13 May 2019

Asia Bibi's escape to Canada shines light on Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws

Asia Bibi held the unfortunate distinction of being the first Pakistani woman sentenced to death for insulting Islam under that country's blasphemy laws.

She spent eight years on death row before her conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in October 2018.

Last week, as Bibi began to settle into her new life in Canada, after arriving on Wednesday, her lawyer turned his focus to his next court battle against Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

Speaking from his home in Lahore, Pakistan, Saiful Malook said he knows that even acting as a lawyer for someone accused of blasphemy in Pakistan could be a death sentence for himself.

"When you start this type of case, you better start developing a close relationship to God because you can go to God at any given moment with 100 to 50 bullets," he said.

Malook's new case involves a dispute over a text message a man received that allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

Like Bibi, Malook's new client, Shagufta Kausar, is Christian. The text allegedly came from a SIM card issued to Kausar. Despite the fact that she doesn't read or write, Kausar and her husband were sentenced to death for the message in 2014. [CBC/Radio-Canada] Read more

12 May 2019

Germany mulls 'mosque tax' to cut out foreign funding

Support is growing in Germany for a "mosque tax" to make Islamic institutions less dependent on potentially anti-democratic or "radical" foreign funding sources, a media report said on Sunday.

The federal government sees it as "a possible path", according to an answer to a parliamentary query, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported.

Several of Germany's 16 states had also signalled support in principle for the idea which would mirror Germany's voluntary Christian "church tax", the newspaper said.

Concern has grown in Germany about the influence of foreign funding sources on mosques for the country's estimated five million Muslims, who hail mostly from Turkey and Arab countries.

Some 900 mosques in Germany are run by the Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion (Ditib), under the authority of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Its imams are paid by the Turkish state, and the group has come under scrutiny with some of its members suspected of spying on Turkish dissidents living in Germany. [The Local] Read more

‘An enemy plot’: Iran launches crackdown after videos emerge of schoolgirls dancing

Iranian authorities have launched an investigation into “disturbing” social media videos of schoolgirls dancing to a pop song.

Education minister Mohammad Bathaei said a team of specialists had been appointed to trace the source of the videos, featuring the music of US-Iranian rapper Sasy.

“The enemy is trying different ways to create anxiety among the people including by spreading these disturbing videos,” he said.

“I’m certain there’s some kind of political plot behind the publication of these devious clips in schools.”

The videos show groups of children – and even some teachers – taking part in an online dance challenge to the song “Gentleman”, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran.

Several clips of dancing children were also posted by the singer on his own Instagram page in defiance of the criticism from hardline conservatives in parliament. [The Independent] Read more

Germany debates 'mosque tax' to replace foreign funding

Support is growing in Germany for a "mosque tax" to make Islamic institutions less dependent on potentially anti-democratic or "radical" foreign funding sources, a media report said Sunday.

The federal government sees it as "a possible path", according to an answer to a parliamentary query, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported.

Several of Germany's 16 states had also signalled support in principle for the idea which would mirror Germany's voluntary Christian "church tax", the rnewspaper said.

Concern has grown in Germany about the influence of foreign funding sources on mosques for the country's estimated five million Muslims, who hail mostly from Turkey and Arab countries.

Some 900 mosques in Germany are run by the Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion (Ditib), under the authority of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Its imams are paid by the Turkish state, and the group has come under scrutiny with some of its members suspected of spying on Turkish dissidents living in Germany. [AFP] Read more

11 May 2019

Men ordered not to look at women during Ramadan in Iran as hardliners tighten control amid nuclear deal row

Men in Iran have been ordered not to look at women during Ramadan as part of a round of draconian restrictions imposed by the increasingly isolated regime.

In a sign of frustration with growing civil discontent and economic pain caused by US sanctions, hardliners in Iran's government are forcing through unusually strict social diktats to bring people into line.

The country's judiciary has announced that those eating in public during the fasting period are also in breach of laws and will be prosecuted.

“My personal advice to women is to respect the hijab even more than before and gentlemen must avoid looking directly at female passersby," Gholam- Hossein Esmaili, a judiciary spokesperson said.

"Anyone ignoring these instructions during the Ramadan will be committing an offence and should expect some punishment from the law enforcement units." [The Telegraph] Read more

10 May 2019

Brunei LGBT community living in fear despite sultan's death penalty reprieve

When the Sultan of Brunei last week announced a moratorium on the much-condemned death penalty for gay sex, some hailed the move as a major advance. But inside the tiny South-East Asian nation, members of the LGBT community says there is little reason to celebrate - and much still to fear.

In an interview with the Telegraph, one gay man, who asked to be identified only as 'M', warned that the apparent turnaround would only be temporary. The moratorium declared following an international backlash was "for appearances only," he said, a "performative" reprieve adopted in part due to Ramadan.

Once the religious season was over, M said, he expected the death penalty would be reinstated. And even if it was not, he said, "it's a living hell here either way."

The sultan drew global condemnation over the Shariah penal code, which mandates punishments including death by stoning for sex outside marriage and anal sex; amputation of limbs for theft; and 40 lashes for lesbian sex. After protests led by celebrities such as George Clooney and Elton John and calls to boycott his luxury hotels, the authoritarian leader said a moratorium on the death penalty observed by Brunei for two decades would also be applied to the new laws. [The Telegraph] Read more

Second Christian woman and her disabled husband fighting death row conviction for committing 'blasphemy' in Pakistan

Christian woman Asia Bibi may have finally safely exited Pakistan after years on death row after being falsely held on blasphemy charges, but the fight for justice is far from over.

Bibi’s very prison cell is now home to another impoverished Christian woman, and the same Lahore-based attorney, Saif-ul Malook, is representing both the woman and her Christian husband. The pair have been sentenced to death under a questionable conviction of insulting Islam.

“They did not get a fair trial,” Malook told Fox News. “They are innocent.”

Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kauser – who are still waiting for their appeal to be heard by the Lahore High Court (LHC) – were tried and put on death row in April 2014. Shagufta is the second woman after Bibi to be ordered capital punishment.

The couple, believed to be in their late 30’s, hail from the city of Gojra in the Punjab province in Pakistan’s east, and were living with their four young children in a church compound. Shagufta was tasked with making ends meet, working as a cleaner and servant at the church school. Her husband is paralyzed from the waist down, having fractured his spine in a 2004 accident. [FOX News] Read more

Belgian Islamist politician gets suspended jail term and fine for gender discrimination

The co-founder of Belgium's Islam Party has been given a suspended six-month jail term for gender discrimination.

Redouane Ahrouch appeared on Belgian television channel RTL-TVI for a political debate but allegedly refused to make eye contact with journalist Emmanuelle Praet. Ahrouch also reportedly refused to shake hands with Praet because she was a woman and would not let a female make-up artist prepare him before the show.

Praet filed a criminal complaint against him. A Brussels court ruled his behaviour constituted gender discrimination and ordered him to pay €5,000 in compensation to the TV journalist. He was also given a six-month suspended jail term.

Ahrouch, 49, told Euronews the case had turned his life into a nightmare.

“They took my job, I was a bus driver for 25 years," he said. "They took my political life. It's a conspiracy against me. They are doing everything to ensure I don't get into politics again. They said I don't follow 'Belgian democratic values'. I couldn't find any lawyer who wanted to defend me at the tribunal. Even my family lawyer left me alone. [euronews] Read more

Scottish Labour in new racism row as Facebook account blames Islam for terror attacks

Scottish Labour was last night embroiled in a fresh racism scandal after a Facebook account linked to the party suggested “there is no such thing as Islamophobia”.

The Argyll and Bute Labour account also claimed Islam is “responsible for more terror attacks than any other” and treats women as “second class citizens”.

The hateful post came just days after a high-profile Muslim MSP questioned his party’s commitment to tackling prejudice.

Former deputy leader Anas Sarwar hit out after a Labour councillor was cleared of making racist comments towards him after a 15-month investigation.

The racist message was posted on Tuesday afternoon, alongside the question: “Any disagreement with this meme?” [Daily Record] Read more

09 May 2019

Muslim Protesters In Indonesia Threaten Jihad If Plan To Construct Hindu Temple Is Not Scrapped

Protesters in the small village of Sukahurip falling under Indonesia’s Sukatani district have threatened Jihad unless the planned construction of a Hindu village is stopped, Jakarta Post has reported.

The village which falls under Bekasi regency, West Java shows protesters holding green flags and banners which read, “Be careful! If you insist on building the temple, we are ready to carry out jihad as you are the one who started this”.

This protest was also confirmed by Bekasi Police chief Candra Sukma Kumara who blamed individuals from outside the village for the same.

He said that the plan to construct the Hindu temple was going on smoothly since 2017 without any backlash and it is only recently that such protests have begun.

At present, around 6,000 to 7,000 Hindus who live in the area have to travel quite a distance to Pura Agung Tirta Bhuana in neighboring Bekasi municipality. Thus the Hindu community decided to constitute a committee to full all the requirements to build the temple. [Swarajya] Read more

Pakistan: where the daily slaughter of women barely makes the news

You can find the news about Pakistan’s war on women buried deep inside the metro pages of Urdu newspapers. I stumbled upon it a few years ago. I noticed that I could pick up my newspaper and almost every day find news about a murdered woman.

