Celebrating Extraordinary Muslim Women

March 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Salma Hasan Ali

Washington, DC – On 10 March, three Muslim women will be honoured alongside philanthropist Melinda French Gates and human rights activists Panmelo Castro from Brazil and Rebecca Lolosoli from Kenya, by Vital Voices Global Partnership, a Washington, DC-based organisation that works to empower women around the world.

The need to recognise the work of Muslim women is important. Type the search terms “Muslim women” or “women in Islam” online and chances are that a majority of English-language hits will consist of stories relating to what Muslim women wear on their heads or how women in Muslim-majority countries are subjected to physical abuse, or subjugated under the false pretext of religious principle.

But there is another side to Muslim women that is too infrequently recognised, reported or discussed. The Vital Voices Global Partnership awards ceremony, taking pl ace two days after International Women’s Day, provides an opportunity to celebrate this not uncommon, yet too frequently overshadowed, side to Muslim women.

Andeisha Farid grew up in a refugee camp outside Afghanistan. As a teenager, she lived in a Pakistani hostel for six years, where she studied and tutored others. In 2008, at the age of 25, she started her own non-profit organisation, the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization (AFCECO), in Kabul. Today, AFCECO runs ten orphanages in Afghanistan and Pakistan for over 450 children of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

In a country where non-governmental organisations that work with women and girls are frequently targeted by religious extremists, Andeisha is constantly on guard. But she remains committed to providing Afghan children not only with food and shelter, but with a sense of mutual respect, regardless of ethnic differences, a feeling of khak – connection to the earth as their homeland – and a s ense of empowerment to shape their own future, and that of their country.

“The happy faces of these children give me hope,” she says. “It helps me conquer fear.”

Afnan Al Zayani is a wife, mother, social activist, television personality and CEO of a multi-million dollar business. It’s no wonder that Forbes and Arabian Business magazine call her one of the most powerful women in the Middle East. In addition, she helped ensure the first written personal status law that protects the rights of Muslim women in cases of divorce and child custody was passed in Bahrain.

She attributes her ability to juggle so many responsibilities to her strong faith. “God will judge us on whether we use our gifts of life and health towards good or evil,” she says. Immaculately dressed in her hijab, or headscarf, she shatters the Western stereotype of the downtrodden Muslim woman. Her guiding philosophy: “Live your life as if you will live forever; live yo ur day as if you will die tomorrow.”

Then there is Roshaneh Zafar. While studying development economics at Yale University in the United States, she came across the story of Khairoon, a woman in Bangladesh who owned only one sari. Khairoon borrowed $100 from the microfinance organisation Grameen Bank to invest in a business, and now owns a sweetshop, a poultry farm, a call centre – and a collection of colourful saris.

Roshaneh met Khairoon many years after her initial loan, and saw firsthand the miracle of microfinance in changing women’s lives. She decided to start a microfinance organisation in Pakistan called Kashf, which means “miracle”. It is now the third largest microfinance organisation in Pakistan, with 300,000 clients and a goal to reach more than half a million in the next four years.

Roshaneh’s message encapsulates the sentiment of many: “Women matter to the world. We need not accept the status quo. Freeing the world of poverty and disenfranchisement of women is possible. But it will only happen when 50 per cent of the world’s population is allowed to recognise its latent strength.”

It is these stories that must be reported, not only to herald the achievements of remarkable women, but to dispel falsely created perceptions of the role of Islam in defining the fate of Muslim women.

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* Salma Hasan Ali is a Washington, DC-based writer focusing on promoting understanding between the West and the Muslim world. This article first appeared in Washington Post/Newsweek’s On Faith and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

12-11

Amid All This Chaos

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Beena Inam, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Pakistan Correspondent, from Islamabad

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Lions’ Chairman Zafar Iqbal, with his wife Shazia Zafar and their daughter, in Islamabad.

In the midst of all the pandemonium, there are a number of people and organizations who are beyond doubt serving the humanity and making a difference.

