Orissa: Joint National Fact Finding Team On Gender Violence In Kandhamal

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 27 February 2013 | Posted in , , , , ,

• Concern at rise in gender violence against juveniles in Kandhamal
• Administration, police far away from “zero tolerance” of rape; compensation still not paid to victims
• Need for fast track courts, help line and counselling

Bhubaneshwar: "The Government of Orissa needs to take urgent steps to enforce a“Zero Tolerance Regime” against rape cases in the State, specially in vulnerable hinterland districts such as Kandhamal with large populations of marginalized Dalit and Tribal people," said Dr John Dayal, Member National Integration Council and Secretary general, All India Christian Council, who recently headed an All India Fact Finding Team on Gender Violence and presented a comprehensive report after touring Kandhamal.

An All India Fact finding team on gender violence which toured Kandhamal and interacted with State and District authorities from 23rd to 26th February 2013 discovered that despite the national focus after the New Delhi rape and murder case, Orissa has not yet assimilated the administrative recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee into the functioning of district police and units of the Women and Child Welfare Department. There is also a feeling that since the anti Christian violence in 2007 and 2008 and the very large number of acquittals in criminal cases, the people seem not to fear the law as much as they should. The fact finding ream consisted of representatives of CBCI Women’s Desk, National council of Churches in India, All India Christian Council, EFI, ADF, and YWCA National Council.

A grass roots survey involving interviews with victim-survivors and families of murdered girls shows a shocking state of affairs typified in the rape of a six year old of K Nuagaon Blockin one case, and 13 to 14 years old girls attacked in Darringbadi. The situation demands that senior officials be held accountable for dereliction of duties by the subordinate police.

None of the rape victims have yet received any of the statutory compensation. It is absurd that the victim has to make an application pleading for compensation. The authorities must give such compensation suomotu, as was done in the case of the Delhi victim.

However, in the case of the murder of the 13 year old girl in Doddomah-Simanbadi village, the police have filed a charge-sheet in the court against two men. A third accused is a juvenile.
Police have not been able to explain the high number of acts of sexual violence against young girls. One senior officer dismisses them as “failed love affairs”. The team expresses disappointment at official statements that they register FIRs because of the pressure of parents “even where no actual rape had taken place.” Many parents insist there has been refusal to register complaints, or long delay at the police station. In some cases, police and village committees have sought to force the victims into compromising with the assailants instead of dealing with the crime under law.

According to data given by District Superintendent of Police J.N.Pankaj, the number of rapes has come down in 2012 to 21 cases from a high of 32 cases in 2011 and 25 cases in 2010.
However, NGO groups have saidthey had recorded at least nine cases from 24th October 2012 till 15th February 2013 and there were many other cases they were probing.

The absence of a forensic science laboratory in the Kandhamal district, the absence of women personnel in many police stations, the fact there is no Special Juvenile Police Unit, and skeletal staff with almost no facilities in the women’s welfare units in the district aggravates the situation,making women more vulnerable.

Thefact finding group was also disturbed at the very large number of women in Kandhamal who had been deserted by their husbands. In most cases, the women were from Dalit or Tribal communities, and the men from other castes, specially “outsiders” including many traders doing business in the small towns.

Another area of concern was the situation in the government–run hostels in the district where as many as 10,000 tribal and Dalit girls stay and study inattached schools. The security of these schools and hostels has not got the attention it deserves from the authorities, and there have been cases of girls from hostels being lured and seduced by outsiders.

There is an urgent need for a gender situation survey in Kandhamal district which should cover the girls hostels, the issue of abandoned women and the crisis of human trafficking in Kandhamal girls in particular and Orissa girls in general. Police admit they haveidentified the vulnerable blocks and villages, but there is no system in place to check the crime. Step need be taken to ensure change in the mindset of all people, specially officials.

In its suggestions, the team has called for urgent steps to sensitise police and officials at all levels on gender violence issues, apart from launching education programmesthrough mass media, TV and extension services. Sex education as a subject in schools, orientation of village committees and gram panchayats need to be taken up immediately. Local hospitals must carry out medical examinations by women doctors whenever a victim comes, instead of making the girl and her parents to go from one place to another.

In prevention of crime, patrolling has to be intensified where large crowds congregate in the urban areas for fetes and fairs and people have to return home in the dark, making young girls specially vulnerable to sexual predators.

Other measures suggested include steps for counseling and rehabilitation of victims of gender violence, specially very young children apart from legal services percolating to the grassroots. The Helpline for women must be activated.

The fact finding team consisted of Dr John Dayal, Member National Integration Council and Secretary general, All India Christian Council, Advocate Sr. Helen Saldanah [CBCI office for Women] Advocate Sr. Mary Scaria, Advocate Loreign Ovung [ADF_EFI], Sr. Justine, Ms. Lena Chand [YWCA India], Sukant Nayak and Ashish Bhasin [Light Foundation] and Mr Kasta Dip [India Peace Centre - National Council of Churches in India]

Copies of their suggestions are being forwarded to the State and Central governments and the Commissions for Women and Children.


