Women in Islam Journal - Issue 3

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SIHA Journal / Issue No. 3, 2017

Al-Turabi and the Women of Sudan Commitment to Women’s Rights or Political Ambition?

Choosing Engagement over Retreat Ziba Mir-Hosseini’s Quest for Equality within Islamic Traditions

Wielding Power over Women’s Bodies The Burkini Ban in France

DOSSIER: Living with Religious Militancy

In Islam

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EDITORIAL 05 Three Questions To: The Artist Sara Mekki Ahmed



06 Choosing Engagement over Retreat Ziba Mir-Hosseini’s Quest for Equality within Islamic Traditions 08 Al-Turabi and the Women of Sudan Commitment to Women’s Rights or Political Ambition? 12 Al-Balabel: An Iconic Sudanese Female Band Symbol of an Ambivalent Society or Fractured Patriarchy? 15 The Hopes and Fears of Female Street Cleaners in Mogadishu 18 Saadia Al-Salahi: A Pioneer Costume Designer from Sudan What Clothes Say about A Society



20 Women’s Inheritance in Islam Between Text and Interpretation 24 Unequal by Birth ‘We are Muslims and Somalis, What Did We Do to Deserve this Cruel Treatment?’ 26 Wadjda – A Film Review Where Riding a Bicycle is Political 28 Banned from Playing Football Before I Was Born 31 Two Wives, One Man The Struggle of Living as a Co-Wife


34 Recalcitrance A Poem by Eiman Adam

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS 36 Wielding Power over Women’s Bodies The Burkini Ban in France 39 Meeting with the Novelist Leila Aboulela Negotiating Religious and Class Identities across Borders 42 Living in Between The Experience of a Muslim Convert 45 Lived Realities of Ethiopian Domestic Workers in the Gulf Countries

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48 Letter To My Daughter

THE PUBLIC AND THE PRIVATE 50 Urban Space and the Production of Gender in Modern Iran 54 I Almost Got Arrested for Wearing Pants 56 “Al Adal” – Re-Infibulation and the Obsession with Virginity in Sudan 60 War and State Collapse in Somalia The Implications for Men and their Masculinity


63 A Woman and a Purchased Slave Gender Biases and Stereotypes in School Textbooks

PERSPECTIVES 66 Feminism and Politics in Sudan 70 Picking up the Pieces How Counter-Terrorism Efforts affect Muslim Communities in Kenya 73 Women of Sufism A Hidden Treasure 76 Being Young and Muslim in Uganda Reflections from Joweria Namuyomba


79 The Trouble with Fatwas

DOSSIER: LIVING WITH RELIGIOUS MILITANCY 82 Women of Political Islam and the Dialectic of Women’s Rights The Dilemma of Female Political Islamists 88 Looking Back to Move Ahead A Photo Story on Women’s Dress in Somalia 92 Coerced or Committed? Boko Haram’s Female Suicide Bombers


94 The Tragedy of Seclusion The Gender Segregated Communities of Hamashkoreib in Eastern Sudan 98 Women and Islamic Militancy 102 Timbuktu – A Story About Us 104 Afghan Women Hit by Mental Health Crisis

106 The Echo 107 SIHA Publications

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EDITORIAL Impressum Editor Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Editorial Head Hala Alkarib Editorial Coordinator Célia Hitzges Editorial Team Lisa Clifford, Aisha Al-Smani, Abdulkhalig El-Sir, Johanna Seidle Proofreaders Mansur Ali​, Waleed Elnagar, Ginger Johnson, Roisin Mangan Translators Mansur Ali, Sam Berner, Faisal Elbagir, Mohamed Elfaki, Asha M. El-Said Contributors Eiman Adam, Hala Alkarib, Souad Alkhider, Aisha Al-Smani, Alsir Alsayed, Safia Alseddig, Obi Anyadike, Riazat Butt, Lisa Clifford, Judy El-Bushra, Mohamed Elfaki, Sara Elhassan, Abdulkhalig El-Sir, Judith Gardner, Amal Khalifa Habbani, Mina Habib, Abdifatah Hassan Ali, Célia Hitzges, Leyla Hussein, Zahia Salem Jouirou, Rebekah Kebede, Marie Ménard, Amani Mohammed El Obeid, Shirleen Njeri Njoroge, Alinor Abdi Osman, Alex Shams, Rafia Zakaria Art Sara Mekki Ahmed, Khalid Albaih, Jason Ashwood, Niyaz Azadikhah, Hanna Barczyk, Arnold Birungi, Mohammad Esmail, Khalid Hamid, Salah Ibrahim, Hussein Mirghani, Ahmed-Naji Mahjoub, Roney Ogwang (ro.wang741@gamil.com), Rayah Ombaddi, Anne Paq, Galal Yousif Design Tarek Atrissi Design ISSN Number 9-770231-104143 These compilations are © copyright by their respective authors or SIHA. All editorial content and graphics may not be copied, reused, reprinted or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the authors or SIHA. Request 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,

Time rolls like an endless melody with various rhythms. When looking back, it is hard to believe that since 2014 we have managed to produce three issues of our dear journal, Women in Islam. Optimism and doubt, laughter and tears, boldness and fear have marked this long and challenging journey. Women in Islam, in my opinion, appeals to both people’s intellect and their emotions – that unique combination of reason and feelings that makes us all, women and men, fully human. I believe this is what it takes to debate religion, and what it represents, in our life. Since 2014, 1,500 copies of the first issue of the journal have been sold in Sudan alone and over half of the copies of the second edition are being distributed across the world. This achievement, although still surprising to us, is a great source of happiness and pride. The enthusiasm around the journal is a reassurance that our endeavor is not in vain. Women and men in Khartoum, Nairobi and Kampala are asking their booksellers about the new issue of the journal. For us, this is a telling sign that we are on the right track. As 2017 is upon us, religious militancy has become the center of geopolitical attention. The voice of reason is being hushed by the banging of war drums and the shouting of dogmatic, chauvinist and dictatorial forces. In this climate of tension, we should not be intimidated or fall into the trap of despair and cynicism. We must instead look at the signs of positive change. This is the time to fight back, the time to call for real transformation. Ten years ago, it would not have been possible to denounce the absurdity of religious militancy and gender inequalities. I consider myself privileged to witness these changes and feel even luckier to be a part of them. However, we cannot afford to lower our guard as the struggle against militant ideologies continues. We have to stand firm against the global chauvinism, injustice and discourse of hatred that is growing and being increasingly legitimized. At Women in Islam, we have repeatedly taken the position that the rise of militant ideologies is the outcome of decades of failed politics and, as such, represents a collective burden that we should all, Muslims and non-Muslims, bear and overcome. The uniqueness of the third issue of Women in Islam comes from the fact that it is composed of a majority of original articles, specifically written for the journal. It is such an honor to have writers appreciate our publication and become interested to the point that they lend their voices to the journal. In this edition, you will read about the struggle of women from Mogadishu, Mombasa and Khartoum against religious militancy and their determination to regain control over their lives and destiny. You will learn about Ethiopian domestic workers being intimidated and dehumanized when working in predominantly Muslim countries because of their skin color and faith, and will see how religion becomes a symbol of ethnic supremacy. This new edition also scrutinises the crucial issue of women’s participation in militant Islam movements by analysing why and how women sometimes reconcile with ideological regimes that subjugate them. This third issue of Women in Islam has been made possible through the collaborative support of Oxfam Novib, Sigrid Rausing Trust Fund, and The Women’s Program of the Open Society Foundations. We are extremely grateful for their invaluable contribution to this project. Hala Alkarib Editorial Head


SIHA Women In Islam 2017

Feminism today stands not only for gender equality, but for the transformation of all social relations of power that oppress, exploit, or marginalise persons on the basis of gender, age, sexual orientation, ability, race, religion, nationality, location, class, caste, or ethnicity. As an analytical framework, feminism has transformed the concepts of patriarchy (the social order of male rights and privilege) and gender (the socially constructed power relations between men and women). It has created a range of analytical tools and methods for unpacking the hidden and normalised power imbalances between men and women in various social institutions and structures. Examples of this include the gendered division of household labour and production, and control of women’s sexuality and reproductive life. As a social change strategy, feminism prioritises the empowerment of women, the transformation of gender power relations, and the advancement of gender equality. Feminism views all change interventions through a ‘gender lens’ by examining how change impacts women in particular. Whether the change strategy is focused on an issue (e.g. health, education, the environment, human rights, economic rights), location (e.g. a village, a province, a country, a region), or population (e.g. indigenous persons, workers, urban poor), feminism will examine whether gender equality and women’s rights are being consciously addressed and advanced by the change process. 1


Sara Mekki Ahmed Born to Sudanese parents in 1998, Sara Mekki Ahmed grew up in the small village of Oosterhout, Netherlands. Sara developed a passion for art at an early age and despite a prototypical Western upbringing, she retained strong links with, and curiosity for, the heritage of her parent’s home country. In this interview, Sara shares her thoughts on:

Her passion for art: I have liked art for as long as I can remember, but I never really painted or drew a lot. In high school I took art classes and that’s when I really discovered my passion for art. At that time, I was making sketches a lot but after my teacher introduced me to painting, I realised that I liked it a lot better and I have stuck to that ever since. Her connection with Sudan: I have never lived in Sudan, but have visited the country many times with my parents. I find visiting Sudan very important since that’s where my roots really are. I feel deeply connected to the country, so I really enjoy going there. I think the situation of women in Sudan needs to significantly improve. Since I grew up in a very open-minded place, it’s very hard to see how Sudanese society restricts women’s freedoms and aspirations. Her aspirations as an artist influenced by both the Dutch and Sudanese cultures: I am currently studying law in the Netherlands and learning a lot about


human rights. I believe that every human – men and women – should have the opportunity to cultivate their passion like I was able to do with my artwork.

atliwala, Srilatha. Changing their World: B Concepts and Practices of Women’s Movements. Toronto: Association for Women’s Rights in Development, 2012. https://www.awid. org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/changing_their_ world_2ed_full_eng.pdf

After completing my studies, I would like to use my knowledge to empower the women in Sudan to fulfil their dreams. The SIHA Journal, Women in Islam, is helping women become aware of their strengths, skills and rights and it is an honour for me to be part of this initiative.

Measuring women ‘s world

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is the number of countries where polygamy is legal. Over 90% of them are located in Africa.2

“ Legality of Polygamy,” Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Legality_of_polygamy.svg.

SIHA Women In Islam 2017



Choosing Engagement over Retreat Ziba Mir-Hosseini’s Quest for Equality within Islamic Traditions

love, beauty, joy and pleasure were all seemingly banished from public space. Anyone expressing the latter risked punishment. “The new authorities justified this policy in the name of Islam: It was God’s law, the Sharia. This was my first encounter with Sharia, the core of the faith into which I was born, but a vision of it that I had not experienced before and now found unjust and frightening,” said Mir-Hosseini.

Drawing by Hussein Mirghani, Sudan

A strong feeling of injustice best describes Ziba Mir-Hosseini’s first encounters with political Islam. It was the aftermath of the 1979 revolution that brought the Islamists to power in her native Iran, and the scholar, activist and feminist watched with alarm as politics and religion merged and

An anthropologist with a newly minted Cambridge doctorate, Mir-Hosseini had supported the Iranian revolution. But her country’s new religious masters soon made her feel distinctly unwelcome in her native land. “There was no place for people like me. Not only was I not qualified [in their eyes] to teach ‘Islamic’ anthropology, I was not a ‘good Muslim’,” she said. Because she never “fully observed the rule of hijab”, as stated by the new authorities, Mir-Hosseini could not find a teaching job. Neither, to her dismay, could she get a divorce when her marriage broke down in the early 1980s. Women had only limited grounds on which they could apply for divorce, none of which Mir-Hosseini could provide. She had not insisted on a mahr (marriage gift) – in Iran this is a large sum of money that a man pledges to pay whenever his wife demands it, often as a negotiating tactic when she wants a divorce. Husbands generally agree to divorce rather than pay the money. But Mir-Hosseini wasn’t deterred and took a bold step that shaped the rest of her life. “My approach has always been when I have a problem or crisis I want to learn about it in order to find my way out,” she said. “I became interested in Islamic law, and I learned it enough to get my own divorce out of court.”

Ziba Mir-Hosseini is a legal anthropologist, activist and documentary filmmaker, passionately involved in debating gender equality in Islamic traditions. Her scholarly contributions highlight how discriminatory laws perpetuate injustice against women in Muslim contexts. Her approach emphasizes one crucial element in the tradition of Muslim legal thought: the distinction between Sharia (The ‘path’, found in the Quran and the Prophet’s practice) and fiqh (‘understanding’ the jurists’ efforts to deduce law from textual sources). This distinction enables Muslim men and women to see patriarchal laws not as ‘divine Sharia’, but as outdated human fiqh. Mir-Hosseini’s work aims at bringing Islamic and human rights frameworks together in order to lay the basis for an egalitarian Muslim family law. Her documentary film “Divorce Iranian Style” (1998) won several international awards including a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Award in 1999. Mir-Hosseini has published a number of academic articles and books, including Men in Charge? Rethinking Male Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition (2015) and Control and Sexuality: The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslims Contexts (2010).


SIHA Women In Islam 2017

Many women weren’t so lucky – or determined – and had to throw themselves at the mercy of Iran’s patriarchal court system. That often didn’t end well. While in court, Mir-Hosseini remembers seeing a middle-aged woman dressed in a chador (large piece of cloth that is wrapped around the head and upper body) banging on a judge’s desk, asking how it was possible that she had no say in whether her husband could divorce her after 20 years of marriage. Mir-Hosseini recalls the woman stating, “Islam cannot do that. This is not Sharia, because it is not just, and Sharia is just.” Mir-Hosseini went on to produce the documentary Divorce Iranian Style with British filmmaker Kim Longinotto. “I had myself been through a ‘Divorce Iranian Style’ twice in my life, so it was easy to drop the anthropologist hat and be an Iranian woman,” she said, explaining her diversion into filmmaking. Until her divorce, Mir-Hosseini, though a believer, had been secular in her approach to life, as she believed justice without equality was impossible. She’d spent years in England where she studied, learned English at a boarding school and developed a lifelong love of custard and fish fingers, traditional British foods. Meanwhile, her native country was slipping further into “an ideology that preserved unequal and unjust power relations in marriage and society and denied women voice and choice.” “The 1980s were a very dark era in Iran,” she said. “Everything I knew about myself, my own society, was peeling away layer by layer. But after the end of the war with Iraq, things started to change, and by the mid-1990s a critique of the Islamic state and its gender policies emerged from within. In 1995 I began a new research project on the construction of gender by the clerical establishment, the custodians of the Sharia in Iran. As part of that project I did fieldwork in Qom, the centre of religious learning in Iran. I visited the main shrine frequently, staying in the women’s section. One day, I was sitting there listening to a lecture. A shrine custodian approached the women and rudely told them to move on, assuming they were simply loitering rather than legitimate scholars. Most scuttled away, but I refused to go.” “I lost my temper,” she said. “I said, ‘who are you to tell me to clear off?’ I was so angry. Everyone was looking, because they’d never heard a woman

shouting. That was a moment when I felt I didn’t want to be an observer any more, merely studying Islamic discourses on gender. I wanted to be a participant. I wanted to claim my rights from within my religion, and to play a role in shaping its gender discourses.” Mir-Hosseini came to believe that engaging with, rather than ignoring, Islamic legal tradition was the best way to improve the rights of Muslim women. “Religion is too important to leave to men – women must get involved,” she said

She uses the Quran itself to argue against gender discrimination carried out in the name of Islam, and notes that out of 6,000 verses only six can be seen as non-egalitarian. Over time, however, women’s voices have been marginalised as a class of ulema (learned men) and jurists emerged and began interpreting the Quran in a patriarchal way that suited their own needs. Mir-Hosseini’s decision to work within the framework of Islamic law put her at odds with many. Some religious scholars were suspicious of her feminism and what they saw as westerninspired talk of human rights and equality for all. Secular feminists who see religion as a problem (e.g., something that holds back women’s struggle for equality) were also unconvinced that engagement was the answer. “I come from a society where lives are regulated by religious-based law,” she said. “Religion is important for women, so I’m not in a position to say I don’t want to engage with it. There should be room for feminists who work within a religious framework.” Mir-Hosseini is very clear in her belief that it is absolutely possible to be both a feminist and a ‘good’ Muslim.

Mir-Hosseini found support in the Malaysianbased Sisters In Islam (SIS) group whose members share a similar vision of the relationship between Islam and equality. Together they went on to found Musawah (‘equality’ in Arabic), a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. “In the past I always had to defend both my Muslim and feminist identities. SIS helped with that and let me be comfortable with both identities and reclaim my faith. I no longer feel like I have to justify my position.”

Lisa Clifford is a British journalist and documentary filmmaker

Lisa Clifford SIHA Women In Islam 2017



Al-Turabi and the Women of Sudan Commitment to Women’s Rights or Political Ambition? Dr. Hassan Abdallah Al-Turabi, a prominent politician, founder of the modern Islamist movement in Sudan, and controversial religious scholar passed away in March 2016, leaving his country in a state of decline. By the end of the colonial era, his dream was to transform Sudan into the first theocratic Sunni state ruled in accordance with Islamic principles both in writ and in spirit. The military coup of June 1989 gave him the opportunity to implement his project. Al-Turabi was born in 1932 in Kassala, eastern Sudan. He studied law at the University of Khartoum (1951-1955) and received his Master’s Degree from the University of London in 1957, followed by a Doctorate from the Sorbonne University in Paris in 1964. Al-Turabi worked as a lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the University of Khartoum before resigning to devote himself completely to politics – first as the General Secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Charter Front (1964-1969), then as Head of the Islamic Front in 1985 until the movement dissolved and became the ruling party following the coup d’état in June 1989.



h ttp://www. khbarbladi. com/theme_ vstpart-49368


F logging is used as a punishment for adultery, wrongful accusation of adultery, drinking of alcohol, rape, indecent and immoral acts, and 16 other offences in the 1991 Criminal Act.


bdullahi A Ali Ibrahim, Manichaean Delirium, Decolonizing the Judiciary and Islamic Renewal in Sudan - 18981985, (Boston: Brill, 2008), Chapter six

Al-Turabi and the Women’s Movement Al-Turabi achieved national prominence following the 1964 October Revolution which overthrew the military dictatorship of General Abboud (1958-1964). From this time, he remained a controversial political and ideological figure in Sudan whose thinking process and rhetorical output were difficult to predict, even for his followers. Al-Turabi was famous for obfuscating, rather than clarifying, sensitive political and religious issues by sending conflicting messages and creating confusion among his listeners. His view on the role of women in society, for example, provides one such pivotal illustration of AlTurabi’s contradictory opinions. Al-Turabi’s vigorous attempts to rally mass support for his Islamic project by exploiting traditional jurisprudence in politics, weighted heavily on the women’s movement in Sudan. His position on feminism and gender relations created moral panic among the country’s traditional communities. Even though many of Al-Turabi’s followers assert that his writings contain ideas calling for the liberation of women, deeper study of his contributions reveals that his claims for gender equality were only aimed at rallying women’s support behind the political ambitions of the Islamist movement.

Al-Turabi belonged to a Sufi Muslim family. His great-grandfather was the famous Sufi Sheikh Hamad Al-Nahlan (1639-1704) mentioned for his miracles in Wad Deifallah’s book Tabaqat wad Deifalla.1 His father, Despite the symbolic presence of women in the on the other hand, worked as a Islamist movement, Al-Turabi’s project left behind Sharia Judge during the early days of some of the worst personal status laws in the the colonial rule in Sudan, at a time when the introduction of secular Muslim world. civil law restricted the jurisdiction of Sharia courts to family and personal status matters. This division of the legal The 1991 Family Law Act, for example, stipulates system created obvious social, economic, and that a woman cannot marry without the political inequalities among the working staff of permission of a male guardian, mandates wife both departments, with the secular sector favored obedience and allow child marriage. The negative over Sharia. Al-Turabi was deeply affected by impact of these laws has not only affected the this division and later strove to limit or abolish women’s movement in Sudan, but also women’s secularism from the legal system in Sudan. overall well-being and security. They have also

SIHA Women In Islam 2017

Drawing by Hussein Mirghani

distorted and hindered the process of social development in the country. In today’s Sudan, women are flogged on a daily basis2 and judicial institutions have been converted into tools for the everyday repression of Sudanese citizens. Al-Turabi: Scholar and Reformer? Tribulation (Ibtlaa)3 is a key concept in AlTurabi’s thought. It refers to modern events and developments that pose challenges to contemporary Muslims, who are compelled to turn to innovative methods to understand and overcome the new dilemmas they face. Such methods, however, are usually not available in traditional jurisprudence. Lacking the means by which to address modern events, on the one hand, and because of the fear of turmoil (fitna), on the other, traditional Muslim jurists (Al-Turabi maintains) often choose to turn a blind eye to these new realities and avoid confrontation.

To find a way out of this dilemma, Al-Turabi produced his own jurisprudence, the core of which was built on the distinction between “religion” and “religiosity.” While the former, according to him, is eternal and constant, the later refers to the accumulation of traditional jurisprudence over the centuries. Al-Turabi further describes the eternal religion as ‘authentic religion’ and religiosity as ‘acquired religion.’ In his opinion, change is what constitutes the essence of religiosity, rather than blind appeal to traditional jurisprudence which includes the four traditional schools of Muslim jurisprudence. The traditional jurisprudence, AlTurabi further explains, should be viewed against the backdrop of past challenges. As professed by Al-Turabi, religious renewal is therefore what upholds religion and liberates it from the pressure of modern dilemmas (i.e. tribulations). As a man-made institution, religiosity stagnates with time and eventually

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becomes incapable of reflecting new realities or answering the demands of new generations. As a consequence, religious renewal or revival in AlTurabi’s jurisprudence denotes the necessity of governing the State by will of God. This approach is described by the American writer Abdel Malik Simone4 as an attempt to reclaim Muslims’ intellectual development after the distortions caused by colonialism. In Simone’s view, modern Islamist movements are not obsessed with defining their link to the golden past by appealing to its jurisprudence. On the contrary, they seek to shape a new and viable social order, based on an all-encompassing State, by linking religious integrity with economic development and political accountability. Accordingly, Al-Turabi strove to confront complex jurisprudence issues that have for a long time obstructed contemporary Islamist movements, including such important challenges as the position of Islam on freedom, art, women and non-Muslims. From a theoretical perspective, Al-Turabi considers that individual freedom is a necessary pre-condition of religiosity. In his view, religiosity cannot develop under conditions of oppression and tyranny. With regard to art, Al-Turabi did not endorse the often hostile position of the traditional Islamic jurist. In his opinion, art is ultimately an “invention of beauty,” and since beauty is valued and recognised in Islam as a divine gift necessitating praise, art can be employed as a religious tool to approach God and serve the Muslim faith.5 Al-Turabi and the Question of Women Many scholars from within the Islamist movement and political Islam in general, believe that the greatest achievement of Al-Turabi is his scholarly work on women’s equality and public participation. Al-Turabi gave the issue of women particular attention, realising in his political intelligence and understanding of social development, the importance of including women in political activism.


SIHA Women In Islam 2017

He largely copied the experience and methods of the Sudanese Communist Party, which demonstrated the effectiveness of women’s participation in political work. In 1973, Al-Turabi issued a booklet entitled Women in Islamic Teachings, later published as Women in Islamic Teachings and Social Traditions. After adding new ideas, the booklet was finally published in 2011 as Women between Religious Fundamentals and Traditions. Some attribute AlTurabi’s interest in women’s issues to the Western influences which he had been exposed to during his graduate studies in Britain and France. In the aforementioned books, Al-Turabi stresses that women’s liberation and equality in religious duties are rooted in the fundamentals of Islam. Accordingly, a woman is viewed as an autonomous being directly accountable to God whose ability to perform religious duties is conditioned on her freedom. In this context, the family does not constitute a frame of reference on the Day of Judgement and women are therefore permitted to challenge the authority of the latter if necessary to perform their religious obligations.6 Al-Turabi substantiated his position by citing numerous verses from the Quran and narratives (Seira) of the early times of Islam that depict Muslim women engaging in jihad (Struggling or striving – from a religious perspective, jihad refers to the efforts to advance the faith through peaceful means),7 nursing, trade, etc. In his view, these stories confirm the social freedom and independence which women enjoyed from the time of the Prophet and the extent to which it benefitted society. According to Al-Turabi, these examples demonstrate that the participation of women in public life is consistent with the principles of Islam, and that the regression and decadence in women’s positions that is witnessed across the contemporary Muslim world, is caused by the abandonment by Muslims of these same principles.8 When discussing the issue of veiling, AlTurabi considers this to be an obligation on the Prophet’s female relatives that does not apply to Muslim women in general.9 He also maintains that the current deterioration of the position of women is a reflection of lack of faith and religious

commitment among Muslims. Subordination of women, he further asserts, is an indication of Muslims’ weaknesses. In addition, Al-Turabi sustains that violence against women should be attributed to the weak bonds Muslims maintain with the true teachings of Islam. He sees the subjugation of women under the pretext of wrongdoing as a patriarchal approach that has no basis in Islam. He argues that the wrongdoing of an ignorant woman endowed with the duty of raising generations of Muslims is far more dangerous to the family and society than a woman who intermingles with men in the public domain.10 Therefore, over caution should not be used as a pretext to inhibit legitimate conduct, such as the full participation of women in everyday life. However, unlike the late Tunisian scholar AlTahir Haddad, the author of the famous book Our Women in Sharia and Society who strove to liberate women in all aspects of life by revising discriminatory Islamic precepts, Al-Turabi limited all his intellectual efforts to ensuring the presence of women in the public space. He never showed particular interest in the complex realities of women and institutional oppression practised against them as embodied in family and personal status laws. Further, he did not attempt to change the patriarchal nature of these laws but, instead, collaborated with the militant Islam movement and its outdated values for political gain. Al-Turabi’s interest in the participation of women in the public sphere cannot therefore be read without consideration of his continual attempts to impose the Islamist movement on the political scene.

It is obvious that political ambition was the main motive behind his position on women’s issues. In his own words: “We have always attempted to understand the reality [of the social development] and discover its contexts and outcome. As an example, look at our plans for women. We had projected that as education, employment and urbanisation grew,

women would come out and participate in society. We were eager to launch a program that would direct the women’s movement prompted by social development. Our programme was designed so that it could resonate with the general rules of the social [development] and be empowered by them rather than contradict these rules by holding onto conservative traditional norms. [Our aim] was to follow the trends of history and steer them in the direction of [our] religious goals.”11 As shown in this excerpt, Al-Turabi’s position constantly oscillates between inciting women to enter the public realm as a way to generate political gains for the Islamist movement, and ignoring the unjust social and cultural reality that they experienced. This ambiguity strengthens the hypothesis that Al-Turabi’s interest in women’s issues was motivated by political pragmatism rather than a genuine concern for change and reform. Al-Turabi’s pragmatism is further evidenced by looking at the outcomes of the political practice of the Islamist Movement – a backward position on women’s issues that translated into discriminatory laws and policies and misogynistic practises such as the codification of flogging, polygamy, and female genital mutilation. The Public Order Act in Sudan represents the epitome of contradiction in Al-Turabi’s ideology. The Act fully stifled women’s freedoms, imposing barriers on their behaviour and dress code in the public sphere enforced by the humiliating penalty of flogging. Al-Turabi’s endeavour is the very opposite of Haddad’s attempts to deal with the root causes of the crisis by challenging discriminatory and gender-biased family laws. It is not surprising, therefore, that Haddad’s efforts, adopted by the Tunisian state during Habib Bourguiba’s rule in 1956, brought to fruition one of the most progressive bodies of family law in the Muslim world, even by today’s standards. Meanwhile, women in Sudan still suffer from backward and discriminatory regulations and policies. Compiled by “Women in Islam” on the basis of an unpublished study by Abulkhalig El-Sir about the late Dr. Al-Turabi


bdou Maliqalim A Simone, In Whose Image? Political Islam and Urban Practices in Sudan, 1994, P. 6-7


bdelwahab ElA Affendi, Turabi’s Revolution, Islam and Power in Sudan, (Grey Seal Islamic Studies, 1991), Chapter nine




he concept of T jihad has recently been distorted and exploited by militant Islamists to gain, maintain and expand their control over populations and territories.


assan Al-Turabi, H Al-Mara’a bein Al-Usul wa AlTaqalid. [Women between Islamic Fundamentals and Traditions], (Khartoum: Markaz Dirasat Al-Mara’a [Women Studies Centre], 2000), P 1-3


Ibid. 1-12.


Ibid. 12-15.


amid, M. A-H. H Id. P. 32

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Al-Balabel: An Iconic Sudanese Female Band

Symbol of an Ambivalent Society or Fractured Patriarchy? Mohamed Elfaki is a Sudanese writer living in Canada and a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at McMaster University.

Painting by Hussein Mirghani

‘Al-Balabel’ (Arabic plural for Nightingales), also known as the ‘Sudanese Supremes,’1 is an iconic Sudanese all-female trio band that came into existence in the early 70’s, and has since had a remarkable impact on the Sudanese music scene, in particular women’s musical culture and performance. This article is an attempt to highlight some of the important moments in the long journey of the band against the backdrop 12

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of the dominant patriarchal and conservative values by which the country is often defined. The members of the trio are three sisters – Hadia, Amal, and Hayat – who belong to a family of seven daughters and three sons. The family was originally from Wadi Halfa, Northern Sudan, but moved to Khartoum during the forceful removal and resettlement of the people

of Halfa following the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s. The trio’s father, Awad Talsam, a graduate of Gordon College (Khartoum), was a teacher who assumed several academic positions throughout his tenure as an educator travelling throughout the country. He was also an avid music lover who was known for his passion for poetry, literature, photography, and the violin. Following their successful debut performance in Khartoum in 1971 under the leadership of the renowned Sudanese musician and composer, Bashir Abbas, the band toured the country with former Sudanese President, the late Gaafar Nimeiri. No doubt the tour boosted the fame and ascending stardom of the musical trio of sisters dubbed ‘Al-Balabel.’ Al-Balabel performed for almost two decades (1971-1988) in Sudan and neighbouring countries; however, by the late 1980’s the band came to a sudden halt and was dismantled when “the sisters got married and had to take care of their own families and offspring.”2 The change in the social status of the members of the band also coincided with the coup d’état of 1989 which enabled Islamists to take power in Sudan and “[impose] a curfew that lasted for years – effectively banning musical performances.”3 Nearly two decades later, the trio decided to get back on-stage. They performed in New York in 2007 and in 2008 at Chicago’s Sudanese Festival for Music and Dance.4 Following their Chicago performance, the group flew to Sudan and performed in front of thousands of cheering fans from diverse backgrounds and age groups. In Sudan they did several performances, including one in South Sudan just before the 2011 independence referendum formally separated Sudan from South Sudan.5

The phenomenal rise of Al-Balabel in the early 70’s in a society that has often been described as conservative (defined here as actively interacting with conservative Islamic signs and interpretations), raises many questions about the nature of Sudanese conservatism and the way it works. In a ‘patriarchal’ society where women are subordinate to men, one assumes that women’s public appearance is governed by many rules and restrictions and that their voices are shunned (especially in songs where the woman herself is the main subject of the lyrics). Therefore, how can we understand the rise to fame of an allfemale performing group during a period in Sudanese history when dominant moral values and measures prevented women from engaging in the public sphere? It is well documented that Al-Balabel’s journey was not a smooth one. Within the conservative culture of Northern Sudan, even when it is allowed, women’s performance on a public stage is governed by social norms of conduct.