I thought maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe Karachi is a huge city, these things happen. But it went on and on. It became so routine that I could pick up the paper, open the exact same pages, just like you can bet that you’ll find a crossword or letters to the editor, and it was always there.

.... There are many ways a woman can bring shame to the family. In past years, they have been killed for singing at a wedding, texting a boy, refusing to marry someone and sometimes for taking a selfie.

Pakistan torn as women’s day march sparks wave of ‘masculine anxiety’

Given these dreadful numbers and Pakistan’s rating as the sixth most unsafe country for women in the world, you would think there would be an urgent debate on the issue. You would expect parliamentary committees, thinktanks trying to figure out why are we killing so many women. But sadly, it’s not on the national agenda. [Guardian Cif] Read more

08 May 2019

Asia Bibi: Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy is now in Canada

A Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row in Pakistan has landed in Canada to be reunited with her daughters, her lawyer has said.

Saiful Malook told Sky News on then phone that Ms Bibi arrived in Ottawa yesterday.

She was convicted of blasphemy in 2009 after a quarrel with a fellow farm worker.

The mother-of-five spent eight years on death row until the Supreme Court overturned her conviction in October.

She has since been in protective custody. [Sky News] Read more

07 May 2019

Iran summons Christians to explain why they converted from Islam

Iran's intelligence minister, Mahmoud Mahmoud Alavi, openly expressed concern last weekend about the spread of Christianity in the Islamic republic and said that some converts to Christianity were "summoned" to explain why they have converted.

The 65-year-old Alavi gave a speech before Shia clerics on Saturday, the day before the beginning of Ramadan.

According to the International Shia News Association, Alavi blamed "evangelical propaganda" for the increase in Iranian Muslims converting to Christianity in certain areas of the country.

Despite Christianity being criminalized in a country where the government is entangled with hardline Islam, the nation is experiencing one of the fastest evolving underground church movements in the world.

According to Radio Farda, Alavi told the clerics that the Intelligence Ministry and Qom Seminary, the country's largest Islamic seminary, have dispatched individuals and institutions that are active in "countering the advocates of Christianity" to areas where Muslims are being converted. [Christian Today] Read more

06 May 2019

We must have the right to blaspheme against Islam

Thou shalt not insult Islam. Bizarrely, terrifyingly, this has become the creed of 21st-century Britain. Consider the Saatchi Gallery’s decision to cover up two paintings after Muslim visitors complained they were offensive.

In a blow to the ideal of artistic freedom, the supposedly edgy gallery in west London draped grey sheets over two new paintings that infuse verses from the shahada, one of the five pillars of Islam, with images of naked women and the US flag. The Saatchi is behaving like Saudi Arabia, hiding from public view artworks that blaspheme against Islam. Perhaps the artist responsible will now get 50 lashes for effrontery to the religion of peace.

The works are by the pseudonymous artist SKU. The aim of the paintings was to explore how individuals become subjected to ‘wider cultural, economic, moral and political forces’. But visitors were denied the ability to judge how successfully the paintings did this because they were covered up by Islam-respecting modesty sheets in response to complaints that they were ‘blasphemous’.

.... This is really worrying stuff. It is bad for artistic freedom, bad for public discussion, and bad for freedom of thought. The right to blaspheme is a hard-won liberty. We should have the freedom to mock all gods, prophets, beliefs and ideas. [spiked] Read more

Brunei says it won't enforce death penalty for gay sex

Brunei has backtracked on enforcing laws introduced last month that would have made sex between men and adultery punishable by stoning to death.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah on Sunday extended a moratorium on the death penalty to cover the new legislation.

The rethink follows global outcry over the laws, including boycotts and celebrity protests.

While still on the statute books for some crimes, no executions have been carried out in Brunei since 1957.

Last month Brunei rolled out a strict new interpretation of Islamic laws, or Sharia.

In a speech, the sultan said he was aware there had been "many questions and misperceptions" regarding the implementation of the legislation, called Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO). [BBC] Read more

Muslim Women Are Abandoning Surgery Career Dreams Over Fears Of Breaking NHS Dress Code

Some Muslim women claim they are being denied the chance of pursuing their dream of a career in surgery as they are torn between their religious beliefs and NHS dress code policies.

A study looking at the experiences of Muslim women with NHS policies such as ‘Bare Below the Elbows’ and those concerning head coverings in surgical theatres suggests some are experiencing bullying and harassment as a result of their religious observance.

Some women have even revealed they have abandoned their dream of working in surgery or a hospital setting as a result of a lack of clarity and feeling uncomfortable by NHS dress codes.

The research carried out by the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) and The Bridge Institute, an organisation which aims to build inclusive societies, questioned Muslim women from around the UK working in healthcare and discovered barriers when it came to dress. It was co-authored by a microbiologist and expert in infection care. [The Huffington Post UK] Read more

05 May 2019

Muslim American Society investigating ‘oversight’ following controversial video at Philly Islamic center; event organizer ‘dismissed’

A national Muslim group says it will conduct an investigation into an event at a Philadelphia Islamic center last month during which a group of youngsters sang songs it said were not “properly vetted,” calling that “an unintended mistake and an oversight.”

Youngsters at the Muslim American Society Islamic Center in North Philadelphia are shown in video footage speaking in Arabic during a celebration of “Ummah Day,” said the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Middle East monitoring organization. One girl says "we will chop off their heads” to “liberate the sorrowful and exalted Al-Aqsa Mosque” in Jerusalem, according to the MEMRI. [Philly.com] Read more

Acclaimed novel, branded ‘Islamophobic’ and ‘racist’, is withdrawn

.... Today, in his daytime slot on London’s LBC radio, Nawaz, a staunch opponent of censorship, expressed his outrage that the book, a parody, had been pulled by its independent publisher, Dzanc Books after “Twitteridiots” castigated the publication’s “Islamophobia” and “racism”.

When the book was published last month, Stephen King said it was “scarier” than anything he ever wrote, but also that:

An irrepressible sense of humor runs through it … it’s stuff like the cross-dressing pilot (my favorite character) and any number of deliciously absurd situations (the pink jets). It’s the inevitable result of an eye that sees the funny side, even in horror. So few writers have that. This novel will cause talk and controversy. Most of all, it will be read. [The Freethinker] Read more

Swedish Muslims Look to Foreign Funding to Build Mega Mosque

The Muslim community in the Swedish municipality of Växjö has increased so dramatically, according to local leaders, that they are now planning to build a giant mosque to hold at least 1,000 people, possibly with the help of foreign backers in the Middle East.

Local imam Ismail Abuhelal said that the current mosque, the Växjö Muslim Foundation which was founded around 15 years ago, is simply not big enough to house the growing number of worshippers in the area, Lokaltidningen reports.

“When we celebrate that Ramadan is over and in connection with the trip to Mecca there can be up to 2,000 people who come to the mosque, then we have had to use the old Folkets park or be outdoors,” Abuhelal said.

The imam added that the new mosque would be a mix of traditional and modern architecture and would feature a prominent minaret, as well.

Last year the Muslim community was able to get permission from local authorities to broadcast the call to prayer publicly, despite opposition from the populist Sweden Democrats who voiced their concerns saying, “Prayer announcements in public places and in foreign languages are not part of Swedish society.” [Breitbart London] Read more

Secret Government report warns over 48 British Islamic schools are teaching intolerance and misogyny to future imams

Young imams are being trained in a network of Islamic schools across the UK that have been accused of promoting intolerance and misogyny, a secret Government report has warned.

The report claims preachers emerging from some of the dozens of Darul Uloom madrasas scattered across Britain have views as extreme as those held by radical clerics who move to the UK from Islamic countries – and may spread them to worshippers.

The Mail on Sunday has identified 48 Darul Ulooms – which can be translated as House of Knowledge – that follow a strict syllabus called Dars-E-Nizami.

It espouses the literal following of the Koran and is used by the hardline Islamic movement Deobandism, whose training schools produced the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

At least four Darul Ulooms have previously been criticised by the education regulator Ofsted. Inspectors found students being taught that music and dancing comes from the devil and that women do not have the right to refuse sex to their husbands.

Last night, a source familiar with the report said: ‘UK-based training provided by Darul Ulooms results in the development of extremist views because the institutions are highly conservative and often fail to address the challenge facing Muslims in modern Britain. It means imams trained in Britain will be no better equipped than foreign-born imams in providing satisfactory support to British Muslims.’

Haras Rafiq, an anti-extremism expert at the Quilliam think tank, said: ‘British-trained imams are not any better than the ones trained in the Indian subcontinent because both are taught the same Dars-E-Nizami syllabus. The Darul Ulooms have a problem with extremism.’ [Daily Mail] Read more

Iran's 'Terror Factory' Targeting Christians

"In Iran, any practice that contradicts Islam is regarded as a national security threat, punished severely by the court system." — International Christian Concern, 2019.

"Revolutionary courts were created to guard against all threats to Islam. These courts have evolved into a well-oiled machine of oppres­sion that operates with impunity under state protection. The courts are closely intertwined with the Intelligence Ministry. Judges have at their disposal Revolutionary Guards (secret police) and a network of prisons used to torture and interrogate Christians." — International Christian Concern.

