to take place. Knowing and truly understanding their religion is paramount in changing their perception and understanding of their own religion.

Given the need for women’s liberation and for enlightenment in Muslim society, do you think political revolutions like the Arab Spring are capable of advancing female empowerment? I think the empowerment of women can only come as a result of true education and awareness for both men and women. Patterns of behaviour are deeply rooted and the required social transformation is a process. Political revolutions may bring change, although I am very doubtful in the case of the Arab Spring where women were abused and beaten up and called sluts by their attackers. No, I am afraid I am too skeptical to see such a change as a result of the Arab Spring. I feel that Muslim societies in the Arab World have been kicked back a few centuries under the banner of change,

LAILA SHAWA graduated summa cum laude in Fine Arts from the Italian Academia di Belle Arti in 1964 and received a diploma in plastic arts from the Academia San Giacomo in Rome. She returned to Gaza in 1965 to teach arts and crafts to underprivileged children until 1967. She now lives and works in London. Her work is based on a heightened sense of realism and targets injustice and persecution wherever their roots may be. The initial impetus for a piece often comes from her own photographs, but also from scenes and fragments of happenings she witnesses. Her work has been exhibited in Italy, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, in most Arab countries, North Africa, Iraq, Russia, China, Japan, Malaysia, and USA. She is represented in public and private collections across the world, including the National Galleries of Jordan and Malaysia, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the British Museum in London, and the National Museum for Women in the Arts, Washington D.C.

particularly the frightening spread of radical Islam which resulted. When a revolution results in an unprecedented number of fatwas directed solely at women and reducing them to mere sexual beings, there is something very wrong with the contents and the intentions of such a revolution. It reveals how people don’t understand the mechanisms of oppression if they wish to get rid of political oppression as a group but not of the oppression of women in the same male dominated societies!

The political is personal. Women are half of the world. There is no way that this half can disappear, become nonexistent and have no influence. This is totally unacceptable. While addressing injustice and exposing oppression, you are never afraid of controversy and engage critically on issues of women in the Arab world, fundamentalism, war, and politics. Would you like to encourage women’s political participation in Muslim societies? Yes of course. The political is personal. Women are half of the world. There is no way that this half can disappear, become non-existent and have no influence. This is totally unacceptable. To be invisible, that I should not have a voice and not a say in anything – there is no way for that to happen. When we look at the time of the Prophet, women had a different presence, they were not told to go away and keep out of things. What is happening today is contrary to the heart of Islam and not acceptable. Women have to participate, more than that, it is women who will have to break that chain and accept the price of doing it. Amira Nagy spoke with Laila Shawa

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The Politics and Culture of Skin Bleaching in Sudan The past 25 years have witnessed fundamental sociopolitical and cultural changes in Sudan. As HALA ALKARIB writes, a major and alarming change is the forced transformation taking place in women’s lives from the way they dress to the colour of their skin - which they are now being encouraged to bleach if they want to fit in. She is in her twenties, confident and good looking. She applied for a job as a presenter at a local television station in Sudan. Following her interview, the station called her and told her: “You did very well, though you have one problem. You are too dark…but this can easily be fixed.” In another incident, a young woman applied to the police college in Sudan, and during the interview a female police brigadier who was part of the interview committee looked at her and said: “You are too dark…untie your scarf for us to see if you have good hair or if your hair is like your skin.” ‘Good hair’ is soft straight hair not the natural curly one that most women have and now resent. In Sudan, especially in television stations, a light skinned person is more likely to get a job than her darker counterpart. Television stations will even cover the cost of bleaching for their women presenters if they have the skills but not the colour. As a result, one would be hard pressed to find a dark-skinned female presenter on local television today. Walking through the streets of Sudanese cities, from Nyala in South Darfur, Khartoum to Port Sudan in


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the East, the girls have acquired a unified look, with distinct features: the Asian-made free-size long skirts and long sleeved T-shirts, scarves wrapped around their heads and necks, with bleached faces, dark eyelids and lips.

