31 August 2019

Asia Bibi pleads for justice for victims of Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws as she plans to settle in Europe

As Asia Bibi sits free at last in a secret location in Canada, the Pakistani Christian woman who spent years on death row after a false blasphemy charge thinks of those left behind still facing the same ordeal.

Nearly four months after the 54-year-old finally left Pakistan following a miscarriage of justice that caused worldwide outcry, she has the opportunity to rebuild a new life for her and her daughters.

Yet while she is enthusiastically grateful for the international efforts to free her, she says the world should know that Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws have left many others still behind bars.

In her first ever newspaper interview, she told The Sunday Telegraph she had at times fallen into despair after being sentenced to death in a case condemned around the world.

She also spoke of her heartbreak at being forced to leave her homeland, amid fears she would be murdered by religious extremists even after Pakistan's supreme court had quashed her flimsy conviction. [The Telegraph] Read more

29 August 2019

The lonely atheist: why renouncing your religion in Saudi Arabia can be deadly

When speaking about the arrival of migrants in Europe, people often ask why newcomers keep travelling north, rather than staying in the country where they arrived. For Rana Ahmad, a Syrian woman who fled Saudi Arabia because of her non-religious beliefs, it was Germany’s eminent roster of physicists, from Albert Einstein to Werner Heisenberg, which inspired her to continue journeying through Europe to study physics there.

Rana began to doubt her religious convictions when reading science and philosophy books at the age of 26. Because it is illegal to own books like The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Rana downloaded them from the internet onto a memory stick – keeping it with her at all times to avoid being caught.

.... Part of Rana’s motivation behind the Atheist Refugee Fund was her experience in refugee camps. Once other refugees learnt that Rana was an ex-Muslim, she suffered abuse. She still receives death threats from other refugees because of her criticism of Islam and her promotion of women’s rights. [New Statesman] Read more

Muslim conservatives defend practice of child brides in Pakistan as 'tenets of Islam'

Hameeda, 15, was married to Saqib, 30, in a small ceremony in a small village in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of northern Pakistan.

Hameeda, who had only recently stopped playing house with her dolls, is now running a household of her own and is on her way to becoming a mother.

“My husband works as a driver in United Arab Emirates while I stay in the village with my in-laws. He visits during Eid holidays only,” she said, referring to annual Muslim holidays that follow the fasting month of Ramadan.

“One day I will also visit him by taking an airplane,” she said as her face lit up.

Hameeda is one of more than 1 million child brides in Pakistan despite laws meant to make it illegal for girls to marry before age 16. A bill in Parliament would raise the minimum age to 18, but it faces opposition by religious conservatives. This time, however, child advocates say something has to be done. [The Washington Times] Read more

28 August 2019

Iranian women's rights activist, 20, is jailed for 15 years for 'spreading prostitution by taking off her hijab'

An Iranian women's rights activist has been jailed for a total of 24 years - including a 15-year term for 'spreading prostitution by taking off her hijab'.

Saba Kord Afshari, 20, was handed the sentence Tuesday by Tehran's Revolutionary Court after being found guilty of removing her headscarf as well as 'spreading propaganda against the state' and 'assembly and collusion'.

Afshari and her mother, Raheleh Ahmadi, had been prominent members of the White Wednesdays protest group, which spoke out against the compulsory hijab.

The pair routinely posted videos of themselves walking around the streets of Tehran without their headscarves to encourage other women to flout the law.

She was first arrested in the Iranian capital in August last year and jailed for a year, according to Iran Human Rights Monitor. [Daily Mail] Read more

27 August 2019

Norwegian mosque apologises to Crown Prince Haakon after three women refused handshake

His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon visited the Al-Noor Islamic Centre last week to show support after the 10 August shooting attack on the mosque. Many people noticed that three women did not accept the Crown Prince’s outstretched hand as he attempted to greet them.

The Bærum mosque shooting, or the Al-Noor Islamic Centre shooting, was an attack that occurred on 10 August 2019 at the Al-Noor Islamic Centre mosque in Bærum, Norway, about 20 km west of the capital city of Oslo. One person was injured, and the gunman’s stepsister was later found dead in their family home. The shooter was taken into police custody after being subdued by mosque-goers. The shooting has been described as one attack in a recent “resurgence of white supremacy”.

Waheed Ahmed, information officer at the Al-Noor mosque, told NRK that they were unaware that the women did not want to shake the hand of the Crown Prince. [Royal Central] Read more

Review 'could see anti-radicalisation scheme scrapped' says Lord Carlile

A FORMER MP for Montgomeryshire tasked with reviewing the Government's anti-radicalisation programme Prevent has said "everything is up for discussion" including scrapping the scheme.

Lord Carlile was appointed by the Government earlier this month to conduct a review into Prevent.

Part of the Government's wider counter-terrorism strategy, Prevent seeks to stop people at risk of being radicalised from being drawn into terrorist ideologies.

In an interview with the BBC's Newsnight programme, Lord Carlile said if it is to continue "it should be seen as fair by all communities".

Lord Carlile acknowledged his advice might be that police take "even less of a role than than they have now". [POWYS County Times] Read more

Bangladesh to remove the word 'virgin' from Muslim marriage certificates

The word “virgin” must be removed from Muslim marriage certificates in Bangladesh, the country’s top court has said, a landmark verdict after campaigners challenged the “humiliating and discriminatory” term.