Findings And Suggestions Made By The Fact Finding Team On Gender Violence In Kandhamal

Basic Findings:

1. Sexual violence against women in Kandhamal is due to the breakdown of the law and order situation in the district that gives a feeling to the culprits that they can get away with the law easily.
2. Gender violence including child molestation, rape and murder has led to moral breakdown and manifested in incest, adultery and bigamy with desertion coupled with cruelty.
3. Lack of medical examination facilities for the victims impede and delay the process of justice.
4. An imposed culture of silence in which victims are not willing to voice the assault on them is due to threats from the accused and their families and friends.
5. Lack of fast track courts for women, Mahila Thanas (Women Police Station) and women police officers discourage the victims of sexual violence to follow up their cases.
6. Lack of juvenile homes in the district while the juvenile crimes are on the increase is a violation of the human rights of the juvenile criminals.
7. Lack of education and awareness about their rights especially among the dalit and tribal communities lead to their sexual exploitation by Upper Caste people.
8. Absence of payment of compensation, lack of rehabilitation facilities and trauma counselling centres for victims of rape continue to traumatize them
9. Prevalent dowry system and patriarchal mind set of people make them utterly vulnerable to sexual violence.
10. Lack of gender sensitivity among the police officials leads to further humiliation, insults of the victims of rape.
11. Negligence and passive role on the part of the police to accelerate the process of justice by refusing to register the FIRs destroys the confidence of the victims and their families to speak out against the atrocities being committed against them
12. After the communal riots of 2008, the minority communities are being threatened especially targeting their women and children for sexual exploitation.
13. Forcible inter caste marriages happening for acquisition of the tribal property and desertion of the women after acquiring their property seems to be a common phenomenon.

Suggestions To The Administration:

1. Adopt Zero tolerance policy to curb violence against minor girls and women.
2. Justice Verma Commission Report to be implemented with immediate effect.
3. Adequate compensation to be given to the victims.
4. Set up Fast Track courts to try the rape victims.
5. Conduct a survey on Gender violence in Kandhamal and bring out statistics in order to take adequate measures to prevent sexual assault and rape against minor girls and women.
6. Organize awareness programs regarding the rights of the victims and their families.
7. Make medical examination of rape victims mandatory.
8. Filing of FIRs to be made compulsory in every police station and officers who fail to perform their duties should be prosecuted.
9. Establish child care centres/crèche for children of daily labourers and wage earners.
10. Adequate women police officers to be posted in every police station and establish Mahila Thana (Women’s Police Station) in order to protect the integrity and dignity of the victim.
11. Sex education should be given to the children from Class I onwards.
12. Special focus on abandoned and deserted women and set up homes for women in distress.
13. Establish self defence schools for girls and women.
14. Establish and maintain help lines for women and children.
15. Establish trauma counselling centres and rehab centres in every block for the victims
16. Make provision for rehabilitation and employment opportunities including vocational training and education to victims of rape and other forms of gender violence.
17. Juvenile Homes and cells to be set up for rehabilitation and reformation of the juvenile offenders.
18. Review existing security measures of the girl’s hostels run by the government and ensure security for the girls. Establish hostels for working women.
19. Implement and utilise Govt. funds for the benefit of victims of rapes and gender violence.
20. Deploy adequate police force both male and female during major festivals and ensure frequent patrolling in sensitive areas and hamlets
21. Provide financial help to run minority women’s and girls’ hostels.
22. Village Committees to have 50% of women participants and to ensure that the justice process is carried out.
23. Activate all Government Commissions with adequate representation of women.
24. Adequate representations of SC, ST, SCBC communities in State Legislature and all women’s commissions.

For further details, please contact Dr John Dayal 09811021072

Muslim woman to head BJP's minority wing

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , , , ,

By Lalmani Verma

Lucknow: For the first time, a Muslim woman has become the head of a wing other than the women's wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party in UP.

Among the new office-bearers, whose names were announced on Saturday, Rumana Siddiqui, a housewife, is president of the minority wing of the party.

Except the women's wing, which is always headed by a woman, the BJP has never had a woman heading any of its four other wings which include the Kisan morcha, SC/ST morcha, youth morcha and minority morcha. Besides, the party has 31 cells and none of them was ever headed by a woman.

Rumana has replaced Shahafat Hussain, who was appointed president of the minority wing by former state president Surya Pratap Shahi.

Party sources said the idea behind Rumana's appointment was to reach out to Muslim families through their female members. Wife of a businessman in Lucknow, Rumana is associated with the BJP since 2004 and was secretary of the minority wing about five years back. She is also a member of the national executive of the party's minority wing.

Rumana admits that associating Muslims with the party has always been a challenge for the BJP. "But being a woman, I can approach the women in the kitchens of Muslim families where men cannot go. I will convince Muslim women and other family members that BJP is their well-wisher and they should support the party in the next Lok Sabha election," Rumana said.

A graduate in political science from Delhi University, Rumana will soon form her team and prepare a list of activities that the minority wing will perform to attract Muslims to the party.
"I am still receiving good wishes from party leaders and workers. I have held positions in the past also but this is the first time I am receiving such a huge response," she said.

