All-Female Health Seminars for Minorities in Michigan

December 15, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Nargis Rahman, TMO

IMG_5454

The audience listens to the 2nd lecture in a series at the the women’s health seminar on breast and cervical cancer.     

Photo by Subha Hanif

Hamtramck, Michigan– Bangladeshi Americans for Social Empowerment, a non-profit group in Michigan, will host a health seminar in Hamtramck on osteoporosis in January for minority women.

Project Coordinator, Subha Hanif of Rochester Hills said, the seminars are a continuation of a project started in October for Bangladeshi women. Women from Hamtramck, Detroit, Warren and Sterling Heights in Michigan were invited.

Many of these women are uninsured or do not have a regular doctor, said Hanif, based on women who attended these seminars. The seminars are available to other minority women who may fall into the same categories. Hanif said, “It’s not helping in any way if people are not coming.”

Two seminars have been held in Hamtramck, at Jalalabad (above Aladdin Sweets & Café), which has the largest population of Bangladeshi Americans in Michigan, roughly three percent of the city’s total population.

Participant Razia Begum of Detroit said she liked the program. Everyone benefitted from the program by learning about free health care, she said.

Hanif, an undergraduate biology major at Oakland University, who is a Bangladeshi American said she understands the needs and limitations of women from this culture. Women are traditionally shy, “overshadowed” by men, and unlikely to ask important questions regarding their health.

The seminars are female-oriented, including the doctors, to form a comfortable no-men environment, said Hanif. “In a room where men are not allowed, women have embraced the freedom [to ask questions].”

Doctors from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine spoke at the seminars, which ranged from taking care of your health, to learning how to detect breast and pelvic cancer. Hanif translated in Bangla.

Begum said she looks forward to the next program. “I want to go in January to learn about tooth pain and bone problems.”

Participants can talk one-on-one with doctors after the seminars; something which Hanif said is not always available at free clinics that have limited time slots for patients.

Hanif’s passion to help others comes from her Muslim faith, parental encouragement, interest in public health, and community service. My parents allowed American assimilation, while retaining the Bangladeshi culture, she said. “We were only allowed to speak Bangla at home, which has motivated me to help Bangladeshis.”

She hopes minority women – who are insured or uninsured – bring their mothers, daughters and neighbors to bond and learn together. “The goal is to make women better agents in taking care of their health and the family’s,” said Hanif.

BASE provides laptops, handouts and materials for the program. Hanif’s dad, Abu Hanif, is on the board of directors.

Flyers will be passed out to businesses in Hamtramck before January’s program.

For more information, contact Subha Hanif by phone at 248-707-9521 or email shanif@oakland.edu .

Pictures: Subha Hanif

13-51

Women & Islam: Rise of the Convert

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Richard Peppiatt

16-Women-Islam-1-SUTCLIFFE

Record numbers of young, white British women are converting to Islam, yet many are reporting a lack of help as they get used to their new religion, according to several surveys.

As Muslims celebrate the start of the religious holiday of ‘Eid today and hundreds of thousands from around the world converge on Mecca for the haj, it emerged that of the 5,200 Britons who converted to Islam last year, more than half are white and 75 per cent of them women.

In the past 10 years some 100,000 British people have converted to Islam, of whom some three-quarters are women, according to the latest statistics. This is a significant increase on the 60,000 Britons in the previous decade, according to researchers based at Swansea University.

While the number of UK converts accelerates, many of the British women who adopt Islam say they have a daily struggle to assimilate their new beliefs within a wider culture that both implicitly and explicitly positions them as outsiders, regardless of their Western upbringing.

More than three-quarters told researchers they had experienced high levels of confusion after conversion, due to the conflicting ways Islam was presented to them. While other major religions have established programs for guiding new believers through the rigors of their faith, Islam still lacks any such network, especially outside the Muslim hubs of major cities.