"If you recant and repent, you'll go to jail. And if you don't, you'll be killed." — Dr. Mike Ansari from Heart4Iran, an Iranian Christian minister, reported by International Christian Concern.

"Christians may be looking at large fines, detention, lengthy prison sentences, or even execution under Islamic Sharia law. The sentences of Christian converts are left up to the interpretation of the judge and may be founded on anything -- the judge's mood that day, what he had for breakfast, his interpretation of Sharia law, or his level of hatred toward Christianity." — International Christian Concern. [Gatestone Institute] Read more

This is Saudi reform: women tortured in jail

Lina Alhathloul was at home in Brussels a year ago when she heard that her sister, Loujain, had been arrested by the Saudi government. It was only a few weeks before the ban on women being allowed to drive was due to be lifted and the eyes of the world were on the changes taking place in Saudi Arabia.

Loujain, 29, raised in wealthy circles in France and Saudi, was also a well-known women’s rights activist.

Her family thought she would be released after the driving ban was lifted and did not think the Saudi authorities, with their strict conservative views, would hurt a female prisoner.

They were wrong. Months later Loujain told her parents that she had been held in solitary confinement, beaten, taunted and sexually abused by captors including an aide to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS). [The Times (£)] Read more

Saatchi Gallery covers up SKU artworks after complaints by Muslims

A top art gallery was forced to cover two paintings last week after complaints from Muslims that they were “blasphemous”. One expert described them as “The Satanic Verses all over again”.

Exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery by an artist known as SKU, the works overlaid Arabic script on nude images, and were meant to represent the conflict between America and Islamic extremists.

However, the inclusion of the Islamic declaration of faith, known as the shahada, in the painting prompted complaints from Muslim visitors, who asked for them to be removed from the west London gallery’s exhibition, Rainbow Scenes, which finished on Friday.

Usama Hasan, head of Islamic studies at the think tank Quilliam, said the paintings were not only offensive but blasphemous and sacrilegious. “They are really dangerous,” he said. “It’s The Satanic Verses all over again.” [The Times (£)] Read more

04 May 2019

Stoke-on-Trent charity 'encouraged support for IS'

A charity that ran a mosque was used to encourage support for the Islamic State, an investigation has found.

The Charity Commission launched an investigation into Fazal Ellahi Charitable Trust in Stoke-on-Trent after imam Kamran Hussain was jailed in 2017 for supporting IS and encouraging terrorism.

It said a failure by trustees to manage resources properly led to its use for "terrorist purposes".

The charity has now been dissolved.

The commission said in 2009, the charity had been removed from the register because the commission believed it no longer existed.

But despite the removal, the charity continued to operate, it said.

The probe, launched in April last year, saw checks carried out, including an unannounced visit to the charity's premises and analysis of its bank statements.

The commission also received documents which had been seized by police at the premises.

Investigators found "serious mismanagement and misconduct" by trustees at the charity, and said they failed to maintain and preserve records relating to the charity's income and expenditure. [BBC] Read more

03 May 2019

Birmingham-based President of UK's Pakistani Youth Council once said he would 'salute' Hitler

THE Birmingham-based president of the British Pakistani Youth Council once said he would ‘salute’ Adolf Hitler if he killed more Jews than Muslims.

Kamran Ishtiaq, 37, famously hosted David Cameron when the then Tory leader wanted to ‘experience life outside of Westminster’.

On his LinkedIn profile he says he is President of the Council, which was set up to “focus on issues affecting our lives as British young people”. He adds that he has worked for the body from January 2009 to the present.

But a Facebook post from 2014, and the comments he made at the time, show he said of the Nazi dictator: “I would salute him still if he killed 90 Muslims and 92 Jews.”

When quizzed by BirminghamLive this week, he said: “If it’s on my Facebook, I said it.”

After a picture of Hitler appeared on his Facebook page, he was admonished by another poster who pointed out that the Nazi leader was a racist.

Mr Ishtiaq had replied: “I know that and to be honest he would have killed Muslims too if he got a chance.

“But you know what, I would salute him still if he killed 90 Muslims and 92 Jews.” [Birmingham Mail] Read more

Christian persecution 'at near genocide levels'

The persecution of Christians in parts of the world is at near "genocide" levels, according to a report ordered by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The review, led by the Bishop of Truro the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, estimated that one in three people suffer from religious persecution.

Christians were the most persecuted religious group, it found.

Mr Hunt said he felt that "political correctness" had played a part in the issue not being confronted.

The interim report said the main impact of "genocidal acts against Christians is exodus" and that Christianity faced being "wiped out" from parts of the Middle East.

It warned the religion "is at risk of disappearing" in some parts of the world, pointing to figures which claimed Christians in Palestine represent less than 1.5% of the population, while in Iraq they had fallen from 1.5 million before 2003 to less than 120,000.

"Evidence shows not only the geographic spread of anti-Christian persecution, but also its increasing severity," the Bishop wrote. [BBC] Read more

Australians accepting of migrants but negative towards Islam, poll finds

Australia is a country that accepts gay couples, hates the big banks, considers second-generation migrants “Australian”, but the majority feel negatively towards Islam.

New wide-ranging data released by YouGov has revealed fascinating insights into the Australian identity, its place in the world, and its many contradictions.

Australians were the second-highest out of 23 countries surveyed in not considering where someone’s parents come from as relevant to identifying as Australian, but in our personal lives, 47% admitted to having “very few” or no close friends of a different ethnic background. And 80% of us believe women still suffer discrimination, but a third also think the women’s rights movement has gone too far.

Older Australians, perhaps surprisingly, are just as supportive of gender equality as their younger counterparts. In some cases, more so. But generational fault lines opened up over same-sex relationships (those under 45 vs over 45) and the acceptance of transgender Australians (under 35 and over 35). [The Guardian] Read more

02 May 2019

German conference on Islamic veil sparks controversy

Islamic veils and headscarves remain the subject of heated public debate in Germany. Some view them as part and parcel of religious freedom; others as a symbol of women's oppression in Islam.

The German court system has already taken up the issue of whether school teachers should be banned from wearing a partial headscarf or full veil — or any other openly religious symbols — in class. To complicate matters further, not all of Germany's 16 states see eye-to-eye on the matter, which is gaining in visibility due to the country's changing demographics.

Germany's Muslim population, which has rapidly increased in recent years due to immigration from Muslim-majority countries, was estimated at between 4.4 and 4.7 million people or approximately 5.5% of the country's total population in 2015, according to the Federal Statistical Office. The number is doubtless higher now, according to the agency, but there are no updated official figures.

With these demographic changes come societal debates — one of which, that of the Islamic veil, has been a continual source of discussion. The latest veil controversy, which made headlines all across Germany, has occurred over a planned academic conference — something that even its organizer did not expect. [Deutsche Welle] Read more

Persecution of Christians 'coming close to genocide' in Middle East – report

Pervasive persecution of Christians, sometimes amounting to genocide, is ongoing in parts of the Middle East, and has prompted an exodus in the past two decades, according to a report commissioned by the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

Millions of Christians in the region have been uprooted from their homes, and many have been killed, kidnapped, imprisoned and discriminated against, the report finds. It also highlights discrimination across south-east Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and in east Asia – often driven by state authoritarianism.

“The inconvenient truth,” the report finds, is “that the overwhelming majority (80%) of persecuted religious believers are Christians”.

Some of the report’s findings will make difficult reading for leaders across the Middle East who are accused of either tolerating or instigating persecution. The Justice and Development (AK) party of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for instance, is highlighted for denigrating Christians. [The Guardian] Read more

Kerala Muslim educational body prohibits female students from wearing face veil

At a time when there is an international debate about the relevance of face coverings, a prominent Muslim educational body in Kerala has released a circular prohibiting girl students from wearing face veils.

The April 17 circular by the Muslim Educational Society (MES), which runs a wide array of schools and professional institutions including engineering and medical colleges in the state, makes it clear that it is difficult to accept a clothing style, be it in the name of modernity or religious traditions.

From the 2019-20 academic year, heads of institutions and local managements must ensure that female students do not come to attend classes with their faces covered, the MES circular attested.

The educational body underlined that along with academic and extra-curricular achievements, students must maintain decorum in their clothing style. “We must discourage all undesirable tendencies in campuses,” the circular, signed by Dr PA Fazal Gafoor, said. [The Indian Express] Read more

01 May 2019

'We've bought into the lie that is tolerance and diversity': Inside radical Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir's Sydney conference - where gender segregated members heard children should not sing the national anthem

A radical Muslim group held a conference on Saturday afternoon discouraging members and their children from singing the Australian national anthem – while refusing to condemn ISIS.

Global Islamist political party Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is campaigning for Sharia law, hired a community hall at Campsie, in Sydney's south-west, for the event.

Yellow taped lines were placed on the carpet segregating men at the front from women at the back, with Daily Mail Australia witnessing ushers directing men to sit at the front of the auditorium.

This was despite a 2016 New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruling which found Hizb ut-Tahrir's gender segregation policies at public events were a form of unlawful sex discrimination. [Daily Mail Australia] Read more

Survey finds young Arabs want less religion

.... This picture is reinforced by some other large numbers in the 2019 report. It says 79% think "the Arab world needs to reform its religious institutions", while roughly half say "religious values are holding the Arab world back" and see religion losing its influence on the Arab world.