“It's [only] … acceptable for a group of girls to sing in public as long as their music does not exceed the general shame level and common Islamic traditions.”6 In the case of the trio, “[as] their fame grew, neighbours, friends and even some relatives criticised the father [of the three singers]… for their appearances.”7 However, the band’s determination for success and desire to continue empowered them to survive amidst the obstacles. As highlighted by the oldest member of the trio, Hadia, “We were able to stand firm... our progress and our presence on stage proved that there was nothing wrong with it.”8

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fter the famous A ‘Supremes’ singing group in the United States during the 1960’s.


usa H. Ahmed, M “Al-Balabel fi bi bi ci Ekestra” [Al-Balabel in BBC Extra], Sudanile, May 31, 2016, http://www. sudanile.com/index. php?option=com_co ntent&view=article& id=92681:2016-05 -31-18-07-00& catid=34&Itemid=55


“ ‘Honey, we’re better than the Supremes’: Sudan’s Girl Band going stronger 45-years on.” Guardian African Network, April 21, 2016, https://www. theguardian.com/ world/2016/apr/21/ sudans-girlband-thenightingales-worldtour-sudanesesupremes


M usa H. Ahmed. Id.




ammer, August H 3, 2012, “Al-Balabil Band: The Sudanese Supreme?”, http:// theaudiotopia. blogspot.ca/2012/03/ al-balabil-band-odeto-ghost-capital.html


uardian Africa G Network, Id.




uardian Africa G Network. Id.


Salah Shuaib. Id.


ohamed Elfaki, M “Islam and Violence: The Curse of Empty Signifier,” Bampazuka News. Dec. 5, 2015, http:// www.pambazuka. org/governance/ islam-and-violencecurse-empty-signifier


It is the author’s contention, however, that such determination alone would not have allowed the trio to navigate Sudan’s conservative society had there been no support and encouragement from some of the patriarchal guards of this traditional society. Such support and encouragement came from the singers’ father as well as others including composers, song writers, and the renowned musician, Bashir Abbas. As recalled by one of the sisters, Amal, “[our father] wasn’t interested in any of that [criticism] and he used to encourage us a lot.”9 Here, it is worth mentioning that, although the mother, who has been described as the “mayor of the house,”10 recognised the band, “she would not allow [the sisters] to go to the movies or go out [with friends].” Defying the values of patriarchy and conservatism is not something unique to Al-Balabel. History shows that since the 19th century, Sudan has repeatedly witnessed the emergence of famous women singing and engaging in all forms of art. Does this indicate the ambivalent nature of the Sudanese society (which simultaneously endorses one thing and its opposite)? The answer is no. This contradiction can be regarded as an obvious reflection of competing socio-cultural and political discourses often at work in multi-cultural and ethnic societies such as Sudan. It is crucial to acknowledge this dynamic to understand contemporary realities in Muslim societies and avoid reducing complex topics such as the ‘east’, ‘Islam’ and ‘women’ to a set of fixed ideas. With regard to ‘Islam’ for example, the ‘neo-orientalist’ approach postulates that Islamic teachings are responsible for women’s subordination, violence against women, gender inequalities, etc. This position neglects the complex historical, socio-economic, and political dynamics and their interaction with the precepts of Islam. Presuming that all Muslims are only devoted to, and guided by, religion would be simplistic. With the exception of prayers, Ramadan fasting, Pilgrimage to Mecca which

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are noticeably performed by the bulk of those identified with Islam, Muslims, like other people everywhere, “attend to their worldly things largely motivated by the mundane logics of desire and power in this world.”11 By acknowledging the complex realities of Muslim societies such as Sudan’s diverse musical and female performance history, we may conclude that patriarchy is in fact fractureridden and not as solid and rigid as usually described.

In the case of Al-Balabel, we notice that the father (supposedly an agent of patriarchy) was the one who encouraged his daughters to pursue musical careers, thereby challenging the dominant discourse which restricts such domains to men only. Did the father, in this case, act like “the enemy from within,” (a man challenging patriarchy from within) or did he follow one of the several paths available within the purview of a complex society? Today in Sudan, many female singers play musical instruments and perform solos, duets, or with various bands. This is happening despite an Islamic agenda adopted and perpetuated by the current government in Sudan. The imposition of strict codes of dress and conduct on women is used as a means to restrict their presence and movement in public spaces. No doubt, AlBalabel’s determination and courage have paved the way for many Muslim women to participate in a range of public forms of artistic performance and expression. Mohamed Elfaki

The Hopes and Fears of Female Street Cleaners in Mogadishu In the early 1990’s, Somalia descended into a clan-based armed conflict that fuelled extremist and violent ideologies. The lack of centralized government control, conflicting political interests and institutionalized corruption continue to make the country a breeding ground for extremism. Despite the violence, Mogadishu has a population of over 2.5 million people, including a large number of internally displaced persons, in need of basic public services, including waste management.

Gathering of female garbage collectors in Mogadishu

Maymuun Hassan Hajji’s day is filled with both hope and despair. She is a garbage collector who cleans one of Mogadishu’s busiest streets, sweeping away piles of rubbish on the road connecting the State House to the international airport. Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia known locally as “Hamar”, is considered to be among the oldest cities in the Horn of Africa with a history dating back to the 9th century. The city, once said to be safe and welcoming, has now been the stage for violence, killings and bomb attacks for the last 35 years.

In 2012, in an attempt to improve the living environment of the residents of Mogadishu, the government hired thousands of women to clean the streets. In Somalia, collecting rubbish is viewed as ‘women’s work’ and is connected to deep cultural perceptions of assigned gender roles. At home, at schools, in hospitals and even in public places it is only women who clean and collect the garbage. Making a Living Like many women in Somalia, Maymuun, a 40-year-old mother of eight, must provide for her family. “I was overwhelmingly excited and happy when I was told to get ready for my first day, because my husband was unemployed; he still is. I had to take care of the family,” she said. Getting the job was not easy for Maymuun. “We all know that in Somalia people are hired for jobs based on who they know inside that company or organisation, not because of what they know,” she said. “I am very professional, yet it took me four months to find the job, thanks to one of my colleagues who added me

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Maymuun at work

to the list of women who were selected by the district authorities for the work.” Maymuun says her work is tough and physical. Women have to load the baskets of rubbish they collect onto trucks (driven by men) for disposal outside the city. “Some of the women are as young as 16, while others are elderly or pregnant and shouldn’t be working so hard. And the pay is too low”, she added. The women earn around US $90 per month, though Maymuun’s salary doesn’t always arrive on time and when it does, it is not enough to feed her family. “After four months we were given only the salary for two months and were told that we will be paid the remaining two months. But they never paid us the out-standing two months,” she said. Working under Threat Maymuun’s job is not only dirty, but dangerous – garbage collectors in Somalia are targeted by militant groups and members of the public alike. In November 2008, a bomb planted inside a pile of trash exploded and claimed the 16

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lives of 21 garbage collectors, a major incident which terrorised the residents of Mogadishu as well as Maymuun and her colleagues. In August 2014, a similar explosion killed three garbage collectors and injured seven others, also in Mogadishu. Maymuun, who knew one of the victims, was traumatised by the loss of her colleagues and her friend. “She was a mother too. Someone intentionally put [the bomb] there. Luckily I was not there on that day, but since then I have had depression and too many sleepless nights. I remember everyday that landmines can be planted under the garbage and might explode at any time,” said Maymuun. Maymuun wears a niqab (a veil covering the head and the face, usually worn with a loose black garment that covers from head to feet) while working to protect her identity. She has to because of threatening phone calls and SMS messages from militants who believe that the government who hired her is illegitimate and anti-Islamic. Anyone working for the government, therefore, is considered to be non-Muslim and is sentenced to be “shot on sight.”

Abdifatah Hassan Ali is a Somali human rights activist based in Mogadishu, Somalia. He is co-founder of WITNESS SOMALIA, a local human rights monitoring and advocacy organization, and acts as Somalia Country Coordinator for the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Network.

“Since when does collecting garbage become something that makes you out of your religion? It is probably [the militants] own fatwa,” she said.

“I wear the niqab so that nobody, including my own family members, can identify me. There are some of us who don’t wear it, and they say trusting in Allah is more than enough, and no one can kill us. I trust Allah too, but I am not that brave.” It isn’t only militants that target the women who clean the streets of Mogadishu. They are verbally and sexually harassed by passers-by and treated with a general lack of respect despite the important work they’re doing to improve their capital city. Speeding vehicles are also a major problem. “At night, we wear night vision jackets so that cars won’t run over us,” Maymuun said. “There is no traffic system here. Cars can drive on the wrong side of the street. There are some government vehicles full of armed men passing at a fast speed. It is not a matter of ‘if ’, it is just a matter of ‘when’ you will be hit.” Building Resilience Maymuun says no one has ever asked her about the challenges of garbage collecting. “You are the

first person who is concerned about what we are doing,” she said. “Even our supervisors, who are men, never talk to us about our work. All they care about is making sure that the job gets done on time. That is it.” Despite the many obstacles, Maymuun is determined to continue with her job, which she says makes her stronger. She feels she has an obligation to serve her community as a sort of national service to help repair a shattered nation. Years of displacement, hunger and losing loved ones have made Somalis’ resilient, she says, and working with her colleagues as a team helps her through the many difficulties of the job. She remains an optimist, expects things to get better and hopes that one day her children can enjoy the beauty of a clean city. “God has granted us the strength to move on, no matter what happens to us, and that is what is keeping us strong. We need a beautiful environment and clean city for our community,” she said. Abdifatah Hassan Ali

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Saadia Al-Salahi: A Pioneer Costume Designer from Sudan What Clothes Say about A Society Amani Mohammed El Obeid holds a PhD in Political Science. She is a researcher and Assistant Professor whose work focuses on Islamic thought from an enlightened perspective. She works for the Ahfad University for Women (Ombdurman) and the Centre d’Etudes et Documentation Economiques, Juridiques, et Sociales – CEDEJ (Khartoum). Amani has a strong interest in Gender and Islam and has published several articles and booklets on this topic with Sudan Political Chronicle and Egypte Monde Arabe.

This article is based on an interview Amani El Obeid conducted with Saadia Al-Salahi in Omdurman, Sudan on October 29, 2016.


she tried to run away. Her interests at that time mainly revolved around designing costumes for weddings and traditional events. In the early 1960’s, Al-Salahi left Omdurman to study art in Cairo, Egypt. Starting in 1965, she attended the High Institute of Fine Arts where she studied design and decor with a particular focus on painting. She eventually returned to Sudan to attend the College of Fine and Applied Art and developed a strong interest in Sudanese folklore and costumes. In 1968, she joined the Sudanese Ministry of Culture and became the first Sudanese national to hold the position of Head Costume Designer. Learning from the Past

Photos by Mohammad Esmail, Sudan

Born in 1941 in Omdurman, Sudan, Saadia Al-Salahi is a female artist whose career and pioneering work on Sudanese folklore and traditional costumes has inspired generations of artists. Her father, a respected sheikh and religious teacher, was a fine calligrapher who used to design and paint sharafa (tablets used for transcribing verses of the Quran). Al-Salahi discovered her passion for art and costumes at an early age. When she was 3-yearsold, she used to turn the sugar canes and pieces of cloth brought by her father into flutes and dresses for her dolls. When she entered primary school at the age of five and realised that she would not be making clothes for her toys anymore,

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Following her appointment at the Ministry of Culture, Al-Salahi spent two years roaming the museums of Sudan and studying the culture of old Sudanese Kingdoms. Based on detailed observations of ancient sculptures, she recreated some of the clothes worn by the inhabitants of the region centuries ago. As part of her research, she analysed how clothing and handicraft reflected societal power dynamics and demonstrated the influence of women in these ancient kingdoms. Al-Salahi’s work has been careful to highlight the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Sudan. While the Indian sari (a garment consisting of a length of cotton or silk elaborately draped around the body, traditionally worn by women from South Asia) and Arab attire have both influenced clothing in Eastern Sudan, the African culture left a long-lasting imprint on the Western part of the country. In all her works, Al-Salahi has strived to emphasize the African nature of the Sudanese culture. As she describes, “The African hairstyle was widespread in Sudan.

Even the Queen Amanitore, one of the most famous women of her time, used to wear her hair ‘the African way’.”1 Al-Salahi’s research also focuses on understanding the symbolic meaning associated with clothing colors. In the Sultanate of Darfur, for example, black was the color worn by the Sultan to welcome prominent guests, while red was associated with death and orange with adventure and hunting. In the Kingdom of Sennar, colors were crucial in determining one’s social status. 2 Sufi sheikhs, for example, used to wear green clothes, while common people would dress in blue.

incredible cultural diversity and to tap into local knowledge and creativity. The path, however, was not always smooth. As she recalls, “One day, I was almost killed by a Beja man in Eastern Sudan. He was holding a knife and prevented the cameraman to enter the women’s room where I was taking pictures of a woman and Beja traditional objects.”3 In 1968, Al-Salahi became a member of the African Designers Society. She started a close collaboration with the well-known female artist, Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq. Both artists actively encouraged the participation of women in art, organising trainings and exhibitions in schools across the country. Al-Salahi was dedicated to understanding the challenges faced by Sudanese women and finding solutions to improve their lives. After she realised that the traditional thoub (a long piece of fabric which wraps around the body) was impractical for women using public transportation and working in factories and hospitals, she developed an adapted design of the dress that would facilitate women’s movement while still covering their body. In her career, Al-Salahi participated in many exhibitions and received several national and international awards. She retired in 2010 but is still, at 75-years-old, a vocal and tireless advocate for the promotion of Sudanese folklore and traditional costumes. As noted by Al-Salahi, it is important to recognize the global dimensions of clothing design, while also maintaining local originality. Amani Mohammed El Obeid


ubian Kandake N (queen) of the ancient Kushitic Kingdom of Meroë.


Sultanate that A ruled a substantial area of northeast Africa from the 16th to the 19th centuries.


n ethnic group A inhabiting Sudan as well as parts of Eritrea and Egypt.

Costume inspired by the garments worn by Amanitore (c. 50 CE), one of the queens of the ancient Kingdom of Kush, also referred to as Nubia.

Promoting Sudanese Knowledge and Craft While working for the Ministry of Culture, AlSalahi adopted a hands-on approach. She toured throughout the country meeting with diverse communities in Sudan to document their everyday clothing, ceremonial costumes and traditions, and to collect numerous handicraft items. She wanted her work to reflect Sudan’s

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Women’s Inheritance in Islam Between Text and Interpretation Dr. Zahia Salem Jouirou, born in Tunisia, is a scholar of Islam and lecturer of Islamic Studies at the University of Tunis. She is the author of several published books including Popular Islam, The New Live Burial – Essays on Casuistry and the Jurisprudence of Women, and Redistribution in the Sacred Writ – a Historical Study.

This article is based on the theoretical premise that the issue of inheritance in Islam cannot be understood in isolation of both the system of wealth and resource distribution, and the socio-cultural conditions that prevailed in the Arab Peninsula at the time of the Revelation (7th century). Therefore, we should refrain from dehistoricising the issue of women’s unequal share in inheritance as a rigid and transcendental principle similar to the Islamic fundamentals. To understand the key purpose behind Islamic provisions on women’s inheritance, it is essential to examine the ideological and socio-economic context in which these provisions came into existence. Through this lens, it becomes evident that Quranic verses attempted from the start to challenge the discriminatory nature of the inheritance system and set as a maqasid (goal or purpose) justice between men and women in relation to inheritance. Numerous exegesis of the Quran (An-Nisa 4:1112-176) attempt to justify why women in ancient 20

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Arabia were deprived of their inheritance. As described in one of those, “In the Pre-Islamic Era women and children [male included] were deprived of inheritance [which was only] shared by those who were capable of fighting… or obtaining it [in a form of] booty.” Since women did not directly participate in tribal wars, they were traditionally excluded from the gains generated by the war economy and subsequently deprived of inheritance. Eventually, outraged by the discriminations within the dominant system of inheritance, women began to protest and request their share. The emergence of Islam in the 7th century coincided with these claims resulting in the reform of the traditional system of inheritance. This development was an inevitable outcome of the societal transformations occurring at the time. Thus, one of the significant goals of the new religion was to acknowledge women’s individual right to inherit and access resources whose ownership and control was no longer exclusively determined by ancient traditions. However, Muslim scholars later conspired against women’s quest for justice by invalidating the provisions sanctioned by Quranic verses that support women’s right to inherit. Throughout history, scholars have enacted new provisions that exacerbated discrimination against women. Firstly, they introduced the absolute guardianship of a father over an unmarried daughter, granting him full control over her property. Married women, on the other hand, were entitled to control onethird of their property. This right, however, was conditioned by women’s ability to act in the “best of their interests.” This provision is an obvious disruption of the Quranic verses which allow women to own property. It acts to deny daughters

Cartoons by Rayah Ombaddi, Sudan

and wives the right to manage and control their own resources. The condition imposed on married women, which leaves room for interpretation and misuse, permanently places women under male guardianship with control being given to either the father, the brother, or the husband. Secondly, the same scholars gave men full control and management over the financial resources coming from inheritance (tahbees). They justified their position based on traditional accounts indicating that tahbees were widely practiced during the time of the Prophet, including by some of His companions. They ignored, however, the Quran’s call for justice and the testimony of Aisha (the wife of the Prophet) who denounced the practice as a method used by the men in power to swindle girls of their inheritance. It is worthwhile to note that the exclusion of women from financial management at the time of the Prophet was consistent with the socio-historical context and the widespread perception of fairness and justice. Provision on Women’s Inheritance: Between Revelation and History Most Quranic verses on women’s inheritance came in direct response to questions women raised directly with the Prophet about their conditions and status in society. This illustrates that justice and protection from men’s control over inheritance was initially demanded by women.

However, realities on the ground pushed Muslim scholars to adopt provisions inconsistent with the Quran in order to serve the interests of the male population.

The patriarchal nature of society compelled scholars to neglect the Quranic texts and reinvent, through new interpretations, provisions meant to preserve male privilege and domination. Through the years, and with the support of patriarchal forces, these reinvented rules eventually became de facto rules. The realities and historical conditions of the past forced Muslim scholars to work around the Quranic verses in order to provide rules that matched the demands of that reality. In this context, why could we not similarly adapt these rules to the drastic changes and transformations faced by the Muslim world today? Why are some people still denying women rights which have become part of our contemporary values and principles, and are reflected in the ultimate essence of the Divine Message? Most of the solutions brought by Muslim scholars in relation to inheritance, such as the financial guardianship of women by men (Awal), were merely human judgements negotiated against the socio-historical conditions of the time. Hence, we should not consider these solutions mandatory and suitable for all times and places. Why do Muslim clerics, those who constantly

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Unfortunately, what subsequent Islamic scholars have done is not consistent with the efforts made by the early ones. That is, what is “prescribed” has now become optional, and what is “recommended” has become obligatory and sanctioned as a permanent rule

Continuity and Discontinuity of the Quranic Exegesis

use modern media, strive to hold Muslim communities back by referring to provisions and issues of the past? Does this indicate that Muslim societies, in spite of the major shifts they have experienced, still identify with the values of patriarchy and support the religious institutions that perpetuate discrimination against women? The Quranic Text: Between Obligation and Choice Early Muslim scholars decided whether certain provisions should be considered optional or obligatory on the basis of linguistic interpretations of the Quran. A provision becomes mandatory if the verse starts with the phrase “it is prescribed for you,” and optional when the phrase reads “charged/recommended.” For example, the verse Al-Baqara 2/180 clearly stipulates, as an obligation, that there must be no gender discrimination between the parents and close relatives (including women and girls): “It is prescribed for you when death approaches [any] one of you if he leaves wealth [is that he should make] a bequest for the parents and near relatives according to what is acceptable – a duty upon the righteous.” On the contrary, the provision in the verse “Allah charged you concerning your children: to the male the equivalent of the portion of two females (An-Nisa 4:11),” should be considered optional. 22

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The Quranic verse “to the male the equivalent of the portion of two females” has become the main reference used to justify inequalities between men and women in relation to inheritance. This particular verse, however, is being decontextualised as conservative scholars ignore its optional nature and the historical circumstances that prevailed at the time it was formulated. The concept of justice bore a different meaning at the time of the Revelation. Our current conception of equality was simply not thinkable for the traditional and male-dominated societies of the 7th century. Like other religions, Islam put the emphasis on the spiritual equality of all Muslims regardless of their gender or race but remained, despite its revolutionary nature, an aspect and expression of the social system that witnessed its emergence. Contemporarily, concepts of gender equality and democracy are becoming universal values that all societies, including Muslim societies, are striving to adopt. For example, notions of equality and human rights are now incorporated in most of the legal systems around the world. These concepts constitute an urgent demand in places where the position of women lags behind that of men. Therefore, it is not logical to hold onto a traditional system that no longer reflects the needs of contemporary societies. The perpetuation of outdated Islamic rulings on gender relations and inheritance only exacerbates tensions and often presents Muslim countries with a great dilemma. In principle, the Quran recognises the rights of women to access inheritance and control the

in the distribution of inheritance between men and women are gradually fading away. Human interventions, however, through specific forms of interpretation, have contributed to perpetuating discrimination against women in the area of inheritance, contradicting women’s lived realities in today’s world. In addition, the insistence on sustaining unjust rules violates the overall intention of justice contained in the Quran. Secondly, the ways in which the provisions of female inheritance have been formulated show no indication that the Quranic text was intending to set up absolute and permanent rules about distribution of wealth. Instead, it was providing reasonable answers to specific questions pertaining to specific socio-historical conditions in the past. Therefore, adopting a new understanding of the text that suits our contemporary conditions does not contradict the greater principles of Islam and, in fact, supports the intention of justice and equality carried in the Eternal Text.

resources from inheritance. It also acknowledges the concept of equality based on the recognition of women’s individual capacity1. In this context, how can the opposition to the demand for equality in inheritance be justified in our contemporary world? Today, women from Muslim communities around the world control and manage their own financial resources (whether earned or inherited). Most women decide to work, rejecting the traditional principle that husbands should provide for them. Nowadays, women actively participate in socio-economic life both in the private and public sphere. Hence, current society is in a good position to reject all forms of discrimination against women.

Finally, the provisions on inheritance in the Quran reflect the intentions and positions of Muslim scholars during a specific period of time rather than the absolute purpose of the Divine Message. Therefore, understanding the historical and human aspects of the provisions on inheritance would liberate Muslims from the pressures exerted on them by traditional institutions. It will also pave the way for them to live up to the true essence of the Islamic message which does not contradict the international covenants and standards that call for complete abolition of all forms of discrimination between men and women. 1

The lessons to learn from a close examination of the Islamic provisions on inheritance are twofold. Firstly, even though the provisions have given women a lesser share of inheritances, the contextualisation of the Quranic texts as well as the recognition of the greater principles of the Divine Message, reveals that the disparities

Zahia Salem Jouirou From Arabic by Mohamed Elfaki

aleid, Sadiq. Al B Quraan wa al Tashriya’[Quran and Legislation]. Pp. 1241

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Unequal by Birth ‘We are Muslims and Somalis, What Did We Do to Deserve this Cruel Treatment?’ Alinor Abdi Osman born in 1986, is a Somali activist working on youth and women’s rights. He is the co-founder of Witness Somalia, a local human rights monitoring and advocacy organisation.

The Somali region as a whole is unique in the African context in that the majority of its population share a common culture, language and religion – Sunni Islam. However, similar to neighboring countries like Sudan – where ethnic, linguistic and religious differences are rife – more dominant groups end up controlling the social, political and economic order. Somali minorities are faced with immense socio-cultural difficulties. Their accompanying lower social status and exclusion from the full benefits of being ‘Somali,’ makes minorities in every social and economic rung of society, the most susceptible to all forms of violations. For Fartun Amiin Shide, beatings, forcible eviction and verbal abuse are a nearly daily occurrence. Fartun has the worst of both worlds in Somalia. She is both a member of the minority Bantu clan, against whom crimes are often committed with impunity by more powerful clans, and she is a woman in a male dominated society. “We are Muslims by religion and Somalis by birth, what did we do to deserve this kind of cruel treatment at the hands of our own brothers and sisters?” Fartun said.

Somali minorities are diverse and fall into three main social groups – Bantu, Benadiri, and the ‘occupational groups,’ whose members traditionally practice non-pastoralist occupations and crafts. Fartun, as a member of the Shiidle sub-clan, belongs to the Bantu minority. Bantu are believed to be descendants of former slaves or indigenous farmers and have suffered a long history of oppression and discrimination. Referred to collectively as Jareer (hard-hair) by majority clans, they experience social harassment and hate speech because of their distinct physical features. As a Shiidle, Fartun, a 20-year-old mother of four, is considered a second-class citizen. She struggles to find work and her husband is also unemployed. In Somalia, most minority members have limited education opportunities and are ill equipped to enter the formal labour market. Majority clan members are also commonly favoured over minorities when seeking employment. As a result, minority women primarily find themselves confined to traditional roles and limited, low-paid informal work.

For Fartun, daily life in the capital city of Mogadishu can be dangerous. “One day I went The Somali population is divided into four out to do laundry for a client family of mine. On majority clans – Darod, Hawiye, Dir and Digil- my way home, two ladies whom I didn’t know Mirifle1 – in addition to a number of minority stopped me. They started hurling insulting groups. Each of the majority clans comprise words at me and scorning my nose, but I didn’t sub-clans and extended family networks that react. One of them grabbed me by the hands and join or split depending on their own unique the other beat me on the back”, she said, tears circumstances. rolling down her cheeks as she remembers the frightening incident. “I filed a legal case at the HamarJabab police station against Clan affiliation is the predominant factor the two women who harassed me, but defining one’s identity in Somalia; the system nobody arrested them. Six months have determines one’s origin and social status and passed, but I am still feeling the effects influences nearly every aspect of decisionof the hand injuries I sustained from the making and power sharing in the country fight”, she added. 24

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Lacking the support networks provided to majority clans, members of minority groups like Fartun have limited access to justice and little chance of obtaining redress. Police officers, who usually belong to majority clans, often refuse to investigate complaints by minorities or may actively discriminate against them. Similarly, customary law, which provides protection to individuals based on the strength and alliances of their clan, repeatedly fails to provide effective remedies to vulnerable groups like the Bantu. Forced eviction is also part of Fartun’s daily concerns as influential individuals have confiscated her plot of land. Evictions of minority group members and internally displaced persons are common in Mogadishu. They reflect a broader context where decision over the allocation and transfer of land and housing are routinely made by majority clans without any consultation with minorities. As a Bantu and a woman, Fartun has no say in the decisions that affect her life and the future of her family. The traditional clan structure of Somalia continues to exclude minorities and women from political participation and decision-making. At the heart of the problem is Somalia’s 4.5 system, adopted in 2000. Under this system, equal political participation was provided to the four majority clans while an additional half (or 0.5) share was assigned collectively to minority clans. At that time, Somalia had plunged into civil war and fighters had fragmented into several alliances, dividing the country and people into smaller fiefdoms and clan-dominated areas. Minority groups were left at the mercy of the heavily armed militias from the majority clans. The 4.5 system was designed to encourage power sharing in an effort to put an end to the armed conflict and the disintegration of Somalia. However, while the 4.5 system gave minorities a voice in political decision-making, it also deepened social divisions and failed to reflect

Fartun Amiin Shide

the true composition of the Somali population. Minorities remain underrepresented and marginalised, as power is concentrated in the hands of majority clans. Beyond institutionalised discrimination, social taboos also contribute to perpetuating segregation as inter-marriage between members of majority clans and minorities is widely prohibited. Unlike women from majority clans, who can marry across different clans, minority women face persistent hostility and intimidation when in a relationship with a member of a majority clan. Hence, minority women like Fartun suffer marginalisation, oppression and exclusion from mainstream economic, social and political life and regularly experience human rights abuses including harassment, violence or rape. The struggle of minority women is a reflection of Somalia’s difficult path towards peace and reconciliation. Long lasting change is tied to the capacity of Somalis to overcome the deeply entrenched gender and clan inequalities which have dragged their country into a decades-long civil war. Alinor Abdi Osman


artin Hill, No M redress: Somalia’s forgotten minorities, Minorities Rights Group International, 2010

SIHA Women In Islam 2017



Wadjda – A Film Review Where Riding a Bicycle is Political Passionate about women’s rights and gender issues, MARIE MÉNARD has been working in East Africa since early 2015 and was part of SIHA’s team in 2016.


S audi Arabia: Landmark Elections for Women: New Candidacy, Voter Rights – but Old Barriers,” Human Rights Watch, December 11, 2015, https:// www.hrw.org/ news/2015/12/11/ saudi-arabialandmarkelections-women.


“ Those Newly Elected Saudi Women Just Got Pushed Away from the Table,” Human Rights Watch, February 25, 2016, https:// www.hrw.org/ news/2016/02/25/ those-newlyelected-saudiwomen-just-gotpushed-away-table.


Wadjda, the subject of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s seminal movie of the same name, is twelve-yearsold. She sports a loose veil over her long hair and wears skinny jeans and Converse sneakers under her black abaya (a loose-fitting full-length robe worn by some Muslim women). She loves listening to pirate rock music radio stations at full volume, and racing her friend Abdullah on their way to school. However, too often, the competition is not fair. Abdullah rides a bicycle, while Wadjda runs by his side, as cycling is considered scandalous for girls in Saudi Arabia. Determined to buy her own bike in spite of conventions and her mother’s and teachers’ disapproval, Wadjda started saving money by selling illicit homemade mix tapes and bracelets to fellow students and neighbours. One day, a Quran recitation competition is launched at Wadjda’s school with a 1,000 Saudi riyal prize to be awarded to the winner. Wadjda decides to compete for the prize, learning verse after verse of the holy book in the name of which the Saudi Arabian regime is denying her the right to ride a bike. Saudi Arabia is infamous for its violations of human rights and individual freedoms, its strict implementation of political Islam and its male guardianship system. Hence, it is somehow ironic that the first Saudi Arabian full-length feature film, entirely shot in a country with no movie theaters, was made by a woman, Haifaa Al-Mansour, and dealt with the subversive topic of gender-based discrimination. Hidden in a minivan, Al-Mansour had to direct her actors and technicians through walkie-talkies (handheld, portable radio transmitters) in order not to disturb passers-by that might be offended by the sight of women and men working together. Despite the sensitive nature of her work, AlMansour never pictured herself as an activist in the many interviews she has given since the release of Wadjda. Rather than openly denouncing the male guardianship system of her native country, she chooses to share glimpses of a

SIHA Women In Islam 2017

contrasted society by oscillating between respect for conservative traditions and a growing desire for freedom. Through the eyes of her rebellious young heroin, the 42-year-old filmmaker subtly portrays the grim and sometimes tragic realities of Saudi women by pointing out the absurdity of a political system that crushes the potential of half of its population. Contemporarily, Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system remains intact despite government pledges of abolishment. Under this system, women are prohibited from obtaining a passport, marrying, traveling, or accessing higher education without the approval of a male guardian – their husband, father, brother or son. While women were for the first time allowed to vote and run for municipal council elections in December 2015, countless obstacles undermined their effective political participation, and hampered the capacity of the newly elected women to exercise their legislative mandate.1,2 Rather than fullfledged citizens, Saudi women are considered goods, traded between families in order to fulfil their domestic and reproductive roles. In a society that values boys over girls, it is legitimate for a husband to enter into a polygamous relationship when his wife, as was the case for Wadjda’s mother, fails to produce sons. Being a girl and the only child in her family, Wadjda desperately seeks the recognition of her father. Despite her attempts to bond with him and prove that she can be as worthy as a boy, he slowly drifts away from her and finally marries a second wife with the hope of having a son to perpetuate his legacy. Wadjda witnesses, with mixed feelings, the daily tribulations that wreck her mother’s life. She first resents her mother for not being able to retain her husband; then blames her for not standing up to him and to the traditions that are pulling their family apart. Wadjda refuses to follow the path of her mother – a woman forced to give up on her

dreams, reduced to working a menial job, and serving a man who neither loves nor respects her. With no inspiring figures to look up to, Wadjda’s quest for identity is frustrated by an overwhelming social order designed to crush any expression of individuality. The streets of Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, are walked by dark female shadows and their male counterparts in pristine white thwab (ankle-length garment worn by Saudi men). As a viewer of Wadjda, you cannot help but be appalled by the uniformity in the characters’ dress code and general appearance, as if the diversity of both female and male bodies has entirely been denied. With so few features of a person’s appearance left to their own selfdetermination, Wadjda’s loose veil and Converse shoes are a bold attempt to convey her personality and construct her own identity and femininity. The societal system depicted in Wadjda is the same model Saudi Arabia has been exporting to countries in the East and Horn of Africa since the 1970s through massive oil-sponsored investments. By providing social services to the region’s poor, establishing madrassas (Islamic religious schools), funding universities, and offering thousands of scholarships a year to East-African graduates, Saudi leaders have successfully spread Wahhabi fundamentalist Islam and accelerated religious radicalisation in the region. Today, the Wahhabi ideology shapes the realities of millions of men and women in the Horn of Africa, a region once known for its tradition of tolerant Islam. For most girls featured in Wadjda, teenage dreams are cut short by the weight of traditions, as in the case of Salma, who is a victim of a legal system that (clearly) does not ban child marriage when she is legitimately married off at the age of thirteen to an older man. Despite such wrenching scenes as this, the message carried by Al-Mansour remains one of hope, with Wadjda finally fulfilling her wish to ride a bicycle. The film is careful to show the potential for change in both the female and male characters. It is obvious in Wadjda that boys and men are also under a lot of pressure and

may similarly suffer from the gender segregation and discrimination inherent in Saudi society. With nearly 60% of its population under the age of 21, Saudi Arabia struggles to create appealing opportunities for its youth, who aspire to more freedom and participation in the decision-making processes. This frustration may be among the push factors for the alleged 2,500 Saudi youth who joined Daesh (also known as the Islamic State of Irak and Syria, or ISIS) in Syria and Iraq between 2011 and 2015, making Saudi Arabia the second largest supplier of foreign fighters for the terrorist group since its creation. Since the release of Wadjda in 2012, rules in Saudi Arabia governing women’s use of bicycles have been relaxed slightly, although only in parks and only when women are accompanied by a male guardian.