Under the South Asian country’s Muslim marriage laws, a bride has to select one of three options on the certificate – whether she is a Kumari (virgin), a widow or divorced.

In a brief verdict on Sunday, the court ordered the government to remove the term and replace it with “unmarried”, said deputy attorney general Amit Talukder.

The court is expected to publish its full verdict by October, with the changes to the certificate expected to come into effect then.

“It is a landmark verdict,” Aynun Nahar Siddiqua, a lawyer for the groups which filed the case challenging the term in 2014 said.

Rights groups have long criticised the term – used in certificates since they were introduced in 1961 – saying it is “humiliating and discriminatory”, and that it breaches the privacy of the woman getting married. [The Guardian] Read more

26 August 2019

We must not introduce new blasphemy laws

.... So far the government has showed more caution than most by rejecting the definition. But in the final months of her premiership, Theresa May set the wheels in motion towards adopting some definition of Islamophobia. She appointed Imam Qari Asim as an adviser. He had previously criticised Boris Johnson for fanning the flames of Islamophobia.

We have no reason to hope that any new definition reached by the government would be any less damaging than the last. Concerns are being expressed from all directions. But there is a real risk they will be swept under the carpet, and our civil liberties with them.

There are many ways to deal with the discrimination faced by Muslims, as a new Civitas anthology explores, but chilling free speech is not one of them. [Spiked] Read more

23 August 2019

London mosque where children groomed for terrorism gets interim manager

The Charity Commission has appointed at interim manager at an east London mosque where children were trained by a man convicted of terrorism offences.

Emergency measures were deemed necessary after court evidence revealed young people at the Ripple Road mosque in Barking were shown Isis videos by convicted extremist Umar Haque.

Boys at the mosque were said to ”traumatised” by the violent propaganda and role-playing training exercises.

Social services and police discovered Mr Haque had attempted to radicalise 55 children between the ages of 11 and 14 at after-school classes.

Mr Haque was jailed for life with a minimum of 25 years at the Old Bailey in March this year.

He was found to have planned gun and car bomb attacks designed to strike 30 high-profile targets in the capital - including Big Ben, the Queen’s Guard and Westfield shopping centre. [The Independent] Read more

22 August 2019

‘Islamophobia’ definition curtails free speech, campaigners warn

The widespread adoption of a proposed definition of 'Islamophobia' risks curtailing freedom of speech and the exposure of extremism, a collection of essays has warned.

An anthology published by the think tank Civitas warns that the definition proposed by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on British Muslims poses a threat to liberal values.

The collection features a piece submitted by the National Secular Society, with other contributors including NSS honorary associates Peter Tatchell, Richard Dawkins, Pragna Patel and Maryam Namazie.

The APPG's definition says: "Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness."

The NSS and others argue that the broad and vague definition, and the normalisation of the idea of 'Islamophobia' more widely, will silence criticism of Islam. [National Secular Society] Read more

21 August 2019

Saudi Arabia loosens travel restrictions on women, allowing them to go abroad without permission from male ‘guardian’

Saudi Arabia has begun to implement its new law allowing women to travel without the permission of a male “guardian”, its state news agency has announced.

The royal decree approved earlier this month stipulated that a Saudi passport should be issued to any citizen who applies for it and any person over the age of 21 will be able to travel without permission.

The ultra-conservative Islamic state also allowed women to exercise greater control over family matters.

Women were granted the right to register child birth, marriage or divorce, and to be issued official family documents and be eligible as a guardian to children who are minors.

“The passports and civil status departments and their branches in all regions of the kingdom have started to implement the amendments stipulated in the royal decree,” the SPA report said, citing an interior ministry source. [The Independent] Read more

Islamophobia definition will prevent criticism of the 'hateful' ideology of Islam, say leading atheists

A new definition of Islamophobia will prevent criticism of the “hateful ideology of theocratic Islam,” say two of Britain’s leading atheists in new book of essays.

Richard Dawkins and Peter Tatchell - and other authors including a former member of extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir - say attempts to define Islamophobia risk curtailing freedom of speech and work to expose extremism.

In a book of essays published today by the think tank Civitas, Mr Tatchell said he would have fallen foul of the new definition - proposed by leading politicians and backed by Labour - when he attacked Hizb ut-Tahrir over its anti-gay, anti-women comments.

“I was denounced as Islamophobic. But I was merely confronting the hateful ideology of theocratic Islamism, not Muslim people, the vast majority of whom do not subscribe to such murderous injunctions,” he said.

“My protest in 1994 could fall within the sweeping definition of Islamophobia proposed by the APPG, since it talks about Muslimness. [The Telegraph] Read more

Saudi Arabia eases travel restrictions on women

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday began implementing a landmark reform allowing women over the age of 21 to receive passports and travel abroad without permission from a male "guardian", authorities said.

The reform, announced earlier this month, weakens the restrictive guardianship system that has long been a symbol of repression against women.

"The passport department has started receiving applications for women aged 21 and above to issue or renew passports and to travel outside the kingdom without permission," the department said on Twitter.

Women in the kingdom have long required permission from their male "guardians" -- husband, father and other male relatives -- for these tasks, a restriction that drew international censure. [France24] Read more

20 August 2019

Detention of Muslims at UK ports and airports 'structural Islamophobia'

Muslims are being detained at ports and airports for up to six hours by law enforcement using controversial counter-terrorism powers so disproportionately that the practice has become Islamophobic, according to human rights group Cage.