Although there's reason to quibble about the precise figures, the broad picture is of widespread (and growing) discontent with religion among young Arabs. That might seem a welcome development considering all the damage caused by religious fanaticism but in some countries it's treated as a social problem, like promiscuity or drug-taking.

In Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where atheism is said to be on the rise, several initiatives have been launched to try to draw young people back to religion – most recently by al-Azhar. [al-bab.com] Read more

30 April 2019

Adopting Islamophobia definition ‘would cripple counter-terrorism'

The adoption of a proposed definition of 'Islamophobia' would have a "seriously detrimental impact" on efforts to keep the UK safe, a former counter-terrorism chief has warned.

Richard Walton said adopting the definition could lead to government departments, the police, intelligence agencies and other public bodies being branded "institutionally Islamophobic".

Walton, the former head of Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism branch, made the claims in a report published by the Policy Exchange think tank on Monday entitled Islamophobia – Crippling Counter-Terrorism. He co-wrote the report with Policy Exchange's senior research fellow Tom Wilson.

The definition the authors criticised was proposed by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on British Muslims in a report published in November. The APPG claims that "Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness".

Since then several prominent MPs and campaign groups have urged the government to adopt the definition. The Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, the mayor of London and several local authorities have adopted the definition. Last week all five of Scotland's major political parties joined them. [National Secular Society] Read more

Tunisia invokes sharia law in bid to shut down LGBT rights group

One of the Arab world’s most visible advocacy groups defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people is facing closure following legal threats by the government.

Association Shams has been officially operating in Tunisia since 2015, helping the country’s LGBT community repeal article 230 of its penal code, a French colonial law, which criminalises homosexuality with up to three years in jail.

The government failed to permanently suspend Shams’ activities in a 2016 lawsuit, but is appealing the ruling. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Shams’ president, Mounir Baatour, said the appeal represents the Tunisian government’s seventh attempt to close the organisation, but it is more serious because it has been based on Islamic sharia law. [The Guardian] Read more

29 April 2019

Burkina Faso Christians killed in attack on church

Gunmen have opened fire on a church in northern Burkina Faso, killing at least six people, officials say.

The attackers reportedly arrived on seven motorbikes at the end of Sunday's service and killed the pastor, two of his sons and three other worshippers.

It is the second reported church attack this month and since jihadist violence erupted in the country in 2016.

Fighters affiliated to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group as well as the local Ansarul Islam have been active.

Sunday's attack on the Protestant church happened in the small town of Silgadji near Djibo, the capital of Soum province, at around 12:00 local time (12:00 GMT). [BBC] Read more

New definition of Islamophobia ‘risks helping terrorists

A report by a former head of antiterrorism at Scotland Yard says that terrorist plots are more likely to succeed if Theresa May adopts a new definition of Islamophobia.

Richard Walton says that the police, security services, prosecutors, judges and prisons would be labelled “institutionally Islamophobic” if the government bowed to pressure from MPs to broaden the meaning of racism to include anyone targeting “Muslimness”.

The power to prosecute hate preachers such as Anjem Choudary for encouraging support for Islamic State would be adversely affected, the report claims. The government is being urged to adopt a definition proposed by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, which says: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” [The Times (£)] Read more

28 April 2019

Human rights lawyer who defends Muslim women who remove headscarves in public is sentenced to 148 lashes and 38 years in jail in Iran

A prominent Iranian lawyer has been jailed for 38 years and sentenced to 148 lashes after she defended women who removed their headscarves in public.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, an internationally renowned human rights lawyer jailed in Iran, was handed maximum sentence for all of her seven convictions.

The 55-year-old represented protesters against the Islamic Republic's mandatory headscarves for women, many of whom filmed themselves taking off the garment and posing it on social media.

Sotoudeh, who has represented opposition activists, was arrested last June and charged with spying, spreading propaganda and insulting Iran's supreme leader, her lawyer said. [Daily Mail] Read more

26 April 2019

Frankfurt University faces student protests over conference on Muslim headscarves

Frankfurt University has been rocked by student protests over an academic conference on the Muslim practice of women wearing headscarves.

Students accused the university of promoting Islamophobia with the conference, which is scheduled to take place next month.

The protests come despite the fact the conference is set to feature Islamic theologians and women who support the wearing of headscarves as well as critics of the practice.

Students have targeted the conference with social media posts of young women holding up signs with slogans including “No room for racism” and “I’m not in the mood for hate speech”.

They have called for the dismissal of Prof Susanne Schröter, the head of the university’s Islamic research centre and the organiser of the conference.

But the university has refused to bow to the protests. Prof Birgitta Wolff, the president of the university, has defended the right to “freedom of scholarship and academic discourse” and accused the students of acting as a “self-appointed discourse police”. [The Telegraph] Read more

All of Scotland's political parties adopt formal definition of Islamophobia

All of Scotland’s political parties have agreed to adopt a formal definition of Islamophobia in an effort to combat hate crime.

Scottish Labour MSP Anas Sarwar said the decision to support the definition, created by Westminster’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims after consultation with Holyrood’s Cross-Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia, was “a landmark moment that will help tackle prejudice in Scotland”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday outlined her willingness for the Scottish Government to adopt the definition, while the SNP, Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Labour, Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens have all agreed to support use of the definition.

The definition classifies discrimination against Muslims as a form of racism.

It states: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

Sarwar, who is chair of the Cross-Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia, said: “This is a landmark moment that will help tackle prejudice in Scotland. [Holyrood Magazine] Read more

25 April 2019

Saudi woman granted refugee status in NZ because of persecution

A Saudi Arabian woman has been granted refugee status in New Zealand because she fears persecution and even death in her home country due to the way women are treated there.

The Immigration and Protection Tribunal said the un-named woman was a follower of the Shia faith. She married a Pakistani man in a religious ceremony some years ago, but the marriage was not recognised legally in Saudi Arabia or in Pakistan.

In its just-released judgment, the tribunal said the woman's religiously conservative extended family thought her relationship was "a serious crime against Islam and a matter of family shame".

"The appellant claims that if she were to return to Saudi Arabia she would be at risk of being physically attacked, killed or otherwise treated cruelly by her family. The Saudi Arabian police are aware of the relationship and may also take further action. Further, she claims that the guardianship system and other discriminatory laws in Saudi Arabia prevent her from ever legally marrying her partner or travelling to meet him without restriction." [Stuff] Read more

Runaway Saudi sisters call on Google and Apple to pull 'inhuman' woman-monitoring app

Two runaway Saudi sisters on Wednesday urged Apple and Google to pull an “inhuman” app allowing men to monitor and control female relatives’ travel as it helped trap girls in abusive families.

Maha and Wafa al-Subaie, who are seeking asylum in Georgia after fleeing their family, said Absher – a government e-services app – was bad for women as it supported Saudi Arabia’s strict male guardian system.

“It gives men control over women,” said Wafa, 25. “They have to remove it,” she added, referring to Google and Apple.

Absher, which is available in the Saudi version of Google and Apple online stores, allows men to update or withdraw permissions for female relatives to travel abroad and to get SMS updates if their passports are used, according to researchers. [The Guardian] Read more

24 April 2019

I'm Muslim but don't wear a headscarf. Stop using hijabs as a tool for ‘solidarity.’

When non-Muslim women across New Zealand draped scarves on their heads last month to show their solidarity with Muslims a week after the horrific massacres at two mosques in Christchurch, it was touted by many as a feel-good story in the wake of unbelievable tragedy.

The women who took part in the nationwide gesture wanted to tamp down the fear among Muslim women who cover their hair, many of them rightfully worried that bigots might target them with new acts of hatred.

And yet, when non-Muslim women cover their heads in the wake of a tragedy or on World Hijab Day, they ignore the fact that whether women must wear a headscarf as a matter of faith is controversial even among Muslims. [USA TODAY] Read more

Saudi Arabia executions: A cruel travesty of justice

On Tuesday, Saudi official sources announced the mass execution of 37 prisoners, including one rather abhorrent crucifixion, carried out after execution.

The prisoners were lumped together and charged with several ambiguous charges such as terrorism, conspiracy to undermine security, spying, spreading Shia Islam and murder. The crucified man was accused of murdering a woman and conspiring to murder another one.

At least 34 of the executed prisoners are Shia activists, professionals, religious scholars and a number of young men who were detained when they were minors

But please don't ask yourself whether the 15 murderers who plotted and killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October were amongst them. [Middle East Eye] Read more

23 April 2019

Evening Standard urged to move event from Brunei-owned Dorchester

The London Evening Standard is facing calls to move an awards ceremony to be held at the Brunei-owned Dorchester after the country imposed new laws punishing gay sex and adultery with death by stoning.

The newspaper, whose celebrity columnist Rob Rinder urged readers to join a boycott of the luxury hotel, is due to hold its annual New Homes awards at the five-star Mayfair establishment next month.

The LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry – who have been leading a chorus of condemnation against the country after it introduced sharia laws – are urging the Standard to drop the venue. [The Guardian] Read more

Brunei asks for ‘tolerance’ on gay sex stoning

THE Kingdom of Brunei has written to MEPs asking European countries to show ‘tolerance, respect and understanding’ over its decision to impose death by stoning as a punishment for gay sex and adultery.