Elimination of cultural diversity Growing up in Sudan, I remember how Sudanese people embraced their darkness, despite tribal differences where colour played a role, and the songs and poetry composed by both men and women during this era reflect that.

A disturbing aspect of bleaching is a paste called khalta, which means ‘the mix’, and is usually sold in local shops Sadly, the past 25 years have witnessed across the country. Historically, khalta shops used to be spice and perfume shops fundamental sociopolitical and cultural (ataar). Over the past 25 years, however, changes. The once diverse country is they have evolved to khalta shops mainly gradually shifting into a single minded serving women interested in bleaching. anti-diversity territory, whereby the The owners of these shops are usually splitting of South Sudan was the climax men who claim a deep knowledge of of failure by Sudan’s political system dermatology. Unlike old perfume and to accommodate the diverse Sudanese spice shop owners, they have no interest nationals. in natural or herbal components so the Growing up in Sudan, I remember khalta is full of harmful how Sudanese people embraced their chemical ingredients. darkness, despite tribal differences where Typically, the khalta is measured with a colour played a role, and the songs and tablespoon, making it poetry composed by both men and easily affordable and women during this era reflect that. accessible to all women. Shop banners advertise The political Islam ideology this affordability with the message “gader zurufk”, which means: according to what influenced and supported by the wealth you can afford. The ingredients of khalta and culture from the Arab Peninsula – are rather mysterious. What is known which affected Sudan due to proximity is that it contains some eczema creams, and population migration seeking work yeast infection creams, liquid insulin, and and money – certainly contributed to the elimination of the essence of other chemicals. diversity in Sudan. A country built from In the dermatology section of the a blend of cultures between different Khartoum Hospital there is a well-known Horn of Africa groups, both Muslims room that people call the “bio-clear and non-Muslims, has fallen victim to room”. The ward opened in 2000, and can the enforced imported militant version accommodate more than fifteen patients of Islam. The domination of Arab with severe face and skin abrasions that Peninsula Islam has resulted in shattered are usually a result of bleaching with one communities, turning the country’s diversity into a curse. of the locally sold khalta products.

Forced assimilation led by the ruling political Islamic regimes and many of its ideological allies in Sudan has taken place for almost three decades. What we had before as Muslim Sudanese bore no relation to this newly imposed model of militant Islam. Sudanese indigenous cultures included wedding ceremonies at which men and women danced together, and the accepted practice of young men walking girls home after parties. Songs popular then, such as “Take us home, the moon is the middle of sky, you will be asked if we were not home” are no longer heard. In Sudan today, a man and a woman walking together without a marriage certificate to prove their relationship are subject to article 152 of Sudan’s Criminal Code on “indecent behaviour” and face being flogged, fined, or jailed. A well-known example of this is Najla Mohamed Ali, a lawyer from Port Sudan, who was arrested when she was found conversing with a male friend in a taxi by the side of the road while the driver was also in the car. The three of

them ended up in prison for the night and faced charges under this article. As Sudanese people, we have lost what defined us, as our culture as we knew it is gradually disappearing – often forcibly. A local game in Darfur is called ‘The Missing Needle’ or Ibra Wadrat. In this game, boys and girls together search under the moonlight for a missing needle. However, an elderly woman from the Fur ethnic group living in Nyala, recently told me that her sons, on returning home from attending university in Khartoum where they were exposed to the ‘regime’ version of Islam, came back and shouted at the family: “This is haram and you cannot play this game anymore.” Because of what they have learned they are now ashamed to play what was once a favourite game and they radically try to ensure that the rest of the family desists too. Women are mirrors of our society: crisis and polarisation manifest on women and hit them harshly. In addition to their broader burdens of subordination

and degradation, women in Sudan are expected to respond to the warped perception of the current political Islam under the regime, which is policing women’s engagement in the public arena, controlling their interactions, and subjecting them to torture and flogging.