The organisation added there is growing anecdotal evidence that Muslim women are being forced to remove their headscarves when stopped, even though the rate that such stops lead to a conviction is 0.007%, according to Cage’s analysis of 420,000 incidences.

Cage said it had made a compliant to the policing regulator, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, on behalf of 10 people, and had written to MPs on the all-party group on British Muslims to spell out the extent of its concerns with so-called schedule 7 stops. [The Guardian] Read more

19 August 2019

Why was a GCSE student disqualified for criticising halal meat?

We have to talk about the schoolgirl who was disqualified from a GCSE exam on the grounds that she had made ‘obscene racial comments’ about Islam. This bizarre incident is being chalked up to overzealous wokeness on the part of some GCSE examiners.

But it’s more than that. It tells us a bigger story about 21st-century Britain and the creeping criminalisation of any questioning of Islam. Too many institutions now believe it is their role to monitor and even punish anti-Islam ‘blasphemy’.

The girl — Abigail Ward — is 16 years old and a strict vegetarian. In her GCSE Religious Studies exam she wrote some critical comments about halal meat. She described the butchery involved in the preparation of halal meat as ‘absolutely disgusting’. The exam board OCR accused her of having made ‘obscene racial comments’ and disqualified her exam paper. Her school appealed, and won. OCR apologised for the ‘upset and stress’ it had caused Miss Ward.

But before we move on and shrug off this incident as the behaviour of an ‘overzealous, over-righteous’ examiner — as Miss Ward’s mother put it — we have to ask some questions. Primarily this one: why on earth was criticism of an Islamic practice presumed to be racist? And not only racist but obscenely racist? [The Spectator] Read more

A prison that suffocates Muslims

Iraqi scholar Dr. Abdul Jabbar Al-Rifaee has noticed that the Islamic world's contribution to modern science has not been significant, to say the least. It has, in truth, been pretty much non-existent. "What our culture refers to as loyalty to its heritage is, in fact, a prison that suffocates Muslims."

I think he might be on to something. [Mick Hartley] Read more

18 August 2019

Belgium tests EU rules on halal and kosher slaughter

It is the last year that Mohamed Bouezmarni can help sacrifice around 200 sheep in a southern Belgian slaughterhouse for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

From September 1, the French-speaking region of Wallonia will be the second Belgian authority after Flanders to ban halal and kosher slaughter as it moves to prohibit killing animals without prior stunning.

The bans are the result of a long push by animal welfare activists, but Jewish and Muslim groups fear they are also a sign that the anti-immigrant sentiment of right-wing Flemish nationalists has captured Belgium's political mainstream.

Lamenting this impending legal obstacle to a festival that he describes as “the equivalent of Christmas,” Bouezmarni, the head of the Muslim association in the town of Arlon, feared that sacrifices could be driven underground. [POLITICO] Read more

GCSE student disqualified after examiner mistook hatred for halal meat for Islamophobia

A vegetarian GCSE pupil was disqualified after criticising halal meat in a Religious Studies exam, it has today emerged.

Abigail Ward, 16, was accused of making "obscene racial comments" in her test.

She was informed by exam board OCR after committing a "malpractice offence".

The practicing vegetarian said in the paper in June she found the idea of halal meat "absolutely disgusting", Telegraph reports.

But the disqualification was overturned when the board was told the teenager's distaste for halal butchers came from the fact she is a strict vegetarian.

Abigail took the exam at Gildredge House school in Eastbourne, East Sussex, which appealed against the decision on the grounds that their student had not made an Islamophobic or racist comment about Muslims, but was merely expressing her distaste for halal butchers. [Daily Mirror] Read more

Vegetarian student disqualified from GCSE paper for 'obscene racial comments' after she criticised halal meat

A student was disqualified from her GCSE exam after she was accused of making “obscene racial comments” by criticising halal meat.

Abigail Ward, 16, a strict vegetarian, wrote during a Religious Studies exam in June that she found the idea of halal meat "absolutely disgusting".

The exam board OCR later disqualified Miss Ward from the exam, accusing her of making "obscene racial comments".

The decision was only overturned when her school, Gildredge House in Eastbourne, appealed the decision, insisting Miss Ward had been expressing her distaste for halal butchers and was not making any comment about Muslims.

The school added that no other comments made in the paper could be construed as racist.

The exam board upheld the appeal and later apologised for the “upset and stress” they caused Miss Ward, the Telegraph reported. [Evening Standard] Read more

American mom, 32, forced to live in Saudi Arabia loses custody of her four-year-old daughter after a judge in the kingdom ruled she is 'too Western to raise the child' because she went to Burning Man and has social media accounts 'full of nudity'

A Washington mother, who moved to Saudi Arabia to teach at a university, lost custody of her daughter after divorcing her husband because she was too Western to raise the child, according to a Saudi court.

Bethany Vierra, 32, lost custody of her daughter - four-year-old Zaina - in July after the court determined that the mother was too 'new to Islam.'

'The mother is new to Islam, is a foreigner in this country, and continues to definitively embrace the customs and traditions of her upbringing. We must avoid exposing (Zaina) to these customs and traditions, especially at this early age,' Judge Abdul-Ellah ibn Mohammed al-Tuwaijri said in his July ruling, according to CNN. [Daily Mail] Read more

16 August 2019

‘Childbearing is a type of Jihad’ says Khamenei army representative

Childbearing is a type of jihad, said the representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the Iranian army on Thursday, adding that “enemies” seek to reduce the population of Muslim countries, the Iranian semi-official Mehr news agency reported.