It claimed such punishments would be rare as it required two to four men ‘of high moral standing and piety’ to be prosecution witnesses, and a total absence of doubt. The Guardian reported that the letter said: ‘The criminalisation of adultery and sodomy is to safeguard the sanctity of family lineage and marriage to individual Muslims, particularly women.’

The new penal code, under which thieves could suffer amputation, was brought in on April 3 despite international condemnation. The letter was sent before a vote last week in which MEPs backed a resolution condemning the code. [Metro.co.uk] Read more

Islamic State claims responsibility for Sri Lanka bombings

Islamic state has claimed responsibility for coordinated bombings in Sri Lanka which killed 321 people and injured about 500 others, the group’s AMAQ news agency said on Tuesday.

The group did not give evidence for its claim. [Reuters] Read more

22 April 2019

Brunei defends death by stoning for gay sex in letter to EU

Brunei has written to the European parliament defending its decision to start imposing death by stoning as a punishment for gay sex, claiming convictions will be rare as it requires two men of “high moral standing and piety” to be witnesses.

In a four-page letter to MEPs, the kingdom’s mission to the EU called for “tolerance, respect and understanding” with regard to the country’s desire to preserve its traditional values and “family lineage”.

The new penal code, which also provides for the amputation of thieves and whipping of people wearing clothes associated with the opposite sex, was brought in on 3 April, despite international condemnation.

But in the letter, the kingdom claimed the outcry is due to a misconception that it wanted to clarify.

“The criminalisation of adultery and sodomy is to safeguard the sanctity of family lineage and marriage to individual Muslims, particularly women,” it said. [The Guardian] Read more

21 April 2019

Tony Blair Says Migrants Have A 'Duty To Integrate' As Britain Faces Rise In 'Far-Right Bigotry'

Blair writes: “Over a significant period of time, including when we were last in government, politics has failed to find the right balance between diversity and integration.

“On the one hand, failures around integration have led to attacks on diversity and are partly responsible for a reaction against migration.

“On the other hand, the word multiculturalism has been misinterpreted as meaning a justified refusal to integrate, when it should never have meant that.

“Particularly now, when there is increasing evidence of far-right bigotry on the rise, it is important to establish the correct social contract around the rights and duties of citizens, including those who migrate to our country.”

He goes on: “We make it clear that there is a duty to integrate, to accept the rules, laws and norms of our society that all British people hold in common and share, while at the same time preserving the right to practise diversity, which is fully consistent with such a duty. [The Huffington Post UK] Read more

20 April 2019

Tony Blair: migrants should be forced to integrate more to combat far right

Migrant communities must be compelled to do more to integrate to help combat the rise of “far-right bigotry”, Tony Blair has warned.

The former prime minister said that successive governments had “failed to find the right balance between diversity and integration”, while the concept of multiculturalism has been misused as a way to justify a “refusal to integrate”.

Blair makes the pointed intervention in a report by his Institute for Global Change, which backs forcing schools to have an intake that reflects local diversity, creating a compulsory citizenship programme for teenagers and toughening enforcement against the perpetrators of hate speech.

It also calls for compulsory citizenship education, a ban on segregated shift patterns and the creation of a new cabinet post created to oversee integration. [The Guardian] Read more

Saudi sisters seeking asylum in Republic of Georgia go public in plea for help

Two Saudi sisters who planned their escape for almost five years and are now seeking asylum in the Republic of Georgia have revealed their identities in a plea for international help.

Wafa Zayed al-Subaie, 25, and her 28-year-old sister, Maha allege that they were trapped in their own homes and suffered verbal and physical abuse from their male relatives.

They are now in Tbilisi, Georgia, and after nearly two weeks of trying and failing to get asylum in another country, have gone public with their case.

On Wednesday, the pair launched a Twitter account, appealing to human rights groups and countries where they might be able to seek asylum.

"We are in danger we need your support to deliver our voice," Maha said in a video post. "We want protection we want a country to welcome us and protect our lives, please help us." [CNN] Read more

19 April 2019

The Afghan women determined not to lose out in Taliban talks

When 18-year-old Ogai Wardak came face to face with Taliban fighters, her fear quickly gave way to cautious hope.

"Their faces were scary, but their hearts were kind," she tells me when we meet in the Kabul studios of Zan TV, the only Afghan television channel just for women.

"The Taliban of this time are not like the past, not like the scary stories I heard," explains the ebullient young woman bursting with personality. She was born in 2001, the same year the Taliban were toppled from power.

Wardak met some of their fighters during last year's rare three-day ceasefire, when they slipped into Kabul to gaze at city streets, even taking selfies and savouring ice cream.

But if the Taliban return to power, would they allow her to keep presenting on Zan TV?

"No!" she exclaims, without skipping a beat. "But I have to fight them because it's my dream, and I have to work for my sisters." [BBC] Read more

Mustapha and Diaa Kara-Ali charged with contempt of court for clearing land

Mustapha and Diaa Kara-Ali reportedly laughed when the judge handed down the punishment today in Sydney’s Land and Environment Court, after they were compelled to appear for felling trees on a northwest Sydney property without council permission.

The brothers had tried to argue that the Islamic organisation they ran, Diwan Al Dawla, was exempt from Australian law on religious grounds.

They failed in their bid and were fined $100,000 for what a judge called a “flagrant” breach of a court order in relation to construction works to build a Muslim religious centre on their rural property in Colo.

They and their business were convicted on 12 charges of contempt of court.

A furious Mustapha Kara-Ali left the Court on Thursday saying: “Our religion is prime, the cross belongs in the dustbin of history.”

In his written judgment, Justice Terence Sheahan said the pair had ignored orders to appear in court and only turned up after being arrested. Mustapha had said attending court could lead to “hit squads” pursuing him. [news.com.au] Read more

Runaway Saudi sisters: 'We were treated like slaves'

"We have to cover our face, we have to cook...like slaves. We don't want this, we want real life, our life," says 25-year-old Wafa, the latest woman to flee Saudi Arabia with her sister.

Wafa and Maha al-Subaie, 28, are now in the republic of Georgia and are under state protection in a shelter.

They had made their case for international help on Twitter, under the account @GeorgiaSisters.

The sisters are appealing to the UN to help them get to a third, safe country.

They travelled to Georgia as Saudis do not require entry visas.

"We need your support, we want protection, we want a country that will welcome us and protect our rights," said Wafa. [BBC] Read more

18 April 2019

'I lost consciousness': woman whipped by the Taliban over burqa without veil

One of four women who was recently subjected to a brutal public lashing by armed Taliban fighters in Afghanistan has spoken about her experience, amid an increase of violent punishments given to those violating its strict interpretation of religious law.

Aziza, who like many other Afghan women only uses one name, was rounded up by the Taliban’s shadow police for being out of her house without her husband and not being fully veiled. She was beaten so badly she lost consciousness.

A resident of Afghanistan’s Sancharak district in Sar-i-pul – a northern province, where the Taliban has tried to impose strict sharia laws and restrict women’s mobility – Aziza spoke to the Guardian after the flogging last month.

Aziza said she was arrested by armed Taliban fighters after they entered a local market. She was wearing a burqa without mesh covering her face. [The Guardian] Read more

Nusrat Jahan Rafi: Burned to death for reporting sexual harassment

Nusrat Jahan Rafi was doused with kerosene and set on fire at her school in Bangladesh. Less than two weeks earlier, she had filed a sexual harassment complaint against her headmaster.

Her courage in speaking out against sexual assault, her death five days after being set alight and everything that happened in-between has gripped Bangladesh and brought attention to the vulnerability of sexual harassment victims in this conservative South Asian country.

Nusrat, who was 19, was from Feni, a small town 100 miles (160km) south of Dhaka. She was studying at a madrassa, or Islamic school. On 27 March, she said the headmaster called her into his office and repeatedly touched her in an inappropriate manner. Before things could go any further she ran out.

Many girls and young women in Bangladesh choose to keep their experiences of sexual harassment or abuse secret for fear of being shamed by society or their families. What made Nusrat Jahan different is that she didn't just speak out - she went to the police with the help of her family on the day the alleged abuse happened. [BBC] Read more

Lib Dem candidate suspended over comments about Muslims

A Liberal Democrat candidate has been suspended from the party over comments such as: ‘There is no such thing as Islamophobia.’ Dániel Tóth-Nagy, 32, was due to stand for election in Manchester but is now facing an investigation.

In one of the comments, he responded to a Twitter post by MP Naz Shah about Islamophobia asking: ‘What about FGM? Honor Killings? Forced marriage? What do you think about the protest of women in Iran, Saudi-Arabia and other Islamic countries against the compulsory hijab?

‘What about Sharia in Britain? LGBT rights and education denied by Muslims in Birmingham? I expect no answer.’ In a separate exchange on Twitter, Mr Tóth-Nagy questions why Muslim-only schools are allowed in the UK.

Mr Tóth-Nagy described seeing children dressed in hijabs at a Halloween Party as ‘scary’ stating that he fears ‘they may be victims of FGM’ in another post. [Metro.co.uk] Read more

17 April 2019

Bangladesh actress is forced to apologise after suggesting she might be an atheist in the conservative Muslim

A Bangladeshi actress has been forced to apologise after remarks construed as admitting atheism in a country where people have been murdered for renouncing religion.