State BJP president Laxmikant Bajpai said, "The new team has been constituted in order to approach all sections and communities. This is the first time a Muslim woman will head a party wing and that is a positive move."

Former MLC Seema Rizvi, who died in 2009, was the last prominent Muslim woman in the party in UP. She was associated with the party's minority wing, but did not hold any post.
Under the party constitution, BJP nominates women on at least 33 per cent positions in the organisation. Bajpai said there are 41 women in the new 105-member state team. "Such a large number of women has been given positions in the party in order to approach every family in rural as well as urban areas," he said.

(Courtesy: The Indian Express)

First Call Centre in India for Islamic Religious Queries set to open in Hyderabad

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

IMO News Service

The Hyderabad chapter of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) is all set to reach out to the youth working in the IT and ITeS industry in order to ‘dispel preconceived notions of Islam’ by setting up a call centre which will answer queries pertaining to the faith.

The initiative called The Islamic Information Centre (TIIC) will operate from the bustling and uptown neighbourhood of Banjara Hills and will have a staff of at least 10 people.

According to JIH central advisory committee member Syed Sadatullah Hussaini, the city will be the first among other metros in the country to have suchasetupwhereamodernapproach of disseminating informationonIslamhasbeenadopted. “After conducting a study of the common questions asked by the educated people in metros, four important issues came up on which people seek clarity – Islam and terrorism, rights of women, the purdah system and education. We needed a modern approach with modern technology to reach out to people and clear the doubt as a growing number of people want to know more about Islam,” he noted.

The call operators which the JIH has employed are graduates and post-graduates who have also been trained in comparative religion and are fluent in English, Hindi and Telugu. Tariq Muneer, secretary of TIIC said,

“We are open to all kinds of questions. Scholars, students, professionals etc can call the toll free number round the clock. The call centres will be operational in Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore soon.”

A library is also being set up at TIIC which will cater to requirements of research scholars in addition to a consultancy for Islamic banking. TIIC is expected to be operational from March 15, said Muneer.

EIFF conducts mass campaign for amnesty “BE LOYAL TO UAE, MAKE USE OF AMNESTY”

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , , ,

IMO News Service

Emirates India Fraternity Forum (EIFF) conducted a massive campaign among the expatriates in the U.A.E under the theme “BE LOYAL TO UAE, MAKE USE OF AMNESTY” from the 1st of January till 10th of January 2013.The volunteers of EIFF managed to meet more than 20,000 people during this period and distributed pamphlets in areas like Bur Dubai, Deira, Karama, Al Quoz, Jebel Ali, Satwa, Sonapur, Musaffah, Abu Dhabi city, Al Ain, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain.

Special attention was given to visit labor camps, restaurants, groceries, bus stations, masjids, churches etc. and educated the illegal immigrants to utilize the benefits offered by the Government of UAE.

During this campaign of 10 days, EIFF had deployed volunteers to meet the public and was involved in activities such as Door to Door visits, distribution of pamphlets in 6 languages (English, Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, Kannada and Tamil), conveying directions to service centers and immigration offices and to provide legal consultation.

The team handled more than 100 cases which had people from various countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Arab expats as well. There were more than 1,000 inquires received by the team and they managed to guide most of them and in some cases also took them personally to the designated areas.

There were also public programs held in this regard and Advocate Mr. Umer Farooq explained the legal aspects of Amnesty. All the authorities appreciated this noble gesture of EIFF and supported whole-heartedly during this campaign.

The entire team of EIFF would like to take this opportunity to thank the rulers of United Arab Emirates for being very kind towards the illegal expat community and providing them a chance to legalize their stay in the country.

Sri Lanka’s journey to a foreboding future

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

At a time when the Sri Lankan government should have seized the bull by the horns and ensured ethnic harmony, the opposite is seen as unfolding with very little interference from the government.

Today, there are verified charges against that form of complacency by a government not willing to act against a rising terrorist force in the form of an extremist Sinhalese Buddhist group that calls itself the Bodu Bala Sena, or the Buddhist strength force. It has in recent times focused its target of racial hatred against the peaceful Muslim minority of the island.

A Sri Lankan Muslim had this to say: “We have been inhabitants of the land for centuries. We have assimilated with the culture and consider ourselves Sri Lankans. Unfortunately, we do not get cooperation in return. Many of us are denied job opportunities in the government because of our religion. There are many educated Muslim Sri Lankans, yet they are not preferred for good posts. There is discrimination in all walks of life against us, but we manage, hoping for the day things will change.”

She continued, “When the war against the Tamils was over, we thought that now the country would mend itself and become strong. Instead, it seems that the victory has given some of these extremist Buddhist groups more courage to carry out further carnage against all minorities including the Muslims and Christians of the island.

“The government seems to be going along with these militant groups as they have not carried out their steps for reconciliation. We are not supported for quality state education, nor does it seem lately that our safety is something which concerns the government. Our places of worship have been attacked, our people assaulted, and the terrorism continues unabated.

“There are a number of militant groups operating openly in Sri Lanka and spreading their message of rabid racism and intolerance. The government can put a stop to all of this if they want. Not only the government but also the country’s security forces have got into the act and are cooperating with these thugs.”