Many mosques still bar women from worship or provide scant resources for their needs, forcing them to rely on competing cultural and ideological interpretations within books or the internet for religious support.

A recent study of converts in Leicester, for example, found that 93 per cent of mosques in the region recognized they lacked services for new Muslims, yet only 7 per cent said they were making efforts to address the shortfall.

Many of the young women – the average age of conversion is 27 – are also coming to terms with experiences of discrimination for the first time, despite the only visible difference being a headscarf. Yet few find easy sanctuary within the established Muslim population, with the majority forming their closest bonds with fellow converts rather than born Muslims.

Kevin Brice, author of the Swansea study A Minority Within a Minority, said to be the most comprehensive study of British Muslim converts, added: “White Muslim converts are caught between two increasingly distant camps. Their best relationships remain with other converts, because of their shared experiences, while there is very little difference between the quality of their relationship with other Muslims or non-Muslims.

“My research also found converts came in two types: some are converts of convenience, who adopt the religion because of a life situation such as meeting a Muslim man, although the religion has little discernible impact on their day-to-day lives. For others it is a conversion of conviction where they feel a calling and embrace the religion robustly.

“That’s not to say the two are mutually exclusive – sometimes converts start out on their religious path through convenience and become converts of conviction later on.”

Another finding revealed by the Leicester study was that despite Western portraits of Islam casting it as oppressive to women, a quarter of female converts were attracted to the religion precisely because of the status it affords them.

Some analysts have argued that dizzying social and cultural upheavals in Britain over the past decades have meant that far from adopting an alien way of life, some female Muslim converts are re-embracing certain aspects of mid-20th-century Britain, such as rigid gender demarcation, rather than feeling expected to juggle career and family.

The first established Muslim communities started in Britain in the 1860s, when Yemeni sailors and Somali laborers settled around the ports of London, Cardiff, Liverpool and Hull. Many married local women who converted to Islam, often suffering widespread discrimination as a result.

They also acted as a bridge between the two cultures, encouraging understanding among indigenous dwellers and helping to integrate the Muslim community they had joined. Today, there is growing recognition among community leaders that the latest generation of female converts has an equally vital role to play in fostering dialogue between an increasingly secular British majority and a minority religion, as misunderstood as it is vilified.

Kristiane Backer, 45

Television presenter and author, London

I converted to Islam in 1995 after Imran Khan introduced me to the faith. At the time I was a presenter for MTV. I used to have all the trappings of success, yet I felt an inner emptiness and somewhat dissatisfied in my life.

The entertainment industry is very much about “if you’ve got it, flaunt it”, which is the exact opposite to the more inward-oriented spiritual attitude of my new faith. My value system changed and God became the center point of my life and what I was striving towards.

I recognize some new converts feel isolated but, despite there being even fewer resources when I converted than there are now, it isn’t so much an issue I’ve faced. I’ve always felt welcomed and embraced by the Muslims I met and developed a circle of friends and teachers. It helps living in London, because there is so much to engage in as part of the Muslim community. Yet, even in the capital you can be stared at on the Tube for wearing a headscarf. I usually don’t wear one in the West except when praying. I wear the scarf in front of my heart though!

I always try to explain to people that I’ve converted to Islam, not to any culture. Suppression of women, honor killings or forced marriages are all cultural aberrations, not Islamic ones. Islam is also about dignity and respect for yourself and your femininity. Even in the dating game, Muslim men are very respectful. Women are cherished as mothers, too – as a Muslim woman you are not expected to do it all.”

Amy Sall, 28

Retail assistant, Middlesbrough

I’d say I’m still a bit of a party animal – but I’m also a Muslim. I do go out on the town with the girls and I don’t normally wear my headscarf – I know I should do, but I like to do my hair and look nice! I know there are certain clothes I shouldn’t wear either, even things that just show off your arms, but I still do. My husband would like me to be a better Muslim – he thinks drinking is evil – so it does cause rows.