Whether it is toward the vision disability, education, health and dowry, Lions Clubs International (LCI) is there for all and sundry and so is its Multiple Council Chairman, Zafar Iqbal.

Their 45,000 clubs and more than 1.3 million members make Lions Clubs the world’s largest service club organization.

According to their web site, LCI, founded in Chicago in 1917, has grown into a worldwide organization, helping where help is needed for nearly 100 years.  There motto is “We Serve.”

Melvin Jones, Chicago business leader, founded the Club and built its foundation. Since1925, conventions are held every year. Helen Keller, political activist who was also deaf and blind, participated in 1925 convention and about 14,000 Lions attended the convention from everywhere around the world.

Due to Keller’s challenge the club today is among some of the highest rank organizations.  She challenged, “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”

The organization is preeminently notorious for combating blindness.

“From that day till today lions are working for the blinds,” Iqbal said.

In Pakistan, LCI began burgeoning in 1956. Cyrus F. Minwalla, owner of Hotel Metropole, was a Founder, and First District Governor of LIC known as Father of Lionism in Pakistan and President Iskander Mirza as Patron of Lionism in Pakistan.

Now, Iqbal monitors the whole affairs of LCI in Pakistan and coordinates all five districts, three in south and two in north which breaks down into 478 clubs.  Each district has minimum 35 clubs. Although all the clubs are autonomous in their policies, their focus, endeavor and purpose is identical.

“I am a country head of this institution in Pakistan,” Iqbal said. He visits all clubs and governors as a MCC and meets head of the state and head of the provinces.
Every district has its own governor but their jurisdiction and authority is restricted to their clubs, “my responsibility is along with the governor to see after the district,” Iqbal said.

Around the world, LCI consist of 22 boards of directors, who run the club. No women became a board of director until 1998 when Nilofar Bakhtiar, a public official in Pakistan, became the first lady international director in their board, Iqbal said. It is an immense acclaim for Pakistan.

In Karachi, LCI have 3800 underprivileged children in 22 schools in diminutive areas. Iqbal said they work from zakat fund.

They perform 25,000 cataract surgeries every year. Two years ago, when he was the sector coordinator of campaign SightFirst from 2005 to 2008, they campaigned world wide for blind people and helped raised two hundred and twenty two million dollars all over the world, Iqbal said.

“More than four million people will be cured for blindness. About 17,000 people everyday becomes blind. Every five seconds one person is getting blind. According to World Health Organization (WHO) if we didn’t do anything by 2020 this figure will be doubled. We have to join hands with them,” Iqbal said.

They begin from screening and going to schools and visiting undersized areas. They set eye camps; treat people who require surgical treatment for cataract, trachoma, river blindness, childhood blindness and glaucoma.

“We do lot of work but the main focus is toward the welfare for blind people,” Iqbal said.

He added, “White cane stick that blind people use is because of the lions’ invention. We celebrate blinds day on Oct 14. White cane safety day is because of our struggle that it was passed in American Congress. Through United Nation’s recognition it is celebrated all round the world.”

At present, Lions club is functioning in 205 countries. “We are bigger than united nations,”Iqbal said.

He said they have so great collaboration with United Nations that every second Monday of March, United Nations whole building is vacant for lions club and lions can go anywhere in the building. He further said they can even hold a conference in secretary general’s room.

“It’s a tribute or compliment from United Nations to the lions club,” Iqbal said. 

In 2007, Lions Clubs got an inimitable award that Lions Club International is the world largest service project association.

Every club has a project. They dispose eye camps, food and youth camps.

Iqbal said, “Our club is small. But even we try to do one or two projects.  Active members in our group are seven but total there are 20 people in our group….  Some clubs even have 10 to 20 projects running.”

For becoming a lion that is the member of the LCI is by invitation only.

“Attend our meetings so we can see that your thinking isn’t coming in our way. One must be service minded, should have a concept of charity and be loyal to the country. If a person believes in charity but is not loyal to the country than he can’t be a member of our club,” Iqbal said.

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