She goes on, “As you know, Muslim camps remain open and around 130,000 Muslim refugees from the north of the island continue to languish in refugee camps in appalling conditions three and a half years after the war. The irony is that this is happening three years after the 30-year ethnic war ended. What lessons have we learnt from the past carnage? Absolutely nothing!”

Events took a more sinister turn recently when thousands of supporters of the militant group Bodu Bala Sena joined in a rally calling for the boycott of halal foods. The rally that took place in Colombo drew thousands who heard the calls of ethnic divisiveness and nationalist speeches by the group’s monks. These exhortations come at a time of mounting religious tension in the country. In recent times, there have been many recorded attacks on both mosques and churches, and Muslim-owned businesses and the clergy have not been spared either.

A three-member BBC team who were covering the rally was “seriously threatened with violence by some members of a mob of more than 20 young men who told us not to drive off.” According to the team leader Charles Haviland of BBC News, “Some police arrived and looked on as my Sri Lankan colleagues were verbally abused in filthy language, described as ‘traitors’ and accused of having ‘foreign parents’ and working for a ‘foreign conspirator who was ‘against Sri Lanka’”.

“Some of them warned us that if we returned to the location - the mainly Buddhist suburb of Maharagama - it would ‘be the end’ of us. The police held back the more aggressive youths but appeared to comply with the mob by barricading our vehicle, calling us ‘suspicious’ and ordering us not to leave until they got the go-ahead from their superior. That was worrying.”

A news agency reported that the leaders explicitly called for a boycott of halal meat and demanded shops clear their stocks by April or else. This message was loudly cheered by the attendees at the rally sporting T-shirts denouncing the Muslim halal method of slaughtering animals prior to eating.

Mujeebur Rahuman of the opposition United National Party worries that at “any moment, the ethnic riot will start between Sinhalese and Muslims. They are now working freely. Nobody is talking about this organization and the government is not trying to stop their activities.”

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse is again giving tacit support to communal provocations against Sri Lanka’s minorities to deflect attention from the country’s deepening economic and social crisis. But that is a dangerous strategy, one guaranteed to backfire.

Meanwhile, GCC countries with their economic muscle and the OIC should begin to sit up and take notice of the events happening on the island. A message should be sent to the Sri Lankan government that the widening of racial and ethnic hatred against the Muslim minority or any other will not be tolerated. Failure to heed that message should bring economic and political sanctions into consideration.

We wish the island well, but not under the present circumstances.

[The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena.]

(Courtesy: Saudi Gazette)

Imam Shortage Disturbs America Muslims

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

There is a severe shortage of full-time imams to meet the religious needs of American Muslims

Texas: A severe shortage of imams is increasingly disturbing the Muslim community in the United States, who are already affected by absence of religious leaders who can easily connect to the younger generations of US-born Muslims.

"I've had the opportunity to travel to maybe 150 mosques across the country. And the vast majority of them, actually, did not have a full-time imam," Nouman Ali Khan, who heads Bayyinah, an Arabic-language institute in Dallas that educates future imams, told US National Public Radio (NPR).

"The ones that did are very happy to have them and the ones that didn't are constantly asking me when I go for a seminar, 'Hey, so you know anybody?'"

As the number of Muslims in the United States grows, the number of mosques has also jumped 74 percent over the past decade.

However, there is a severe shortage of full-time imams to meet the religious needs of growing worshippers.

Another problem is that there is a shortage of young American imams who can easily connect to the younger generations of US-born Muslims.

A recent survey by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) showed that only 44 percent of American imams are salaried and full-time. The rest are volunteer religious leaders.
Four out of five imams in the United States were born and educated outside the country, mostly in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India.

Raised in a different culture from their parents, third-generation American Muslims feel alienated from mosques and from religious culture altogether.

Therefore, mosques in the US not only need trained imams, but also need religious figures who possess good English skills and a thorough understanding of American culture.

"You may have a scholarly religious figure that can speak to the older congregation, but he's not able to connect as well with the youth," Ali Khan said.

"And in a lot of the interviews, it's even sort of a primary concern how well can you connect with the young in our community."

American Imams

The Mid-Cities Mosque in Colleyville, Texas, was one of lucky Muslim worship facilities that managed to hire a full-time American imam.

"I was a sponsored skater at the age of 10 ... and after breaking my arm, my grandmother told me I [had] to put it off," Yahya Jaekoma, a cherubic, 23-year-old of Thai and Afghan descent, who was born in San Diego, said.

"So she sent me to a madrassa, which is an institute to study the Quran, at the age of 14."
At the age of 18, Jaekoma had memorized the entire Qur’an and dedicated his life to religious study.

His time as a hip-hop skateboarder gives him a unique voice for young American Muslims in his mosque.

"I tell them my life story," he says.

"I tell them where I came from. I tell them what I've done."

US-born Muslim worshippers at the mosque say that American imams are better to understand their thoughts.

"By having someone that was born here, it's easier to relate to them, and it's easier for them to understand our view on what we're dealing with and, like, the difficulties we have with our faith in, like, such a modern environment," said Sijil Patel, a 16-year-old Pakistani-American who is thoroughly modern with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, crazy-colored sneakers, and a headscarf.