She applied for a job as a presenter at a local television station in Sudan. Following her interview, the station called her and told her: “You did very well, though you have one problem. You are too dark…but this can easily be fixed.” It is further compromising their health and questions their femininity; by forcing them to submit further, and adjust the colour of their skin and the way they dress to satisfy the controlling ideology of political Islam. This ideology insists on complete transformation through Arabising its followers as is evident in the insistence on changing skin colour and hair texture. Hala Alkarib

A shop in Sudan with the message ‘You can bleach your face in three days only.’ Photo by Ayman Hussein, Sudan SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015



One Woman Fights for Change in her Community Film Review: Moolaadé by OUSMANE SEMBÈNE

Moolaadé, a film by the Senegalese writer and director Sembène Ousmane, artistically and profoundly addresses the brutality of female genital mutilation (FGM) and the interconnection between Islam and traditions in African societies. FGM was deeply entrenched in some African traditions centuries before Islam was introduced to Africa. It was mostly practiced in African Sahel countries, some of the Sub-Saharan African countries and in Upper Egypt. However, in recent years many communities across Africa have begun to perceive FGM as one of Islam’s requirements. Sembène’s film argues strongly against FGM through a village woman, Collé Ardo, who uses moolaadé (mythical protection during specific days of the year) to protect a group of girls from FGM or what is otherwise known as purification tradition.1 The film, a co-production between companies from several Francophone nations - Senegal, France, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Morocco, and Tunisia - was shot in the remote village of Djerrisso, Burkina Faso. It was screened in 2005 and earned numerous international awards.2 1

h ttp://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/ Moolaad%C3%A9




h ttp://www. latimes.com/news/ obituaries/la-mesembene14jun14,1, 4130153.story? track=rss


hoto of Semebene P from: www. filmreference.com


Collé, the main character, is depicted as the only individual in the village to challenge the ancient tradition of the circumcision of women both vocally and in practice. She refuses to allow her daughter Amasatou to be circumcised. When four girls seek refuge in her home she agrees to protect them and rebukes the salindana (cutters) and the girls’ mothers when they come for the girls. The girls remain safe as long as they are on her property. One of the girls says they came to Collé because they knew

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she would protect them as she did her daughter. Her decision draws the wrath of the proponents of the practice and divides the village between those who want to protect girls opposed to the practice and those who regard the cutting as a tradition not to be questioned. Collé’s adamancy is seemingly born out of her past experiences. She wants to protect her daughter from experiences she had to endure. Collé, being circumcised, had two unsuccessful pregnancies before Amasatou, which caused her great physical and emotional harm leading to a disturbed relationship with her body. If Collé represents African women who awaken to resist patriarchal control, then her daughter's fiancé Ibrahima, a rich, upstanding, and open-minded young man living in France, one of Africa's former colonizers, represents the enlightened elite. Educated abroad, Ibrahima returns home and witnesses a funeral of two little girls, who drowned themselves in a well rather than have their genitals mutilated. The girls' relatives are sad, but the incident does not lead the villagers to question the tradition. Ibrahima is shocked and worried by the little girls’ fate, which keeps replaying in his mind. When Ibrahima's father demands that he renounce his engagement to the ‘impure’ Amasatou and instead marry his eleven-year-old cousin who has already undergone female genital cutting, Ibrahima refuses to do so. He is appalled that his father would condone this kind of child abuse. He confirms Amasatou as his fiancé, regardless of her "impure" status according to the local tradition. One of the most powerful scenes in Ousmane Sembène’s film is portrayed when the community leaders destroy all the women’s radios in the space between the mosque and the ancient village tomb. The men are afraid of the power of the radio to educate and inform the women. The destruction of the radios is a public display of authority and also a symbolic act where religion and traditions are deployed to isolate women and deprive them of awareness and knowledge.