I haven’t worshipped in a mosque since I got married, I find it intimidating. I worry about doing something wrong; people whispering because they see my blonde hair and blue eyes. Middlesbrough is a difficult place to be a Muslim who isn’t Asian – you tend to be treated like an outsider. Once, I was out wearing my headscarf and a local man shouted abuse. It was weird because I’m white and he was white, but all he saw was the scarf, I suppose. It did make me angry. My family were surprisingly fine with me converting, probably because they thought it would rein me in from being a bit wild.

Nicola Penty-Alvarez, 26

Full-time mother, Uxbridge

I was always interested in philosophy and the meaning of life and when I came across Islam it all just clicked. In the space of four or five months I went from going to raves to wearing a headscarf, praying five times a day and generally being quite pious – I did occasionally smoke though.

I felt very welcomed into the Muslim community, but it was a mainly white convert community. My impression of the Asian community in west London was that women felt sidelined and were encouraged to stay at home and look after the men rather than attend mosque. I think this was more a cultural than religious thing, though.

Non-Muslims certainly treat you differently when you’re wearing a headscarf – they’re less friendly and as a smiley person I found that hard. After a year-and-a-half of being a Muslim I stopped. I remember the moment perfectly. I was in a beautiful mosque in Morocco praying beside an old lady and something just came over me. I thought: ‘What the hell am I doing? How have I got into this?’ It just suddenly didn’t feel right. Needless to say my husband, who was a fellow convert, wasn’t impressed. He remained devout and it put a lot of strain on our relationship. We split up, but are on amicable terms now. I’m not really in contact with the Muslim friends I made – we drifted apart.

I don’t regret the experience. There is so much that I learnt spiritually that I’ve kept and I haven’t gone back to my hard partying ways.

Donna Tunkara

Warehouse operative, Middlesbrough

I was a bit of a tearaway growing up – drinking, smoking, running away from home and being disrespectful to my parents. I converted 10 years ago because I met a Muslim man but I’ve probably become more devout than him.

Sometimes, I miss going shopping for clothes to hit the town and then going home and getting ready with my mates, having a laugh. The thing is no one is forcing me not to – it’s my choice.

It did come as a shock to my family, who are Christian. They’ve not rejected me, but they find it difficult to understand. I feel bad because I don’t now attend weddings, funerals or christenings because they’re often at pubs and clubs and I won’t step inside.

There needs to be more resources for women who convert. I know some mosques that won’t allow women in. But in the Koran there is an emphasis on women being educated. I’ve learnt about the religion through my husband’s family and books – if you want support you have to look for it. It’s taken time to regain an identity I’m comfortable with. Because I’m mixed race and a Muslim ,people don’t see me as British – but what’s important is that I know who I am.

13-46

Turkish Government to Return Seized Property to Religious Minorities

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sebnem Arsu

ANKARA, Turkey — The Turkish government said it would return hundreds of properties that were confiscated from religious minorities by the state or other parties over the years since 1936, and would pay compensation for properties that were seized and later sold.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the announcement on Sunday to representatives of more than 150 Christian and Jewish trusts gathered at a dinner he hosted in Istanbul to break the day’s Ramadan fast. The government decree to return the properties, bypassing nationalist opposition in Parliament, was issued late Saturday.

The European Union, which Turkey has applied to join, has pressed the country to ease or eliminate laws and policies that discriminate against non-Muslim religious groups, including restrictions on land ownership. Many of the properties, including schools, hospitals, orphanages and cemeteries, were seized after 1936 when trusts were called to list their assets, and in 1974 a separate ruling banned the groups from purchasing any new real estate.

Disputes over the groups’ properties have tied up Turkish and European courts for decades, and the European Court for Human Rights has ordered Turkey to pay compensation in several cases related to religious minority rights in recent years.

“Like everyone else, we also do know about the injustices that different religious groups have been subjected to because of their differences,” Mr. Erdogan said at the dinner, according to the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency. “Times that a citizen of ours would be oppressed due to his religion, ethnic origin or different way of life are over.”