Some of those things include dating, drugs and alcohol.

"We've been strictly taught in Islam that vulgar language is not allowed," Patel says.

"I try my best to, like, not engage in that type of thing, and I've told my friends, too."

(Courtesy: OnIslam.net)

Muslim world faces fertility crisis

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , ,

By Alsir Sidahmed

As all eyes are set on the political turmoil that is turning into street battles between various political opposing groups in a number of countries in the Middle East, a new danger is lurking in the Muslim world that needs to dealt with in a sustained methodological way.

Simply put the Muslim world is facing what a study called “unnoticed” phenomenon of fertility decline. The study Fertility Decline in the Muslim World by US political economist Nicholas Eberstadt was recently published by the American Enterprise Institute.

The study could not project the overall Muslim population pointing clearly to the difficulty of coming up with concrete figures because some countries refuse highlighting the religious affiliations of the people or simply because of bureaucratic or organizational obstacles. However, the author relied on the World Christian Database which came up with an estimate of 1.42 billion Muslims worldwide for the year 2005; by that reckoning, Muslims would account for about 22 percent of total world population.

Another estimate prepared by a team of researchers for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, placed the total global Muslim population in 2009, a few years later, at roughly 1.57 billion, which would have been approximately 23 percent of the estimated population at the time.

Trying to make sense of the figures and handling them from another angle and consulting with the UNDP tabulation, the study pointed out that all the 48 Muslim-majority countries and territories witnessed a fertility decline over the past three decades. More specifically it estimated that there was a drop of 2.6 percent per woman between 1975/1980-2005/10, which is more than double the world average that stood at (-1.3) or even the average of the less developed countries that stood at (-2.2).

Final figures may not add up, but the study provides a framework that needs to be taken seriously: Politically, economically and socially. Part of the explanation of the turmoil that has been engulfing the region is the demographic dimension, where more youth are looking for better education, job opportunities and higher aspirations for better life that has been fueled by the communication revolution.

Moreover, with the growing and expanding urbanization, it seems natural to expect delays in marriage arrangements to a later age, which affects the number of births.

The issue raises many question marks starting first with the need to come up with credible census that can provide an authoritative base with information that could be used to plan ahead. That is basically the responsibility of various governments at national level. The sum of such activities provides the needed information to tackle this and other issues at the macro level of the Islamic world as such. It is pity that hardly any Islamic country has a tradition of having regular census that furnishes government, researchers and interested bodies with their need for information.

However, though no concrete or credible information is available now, it is better to take seriously the conclusions reached at by the study.

The fertility decline is not a new phenomenon. Many Western countries specially in Europe are suffering from it to the extent that some considered changing their emigration regulations to allow for new migrants to come and settle and help in closing up the gap of reducing population volume as a result of the declining fertility. Such a move is intended to help redress the growing imbalance between those who became pensioners and want to enjoy from their contribution to the social security system over the years and those still in the productive age and should be contributing to the social security system. But it will be a major problem if less and less people are getting into the system, paying their taxes at the time when more have stopped making new contributions and aiming to enjoy from their previous contributions.

Such long-term issues need to be handled now, though it will be difficult in current turmoil to look into distant future, but since the future actually starts today, there is no option but to embark on it quickly and vigorously.

[Alsir Sidahmed can be contacted at asidahmed@hotmail.com]

(Courtesy: Arab News)

Dahab's first Egyptian woman divemaster blazes a trail

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By Christopher Reeve

She takes her clients to another world — one in which, as if traveling to outer space, visitors must wear special suits and carry equipment in order to breathe. Humans weren’t built to maneuver in this landscape without assistance.

As a divemaster, Suezett al-Fallal, 27, is responsible for the safety of the tourists she leads to submersion, so must remain hyper-vigilant of their well-being. But when she goes on dives, the glimpses of marine life, the sensation of buoyancy and the quiet of the Red Sea lead her to imagine that she is the only one around.

“I feel a bit alone,” she says.

Fallal, originally from Cairo’s Nasr City district, moved to Dahab last April to realize a dream. “I wanted to be a divemaster at 18,” she says from a café overlooking the Red Sea and a not-too-distant Saudi Arabia. “It was my first target as a job.”

While plenty of Egyptian men and foreigners of both sexes work in Dahab’s numerous dive shops, taking the town’s visitors to its famed dive sites, Fallal represents something new to the scene. She is Dahab’s first resident Egyptian, or even Arab, veiled woman divemaster.

Hamdy Anan, co-owner of Shams Dive Center — one of the five dive centers where Fallal works — oversaw her three-month training to become a licensed divemaster.

Anan, 33 and originally from the Delta city of Mahalla, has seen Dahab slowly develop into the international diving hub it is today. Reflecting on the 17 years he has lived here, he says, “For [this] long period of time ... [there was] no Egyptian female diver.”

Fallal is initially hesitant to be interviewed by Egypt Independent, saying she does not believe that being Dahab’s first Egyptian woman divemaster is worthy of a profile.