On the other hand the most powerful, yet sad, scene of the film is when Collé is publicly flogged by the community elders and her husband in an attempt to get her to hand over the girls she is protecting. Despite the pain and humiliation, Collé refuses to cave. The scene is a rather symbolic call to the urgency of eliminating injustices against women in African societies. Before he passed away in 2007, Sembène dedicated the film to the struggle against FGM. Reviewed by Laura Walusimbi and Hala Al Karib

OUSMANE SEMBÈNE (1923-2007) is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most important literary figures despite having received very little formal education. He is also its first filmmaker and producer. He studied film in Moscow in 1961 so he could produce films to reach his fellow citizens who were largely illiterate. The Los Angeles Times considered him one of Africa’s greatest authors and often called him the “father of African film”. 3 In both his literary and cinematographic works, Sembène articulates the need to engage in the struggle for the national emancipation of African people and for social justice, against all sorts of discrimination: racial, religious, ethnic and gender. In fact, Sembène in his work often called for the emancipation of the African woman against polygamy, female circumcision, and all other forms of oppression. Sembène was also a radical engaged in the struggle for the promotion of African national languages. He participated in the foundation and animation of the Wolof journal Kaddu. His unfaltering attachment to Pan Africanism led him to participate in the foundation of Fespaco (Pan-African Festival of Film and Television) in Burkina Faso. Sembène, a pioneer of African cinema, produced many films that have achieved international success. This radical man with many faces, fought for progressive causes for Africa until he died at the age of 84 years.4

SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015


Feminine Pains by Dahabo Ali Muse

And if I may speak of my wedding night: I had expected caresses, sweet kiss, hugging and love. No, never! Awaiting me was pain, suffering and sadness. I lay in my wedding bed, groaning like a wounded Animal, a victim of feminine pain. At dawn, ridicule awaited me. My mother announced: Yes she is a virgin. When fear gets hold of me, When anger seizes my body, When hate becomes my companion, Then I get feminine advice, Because it is only feminine pain, And I am told feminine pain perishes like all feminine things. The journey continues, or the struggle continues, As modern historians say. As the good tie of marriage matures. As I submit and sorrow subsides.

Published before in: w w w. sister somalia.org

My belly becomes like a balloon A glimpse of happiness shows, A hope, a new baby, a new life! But a new life endangers my life, A baby’s birth is death and destruction on me! It is what my grandmother called the Three Feminine Sorrows. She said, the day of circumcision, The wedding night and the births of a baby are The triple feminine sorrows.

This poem for women who’ve suffered Female Genital Mutilation, by Dahabo Ali Muse, a Somali poet and survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM), describes what life is like for a woman who has undergone this procedure. Somali women refer to the pain they felt when their bodies were carved up, of the loss of pain-free, physical love shared with their husbands, and of the fear of their own death during childbirth as the “Somali Woman’s Three Sorrows”. What would have been different in your life experiences of childhood, adulthood, marriage and parenting if you had gone through them while experiencing constant, intense pain caused by damages through genital mutilation?


SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015

As the birth bursts, I cry for help, when the battered flesh tears. No mercy, push! They say. It is only feminine pain! And now I appeal: I appeal for love lost, for dreams broken, For the right to live as a whole human being. I appeal to all peace loving people To protect, to support And give a hand to innocent little girls, Who do no harm, Obedient to their parents and elders, All they know is only smiles. Initiate them to the world of love, Not to the world of Feminine Sorrow!

SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015


SIHA Journal Issue 01/2014

As a father of a newborn Muslim girl, I pray for success in the struggle for justice for all women in Africa and beyond. I have seen a horrendous downward spiral in the treatment of women in my beloved Egypt. The situation for my Egyptian sisters has deteriorated to all-time lows. I had hoped for more from the Egyptian revolution but the reality is that those using Islam to oppress women have gained momentum all over the world, not just in Africa. I know that voices like SIHA are the only way to combat the oppression and change the tide. I would like to subscribe to the journal if that is possible. The images and writings are top notch. Although the focus is on the Horn of Africa, the writers address some very real and serious gender issues that are plaguing Muslim communities around the world. Tarek Shawky, Cairo, Egypt

Amira Osman's Open Letter sends a strong message to women not only in Sudan but across Muslim countries. It also gives motivation to activists and human rights defenders. Reading it, I realised how Sudanese women suffer from public order laws used to humiliate women. Women in the Muslim world suffer massive violence in which the Islamic religion is used as a justification in misinterpreted ideology. The journal helps young women to know their social rights and that women cannot be oppressed. The stories of prominent Islamic women like Mrs. Amina Wadud enable young Muslim women to gather the determination and speak out about the male domination in their respective countries. Activists, women's rights defender, and men and women should read it. It is essential for young female students who have a long history of struggling to break the silence in this male-controlled context. Ali Abdi Nur, Mogadishu, Somalia