In contrast with its staunchly secular predecessors, the Islam-inspired government of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as A.K.P., has been more sympathetic and attentive to Turkey’s non-Muslims, including Jews and Christians. It has enacted a number of measures since 2002 to bring Turkish law more into compliance with European Union standards on minority rights, so that Turkey’s application to join the union could advance.

The decree issued on Saturday removed legal impediments that had continued to block the return of the properties even after amendments were enacted in recent years to allow it.

“There have been changes made to existent legislation at least five times since the government of the A.K. Party, but they have not been very satisfactory in practice,” said a Greek government official who asked not to be identified because of his diplomatic position. “We hope this time the changes would make a real difference in implementation.”

Less than 1 percent of Turkey’s 74 million people belong to religious minorities; there are about 120,000 Christians of different denominations, including Greek Orthodox, and about 25,000 Jews.

A version of this article appeared in print on August 29, 2011, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Turkish Government to Return Seized Property to Religious Minorities.

13-36

Reservation & Indian Muslims

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: How serious are the politicians and other leaders who have recently started voicing their concern about the need of reservation for Indian Muslims? Describing Muslims as socially and economically backward, they are demanding reservation to help them progress. Though some importance is being given to these demands, prospects of their being implemented remain fairly dim. This demands an analysis of the Reservation-issue for Muslims from several angles. What has prompted several leaders to start talking about it now in louder than before tones? Why are chances of it being implemented bleak? What has prompted “concerned” politicians to assure aggrieved sections that the issue is being considered?

Seriously speaking, greater importance is being accorded to making political noise about reservation for Muslims than actually assuring that their socio-economic grievances are dealt with constructively. With Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections scheduled for next year and the national parliamentary elections in 2014, electoral preparations are gaining political heat. The Congress is hopeful that by assuring Muslims a reservation quota in government jobs and education, it is likely to win their support in UP assembly elections. The UP assembly polls are also viewed as a “dress rehearsal” to national elections. Political victory in UP is expected to play a crucial role in helping Congress consolidate prospects of electoral gains in the subsequent parliamentary polls.

Against this backdrop, the timing is just perfect for Muslim leaders and various organizations to gain some political mileage by voicing their concern on the reservation-issue. This is one side of the political-hype made over reservation for Indian Muslims.

India is home to second largest population of Muslims in the world. Muslims constitute the largest minority in India. Twenty-five percent of UP’s population are Muslims. Statistically, thus, the Congress cannot afford to ignore the electoral importance of the Muslim vote-bank in UP as well as the whole country.

Not surprisingly, Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said recently that the home ministry is expected to submit a “concrete proposal” for minority reservation soon. With the necessary formalities, including consultations, having been completed, he said: “The home ministry will now take it forward. There is a sense of urgency.”

The Congress-led coalition government is likely to push for a proposal on lines of the model adopted by the southern states, which have provided reservation for Muslims – out of the existing OBC (Other Backward Classes) quota. Suggesting this, Khurshid said: “We believe the OBC element of affirmative action must be rationalised and fine- tuned in the manner in which it is being done in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.”

But this is not an easy job. Questions have already begun being asked on the sudden sympathy being displayed by Congress to a commitment it made in 2004. The 2004-Congress-election manifesto said: “The Congress is committed to adopting this policy for socially and educationally backward sections among Muslims and other religious minorities on a national scale.”

Besides, while several leaders are not opposed to reservation for Muslims, they are against it being offered out of the OBC-quota. They fear that this political-card will create divisions in their OBC vote-bank. Janata Dal-United leader, Sharad Yadav, who is also a activist of OBC, said: “The government is trying to create divisions in the backward society.” Criticizing the government for not implementing the current OBC quota, he asked: “The rate at which the government fills the existing OBC quota is just two to three percent. The backlog is huge. With nothing on your plate, what will you offer the Muslims?”