Recently, however, a few key events have demonstrated women’s challenge of the social order. For example, in September 2016, a petition signed by more than 14,000 Saudi women calling for an end to the male guardianship system was submitted to the government. This unprecedented campaign seems to be proving Al-Mansour right. As she stressed in an interview given to The Independent in 2013, small changes do not seem to mean much, but indeed show that “attitudes towards women are changing, and women are getting more liberties […]. There is still a long, long way to go, but hopefully things like this pave the way for bigger changes.”3 A Film Review by Marie Ménard


E njoli Liston, “Haifaa al-Mansour Interview: Saudi Arabia’s First Female Film Director Talks About New Release Wadjda,” The Independent, July 18, 2013, http://www. independent. co.uk/artsentertainment/ films/features/ haifaa-al-mansourinterview-saudiarabias-firstfemale-filmdirector-talksabout-new-releasewadjda-8717438. html.

SIHA Women In Islam 2017



Banned from Playing Football Before I Was Born Childhood dream

Originally from Shendi, a city in the northern Nile region of Sudan, Souad Alkhider is a journalist and a writer who has worked for a number of Sudan-based newspapers. She was awarded ‘best short story’ by the Arabic language department of Al-Nayleen University. She has written an unpublished novel entitled “Feminine” and a collection of published short stories in several Sudanese newspapers


My father worked for the railways in Shendi, Northern Sudan. Growing up in the houses allocated to the workers, I was exposed to an environment in which the diverse cultures of Sudan met and blended together. Residents of the area were a mix of Arabs, Nubians and Southerners. My friends came from all parts of the country, but my best friend, Theresa, was from the South. She was Christian and I used to go to church with her to listen to the beautiful Sunday songs. No one ever told me off for doing it. As a child, I developed a strong passion for football. All of my friends and schoolmates knew about my desire to become a football player. One year, at the end of the school term, I was rushing home overjoyed by my test results when the neighbour’s son, a bully of a boy, ruined my pleasure by waylaying me. I was a skinny little girl, and he pushed my frail body against the school wall, making me shudder. In an attempt to deride my football dreams, he murmured sinisterly into my ear, “Even if you were in the top of your class, and knew how to play football, you will never be a footballer, because you are not a man.” His words generated intense frustration within me. I resented myself for being a girl; for being the one my childhood friends scoffed at. It is very hard to feel discriminated against as a little child. At that time, my male friends would gather every week to play football and I would sit on the sidelines watching them with regret and yearning in my eyes. They would chase the ball, their noisy shouts filling the air, and I would withdraw into my shy dreams and my powerful desire to play with them and become a famous football player. Excluded from the games, I would settle for cheering my friends’ team and carrying bottles of water but they would not pay much attention to my presence. After spending hours shouting their names in encouragement, I finally decided, in a voiceless protest against their disregard for me, to boycott cheerleading their games.

SIHA Women In Islam 2017

A few days after I stopped attending their games, the boys came to my house. One of them knocked on the gate, and my brother went out and authoritatively asked them what they wanted. They replied in unison, “We are going to the stadium and we want Souad to come with us.” My brother became angry, and slammed the gate in their faces. I was standing right next to the gate, and he turned to me and slapped me across my face. This was the first time he had ever hit me. “You think you are a boy? Playing football?,” he screamed at me. I ran to my mother’s room as if crazed. This was the second time in my life I could remember feeling very bitter about being female. My mother hugged me and tried to talk sense into me. “Football is for boys only,” she told me. “You can’t run and jump or you will get hurt.” My mother would always repeat to me that I was not a boy, that I won’t be able to fulfil my dream of playing football, but every time I would hear her words, my love for boys’ games would grow.

From that time on, I was moved by the desire to test the physical limits of the body God granted me, and the others tried to deprive me of simply because I was a girl. When I would be home alone with my mother, I would play football by myself, imagining my friends running behind me. I would jump high in the air when scoring an imaginary goal only I could envision. One day, my brother caught me playing football and was astonished I had broken his rule to never play football, even at home. He shouted at me, “Souad, you are playing football?” His voice startled me, and I fell, breaking my leg. My brother carried me into the room, and my father came and took me to the hospital. There I saw a famous football player who was in the room next to mine, being treated for a foot injury. I was so

Cartoon by Rayah Ombaddi, Sudan

happy that I grinned at the doctor checking my leg. Once my leg was encased in plaster, the first thing I did – after regaining my wits – was to beg my mother to ask the player if he would come to my hospital room. My mother was not comfortable with my insistent demand, and I could see her tugging at the edge of her thoub (long wrap-around cloth worn on top of a shirt and skirt or a dress) to cover her hair. But she went. Just before she came back, a group of friends came in to visit me, and I smiled proudly when the great player walked into the room, supporting himself on his crutches, and sat next to me. My mother introduced me, “This is my daughter, Souad. She is crazy about football and wants to be a football player. Please, my son, tell her that football is not a girls’ game.” He smiled and patted me on the shoulder, saying “There are female football players in most parts of the world, whose dreams have come true.”

Just another girl with crushed dreams Later in life, I became aware that the struggle of being a woman in Sudan is far bigger than the football stadium. The emotional wounds, caused by the harassment I received from the neighbour’s son, were but a drop in the ocean of anguish I would have to face. I then realised that, as a woman, I only existed in the eyes of society as an object to exploit and dominate. Girls were not meant to fulfil their dreams. They were expected to support the aspirations and satisfy the needs of others. Even in the playground of emotions, the ball is never in women’s hands. I did not know then that I, like many women, will carry the burden of a crumbling society, constantly sacrificing myself without getting a word of deserved gratitude. I never imagined that the hordes of Dark Ages would come to rule us with laws that predate

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even the darkness of those ages, demanding that we bury our right to live publically. I never imagined our rulers would try us for the offense of not being men like them. I could not believe that our legal system would degenerate to the point where women are forced, in the name of morality, to renounce their rights and freedom. I could not envision the hypocrisy of a system where some men satisfy their hungry desires on streets and in alleyways without being held accountable, while naïve girls swallow the bitterness of shame and the curse of unwanted children without help or salvation other than God’s mercy. Standing up against Patriarchy


he author T refers here to the Public Order Laws put in place by the Sudanese Government since the early 1990s. These laws have increasingly privatised the public sphere, expanding state control of personal behaviour and expression in areas of public life and resulting in diminished economic, social and political participation of women from all backgrounds.


I eventually understood that I would never be a football player, but was determined to pursue a public career. I ultimately became a journalist, caring about nothing except escaping the box in which society tried to put me. Many years into my journalistic career, women gained the right to play football and the first female football team was created, despite the harassment and the fatwas (legal opinion based on Islamic scripture and precedent) of obstinate clerics telling women they are not allowed to play sports. I felt glad for these girls who made their dreams come true in a patriarchal system that keeps crushing women’s aspirations. Despite these changes, I still feel restricted and confined, even after becoming a well-known journalist. Every time I come home after a long day at work in the news section – I love chasing a good story – and find my elder brother waiting at the gate of our house, I remember how he used to wait for me with a belt in his hand if I had gone to the stadium against his orders. But seeing him makes me even more determined to continue what I do as a journalist.

SIHA Women In Islam 2017

I will not allow him to rob me of my second dream, and will not drop my career simply because he does not approve of it and would prefer that, as a woman, I kept a low profile and avoided mingling with men.

I still feel the searing pain of the belt coming down on my body, even though my brother does not beat me anymore. The pain of the beatings I, like many women, endured in my childhood will keep haunting my soul long after the physical damage heals – a damaged soul does not mend. The pain is a reminder that I am descended from a long line of women who were found guilty and sentenced to confined lives by their societies long before they were born. Souad Alkhider From Arabic by Sam Berner

Two Wives, One Man The Struggle of Living as a Co-Wife Polygamy is widely practiced in Muslim and nonMuslim communities across Africa and beyond. For centuries, having multiple wives was common and reflective of a wider patriarchal system. Only recently, with the rise of the Salafist movement, has polygamy become regarded as a practice almost exclusively connected to Islam.

marital obligations (e.g. unable to bear children, unjustified absence from matrimonial home for more than one year, etc.)

For its supporters, Polygamy intends to reduce social ills such as prostitution, extramarital affairs and the birth of illegitimate children. However, the experiences of women and children brought up in unhappy and neglected polygamous households seem to prove the opposite. In Muslim societies, misconceptions have led many to believe that the Quran advises a man to marry more than one wife. This assumption clearly ignores the Quranic guiding principles that restrict polygamy; a man may marry up to four wives as long as he can provide fair and just treatment to each of them, a requisite that the Quran itself deems impossible. In the early 20th century, several Islamic scholars and reformers, including the Egyptian Qasim Amin and the Tunisian Tahir Haddad, vigorously argued against polygamy and called for women’s liberation. Since the 1950’s, most northern African countries have taken legal measures to restrict or ban the practice.

In Djibouti and Morocco, family laws adopted in the early 2000’s place strict restrictions on the practice of polygamy. In both countries, a man must obtain the consent of his first wife before entering into a second marriage and must have sufficient resources to support the two families. In Morocco, a woman can stipulate in her marriage contract that her husband may not take a second wife.

Turkey, a country with a long Islamic heritage, was the first in its region to ban and criminalize polygamy in 1926. The newly independent Tunisia followed in 1956. In Somalia, the family law dating from the 70’s clearly stipulates that a man has no right to remarry unless he is able to provide strong evidence of his wife’s inability to respond to her

Despite these attempts, banning or restricting polygamy has had little effect in practice. The increasing influence of the Salafist ideology and political setbacks have contributed to reinforcing and magnifying the mistaken perception that polygamy is a male right guaranteed in the Quran, thus encouraging its practice.

This article was compiled by “Women in Islam” based on interviews conducted by Abdifatah Hassan in Mogadishu and Aisha Al-Smani in Khartoum. For anonymity, the interviewees’ real names have been replaced by pseudonyms.

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The Co-Wives in their Own Words For Amel, a 30-year-old mother of four from Sudan, the first years of marriage went by smoothly. “I married straight after finishing my high school exams. It was a happy, stable marriage,” she said. “There were no problems whatsoever between us, not even the normal family arguments. It was a beautiful, calm, and joyful relationship,” she added. Her marriage, however, deteriorated quickly after the first few ‘joyful’ years. As Amel recalled, “I started feeling that my husband was acting differently. I questioned him and he denied anything was wrong. But my suspicions grew and I started checking on him, only to discover that he was married to another, and had a son with her.” Amel felt that she had done everything to satisfy her husband’s expectations, so the news of his second family came as a shock. “I never neglected him in any way, and carried alone the whole responsibility for housework and upbringing of our children. He never had to help in anything. So why would he do that?,” she said.

Society tends to put the blame on women: the husband’s decision of taking a second wife is often interpreted as the sign of the first wife’s failure to fulfil her duties.

Zainab, a 55-year-old Somali woman, had no say when it came time to marry. “My marriage was arranged by my family. One day, I came back from the madrasa (Islamic religious school) and my father told me it was time for me to become a woman. I was only 16. It was utterly unacceptable for a girl to oppose any decision taken by her parents, so I ended up marrying this strange man,” she recounts. As in the case of Amel, Zainab’s husband did not ask for consent when choosing another wife. “He married his second wife without telling me. I heard the rumour two years after their wedding and after he had his first baby with that wife,” she said. “When I heard the news, my only thoughts were, ‘what should I do?’ ‘Should I go and kill that witch who took my husband?’ My blood was boiling, and I couldn’t control my anger,” Zainab confesses. 32

SIHA Women In Islam 2017

When her husband left, Zainab received blame instead of support. “I have to live with the reality that after all those years, and after I gave him eight children including four boys, he still decided to marry another wife. The worst of all is that I am blamed for this mess. They call me a ‘disobedient wife’ who has no respect for her husband. In our culture, you have to obey your husband even if he is married to three other wives,” she said. Her husband’s departure came with both emotional and economic hardship. Polygamy tends to exacerbate the impoverishment of women by limiting their access to financial resources during marriage and upon divorce or death of the husband. Many women like Zainab, whose husband is unable or unwilling to continue supporting multiple households, have no choice but to become the family’s main breadwinner. “I found myself a home on the other side of the city and continued working as a milk seller. He never contacted his children. They used to cry and ask me why their father left us,” she remembers. Being a second wife can also be incredibly difficult. No one dreams of being the second. Jamila, a 40-year-old mother of five, was 25 when she became her husband’s second wife. “I accepted the status of the second wife because I was previously engaged to a man who was never married before, but he left me. So I agreed to marry a married man because I felt he was serious. My late father agreed, too. He was sick, and he wanted to see me married before he died,” she said. “At first, I didn’t think of the problems I would have to face. So, we got married and I was happy initially. However, soon after I started feeling how hard the situation was,” she added. In polygamous households, jealousy, competition and unequal distribution of economic and emotional resources regularly contribute to generating acrimony between co-wives and between the children of the different wives. “We, the first wife and I, live in two adjacent suburbs. When we meet at an event in the neighbourhood she says really bad stuff to my face. We had a number of fights that even spilled over to the

Painting by RONEY OGWANG, Uganda

children, but my husband refuses to interfere and says we need to resolve the problems on our own. He won’t be seen taking sides,” Jamila said. In the end, women, whether they are first or successive wives, all agree that children are the most harshly affected by growing up in a polygamous system. As Amel recalls, “It was a hard time for me emotionally, and my children felt the brunt of this. Their school performance deteriorated despite me trying to hide my pain from them. They could sense it. I found out they discussed the issue at school when my 8-year-old daughter came home one day from school and told me that the father of one of her friends took a second wife, so her mother left the family home. When I asked her how she reacted, she said, ‘I told my friend that my dad married a second wife too, but mum did not leave us.’” Amel added, “Marriage does not only affect the woman; the children will also be affected. A man who wants to marry a second wife needs to think about the children and what will happen to them. Children are vulnerable, and can develop permanent psychological problems.” Children raised in polygamous households often lack confidence in their own ability to have stable relationships, as the trauma of experiencing a family life filled with quarrels and resentment persists.

They inherit notions of inequality, women’s subordination, and lack of accountability. Millions are left to grow up with no father to serve as role model and suffer from feelings of neglect and abandonment that may carry through to their adult lives. Despite the struggle of being a co-wife, Amel, Zainab and Jamila, take great pride in the autonomy they have gained and in the efforts they have put into raising their children. “I was told he married a third wife. The second one must be suffering like I did. But today, I am really happy with myself, with what I have become, with being a street milk seller. I sleep without the stress of thinking about him. I am just worried for my children who have missed his parental guidance. But I played my role. I raised them”, said Zainab. Far from the traditional ideal of a harmonious family and the myth of fair and just treatment between the wives, polygamy leads to unstable and dysfunctional households. It brings resentment, violence and alienation in the family and poses long-term social and developmental issues in Muslim communities. As Jamila warns us, “In the area where we live, almost all men are married to two or three wives. The single wife is a rarity. It [polygamy] is considered normal, but the problems are massive and they affect us all.”

SIHA Women In Islam 2017



A Poem By Eiman Adam Translated By Asha M. El-Said

A land so vast As big as feminine woe At a time so mean Fate an inferno Hell...aglow God-sent misery! I was born a woman Created as one of a sex deemed low Extracted from a tanned skin A rib crooked as a bow. This is how they made me Can I ever straighten the statue? Need I carry this heavy mountain All the way through? Like I am uprooting a forest Engulfed in eternal sorrow Haunted by phantoms of the night Servitude is to God Servility cloned for women I am just water semen Dough for misery Unseen by lovers Yet, proud I shall stay Servitude is to God To me, you be what you may.


SIHA Women In Islam 2017

Eiman Adam is a Sudanese writer and poet who uses art as a tool for social change. She works at the Sudanese Association for Peace and Cultural Trends (SOPAT). Several of her poems have been published in national newspapers.

Painting by Galal Yousif, Sudan

SIHA Women In Islam 2017



Wielding Power over Women’s Bodies The Burkini Ban in France

If scanning newspapers from August 2016, readers could easily assume that the burkini had invaded the beaches of France. Summer may now be over, but the stir caused by the banning of the full-body, head covering swimsuit has morphed into a heated debate on women’s rights, secularism and assimilation. Célia Hitzges, born in France, is an international development professional dedicated to advancing women’s rights in Africa and beyond. She is former staff of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa and currently works as an independent consultant based in the Caribbean.

France has been battling for years to come to terms with the growing visibility of Islam and the transition to a multi-cultural society. The trauma and concerns arising from the recent terrorist attacks (Charlie Hebdo attack of January 2015, Paris attacks of November 2015 and Nice attack of July 2016) that have struck the country have further polarised an already divided population, with the Muslim minority being increasingly treated as a suspect community. Unfortunately, women’s bodies have also become the battleground for ideological, political and religious debates and agendas with Muslim women paying the price for France’s anxiety and need to apportion blame.

Their bodies, dress and social behaviour have been exploited and co-opted to serve identity politics, as if the burkini is the only way to determine women’s attachment to national values or belonging to the Muslim community. The origins of the burkini saga can be traced back to Mayor David Lisnard’s decision to outlaw “inappropriate clothing” on the beaches of the resort town of Cannes, with violators of the ban facing a €38 fine.1 While the ban immediately sparked conflicting reactions, several coastal cities in France followed suit, further inflaming tensions. Adopted shortly after the Bastille Day attack that claimed the lives of 85 people in nearby 36

SIHA Women In Islam 2017

Nice, the controversial decree was introduced by municipal authorities as a preventive measure to safeguard public order, secularism and “good morals.”2 Called to rule on the ban, France’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, overturned one of the town’s decrees, finding that the ban violated civil liberties, including freedom of movement and religion. This ruling, however, did not put an end to the controversy as opposing parties stood firm on their position, holding ground in the name of defending the French ideal of secularism (laïcité). Enshrined in national law in 1905, the principle of French secularism is founded upon the key principles of strict separation of Church and State and freedom of religion. It sought to free citizens from the influence of the Church by relegating religion to the private sphere, while guaranteeing individuals the right to exercise their faith. Referring to a strict understanding of secularism that seeks to expunge all religious expressions from public view, proponents of the ban firmly condemn the wearing of the burkini as an unwelcomed display of the Muslim faith in the public sphere. Some even take the argument one step further by challenging the compatibility of Islam with “French values.”3 Opponents, on the contrary, denounce a twisted and politicised interpretation of secularism meant to turn the principle into an instrument to regulate and police the behaviour of Muslim communities in France. They insist that the law is one of compromise and non-discrimination, conceived to guarantee the freedom of conscience and religion for all, including Muslims. Beyond secularism, the burkini debate is also about feminism and women’s rights. It is argued that allowing the burkini tacitly endorses

Cartoon by Khalid Albaih, Sudan

the repression of women by making the State complicit in the promotion of a radical version of Islam, or Wahhabism, which believes that women must be subjugated in public. This is the stand taken by several members of the current ruling government of France (Socialist Party). “The burkini carries a particular vision of the place of the woman. It cannot be considered only a question of fashion or individual liberty,” said Laurence Rossignol, Minister for Women Affairs. 4 In a similar manner, the Prime Minister of France, Manuel Valls, describes the burkini as provocative and archaic. “The burkini is not a new range of swimwear… It is an expression of a political project, a counter-culture, notably based on the enslavement of women,” he said.5

burkini ban as a highly misogynistic measure against the very basis of the right to free choice. They claim that women should have the power to make decisions regarding their own bodies, and dress according to their personal beliefs. For them, the rights of women include the ‘right to cover.’ Further, the ban is not only unnecessary, but also counter-productive. Outlawing modest clothing would not emancipate women but instead add to their oppression by limiting their access to beaches and public facilities they might have visited otherwise. Ultimately, the burkini ban and the media frenzy around it is indicative of much deeper issues. It reflects the inherent tension between liberal values perceived as constitutive of the national identity, and tolerance for those who may have different views.

This position, however, is far from having unanimous support. Opponents criticise the

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The burkini debate reveals France’s incapacity to adapt to a multi-cultural society – which includes the largest Muslim population in Europe – and exposes the country’s deep-seated discomfort with the visible presence of Islam. In the context of recent terror attacks, Islamophobia has been on the rise in France, with the Muslim minority being increasingly side-lined and stigmatised. One year before the presidential elections set to occur in May 2017 and in the face of the rise of the Front National (France’s farright, nationalist party), politicians have been quick to exploit people’s fears for partisan ends. The controversy also mirrors the recurrent temptation to legislate and regulate women’s bodies – as if their hair, arms or legs were the symbolic embodiment of national values. Throughout history, women have been forced to dress or undress depending on the changing needs of power-holders. In the case of the burkini, women are once again seen as unable to regulate their own appearance. This situation is unfortunate. We might hope that in contemporary France, women would be able to make their own choices rather than forced to comply with the norms that others impose on them, be they from State or religious actors. It does not mean, however, that the symbolic nature of the burkini as a tool of oppression and embodiment of the struggle of millions of women – for whom wearing a burkini is not a matter of choice – should be ignored. It is indeed ironic that the burkini in France has become an icon representing resistance to authority and a symbol of freedom. We should not be fooled. The burkini is not, as it is sometimes described, empowering Muslim women. On the contrary, it reflects the increasing pressure put on Muslim women worldwide to 38

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embrace conservative interpretations of Islam. The burkini ban exposes yet another attempt to make women’s bodies the predominant feature shaping their identity and humanity. However, as understandable as opposing the burkini can be, it should be done in a way that does not deprive women of their power of choice. It is indeed contradictory to denounce the burkini as a coercive instrument designed to hide and control women’s bodies, while using similar methods to force women to conform to the norms that are deemed socially acceptable by the majority. We should also avoid the temptation to blame burkini-wearing women in France for harming the interests of those around the world whose right to ‘uncover’ is denied. Let’s resist the inclination to use these women as scapegoats for France’s difficulties to integrate its Muslim population, and for the perpetuation of repressive and patriarchal systems elsewhere in the world. The problems to be tackled in relation to women’s rights, religious fundamentalism and societal integration are far bigger than the issue of the burkini in France. Célia Hitzges 1

lissa Rubin, “From Bikinis to Burkinis, Regulating What Women A Wear,” The New York Times, August 27, 2016, http://www.nytimes. com/2016/08/28/world/europe/france-burkini-bikini-ban.html


lissa Rubin, “Fighting for the ‘Soul of France,’ More Towns Ban a A Bathing Suit: the Burkini,” The New York Times, August 17, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/18/world/europe/fighting-for-thesoul-of-france-more-towns-ban-a-bathing-suit-the-burkini.html?_ r=0


J ames McAuley, “France’s burkini debate: About a bathing suit and a country’s peculiar secularism,” The Washington Post, August 26, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/francesburkini-debate-about-a-bathing-suit-and-a-countrys-peculiarsecularism/2016/ 08/26/48ec273e-6bad-11e6-91cb-ecb5418830e9_story.html


ngela Charlton, “Are France’s burkini bans sexist, or liberating?,” A The Seattle Times, August 17, 2016, http://www.seattletimes.com/ nation-world/are-frances-burkini-bans-sexist-or-liberating/


oger Cohen, “France Has the Burkini Blues,” The New York Times, R August 18, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/19/opinion/ france-has-the-burkini-blues.html

Meeting with the Novelist Leila Aboulela

Negotiating Religious and Class Identities across Borders

Leila Aboulela was born to an Egyptian mother and a Sudanese father. She grew up in Khartoum where she attended a prestigious Catholic private school whose reputation for quality attracted most of the upper class families in Sudan throughout the 1970s. She studied for a degree in Economics at Khartoum University and later earned a Master’s degree in Statistics at the London School of Economics. Aboulela moved to the United Kingdom in the early 1990s following the 1989 military coup when profound political and socio-economic transformations occurred in Sudan, leading to the massive out-migration of middle and upper class Sudanese. At that point, Sudan had fallen into the hands of the National Islamic Front, a movement of political Islam stemming from the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood. This era was marked by significant power shifts within Sudanese society. Aboulela is the author of four novels. Her first novel, The Translator (1999), was translated into Arabic by the late Sudanese politician and scholar Al-Khatim Adlan. Minaret (2005) tells the captivating story of a once-privileged Sudanese woman forced to live as an impoverished migrant in London. It captures the complexity of living in exile and reconciling conflicting identities. Lyrics Alleys (2010) exposes the social dynamics within an upper class family in 1950s Sudan. Aboulela’s latest novel, The Kindness of Enemies (2015) follows the legacy of a legendary warrior from The Caucasus, a region at the border between Europe and Asia. In addition to her four novels, several of Aboulela’s short stories have been published in anthologies and broadcast on radio. The Museum won the first Caine Prize for African Writing in 2000 and her collection of short stories, Coloured Lights, was released in 2001.

Photo by Ahmed-Naji Mahjoub

Aboulela is a unique, talented, and intriguing storyteller from the Horn of Africa whose work reflects the complexity and multifaceted nature of individual identities. As a novelist, she courageously explores issues of identity, Islamic faith, and fragmented lives. Her books and characters mirror the challenging journey of uprooted individuals torn between multiple legacies that she herself faced as a writer. Leila Aboulela was interviewed in London on behalf of the “Women in Islam Journal” by the British journalist Lisa Clifford.

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“I’ve come down in the world.” That’s how Najwa, an upper class, Westernised Sudanese woman forced out of her homeland by a military coup, describes her new British life in Aboulela’s novel Minaret. It’s also how Aboulela herself secretly felt after leaving the warmth and colour of her native Khartoum for a chilly 1990s Scotland. Her husband was away working on the oil rigs (an apparatus for offshore oil drilling) leaving her alone with their two young children – it was writing that saved her from homesickness and isolation. “Living in Aberdeen [Scotland] was harder than I thought it would be,” said Aboulela, a smiling and thoughtful woman dressed in a bright headscarf. “I didn’t think of myself as a person attached to their roots or home, but in reality I found it hard to adjust.” “The characters I chose to write about were less privileged than myself and had harder lives. There were so many people having a rougher time than I was, I couldn’t complain. So I had to invent characters with more somber circumstances than me and put all my feelings into them which was very satisfying.” Aboulela loved reading as a child, including classic British authors like Daphne du Maurier and said her idea of pure joy was sitting with a book. Good grades in Math, however, pushed


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her towards a statistics degree at Khartoum University, and she taught the subject after arriving in Scotland. Aboulela began writing short stories as an escape and, after getting several published, abandoned the world of numbers forever. “I fit in better somehow as a writer than a statistics teacher,” Aboulela said. Alienation, religion and Muslims – male and female – caught between two worlds, dominate Aboulela’s writing. In The Translator, her debut novel, Sammar, a Sudanese widow, and Rae, a Scottish academic, are drawn to each other despite their cultural and religious differences. For Minaret’s Najwa, it was religion and London’s Regent’s Park Mosque that provided solace and a sense of identity in an unfamiliar and hostile world. Aboulela says that portraying ordinary, everyday faith is important to her, as it’s a subject not often dealt with by fiction writers. “You get books about very fundamentalist characters or you get characters who are atheists and have rejected religion,” she said. “In reality there are a lot of people in the middle. But in fiction, there is a lack of representation of the average person of faith.” Aboulela insists that she’s not a political writer or an activist – preferring to reflect on life rather than change it. Nor is she sure she’s a classic feminist. “In a Sudanese context, I’d consider myself a feminist because I support girls’ education and I wrote against FGM in my novel Lyrics Alley, but I don’t see myself as a feminist in the British context,” she said. “There is a lot

of difference. A Sudanese feminist would have loyalty to traditions, religion and family that are very different to that of a British feminist.” Though she struggled at first to adjust to her new country, Aboulela acknowledges life would have been far different had she stayed in Sudan. As a young woman, writing love stories would have been impossible. Sitting thousands of miles away in Aberdeen, she was able to let her imagination run wild. “I could write what I wanted to write,” she said. “I understand that a lot of young girls in Sudan would find it hard to express themselves creatively. It’s a kind of self-censorship.” Though she writes in English, much of Aboulela’s work has been translated into Arabic. Her Sudanese audience, however, is mainly expatriate given that high taxes make books like hers hard to come by in Sudan (a situation made worse by rampant government censorship and the curbing of freedom of expression). Aboulela is determined to encourage more young women to write and travelled to Omdurman, Sudan earlier this year to teach a creative writing workshop for men and women where they read a story by South Sudanese author Stella Gaitano. “We need to encourage young women to write,” Aboulela said. She hopes to go back to Sudan, perhaps with her daughter who Aboulela raised to appreciate her diverse heritage.

to hope and believes an invisible process of acceptance is running alongside the more visible intolerance. “There is more acceptance of Muslims,” she said. “Europe is accepting Islam as being here to stay. There is more awareness of Ramadan when people are fasting, shops are selling more modest clothing, that kind of thing.” And her next novel? Aboulela’s not saying at the moment, except that “ideas aren’t the problem. Pulling them off is the challenge, writing in a convincing way so it becomes a fully-formed novel in the end…In the beginning the words were pouring out of me. There was an urgency and intensity. Now I can think more about the characters, the flow and the dynamics of the story.” Interview by LISA CLIFFORD

She hopes her children can learn from both the Sudanese and British cultures, though admits the current climate of palpable Islamophobia following the terror attacks in Europe is disturbing. However, Aboulela does see cause

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Living in Between

The Experience of a Muslim Convert Most people are born into a faith they will retain throughout their lives. Shirleen Njeri Njoroge, a dedicated human rights lawyer and energetic mother of one, took a bold step when she decided to convert to Islam a few years ago. When asked why, she answers with a shy smile, “I fell in love with a Muslim man. I liked how he treated me and was fascinated by his way of approaching life. But it was not easy to convert and it is still challenging.” Born in the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya, Shirleen and her two sisters were brought up by their mother in a Catholic single-parent household. “It was not easy for us growing up. There was a lot of discrimination because we were a family full of girls,” she remembers. Although she received a strict Catholic education, Shirleen was exposed to Islam from an early age. “I grew up in Tudor, a neighbourhood where the majority of the population come from Somalia. Many of my friends were Muslim. I used to go to the mosque and the madrassa with them,” she recalls. In Kenya, most Muslims live in the coastal province where their sense of common identity is the strongest. Influenced by interactions with Arab traders who settled and intermarried with the local population, the charming city of Mombasa is known for its Muslim-dominated culture and vibrant diversity. Today, one third 42

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of the inhabitants of Mombasa originate from outside the region, including large populations of Somalis who have come looking for shelter after fleeing war and recurrent instability in their native country. After a childhood spent in Mombasa, Shirleen moved to Central Kenya to attend secondary school, then to Kampala, Uganda, where she enrolled for a Bachelor of Laws before returning to her home country to receive her diploma. Freshly graduated from the Kenya School of Law, Shirleen started her professional career as an intern for the non-governmental organisation Muslims for Human Rights. As a Christian and a young graduate, she found it challenging to bond with her predominantly Muslim colleagues. This experience, while coloured by mixed feelings, was crucial to the trajectory of Shirleen’s life, as it made her cross paths with her future husband and triggered her desire to learn more about his religion. Shirleen openly admits that the faith of her husband played a role in her decision to convert, but insists that she freely embraced Islam notwithstanding external pressure. “We got married in the Islamic way. But for me, the day I got married is not the day I converted. After the wedding, I started reading books and studying on my own and came to appreciate the religion itself,” she says. Today, Shirleen finds herself straddling two contrasting communities.