“Childbearing in the current circumstances is considered a type of jihad and it would please the Almighty God,” said Abbas Mohammad Hassani.

“Enemies of Shiism are trying to prevent the Shiite population from growing, while they continue to increase their own population,” he said, adding that their goal is for Muslims not to have enough “defenders.”

“All Shiites must, therefore, take on the jihad of childbearing to counter the goals and conspiracies of the enemies,” the representative said. [Al Arabiya English] Read more

‘Quash’ convictions and release women jailed for protesting against wearing veils in Iran, urge UN rights experts

Decades-long prison sentences handed down to three women protesting the strictly enforced wearing of veils in Iran, have drawn alarm and condemnation from six United Nations independent human rights experts.

“We are alarmed that the arrest and lengthy sentences handed to these women are directly related to the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly in the pursuit of gender equality in Iran,” the experts said in a joint statement on Friday.

They called upon the Iranian authorities to quash the convictions and “immediately release all human rights defenders who have been arbitrarily detained for their work in advocating women’s rights, and to ensure full respect for the rights of women to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and non-discrimination.”

Respect and support for women rights defenders’ activities are essential to the overall enjoyment of human rights, according to the experts. [United Nations] Read more

Iran: Women Detained, Accused of Flouting Stadium Ban

The Iranian government should release women detained because they are alleged to have dressed as men to circumvent a ban on women attending football matches, Human Rights Watch said today.

Among the women reportedly detained on August 13, 2019 are Zahra Khoshnavaz, a prominent advocate for ending the ban on women and girls attending public sporting events, and Forough Alaei, a leading photojournalist.

Iran bans female spectators from football and other stadiums. The ban is not written into law or regulation, but is enforced by the country’s authorities. The ban is a clear violation of the rules in FIFA’s constitution, the Statutes, and its Human Rights Policy.

Article 4 of the Statutes says discrimination against women “is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.” In June, the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino warned the Iranian Federation that it must take concrete steps to allow women in stadiums or else face sanctions. [Human Rights Watch] Read more

The 14 Defiant Women Who Want To Change The Islamic Republic Of Iran

Iranian human rights lawyer Guity Pourfazel wants to see change in her country and believes Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei should step down and the ruling clerical establishment be replaced with a democratic system.

Pourfazel is one of 14 women activists in Iran who have publicly called for Khamenei to resign and for a new political system to be installed that is framed by a new constitution that would secure dignity and equal rights for women.

The women from various backgrounds made the call earlier this month in a statement posted online that has received mixed reactions -- many praising it as a bold expression of dissent, while others have described it as an exercise in futility and a naive act that will bring no changes.

The August 5 statement accuses Iran of "gender apartheid" and says that while in many countries women are progressing alongside men in different spheres, women in Iran continue to strive just for basic human rights. [RFE/RL] Read more

15 August 2019

Fluenz: ‘Don’t ask faith leaders for vaccine advice’

Health officials have backtracked over guidance encouraging parents “to seek advice from faith or other community leaders” before deciding whether their children can be vaccinated against flu.

Public Health England (PHE) made the suggestion after some Muslims raised concerns about the presence of pork gelatine in the Fluenz nasal spray, which will be offered from next month to children aged two to ten. It has now deleted this advice from its public information leaflets after the National Secular Society complained that it was “confusing and potentially harmful”.

Stephen Evans, the society’s chief executive, wrote to PHE saying: “Religious people are of course at liberty to consult religious leaders on any issue but they should not be directed to do so by a public health authority.”

.... “Now that awareness of the porcine gelatine issue is much more widespread we are updating our documents to make clear that PHE recommends using scientific evidence to help when deciding whether or not to vaccinate.” [The Times (£)] Read more

Brace yourself for more lies about Prevent

At the beginning of the year, the government announced an assessment and review of Prevent, the United Kingdom’s innovative counter-extremism strategy.

Prevent is a component of Contest — an integrated and sophisticated response to the deadly threat that terrorism presents to the citizens of this country. The review is to be welcomed. Where considerations which impinge on both public safety and civil liberties are impacted, it is vital that the correct balance is struck.

The government has prudently appointed the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Lord Carlile, as the new Independent Reviewer of Prevent. His professional reputation, combined with his unsurpassed experience, will ensure that the programme is appropriately fine-tuned.

In the 16 years of its existence, a spectacular level of disinformation has been disseminated about Prevent, much of it quite cynical in nature. Some emanates from organisations which are motivated less by a sincere concern for liberty and rather more by their support for Islamist politics. [The JC] Read more

Cricket club alleges discrimination over Muslim festival

A cricket club claims it has been discriminated against for not playing a match during a religious festival.

Gloucester AIW said it has been docked 22 points, and its opponents awarded a further 20 points as a concession, for refusing to play last Saturday.

The club, which is made up mainly of Muslim cricketers, said the date clashed with the Day of Arafat - the day before Eid al-Adha.

Gloucestershire County Cricket League said it had acted "within its rules".

The club said the league has a specific clause in its constitution - introduced this season - requiring matches to be rearranged where there is a risk of games coinciding with Eid.

Club secretary Ahmed Goga said he informed the league in January about the clash, but "they ignored it".

"The day of Arafat is one of the most important days in Islam which comes a day before Eid al-Adha. [BBC] Read more

14 August 2019

Jailed Saudi activist 'told to deny torture in release deal'

Prominent Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has rejected a proposal to secure her release from prison in exchange for a video statement denying she was tortured in custody, her family has said.