Safa Kabir, an actress and model who has appeared in top Bangladeshi television dramas, told a private radio station this week she did not believe in the afterlife.

'I don't believe in life after death. Actually, I never believe in what I can't see,' she said, in comments that some took as a rejection of Muslim beliefs in heaven and hell.

The remarks caused a storm on social media, with footage of the interview going viral, and Kabir faced a torrent of criticism in the conservative Muslim country. [Daily Mail] Read more

Muslim parents protesting against LGBT primary school lessons is only one of Birmingham’s many culture wars

.... As guardians of a faith followed by a quarter of Brummies, including a plurality of the city’s children, the mosque’s leaders play a growing role in civic life. They and other Muslim elders emphasise that they can help to make the city stable and prosperous. But they are equally clear that others must accept them for who they are: products of a conservative Muslim culture.

Birmingham is not a city “where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in”, as a Fox News pundit wildly claimed in 2015. But it has a reputation as an incubator of jihad, because several terrorists spent time there.

As the leaders of the central mosque see things, the city’s social peace is fragile – for reasons to do with austerity as much as inter-cultural tensions. “One of our big fears is that because of cuts in the police budget, ordinary crimes will spin out of control and be blamed on us Muslims,” Nassar Mahmood, a mosque trustee, says.

.... As people at the central mosque acknowledge, there is a vicious circle in which Muslims stick to areas where they predominate because they fear abuse or assaults elsewhere; and as those districts become more overwhelmingly Muslim, others move out. [inews.co.uk] Read more

Sadaf Khadem: Iranian female boxer halts return over arrest fears

An Iranian who became the first woman from her country to contest an official boxing match says she has cancelled her return home from France after hearing a warrant had been issued for her arrest.

Sadaf Khadem beat the French boxer Anne Chauvin in an amateur bout on Saturday.

She had planned to fly to Tehran with her French-Iranian trainer this week.

Khadem was quoted by a sports newspaper as saying she believed she was accused of violating Iran's compulsory dress code by boxing in a vest and shorts.

Iranian officials have not commented, but the head of Iran's boxing federation denied that Khadem would be arrested if she came home.

"Ms Khadem is not a member of [Iran's] organised athletes for boxing, and from the boxing federation's perspective all her activities are personal," Hossein Soori was quoted as saying by an Iranian news agency. [BBC] Read more

16 April 2019

Men laugh as woman caned in public for having sex outside marriage in Indonesia

A man and a woman have been publicly whipped in Indonesia in an archaic punishment for reportedly having sex outside of marriage.

Photographs show a crowd of people, including some laughing, as the couple receive lashes from a cane.

The punishment took place in the city of Banda Aceh where Sharia law is strictly enforced.

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that has implemented some provisions of Sharia law.

People are flogged as many as 200 times for a range of activities criminalised under the strict laws including gambling, drinking alcohol, gay sex or any non-marital relationships. [The Independent] Read more

15 April 2019

UK-based TV station fined for anti-Ahmadi Muslim hate speech

A UK-based TV station has been fined £75,000 by Ofcom after broadcasting hate speech about the Ahmadi community, amid growing fears that the religious group is facing persecution.

Channel 44, an Urdu-language current affairs satellite channel, broadcast two episodes of a discussion programme featuring a guest who “made repeated, serious and unsubstantiated allegations about members of the Ahmadiyya community”, the broadcasting watchdog said.

The guest, who appeared on the Point of View show, which was made in Pakistan, claimed Ahmadi people had “committed acts of murder, terrorism and treason as well as undertaking political assassinations”.

The same guest also claimed the Ahmadi community, which has its roots in northern India in the late 19th century, was favoured in Pakistan at the expense of orthodox Muslims. [The Guardian] Read more

The Conservative party owes Britain’s Muslim community an apology

The Conservatives have finally been forced to sack the government adviser Roger Scruton, who had dismissed Islamophobia as a “propaganda word” and said homosexuality was “not normal” .

The Tories knew about these views but chose to defend him and keep him in post. The Scruton story really goes to heart of the Conservative party’s problem with Islamophobia. It exposes the depressing reality that they don’t really think there’s anything wrong with it. They are not abhorred by it the way we all should be by all hatreds and prejudices.

Scruton has repeatedly argued that Islamophobia is a “propaganda word” used to “hide the truth”, and that those mocking the idea that Islam is a religion of peace run the risk of an “Islamist” killing them. This paints Muslims as violent, dangerous others, who don’t share the west’s values and shouldn’t be trusted. Such speech stokes fear and loathing towards Muslims at a time when Islamophobic hate crime is rising in our society and around the world. [Guardian Cif] Read more

14 April 2019

Conrad Black: Quebec should have outgrown this nonsense

.... Where the government of Quebec is undoubtedly correct, as the Sarkozy government in France was with its legislation, is that public security requires that all people in public must be identifiable. It is not acceptable for people to claim religious reasons to hide their identity in public. Beyond that, this bill is offensive, both in its impact and its historic implications.

As it reads, it is not permissible for anyone to wear a skull-cap, neither an Orthodox Jew nor the cardinal-archbishop of Montreal, if they went to renew their driver’s licences or even to buy a bottle of Champagne from a licensed vendor.

The bill mixes justifiable opposition to complete covering of the face, except for the eyes, with prohibition of “any religious symbols.” Hairstyles and tattoos are specifically excluded, but not decorative items. Many women wear chains with small crosses on them of no religious significance to the wearer.

I doubt that the legislation would be generally ruled as banning this because it is so absurd (and politically unwise), but no experienced person can doubt that the enforcement personnel will include some insufferably self-important and insolent individuals who will inflict as much inconvenience as they can. [National Post] Read more

Iranian who removed headscarf pardoned from year in prison

The lawyer for an Iranian woman who removed her headscarf in a public protest says she has been sentenced to one year in prison but pardoned by the supreme leader.

Payam Derafshan told The Associated Press news agency that a court sentenced Vida Movahed in March after finding her guilty of encouraging public "corruption".

Movahed was arrested in November 2018.

Derafshan, who revealed the verdict to local media on Sunday, says Movahed is on a pardon list but the release procedures are still under way. There was no official comment.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei occasionally issues pardons. Movahed, 32, was dubbed the "Girl of Enghelab Street" and briefly arrested in 2017 after she took off her headscarf and held it in the air. [Al Jazeera English] Read more

Muslim charities push links to sites defending marital rape

Muslim charities have been promoting links to websites that endorse marital rape and support the death penalty for gay people and apostates.

A community charity in Yorkshire, IslamBradford, linked to guidance that said a wife who refused a husband’s “legitimate sexual advances . . . would be committing a monstrous sin”.

The charity, which runs a mosque and a madrasah, also linked on its website to advice that justified the killing of apostates and criticised those who “bleat about personal freedom and freedom of belief”.

It is one of three charities cited in a dossier submitted to the Charity Commission by the National Secular Society, which campaigns for an end to advancement of religion as a charitable purpose. [The Times (£)] Read more

13 April 2019

Peterborough mosques leader defends sex education talk from controversial psychologist

The leader of a Peterborough mosques association has defended inviting a psychologist under investigation by her professional body to address parents on sex education.

Dr Kate Godfrey-Faussett claimed sex education in the UK was “queering the Muslim community”. The British Psychological Society is investigating her comments and has referred her to a regulator.

Muslim convert Dr Godfrey-Faussett, who claims she is the victim of a “witch hunt,” has campaigned against recent changes to sex and relationship education which will see primary school pupils learn about same-sex couples and parents and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identities.

She was invited by the Joint Mosques Council of Peterborough to speak in the city on April 27, but chairman Abdul Choudhuri said that has been postponed due to the “unavailability of a neutral venue” and preparations for Ramadan. [Peterborough Telegraph] Read more

Brunei defends gay-stoning laws

Brunei is defending its new anti-gay sharia laws, which make sodomy and adultery punishable by death by stoning, claiming there was an international “misconception”.

In a letter to the United Nations, foreign minister Erywan Yusof called for an understanding of human rights in “the national context” and for respect for Brunei’s sovereignty.

The letter says the law, which also applies to children and foreigners, would prevent homosexual activity rather than punish it. “We reaffirm that the syariah criminal law system focuses more on prevention than punishment,” he argued. “Its aim is to educate, deter, rehabilitate and nurture rather than punish.”

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier said the planned implementation of the new laws contravened the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was ratified by Brunei in 2006.

Homosexuality used to carry up to 10 years in prison but now those found guilty of having gay or adulterous sex can be stoned to death or whipped. Thieves may have their right hands or left feet amputated. [ASEAN Economist] Read more

Babies born out of wedlock abandoned on Saudi streets due to fears of punishment, campaigners warn

Babies born out of wedlock are abandoned on the streets in Saudi Arabia as women fear retribution and punishment for having a child outside of marriage, campaigners have warned.

Abortion is illegal in the Middle Eastern country unless a woman’s health is at risk and sexual relations outside of marriage are criminalised – with unmarried women faced with prosecution and even jail if they are found to be pregnant.