“There should be a separate provision for Muslims if we are seriously interested in uplifting the backward sections of the community. It would be ideal, in my opinion, if a separate component of reservation is made for the Muslims to bring them on par with other sections of society,” according to Ram Kripal Yadav (Rashtriya Janata Dal Legislator in Upper House).

It maybe noted, the Ranganath Mishra commission recommended reservation for Muslims and Christians from within the 15 per cent quota for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the 27 per cent OBC quota. Set up in 2005, the commission submitted its report in 2007. The commission pointed out that caste system was prevalent among Muslims too. The commission recommended that Muslim Dalit groups, whose counterparts exist among Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, should also be included in the central or state SC lists.

Several years have passed since reservation for Muslims was recommended by the Mishra commission and since the Congress committed itself to do so. The Indian Muslims have yet to benefit from the reservation-proposal. The manner in which the Congress has raised the issue at this juncture suggests that it is trying to play two cards at one go. The party is optimistic that this issue will help Congress win support from Muslims, particularly in UP. The Congress is also hopeful that the divisions created in OBC-vote bank will help it politically. Against this backdrop, politicking is more strongly linked with noise being made over reservation for Muslims than concern for their actual socio-economic progress!

13-29

Girl Sues to Wear Hijab at Abercrombie

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Abercrombie_logo7

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A Muslim woman alleged in a lawsuit filed this week that U.S. retailer Abercrombie & Fitch forbade her from wearing her head scarf while working at a northern California clothing store owned by the company.

Hani Khan filed her federal lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, with support from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center.

The suit accuses Abercrombie of violating Khan’s civil rights by discriminating against her on the basis of religion when she worked at the San Francisco Bay area store Hollister Co., which is owned by Abercrombie.

Khan alleges that when she was hired in October 2009, she was told she could wear her head scarf, or hijab, as long as it matched the company’s official colors.

But four months later, a pair of managers asked her to remove the hijab while working, and when Khan refused she was suspended and then terminated, according to the lawsuit.

A representative for Abercrombie did not return calls.

Khan’s lawsuit echoes similar complaints brought against Abercrombie in the past by black, Latino and other minority workers and applicants who alleged the company had a “look policy’’ that discriminated against them.

In 2004, Abercrombie reached a $40 million settlement in a federal class action lawsuit by the minority plaintiffs, and the company agreed to take steps to improve its hiring and recruitment of minority workers.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) joined in that previous legal action against Abercrombie, and this week the agency supported Khan by filing a federal lawsuit against the retailer that also accused Abercrombie of violating her civil rights.

“Growing up in this country where the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, I have felt let down,’’ Khan said in a statement.

Attorneys’ attempts to reach an out-of-court settlement in Khan’s case broke down in January, according to the Council on America-Islamic Relations. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Peter Bohan)

13-27

CHINA: Uighur Uprising

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Riot in Urumqi: At least three people were killed and more than 20 injured after an ethnic minority clashed with police in China’s far north-western province of Xinjiang. The disturbances come after a year of rising tensions between the dominant Han Chinese authorities and the Uighur ethnic minority. The clashes in Urumqi on Sunday night between police and a 3,000-strong crowd from the Uighur Muslim ethnic minority left burned-out cars and buses and several smashed shop-fronts. — Peter Foster in Beijing

Travellers in today’s China are often surprised to discover that the country has a sizeable Muslim population. According to the Chinese government, there are more than 20 million Muslims who live in all parts of the country. Others say the number may even be higher. Many Chinese towns have mosques. The call to prayer can be heard on Fridays from Beijing to Yunnan in the south, and especially in the oases of arid Xinjiang in the far northwest. But there are subtle differences among the communities that follow Islam in China — cultural, linguistic and nationalist nuances that formed over centuries of an often-troubled history. Muslims have lived in the Middle Kingdom from just after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD. – Backgrounder, CBC News

11-29