The 33-year-old lawyer was not welcomed with open arms in the Muslim community either, where she was regarded as an outsider because of her Christian background. It doesn’t help that Shirleen does not blend in easily since she is still assimilating cultural codes and religious practices that are new to her.

With her conversion, came a new range of difficulties as she struggles to retain contact with her original heritage while trying to integrate into the Muslim community.

Making her family understand and respect her decision was particularly challenging. “After I converted, my older sister felt that I had lost my identity. She told me ‘I don’t know you anymore, you are different now’,” she remembers. “It also took time for my mother to accept me. In fact, we did not have much of a relationship after my conversion… at least until I gave birth to my baby,” she adds. Without the support of her family and friends, Shirleen sometimes feels isolated from her previous life. “My younger sister used to frequent my house. But we are not so close anymore. I am more disconnected from my family. I have to make the effort to reach out to them,” she explains.

“At first I did not wear the buibui [hijab or headscarf], the traditional Muslim women outfit. But if you don’t put it on here people treat you differently. I used to just wear my headscarf and long dresses, but the neighbours would ask me, ‘Why don’t you wear the buibui, you are married to a Muslim man, so you should adopt his culture’,” she says. “But even now, they look at me differently. I don’t know if people are just nosey or if they know I am a convert. The Muslims treat me differently as a Muslim and the Christians also treat me differently,” she adds.

Shirleen also observes with irony and a hint of pain, the embarrassment of her friends and relatives when faced with her new identity. “It is not easy when I meet my campus friends. They are surprised and they stay quiet. If I don’t keep up the conversation, the discussion ends.”

Shirleen’s attempt to find her own spiritual path by reconciling her cultural heritage with her faith is frustrated by the pressure people put on her to fully conform with the norms of her new community. “Everyone asks me, ‘What’s your Muslim name?’ I tell them I don’t have one because I believe that I will loose my identity, but they still keep asking,” she says.

In a society where religion is central in shaping one’s identity and way of life, conversion upsets social norms and the traditional understanding of cultural boundaries.

As Shirleen points out, people often ignore the fact that converting to another religion is a learning process. “Sometimes people fail to understand that this is something new, that you are learning. And it does not feel nice when you are being corrected over something that you

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choose. You could be praying and someone would tell you that you are not covered enough. Those things make me feel bad,” she says. “My biggest challenge is also learning Arabic. I can easily recite the prayers in English, but in Arabic it is difficult,” she adds. As with many converts, Shirleen feels that she is putting significant effort into learning and adjusting to Muslim religious practices, but that her dedication is not fully recognised or appreciated by her peers. For her, people born into Islam are not necessarily more religious; they are perpetuating the cultural practices they grew up with. “Sometimes, I feel that I know more than people who were born into Islam because I keep reading about it and studying it”.

The young mother laughs when thinking of the changes that occurred in her life following her conversion. “One thing I have noticed is that I now have to undergo tight security checks each time I go to the airport.” Her remark, far from being trivial, is indicative of the growing interreligious tensions in Kenya. Although the country maintains a reputation for tolerance of its Muslim minority, that tolerance is being increasingly tested with Kenyan Muslims facing widespread stereotyping as terrorists. Recurrent attacks, involving Kenyan or foreign extremists and the export of 44

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Wahhabism to the Kenyan coast, have led the government to indiscriminately crack down on its Muslim population. Despite the feeling of being a ‘minority within a stigmatised minority,’ Shirleen is convinced that Islam is the true religion for her. Respect and tolerance are the values central to Islam that brought about her conversion. Those are the principles that should be defended, along with one’s right to express spirituality and faith outside social conventions. Shirleen’s approach to religion is one of critical learning. “I intentionally chose not to go to the madrassa because I want to learn the religion by myself. I want to ask the questions, not to be told what to think.” Compiled by “Women in Islam” based on an interview conducted by Hala Alkarib and Célia Hitzges.

Lived Realities of Ethiopian Domestic Workers in the Gulf Countries When Worqe arrived in Kuwait, the first thing to go was the cross necklace she was wearing. “I was told I am a Muslim when I arrived at the airport. I had to remove my cross from my neck,” said Worqe, who migrated from Ethiopia to work as a domestic worker. Like many Ethiopian Christian women, Worqe’s cross was a symbol of her faith, one closely tied to her culture and identity. But for the agent that had arranged for her employment, none of that mattered. The cross was just the first of many things that Worqe was expected to give up. After the cross, it was her passport. Then her pay. And eventually, her rights and dignity.

Worqe is one of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian women who have made their way to Saudia Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, and other Middle Eastern countries over the last couple few decades to work as domestic workers. In Saudi Arabia alone, there are an estimated 400,000 Ethiopian migrants, according to the U.S. Department of State1. The majority of the migrants who either choose to come to the Middle East or are trafficked to the region, are women, and most are from rural areas where they have little access

to education and jobs, making them especially vulnerable to trafficking and abuse. Most Ethiopian migrant domestic workers to the Gulf countries experience a harrowing journey. They are promised attractive pay by brokers who charge a fee. Once a woman arrives in the host country, however, she is stripped of her passport. In a strange country where she does not know the language, she finds herself with no rights and, too often, no pay. She might be subjected to physical, verbal, and sexual abuse by her employers. If she manages to escape with her life – and not all do – she returns home to poverty, where the economic opportunities are still poor, and where she will find few, if any, services to help her deal with the traumatic experience.

Rebekah Kebede is an EthiopianAmerican writer currently based in Kingston, Jamaica. A former Reuters correspondent, her work has appeared in National Geographic, Quartz, and GOOD magazine, among others.

For many women like Worqe, religion is a major flash point. Christianity is one of the major religions in Ethiopia. Between 40 to 45% of Ethiopians belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, while approximately 45% of the population is Muslim, according to the U.S. State Department. Many Muslims, however, claim that the actual percentage is higher. Even before they arrive in their primarily Muslim destinations in the Middle East, migrant domestic workers feel the need to appear Muslim, often at their brokers’ urging.

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Some decide to adopt Muslim names and change the way they dress to fit it, going so far as to wear head scarves in their passport photos. But keeping up the ruse takes a toll and workers can pay a steep price if they are found out. “Pretending was not an easy task for me, especially during their fasting period. It made me sleepless and stressful,” Worqe explained in an interview. “How can I be a Muslim while knowing nothing about the religion? The agent told me I will survive. But I didn’t. My employers threw me away when they found out I am not,” she said. Beyond Religion Although religion is one of the first parts of their identity that Ethiopian migrants to the Middle East are expected to surrender, it is hardly the only one. Migrant domestic workers repeatedly recounted being treated as less than human, being called “dogs,” having food withheld, and having other basic needs denied. “They do not consider you as a human being. They hate you without a reason, and you can’t ask why. They just want you to work without rest, without any payment. It feels like you are a robot,” said Fitsum, an Ethiopian domestic worker who paid US$370 to migrate to Dubai. This article is based on a research paper titled ‘Caught Between Poverty and Trauma: Addressing the Human Rights of Trafficked Domestic Workers’ published by the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA). All quotes from this article are derived from SIHA’s report and other organisational documents.


A migrant worker named Emuye said she was not even allowed food. “The madam doesn’t want to see me eating even though it is food that they will throw away. She even gets angry to the extent of seeing me drinking water, God is my witness,” she said. Race and national origin are also weapons. Edget, whose employer often locked her in a room and threatened to beat her, mocked her using Ethiopia’s history of famine. “[She said] ‘There is

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nothing to eat in Ethiopia. People are eating soil so I better stay in Kuwait working for multiple households to fill my belly’. It is awful to imagine how those people perceive us,” Edget said. According to Hala Alkarib, a women’s rights activist and the Regional Director for the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), some of the religious discrimination that Ethiopian migrants face is likely rooted in racism. Alkarib notes that even when Christian women convince their employers that they are Muslim, Ethiopian domestic workers are treated badly. “We also have to observe that the Philippine women workers are not Muslims, for example, and they do not pretend to be. Yet they are not discriminated against or oppressed as the African workers,” Alkarib said. Bitter Homecoming At the foothills of Addis Ababa’s Mount Entoto, Good Samaritan Association (GSA), runs a shelter for women who have returned from the Middle East. As many as 30 women make their home here with a round-the-clock staff of nurses, caregivers, and guards. Homecoming for Ethiopian domestic workers is seldom sweet. All of the women who stay at the shelter are “mentally unstable,” said Tirubrhan Getnet, the director of GSA. “Many of them don’t remember anything about their past and don’t recognize where they are currently, some of them don’t speak a word, others scream loud and others try to harm their fellow returnees and the shelter’s staff members, some try to jump out of the fence or down from the building,” Getnet added. Shelter staff at GSA recount stories of women who have returned from working in the Middle East in wheelchairs, completely paralyzed, or with disabling physical injuries due to rape.

Migrant domestic workers’ protest in Beirut, Photo by Anne Paq

On top of physical and emotional scars from their years with abusive employers, the women at the shelter have often returned empty-handed. Rejection by their families, who paid a steep price to brokers, adds to their trauma and feelings of shame.

In some cases, returnees are unable to face the pressure. Getnet tells the story of one woman who hanged herself in a bathroom at the shelter, presumably because she did not want to face her family, who had borrowed a large sum of money to send her to Saudi Arabia.

However, even when a migrant domestic worker is economically successful, the difficulty of the experience seems to overwhelm their hard-earned gains. Edget brought back around US$5,000 that she saved from four years of working in Kuwait. After GSA helped her open a bank account, she seemed puzzled, asking, “What am I going to do with this money?” Rebekah Kebede


“ Ethiopia: 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report,” US Department of State, 2016, http:// www.state.gov/j/ tip/rls/tiprpt/2016/ index.htm.

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Letter To My Daughter Leyla Hussein, is an anti-FGM activist, psychotherapist, a member of the FGM Special Initiative and co-founder of Daughters of Eve, a charity dedicated to ending gender-based violence including female genital mutilation.


My Dearest Feyrus,

I hope my words find you kicking ass as always. As you are now 13 I thought I’d write you a letter to explain how I see the world in 2016, and my fears for you and other girls. Most of all I want to celebrate the young woman you are becoming. In 2016, my saga of the angry feminist continues. I’m happy and privileged to carry that torch, though many may wonder why, including yourself. The answer is very simple: I express my anger and use my position to speak for those who can’t. I don’t expect you to take up the mantle, but I’m impressed by the way you challenge sexism. Like the time you asked a teacher why he moved a couple of girls to the front of the class, because they were being harassed by some boys. You expressed how unfair it was to move the girls, who hadn’t done anything wrong. Even though you were angry and upset, as a parent it was a proud moment to see that you saw the injustice. I see the world through your eyes, my London-born African Muslim girl. I see the challenges based on your skin colour, gender and faith. One of the hardest things I’ve seen was you asking Muslim girls to accept you without wearing a hijab. I’ve always said I will always support the path you choose as long as you are not harming others. You are a girl who is free from FGM, as you know by now, this is something all the women in our family have endured, but we celebrate that we broke that cycle. You are now experimenting with your own voice, and I’ve noticed you are extremely aware of your self-worth. I know at times your confidence is not well received by others just because you were born a girl. Sadly, I feel you still face challenges I faced as a young girl. You are still expected to sit quietly, look pretty and accept daily sexist comments while the boys play football and do as they please. I want to make the world safe for you and to give you the opportunity to be the person you want to be. I made sure you were protected from one of the worst crimes committed against women. But I also know that to this date, millions of mothers like me cannot guarantee that basic safety for their daughters.

Every year, three million girls are at risk from FGM (the partial or total removal of the female genitalia for non-medical reasons) in Africa alone. For girls with type three FGM, where the labia majora, minora and clitoris are cut and the opening sealed with stitches, simple acts like urinating and menstruating are an everyday painful occurrence. Imagine that, Feyrus. Periods can be painful enough as it is. Many of the girls subjected to FGM are being cut in preparation for child marriage. By the end of this decade, 142 million girls will have been married as children. I personally reject the word marriage when talking about children. It’s no more than legalised child rape and enslavement. The word marriage sugar-coats the real crime. Girls who are subjected to it suffer a multitude of physical and emotional complications such as domestic violence, fistula (this is where the vaginal wall breaks down due to forced sex), which leads to being incontinent, to then being ostracised for smelling of urine and faeces. Post-traumatic stress is very common among girls who live under such an environment and many resort to suicide or self-harm such as setting themselves on fire. As a psychotherapist I once worked with a woman who, as a girl, had been subjected to both FGM and breast ironing. Breast ironing is where the breast tissue is burned with hot iron to flatten it, a procedure that is extremely painful and damaging. The UN estimates 3.8 million young women are at risk of breast ironing in central and west Africa. Thousands of girls from Cameroon, South Africa, Nigeria, the Republic of Guinea, Togo and Ivory Coast may also be at risk. Only 12 percent of girls and women around the world have access to sanitary products. For many, menstruation means missing out on education. These girls are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and abuse that must be broken. Maybe here in the UK we should be grateful for the tampon tax! Who knew it’s such a luxury keeping yourself clean while you bleed and go through painful cramps every month. Globally, girls are faced with many challenges. Giving girls a chance means providing them with safe spaces so they can go to school without worrying about being kidnapped or shot in the head, not worrying about being raped on their way back from the cinema or groped during a concert. Girls also need spaces where they can express their true authentic selves without being judged or harmed. Some of these spaces do exist in parts of the world. For instance I had the honour of meeting one of my heroes Agnes Pareyo, from Kenya, who runs a safe house called Tasaru, for girls who escaped FGM and forced marriage. These girls are her hope and Agnes gave them a safe space to become whoever they wish to be. I remember one of the girls telling me “Leyla, I will be a doctor and a banker.” To my dismay, I questioned, “Can you do both?” She quickly replied, “If I survived my flesh being butchered and being raped by my husband every day, reading books and exams won’t be such a challenge.” Feyrus, I want you and other girls all around the world to thrive in 2016. We need to invest in you 100 percent. No more token actions. We want a better and safer world for our girls. I would like to end with an African proverb: “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. If you educate a girl, you educate a community.” So my dearest Feyrus please know that I’m very proud of you. But in all honesty, as your mother I still worry about your safety, just because you are a girl. That’s just my own fear, and I don’t wish to impose that on you. Just remember what I’ve always told you – the world is a better place because you are in it.

Mummy xx Lots of love,

P.S. Please tidy your room

Leyla Hussein

This article was republished with permission of the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom.

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The Public and the Private

Urban Space and the Production of Gender in Modern Iran Alex Shams is an Iranian-American writer and PhD student of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. His work focuses on the intersections of gender, religion, politics, and urban space in the modern Middle East. He is Editor-In-Chief of Ajam Media Collective (ajammc.com), a platform focused on culture and society throughout Iran, Central, and South Asia. He was previously a journalist based in Bethlehem, Palestine.

What does an Islamic urban space look like? This question has dogged intellectuals and authorities in Muslim-majority lands for centuries, but in recent decades has acquired a renewed sense of urgency amid the emergence of modernising Islamist political movements.

These latter groups have not only articulated new visions of the public sphere, mass politics, and economy, they have also increasingly found themselves in positions of authority to shape the cities, regions and lands in which they work. As these groups have found themselves in control, the revolutionary mandate (and widespread protest slogan) to imagine a politics “neither East nor West, but Islamic” has taken on new meanings, forcing leaders long focused narrowly on legal or constitutional change to recognise the more diffuse and institutional nature of power, and how much the production of space is a part of it. In Iran, distinct understandings of urban space have emerged amid the institutionalisation and bureaucratisation of the Revolution of 1979. The Iranian urban fabric has been reshaped to both reflect and produce ideals of modern Islamic citizenship. These changes can be seen most markedly in the capital, Tehran, a metropolitan area of around fourteen million that has emerged as a laboratory for the rest of the country in urban planning. Since the Revolution, the city has been marked by a wholesale reconstitution and realignment of the public space along a gender binary model,


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such that many public institutions are segregated in some way and the morality police regulate spaces that lack a physical architecture of gender dichotomisation (like parks and streets). The period directly following the Revolution is often considered the moment of revolutionary excess, when the private sphere took over the public arena. The enforcement of rules of morality in public space, for example, was a virtual extension of the family’s control of individuals’ bodies in the public domain. This period is also the time when this conceptualisation of the private sphere invaded the sacred space of home. Home raids on parties, for example, became commonplace, amid a widespread belief that the Islamisation of space and of self needed to occur in all sectors of society.

That being said, the implementation of gender segregation had the perhaps unexpected effect of dramatically increasing the participation of women from more conservative backgrounds in public space in Iran. Prior to the Revolution, many more religious families imposed widespread restrictions on women that prevented them from accessing the right to study, work, and take part in society more broadly. However, women from these backgrounds took an active part in the 1979 Revolution and leaders like Ayatollah Khomeini encouraged their presence. Following the Revolution’s victory, even as many legal rights were rolled back, women’s presence in all spheres of public life skyrocketed.

Image from the animated art work ‘Line 1’ by Niyaz Azadikhah, Iran

government’s encouragement as a result of the idea that Islam guaranteed women’s right to education, families that once prevented their daughters from attending university because they thought it was “un-Islamic” no longer did so. The percentage of professional working women has also increased significantly in this period.

For many women, the institution of gender segregation – which, in many institutions, even occurred on women’s initiatives – opened up opportunities by removing their families’ objections to their presence.

For example, in 1979 only about one-quarter of one percent of Iranian women attended university. Only two decades later, this figure would skyrocket to nearly 50%, and today is closer to 60%. One major factor was the fact that many families who would previously have prevented daughters from accessing education, allowed them to attend post-1979. Because of the

That being said, this “Islamisation” of public space marginalised women from more secular backgrounds. It included, for example, the implementation of dress code regulations like

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The Public and the Private

mandatory hijab and the circulation of morality police that severely infringed on women’s right to dress and live freely. But its effects were generally contradictory, helping secure economic rights for many women while simultaneously disadvantaging many other women in terms of social rights. Initiated with the Revolution, the changes to urban space in terms of Islamisation as well as gender segregation continued throughout the 1980s, although by the end of the decade and the beginning of the 1990s, they began to definitively lose their monopoly. After the war against Iraq came to a close in 1988, a different vision of Iranian space emerged as the process of reconstruction advanced in the 1990s. This vision was best exemplified by the policies of Tehran’s mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi. His approach to urban planning shifted focus to the nurturing of a public sphere that was at once Islamic, but also institutionalised the growing presence of women in public space. Although his reforms did not explicitly target women, their effects were deeply gendered. Karbaschi is primarily noted for the mass greening of Tehran that began under his rule, as authorities started taking over vacant lots across the city and building parks, no matter how big or small, in every neighbourhood. The present version is an adaptation of the original article which featured in The Funambulist on 26 January 2015, available online at www. thefunambulist.net.


These parks became the launching pads for the creation of a wide variety of public spaces, such as cultural centres, libraries, and other educational institutions that increasingly began to serve as “third places” for women, who found themselves actively participating in public life,

SIHA Women In Islam 2017

but still informally restricted from traditionally male sites of leisure like cafes (although mixedgender cafes catering to the middle class exploded during this period, equivalents for the working class did not). Karbaschi’s approach imagined citizens of the Islamic Republic as an ungendered composite, and he saw his role as fostering participation and access to public space. This was quite different from the dominant approach to planning in the 1980s, which saw Iranians through the lens of the gender binary and imagined mixed public space to be fraught with the potential for heterosexual interaction. Today, these approaches exist in a state of recurring tension in Iran, as the Karbaschi approach to planning has become dominant within the bureaucracy of Iranian cities while the morality police — who are under the control of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance — continue to police public space in accordance with the approach developed in the 1980s. To close, I will end with an anecdote from a park that highlights the uneasy coexistence of these two approaches. The local municipalities within Tehran regularly organise concerts and other gatherings in local public parks (built during the Karbaschi era), particularly during the summer. Attending one such gathering on a summer evening a few years ago, I saw a crowd of around one hundred people composed primarily of families sitting on plastic chairs as children danced in front of them beside the stage, where a singer used an electronic keyboard to play “folk music” from different regions of Iran. Dozens of onlookers gathered around the area to watch the

scene, nodding along to the music as the heat of summer slowly cooled as a gentle breeze came down from the hills. Further afield sat mixed groups of young people in the grass, crowds of elderly resting on benches, and occasional groups of Afghan workers in the furthest corners of the park. The standing spectators occasionally swayed to the beat, and some of the parents tried to entice their children to join those dancing around in front by teaching them the motions. The male singer leading the display, however, walked a fine line between enthusiastically enjoining children to come to the front while occasionally reminding parents with quick but explicit asides that those who were not children should remain seated during the performance, gently reminding all those present to uphold standards of Islamic morality befitting citizens of the Islamic Republic. The spectre of mixed-gender dancing, particularly given the groups of teenagers watching the scene with bemused expressions on their faces, haunted the performance. Members of the crowd recognised the fine line between a municipality-sponsored performance that celebrated “national culture,” and sought not to recognise any gendered divisions in the crowd, and the very real existence of morality police, who might break up the scene. The adults taking part in the festival knew that if an over-zealous morality policeman or woman tried to break up the scene, they would be the ones punished for taking part in the festival, while the municipality employees would most likely slink away in the hopes that a mid-level bureaucrat who organised the event would take the hit.

For the morality police, the whole spectacle was deeply fraught with the potential for cruising, mixing, and heterosexuality more broadly.

That day no morality police decided to wander the park to take a look at the festival. A few nights later, however, while I was sitting with a female cousin at a later hour, they did stop by. This time they checked IDs, asked questions, and scared the mixed groups of teenagers and the male Afghan workers from the corners of the park. That night, the “daughter of my paternal uncle” linkage was too distant for the policeman’s comfort, who subscribed to the view that even cousin relationships were fraught with the potential for heterosexuality, and we only managed to escape being rounded up after offering up a story that configured me as a Los Angeles Iranian ignorant of the dynamics of public space in Iran. The tensions between these differently gendered approaches to crafting Islamic public space — to say nothing of the class and national anxieties shared by the morality policy and middle class Iranians vis-à-vis the presence of Afghan workers in the park — play out every day and every night in Tehran parks. Alex Shams

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I Almost Got Arrested for Wearing Pants Sara Elhassan is a SudaneseAmerican freelance writer and editor based in Khartoum, Sudan. You can find her work on her blog - Blog #45 - at alucan. wordpress.com.

…On my way back from lunch with a friend. I, wearing jeans and a red shirt with a long grey cardigan on top; her, in a long skirt, long-sleeved top and scarf on her head. The rickshaw “Tuk Tuk” drops us off by the office. Across the street, a large truck is parked, with two police officers standing beside it, talking to a young woman dressed not unlike myself; jeans, white round-neck top, black cardigan. While one officer is “loading” a sit shai (tea lady) dressed in a thoub (traditional garment Sudanese women wear) onto the truck, the other is having a somewhat heated conversation with the young lady in jeans, pointing at her top, gesticulating that her pants are tight, that her top is too low-cut.

“It’s okay, they can’t do shit to me. I’m dressed ‘properly',” she says.

I watch along with my friend, stunned, wondering why the sit shai is being arrested if the issue is attire. My friend turns to me and says, “I think you should go in the office.” I don’t move.

We go up to the office. My heart is pounding. “Holy crap. What just happened? No, seriously, what just happened? And what the hell was that guy’s problem? What happened to ‘protect your womenfolk’? Did you see that crazed look of excitement in his eyes? Like he was going to get a kick out of arresting us!”

A man standing a few feet in front of us hears our voices, and turns just as my friend is taking off her scarf to give it to me. His eyes light up, his head swivels and he begins to yell, “Come get these two over here! Over here, over here!” I quickly pass the scarf back to my friend while she repeats: “Go. Now!” I start to move towards my office building, giggling uncontrollably, even though there really is nothing funny about what’s happening. In fact, I’m giggling because I’m scared, too scared to move any faster than a slow walk. I think: good, running will only attract more attention to myself. But attract attention to what? I’m not doing anything wrong! The man is still yelling for the police to come arrest us. I look across the street, and one officer has turned to see what the yelling and commotion is about. I look around me, and the entire street is staring at me. I decide to walk faster. 54

I enter the office building; I can still hear the man yelling after us. “They went in that building!,” he screams. My friend tells me to go up to the office and wait there. She stands at the entrance, watching. I tell her to come inside.

SIHA Women In Islam 2017

“Dude, you think they give a damn? That guy was yelling at them to arrest us both, and they probably would, just because you’re with me,” I respond. She continues to watch as the truck, now occupied by the tea lady and the young woman in jeans, drives off. “They’re leaving…. they’re driving really slow, though, like they’re scoping the place out for more people to arrest,” she says.

It’s been a while since women were harassed by police for wearing pants. The government has other things to worry about, so they cut us a little slack in the fashion department. But I’m not buying that. The police have shown that it’s not about enforcing the law, but rather about entertaining themselves. Just like a few weeks ago when the military police grabbed random young men off the streets and shaved their heads; for no reason, just because. Just like police officers stop young men at night to ask them what they’re doing out of their homes, to pick fights with them; and if the young men talk back, they plant drugs in their pockets and book them for the night. Just like the traffic police, when they’re bored or low on cash, pull people over and “exert their power” by blackmail, or, if you’re lucky enough to be a pretty young lady (or any lady, really), spend a

few minutes flirting. If you don’t comply or flirt back, the face changes, the voice morphing into a bark, and you’re slapped with a fine. Tip for the ladies: glossy lips help to smooth the process after getting pulled over. <shudder> But I’m not concerned with all that. I expect it. After almost five years living in Sudan, among the lessons I’ve learned are to always have an “emergency scarf ” on hand, to fear the police, never to talk back, not to open my car window beyond a crack and, if possible, avoid stopping for police at all. So I’m not going to address the reasons why police have suddenly decided to arrest women for wearing pants again, or the reasons why they did it in the first place. I am, however, going to denounce the fact that society has not only forsaken us “pants-wearing Jezebels,” but offers us up on a silver platter – and all for what? Is it for the greater good? For a “cleaner, purer” society? Or is it for their own personal enjoyment? What that random man in the street did – yelling for police to come arrest me for wearing pants – goes against everything I was taught about Sudanese men. For years, I listened to the rhetoric that I will never find as respectful, as courteous, as loyal, and as chivalrous a man as a Sudanese man. Those Sudanese men stand up for their women, protect them, even when they’re wrong. And yet, here I am, on Sudanese soil, faced with the exact opposite of everything I was taught. An average Osman, yelling in the street for police to come arrest me… For wearing pants. Like somehow, my pants are the epitome of all the evil and sinful ways of the world. As if to say that by wearing pants I am wearing a badge of unabashed honor, a livestream of every sordid deed I’ve ever done in my life. Like my pants are giving off rays of whoredom and heathenism that will infect everyone around me. As if we’ll soon all be caught in a downward spiral of jeanthemed orgies, public nudity and prostitution.

Sara Elhassan

Because that’s the real problem – pants. It’s not that a violently oppressed people will find ways to do the things they are not allowed to do. It’s not that prostitutes are actually wearing anything but pants – burkas, niqabs, and other “modest” attire – to safely go about their unlawful business. It’s not that people are engaging in these unlawful acts claimed to be incited by “inappropriate attire” (read: pants) in their homes, offices, and rented apartments (or as I like to call them, The Timeshare Love Dens of Riyad). Nope. The real problem is my $9 jeans. Sara Elhassan

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“Al Adal”

Re-Infibulation and the Obsession with Virginity in Sudan The obsession with the concept of female virginity has reached alarming proportions in Sudan. In response to unjust social and political pressures, women have attempted all possible means to perpetuate the illusion of virginity in their intimate relations with men. As a result, women continue to suffer throughout their lives, controlled by the dysfunctional expectations of a patriarchal society and driven to accept unsound and dangerous practices that affect their physical and mental health. In response, the author interviewed a number of women who have undergone re-infibulation – resuturing after delivery or gynaecological procedures of the incised scar tissue resulting from infibulation1 – in addition to speaking with social workers, doctors and clerics about the legality, usefulness and consequences of this phenomenon.

Safia Alseddig is a Sudanese journalist. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Khartoum in 2008, majoring in Media and French. In 2015, Safia obtained a postgraduate diploma in Journalism, and is currently doing her Masters in Media and Journalism at the University of Khartoum. She writes original articles for a number of Sudanese newspapers.

According to the United Nations, globally more than 15 girls undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) every second. UNICEF reports that in Sudan almost 40% of girls aged from birth to 14 years have undergone FGM. A high, but uncounted percentage of women, additionally undergo what is known colloquially as al Adal, or re-infibulation, specifically after giving birth. Women interviewed by the author reported that they have undergone the procedure up to eight times. Many women also undergo reinfibulation prior to marrying, out of fear they will be criminalised for allegedly not having been chaste before the wedding. Here, a real-life example from a mother regarding her daughter’s re-infibulation is illustrative. The daughter, in labour and suffering 56

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severe haemorrhage, is brought into a private maternity hospital in the city of Hasahisa in the Al Jazeira region, south of Khartoum. Her condition being critical, she is immediately admitted into the maternity ward. Six hours later, the doctor emerges to inform her family that she and her baby have survived, but that she urgently needs a blood transfusion. Among the joy and ululations2, her sisters frantically collect blood to save their sister’s life. Meanwhile, the woman’s husband and father of the newborn, dressed up elegantly for the occasion, arrives at the hospital carrying a bundle wrapped in gift paper. Before anybody manages to congratulate him, he calls his mother-in-law to him, hands her the present and has a long conversation with her. She is very agitated during the talk. He leaves, and everyone asks her why she is so upset. It turns out that her son-in-law asked her to tell the midwives that he wants his wife to be re-infibulated. The gift he brought with him was a set of golden jewellery to be given to his wife in return for her re-infibulation. “I swear by Allah, he gave me one thousand Sudanese pounds for the good news of al Adal, and said to me, ‘Don’t you want your daughter to live happily?’ This was her first child, she was bleeding and I was afraid she might die,” said the young woman’s mother. Despite these concerns, ululations are soon heard again in the maternity ward, this time not to welcome the newborn but to announce that the young mother agreed to reinfibulation after receiving money and gold from her husband. The obsession with virginity in Sudan is one of the main factors leading to the widespread phenomenon of al Adal. The main reason is

that the human value of a woman prior to her marriage focuses on the issue of her virginity. Women who are found ‘unchaste,’ suffer severe consequences and discrimination, are subject to social stigmatisation, and are often denied the opportunity to marry. In addition, Sudanese criminal law penalises both men and women who engage in extramarital sexual activity. The penalties range from flogging for those who are not married, to stoning or death for those who are. In reality, it is women who are regularly penalised more so than men, as pregnancy is used as evidence of their adultery. On top of this, many young unmarried women report that they are regularly subjected to virginity tests when detained by the police, regardless of the reasons for their arrest. This phenomenon indicates the extent of social and political obsession with women’s virginity in Sudan today, and exposes the false perceptions and hypothesis surrounding virginity that has lead to the widespread criminalisation of sexuality.