Under the kingdom’s restrictive guardianship system, women are legal minors and cannot marry, divorce, travel, get a job, be released from prison or have elective surgery without permission from their male guardians. Women are also forbidden from mixing freely with members of the opposite sex.

Dana Almayouf, a Saudi woman living in New York, said: “Babies are abandoned on the streets. It is not safe on the streets. Mostly our newspapers in Saudi Arabia do not shed light on the subject because it is a taboo. [The Independent] Read more

European and English-speaking migrants back immigration cuts and fear Australia is losing its identity

European and English-speaking migrants are more likely to back immigration cuts as they fear Australia is losing its cultural identity.

Migrants from these nations are less likely to support those born in other countries, with 58 per cent agreeing immigration should be cut, a survey by the Australian Population Research Institute has found.

However, two-thirds of Asian migrants favour an increase in migrant numbers and disagree with the idea that Australia's identity is disappearing.

Report authors Dr Bob Birrell and Dr Katharine Betts also found non-graduates are more likely to support the cuts compared to university graduates.

There were 67 per cent of graduates who supported an increase in immigration.

Dr Birrell and Dr Betts told the Herald Sun that second-generation migrants are more skeptical about immigration.

'These migrants have become an important part of a voter base worried about immigration,' they said.

However the survey also found that 58 per cent of Australian-born individuals agreed Australia was in danger of losing its identity and 47 per cent of voters supported 'a partial ban' on Muslim immigration. [Daily Mail Australia] Read more

12 April 2019

Birmingham anti-LGBT lessons leaflet 'inflammatory'

Leaflets accusing a school in Birmingham of having a "gay ethos" have been branded "inflammatory" by a parent.

Five schools in the city have stopped teaching about same-sex relationships since protests began in January.

Parents - largely of the Muslim faith - are campaigning against the lessons at Anderton Park School, arguing it goes against their religious beliefs.

Campaign leaflets were handed out outside the school on Thursday.

No Outsiders, a programme devised by Andrew Moffat at nearby Parkfield Community School, uses a range of storybooks which show a number of diverse families, including those with same-sex parents.

It is not taught at Anderton Park, however campaigners argue the lessons are "the same". [BBC] Read more

Brunei says controversial Sharia law aimed at 'prevention'

Brunei's foreign ministry has said implementing Sharia law is about prevention rather than punishment, after intense criticism of its decision to implement the strict Islamic code.

Under the new laws, adultery and sex between men is punishable by stoning to death.

Brunei said there would be a high threshold for evidence in those cases, suggesting punishment would be rare.

It comes after the UN called the punishments "cruel and inhuman". [BBC] Read more

10 April 2019

Brunei becomes latest country to impose draconian punishments

The decision by the Sultan of Brunei to order homosexuals to be stoned to death has caused widespread anger and concern in the West. George Clooney, the actor, has spearheaded calls for a boycott of the Dorchester hotel group, owned by the Sultan. The Commonwealth has condemned what it called “cruel and inhuman punishments” that contravened international human rights laws. Lobby groups are preparing mass protests.

Brunei is only the latest of a number of countries to order draconian new punishments for homosexuality. Gay people are increasingly being threatened with beatings, lengthy imprisonment and even summary lynchings by governments keen to show their strict adherence to Sharia or by African leaders pandering to popular prejudice. Homosexuality has become a popular target for fundamentalist preachers who equate it with decadent western influence. [The Times (£)] Read more

Anderton Park Primary School head vows: 'I won't back down' amid pupil boycott threat

The head of a Birmingham school at the centre of a threatened pupil boycott over LGBT equality messages has pledged: "I will not back down".

Protestors claimed they had the backing of the majority of parents at Anderton Park Primary in Moseley for plans to withdraw children.

Lead campaigner Shakeel Afsar - not a parent at the school himself - said the boycott would go ahead unless the head Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson stopped 'LGBT equality lessons' and quit her post.

He claimed 'around 400 pupils' would be withdrawn if his demands were not met.

But Mrs Hewitt-Clarkson said the boycott threat had not diminished her determination to continue to share equality messages with pupils and to celebrate difference and diversity. [Birmingham Mail] Read more

Academic Sir Roger Scruton sacked from housing role

Conservative academic Sir Roger Scruton has been sacked as head of a government housing body following comments about Islam, China and George Soros.

The philosopher was appointed as the unpaid chair of the Building Beautiful architecture Commission in November.

He has now been dismissed after claiming Islamophobia was "a propaganda word" and "each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one".

Downing Street said the comments were "deeply offensive".

Sir Roger's appointment to head the new body was criticised at the time by Labour, who said his past comments on race and sexuality made him unsuitable to hold the post. [BBC] Read more

Roger Scruton’s sacking exposes the Tories’ cowardice

.... So what are the ‘outrageous remarks’? It appeared that Scruton had said that Islamophobia is ‘a propaganda word invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue’. Which is true.

He also said that ‘Anybody who doesn’t think that there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts.’ A fact which is also true. Obviously since the British Labour party became a party of anti-Semites it has become exceptionally important to pretend that anti-Semitism is equally prevalent on the political right in Britain and that to criticise any of the actions of George Soros is in fact simply to indulge in anti-Semitism equivalent to that rolling through the Labour party. [The Spectator] Read more

Government sacks Roger Scruton after remarks about Soros and Islamophobia

.... Scruton, who has been a friend of Orbán for more than 30 years, denied that he was antisemitic or Islamophobic. He said Islamophobia had been “invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue”.

Scruton also said: “Hungarians were extremely alarmed by the sudden invasion of huge tribes of Muslims”, and accused the Chinese of “creating robots out of their own people”.

Scruton’s sacking follows Labour-led calls for his dismissal. His comments came at an especially awkward time for the Conservatives as the party has been coming under increasing scrutiny over its stance on Islamophobia while continuing to attack Labour for antisemitism. [The Guardian] Read more

Britain has a moral duty to oppose Brunei’s attack on human rights

.... Brunei is now the eighth country that can use the death penalty to punish consensual same-sex sexual activity. Those convicted of anal sex or adultery can be stoned to death, public flogging is authorised as a “punishment” for lesbian sex and for abortion, and trans people can be criminalised through charges of “indecent” dressing.

This state-sponsored violence against people for their sexuality will appal us all. The oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people sits alongside a broader programme of attacks on women’s rights, with women facing punishment for pregnancy outside of marriage. [The Times (£)] Read more

Teacher at centre of LGBT row in Birmingham received death threat

Andrew Moffat says his lessons were not accepted by some Muslim parents, adding: "You can't teach someone to be gay". The teacher at the centre of the row over LGBT lessons has told Sky News he received a death threat and has been given advice from police about how he travels to and from school.

Andrew Moffat, the assistant head teacher at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham, wrote the No Outsiders programme that is used to teach diversity and equality in some schools.

Protests by mainly Muslim parents who object to their children learning about same-sex relationships have now spread from Parkfield to other schools in Birmingham and beyond.

Mr Moffat told Sky News: "I had a message saying, 'You won't last long'. There's been some very difficult messages to receive." [Sky News] Read more

09 April 2019

Indonesian court upholds conviction of Buddhist woman who complained mosque was too loud

Indonesia's Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a woman whose complaint about the volume of mosque loudspeakers led to an 18-month prison sentence for blasphemy.

In a March 27 ruling posted on the court's website on Monday, the court rejected the appeal by Meliana, a 44-year-old ethnic Chinese, Buddhist resident from the island of Sumatra.

The court did not provide a reason for the decision.

Meliana's lawyers said she had made remarks in a private conversation in 2016 on the volume of mosque loudspeakers. Those remarks were twisted to appear like she was objecting to the call to prayer itself and repeated in the community and on social media, her legal team said. [ABC] Read more

08 April 2019

Quebec moves to ban the burka and hijab for govt employees

It has been 10 years since Quebec’s Bouchard – Taylor Commission recommended that all public officials who embody the authority and the neutrality of the state and its institutions, such as judges, Crown prosecutors, police officers, prison guards and the president and vice-president of the National Assembly of Québec be prohibited from wearing any visible religious symbols such as the hijab, turbans, yarmulkes and the crucifix.

Four consecutive governments have attempted to implement a law on separation of church and state, but have failed. This time the likelihood of success is certain.

The fact is that while the Sikh turban, Jewish yarmulkes and the Catholic crucifix are definitely religious symbols, the hijab is not. Rather it is a political symbol that until the late 1970s was unheard of in Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Somalia and Nigeria. It was the uniform of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world.

Let’s hear from the world’s most prominent exponent of the hijab, newly-elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Somalia-born hijabi Ilhan Omar. Speaking to Vogue, Ms. Omar said: “To me, the hijab means power, liberation, beauty, and resistance.”

She admitted that “wearing her hijab allows her to be a walking billboard.” For Ilhan Omar the hijab is an Islamist flag just as Che Guevara’s beret was to wannabe revolutionaries or the KKK conehead is to White Supremacist ideology. [New Delhi Times] Read more

Parents should have no veto over LGBT lessons

Education secretary says he backs heads and teachers to make the right decisions over relationships and sex education. Damian Hinds has told headteachers that parents do not have a veto over what is taught in schools amid concerns over protests about how LGBT lessons are taught.