"The Saudi state security has visited my sister in prison recently. They have asked her to ... appear on video to deny the torture and harassment," her brother Walid al-Hathloul said on Twitter on Tuesday. "That was part of a deal to release her."

There was no immediate reaction from Saudi authorities.

Hathloul, who recently marked her 30th birthday in jail, is among around a dozen prominent female activists who are currently facing trial after being detained last year, just as Saudi Arabia ended a ban on women driving cars, for which many of the detainees had long campaigned. [Al Jazeera English] Read more

13 August 2019

Addressing Muslim Women, Al-Qaeda Leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri Deems Western Battle Against Hijab To Be Part Of War On Islamic Ummah

On August 7, 2019, Al-Qaeda's Al-Sahab media wing released a video featuring a speech by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri titled "The Battle of the Hijab." In the video, Al-Zawahiri addresses Muslim women and warns them of the war raging against the Islamic nation that seeks to force them to abandon their religion and hijab ("head covering").

The 12-minute video, which is the fourth episode of his da'wa ("preaching, invitation") series, shows the Al-Qaeda leader in the usual setting, in what appears to be a studio, sitting behind a table on which a Quran is open. Al-Zawahiri begins by addressing "Muslim sisters," particularly those who wear the hijab, saying the current war rages against the Islamic ummah at all levels – militarily, politically, ideologically, culturally, educationally, or economically and others. He says: "The reason behind this war is the danger the Muslim ummah poses to the existence of the modern global system, which is controlled by the leading [international] criminals." [MEMRI] Read more

Jailed Saudi feminist refuses to deny torture to secure release

The prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has rejected a proposal to secure her release from prison in exchange for a video statement denying reports she was tortured in custody, her family said.

Hathloul was arrested more than a year ago with at least a dozen other women’s rights activists as Saudi Arabia ended a ban on women driving cars, which many of the detainees had long campaigned for.

Some of the women appeared in court earlier this year to face charges related to human rights work and contacts with foreign journalists and diplomats, but the trial has not convened in months.

The case has drawn global criticism and provoked anger in European capitals and the US Congress after the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate last year.

Rights groups say at least three of the women, including Hathloul, were held in solitary confinement for months and subjected to abuse including electric shocks, flogging and sexual assault. [The Guardian] Read more

Muslim man discovers Pret sandwich he has been eating for 12 years is not halal

A Muslim man has discovered the Pret A Manger sandwich he has been eating for 12 years is not halal.

Khalid Qadeer, who works as a tax adviser in London, is a frequent customer at the food chain and would always opt for its signature tuna baguette sandwich.

However, the tax adviser was shocked to find out the sandwich contained white wine vinegar, after noticing the ingredient listed on a new printed label.

White wine vinegar is not considered halal in Islam.

Despite that, the ingredient is also not listed on fridge labels in store.

.... A Pret spokesperson said their sandwiches have never been labelled as halal-certified.

They said: ‘Whilst we’re very sorry that Mr Qadeer feels he was misled, the food and drink sold at Pret has never been labelled as halal-certified and we have never made any halal product claims. [Daily Mirror] Read more

08 August 2019

Germany’s Muslims call for an Islamophobia commissioner

Germany’s Muslim community has called on the government to create a new government post to counter growing Islamophobia in the country.

Aiman Mazyek, president of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, proposed on Wednesday appointment of an Islamophobia commissioner.

“We have seen the importance of such a post after the federal government appointed a commissioner to combat anti-Semitism,” he told Bild daily.

Mazyek underlined that the appointment of an Islamophobia commissioner would be an important signal, and authorities would become more sensitive about anti-Muslim crimes.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government created an office last year for a federal commissioner to fight against anti-Semitism, following calls by Jewish organizations. [Yeni Safak] Read more

07 August 2019

Boris Johnson’s racist comments would rule him out of joining police, UK counterterror chief says

Boris Johnson would be barred from joining the police because of his remarks describing black people as “piccaninnies” and comparing Muslim women to “letterboxes”, the UK’s most senior counterterror officer has said.

Asked whether someone would be allowed to join a police force if they had made the same comments, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu said: “No, they wouldn’t be recruited into policing.”

Mr Basu would not comment on the prime minister’s remarks directly but told The Guardian: “Every public figure who’s got a microphone and has got an opportunity to speak should take the opportunity to be bringing society together.

“The most important thing everybody should be aiming for is a socially cohesive, inclusive society … we should all be very careful about what we say publicly.” [The Independent] Read more

06 August 2019

Stacey Dooley’s Panorama about Islamic State brides should be shown in our schools, not vilified

Non-Muslim girls in Lincolnshire will soon be asked to wear a hijab for a day, to “raise awareness of discrimination”.

Ghada Mohamed of the Lincoln Muslim Sisters Forum says she came up with the idea in response to a number of incidents where girls wearing headscarfs were subjected to abuse.

Mrs Mohamed hopes secondary schools across the country will sign up and it will lead to “better understanding”.

I suppose the idea of Muslim girls removing their hijabs for a day to get a “better understanding” of how the majority of their fellow countrywomen live is out of the question? Or even asking Muslim boys to wear the hijab so they can experience what it’s like to always go around with your head covered and wonder how nice that actually is for girls?