“I’m not Baumgartner, who jumped out of outer space,” she says, referring to the Austrian man who recently broke the sound barrier on a 39-km skydive to earth.

“Wallahi (I swear to God), I’m doing this for people who might read it,” she says, justifying her decision. “Maybe a girl will read it and [decide to] do something that she really likes, and someone who thinks negatively about Muslims will read it and change his mind.”

She admits she faced several obstacles in pursuing her ambition. “It’s hard for Egyptian women to travel and live on their own,” she explains. “If you move to a place like Dahab, where there are no [Egyptian] women, people will judge you.”

Her tone exudes a confidence in that tricky business of defying conventions. There is also the factor of physical strength and stamina necessary for diving. “It’s heavy-duty stuff,” Fallal says.
She talks about having to carry not just her own nine-and-a-half-kilogram air tank, but also that of a customer who was unable to carry her own. Fallal is no stranger to rigorous activity. She was a personal trainer at several gyms in Cairo before moving to Dahab. She was also an assistant coach of parachuting at a club organized by the Egyptian military.

But personal training and parachuting are only part of her story. Fallal also has a degree in cinematography, and has worked as a stylist and camera assistant in the film industry. She left that field due to her personal convictions.

Fallal says the film industry does not use its potential to affect society in a positive way. “In Egypt, not a lot of people read,” she says. “They watch movies.” She ultimately left because she felt it “use[s] women to degrade women. ... It’s against my religion and against my principles.”

Fallal became a devout Muslim four years ago. She keeps her hair, arms and legs covered, even as she braves the Sinai desert heat on her bicycle, with an overstuffed bag strapped to her back. When underwater, she dons a wetsuit that allows for the same level of coverage.

“I’m a feminist,” Fallal says, adding that she finds inspiration from the women of Islamic history.
Some of her European clientele have questions about Arab women and Islam. Fallal takes advantage of these moments to explain her culture. “If people ask about deen (religion) or hijab (veil), I answer,” she says, “and I think I am doing something good for my religion — not on a big scale, but I’m making a difference.”

Fallal still has many more goals she hopes to achieve, including becoming a dive instructor and opening her own dive center, becoming an underwater photographer and even learning to sew so she can design and make her own clothes.

For now, she is still settling into Dahab and its diving culture. Fallal says she has found support and acceptance over time. As for her relationship with the other divers in town, she says, “I’m like their little sister.”

And when preparing for her next dive, like Baumgartner, she must gear up before entering an atmosphere for which humans were not made. “I love it,” she says. “It’s addictive.”

(Courtesy: Egypt Independent)

Online moderates can counter violent Muslim extremism, RAND says

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , , ,

Key is to assist moderates in finding and disseminating their own messaging

By Julie Bird

The same Internet that Islamic extremists use to whip up fury against the West can be used by more moderate forces to counter that extremism, according to a new Rand Corp. report.
The report notes that American Muslims already use the web and social media to provide an opposing voice to and undercut extremists.

In its most direct form, American Muslim group's counter-radicalization uses scripture to "delegitimize the radical narrative." They also counter extremist messaging through Twitter and videos posted on YouTube.

Less directly, a number of American Muslim groups operate virtual mosques espousing more moderate, mainstream views of faith for Muslims in America. These groups expand their online presence through sites such as Facebook, the report notes.

More can be done to help counter-messaging efforts, the RAND analysts say. But there are barriers, including negative perceptions of U.S. counterterrorism policies; limited leadership voices and funding for countering violent extremism; being viewed as "sell-outs" to those sympathetic to jihadi causes; First Amendment restrictions on government funding of counter-extremism messaging. The restriction, though, also "frees Muslim groups of the taint of government funding and prevents the government from having to 'choose sides' in intra-Muslim discourse and debate," the report notes.

The State Department and Google Ideas, termed by Rand as a "think-do tank," have independently recommend desecuritizing efforts to counter violent extremism, addressing sources of mistrust among Muslims, educating social-media influencers and ways to counter extremism, improve the reach of social media, getting private-sector groups to fund and engage with counter-extremism groups, and finding ways to increase government funding.
"The U.S. government and private funders must play the role of facilitator rather than orchestrator," Rand cautions.

"The challenge comes in appreciating that … authenticity and criticism only serve to empower what is hoped to be a core message of peace and tolerance," the authors concluded. "Ultimately, the U.S. government and private sponsors must allow credible Muslim voices to reach their own conclusions and find their own message."

(Courtesy: Fierce Homeland Security)

No bed of roses for the next Pope

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

By R. L Francis

Pope Benedict XVI, head of Catholic Church will bid adieu and who will take his place has become a matter of debate in the Catholic Church. His sudden resignation has surprised the whole Catholic world. His resignation has come at a time when Catholic Church is mired in various inbound problems within the Church system. Pope has constantly displayed his concern over slackening, moral depravation and indiscipline in the Church. The faith in Catholic system is constantly waning and this why he had announced this year as a ‘Year of Faith’.