To conform to these norms, many girls undergo surgery to narrow the vaginal opening, or re-infibulate, prior to marrying. Zainab, as an example, informed the author that she delayed her marriage for a few years until she was able to find a trusted doctor and a safe place in which to have the procedure. The cost of such surgeries can sometimes reach US$800. Another interviewee, Dalia, described re-infibulation surgeries as unsafe and usually occurring in non-medical venues. She added that before her marriage, she was able to buy a plastic hymen made in China

which can be placed inside the vagina and looks like the real membrane. According to Dr. Abdel Hadi Ibrahim, a gynaecologist, girls who engage in extramarital sexual activity usually undergo re-infibulation or ‘re-stitching’ so as to be able to have a ‘normal’ life. They may approach midwives or doctors to narrow the vaginal opening after engaging in sexual activity; however, this very often renders sex impossible and forces the woman to undergo another surgery to again permit intimate relations. In Dr. Ibrahim’s opinion, these repeated procedures firmly establish the delusions surrounding chastity in men’s minds. He stresses that re-infibulation has no relationship to sexual pleasure. According to Dr. Ibrahim, the main issue is men’s obsession with virginity and the unrealistic expectations of a society that pressures women to maintain their virginity, and worse still, to reclaim it once they lose it. Re-infibulation is a social pre-requisite for young women to marry, have children, and live peacefully. One interviewee, Samira, confessed she became used to re-infibulation. Her husband works overseas and she has had the procedure done after the birth of all of her six children, and every time her husband comes home on holidays. She said she does it because it is his preference, and she “honestly does not want him to take another wife.” Another interviewee, Fatima, the mother of two girls who has not yet turned 30, described being re-infibulated without her knowledge after the birth of her first child. She suffered severe pain for a week before she went back to the hospital to learn what was causing her problems. There, she was told that the midwife had ‘fixed’ her FGM without consulting her while she was unconscious, believing that it was the normal thing to do.

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As was the case for Fatima, re-infibulation can cause serious health problems. As explained by Dr. Alhassan Mohammed Alhassan, a gynaecologist and obstetrician, during labour the vagina expands to permit the head of the child to emerge. In women who have undergone FGM, the vaginal opening is very narrow and has to be cut to facilitate the passage of the newborn. “FGM is first and foremost a mutilation of the reproductive organ, and there is nothing aesthetic about it. Medical ethics and legislation do not permit the doctor or the midwife to re-infibulate and if they do so they are legally liable for their actions. However, re-infibulation is a practice often requested by the wife, the husband, or the motherin-law after a birth. Still, this custom debases the woman and mutilates her, causes immense pain during sex, and embodies the woman’s obligation to satisfy her husband,” states Dr. Alhassan.


arrowing of the N vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/ or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (WHO).


long, wavering, A high-pitched vocal sound commonly used to express celebration.


In addition, Dr. Alhassan stresses that the belief that re-infibulation narrows the vagina is false, as it only narrows the opening. The vagina itself never reverts back to its antenatal state. Hence, this narrowing does not provide any pleasure to a rational man. Worse still, re-infibulation can cause severe bleeding and lacerations during the first postnatal intercourse. As stated by Dr. Alhassan, “If men were aware of the dangers that women expose themselves through reinfibulation, they would not ask or permit their women to undergo the procedure. FGM and reinfibulation create massive problems during the delivery, not to mention collateral damage such as urinary retention and loss of feeling in nerve endings that rob women of their sexual pleasure. It is extremely unfortunate that the laws governing the practice of medicine are not implemented, as they prohibit the procedure of re-infibulation. If any doctor or midwife were actually taken to court, it would help eliminate this practice.”

SIHA Women In Islam 2017

From a religious perspective, Mohammed Hashim Alhakim, a member of the Supreme Council of African Islamic Scholars, believes that re-infibulation should be studied based on the Islamic ruling on female circumcision. “We believe that God Almighty created women in the best form, and no human should have the right to interfere with the integrity of their bodies. There is no religious basis for circumcision, and we have repeatedly called for its abandonment. The Prophet Mohammed prohibited inflicting injury or repaying one injury with another. Since FGM is a prohibited custom, its repetition must also be prohibited,” says Alhakim. He further stresses that the reasoning behind the custom is baseless. “To say that it pleases men has no basis in science. How can a husband find pleasure in causing his wife psychological and physical harm? This stitching is religiously illegal. It does not make a woman pure and is not part of her religious obligations. Young women who engage in re-infibulation to cover up the scandal are dishonest and misleading, but the matter necessitates calculated thinking, and sometimes one needs to commit a sin to prevent a more serious one,” says Alhakim. The issue also has a deep sociological dimension, as found during an interview with sociological analyst Dr. Abdel Rahim Ballal. In his opinion, “al Adal is the continuation of the despicable practice of FGM. It reflects the widespread perception of women as perpetual seductresses and sexual objects, as if the relationship between the two genders was a purely sexual one, devoid of any emotions, context or conceptualisation. Women are being treated as if their only value was to provide sexual services to men and are considered useless once they are past their sexual prime.”

Illustration by Hanna Barczyk

Dr. Ballal continued, “The practice violates the physical integrity of women for the sake of traditional, selfish men. On the other hand, when men develop bellies and wrinkles, and become sexually impotent, women just live with the fact and do not ask their husbands to perform cosmetic surgery. I see this as subjugation.” According to him, “The custom could be eliminated by fostering more relationships between the genders based on intellect and common purpose. Women often fear that men will abandon them, so they continually try to please them. If the relationship changed from one of fear to one of understanding, the custom would end. At this point in time, even educated women practice it, which sadly only proves that they were brought up on old and obsolete value systems. This demonstrates that the society as a whole did not modernise and change, and is still in the grip of harmful customs – we still have young men today looking for a suitably ‘sealed’ women to marry, be it by physical or mental ‘seals’.” Women’s rights activist Manal Abdel Halim mostly concurs with Dr. Ballal’s opinion. She believes that the custom is firmly embedded in the socio-cultural milieu in which both genders are brought up. In this context, women believe they have to satisfy their husbands, while men think their wives should be returned to them after giving birth as if they were never touched by a man (“returning a bride after

each birthing”). In her view, re-infibulation is tied to the FGM custom since a woman who did not undergo FGM before giving birth, will not be re-infibulated. For Halim, the principles of chastity and virtue are only a pretext. The fundamental motive of FGM is to lower the female libido so that women do not actively seek out sexual relations. As such, FGM and re-infibulation are two of the worst types of violence against women. Extending past the physical aggression, they also violate women’s psychological integrity as well as cultural, social and legal rights. Correlating a woman’s virtue and chastity with a part of her body is humiliating.

In the past, facial scarring was a beauty standard despite the physical harm, yet it was easy to combat when beauty standards changed. FGM, however, is a social problem with an added political dimension that feeds into the wishes, desires and perceptions of the more powerful members of society about women, their chastity and virginity. This problem is not yet resolved. Ending FGM requires a socio-cultural change that would advance the situation of women and enable them to break the chains which confine them to lives valued only in relation to the pleasure they bring men. Safia Alseddig From Arabic by Sam Berner

For anonymity, some of the interviewees’ real names have been replaced by pseudonyms.

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War and State Collapse in Somalia The Implications for Men and their Masculinity The Rift Valley Institute investigates the enduring effects of conflict and State collapse on Somali men.1 Initiated in 2013, the inception study, entitled The Impact of War on Somali Men (IMW), breaks new ground by providing men with a platform to share their experiences. 2 Researchers, Judith Gardner and Judy El-Bushra discuss the main findings of the study and the importance of understanding men’s vulnerabilities to support long-term development and stability in Somalia.

The IMW paper builds on an earlier study on Somali women’s experiences of the war.3 According to the women that were interviewed, women’s and girl’s lives would only truly recover after the impact of the war on men has been addressed. References to the effects of war on men’s lives was an intriguing finding of this earlier study, as virtually no research had been done on the topic. The current study is trying to fill this gap. It sheds light on the dilemmas and challenges facing Somali men as a result of the realities of war and the re-emergence of clan-based politics in the vacuum left by the collapse of the Somali State in 1991. In particular, it examines the challenges

of living up to the traditional but enduring values attached to masculinity and manhood in Somali society, and how these challenges for men impact women. The study findings also correct the international community’s commonly held stereotypes of Somali men as inherently violent, prone to extremism, and potentially dangerous to their own society and the security of Western countries.4 What is Expected of Somali Men? Somalia is a male-dominated society, but contrary to an often held view, Somali manhood is not predicated on violence or the violent oppression of women. Men and women interviewed by the authors described an exacting set of positive ideals attached to male roles and masculinity – fundamental to which are responsibilities for family and clan. The authors repeatedly heard how men have ‘responsibility for everything’ and that this arrangement is divinely ordained. Responsibility, along with self-discipline, courage, humanity and generosity are the core social expectations of men. Rooted in a rural pastoral and agro-pastoral past that no longer exists for the majority of the population, these masculine ideals continue to be the essential criteria against which men across the country measure themselves and are measured by others. It is only by meeting the highest standards of behaviour required at different stages of the male life cycle, that men may attain raganimo, meaning ‘manhood’ or the masculine ideal. Attaining and maintaining manhood requires a man to master skills (e.g. problem solving and mediation skills), cultivate qualities (e.g. generosity, courage, selfdiscipline), and repeatedly prove himself valuable to his community throughout his lifetime. His standing as a man will be judged against these standards within his family and clan, and in different social, economic and political contexts, including times of hunger, conflict, and peacemaking. Somali manhood, if achieved, is not a milestone reached like fatherhood or adulthood.

Painting by KHALID HAMID, Sudan


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Throughout a man’s lifetime, his manhood can be threatened, diminished, entirely lost and found again. It can also remain beyond reach. A Somali proverb conveys the lifelong challenge of attaining and maintaining manhood: ‘raganimo waa raadkaaga oo roob qariyey’ meaning ‘raganimo is like your footprints which are wiped out by the rain.’ The message here is clear – Somali men must never assume that what proved their manhood today, will still hold true tomorrow.

catastrophe for many men from which most have not since recovered. Security was relatively high, at least in the earlier years of Barre’s rule – although Somalia was then a police-state, with ‘security’ very much in evidence and ‘transgressors’ swiftly and harshly dealt with. That is, citizens at the time were used to having a government ‘which deterred wrong-doing.’7

The Changed Nature of the State and its Implications for Men and Masculinities

In contemporary post-1991 Somalia, unemployment is widespread and security is volatile. Kinship, or clanship, is the primary organising principle used to manage and mobilise men. How one fares as a man – and by extension a man’s family – depends to a significant extent on how well one’s clan is faring. Through their clan membership, all men are to a greater or lesser degree involved in the ‘big project’ – the struggle for clan supremacy in a contest to control resources and acquire power. Clanship circumscribes male experiences and opportunities, and, by extension, family fortunes, to an extent unprecedented since the pre-modern era.

While the norms attached to masculinity might have remained essentially consistent over time, they have been actualised through several different models affected not only by the war itself but also, and perhaps even more profoundly, by changes to the State. In the absence of State functions after 1991, the Somali people fell back on traditional forms of clan organisation and leadership, most successfully in Somaliland and Puntland.5 In south-central Somalia, however, the collapse of the State unleashed a violent contest over control of resources, fought largely along clan lines.6 Violent contest continues in these regions, with the added dimension of reformist Islamist ideology and an insurgency led by Al-Shabaab. In all regions, men and women, particularly those in their forties and above who remember their country pre-civil war, still struggle to come to terms with the disintegration of the State and its aftermath. Pre-war, then President Siad Barre’s government (1969 -1991) was the major job provider, and employed many more men than women. Civil servants gained not only income but also respect from their employment and, especially in the case of senior government figures, self-respect from being in a position of influence. However, by the end of Barre’s regime, salaries had sunk to their lowest levels. Further, after the war began in 1991, the loss of jobs and positions was a personal

Judith Gardner is an independent consultant who has worked on Somalian issues since the late 1980s. Judy El-Bushra is an independent researcher on issues of gender, conflict, development and peacebuilding. Her main work has been centred on the Horn of Africa, the Great Lakes and Nigeria. Judith and Judy co-edited in 2004 ‘Somalia, the Untold Story: The War through the Eyes of Women’ which they followed in 2016 with ‘The Impact of War on Somali Men’ for the Rift Valley Institute.

Without the help of one’s clansmen, male opportunities and access to resources are limited and security diminished. Men who fail to live up to expectations, or to successfully navigate the normative male trajectory, are less able to claim the support of their clansmen and thus may incur failure through no fault of their own, but instead as a result of life’s vagaries. In several interviews conducted by the authors, respondents described how boys and youth are especially vulnerable in this regard – boys are handicapped if their father is unknown, has transgressed his clansmen (for whatever reason), or if they live displaced and far from their own clansmen (as many internally displaced persons and refugees do).

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The Public and the Private

A New Reality for Somali Men and Women For many men, as for women and children, the war and the collapse of the Somali State have led to catastrophic levels of insecurity, violence, displacement, loss of family members, and impoverishment. The majority of men lack the resources – or crucially, the security – to fulfil the stringent expectations and responsibilities that are attached to being born male. This is most clearly seen at the family level, where across the country and all social groups, many men have become dependent on their wives and children as the primary providers of household income. This represents a fundamental shift in adult domestic gender roles potentially resulting, at various times, in incapacitating psychological breakdown among adult males. Significant numbers of men prefer to stay ‘idle’ rather than bring dishonour to their clan by taking on menial work incommensurate with their former pre-war status. Many are also addicted to khat (leaves of a shrub, which are chewed as a stimulant). The vast majority of these men live cared for by their wives and older children, as if they were themselves children. It is hardly surprising that after more than two decades of war, many older women report feelings of frustration and impatience with their kinsmen. As a consequence, many men themselves feel dispensable, with no meaningful role or stake in their future. For men, there is no organised space to discuss their realities and very few alternative routes, other than the traditional, to achieve manhood. Through women-led self-help groups and collective actions, women, on the other hand, have embarked on initiatives to change their situations. Women are supported by the fact that gender transformation initiatives are being actively promoted by the international community. That men, as well as women, can be vulnerable is not yet mainstream thinking, yet decades of war and collapse of the Somali State has vastly increased male forms of physical, psychological, 62

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an socio-economic vulnerabilities. This has direct implications for how well men can fulfil their expected gender roles such as provider and protector. Hence, male vulnerability has important implications for the security, wellbeing and recovery from war of Somalia’s women, girls and children. Indeed, findings from another study in Somalia clearly show how male and female capacities and vulnerabilities are inextricably entwined.8 The psychological consequences of failing to live up to social expectations are found most among refugee men in Dadaab9, where displacement, the enforced idleness of prolonged encampment, and international agency interventions that overlook male vulnerabilities, result in feelings of complete failure and virtual emasculation. These feelings are summed up in the complaint the authors repeatedly heard from male respondents: ‘None of us are responsible for anybody, not even our own self.’ Judith Gardner and Judy El-Bushra


he Rift Valley Institute (RVI) is an independent, non-profit organisation T working in eastern and central Africa with the aim of advancing knowledge of the region and bringing a better understanding of local realities to bear on social and political action. RVI is currently active in Somalia, Somaliland, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. For more information see: http://riftvalley.net/.


he study was carried out with funds from the LOGiCA (Learning on T Gender in Conflict in Africa) World Bank trust fund.


J udith Gardner, and Judy El-Bushra, eds. 2004. Somalia The Untold Story – The War through the Eyes of Somali Women. CIIR: Pluto Press.


he findings and preliminary analysis are presented in an inception T report. For more information see: http://www.logica-wb.org/PDFs/ LOGICA_The_Impact_of_War_on_Somali_Men.pdf.


he populations of these two regions established relative stability and T governance partly through the efforts and agency of their traditional clan elders to successfully resolve inter-clan conflicts and bring about reconciliation. However, subsequent conflicts have since arisen, most notably over governance of Sool and Sanaag Regions.


F or a detailed, if controversial, analysis of the contest for resources in southern Somalia, see: Kaptjiens, L. 2013. Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


ark Bradbury, Becoming Somaliland, (African Issues), Oxford, James M Currey: CIIR, 2008Pennsylvania Press.


ARE. 2016. “Adversity and Opportunity: Gender Relations, C Emergencies and Resilience in the Horn of Africa,” https://www.care. org.au/wpcontent/uploads/2016/04/000188_GiE_Summary_Report_ FINAL.pdf.


he camp of Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee settlement set up in T eastern Kenya in 1991 to house Somalis fleeing the civil war.

A Woman and a Purchased Slave Gender Biases and Stereotypes in School Textbooks


The title of this article bears no relation to the One Thousand and One Nights, a wellknown collection of Middle Eastern folktales, nor to the other historic tales compiled during the Islamic Golden Age. This title is borrowed from the Islamic jurisprudence textbook prescribed to fourth graders in Sudan’s primary schools.1 The textbook was written to comply with the curriculum set by the National Centre for Curricula and Education Research (Bakht El Rudha), and was endorsed by the Sudanese Ministry of Education. The second edition of the book, published in 2004, was prepared and revised on behalf of the Centre by a number of experts in education, teaching, curricula and research. However, not a single expert on Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) or preaching of Islam (da’awah) participated in the review. This in itself is worthy of reflection, given the content of the lessons, the questions it raises in today’s difficult times, and, last but not least, the very young age of the group targeted by the textbook (10-year-olds, approximately).

Glaring Under-representation of Women and Girls in Illustrations That pictures are great in facilitating understanding is a well-known fact, especially for primary school children. The textbook contains 11 illustrations on topics as diverse as ablutions, congregational prayers, accepted behaviour in supplications and prevention of cruelty to animals. Among the illustrations, nine depict male characters, both adults and boys, while only two feature adult women (i.e. no girls are shown in the textbook). Further, only male pupils are represented in the textbook illustrations depicting ablutions and prayers. This clearly illustrates the maledominated mindset among the curriculum writers; a mindset which – whether consciously or unconsciously – holds the public aspect of religion to be a male realm. In the view of the writers, the mosque – the most powerful symbol of Muslim public domain, particularly

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The Public and the Private

during congregational Friday prayers – is quintessentially masculinised. The textbook’s illustrations contribute to conveying jurisprudential interpretations under which women have no obligation to attend the mosque. Women are therefore excluded from the public domain which is left under the control of men. Within the textbook illustrations, the ‘street,’ as seen from the perspective of men, is depicted as where political and social participation takes place. Home, on the other hand, is perceived as the ideal and essential place for Muslim women. A Textbook in the Service of Ideology



rimary education P in Sudan consists of three phases: Grades 1-3, 4-6, and 7-8 (respectively). Grade 4, on which this article focuses, is the starting point of the second phase of Sudanese primary education. uta, H. A G Country in Trouble. Khartoum: Khatem Adlan’s Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development, 2006.


uta, A Country in G Trouble 2006.


amed, H.A. The H Book of Prayer, Vol. III. Juristic Studies Series No. 24. Khartoum: Sudan’s Islamic Scholars Publication, 2009.


huzami, A. The G Satellite Jurist: The Transference of Religious Rhetoric from the Rostrum to the Screen. Casablanca: Arab Cultural Centre, 2011.


As Guta accurately asserts, “textbooks […] are not just fact-transferring systems. They are the result of political, economic and cultural activities, of battles and ritual assemblies.”2 This is even more obvious when reading the recommendations made by the Conference on Teaching Policies and Institutions, held in 1999. The goal of education, as described in these recommendations, is “to lay the foundation of the religious doctrine among the young, to nurture them on its principles, to form their individual and group behaviours in accordance with social, economic and political values based on religious teachings.”3 The chapter of the textbook about ‘Friday Prayers’ exemplifies this phenomenon perfectly. This chapter describes categories of people who are exempt from attending congregational Friday prayers as, “women, purchased slaves, minors and the sick.” References to the Quran and the Sunnah are put forward by the textbook writers to support this assertion, including the Quranic verse 62:9 “O you who believe! When the call is heard for the prayer on Friday, hasten to the remembrance of Allah and leave all trading. That is better for you if you only knew.” The textbook writers also refer to the Prophet’s Hadith, “Friday prayers are incumbent upon whosoever believes in God and the Last Day, except for four: a slave, a woman, a minor and a sick person.” Hence,

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only free, adult, sane and able men, as reified by the textbook writers, have the obligation to attend Friday prayers. Having established everyone’s responsibilities, the chapter then outlines the great benefits of the prayers, including the opportunity to learn what is happening in the country, to network with other members of the congregation, and to acquire knowledge from the Imam’s address. Friday prayers are also described as a time to bond and worship to ensure reward in the afterlife. Women and girls however are denied these benefits. In this chapter, the authors clearly ignore the new reality surrounding the pupils targeted by the textbook, a reality devoid of purchased slaves and where women are everywhere, participating in demonstrations and elections, contributing to the workforce, and attending Tahajjud prayers (overnight voluntary act of prayers and spiritual meditation usually carried in mosques during Ramadan). Diverging Opinions The Sudanese Constitution stipulates that all citizens are equal and forbids any discrimination based on sex, race, colour or social status. In addition, the Corpus Juris – the Islamic jurisprudential heritage – on which the writers based the textbook, contains diverging opinions on the matter of Friday Prayers. Professor Al Sheikh Hassan Ahmed Hamed, as an example, analyses the obligations and recommended actions surrounding the Friday prayer.4 He highlights the diversity of opinions among jurists and their disagreements about the ritual, mentioning the opinion of Ibn Hazm: “[Friday prayers are incumbent upon] the traveller during his journey, the resident, the slave and the freeman. It is to be prayed by the prisoners and the hiding, two raka’hs (prescribed movements and words followed by Muslims while offering prayers to God) in a group, with a sermon, like everyone else. It shall be prayed in every village, regardless to how small or large, whether governed or not.”

While this opinion contradicts the position of many jurists, it is more in agreement with the overall inclusive message of Islam. Despite this, it is extremely challenging today to engage critically in debates about Islamic jurisprudence. Those in control of the Corpus Juris today strive to silence diverging views by only selecting the opinions that support their interests and maybe their beliefs. Why does the textbook insist on making Friday prayers not incumbent on women? Why ignore the Quran and the evidence that women attended Friday prayers during the life of the Prophet (and still attend Friday prayers in many other Muslim countries)? Why silence the contradicting opinions of prominent jurists such as Ibn Hazm and the modernising Sheikh AlTurabi? What does this insistence stand for other than a baseless male bias? If a Muslim woman is a sane and able resident adult, why isn’t the Friday prayer incumbent on her? Why is she to be barred from the many ‘national’ benefits that are derived from attending Friday prayers, as the curriculum describes? Promotion of a Culture of Discrimination We would be hard pressed to find purchased slaves nowadays. This has little connection with the reality experienced by young pupils targeted by the textbook. References to purchased slaves, however, reveals the extent of the problem. What gave the Corpus Juris strength in the past was its respect for different opinions and its ability to respond to the daily challenges faced by Muslims. The Corpus was founded on a “culture of opinion and opposition,” that allowed freedom and diversity of thought. Scholars could express diverging opinions without fear of being accused of apostasy.5 The old jurisprudence was based on providing answers to dilemmas facing jurists in the society in which they lived and which, inter alia, did once include the status of purchased slaves and the

juristic regulations related to them. This was at at time when the enslavement of another person was enshrined in law. The problem today stems from an attempt to borrow verdicts from a different legal context and transplant them in the barren soil of this age, where there are no – legal – slaves to condemn. It also reflects an attempt to plant in the minds of young pupils ideas that facilitate a culture of discrimination and inequality. This serves to alienate children from their lived realities, and thus from the essence of their religion. That the textbook writers, and some jurists before them, ignore the fact that sane, able, adult Muslim women are equal to men in their obligation to pray on Fridays, is a clear attempt to obscure Islam’s breadth and obstruct justice and equality among the faithful. What legal or factual excuse is there to discriminate between Muslims because of their gender or social status in a ritual as great as the Friday prayers? How to ignore Quranic verse 49:13 that clearly states, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you”? The issue that needs pondering, in my opinion, is removing the compulsion of Friday prayers which uniformly bands together slaves, minor males, the sick and women. Slavery is no longer a legalised institution, children eventually grow up, and the sick either get better or die. Women will always remain women, and so will remain the discriminations they face if they are not challenged and overcome today.

Alsir Alsayed, originally from Atbara, Sudan, is a theatre critic, radio presenter and writer for several daily newspapers. He has a special interest in theatre education, theatre development, and gender issues, and currently works as Department Director and Radio Programmes Producer for the Sudan National Broadcasting Corporation. Alsir is a member of the Sudanese Writers Union and the Arab Network for monitoring the image of women and men in the Arab media. He has two sons and a daughter and currently lives in Khartoum with his family.

Alsir Alsayed From Arabic by Sam Berner

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Feminism and Politics in Sudan The State of the Feminist Movement in Sudan 1940s – Emerging Ideas of Women’s Liberation The end of the colonial era and the budding of the modern Sudanese State coincided with the emerging global idea of women’s liberation. In Sudan, the Young Women’s League was the first women’s organisation to be established out of a strong grassroots initiative in 1947. The league was particularly active in literacy and combating harmful traditional habits. Feminist activist Zainab Badr El Din says that in a country deeply rooted in tradition, those were times of change. She remembers, “Once, when the Young Women’s League staged a big arts and crafts exhibition to support literacy classes in the forties, the leaders of the Communist Party, headed by Abdul Khaliq Mahjoub, visited the exhibition. That resulted in a large number of parents taking their daughters out of the league, because men visited the exhibition. My mother was one of these young women. But when another women’s group later initiated the Nasr Girls School in Omdurman, women sold their jewellery, which is a strong traditional gesture of support, to raise money for this project. I remember my mother telling me she had donated her golden bracelet." 1950s – Politicisation of the Movement In 1952, the Women’s Union sprouted from the Young Women’s League. It was a genuine women’s initiative with non-political roots established by female graduates and teachers, including the co-founders Khaleda Zaher, who became the first female doctor in Sudan after attending the Kitchener’s School of Medicine, and Fatima Taleb, who was a teacher. Drawing its inspiration from the nationalist movement, the Women’s Union was politically active and vigorously fought against colonialism. The Union promoted literacy and education as the most effective way to improve women’s life. 66

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As Amal Abbas, a feminist and journalist, recalls, “Fatma Ahmed Ibrahim, the first female Member of Parliament in Sudan and the Middle East, and the chair of the Women’s Union for many years, used to warn us not to alienate society by challenging social norms. She used to say, ‘Pay condolences like other women do, go sit where the dishes are washed and coffee is made. We need to come down to the level of the people and lift it up, not to act in any way superior to it.’” Women from diverse political movements joined the Union, including the Muslim Brotherhood. “Those from the Islamist party eventually left the Union when its detailed agenda was published, because they disagreed with the principle that women should be granted political rights. They formed their own Islamic Women Front,” says Abbas. Following the establishment of the Union, the Sudanese feminist and political movement gained momentum in 1953 when women activists won the right for women to vote. However, this reform brought limited benefits to women since only female high school graduates were initially granted the right to vote. As highlighted by Samira Mahdi, a member of the Unionist Party, “You could count them on the fingers of both hands because girls’ schools were so few. Later, when the number of schools increased, parties started to actively attract female members, seeing in them potential voters. So a women would join some party because her husband, father or uncle or whoever was a member in that party.” “There was no place for women in the parties and no programmes included them. Men occupied the leadership roles. Women’s role was representational and their presence was to attract votes of other women,” she adds. 1960s – The October Revolution Everything changed with the Sudanese revolution of 1964, which brought down the military regime to be replaced by a transitional government composed of a broad coalition of civilian groups.

“Prior to it [revolution], we were traditionalists. We did not mix with our male colleagues. After the revolution, there was a new breed of women. They wore skirts and coiffured hair styles. They were much more liberal than us, and we didn’t approve of them, calling them the ‘Octoberists.’ A bunch of them joined the Communist Party,” recalls Abbas. In Sudan, communism was considered a secular and enlightened movement, which stood for freedom, openness and was seen as an alternative to traditional parties. By 1964, a decade after they won the right to vote, women had also won the right to run for political office. The Women’s Union published the first women’s magazine in Sudan calling for women’s rights, such as equal pay for equal work, and was instrumental in mobilising women for the nomination of Fatma Ahmed Ibrahim as the first female parliamentarian in Sudan. “In 1964, the parties suddenly awoke to the fact that women were a force to be reckoned with, and that they were more in number than the men, well over 50%,” Mahdi points out. However, the political participation of women became a commodity in elections. “Allowing women into the political parties was not out of interest in women’s issues but because all elections, those in 1968, and up to now had established that much more women were voting and registering than men. However, once these women voted, men forget all about them.”

1970s to Present Day – Domination of Political Islam and Waning of Feminism Under the totalitarian regimes from 1969-85, and from 1989 until today, the space for the feminist movement diminished, according to Intisar Al Aqali, an activist and leader in the Socialist Nasserist Party. Al Aqali states that the Sudanese Women’s Union became an instrument of the ruling government. Even the Communist Party – the first political organisation that allowed female members and had women on its Central Committee – failed to advance the rights of women in Sudan. “The internal space within a party in which diverging views generate debate during democracy, becomes subdued under a dictatorship,” said Badr El Din. “Besides, women put all their efforts into solving general national problems and subsumed their own interests under general ones, not because of subordination – they were aware of the cause – but because their supreme goal is to achieve democracy for the common good. Under a democratic system that embraces social justice, women’s issues are catered for while under a dictatorship they decline.”

Despite significant progress, the decade ended on a less optimistic note, when following the 1969 coup, the new President Jafaar Nimeiri dissolved the Women’s Union and formed the Sudanese Women’s Union, which some pioneers of the feminist movement joined.

Badr El Din cites as an example the Public Order Act, which reversed the feminist victory over the beyt al taha, a provision which authorises husbands to impose house arrest on their wives. “It was abolished in the 1960s due to advocacy by the Women’s Union, but was reinstalled in the Sudan Family Law of 1998. In fact, women’s rights have been on a downward trend since Nimeiri’s attempt to impose Sharia laws in 1983,” she said.

Several political parties, including the traditional sectarians Unionist and Umma Parties, also formed their own women’s organisations and bodies, polarising the feminist movement. This division of the Sudanese feminist movement along political affiliation lines has continued to the present day, and firmly put the women’s agenda under the control of patriarchal political organisations.

Al Aqali also laments the deterioration of women’s rights under the current Islamic Government of Sudan. “The space for women in cultural and voluntary work is shrinking further, not to mention the negative impact that armed conflict and wars in various parts of the country have caused on women’s political and socioeconomic participation.”

Amal Khalifa Habani is a Sudanese journalist and the winner of the 2014 Ginetta Sagan Award. A mother of two boys, she holds a Master’s degree in Journalism. Amal worked with different print and online media outlets for the past 15 years. She is known for her column “Small Things” and has a long track record of activism for women’s rights in Sudan.