Shirin Ebadi: So we Practice Patience, by Fahimeh Farsaie, 01/2014 I found the profile of the Iranian Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi wonderfully provocative. She says, there's no such thing like “Islamic Feminism”, because cultural specificities are always trumped by "universal" human rights. I wonder: Can there really be a "universal" approach to feminism that cuts across culture and time, and that is shared by our entire species? The idea seems both appealing and dangerous, since we're always embedded in a culture and time. I think there is a role for culture- and religion-specific feminism that owns itself: Christian Feminism, Agnostic Feminism, Muslim Feminism, AlgerianBerber-Religiously-Confused Feminism. It seems more honest than pretending we're all the same, or agreeing to be the same by the rules of the most powerful. Maybe there we can find the points where we agree and disagree, and the disagreeing parts can be o.k. too. M. Lynx Qualey, North Carolina, US

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading the first issue. What an accomplishment! Thought-provoking and a joy to read. Eva Sanchis, London, UK

Kampala, Uganda

Thank you for making it possible to get access to quality and relevant readings in English to all of us who are working on Sudan and beyond. And last but not least, the illustrations are just beautiful! Marija

It brought me to tears to hear of the very real daily issues many women in our communities face. Thank you for your hard work in putting together this journal. I was so touched by its writings and because I liked it so much I am buying copies and sending it to my Muslim American friends here in the US as well! As a women’s rights activist and as a Muslim woman, seeing its impact has encouraged me to write and express more. It is truly inspirational. I am so proud of you for being strong, women pioneers.

Marovic, Nairobi, Kenya

Nadia Hussain, New Jersey, US

Newspaper, Khartoum, Sudan

I feel blessed to have my art work published in your beautiful and welldesigned journal. Ronnie Ogwang,

Without a doubt, this is a real addition to women's writings and deserves a tribute. Bakhita Amin in Al Ray Al Am

I appreciated how “Women In Islam” provides a rare space for discussion of progressive interpretations of Islam; it presents the ideas of renowned Islamic thinkers, such as Dr. Amina Wadud, and respected activists, such as Asma Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, who have advocated for gender equality and human rights as intrinsic and authentic aspects of Islam, challenging extremism. I was helped to better understand how the prolonged crisis in the Horn of Africa has devastated women's lives and appreciated how they have resisted subjugation to the highly conservative Islamic discourses which have taken root in the Horn. I very much liked the space devoted in the journal to poetry, art and compelling personal narratives. Joanna Oyediran, London, UK


SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015

siha publications

Well said!

I always wondered why the stigmatisation of women in the public arena has become the prevalent social practice among the Sudanese; something that has nothing to do with Islamic Sharia, which allows women who have lost their husband and are left without support to earn their living in public markets and do their business without guilt or condemnation. This stigma was not a part of Sudanese tradition. It could be attributed to the Turkish influence in Sudan between 1821-1885, as the ruled always imitate their rulers.

Sheikh Babikir Badri, in My Life

Beautiful and engaging, with so many important stories and diverse perspectives! Dr. Mark Massoud,

At last, the SIHA Journal is in my hands. It's amazing and I will share it with others. Dr. Abdisaid

Santa Cruz, US

Ismail, Nairobi, Kenya

I was very impressed with the quality. Good luck with your great work. Prof.


A guide to community activism in Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Somaliland Four papers explore the gap between the women’s movement as a relevant political and social force empowering women to claim their rights, and its work on the ground in the complex political, cultural and social contexts of the four countries. Analysing obstacles for progress of the women’s movement, the guide discusses challenges such as the “NGOisation” of the women’s movement and elitism in organisations. The reader is lead to understand adverse effects, like the revival of obsolete traditions in the region and the retreat of communities from civil society actors, which are perceived as agents of the “international community”. Recommendations developed for practitioners and actors in the field help avoid divisions between women, such as the rift between grassroots women and the elites providing leadership in organisations, which impede the mobilisation of masses when needed.