Pope Benedict, when assumed this post eight-years-ago on April 19, 2005 had raised hope about changing laws and regulations particularly on the issue of sexual harassment of children that involved litigation and Church had to furnish big compensation. Worst part was that his detractors accused him of colluding with such elements to suppress these cases.

However, he kept moving with his obsession towards piousness. He opposed use of contraceptives and artificial pregnancy. He also opposed abortion. A Catholic newspaper ‘The Universe’ editor Kevin Raferty termed him as an obdurate person for whom modern traditions had no place in his life. He did not give any concession on these issues.

Many European countries such as Ireland, Poland and Spain started criticizing him on adopting opaque policies on sexual abuse of children within the Church. Pope even constituted a committee to inquire these allegations which angered Irish government and Irish parliament considered it as an intrusion in internal affairs. Disgruntled Vatican called its representative from Ireland. Vatican is an autonomous state so it has representatives in most of the countries in the world including India.

Spain legalized abortion and homosexuality. There is a strong demand for the marriage of old-age priests. Many Bishops are pressurizing to slacken the rigid laws of Church. Conrod Allest, Christian scholar says, “Anybody can easily see downfall of Christianity. Presence of people in Churches has come down to 5-10 percent. Nobody wants to be a priest. Many cathedrals which used to keep three priests had no priest at all. They have to call a guest priest even for Sunday mass. However, Church is very active in a country like India to bridge this gap. Inter-religious debates are decreasing. Vatican accuses others for every human mistake in order to prove supremacy. In India Church has been successful to run its imperialism and inter-religious debates with Hindus cordially.

Common Catholic people are stunned to see lifestyle of priests. Even pope dresses like a king. This year civil society in Italy has demanded to impose tax on the church income and property. This will ease burden of tax from the common people. One-fifth of total property in Italy is directly under the control of Church and it pays no tax at all because of a Holy Sea Accord signed in 1930. Main opposition party and newspapers have demanded to impose tax on Church property. Church has huge income from real estate. In Rome alone it earns 2.55 crore Euros in a year. National Union of Municipalities in Italy has told that if tax is imposed on church property, government can easily earn 50-70 crore Euros annually.

Whoever follows Pope Benedict XVI will have huge challenges. He was beacon of light for millions of Catholics around the world. But, Vatican riddled with own problems had no solution to offer. In India, Dalit Christians are leading frustrating life within the Church system. But, no pope has acknowledged this fact. Many people consider Church is riddled with old customs and traditions and it has gone two centuries backwards.

We hope new Pope will have will power and faith who will have power to change Catholic system from top to bottom. The beginning in this direction has already started in Europe.

[R. L Francis is President, Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM). He can be contacted on his Mobile # 9810108046 or at pclmfrancis@gmail.com]

Could Muslim Controversy Overshadow Appointment Of Cardinal Peter Turkson As First Black Pope?

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

By Nikki Seay

After Monday’s shocking announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would step down at the end of February, feelings of surprise quickly turned to speculation as the world began to wonder who would be his successor. While many names have been suggested, Cardinal Peter Turkson seems to be a front-runner.

Cardinal Turkson, 64, was born in Wassaw Nsuta in western Ghana to a Methodist mother and Catholic father. As a child, he entered the seminary and later moved to New York to study at St. Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary in Rensselaer. Cardinal Turkson was ordained as a priest in 1975.

As a Roman Catholic Cardinal from Ghana, Cardinal Turkson is currently president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and among the leading candidates to assume the title of pontiff. While rumors swirl as the Vatican looks outside of Europe to replace Pope Benedict XVI, the question also remains as to how the first black Pope, particularly Cardinal Turkson, may affect the Catholic church as a whole.

Within Africa, members of the Catholic religion and clergy are rapidly growing. There are around 176 million Catholics in Africa according to a study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in December 2011. While the numbers within the Catholic Church continue to rise in Africa, the number of Catholics in Europe has decreased in the last several years.

Although appointing the first black Pope would certainly be a milestone for the religion, Cardinal Turkson is not without controversy. The Cardinal caused an uproar at the Vatican last October by screening a YouTube video that makes some shocking predictions about the massive growth of Islam in Europe. The seven-minute video, titled "Muslim Demographics," was the talk of an international gathering of bishops after Cardinal Turkson screened it during a free discussion period. Among the claims made in it: "In just 39 years France will be an Islamic republic."

Days after the viewing of “Muslim Demographics,” a Vatican spokesperson made an attempt to put distance between Cardinal Turkson and the holy see.

"This video does not express the view of the synod or the Vatican. Turkson has said he is sorry if the video was wrongly interpreted since he did not intend it to be anti-Muslim, merely a comment on the nihilism in western society," said Father Federico Lombardi.

While the Vatican took a politically correct stance, Vatican radio called the video "fear mongering" and added, "Why one of the curial cardinals chose to show this piece of anti-Islamic propaganda is quite unclear." Cardinal Turkson has gone on record over the years, stating that a theological dialogue with Muslims is impossible.

In the midst of this controversy, Cardinal Turkson remained firm to his intentions. “The point was to highlight the demographic situation as a result of the anti-life tendency and culture in the Western world,” he stated publically. “For me to attack Islam would be to attack my own family,” said the cardinal, a native of Ghana. “My paternal uncle was a Muslim and he took care of me when I was a boy, and when he grew old I took care of him until he died.”