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Perspectives Feminists Speak Out – Reflections on Feminism and Women’s Rights in Contemporary Sudan Misinterpretations of Islam mixed with patriarchy by both men and women, serve to create a contemporary political arena which is ideologically hostile and disabling to women’s engagement in Sudanese public life. Feminist activists Zainab Badr El Din, Amal Abbas, Samira Mahdi and Intisar Al Aqali, share their views on the history of the feminist movement in Sudan. Zainab Badr El Din nothing to differentiate us. So we are not that attractive to women anymore.”

Zainab Badr El Din, a secondary school teacher, is a political and civil society activist in Sudan. She is a founding member of the No To Women’s Oppression Coalition that works against legislation repressing women in Sudan. Badr El Din has been a member of the Communist Party since high school and believes that her party needs to realign itself to meet the needs of contemporary Sudanese women. “Sudanese women have failed to stand up for their rights and freedoms. When we demand our rights, we focus a lot on reassuring society that this does not mean immorality in women. We demand these rights while dressed and acting according to what is perceived modest, and this makes young women who have experienced the outside world, believe that our feminist movement is backward and not in step with global liberation movements.” “We have also failed to reflect the issues as female politicians within our parties. Even left wing parties, do not care about women’s issue. We [the Communist Party] do not have the same impact on women that we had in the 60s where we advanced labour rights, as well as their education and political participation. We are no longer an ideal of social progress, and as communists we have become ordinary, backwards like the rest of the society, with 68

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“Most men in our party tell me that our arguments for the progress of women are valid, but that we are controlled by society. It seems ironic, that in all other matters, men control the society, but when it comes to women’s rights, the society suddenly controls men. They tell me they are unable to advocate for the full liberation of women in a backward society because the party would clash with reality.” Amal Abbas

Amal Abbas, a renowned Sudanese journalist and politician, started her political career through the Sudanese Women’s Union under Nimeiri’s regime in the late 1960s. Abbas left over the regime’s alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood in 1983 – and has not joined another party since. Abbas regrets the failure of the Sudanese Women’s Union to stand up for the rights of Sudanese women. “Any political activism by women is done by certain groups, always the same people. The current Sudanese Women’s Union inherited a huge legacy of women’s rights battles, but stood by passively as the current government assaulted these very rights from its first days in

power. This makes it a pro-regime entity rather than an organisation for women’s rights. All the causes it espouses are far from the basic issues women face. The Union lacks intellectual or juri-sprudential output of any kind in the field of women’s rights. It could have played an important role supporting women’s interests, for example concerning polygamy or underage marriage, but did not.” Samira Mahdi

“I continue to protest loudly, because I contributed a lot of time and efforts to the party, but the party gave me, as a woman, nothing back.” “Men will not permit women to be equal, or to make decisions in the parties on equal levels. They allow women into the parties to brag about it. Unfortunately, women remain weak and avoid confrontations. Their voices are feeble. Unless women learn how to be stronger, their presence will have no influence. Intisar Al Aqali

Samira Mahdi is a pioneer of Sudanese feminism and member of the Unionist Party. In 1990, Mahdi was charged with writing and distributing pamphlets and poems hostile to the Islamic Front, an activity undertaken by her party. She was jailed by the current regime for three years, receiving no support from the Unionist Party during her internment. Despite the many challenges encountered during her political career, Mahdi still advocates for women’s rights from within her party and calls for female politicians to be more vocal. “Most of them [women] were appointed into parties rather than elected at the grassroots. If women achieved their positions through elections, it would not be easy to remove or exclude them, because the voters that brought them to power would support them. But without that, women who fight for their rights inside the parties get marginalised and excluded because they question the status quo.” “This is what happens in my party. Women are there in every organ of the party like a picture and a piece of cloth, but they do not participate in decision making, and our party does not discuss women’s rights.” “I am a member of the politburo of the Unionist Party and of the party leadership ever since it was formed more than two decades ago. Yet I am never consulted. I get to hear of the decisions from the media.”

Intisar Al Aqali is a political activist and member of the Socialist Nasserist Party. She is an active member of the Alliance of Female Politicians and the National Consensus Forces, a coalition of political parties. She calls particular attention to the financial exploitation of women under Sudan’s current repressive public order laws. “There are laws that adversely affect society at large, like the Family Law, which provides safe haven for the marriage of underage girls to older men, and the Public Order Act and the Criminal Code, which persecutes women’s presence in public.” “Many efforts are made to expose the impact of the Public Order Act on women’s dress code. The case of Lubna Ahmed Al-Hussein, a media worker who was prosecuted in 2009 for wearing trousers, attracted a lot of attention. But the real problems do not receive enough attention. I personally think that the issue of fining is far bigger than that of Lubna’s trousers. Women vendors are harassed on a daily basis, being forced to pay fees and follow cumbersome procedures to carry out their work. The financial exploitation of women who work in public is even worse than the dress code restrictions.” Amal Khalifa Habani From Arabic by Sam Berner

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Picking up the Pieces

The Impact of Counter-Terrorism Policies on Muslim Communities and Women in Kenya multiple layers of alienation, including living in poverty, being socially disempowered and forced into polygamous marriages. The repeated aggression of security forces against their husbands, brothers and sons leaves female family members in limbo and accentuates discrimination as they are often accused of being complicit in terrorist activities. This situation perpetuates and adds to the cycle of grievance and anger between diverse ethnic and religious communities in Kenya.

Extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances by national security forces have left communities in the costal and north-eastern regions of Kenya in despair. Human rights activist and lawyer Shirleen Njeri Njoroge reflects on the trauma inflicted to the women whose sons or husbands have been killed in the name of the “war on terror.”

Violent extremism has been on the rise in Kenya since the 2011 deployment of Kenyan military forces to Somalia. This intervention triggered fierce retaliation from the Islamist armed group Al-Shabaab. Over the past five years, militants of the Somali-based group have launched and publicly claimed responsibility for a series of deadly attacks on Kenyan soil, forcing the Kenyan government to forcibly respond to these attacks. Women have increasingly found themselves caught in the middle of these battles, becoming the unseen victims of the war against terrorism. Since Kenya’s adoption of drastic anti-terrorism measures, abuse, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings by Kenyan security forces have become a daily reality for Muslim communities across the country. The systematic discrimination against Muslim Kenyans and Somali minorities, as well as the unrestrained use of force by security agencies, has sparked sharp criticism from human rights organisations. In the fight against terrorism, Kenyan security forces seem to act as if they had been granted permission to abduct, torture or kill with impunity people deemed – often with flimsy evidence – a threat to national security. Unfortunately, enforced disappearances and killings too often go unremarked except by the grieving families as authorities rarely, if ever, investigate security forces for their conduct. To date, there are no public records of Kenyan security forces being charged in cases of human rights abuses while conducting counter-terrorism operations. Women within the Muslim communities are at the heart of this unfolding crisis. They experience 70

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Some women are direct victims of the sustained counterterrorism efforts, as was the case of Isnina Musa Sheikh who was killed in December 2015, her body found in a shallow grave in Mandera (Northeastern Kenya). Most women, however, are left physically alive, but suffering the loss of a close relative. Enforced disappearances leave hundreds of families in anguish and tear apart the social fabric of entire communities by generating a feeling of fear and insecurity. Families are left hanging between hope and despair, not knowing whether the missing person is dead. In this context, they can neither mourn nor adjust to their loss.

“At the coast of Kenya, hundreds of families have reported killings and disappearances of their loved ones and to date they have not received justice. Disappearances are by far the worst, since families are left not knowing whether the relative will turn up or not. Women are left not knowing whether to consider themselves as widows or married,” a social worker who has spent years working with women highlights.

On top of this, women whose husbands or sons have been killed or have disappeared, are socially stigmatised and considered as outcasts. Most neighbours and community members shun such women and their families lest they become targets themselves. As a researcher with strong expertise on violent extremism explains, “Even relatives at times keep away. This social alienation has profound impacts on the women and their children and make them defensive and overprotective.� Women also report continued harassment by police and security forces after the disappearance or killing of a family member, with their male children often being the primary targets.

Violent home raids, phone tapping, arrests and intimidations are some of the techniques used by police officers to keep people in a constant state of fear. Beyond social alienation, the financial security of the household is also impacted when a key family member disappears. In Kenya, men are traditionally the main breadwinners and women are in charge of maintaining the household and raising children. In a country with limited social safety nets, women who have lost their husbands are compelled to fend for their families and are often dependent on the generosity of relatives and well-wishers.

A market in Mombasa, Kenya

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Shirleen Njeri Njoroge is a human rights activist. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from Kampala International University and is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Project Management at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).

In most cases, families are split apart Widespread human rights abuses have led as children are sent to live with relatives to widening the gap between the State and who can better afford to bring them up. disenfranchised communities, who see no other Where women insist on keeping the way out than engaging in violence. family together, they are often forced to take odd jobs to make ends meet. Holding two jobs or working beyond normal Today, indiscriminate harassment, arbitrary hours, including weekends, become necessary arrests, and unlawful killings are feeding and commonplace. resentment against the State, and are among the push factors for the recruitment of marginalised A woman, whose husband disappeared in youth by extremist groups, including Al-Shabaab. Mombasa in 2012, describes the financial When abuses are as systemic as they have become hardship she faces as the sole breadwinner in in Kenya, individuals look to sources other than a family of two children, “We have become the State for protection and solace and are easily a burden to the community we live in and my drawn into crime. children are always being chased out of school because I cannot pay the school fees.� For decades, Islamic militancy has destroyed and deculturalised communities in Africa. In cases of disappearance, women often Exploiting existing vulnerabilities such as struggle to access the financial assets owned poverty and alienation, extremists have lured by their husband. Legally, a death certificate Muslim youth into an increasingly militant is required for formal institutions to pass on understanding of Islam. Today, it is crucial to inheritance to the next of kin. However, when identify the root causes of the violence and to a person disappears, it becomes impossible to look at the overall social and political context obtain such a certificate as no evidence of death that led to this devastating situation. It is can be found. instrumental to guarantee the rule of law while adopting civilian and social approaches when There is no doubt that counter-terrorism working with affected communities. policies and strategies should be put in place in order to enhance public safety. However, this Fighting terror with terror will only response must be done in a holistic manner and make us all terrorists. within a human rights framework that respects the rule of law and does not infringe on civil liberties. Counter-terrorism efforts should be Shirleen Njeri Njoroge measured, monitored, and targeted towards providing long-term stability, rather than reactive short-term approaches. Indeed, meeting violence with more violence seems highly counterproductive. The actions of the Kenyan government, far from producing the expected results, have created a breeding ground for endemic violence and radicalisation.


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Women of Sufism A Hidden Treasure

Hala Alkarib reflects on the roles of women in Sufi history based on the book Women of Sufism: A Hidden Treasure, a unique anthology of writings and stories by mystic poets, scholars and Sufi saints compiled by Camille Adams Helminski.

It is far from simple to discuss and define Sufism. However, it is clear that the Sufi Sheikhs’ and their tariqah (“process” or “path”), known in the Sufi tradition as the lifetime spiritual journey towards God, have been instrumental in spreading the Islamic religion across Africa.

powers needed formal institutions to address the Muslim population and found in the Sufi orders an instrument to control local communities.

Sufism, primarily focused on faith and spiritual aspects of religion, acted as a bridge between Islam and local African cultures. Spiritual leaders and traditional healers, taking on the role of Sheikhs, were pivotal in converting communities to Islam by infusing it with local, popular input. Although based upon an Islamic foundation, Sufism also intersects with Christianity and other spiritual faiths in many of its traditions.

Today, leaders of political Islam and Salafi movements routinely use these critiques to turn Muslims away from the Sufi message. They consider Sufi religious practices such as Zikr (“The remembrance of God”) – a ritual that includes singing, dancing and colourful costumes – and the visiting of Sufi shrines as anti-Islamic. All mystical aspects of Sufism are harshly fought by those same Islamists who regard religion as a collective political system of obedience, rather than a diverse and accommodating spiritual journey.

Starting at the end of the 19th century, large numbers of Muslims abandoned Sufism, accusing it of being fundamentally anti-Islamic and even polytheistic. Numerous factors contributed to the growing hostility toward Sufism. At the beginning of the 20th century, liberals and reformers strongly criticised Sufi traditions for encouraging popular superstition and contributing to the backward social and structural status of the Muslim world vis-à-vis Western domination. For its detractors, Sufism also fostered an “isolated spirituality” that led to social and political passivity. Sufis are notably accused of having collaborated with the European colonialists. In sub-Saharan Africa, colonial

Women of Sufism, by Camille Adams Helminski, is a fascinating book shining a spot-light on the roles women have played in Sufi history. It outlines the concealed spiritual power of women and places the emphasis on their capacity to see beyond what is known, to connect to and lead in spiritual spheres. Historically, women have been stripped of spiritual responsibilities under traditionalist and militant religious regimes which today continue to demonize women and undermine their potential as spiritual beings.

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Using a narrative that ascribes to women’s inherent inferiority, these regimes have been successful in reinforcing conceptions of spirituality as the exclusive preserve of men. In her introduction, Helminski sets the stage for further discussion of women’s contributions to the spiritual development of humanity. She challenges from the start the settled patriarchal trends that exclusively put spiritual authority in the hands of men. As stated by Helminski, “Since the beginning of consciousness, human beings, both female and male, have walked the path of reunion with the Source of Being. Though in this world of duality we may find ourselves in different forms, ultimately within truth, there is no male or female, only Being.” In this book, the author collects and narrates the stories of tens of women presenting the innovative, inspiring and diverse ways they have expressed their spirituality from the 7th century to the present day. Helminski begins with the women that she calls the “women in the heart of Islam” such as Al Sayeda Khadija, Al Sayeda Aisha, and Fatima Al Zahra, before moving on to “the door keeper,” the renowned Rabi’a Al-Adawiyya. As her exploration journey across the globe continues, she identifies Sufi women from Asia, Africa and the Middle East to Europe and America. Helminski traces the steps of women worshipers, teachers, scholars and leaders, revealing their power and devotion to holiness and influence on the Sufi schools, as well as the lives and writings of Sufi men. Among the most powerful narratives in Helminski’s book is the one of Rabi’a Al-Adawiyya, 74

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also known as Rabi’a of Al-Bsara. According to Farid al-Din Attar, a Sufi Saint and poet, the parents of Rabi’a were so poor that there was no oil to light a lamp, nor a cloth to wrap her with on the night she was born in 707 CE. When her mother asked her father to borrow oil from the neighbour, he refused because of his vow never to ask anything from anyone but God. Following the death of her parents, Rabi’a was caught by slave traders. In these difficult times, she fasted and prayed for days, confronting the agony of slavery with her faith. Her master became so scared and worried of her constant prayers, and the grace surrounding her presence, that he eventually freed her. The most inspiring story about Rabi’a is her endeavour to perform pilgrimage. Rabi’a never physically made it to Mecca. Instead, it is said that the Kaba came to her. Rabi’a’s teaching about the spiritual meaning of pilgrimage still resonates today in a world where ritual and materialistic aspects dominate the concept of Haj.

Rabi’a’s challenges in completing the pilgrimage seem to symbolise both the struggle of the mystic path, and her own difficulty in coming to terms with the conventional Islamic community. Rabi’a’s poetry reflects her spiritual power, confidence and devotion to her being. I am fully qualified to work as a doorkeeper What inside me I do not let out What outside me I do not let in

If someone comes in, he goes right out again He has nothing to do with me at all I am the doorkeeper of the heart not a lump of wet clay The journey of Al Sayeda Nafisa, called “the jewel of knowledge and the mother of the helpless” is another fascinating story. Al Sayeda Nafisa is the great-granddaughter of Al Sayed Al Hassan, the son of Al Sayeda Fatima and Al-Imam Ali. Born in Mecca in 760 CE, Al Sayeda Nafisa was known for her ability to heal. She was also reputed to know the Quran by heart and was so versed in religious knowledge that even her great contemporary Al-Imam Al-Shafi used to listen to her discourses and enter into discussions with her. Al-Shafi had so much respect for the teachings of Al Sayeda Nafisa that he would pray with her throughout Ramadan. Upon his death, Al-Shafi’s last wish was for Al Sayeda Nafisa to perform his funeral prayer. His body had to be brought to her house as regular fasting had made her too weak to even leave her home. She prayed extensively and offered his eulogy: “My God have mercy on Al-Shafi because he performs his ablutions in the most beautiful way.”

Nana Asma’u who lived in Northern Nigeria between 1793 and 1864 is one of these influential figures. She became a prominent teacher and leader among the Muslim Haussa community. Her literacy skills and ability to compose both in Haussa language and Arabic, coupled with her humility and piety, spread her fame among the educated and illiterate alike. As highlighted in Women of Sufism, countless women such as Asma’u have influenced Islam and Sufism since the time of the Prophet. The book not only opens windows for us to think about the hidden presence of women in the Sufi world, but also draws our attention to the richness, diversity and tolerance of Sufism which historically contributed to the spread and development of Islam for centuries. The pluralism of Sufism combined with its tradition of debate, human interaction, and democracy allowed women throughout history to exist, lead and influence in all spheres of society. Hala Alkarib


l-Shafi was a well A known Muslim jurist, who lived from 767-820 CE/150-204 AH. Often referred to as 'Sheikh al-Islām,' Al-Shafi was one of the four great Imams whose legacy on juridical matters and teaching eventually led to the Shafi'i school of fiqh (or Madh'hab).

When discussing the stories of African Sufi women, Helminski’s book highlights how Sufism in Africa has developed independently from Middle Eastern or Arab Islam due to the influence of native scholars and leaders. The book examines the strong presence of women in the African Sufi orders and details their engagement. It reveals women’s significant influence within Sufi Islam before the institutionalisation of religion by European colonial powers.

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Being Young and Muslim in Uganda

Reflections from Joweria Namuyomba Being a Muslim in Uganda had never been an issue prior to the recent rise of militant Islam. Islam has been part of the Ugandan culture since the 19th century when it was introduced by Arab traders. According to the National Population and Housing Census of 2002, the Muslim population represents the third largest faith-based community in the country after Catholics and Anglicans. Despite a troubled past and years of civil conflict in the 1980s, Uganda has long been known as a place of tolerance, diversity and freedom. However, the past 20 years have witnessed the rise of militant Islam, a trend accentuated by geopolitical factors including the leading role assumed by Uganda in the peacekeeping mission in Somalia. In 2010, the country became the target of the Somali Islamist group AlShabaab whose brutal attack on two restaurants in the capital city of Kampala killed over 70 people. Since then, sustained counter-terrorism measures have sparked religious tensions in the country and torn apart the social fabric of once tolerant and inclusive communities. Joweria Namuyomba is a young Ugandan woman born in 1996 in Kawempe, one of the five administrative divisions of Kampala and a highly populated Muslim majority neighbourhood. Along the main road in Kawempe one building in particular stands out – the community centre 76

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of which Joweria is an active member. Managed by the Century Entrepreneurship Development Agency (CEDA), a non-for-profit organisation, the centre aims at supporting the social integration of young Muslims through mentoring and entrepreneurship development. Joweria’s encounter with the Women in Islam Journal took place in early 2016 at the Kawempe youth centre, when CEDA and the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), in collaboration with the Islamic University in Uganda, organised debates on human rights and Islam among local Ugandan youth. Joweria volunteered to share her thoughts about what it means to be Muslim in Uganda, the dilemmas she faces, and her endeavour to live by her religious values. She was interviewed on behalf of the “Women in Islam Journal“ by Hala Alkarib. “I was raised in a Muslim family” I was born in 1996 in a Muslim family in Kawempe, but grew up in Iganga district, Eastern Uganda, where I stayed with my aunt (my father’s sister) after my mother died. I was only two-years-old when she passed away. My mother had three girls of whom I was the youngest. As for my aunt, she already had six children when I joined her family. My two sisters remained with my grandmother (my father’s mother). While growing up, I came to realise how diverse my family was. We were not all Muslims. As an example, my aunt was Muslim while her husband was not. After finishing primary school, I returned to Kawempe to attend secondary school and stayed with my grandmother. I did not wear

the scarf when I lived with my aunt, but when I moved back to Kawempe, my grandmother told me that in her house I had to cover my hair just like my sisters. Having grown up in a conservative family, she was very strict on us. When I first moved in, my sisters discriminated against me. They would not listen to me giving the excuse that I did not know anything about being Muslim. At first, they did not welcome me, but later we became close.

hear my sisters saying that by joining such people you get rewards from God. At that time, I thought that I had missed many opportunities for reward. I used to say to myself that if I had a chance, I would join one of these groups. My sisters had told me that after dying, these men were going straight to heaven. I knew nothing else at that time. I grew up admiring these men, thinking they were good, and that their actions were mandated by the Quran.

In Kawempe, I attended a Muslim school where it was mandatory to cover your hair from morning till evening. But on my way back from school, I would sometimes take my scarf off and put it back on when reaching home. Once, my grandmother caught me unveiled while I was in a matatu (taxi bus). When I reached home with my scarf on, she confronted me. I denied her allegations and told her that she must have mistaken me for someone else. When she threatened to tell my father, I asked her not to do so and promised to never take my scarf off in public again.

I remember the day during the world cup in 2010 when Al-Shabaab’s militants killed dozens of people. At first, I felt sad for the people who died, but then I thought that the militants were probably right since the people they killed were watching football instead of worshipping. I believed that wasting time watching football was a sin. I thought that people around me were committing sins simply because they were going out, eating out and sometimes had multiple sexual partners. Also, when Boko Haram abducted 200 Nigerian girls, I felt it was good news as those girls were not Muslim and will now be forced to turn to Islam.

I was lucky to go to school. At first, my uncles did not want me to continue. They said, “after all, you’ve already completed primary.” But I persisted and managed to convince my father, who deeply cared for me and finally agreed to support my education until university if that was what I wanted to do. My sisters did not get this chance, and did not go to university. “At times, I thought Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab did right” I have always been proud of my religion and admired my fellow Muslims. Sometimes men with caps would come to our place and I would

“I have learned about Islam in a different way” The training on Islam and human rights I received at the Kawempe youth centre shook my beliefs. I realised that what Al-Shabaab does is not permitted by Islam. I returned home and told my sisters about what I had learned but they would not listen to me, persisting in their views. I thought I would give them some time. Then one day, I asked them how they would feel if a relative, cousin, mother, father, or sibling had been at Lugogo (where one of Al-Shabaab’s attack took place) when the bomb went off in 2010? They all

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kept quiet as if maybe now they could relate to those people who were killed for no reason. What I retained from the training is that the Quran prohibits the killing of innocent people. I have learned that stoning has no basis in Islam and that nobody should be killed for adultery. It is men and their religious leaders that have come up with their own interpretations of Islam. I have learned about jihad (Struggling or striving – from a religious perspective, jihad refers to the efforts to advance the faith through peaceful means)1, and the influence that jurists, who acted based on their times and circumstances, had on religion. Before, I could have joined a militant group thinking that it was the right thing to do. But now, I don’t even want to come near them. I used to think that living with non-Muslims and celebrating days like Easter and Christmas were a sin. Now, I realise that there is nothing wrong about it and I enjoy sharing happy moments with non-Muslim friends and relatives. I even like to listen to Justin Bieber2 and dance.



he concept of T jihad has recently been distorted and exploited by militant Islamists to gain, maintain and expand their control over populations and territories Canadian singer A and songwriter


I do have many non-Muslim friends. One of my good friends told me, ‘I will never be a Muslim, Joweria’ and I still like her. But I don’t want to talk about religion with them because I know that if we go an extra mile, we will fight. So, I have to keep quiet. I am also very close to my cousins, even though they are not Muslim, because I grew up with them. Why should I discriminate against other people? I don’t want to harm others as the extremists do. I want to support my community and, in particular, Muslim women who are too often isolated and treated as if they were

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the property of men. We should look for more equality because women can do as well as men and people need to see that. Many of my fellow students don’t want to recognise that women have equal rights. As an example, when it comes to electing a representative for the student union, men are reluctant to select and be led by a woman, although several women competed for the position. But it gives me courage and one day, rain or shine, I will be a community leader or a Member of Parliament. My goal is to serve my community, and to support its development and the well-being of its members. I know many young people who don’t have a job and stay idle. It is easy for them to go wrong as they can be influenced by people offering them money or eternal rewards in heaven. In the end, I would like to tell Muslim youth that they should keep asking questions. They should not be ashamed of having doubts and calling for help. If you don’t ask questions, you will never be answered or satisfied. Compiled by “Women in Islam”

Illustration by Arnold Birungi, Uganda

The Trouble with Fatwas As reports of the declaration of "sexual jihad" in Syria show, bizarre clerical pronouncements discredit Islam and distort non-Muslim perceptions of the faith. Riazat Butt calls for some sanity.

Syrian activists are rejecting reports that a sexual jihad has taken place within its borders, after a Tunisian official said women were returning home from there pregnant. This rebuttal follows an earlier one from the Saudi cleric Dr. Muhammed al-Arifi, who denied saying Syrian fighters should have sex to keep their spirits up. That the phantom fatwa gained so much traction, persuading not just the media but Muslims of its veracity, is due in part to the stereotype of the ‘crazy cleric.’ If an ayatollah can issue a fatwa that calls for the death of an author – and it garners support from Muslims – it is not too much of a stretch to believe that a religious leader can issue a fatwa calling for anything else that will also capture Muslims' imagination.

For the uninitiated, a fatwa is a legal opinion based on Islamic scripture and precedent, with people using them as guidance for temporal issues. Fatwas are neither binding nor universal, so one man's fatwa is another man's fiction. But alleged rulings on phallic food, air conditioning, necrophilia, triangular shaped snacks and wishing people a happy Christmas, have turned what used to be a religious opinion on a specific, often personal matter into an expression of inanity and irrelevance. The word ‘alleged’ is used here because it is sometimes difficult to establish who has said what, if indeed they said it at all. But fatwas, whether imaginary or not, have become the regular focus of top 10 lists detailing the year's most outrageous rulings. There is even also something called The Fatwa Show that

This article is republished with the permission of the New Humanist, which originally featured the piece on its website, www.newhumanist. org.uk, on 26 September 2013.

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Riazat Butt is an award-winning multimedia journalist. During the past decade she has worked for some of the world’s bestknown news organisations including the BBC, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and Al Jazeera English. An Oxford graduate, she has a Masters from the internationally respected War Studies department at King’s College London.

provides referencing and sources in order to prove these clerics and their statements are real; the one about contact lenses in particular is at once demoralising and priceless.

While bizarre fatwas are good for a laugh, they discredit the religion and its followers. They also reinforce the idea that fatwas are there for the benefit of men and that Muslims cannot think for themselves, especially when it comes to gender relations and sex.

Back in 2007, the Guardian launched a weekly Muslim podcast called Islamophonic and its early editions featured a segment called Fatwa Focus, designed to highlight the perils of what Asra Nomani and others would later label “fatwa shopping,” namely seeking a religious ruling to suit one's needs in order to carry on doing something or to stop others from doing it.1 The segment never took off because the feedback was that Muslims couldn't be so simple as to need a cleric to tell them whether it was acceptable to pluck eyebrows. But as one academic told Christian Science Monitor, anyone could “technically go online, set up a website, start generating fatwas, and acquire an audience.” However this entrepreneurial aspect of the fatwa industry is only part of the problem, for the fatwa has become a catch-all term for an extreme religious position. Strange fatwas help to distort the way non-Muslims see Islam, reinforcing the belief that adherents agree with and even follow these advisories, when in reality they run counter to their interests and activities.


sra Nomani A is a journalist, writer and activist dedicated to reclaiming women’s rights and principles of tolerance in the Muslim world. For more information, consult: www. asranomani.com.


It does not require years of study to conclude that it is not acceptable to have sex with a corpse, that air conditioning does not compromise a woman's chastity, and that it is not sensible, let alone theologically permissible, for women to travel to a war zone specifically to have casual and unprotected sex with complete strangers. These pronouncements do not draw on centuries of Islamic law, but common sense and independent thought – qualities that appear to be lacking in both the clerics uttering these statements and the individuals with whom such fatwas resonate.

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Indeed it has been argued that fatwas regarding women have little to do with Islam and everything to do with patriarchy, control and maintaining the status quo in society. Rather than pandering to individuals who seek guidance in these matters, clerics could instead advise them to seek clinical help or refuse to engage with the topic altogether. But there is no regulation of fatwas and no quality control, so one warning about the dangers of tight tops can sit alongside another condemning female genital mutilation and suicide bombings. It would be a welcome change if Muslims used fatwas for what they are – a religious opinion on a complex, personal and specific matter – rather than for asking a stupid question to get a stupid answer. Riazat Butt


Living with Religious Militancy Illustration by HANNA BARCZYK SIHA Women In Islam 2017


Dossier: Living with Religious Militancy

Women of Political Islam and the Dialectic of Women’s Rights

Illustration by Arnold Birungi

The position of Sudanese women affiliated with Islamist organisations – specifically the Muslim Brotherhood which transformed into the National Islamic Front in the 1980s and became the ruling party following the military coup of 1989 – visà-vis feminist and women’s rights groups raises many questions. The rhetoric of female political 82

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Islamists revolves around the idea that Islam represents the best solution to the problems faced by Muslim women in contemporary societies. Although the majority of women actively involved in Islamist organisations are middle class and educated in an urban, secular environment, they are also more likely to be influenced by the

values of Sudan’s traditional society, where their identity is largely constructed by conservative religious doctrines. In this context, many women are easily seduced by the political slogan “Islam is the solution” that embodies the ideological drift of doctrinally and intellectually diverse Islamist groups. It is worthwhile asking, however, what concrete contributions female political Islamists who are currently part of the ruling party make towards advancing the interests of Sudanese women at large. What role do they play in facing the real social and doctrinal challenges that impede the improvement of women’s social and legal status? Where do they stand on critical issues such as polygamy, forced marriage of underage girls, veiling, flogging and all the other injustices against women incorporated in Sudan’s personal status laws? The Women’s Rights Discourse of Sudan’s political Islamists Hassan Abdallah Al-Turabi (1932-2016), a prominent Sudanese politician who played a critical role in the development of the National Islamic Front and controversial scholar, was instrumental in rallying women to the Islamist movement. He strove to build a conceptual framework that would allow the participation of women in public life. Al-Turabi’s approach was largely guided by his political ambition and interests. His objective was to channel and influence the socio-cultural movement linked to the emergence of a modern civil society and women’s movement in the period following the independence of Sudan. Al-Turabi capitalised on the socio-cultural transformations occurring within Sudanese urban communities in the 1960s and used these changes to serve the political project of the Muslim Brotherhood. He witnessed the emergence of the Sudanese women’s movement in the 1960s and sought to take advantage of the increased participation of women in public and political life. Women’s engagement in the public sphere was however not regarded as a tool for empowerment but rather merely as a means to advance the Brotherhood’s agenda.

In his latest book, Turabi’s Revolution, Dr. Abdelwahab El-Affendi quotes from the booklet Women in Islamic Teaching published by AlTurabi in 1973, in which he exposes his ‘radical’ views on women’s place in Muslim society:1 «[…] Women as individuals are equal to men in responsibility before God. On the Day of Judgement, the family does not constitute a frame of reference. Women do not only have the right but the duty to challenge their families if necessary, when it comes to performing their religious obligations. This principle is incorporated in religious laws pertaining to their role in the Muslim society. […] The injustice suffered by women that we see in all Muslim countries does not reflect Islamic principles, but is in fact a reflection of the fading and decadence these societies suffer from. The position more in agreement with Islamic principles is the one that accepts full participation of women in public life while affording them a reasonable protection as provided for in Sharia. Whatever the potential risks of harm caused by the freedom of association between both sexes, it must not be used as a weapon to preclude women from their participation in public life, because the benefits are much higher than the alleged harm. There is no doubt that women’s liberation will happen. Circumstances in urban areas force many a family to transcend what customs forbid in relation to women’s education and employment. In some situations, this has led to the departure from traditional non-Islamic customary systems to the modernist and anti-Islamic system, influenced by the Western total enmity to religion. […] Muslims must rectify the situation in a way that has proper Islamic foundation. Therefore, they should stop panicking about rapid changes, nor should they try to enforce the previous status quo on the basis that it is the lesser of two evils. Conservatives are not of much use here. The Islamists must pioneer the renaissance for women out of the traditionalist quagmire, and wrestle them out of the clutches of the Westernised contingent waiting to benefit from their misfortunes. »

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Dossier: Living with Religious Militancy

It is important to note here that Al Turabi’s ideology revolves around two essential ideas. On the one hand, women’s participation in the public sphere constitutes a ‘religious obligation’ which dwarfs family duties. This position, as radical as it seems coming from an Islamist scholar, was later proven to be disingenuous. AlTurabi’s approach was never meant to address the ingrained subordination of women in society. His rhetoric remained notably silent on the patriarchal norms which rule and organise family relationships in accordance with conservative interpretations of Islam.


bdelwahab ElA Affendi is a former Islamist activist, an academic and the author of the book Turabi's Revolution.