Sondra Hale, Los Angeles, US

Living in a Muslim society and in accordance with Islamic teachings requires us to understand them properly and in a humane way. Today, Islam is exploited in all areas of life. Obsolete interpretations of religion pave the way for patriarchy to distort social life and enact laws that target women, upholding social norms which are unfair to women. Well done, breaking the siege of backward thought in favor of women, and involving great feminist scholars and enlightened thinkers! No matter how great the efforts for women's liberation, the impact will be weak, if women do not understand the reasons behind their oppression and exclusion. If political Islam exploits patriarchal interpretations of religion to subdue women, women must strive hard for interpretations in their favour and in my view this is very fair and possible. Essam Abdelmoneim, Kassalla, Sudan

Equality of Men and Women in Leadership and Political We are interested in Participation, on Imam your opinion! Shamseddine, 01/2014 On social media: Reading the article, I have Tweet to @Sihanet actually reflected the fact that political power in our country is Via email: based on clan power only, and journal@sihanet.org on misinterpretation of Islam to justify women not to have a space at all. People who select leaders in our country have no idea of the values and importance of giving an opportunity to women to participate politically and in decision making. This is a huge challenge to the women in Somalia today. The article shows the importance of women’s political participation from the Islamic perspective, what most of our communities are not aware of. This journal is very important for this male-dominated East African region in which women have less representation in all aspects of life. It enlightens gender equality both from cultural and Islamic perspectives. It also gives confidence and inspiration to the Muslim women across the region. All kinds of people, including Muslims, Christians and people with other religions should read this journal, particularly politicians, women and youth. Abdullahi Mohamed Omar, Mogadishu, Somalia


A study on the application of the parallel legal system to the Oromo women of Ethiopia How effective is the legal protection of women’s rights in remote areas of Ethiopia – a country with one of the most comprehensive and equitable criminal codes, which condemn violence against women and has family laws very much up to international standards – when repressive cultural laws and practices operate from discriminatory principles and promote the subordination and exploitation of women? Searching for women’s opportunities for fair and reliable recourse to both traditional and formal systems of justice, the knowledge and the experiences of women within dual legal systems have been documented and are shared in this study. A resource for advocacy, the paper warns of defending the violation of human rights with their alleged cultural specificity.


A standard read on and for women working in the informal sector A guide for grassroots organisations to awareness and action on women’s economic rights and their protection, and a source of practical ideas and tools for respective programming and projects in the two Sudans, presented to you in English and Arabic. Introducing the basics of small scale business, case studies and planning methods are provided with accessible tools for the formation of cooperatives and for training of women: tables of institutions active in microfinance along with formats, checklists and templates for bookkeeping, market assessment or cost-benefit calculation. This handbook informs about risks for women and promotes advocacy strategies.

For further publications, resources and the latest updates from our work see


SIHA Women In Islam 02/2015


I n

I s l a m

SIHA is a regional Network

SIHA works to realise this vision

working in the Horn of Africa, operating since 1995 with a membership of over 80 women’s civil society organisations in the Horn of Africa – including Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.

through a network that is well grounded within civil society and regionally interactive while taking account of global issues.

Our vision is that all women and girls in the Horn of Africa must have the right to live in a peaceful, just environment and to exercise their equal rights as human beings. Accordingly Muslim women are entitled to their spirituality, their beliefs and their understanding of their religion and their cultures.

SIHA implements capacity building programs to grass roots civil society, provides direct support for women in conflict and post conflict situations and promotes women human rights through advocacy and campaigning activities.

Interweaving academia and activism SIHA publications – handbooks, manuals, booklets, research papers and journals – are sources of knowledge, practical ideas and tools for respective programming and projects to professionals, activists, human right defenders, donors and policy makers. As SIHA we believe that the power of women rights activists and defenders in the Horn of Africa is standing high against political repression, fundamentalism and restraining traditions.

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