No, I thought not. In my experience, Lincolnshire folk are a rather gentle, easy-going lot. “Aright, mi dook?” is the way everyone, regardless of creed, colour or gender, is greeted. But I can see why parents would resist their daughters taking part in a hijab day. [The Telegraph] Read more

British Muslims should not feel forced to assimilate, says top counter terrorism officer

British Muslims should not be forced to “assimilate”, the country’s most senior counter terrorism officer has said, as he called for greater understanding of marginalised communities.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, who is the country’s highest ranking Asian officer, said that in a successful, integrated society, people should be free to practise their religion and culture openly rather than having to hide away.

He also said more needed to be done to eradicate poverty, improve education and increase social mobility if community cohesion was to be improved.

But he admitted Prevent, the Government’s flagship counter terrorism strategy, had been “badly handled” and warned it needed to be more community led if it was to be successful.

Mr Basu said it was no longer enough to rely on just the police and security services to win the fight against extremism and terrorism, explaining that wider society also had a role. [The Telegraph] Read more

Fighting for the Hidden Imam to reappear

Why are the Iranians so hostile to the West? Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah Mohammad Mehdi Mirbagheri explains.

"We did not carry out a revolution in order to join the international community and accept liberal democracy. Why would we have had to sacrifice so many martyrs if we only wanted to join liberal democracy? Why would we have had to suffer such depravation? It has all been done to bring about the age of (the Hidden Imam's) reappearance." [Mick Hartley] Read more

Koran encyclopaedia hopes to promote peace

Extremists who take passages from the Koran out of context to justify violence will be challenged by an encyclopaedia published in the UK at the weekend — the first to re-order Koranic verses into themed chapters focusing on peace and women’s rights.

The work is written in English and has been described as a remarkable achievement, designed to show why Islam is described as a peaceful religion.

The Koran is written as it was “revealed” to the Prophet Muhammad in the early 7th century. Its 114 chapters and more than 6,000 verses are not in thematic order. Readers wishing to understand Islam’s teaching on a topic may have to find references scattered throughout the Koran.

This creates the risk that verses mentioning violence can be taken out of context to claim that Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims. Scholars have said such verses issued calls to arms for Muslims to defend themselves in wars waged against them 1,400 years ago but were not meant to justify violence generally and often appear with verses urging restraint. [The Times (£)] Read more

05 August 2019

Saudi Arabia women's rights reforms may still be thwarted by custom

Saudi officials have hailed as “historic” new rights granted to women in Saudi Arabia that further dismantle its heavily criticized guardianship system, but male relatives could still find ways to thwart these freedoms.

Thousands of Saudi women took to social media to celebrate royal decrees on Friday that allow women above 21 to travel without permission as of the end of August. Women also now have the right to register births, marriages and divorces, to be issued official family documents and be guardians to minors.

Experts, however, say male relatives can still obstruct women defying their wishes through legal avenues or informal routes in the ultra-conservative kingdom, where it will take time to change views on gender and social customs.

“We need enforcement of these laws and the establishment of reporting mechanisms when these policies are not being upheld, as well as watchdog organizations,” said Hala al-Dosari, a U.S.-based Saudi women’s rights expert. [Reuters] Read more

04 August 2019

Conservative Party chairman insists inquiry into Tory Islamophobia will go ahead

The Conservative Party is still planning to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia in its ranks, party chairman James Cleverly has insisted.

Mr Cleverly said that Boris Johnson would fulfil his promise, made during the Tory leadership campaign, to order a formal inquiry.

The new prime minister was among several of the then leadership candidates to commit to a probe following a series of reports about Tory members making anti-Muslim comments.

He has faced questions since taking office about when the inquiry will be announced. The probe was initially suggested by Sajid Javid, who is now the chancellor.

Asked if there was still going to be an investigation, Mr Cleverly told Sky News programme Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “Yes there will be.” [The Independent] Read more

Lincolnshire non-Muslim girls asked to wear hijab for a day

Non-Muslim girls in Lincolnshire are being asked to wear a hijab for a day to raise awareness of discrimination.

Ghada Mohamed said she came up with the idea in response to a number of incidents where girls wearing hijabs were subjected to abuse.

The campaigner, who is a member of the Lincoln Muslim Sisters Forum, said it would lead to better understanding.

She hopes secondary schools across the county will sign up.

Talking about the abuse some girls have faced, Mrs Mohamed said: "If they have been attacked or abused it's not because other children are bad.

"It's just because they don't have the knowledge."

The hijab day, to be held in November, will help non-Muslim children learn more about what it is like to wear a hijab, and the reasons behind it, she said. [BBC] Read more

Long jail sentences for women defying compulsory hijab in Iran

There’s been very little coverage of this story in the media, even though the sentences are horrifyingly harsh. Three women, Monireh Arabshahi, Yasamin Aryani, and Mojgan Keshavarz, have given prison terms amounting to over 55 years between them for the crime of ‘disrespecting compulsory hijab’. Although it would be difficult to describe any trial for such as a ‘crime’ as fair, the women were denied even the most basic legal support, as the Jerusalem Post reports.

All the women did was discard their headscarves, distribute flowers to other women on the metro, and share their views about women’s rights. It’s more depressing than surprising to note that most coverage of this profound injustice is coming from commentators preoccupied with Islam (such as Pamela Geller) rather than from those who purport to defend liberal values and freedoms more broadly. [Harry’s Place] Read more

Tory chairman James Cleverly confirms party will hold Islamophobia inquiry

The intervention comes amid pressure on Boris Johnson to commit to an inquiry after he was accused of watering down his stance on the issue during the Tory leadership contest.