E l-Affendi, Abdelwahab. Turabi’s Revolution: Islam and Power in Sudan. London: Grey Seal Books, 1990.


hird multiparty T system era in Sudan between 1985-1989.



he National T Islamic Front (Arabic: )was an Islamist political organization founded in 1976 and led by Dr. Hassan Al-Turabi that influenced the Sudanese government starting in 1979, and dominated it from 1989 to the late 1990s. S alafism is a conservative reform movement within Sunni Islam which advocates a return to the practices of more devout ancestors.


On the other hand, Al-Turabi’s endeavour can be understood as a proactive one and with an opportunistic move. Al-Turabi saw in the post-independence pro-modernisation social movement an opportunity to mobilise and prevail. As asserted by El-Affendi, Al-Turabi’s position was merely a tactical manoeuvre meant to channel the changes in Sudanese post-independence society to benefit the Islamist movement. As such, his project was not to review the traditional Islamic beliefs towards women or to seriously engage in a reform agenda. As Kamal Eljizouli, a prominent Sudanese human rights lawyer and newspaper columnist describes, Al Turabi’s jurisprudential efforts were predominantly “flashy and without substance.” The theorisation of women’s rights within the Islamist framework, more than an intellectual innovation, was therefore first and foremost a reaction to the socioeconomic and political challenges posed by the transformation of Muslim societies since the beginning of the 20th century.

It emerged from the realisation that social forces demanded that women no longer be politically ignored. Their mobilisation was necessary in light of the growing influence of secular forces and the risk of losing control of these social groups.

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From Theory to Reality El-Affendi asserts that the radical rhetoric of AlTurabi’s discourse led large numbers of educated women to embrace the Islamist movement.2 They joined in droves during the 1980s, after the fall of Nimeiri’s regime and the advent of Sudan Third Democracy.3 This period also saw the multiplication of civil society organisations associated with the National Islamic Front (NIF)4, which in turn attracted more women to the movement and provided them with the skills to work in the public domain. Hence, Al-Turabi’s pragmatic approach to women’s rights generated an appreciable presence of women in the public domain and gave credibility to the notion that he embraced the ‘women’s rights movement from an Islamic perspective’. It is worthwhile to mention that this approach, however, never touched on the complex issues associated with traditional jurisprudence and women’s rights, instead only focused on cultivating women’s engagement in the movement. The political takeover by the Islamist movement through the military coup of 1989, represented a watershed moment in the history of Islam in Sudan. For the first time, the idealistic notions of the Islamist movement confronted reality. Female Islamists gained a large share of the spoils in the bureaucratic system. Their numbers ballooned and spread to all sections of government after most public servants – who did not belong to the ruling party – were let go. Most female Islamists remained, however, silent when the Sudanese State, in contradiction with Al-Turabi’s rhetoric, adopted a zealous approach meant to subjugate women and minimise their presence in the public sphere.

Before 1989, the adoption of the hijab (veiling) within the women’s movement was part of the mobilisation strategy put in place to encourage women’s political activism. After 1989 and the rise to power of the Islamists, the wearing of the

hijab became an obligation imposed on all women through oppression, blackmail and terror. This was proof that the jurisprudential renewal was but a temporary, tactical, political and rhetorical device bearing no relationship to the Salafist5 core of the Islamist movement’s ideology. Neither the imposition of the public order regime in the 1990s, nor its application was met with the slightest protest from the female Islamists as they watched it discriminate against and humiliate women.6 In addition, the promotion of polygamy by the State apparatus and the growing phenomenon of underage marriages of girls, despite the significant presence of female Islamists in parliament, raised questions about their position on women’s rights and capacity to defend the interests of Sudanese women. Laws and prevalent practices initiated after 1989 in Sudan are a clear reflection of the deep-seated misogyny of the political Islamist movement. And misogyny, as described by Iranian writer Maryam Namazie, “cannot be interpreted to be pro-woman even if it is turned on its head, just as fascism, Zionism and racial apartheid cannot be interpreted to be pro-human. These are mere justifications for reactionary people who want to legitimise their beliefs and religion, or reactionary states and movements with a vested interest in maintaining Islamic rules and laws.”7 From an intellectual perspective, the outcome of the policies and practices of the Islamist ruling regime in Sudan is also embarrassing for female Islamists who have failed to develop a social project that reflects their increased presence and influence within the Islamist movement. On the contrary, they stood by and watched as the movement cracked down on women to appease conservative and traditional social forces in the country. It is also difficult to see any changes in activism and peer support systems between the first generation of female Islamists (which emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s), such as Suad Elfateh and Fatima Talib, and the following ones. The Islamist movement continues to be dominated by patriarchy and informed by traditional religious views that undermine women.

AbdulKhalig El-Sir is a Sudanese writer, translator and researcher who lives and works in Australia. With a background in the social sciences, he is a freelance journalist with a special focus on political Islam and progressive Islamic thought. AbdulKhalig is a regular contributor to various print Sudanese newspapers and websites, works as an interpreter and is the Editor-In-Chief of the ‘Gazelle,’ a website to represent Afro-Australians.

There is no doubt that the movement of political Islam in Sudan has mastered the use of a dual approach towards women. They promote, on the one hand, women’s participation in the movement for political gains. On the other hand, they maintain control over women by restricting, for example, their presence and interactions with men in public space. This is the current situation in Sudan. This is also the situation that prevailed in Egypt during the short rule of the Muslim Brotherhood following the collapse of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011. On 15 March 2013, Reuters reported, under the title “Egypt's Islamists Warn Giving Women Some Rights Could Destroy Society,” that: «Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood warns that a U.N. declaration on women's rights could destroy society by allowing a woman to travel, work and use contraception without her husband's approval and letting her control family spending (…) Egypt has proposed an amendment that would allow countries to avoid implementing the declaration if it clashes with national laws, religious and cultural values [of Muslim societies].» This is the same type of dominant Salafist rhetoric which is employed whenever developments threaten the Islamist movement’s capacity to control women. Additionally, several incidents have shown that oppression and verbal violence are part of the relationship dynamics between men and women within the Islamist movement itself. For example, Dr. Ihsan Fagiri of the Sudanese women’s group “Against Women’s Oppression Coalition,” recalls


ublic Order P Laws are a set of laws within the Sudan Criminal Act, enacted in the 1990s, that criminalises the personal behaviour of women and places restrictions on their dress code, presence in the public sphere, and right to work. Since their inception, the environment created by the Public Order Laws has impacted Sudanese women in every meaningful aspect of their public lives.

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Dossier: Living with Religious Militancy

an incident where her organisation supported a female minister who was insulted by the wellknown Islamist, Altayeb Mustafa. She said he “demanded that she give her husband his conjugal rights instead of competing with men.” There is no doubt that the behaviour of Altayeb Mustafa, an authority figure in Sudan’s political scene, towards a female minister, is an indication of the pervasive imbalance of power between men and women within the Islamist movement.




aryam Namazie, M “Islam, Political Islam, and Women in the Middle East,” https://www. faithfreedom.org/ Articles/Namazie/ Women_in_ ME.htm. Myriam Namazie is a women’s rights activist and founder of the No to Women’s Oppression coalition. agwa Abdel Latif N Mohammed Fadul, “A Reading of the Sudanese Family Act in Light of the Total Islamic Goals”. asr Hamid N Abu Zayd is a prominent Egyptian Islamic scholar and reformist thinker.



L iv Tønnessen. “Between Sharia and CEDAW in Sudan: Islamist Women Negotiating Gender Equity.” In Gender, Justice and Legal Pluralities: Latin American and African Perspectives, edited by Rachel Sieder and John McNeish, New York: RoutledgeCavendsih, 2013.

Female Islamists in Sudan have refused to name and know the enemy, turning a blind eye to the great responsibility entrusted to them. In contrast, other non-Islamist organisations have undertaken this responsibility with great sensitivity – by using the same conceptual and ideological platform. These organisations include, for example, Musawah and Sisters in Islam, not to mention the contributions of radical Islamic thinkers such as Amina Wadud, Fatema Mernissi or Leila Ahmed to name a few. These contributions are remarkable in the sense that they offer an in-depth analysis of the ideological crisis in the Muslim world in addition to demonstrating great intellectual and academic courage. These women reveal and challenge male bias and patriarchy by exposing historical privileges and challenging traditional interpretations of religious texts.

and put women under the guardianship of a ‘custodian.’ She also acknowledges its weak approach to divorce and polygamy and its failure to terminate underage marriages of girls. This bias, as she states, has led to the weakening of women’s position. Fadul, however, remains extremely vague when suggesting solutions. She does this by using an approach that allows her, as described by the late thinker Nasr Abu Zaid, to “travel within safe jurisprudential waters.”9 For example, she overuses the phrase “total Islamic means” (Magasid) as if it were a magic wand that, with a single stroke, can change all the faults associated with the Family Act. Because she is keen on avoiding controversy, Fadul mostly appeals to traditional scholars and jurists. As she states in her paper: “Despite the linguistic ingenuity of the Quran in describing how family relations are to be organised, some of the text attributed to the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) contradicts the spirit of the Quran and requires scholars to review its veracity.”

Questionable Legitimacy

The paradox here lies in the fact that Fadul made the decision to avoid touching on the jurisprudential differences among scholars since, as she asserts, it would weaken the content of her paper. Yet she appeals to, and relies on, these same scholars instead of challenging them.

The debate around the Family Act is indicative of the challenges faced by female Islamists to prove the veracity of their ideological rhetoric promoting of the concept of “Islamist Feminism.” A paper of Dr. Nagwa Abdel Latif Mohammed Fadul – “A Reading of the Sudanese Family Act in Light of the Total Islamic Goals” – provides one revealing example of the inherent contradiction in female Islamists’ perspective on women’s rights. In her publication, Fadul concedes that implementation of the Family Act “accentuated a number of problems, the most prominent of which being the continuing injustice of which women are victims.”8 She acknowledges that the Family Act failed in providing an inclusive definition of matrimony

In areas of marriage and divorce, Fadul concludes with very vague and general recommendations such as the formation of a committee of lawyers, scholars and ‘female activists’ to review these laws and learn from the experiences of other countries. She recommends that the conditions of custodianship be removed, without going through the effort of explaining how this is to be done and on what basis. When it comes to sensitive issues such as polygamy, Fadul’s utmost sensitivity as an ‘activist’ is that polygamy is “codified and regulated.” Finally, on the issue of domestic violence, Fadul goes as far as asking for symbolic acts of beating, such as beating women with a toothbrush (!), to replace ‘actual beating.’

SIHA Women In Islam 2017

The paper by the Islamist researcher Fatima Salem entitled “Epistemic Depth of the Concept of Matrimony” is also revealing of the intellectual confusion among female Islamists. Fatima Salem is the Chief Editor of the Massarrat Marifia magazine, a publication specialised in women’s issues. She is also the Director of the Violence Against Women Research Unit at the Ministry of Social Affairs. Her paper, focused on marital relationships, is a clumsy attempt to determine the Islamic origin of the concept of contractual relationship and equality in marriage. The warped writing, misused terminology and random quotations of Quranic references expose, however, the weakness of the author’s analysis. As an example, Salem categorises established positivist disciplines such as psychology, sociology, law and behavioural science as parts of a single discipline she terms “jurisprudence of matrimonial sciences”. The latter exists only in the Islamist doctrine she is trying to develop. It is obvious that the two papers attempt to criticise the prevalent doctrine embodied in the tyranny of the Family Act. However, the fear of doctrinal confrontation with the ideology of which they form a part, leads both papers to adopt an approach of generalisation and concealment that causes incoherence. The Islamist revival, as promoted by Al-Turabi and other Islamist groups, has not translated into positive gains for Muslim women. On the contrary, the quality of life of Sudanese women since the implementation of the Islamist project started a quarter of century ago, has sharply deteriorated. Female Islamists within the movement have failed to reform the doctrine and the jurisprudence in a way that would serve women and enhance their socio-political participation. As noted by Liv Tønnessen, a political scientist from the University of Bergen who has conducted extensive fieldwork in the Middle East and Sudan, the Islamists:

originating from Sharia and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). These negotiations are linked to the imperialist past of the West and to Western aid donors, peacekeepers, and developmental agencies. The result is that Islamist women defend equality in rights in the public sphere, which includes politics and even the military. Within the family, however, male guardianship remains the rule.10» Looking at the theorisation of women’s issues by Islamist movements in the 1970s, and the actual implementation of its militant Salafist version in Sudan for the past 30 years, it is clear that the movement succeeded in rallying large sections of traditional and conservative society to its project. The movement was successful in convincing Sudanese society to permit women to enter the public sphere without undermining its patriarchal nature and challenging the oppression of women (as represented by the Family Act).

The presence of female Islamists within the movement under the pretext of promoting women’s rights from an Islamist perspective should not fool anyone. Female Islamists have demonstrated over the past 30 years their inability to stand up to the injustices against Sudanese people. By clinging to their bureaucratic positions and privileges, Islamist women reveal their true motives – working for their own interests at the expense of pressing women’s issues. AbdulKhalig El-Sir From Arabic by Sam Berner

«… postulate a view which promotes women’s empowerment within an Islamic frame. Putting an emphasis on gender equality (insaf), they bargain with patriarchy and negotiate gender relations employing both legal norms

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Looking Back to Move Ahead A Photo Story on Women’s Dress in Somalia

Somalia used to be a place of tolerance. Women did not have to worry about a dress code. They could even wear short dresses if they wanted and were not forced to cover their hair. The two women in this photo would not have been judged indecent at that time. Amina, Somali activist In the past, it was acceptable for unmarried young women to go outside as shown on this picture. They would just cover their shoulders. Married women, however, had to cover their hair according to the tradition. Today, Somali women from the time they are 6-years-old are required to cover their body from head to toe. This is a new phenomenon completely distinct from the Somali culture which started 25 years ago when Islamic fundamentalists began promoting the ArabPersian attire as a religious requirement. A Somali writer, Nairobi Young Somali women

Asli Hassan Abade, first Somali female pilot

Asli Hassan Abade was the first female pilot in Somalia. Although the political situation was not ideal, women could fulfil their aspirations in the 1980s. They could contribute to all sectors of the economy. Islam tells us that women can work but, unfortunately, religion is currently being used to restrict women’s participation in social life. Amina, Somali activist


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A young Somali Woman at a Trade Fair in Milan, Italy, in 1964

This photo represents a young woman at a trade fair in Milan showcasing a Somali made product. It reflects the confidence of Somali women in the 1960s. Women at that time were beautiful and proud of their culture. They did not use whitening beauty products, and wore traditional dress only on special occasions. They could travel around the world to promote Somali culture and traditions. Kaltun, Somaliland The young lady is wearing a typical Somali traditional dress. Though this style of dressing is very elegant, it is fading from contemporary day-to-day life. It is now only worn on special occasions such as weddings and cultural events. The material can only be bought from certain places, and putting the dress on requires time and expertise. A woman activist, Somaliland

School children in the 1960s

In the 1960s, boys and girls sat together in class. Today, they usually attend separate classes or are divided based on gender if sharing the same room. Girls are taught from a very young age not to mingle with boys, and gender segregation – on the basis of religion – starts at school. Kaltun, Somaliland

SIHA Women In Islam 2017



A Somali women’s basketball team in the 1970s

This picture shows girls playing basketball before the Somali Civil War. During these years, basketball was a sport played by many girls and women in Somalia. Physical education was part of the school curriculum and students (boys and girls) were required to play a variety of sports such as basketball, volleyball, and handball. Unfortunately, after the war, it became haram (forbidden) for girls and women to play any sport as orthodox clerics across the country gained influence and imposed Sharia law. Besides sports, religious hardliners worked hard – particularly in the areas controlled by extremist groups – to segregate genders on the basis of economic, social and cultural differences. Those clerics did not allow women to contribute to any nation building initiatives. They reduced women to objects whose only role was to stay home and rear children. It should also be noted that the Islamic culture does not prevent women from engaging in social activities. These restrictions were originally part of the Persian-Arabic culture and were a sign, at that time, of social class. A Somali writer, Nairobi

The two ladies pictured here are not wearing the Somali national traditional dress. They are wearing a long loose dress which has nowadays largely replaced the national traditional costume for women. This type of dress has been copied from neighbouring Yemen. It is very casual and easy to put on. The material is readily available in contemporary Somalia, and there are many choices in terms of colour and design. A woman activist, Somaliland

Two Somali women


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This photo reminds me of the beauty and glamour of the Somali women in the late 1960s to mid-1970s. This fashion was a mix between Western and Somali styles. As a young girl growing in the mid-1970s, I used to adore this style. Suad Abdi, Civil Society Member, Hargeisa

Family portrait

At the National Theater in the 1960s

This picture, taken at the National Theatre, reminds me of the Guntiino, the traditional dress worn by Somali women in the south. Women used different styles to wrap the cloth around their body. I guess it is no longer used in public. Society is becoming more religiously conservative, and this dress is no longer acceptable. Suad Abdi, Civil Society Member, Hargeisa SIHA Women In Islam 2017


Dossier: Living with Religious Militancy

Coerced or Committed? Boko Haram’s Female Suicide Bombers Obi Anyadike is an online journalist and editor, with extensive experience covering international development issues, Africa and the Global South. He is the Editor-at-large and Africa Editor for IRIN.

The female suicide bomber has become the signature weapon of the Nigerian jihadist group, Boko Haram.

“extremely dispensable,” says Ryan Cummings, chief security analyst for Africa at the crisis management firm red24.

Women have strapped explosives to their bodies in other recent conflicts – from Chechnya to Iraq, from Pakistan to Palestine, from Syria to Sri Lanka – but never at such a rate as in the Boko Haram insurgency.

Abducting women is a longstanding Boko Haram strategy. It emerged in the wake of the Nigerian government’s arrest of the wives of Boko Haram commanders, including the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau. His revenge – beginning in 2013 – initially focused on the kidnapping of Christian women, their sexual exploitation and forced conversion. Muslim women were usually freed; all men were killed.

According to researchers Elizabeth Pearson and Jacob Zenn, more than 200 suicide bombers have blown themselves up since June 2014, killing more than 1,000 people in Nigeria, and increasingly in neigbouring Cameroon. Whereas women seemed to have been initially used because they could more easily slip into markets and public places without arousing suspicion, that is no longer the case. Nigerian Defence Headquarters warned last month that female bombers were now disguising themselves as men to evade security. “People are worried. Most suicide bombers are women aged 10 to 20 something,” Suleiman Aliyu, a headmaster in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, told IRIN. “People say one way to identify them is if they have a bulge on their tummy. When you see that, they are stopped and asked to raise up their hands, or squat. Then they explode.” “Extremely Dispensable” The use of suicide bombers is often seen as a tactic of last resort, a switch to “asymmetrical warfare” after defeat on the conventional battlefield.

This article is republished with the permission of IRIN, which originally featured the story on its website, www.irinews.org, on 19 April 2016.


But the first woman to blow herself up, at a checkpoint outside an army barracks in the northern city of Gombe, was at a stage in the conflict where Boko Haram held large swathes of territory and the Nigerian military was on the back foot. What makes this conflict so remarkable is that women are a plentiful resource and viewed as

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There seems to be little distinction now. Women and girls are abducted regardless of religion. Raped under the pretext of sham marriages, their abuse is used to build cohesion among the fighters and spread fear in the community, say researchers Mia Bloom and Hilary Matfess. The 270 plus Chibok girls abducted in 2014 and the 400 women and children taken from Damasak last year are just the well-known cases. Coerced or Committed? We seem to automatically regard female bombers as coerced – that they cannot act out of their own volition. There is certainly enough evidence to support that view. Young girls, too young for it to be an informed decision, have been dragooned into martyrdom. There have also been reports that some have been remotely detonated by their male accomplices. But there are cases where women have been active members of the movement – not just cannon fodder, manipulated and fooled. Pearson points out that in 2014 an alleged “female wing” of recruiters and spies was arrested. Women are known to have smuggled weapons and there have been reports of Nigerian soldiers coming under fire from women as they attempted their rescue; and of captive women volunteering for suicide missions.

“It seems to me from the early days of Boko Haram and on, there must be many active and passive women supporters,” Alex Thurston of the African Studies Programme at Georgetown University told IRIN. “Boko Haram couldn’t have functioned without that.” It’s easy to imagine that the same mix of factors that has motivated male recruits – revenge for security force excesses, money for the family, and the promise of a spiritual reward in exchange for a grim, disadvantaged present – can also influence women to play a more direct role. But while some women might be ideologically committed to violent jihad, “there is less evidence of this commitment amongst female suicide bombers,” Pearson wrote.1 Bloom and Matfess raise the question of whether women who are victimised can ever be genuinely radicalised. “Whether women related to the insurgents might share the same ideology, goals, and purpose as the men, or whether the women are suffering from severe trauma, causing a form of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.” The same question can also be asked of young men who are captured and coerced into fighting – the reasons for such decisions are always complex. “I don’t think it’s clear cut, and I don’t think we’re any closer to finding out,” Pearson told IRIN. The data on female suicide bombers comes almost exclusively from press reports. Most of the time we know next to nothing about these women, not even their names or ages. The only exceptions are the few who abandoned their missions or were caught before they reached their intended targets. Commodities And that speaks volumes about how Boko Haram regards its female bombers. “They have left no videos; their attacks are not claimed; they have no glory,” wrote Pearson. “Women and girls have predominantly struck markets, bus depots and civilian gatherings, rather than higher value targets.” Boko Haram’s ideology casts men as hypermasculine fighters and women as domestic

helpers. Shekau’s references to women have often been in terms of symbols and commodities: Boko Haram’s honour lost over the mistreatment of “their” Muslim women; the chilling promise that the Chibok girls would be “sold” in the market.

Cartoon by Arnold Birungi

The ideological underpinnings of Boko Haram – particularly under Shekau – are weak, notes Cummings. In the self-declared caliphate that the insurgency controlled, it seemed rural life carried on as normal. No new radical administration was imposed, nor apparently was there any attempt to justify the most extreme actions of the group, including the use of women and child bombers. “Such an approach underlines Boko Haram’s lack of interest in rallying local support,” Pearson points out. She suggests that rather than domestic approval, Shekau has looked to win the appreciation of the so-called Islamic State (or ISIS) and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to whom he pledged allegiance in 2015. But whereas ISIS has a database of its fighters, it can contact loves ones when they are martyred, Boko Haram is organisationally far looser. “Boko Haram has criminal opportunistic elements; it has ideological fighters; it has forced recruits; it has people whose whole families are utterly committed and have been for years,” says Pearson. “It’s difficult to accept that this complexity – including the role of men and women – is the story, because we want it to be more simple, and it’s not.” Obi Anyadike

1 Elizabeth Pearson, “Boko Haram and Nigeria’s Female Bombers,” Newsbrief, Volume 35, n°5, September 25, 2015

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Dossier: Living with Religious Militancy

The Tragedy of Seclusion The Gender Segregated Communities of Hamashkoreib in Eastern Sudan Hamashkoreib is an area in eastern Sudan on the border with Eritrea, about 312 kilometres Northeast of Kassala, the second biggest city in the region.1 This barren location where very little rain falls, is sealed off by mountains on three sides. The indigenous population is mainly composed of members of the Bija clans from Eastern Sudan, some Darfurians, and ‘migrants’ from Eritrea. Like other Bija tribes, the native people of Hamashkoreib were mainly pastoralists. During the second half of the 1990s, the area became a conflict zone between Sudanese government forces and the armed opposition, supported at that time by Eritrea. Following the end of the conflict in the early 2000, and despite promises by the government and the international community to support the development of the region, Eastern Sudan remains one of the most disenfranchised areas in the country. First Encounter My first visit to Hamashkoreib was eight years ago. As a journalist, I accompanied a de-mining team on a mission in the area. Most of the team was composed of men, except for me and another colleague. After visiting the mine fields, we decided to greet the Sheikh of the khalwas (schools for Islamic teaching). We were led by local men to a room occupied by an old man snoozing on an angareib (traditional woven bed consisting of a wooden frame strung with interlaced cords or webbing). Laying his eyes on the two females among the visitors, the Sheikh sharply asked why we weren’t sent to stay with our ‘sisters,’ a question no one in the surprised audience answered. A middle-aged man later explained to us that women stayed in another village. A number of young boys, from the age of ten and up, hung around us, staring at me and my female colleague as if they had never seen a woman before. When I asked a man why the kids were not with their mothers, he said that once a boy reaches 10-years-old, he is moved from the 94

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women’s village to the men’s enclave. I pressed him for more information. “Aren’t you married?” “Yes, we are.” “So, when do you spend time with your wives?” He didn’t respond, so I repeated my question a few times. Eventually he mumbled, “We go after Isha prayers [night-time daily prayer] and leave before the dawn prayer.” Ever since then, I could not stop thinking about this village, with its two separate enclaves – one for men, and a secluded other for women. What do these women think? What do they know about the world? How do they spend their days, barred from even seeing their own sons once they reached 10-years-old? I had no answers to these questions, until I started working for the Women in Islam journal. Encouraged by the editorial team, which saw in the topic a subject fit for publication, I decided to return to the village and write about the seclusion of women living in Hamashkoreib. A Challenging Journey My journey to Hamashkoreib started at the bus stop in Kassala. I was just about to step on the hafla (mini bus), when the fare collector, a 14-year-old boy, ran to me and asked where I was going. I told him I wanted to go to Hamashkoreib, and he blocked the hafla door, saying he was not letting me on without a mahram (any relative of the opposite sex that a post-pubescent Muslim woman is not allowed to marry). A passenger, about 50 years of age, shouted at me, “These are the rules. You won’t be able to go unless you have a mahram.” I eventually understood that I needed to find any male who would take responsibility for my travel. So I called a colleague in Kassala, asking if he could help me. He arrived at the bus stop quickly, talked to the driver in the Bija

language, and made a few phone calls to people in Hamashkoreib. After twenty minutes, I was allowed to board the hafla. As I was about to take my seat in the middle of the mini bus, a male unceremoniously ordered me to the back of the vehicle, stating women are only permitted to sit there. I joined the three women on the last row, and children were then put in the middle between us and the men. Once the hafla was full, the fare collector pulled out the bus manifest and gave it to one of the men to register their names. Then he gave me a piece of paper asking me to write my name and the ones of the women sitting next to me. I had just started writing mine, when one of the men grabbed the paper from me and shouted at the fare collector that women should not be registered – which basically meant that if we had an accident, no female passenger would be identified. At that point, I felt nauseous thinking of the misogyny of these men inside the hafla.

woman who could speak Arabic – the rest were speaking in Bija language – took me to another house to rest. There were five younger women, sitting on beresh (traditional mats woven from the leaves of gingerbread palms) loudly reciting the Quran. They stopped for a while to welcome me and offered me refreshments. I went to bed while the women continued reciting the Quran until the early morning hours.

Aisha Al-Smani studied at the Faculty of Education (Department of Arabic Language) at the University of Wadi Al-Nail in Atbara, Sudan. She has been working as a journalist in Sudan since 2003 and is currently employed by the online news website ‘The Niles.’ Aisha is a member of the Sudanese Journalists Network and the Sudanese Journalists for Human Rights Coalition.

Around nine o’clock in the morning, a man came and asked for me. He said that he heard I was there to do some research about the women from Hamashkoreib and the khalwas, and that he came to help me. “It is time for women’s recital study group,” he informed me. We went together to the khalwa. The women were seated in about twenty circles, each made of ten women aged between 10 to 30-years-old. Each circle had a woman in its centre. My guide told the women in the centre

At midday, the hafla finally left to Hamashkoreib, but halfway through the journey we were stopped at a security checkpoint. The fare collector shouted for any newcomers to the area to get off. Three men descended from the bus. He looked at me and asked me to get off too since I was a newcomer. A male passenger responded that women do not come off the bus. So I stayed on the hafla and the fare collector answered the questions of the security officer on my behalf. He wanted to know whose house I was going to. I was told to say I was going to Umm Elfogara (a name for women with special status meaning ‘mother of the poor’). That seemed to satisfy the security agent, and we continued on our journey for another four hours. A Woman’s Life in Hamashkoreib On arrival, the men went towards the men’s enclave, while I followed the women and asked to be taken to the house of Umm Elfogara. It was eight o’clock in the evening when I arrived, and the house was full of women, cooking massive amounts of food. I was told the food would later be taken to the men’s enclave. An older

Painting By Hussein Mirghani

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Dossier: Living with Religious Militancy

to start reciting and asked me to sit down so I could watch the study group. In the centre of the khalwa, erected separators formed a larger circle inside where four men reclined on anagraibs. I sat down with some women outside, while my guide went and sat inside. A handful of women gathered around the outer edge of the separators. A few women started reciting the Prophet’s biography, one after another, by heart. They made no mistakes. Other women started reciting chapters from the Quran to the men within the larger circle. This went on for two hours, then the circles broke up and everyone went their own way. My guide then took me to the house in which food was being prepared by the women. Some men came to take the cooked food to the men’s khalwa. My guide also showed me to a big room, the walls of which were covered in Arabic writing and numbers. He told me the letters were there so that women could learn to read. They were written by Umm Elfogara, the sister of the founder of these khalwas – Sheikh Ali Baytay. Umm Elfogara was in charge of the women’s village until her death. According to my guide, the men’s village had a khalwa as well, and was run in a similar manner with both local students and others who came from further away, especially from Darfur and Eritrea. He left, and I went to chat with the women with the help of my female companion who acted as my interpreter. She spoke little Arabic, but we managed to understand each other. She told me that, Umm Elfogara had taught her how to read and write after she came to this area at the age of seven and “found mercy and learned the Quran.” Women started asking me if I could read. When I said I could, they asked if I had read Al Tariq Ila Al Hidayah (‘The Road to Guidance’) by Sheihk Ali Baytay. They were surprised to hear that I did not know of the man. I was told that he met the Prophet near Mont Arafat, a piece of information which, to their increasing amazement, I had not heard of either. How could I not know all this? 96

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One of the women hurried to bring me a copy, apologising that it was not the original version, and therefore slightly distorted, but that it would still get me to heaven. I asked about their lives. They had never left the village, and anything they needed was brought in by the men. Since education was inappropriate for girls, the enclave had no school, and the only education they obtained was through the khalwa, where they memorised the Quran and the life of the Prophet. Some knew how to weave the birish, used for roofing, while others embroidered ornamental pieces used for ceilings. I wondered aloud how they got married, since they were secluded from the men and not allowed to leave the enclave. A woman explained to me that marriages were arranged by the girls’ fathers or uncles after consultation with Sheikh Salman Ali Baytay, the son of the man who founded the khalwas, who was currently in charge of the leading the community. Once the Sheikh blesses the marriage, the whole village then celebrates the wedding, although women and men do that separately. Husbands then visit their wives every day after Isha prayers, and leave just before the Sobuh (dawn) prayer. No men are to be found at home during the day. While we were chatting, a woman came to sell some clothes and house utensils. She was not a local. She came to this area with her husband seventeen years ago which made them ‘immigrants.’ Her husband had, however, adopted Sheikh Ali Baytay’s teachings. The women from Hamashkoreib asked her if she had given her daughter in marriage. She replied that the decision had not been made, since her husband was away. The women then advised that if Sheikh Salman approved of the marriage, the girl should be given away. According to the women, the Sheikh would always know if a marriage was going to be good, and if it was, he would give his blessing. If he had doubts, he would reject it. A woman told the story of a marriage that broke up because the Sheikh did not bless it. Every time the woman had a baby, it would die. Eventually, her husband divorced her.