The education secretary has said that schools should listen to parents views on relationships and sex education (RSE) but backed school leaders and teachers to make the right decisions.

He has written to the Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, following a meeting between NAHT and Department for Education officials. [Tes Global] Read more

LGBT+ lessons: Hundreds of children could be withdrawn from Birmingham school over relationships education, protesters warn

Hundreds of children could be withdrawn from a Birmingham primary school that is facing daily protests from families who oppose LGBT+ lessons.

Anderton Park Primary is the second school in the city to face demonstrations from parents who argue that their children are too young to learn about families with same-sex parents.

Now the protest organisers are threatening to take 400 children out of class amid an escalating row over equality lessons. The protesting parents want the headteacher to resign.

Shakeel Afsar, whose niece and nephew attend the school, said a mass withdrawal could take place if the school refuses to suspend teaching about two mummies or two daddies. [The Independent] Read more

Report slams council for "appearing to have wilfully ignored extremist activity"

A former counter-extremism co-ordinator for Waltham Forest Council is writing a national report that singles the borough out as having a “grim history of extremism and terrorism”.

The Guardian has been granted exclusive access to extracts of the report, which also covers Cardiff, Birmingham and Glasgow and is not yet published.

The report highlights incidents in Waltham Forest including a prominent Islamist being given an award by the council and collection boxes in high street stores for groups advocating extremist ideologies.

.... According to Ms Littlewood’s report, an ongoing issue in the borough is the area’s links to other Pakistani Islamist groups promoting extreme views.

Currently, a number of high street stores in Leyton have been found to have collection boxes on their till counters to raise money for Dalwat-e-Islami and Madani.

Dalwat-e-Islami are a non-political, religious group in Pakistan and extremists from their group shared posts on Facebook praising the man responsible for the murder of Ahmadi-Muslim Asad Shah in Glasgow in 2016. [East London & west Essex Guardian] Read more

07 April 2019

There are two types of hijabs. The difference is huge

.... There are two vastly different kinds of hijabs: the democratic hijab, the head covering that a woman chooses to wear, and the tyrannical hijab, the one that a woman is forced to wear.

In the first kind, a woman has agency. She sets the terms of her hijab, appearing as ascetic or as appealing as she wishes. She can also wear makeup and fashionable clothing if she likes.

In the second kind of hijab, the woman has no agency. Where we lived, the terms were set by Iranian government authorities under a mandatory dress code that banned women from wearing makeup in public and forced them to wear a baggy, knee-length garment to fully disguise the shape of their bodies, over a pair of pants and closed-toed shoes. For a while, the authorities even decreed the colors that women could wear: gray, black, brown or navy.

Years of young Iranian women’s unofficial revisions of the code have succeeded in wearing down the government’s rigidity, but the official law remains unchanged and is capriciously enforced. A random sweep can result in mass arrests on a single day. [The Washington Post] Read more

'Taught the stones shouldn't be too big'

Brunei is introducing strict new anti-LGBT laws, with some offences punishable by stoning to death - a move which has sparked international condemnation.

Two Bruneians, who have left the country, share their experiences of what it's like growing up as an LGBT person in Brunei. [BBC] Read more

Government adviser on Islamaphobia gave his backing to a Pakistani cleric who called for a Christian mother to be hanged for blasphemy

An imam recruited to advise the Government on ‘tackling Islamophobia’ has publicly supported a cleric in Pakistan who has campaigned for a Christian woman to be hanged for blasphemy.

Qari Asim, who is part of an 11-strong panel assembled by the Communities Department, supported preacher Khadim Rizvi, who demanded the death penalty for Asia Bibi, who was falsely accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

She spent nine years on death row until she was acquitted in October.

Mr Asim’s past emerged as part of a Mail on Sunday investigation into the Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred, which advises Ministers and senior civil servants on measures to combat anti-Muslim bigotry and hate crimes.

When Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted Ms Bibi last year, Rizvi’s group, Tehreek-e-Labbaik, caused nationwide riots, demanding that she be hanged.

.... The working group, which was established in 2012, has been controversial, with a number of moderate Muslim leaders saying that some of its members were religious hardliners with bigoted views.

One former member said: ‘I resigned because I felt extremists were on board, and I could not work with them.

‘I also felt the group was just a box-ticking exercise.’

The ex-member said the group met quarterly, and reported its findings to senior civil servants who would attend its meetings.

A Communities Department spokesman said Mr Asim never intended to ‘endorse’ cleric Rizvi: ‘Imam Qari Asim did not intend that publication to be an endorsement of Rizvi and so took the article down, which he replaced with one calling for tolerance for all.’ [Daily Mail] Read more

05 April 2019

Social media to tackle under-reported Islamophobia in Bristol

A social media "poster" encouraging Muslims to report Islamophobic hate crimes has been designed in Bristol.

Rizwan Ahmed, from Bristol Muslim Cultural Society (BMCS), is behind the initiative.

He said the "under-reporting of Islamophobic abuse" made it difficult to gauge the scale of the problem.

The idea is part of a move by the Tackling Islamophobia Working Group (TIWG), set up to unite Muslim communities, police and other agencies.

Rizwan Ahmed said he came up with the idea after the success of a graphic he designed a few years ago, which used important dates from the Islamic calendar to help people plan time off work.

He said it was "so effective" that some of his friends in Bristol were "sent it from as far as Singapore."

He said Islamophobia was "becoming a growing issue" and people were not aware of what they could report, such as verbal abuse. [BBC] Read more

San Diego school district and parents reach settlement over Muslim civil rights program

The San Diego Unified School District settled in late March with a group of parents who sued over the district’s possible partnership with the Council on American–Islamic Relations, a national advocacy organization, on an anti-Islamophobic bullying program in schools.

The agreement specifies that guest speakers from religious organizations are not permitted to present to students on religious topics. Educators can’t show a preference for one religious viewpoint over another. And religions must be taught in the context of world history, with the “time and attention spent discussing each religion being proportionate to its impact on history and human development,” the agreement says.

But just how that’s measured, and who does the measuring, isn’t clear. [PRI.org] Read more

04 April 2019

'German Islam': Can a state-led project succeed with a new interpretation of religion?

.... While the programme was launched in 2006 by the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, it was mainly initiated to promote dialogue between representatives of the German government and the country's Muslim community, it significantly transformed over the years. Even though it was originally designed as a mechanism of communication and dialogue between the German state and Muslims living in Germany, the conference added a completely new dimension to its programme: redefining Islam.

The initiative to redefine and adjust Islam to German values combined with efforts to stimulate the integration of Muslims into German society is not an entirely new idea. In early 2000's former Interior Minister Otto Schily for example, raised this issue when saying that Muslims had to be assimilated and be prepared to adopt a "European Islam". [The New Arab] Read more

Adopting the new Islamophobia definition would be terrible for the Tories

I do not think I am alone in having real difficulty with the word Islamophobia and attempts to define it as “a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. Racism of any sort is unacceptable and catered for in the existing law, but this definition is impossibly vague. The reality is that it will preclude any criticism of “Muslimness” which, however well balanced and evidenced, will automatically be regarded as racist.

Let me give you an example. When I was a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, we examined legislation to ensure that it did not involve any violations of human rights. For the same reason, we conducted thematic enquiries. I suggested the position of Muslim women in the UK might merit an enquiry.

A preliminary examination of the evidence suggested that an enquiry might be worthwhile. But the majority of the Committee decided against it on the basis that it might be regarded as anti-Muslim even to have an enquiry, unless all women were included. It was difficult to avoid the conclusion that the parliamentarians were simply too frightened of the consequences for their reputation of even embarking on the exercise. [The Spectator] Read more

Psychologist against LGBT+ lessons investigated by professional body for ‘unethical’ comments

A prominent campaigner against relationship and sex education (RSE) lessons including sections on LGBT+ partnerships, is being investigated by her professional body over comments deemed to be "unethical".

The British Psychological Society said it was “extremely concerned” by the views expressed by chartered psychologist Dr Kate Godfrey-Faussett on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a talk that was filmed, the Muslim convert who has led a campaign opposing mandatory RSE lessons in schools, said that many young Muslims were “turning to same-sex relationships because they haven’t had the guidance.”

It emerged after education experts have warned that recent protests outside two primary schools in Birmingham against LGBT+ inclusive lessons could spread across the country. [The Independent] Read more

02 April 2019

Iranian women's rights activist says NZ hijab display after Christchurch shooting is 'heartbreaking'

A women's rights activist in Iran says her heart broke when she saw New Zealanders wearing the hijab in an attempt at solidarity following the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist and journalist who hosts the website My Stealthy Freedom where women in Iran post photos without headscarves, admired Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's compassion, but was conflicted about the national display.

After 50 people were shot dead in two Christchurch mosques on March 15, photos of Ardern wearing a hijab went around the world, with many political commentators admiring her act of solidarity.

Alinejad, who has lived in self-imposed exile since 2009 and received death threats for her campaigning against Iran's obligatory wearing of headscarves, told Reuters: "I felt admiration that a prominent leader and women in New Zealand showed compassion to the Muslim community, but I also felt that you are using one of the most visible symbols of oppression for Muslim women in many countries for solidarity, and it also broke my heart. [NZ Herald] Read more