Mr Johnson agreed to launch a probe into anti-Muslim hate on a TV debate in June, but later appeared to backtrack when he vowed to bring forward “an inquiry into every manner of prejudice within the party”

When asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, whether there would be an inquiry into Islamophobia, Mr Cleverly said: “There will be…

"One of the things that we need to get is the definition of that and so specifically on that point we will guided by the formal definition of Islamophobia.

"But the point is we do and will always take firm action with anyone who steps outside the boundaries of appropriate behaviour.”

Mr Cleverly’s intervention came a week after Government frontbencher Rishi Sunak refused to confirm that a probe would go ahead and insisted that it was “a question for the brand new party chairman”.

Calls for a probe were ramped up in July after a poll by Hope Not Hate found that 54% of Conservative Party members believe that Islam is “generally a threat to the British way of life”. [PoliticsHome] Read more

Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’ on Islamophobia

.... I found a segment which took in all these topics on Radio 4’s Sunday programme very frustrating. Its starting point was a recent poll which found that nearly half of people in the UK think Islam is incompatible with British values; the two guests were Khalil Yousuf and Miqdaad Versi.

The inclusion of a more dissenting voice – maybe Maajid Nawaz or Amina Lone – would have forced both men to grapple more directly with the reasons for those poll results. The conversation might have been more challenging for them – but could have been used to demonstrate the complexities which those most hostile to Islam may not acknowledge. For as things stood, this feature would have done nothing to shift the views of an Islamosceptic listener.

Yousef is an Ahmadi Muslim, and this was the first elephant in the room. The Ahmadi are targets of sectarian bigotry and persecution, and the MCB, of which Miqdaad Versi is the assistant secretary general, has been criticised for refusing to recognize them as Muslims.

.... By asserting that ‘Islam has nothing to do with extremism’ Yousuf effectively cut off what could have been a more useful – if less comfortable– conversation, one which acknowledged that there is a clear tradition of interpreting Islam in ways which could (certainly) be characterised as extreme, but also countervailing traditions and more liberal readings. Because the guests were silent on these issues, hostile listeners would have filled in the gaps for themselves and felt their prejudices were confirmed. [Harry’s Place] Read more

02 August 2019

Iranian women defy threat of decade-long jail sentence by taking photos of themselves without headscarves

Iranian women are sharing videos of themselves removing their headscarves in public, despite a recent ruling they could face 10 years in jail for doing so.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and prominent activist based in the US, started a social media campaign in 2014 encouraging women in Iran to share self-portraits without the Islamic veil, which she then goes on to share on her Facebook page called “My Stealthy Freedom”.

Ms Alinejad said campaigners had carried on sending her pictures and videos even after Tehran’s Revolutionary Court ruled they could face up to 10 years in prison on Monday. [Microsoft News] Read more

German conservatives renew calls for a burqa ban

As the neighboring Netherlands begins policing the wearing of burqas, Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) are calling for a burqa ban of Germany's own. Julia Klöckner, who leads the provincial Rhineland-Palatinate branch of the party and is the No. 2 Christian Democrat nationally, said Germany should enshrine a dress code for Muslim women in order to help protect their dignity.

"It's not about a piece of fabric, but about the entire gender image that is expressed through it," Klöckner, also the agriculture minister in Merkel's government, told the Passauer Neue Presse (PNP) in an article published Friday. "Our Basic Law is totally clear," Klöckner added. "Men and women have equal value and equal rights."

Though a burqa ban would be constitutionally tricky, CDU colleagues joined Klöckner, who was once tapped as a potential successor to Merkel, in calling for a burqa ban. "The burqa does not belong to Germany," said Thorsten Frei, the vice chairman of the CDU's parliamentary group in the Bundestag. "It decidedly contradicts our values and image of humanity." [Deutsche Welle] Read more

11 people publicly caned for getting too close to the opposite sex in Indonesia

One woman begged for mercy and another sobbed uncontrollably as Indonesia’s Aceh province flogged nearly a dozen people on Thursday, including a Buddhist man charged with breaking local Islamic law.

Despite widespread criticism, public whipping is a common punishment for a range of offences in the deeply conservative region at the tip of Sumatra island, including gambling, drinking alcohol and having gay sex or relations outside of marriage.

Aceh is the only region in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country that imposes Islamic law.

On Thursday, dozens watched as 11 people were whipped outside a mosque in the provincial capital Banda Aceh.

A masked sharia officer rained down between eight and 32 strokes from a rattan cane on their backs after they were caught with members of the opposite sex.

The six men and five women — all in their late teens and early 20s — were rounded up by religious officers who caught them behaving amorously, a crime under local law. [news.com.au] Read more

Saudi Arabia allows women to travel without male guardian's approval

Women in Saudi Arabia will no longer need the permission of a male guardian to travel, according to laws published on Friday, in a key step towards dismantling controls that have made women second-class citizens in their own country.

Other changes issued in the decrees allow women to apply for passports, register a marriage, divorce or child’s birth and be issued official family documents. It also stipulates that a father or mother can be legal guardians of children.

Being able to obtain family documents could ease hurdles women faced in obtaining a national identity card and enrolling their children in school.

Still in place, however, are rules that require male consent for a woman to leave prison, exit a domestic abuse shelter or marry. Women, unlike men, still cannot pass on citizenship to their children and cannot provide consent for their children to marry.