This was the life of the women in Hamashkoreib. They never went anywhere else. Indeed, they couldn’t even cross the road that separated them from the men’s enclave. They were only allowed to move inside their own enclave, and did not even venture to the borders of the village. Sheikh Ali Baytay’s Legacy Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Baytay, the nephew of the khalwas founder, explained in an interview the origins of the khalwas. The story tells that Ali Baytay’s father dreamt one night that he would have a righteous son and that his mother would be from the mountains. He eventually married a Bija woman whose fifth son, born in 1930, became Sheikh Ali Baytay. Ali Baytay started having visions of the Prophet at the age of six. At seventeen, he went into a threeyear long trance. During that time, he had a vision of Prophet Mohammed on a mountain that was later called Mont Arafat. The British authorities got word of him and sent him to Halfa, worried he was trying to claim prophethood. When Ali Baytay returned to Hamashkoreib in 1952, he began his missionary work among the local population. He taught them religion, trade and farming. According to Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Baytay, Sheikh Ali Baytay was, however, not able to change the situation of women. “The Sheikh supported the education of girls, but the locals opposed him. The presence of separate enclaves is a local custom. Tradition did not allow women to leave their homes. He had to follow it,” said Sheikh Ali Baytay’s nephew. “We are neither fanatics nor puritans in our religious teaching, and we are not – as some allege – followers of Ansar Al Sunnah.2 We tell our followers that each is responsible before God for what they do, and we do not meddle in government. It is the government officials that come visit. We trade with Eritrea, we have an armed militia, and a large market in the region. We also farm on the shores of the Gash River,” he added.

Persisting Traditions Improving the conditions of women in Hamashkoreib is extremely challenging. Feryal Tigani Karrar, a young social worker from Kassala, told me: “The local community has customs and traditions that preclude women from leaving their enclaves. Women in this area lack education and awareness on social and health issues because they never leave the village. Men in the area have much better education and understanding of life, because they are allowed to study and travel, and some of them even studied overseas.” As Feryal recalls, “Many women used to die during childbirth. We approached Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Baytay and explained that we wanted to train midwives. We convinced the heads of clans with great difficulty to let us train some of the women inside the villages.” The Reproductive Health Unit in Kassala sent three female doctors who stayed in an enclosed camp inside the women’s enclave built by the local population. “We stayed there six months,” said Feryal. “They forced even the doctors not to leave the enclave. We would stay for two months, and then come to Kassala for a week and return. But we managed to train 80 midwives, and this in itself is considered massive progress and a drastic change to their current lifestyle.” I left Hamashkoreib with a heavy heart, feeling for these men and women forced to live apart in the name of backward customs and traditions maintained in the guise of religion. I felt powerless not knowing how to help the women escape their isolation. These women have been enslaved for decades by ignorance and dogma, their suffering being ignored by politicians and elites who remain silent and complicit to the crimes happening in Hamashkoreib. I departed deeply impacted by the fate of these women, unaware of life passing them by in their open-air prison. Aisha Al-Smani

1 Hamashkoreib means the “dusty saddle” in Bedwit language. 1 A Salafi group in Sudan loosely based on the Wahhabi teachings.

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Painting by SALAH Ibrahim, Sudan

Women and Islamic Militancy Rafia Zakaria is an author, attorney, and human rights activist. She is the author of the memoir ‘The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan’ (Beacon Press).

In the last email it sent to journalist James Foley’s parents, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) mentioned one person by name: Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. “We have also offered prisoner exchanges to free the Muslims currently in your detention like our sister Dr. Aafia Siddiqui,” it said, “however you proved very quickly to us that this is NOT what you are interested in.” Days later, Foley was beheaded. Siddiqui, a Pakistani neurophysicist, was in prison in Carswell, Texas, when ISIS proposed a deal to free her. The militants had not forgotten her, although it had been years since her 2008


SIHA Women In Islam 2017

capture in Ghazni, Afghanistan, and her January 2010 conviction in New York for the attempted murder of federal agents. For ISIS, as for many other jihadist groups, Aafia Siddiqui is a heroine. A small but growing number of young Muslim women have joined an estimated 20,000 – 31,500 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria. About 10% percent of foreign recruits from Europe, North America and Australia are women. Of these approximately two hundred women and girls, the majority are believed to be between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five.

Dossier: Living with Religious Militancy

Why is ISIS drawing women, particularly from Western countries with supposed access to secular freedoms, to heed the call of an extremist group well known for its misogynist ideology and its violent treatment of women? While Aafia Siddiqui herself was never a member of ISIS – she was convicted and imprisoned before the group was formed – she is an example of a “Muslim woman warrior,” an ideal celebrated by jihadists around the Islamic world. As a highly educated Muslim woman who rejected what she viewed as Western freedoms, she represents an alternative, if highly controversial, portrait of empowerment that groups like ISIS use to appeal to other women. That some women have joined the bloodthirsty ISIS has also drawn attention to Muslim women who fight against it. When some Arab states carried out the first airstrikes against ISIS, we learned that the United Arab Emirates’ first female fighter pilot, Major Mariam al-Mansouri, had led the charge. Similarly, reports of female Kurdish Peshmerga fighters often include descriptions of their beauty or physical prowess. Such coverage assumes that the female Peshmerga are uncovered, committed to equality, and unafraid. The Western media is happy to glamorize them – they are, after all, also on the “right” side of the rhetorical war against fundamentalism and the oppression of women. Accounts of ISIS women, by contrast, emphasize how its male leaders prey on young girls via social media or the “naïve romanticism” that female recruits may be attaching to the idea of holy war. But this glib dichotomy – the beautiful heroine lauded by the West and the repressed woman who must be liberated – reveals much about how the United States and its allies present their motives and actions in the Islamic world. They fail to recognize that both the appeal and the inner conflicts of ISIS exist not just in opposition to the West, but in dialogue with it. In its many publications, ISIS professes to have created a post-national, post-racial, and perfectly just society ordered by Islamic norms. Amid graphic pictures of women and children allegedly killed by U.S. bombings, ISIS’s English-language publication Dabiq also takes pains to show

photographs of racially diverse fighters hailing from eighty different countries, underscoring that national and racial divisions do not matter in their community. Is it possible that ISIS appeals to some Muslim women, not because they are fooled by it, but because its political vision seems to offer solutions to some of their problems?

Female recruits may ultimately discover that the Islamic utopia ISIS presents is illusory, and its promise of female empowerment false. But for many, their decision to join ISIS can still be understood as a political choice, one that was consciously made in response to a variety of factors. Aafia Siddiqui: A Different Kind of Muslim Woman? Siddiqui left her native land to study abroad in America. During her studies in the United States, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later at Brandeis, she socialized mainly with other Muslims and took part in fundraising for combatants in the wars in Bosnia and Afghanistan. In October 1995, Siddiqui agreed to marry the man whom her parents had chosen for her, a soft-spoken doctor named Amjad, who, while religious, was neither an activist nor committed to the jihad that was the centre of Siddiqui’s life. Her biography, as written by Deborah Scroggins, reveals that the arranged marriage was not a harmonious one.1 As a married woman pursuing a PhD, Siddiqui rankled against her domestic duties. Soon after her daughter was born, she complained that the obligations of motherhood were preventing her from attending meetings of the different religious groups she belonged to. So pronounced was Siddiqui’s refusal to submit to traditional female roles, that in 2002, the couple landed before one of the most prominent Deobandi clerics in Karachi, in an attempt to resolve their marital problems.2 Grand Mufti Rafi Usmani instructed Siddiqui to stop her struggle for jihad and focus instead on her family.

SIHA Women In Islam 2017


Siddiqui disagreed with Grand Mufti’s verdict, and from behind the face-veil, did something few devout Muslim women would do. She argued with the Mufti and contradicted him by citing another sheikh, the more militant Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, who had called jihad a “community obligation incumbent on every Muslim.”3 Siddiqui justified her challenge to male religious authority by claiming a greater degree of commitment to jihad than Mufti himself possessed. ISIS militants have also broken with traditional religious leaders, and Islamic scholars have reproached them for misinterpreting the sacred texts. In October 2015, over a hundred Islamic theologians signed an open letter to ISIS condemning the ways that it has deviated from Islamic jurisprudence (Shariah), the group’s flawed definition of “jihad,” and the illegality of its policy of murdering members of religious minorities. The Question of Islamic Feminism Aafia Siddiqui, as Deborah Scroggins makes clear, aspired to become a leader of Banaat-e-Ayesha, the women’s wing of the Pakistani militant organization Jaish-e-Mohammed. Of course, the model of female leadership in such militant groups is a segregated one. But it conforms to the Islamic principle that women’s roles should be “complementary” to those of men rather than “equal” to them, the latter being the more popular model for gender equality elsewhere in the world.

This article is reprinted with the permission of the University of Pennsylvania Press. The present version is an adaptation of the original article which featured in the Winter 2015 Edition of Dissent Magazine, available online at www. dissentmagazine.org.


This distinction represents an important debate among Muslim women about gender relations within the community of the faithful: What type of relationship is more “authentic” as an Islamic practice? According to theological scholar Aysha Hidayatullah, the attempts of some Muslim “feminists” to reinterpret the Quran – by highlighting the historical context in which it was written or focusing on its praise of kindness, empathy, and justice – are efforts to read gender equality into a text where none may exist.4 She questions whether leadership within the Islamic faith should be imagined as a combined leadership of men and women, or segregated, where women may only exert power over their own kind. In light of this ongoing debate, the strictly segregated forms of leadership practiced by a

SIHA Women In Islam 2017

group like ISIS can seem attractive to women who also believe strongly in its general Islamist vision. The Al Khansaa Brigade, a roving female police force that disciplines women in the ISIS-controlled city of Raqqa in Syria, is an example of this type of leadership. According to a recent report in the Atlantic, the Brigade has its own facilities so that no mingling of men and women will occur. Abu Ahmed, an ISIS official in Raqqa, declared that “Jihad is not a man-only duty. Women must do their part as well.” This is “complementarity” at work; it justifies segregation of the sexes while appearing to provide a ladder to leadership for ambitious young jihadi women. Cracks in the Vision and Opportunities for “Real” Liberation Arguably, this principle – and the segregation of the sexes it requires – is invoked simply as a way to invest the jihadist project with a form of Islamic authenticity. Groups like ISIS are more concerned with presenting themselves as an alternative to Western hegemony than they are with any kind of women’s liberation

And female leaders in ISIS can do nothing to prevent male fighters from carrying out gruesome sexual assaults on either women they capture, or on their own wives. When traditional gender roles are challenged in ISIS and similar groups, it is always in the service of militancy. Aafia Siddiqui had no problem attending mixed gatherings or even speaking before unrelated men; she justified these departures from tradition as necessary in the service of jihad. Moreover, the main role of the all-female Al Khansaa Brigade is to monitor and discipline other women. Female brigadeers drag improperly covered or unaccompanied women off the streets of Raqqa and punish them for deviating from ISIS’s conception of acceptable behavior for observant Muslim women by detaining them for long hours. Of course, when the women of Al Khansaa police other women, they are merely

Dossier: Living with Religious Militancy

enforcing the patriarchal norms and rules decreed by ISIS. They have no right or ability to challenge the misogynistic policies or practices of ISIS. No women were permitted to intervene when ISIS militants stoned a woman to death in a public square for the crime of adultery in October 2014. Finally, the complementarity doctrine can be used to suppress any challenges from women who aspire to be more than the mere handmaidens of oppression. Would Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-appointed caliph of ISIS, have tolerated a woman like Aafia Siddiqui questioning his pronouncement in a direct confrontation, as she did before the Mufti in Karachi? Undoubtedly, the principle of complementarity would justify him shutting her up on the grounds that she was in no position to tell either him or her husband what she felt compelled to do in pursuit of jihad. Statelessness and the Escape from Identity Another one of ISIS’s stated premises is its policy of open borders for any Muslim wishing to migrate to territory under their control. For some women, ISIS may appear to offer an escape from a nation where to be an equal citizen requires abandoning the dictates of one’s religion. From this perspective, the ISIS denunciation of national identity in favor of a faith-based identity transcends borders in a crudely welcoming way. On her blog, UmmLayth explains that in territory that ISIS controls, Muslim women are not mocked for wearing Islamic clothing and instead receive nothing but “respect and honor.” Remarkably, for some women, groups like ISIS can also offer a certain kind of freedom from patriarchal traditions and cultural mores. A divorced or widowed woman with children can rarely remarry in Afghanistan or Pakistan; a virgin bride is the only kind. But within jihadi realms, that prohibition does not apply. For instance widowed women (of which there are many owing to frequent deaths of ISIS fighters) are immediately married again. A devout woman, despite her lost virginity, is still considered pure and marriageable because she wants to fight. Since the rhetoric of women’s liberation has been used to justify U.S. led wars in Afghanistan

and Iraq, a group like ISIS which violently opposes those interventions can gain a degree of legitimacy unavailable to secular feminists in those nations, who are constantly and consistently under attack for propagating Western ideas and are perceived as handmaidens to foreign occupation. In a period marked both by Islamophobia and Islamic fundamentalism, jihadist militancy is a phenomenon fraught with complexity and enmeshed both in opposition to Western interventions, and the ongoing tribulations of the Muslim world

Rejecting equality between men and women does not render a Muslim militant; neither does cultural alienation automatically make one an ISIS sympathizer. On the contrary, jihadists have persecuted millions of devout Muslim women (and men) around the world and killed thousands of them. Many Muslims actively denounce extremism and advocate peace, equality, and an end to discrimination from both within and outside their faith. As one right-leaning host on Pakistani television asserted, “Aafia is a heroine among educated women,” emphasizing that her choice of militancy was not the result of some naïve indoctrination, but a politically considered one, made with complete knowledge of the level of violence involved. Neuroscientist, mother, and now inmate at Carswell Prison in Texas, Aafia Siddiqui was never a member of ISIS. Yet to understand the interplay between culture, religion, and politics in her life can reveal something important about why she and other women become jihadists. The “liberation” offered by ISIS can seem like an escape from both the ghettoized status of Islam in the West, as well as the restrictive cultural mores of many Muslim countries. Just as crucially, it can also seem like a legitimate response to being victimized by U.S. led wars that promise female empowerment but deliver widespread destruction. Unless we examine why some women choose to devote their lives to such a group, we cannot grasp the power of ISIS’s utopian, yet violently deceptive promise. Rafia Zakaria

1 Scroggins, Deborah. Wanted Women – Faith, Lies and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012. 2 The Deoband School of Sunni Islam is the one espoused by, among others, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. It must be remembered, however, that not all of those who identify with the Deobandi School espouse or support militant jihad. teachings. 3 Scroggins, Wanted Women, 197. 4 Hidayatullah, Ayesha. Feminist Edges of the Quran. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

SIHA Women In Islam 2017


Dossier: Living with Religious Militancy

Timbuktu A Story About Us

Militant Islamists claim to hold the absolute truth and use this genuine belief to justify the worst behaviour. Their dogma leaves no space for diversity, tolerance and self-decision. Hala Alkarib discusses the approaches of militant political Islamists based on the 2014 award-winning film Timbuktu.

Timbuktu, by the Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako, explores with disturbing accuracy the life under radical Islamic rules. It depicts a population held hostage by a group of Ansar Al Dine (‘supporters of the faith’) militants, whose violent and authoritarian behaviour trample the long tradition of tolerance in Timbuktu, Mali. Sissako’s movie examines how militant interpretations of Islam have disrupted the lives and peaceful coexistence of communities in Northern Mali. When Islam emerged in the 7th century, the first believers called for justice, equality and empowerment of the poor with the hope of improving the life of the inhabitants of the Arab Peninsula. Those same values made Northern Mali an intellectual haven for Islamic scholars. For centuries, Timbuktu played a significant role in the spread of Islamic knowledge in Africa through well-established institutions of learning, such as the prestigious Qur’anic University of Sankore. The great mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia still recall the golden age of the city. Throughout its history, the city of Timbuktu has acted as a middle ground and negotiating space between the Arabised Islamic traditions and the African culture, establishing itself as an African Islamic centre with its own spiritual position. Despite this profound heritage, the region has not been immune to the strong influence of militant groups, such as Ansar Al Dine, who have consistently worked towards increasing their control over the population – and more particularly the youth – by using intimidation and inventing rules that undermine the cultural and social interactions of local inhabitants. 102

SIHA Women In Islam 2017

When watching Timbuktu with my 18-year-old daughter, we both felt for the people of Northern Mali. We could relate to their suffering and confusion in the face of the disruptive occupation of their region by Ansar Al Dine. Having lived for years in a similar environment in Sudan, we knew what it meant when personal freedoms are confiscated and the criminalisation of civilians becomes a daily reality. Moral policing is always key to the ideological practice of militant Islamists. As depicted in the movie, it is very common in places under the control of militant groups to see these skinny and tense young men with guns roaming around in search of potential victims such as men and women laughing together, or persons whose only crime may be listening to music. I have always observed with horror the incredible capacity of political Islamic dogma to systematically deprive people of any social interactions, making dancing, singing, playing, or just having a cup of coffee off-limits. That dogma, by regulating each and every aspect of everyday life, comes to dictate how people should experience happiness. The scene in the film Timbuktu of the woman selling fish at the local market is also telling. Forced

to include the most vulnerable or provide youth with hope for a better future. Militant groups systematically exploit existing feelings of marginalisation, historical grievances, and traditional religious beliefs to advance their interests and expand their roots. In Mali, the nomadic Tuareg ethnic group, whose territory spans parts of neighbouring countries, including Niger and Algeria, have long complained of the neglect and misrule of the central government. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, a secular rebel group calling for an independent Tuareg state in Northern Mali, eventually entered into an alliance with Ansar Al Dine and its jihadist allies in West Africa. What initially appeared to be a quest for a homeland, soon turned into something much more perilous for Mali and beyond.

to wear gloves, she points out the absurdity of the situation. “How am I supposed to clean fish with gloves on my hands?” she says. Until today, women are forced to wear socks in many localities in Sudan. In Somalia, women who live in Al-Shabaab controlled areas are ordered to wear red socks during their menstrual period days and are banned from wearing bras. In both countries, where dance was once a common cultural tradition, women are now banned from dancing, or have to cover themselves or wear “Islamic costumes” when they are given permission to do so. The film also reflects in an artistic, but genuine way how people cope with the brutality imposed by the dogmatic regime. Their only escape often seems to be either death or madness. Death occurs brutally and randomly, as in the case of the two main characters, Satuma and Kidane, both shot dead by an AK-47 assault rifle. Or it takes the form of madness, as in the case of the character Zabou, who creates her own imaginary world to escape the drudgery of life and survive the horror of an oppressive regime. As dramatic as it is, religious militancy does not arise from nothing. It capitalises on the weaknesses of our societies, which have failed

Hala Alkarib, an activist and researcher from Sudan, has a long history of promoting the rights of women in the Horn and East African Region. She is Director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Network and the Editorial Head of the 'Women in Islam' Journal.

Timbuktu tells the story of those men who managed to take over Northern Mali for a short period in 2012. It captures daily life under their rule and their failure to live up to the rigid principles they themselves established. Abdelkrim, one of the Ansar Al Dine leaders portrayed in the movie, sneaks off to smoke, an activity he has himself forbidden. My daughter and I laughed remembering how, with similar hypocrisy, Islamists in Sudan forced traditional sharia teaching on school children, but sent their own kids to international schools and foreign countries where they had minimal or no exposure to religious education. In the end, the movie leaves us with more questions than answers. How to possibly understand these men? What crosses their minds? What do they think when embracing such disguised ideology? What makes them wish to dictate other people’s happiness? Perhaps the anger and alienation, the quest for selfrealisation and the illusion of unlimited power and control all contribute to turning these men into fanatics. Abderrahmane Sissako’s film tells about the confusion, arrogance and hypocrisy of these young men. Regardless of their origins – whether Malian, Libyan, Sudanese or Nigerian – they are the real-life portrayal of the many things that have gone wrong with the Islamic paradigm and world politics. Hala Alkarib

SIHA Women In Islam 2017


Dossier: Living with Religious Militancy

Afghan Women Hit by Mental Health Crisis Although the Ministry had set up clinics across the 34 provinces of the country to treat psychological problems, there was only one dedicated mental health hospital in Kabul. This had 60 beds for women experiencing mental illness, and another 40 beds for female drug addicts undergoing treatment.

More than three decades of conflict, poverty and other associated social problems have fueled a mental health crisis in Afghanistan, with women bearing the brunt of the problem. This article describes the repressive effects of religion and cultural traditions on women’s health. Mina Habib is IWPR Afghanistan’s reporter in Kabul. She joined IWPR in 2010. During her career as a journalist with IWPR, Mina has received several national and international awards for good work and bravery as a female journalist covering issues in a male-dominated country. Despite several threats to her life, Mina is committed to continue her profession as a journalist.

Azizia sat on her bed in a ward of Kabul’s mental health hospital, looking around with worried, tear-filled eyes. The 45-year-old told the Institute For War And Peace Reporting (IWPR) that she had experienced many years of domestic abuse. She was 15-years-old when her father married her off against her will to a man from Paktia province. "I was unhappy in this marriage from the very beginning,” she told IWPR. “The culture in Paktia was new for me and I found it unacceptable. Arguments and violence became my daily reality.” Azizia, who now has two sons and seven daughters, continued, “I have to carry out heavy labour such as looking after livestock and working in the farm. When I say that I can’t manage it, [the family] beats me and swears at me." Her miserable domestic situation led to her admission for psychological treatment, Azizia explained, adding, “Now my family says I am mentally ill and have brought me here.” Experts say that more than three decades of conflict, poverty and other associated social problems have fuelled a metal health crisis in Afghanistan, with women bearing the brunt of the problem. "I can confidently say that the problem is increasing among women,” said Bashir Ahmad Sarwari, the director of the Mental Health Department at the Ministry of Public Health. The last comprehensive survey, carried out in 2004, found that 68% of respondents suffered from depression, 72% from anxiety and 42% from post-traumatic stress disorders. Sarwari said that based on anecdotal evidence, he believed that rates of psychological illness among women were rising year by year.


SIHA Women In Islam 2017

Hospital director Khitab Kakar said that war, domestic violence and conservative traditions that discriminated against women were all factors contributing to poor mental health in Afghanistan. "We should differentiate between two issues. There are [milder] psychological problems, which affect many people and which can be treated through counseling with mental health doctors,” said Kakar. “Then there are [severely affected] mental patients who need to be admitted for intensive treatment." Mental health specialist Temor Shah said that women were more vulnerable to mental illness because Afghan tradition largely relegated them to staying at home. "Social problems, particularly domestic violence, cause depression and fear among them,” he said. "Men also come under mental pressure, but they can leave the house. They work and their thoughts are distracted and can stray in other directions while they’re working." Shah said that he had seen more patients within the last year than ever before. Most of them were women, he continued. Officials at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs agreed that a mental health crisis was building, attributing this to unemployment and addiction amongst male members of families. Farzana Safi, head of the Ministry’s legal department, said, "Women rely on the men in their families to supply all their economic needs. When these men have no jobs and no money, these demands are not met and this paves the way for arguments. In particular, men who have developed addictions

to opiates don’t care about their families at all. It’s these factors that have caused an increase in mental disorders among women." Shabnam Sima, head of the Women’s Section at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), agreed that the main underlying cause for rising mental health problems amongst women were violence and soaring unemployment. "[In the past] we registered 800 cases of mental illness in a year, but we have registered 114 cases in the first month of the current year,” she said. The worsening security situation after the withdrawal of the foreign forces from Afghanistan two years ago may also have had an impact. Jamila, a 25-year-old in-patient at Kabul’s mental health hospital, said that she had suffered from depression ever since her brother was killed in a 2014 suicide attack. "I mostly just cry on my own. Sometimes, I even want to commit suicide,” she said, adding that she received little sympathy from those closest to her. "When I am in a bad way, instead of supporting me, my family gets angry and tells me that I have gone mad.” Jamila lost her job as a result of the illness, and said that the only respite she got was when she was admitted to hospital for treatment. At home, her condition simply deteriorated. Safi said that the Women’s Ministry was considering running awareness programmes about women’s mental health. They were also trying to address the issue of job creation for women and to help combat domestic violence. The Ministry had also established a committee, Support for Witness and Victim, which brought together several institutions working to prevent violence against women. The committee provided legal, emotional and practical assistance to all women affected by violence.

Psychological specialists said that other ways of outreach could help address the crisis. “If the media and imams at the mosques talk about the elimination of violence against women and explain women's rights in both sharia and civil law to men, I believe that would be the best way to prevent such problems,” said Emal Safi, a mental health expert.

Photo by Khalid Hamid, Sudan

For now, many of the most vulnerable women are left to try and seek help where they can. Shekeba’s face was so lined and worn that, although only 24-years-old, she seemed much older. She had travelled from Bamiyan Province to Kabul’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Shaking uncontrollably, she waited in the courtyard, darting fearful glances in all directions. "My husband has been jobless for the past year,” she said through dry, cracked lips. “When he is at home, he uses everything as an excuse to relieve his anger by beating me. Now, I am scared of every human being. I live in fear. My relatives say I am sick and need to be in bed, but I am here to get a divorce from my husband. But nobody helps me." Mina Habib

This article has been republished with permission from the Institute For War And Peace Reporting (IWPR), which originally featured the story on its website, www.iwpr.net, on 12 May 2016.

SIHA Women In Islam 2017


SIHA Journal Issue 02/2015

“As women empower themselves they often find their voice. They use that voice not only to speak out against injustice amongst themselves, but also to bring details into the public space. They make this an opportunity to raise awareness about their struggles, challenges and victories. It is a pleasure to read SIHA's Women in Islam journal. They have not only captured the spirit of Muslim women in the Horn of Africa, but have also shown us how we are all – men, women and children – linked in the mandate for social justice. I'm inspired by their work and look forward to many more. Keep up the good work!” Dr. Amina Wadud, Islamic scholar and co-founder of the Sisters in Islam movement

"Women in Islam is one of the very few journals that one can find with a progressive and gender-egalitarian interpretation of Islam. It combines good and sound scholarship, in both Arabic and English, with an artistic and innovative approach. It is a real pleasure to read it, to see how women are challenging the patriarchy from within the tradition, and to learn about what is happening on the ground." Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini, legal anthropologist and activist, UK

“Thank you SIHA for this journal! You are giving voice to the many women and men in the region who believe that religion should never be a source of oppression and injustice, but rather, it should be a reason to support liberation and equality between all members of the human race. This effort to ask brave questions and to deconstruct religious knowledge, which was created by fellow humans living in a different time and place, is crucial in addressing the upheavals facing Muslim societies today. It will help us reconstruct new unapologetic and relevant knowledge inspired by the Islamic message which is very much in sync with human rights principles applicable to all human beings today. Great work!” Dr. Marwa Sharafeldin, researcher and activist with Musawah Global Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family, Egypt

“This publication gives voice to many Islamic currents. I admire how it celebrates Islamic enlightenment and its prominent figures such as Babikr Badri. In addition, I like the fact that it deals, among many subjects, with human rights, singing and music in Islam, as well as literature and arts. This journal will leave an important mark on the cultural and political scene in the Horn of Africa and beyond. I would like to congratulate the editors and all those contributing to the publication on the amazing efforts they invested in it. Wishing you all the best.”Ali Mu’min, literary critic and researcher, Sudan “SIHA plays an enlightening role in boldly tackling issues in its journal which researches in depth the role of women in Islam. The research is academic and admirably intelligent, dealing with sensitive issues responsibly and capably, sailing in a sophisticated manner through the high waves of ideological conflict, bigotry and exclusion, and through the religious rulings that permit rather that initiate. It does so using an enlightening methodology that empowers society to progress and attain perfection. We are truly and urgently in need of such initiatives that dig deeply into our Muslim communities, prodding, searching and challenging minds and hearts, forming a wide intellectual circle that includes Muslim society in its entirety, men and women. I laud SIHA as it addresses our minds and hearts without fanaticism, rattling and noise making at a time of ascendant and unbridled demagoguism in our societies. Thank you, SIHA. We await the third issue of the journal with enthusiasm.” Excerpt from the address by poet Alem Abbas at the launch of the second issue of SIHA’s journal in March 2016


SIHA Women In Islam 2017

siha publications Negotiating Patriarchy – Men as Allies against Violence against Women

“I read the Women in Islam journal with scrutiny and would like to express my admiration to SIHA for this great initiative. I find the journal covers topics on which I have long been looking for information. The journal aims to raise awareness about social issues faced by women, the Islamic values they espouse, and the position women occupy in Muslim societies in general and African societies specifically. The periodical offers diverse views and uses a feminist platform as its focal point, presenting research and criticism of the oppression and discrimination faced by women in both their private lives and society at large. It reinstates the memory of the women whose writings were instrumental in defending freedom and equality, and whose visions contributed to the revival of the feminist movement. There was a lot that I had no knowledge about, and the journal provided me with interpretations and analysis of the religious rhetoric to reassess women’s issues, missions and role in society. I want to conclude this message We are interested with my gratitude to in your opinion! all who contributed to this publication and On social media: its flexible approach to Tweet to @Sihanet progressive critique.” Via email: Abu Taleb journal@sihanet.org Mohammed, Sudan

“This is an eye-opening and insightful publication that celebrates humanity as individuals and as a whole. It is enlightened in its attempts at modernisation and has charted the path of a tolerant and liberal Islam.” Amer Mohammed Ahmed, literary critic, Sudan

Share your thoughts, stories and analysis!

This newly released publication was developed primarily as a guide for social activists involved in challenging gender inequality in the Horn of Africa. The guide promotes connecting with men as an essential approach towards addressing violence against women and emphasises the importance of their involvement. It delves into the challenges of negotiating patriarchy and shares best practices and suggested models of working with, and engaging men, to prevent violence against women.

The Other War – Gangrape in Somaliland

From a woman’s rights perspective, this paper sheds light on the interconnectivity between historical development, existing clan structures, and Somaliland’s plural legal systems as these converge to oppress women. It highlights how the static gender roles imposed by culture and religion are central in putting women and girls at risk of sexual abuse, including – but not limited to – gang rape. The paper gives insight into the environments and drivers motivating perpetrators of sexual gender-based violence while showing how women, despite the challenges, capitalise on opportunities to advance their rights and demand justice.

Third Class Citizens – Women and Citizenship in Sudan

This paper provides insight into Sudan’s international and regional human rights commitments, juxtaposed against existing domestic legislation, by analysing how national jurisprudence negatively impacts the equal citizenship status of women in Sudan. Drawing on personal stories and experiences of marginalised women, this paper sheds light on the inequalities affecting men and women’s access to citizenship.

Do you wish to highlight the challenges, experiences and achievements of women living in and alongside Muslim communities? Do you want to contribute to the growing voices against prejudice and gender inequality within Muslim societies? Send your article or essay to: journal@sihanet.org

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SIHA Women In Islam 2017


A journal published by:

SIHA is a regional Network

SIHA, a regional network born

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.

and nurtured inside the Horn of Africa, benefits from strong grassroots support and connections to local, regional and international advocacy platforms in order to realise its vision.

Our vision is that all women and girls in the Horn of Africa should 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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