Under the kingdom’s guardianship system, women essentially rely on the “goodwill” and whims of male relatives to determine the course of their lives. [The Guardian] Read more

Half Of Brits Think Islam Is Incompatible With UK Values, Survey Finds

Islam is “misunderstood” in the UK with nearly half of adults feeling the religion is “incompatible” with British values, a survey suggests.

Results of the poll carried out on behalf of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community also indicate almost a third of adults think Islam encourages Muslims to carry out acts of violence against non-Muslims.

The news comes as the country’s largest Muslim convention, the Jalsa Salana, is set to take place on Friday in Hampshire with more than 30,000 people expected to attend.

he survey said it questioned 2,077 UK adults of various ages and genders living in different regions of the country between July 12 and 14 to gather the results, which suggest:

Most of the adults questioned, 58%, believe Islamophobia is widespread in the UK.

Nearly half, 48%, believe Islam is incompatible with British values.

Almost a third, 29%, think Islam encourages Muslims to carry out acts of violence against non-Muslims.

Two thirds, 67%, of the public agree most people in the UK have a negative view of Islam. [The Huffington Post UK] Read more

Nearly half of UK adults think Islam is ‘incompatible’ with British values

Almost a third of UK adults think Islam encourages Muslims to carry out acts of violence against non-Muslims, a survey suggests. It found nearly half (48 per cent) think the religion is ‘incompatible’ with British values.

The poll, which questioned 2,077 people of different ages, genders and regions, showed how ‘misunderstood’ the religion is in the UK, said the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

Two thirds (67 per cent) of the public agreed most Brits have a negative view of Islam, while 58 per cent believe Islamophobia is widespread in the UK. The results come as the country’s largest Muslim convention, the Jalsa Salana, will take place on Friday in Hampshire with more than 30,000 expected to attend. [Metro.co.uk] Read more

01 August 2019

Iran: Prisoner of conscience flogged 100 times for ‘drinking alcohol and insulting Islam’

The flogging of Kurdish singer and prisoner of conscience Peyman Mirzazadeh 100 times demonstrates the shocking brutality of Iran’s justice system, said Amnesty International.

Peyman Mirzazadeh had been sentenced to two years in prison and 100 lashes after being convicted of “drinking alcohol” and “insulting Islamic sanctities”. The flogging was carried out on 28 July and left him in agonizing pain with a severely swollen back and legs. He is currently on hunger strike in protest at his treatment and sentence.

“It is appalling that Peyman Mirzazadeh was subjected to such an unspeakably cruel punishment. His flogging highlights the inhumanity of a justice system that legalizes brutality. He is a prisoner of conscience detained merely for exercising his freedom of expression and the Iranian authorities must release him immediately and unconditionally,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. [Amnesty International] Read more

Burqa ban descends into farce on first day after Dutch police refuse to enforce it

The Netherlands’s new ban on burqas has been fatally undermined on its very first day of operation after the police indicated they would not seriously try to enforce it.

The new law prohibits wearing anything which covers the face - including burqas, ski masks or motorcycle helmets - in public settings such as schools, hospitals, trains or buses.

Anyone who does enter one of these places with a burqa will be told to remove it or be fined between €150 and €415 (£136 - £378).

The legislation only extends to public buildings and transport and there is no ban on covering the face in the street.

But the law has been rendered largely pointless even on its first day after it emerged no-one wanted to actually enforce it.

The police have let it be known they do not consider stopping women wearing burqas a priority, and are concerned it will stop some people from coming into police stations to report crime.

Then, an umbrella organisation of transport companies said their bus conductors and train drivers will not try to enforce the law, especially as the police will not back them up should they need it. [The Independent] Read more

Dutch 'burqa ban' rendered largely unworkable on first day

The Netherlands’ so-called burqa ban has been rendered largely unworkable on its first day in law after both the police and Dutch transport companies signalled an unwillingness to enforce it.

Under the terms of the Partial Ban on Face-Covering Clothing Act, the wearing of ski masks, full-face helmets, balaclavas, niqabs and burqas is prohibited in public buildings including schools and hospitals and on public transport.

Wearers of the banned clothing are to be given the option to remove the offending item or face a police fine of between €150 and €415. There is no prohibition on wearing such garments in the street.

But the law appears to have been fatally undermined after police said its enforcement was not a priority and signalled their discomfort with the idea that veiled women could be put off from entering a police station to make unrelated complaints.

Transport companies said in a response to the police position that they would not ask their staff on trains, metros, trams or buses to take on an enforcement role in the absence of officers. [The Guardian] Read more

Dutch 'burqa ban' comes into force

The Netherlands joins a number of other European nations in implementing the controversial law. Some consider burqas a symbol of the oppression of women, while others view the ban as a violation of religious freedom.

A law that prohibits clothing that "covers the face" from being worn in a variety of public spaces, such as schools, hospitals, public buildings and public transport, came into effect in the Netherlands on Thursday.

Authorities are now required to tell people to show their faces. If someone refuses, they can be denied access to public areas, and face fines of up to €150 ($167). An Islamic political party in Rotterdam said it will pay the financial penalties for anybody caught wearing the now prohibited clothing.

The ban, which will affect an estimated 150 burqa and nijab wearing women in the Netherlands, will also apply to full-face helmets and balaclavas.

Attempts to enforce the new law have already been met with disapproval as several cities as well as hospitals, public transport operators and even police said that they would not be sticking to it. [Deutsche Welle] Read more