(Courtesy: Opposing Views)

25-yr-old innovator Noor Mohammed passionate to carve a niche in Halal trade

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 22 February 2013 | Posted in , , , , , , ,

[Indian Muslim Observer in association with India’s only Muslim Lifestyle magazine 'Muallim' brings a series on achievers of the Muslim community. Under this series, Representative of Muallim magazine interviewd the Gem of the community and us at Indianmuslimobserver.com, present it to our readers through our platform.]

Achievers - Innovator
Noor Mohammed
Founder – Halaltradezone.com

His quest for Halal products and services, for a Halal lifestyle led him to study the opportunities of establishing a portal for making Halal living easy and he is the first from India to come up with a comprehensive B2B and B2C portal which empowers entrepreneurs and businesses locally and globally to connect with each other and to sell Halal certified products to consumers on a single platform in a very easy way and it also provides useful updates and information on Halal stuffs in various verticals.

Meet Noor Mohammed, Bangalore based 25 years old Innovator, who is passionate to make HalalTradeZone.com the most referred platform in the world regarding Halal.

Gives us a brief profile of yours?

I was born and brought up in Bangalore, I am 25 years old and I have a bachelor’s degree in Business Management with specialization in International Business. Currently I am the Founder & CEO of HalalTradeZone.com and Partner & Director at Zunairah Commerce LLP.

How did HalalTradeZone.com come into existence, what is the purpose behind it?

Back in 2009 I was thinking about starting a venture which would be unique and which would serve a purpose in the society.

We all are aware about the importance Islam has enjoined on us in terms of Halal be it eating, wearing or earning. Thus Halal forms the base of a sound lifestyle, and it is for the betterment of this life and the everlasting life to come.

Noor Mohammed
So I contemplated and researched about the venture in which this need of the Muslim Ummah could be fulfilled. Alhamdulillah, in the blessed month of Ramadhan I got this idea to create a portal for Businesses and Consumers keeping Halal aspect in mind. Thus HalalTradeZone.com came into existence in September 2009. Through our portal businesses can connect with each other and reach out to Muslim consumers locally and globally.

The 3 main purposes behind HalalTradeZone.com are:

1. To empower and connect genuine Entrepreneurs and verified Halal (Legal) Businesses with each other locally and globally.

2. To educate business community about Islamic morals & business ethics and the importance of Halal earnings.

3. To make Halal certified products and services easily available to consumers by making it possible to small, medium and large retailers to sell Halal certified products on a single platform in their respective countries.

Have you faced any challenges or failures in your life, if yes how did you overcome them?

As human beings we all face challenges and failures in life. Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall. Even I have faced few challenges and failures in my life and I am highly thankful to Allah (swt) for everything as it made me who I am today.

I would like to share the challenges I faced while working on HalalTradeZone.com. When I got this idea I did not know how to build a web application though I had some basic knowledge of HTML but that was not sufficient to build the dynamic portal, which I had in my mind.

So I approached a startup to get it developed but the result was not inspiring. Amicably we came out of the agreement. Then I started learning the technology and was simultaneously building the portal and with the help of God I found another startup with well experienced developers to work on this project and Alhamdulillah the beta version of HalalTradeZone.com has been successfully developed, and we will launch the beta version in March 2013 by the will of the Allah.

I hope that this project will fulfill the need in the society and be the best in its sector, Insha’Allah.
The lesson here is to stay focused on what you want to achieve even if things seem to get complicated and be willing to learn new things that will help you achieve your goals. If you are sincere and hardworking then Allah (swt) will surely help you.

What are your future plans?

According to the plan I want to launch HalalTradeZone.com in at least 14 countries through local partnerships and take it to its full potential and make it the best and most comprehensive business portal in the world, Insha’Allah.

Who is your role model?

Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) is my role model. The teaching of our Prophet (s.a.s) on business ethics is such that if incorporated completely success is bound to happen Insha Allah.
And I also appreciate Richard Branson, Sheikh Sulaiman Al-Rajhi, Ratan Tata and Guy Kawasaki for their business tips and achievements in the business world.

What Success means to you?

Success is subjective, depends and varies from person to person. For me success is to see HalalTradeZone.com as a well reputed and the best B2B and B2C portal in the world and create opportunities for people to work and earn a dignified living.

What keeps you going, your motivational factor?

My vision and goals I want to achieve in my life keeps me going.

How do you plan to give back to the society?

Through HalalTradeZone.com we want to build bridges between communities and nations through trade so that we can understand each other better and provide top class service to a section of the society, create jobs for the other section and finally help the homeless, widows and orphans with1/3rd of our profits via our own and other registered foundations in an organized, transparent and well documented way so that we can make the world a better place, Insha Allah.

Some tips to our readers and aspiring entrepreneurs?

Do what you love and love what you do. Look for the unfulfilled need in the society and create something which will fulfill the need in the best possible way. Have good and optimistic people around you and stay away from pessimists.

Keep yourself updated with the latest developments in the area of your business, work hard and have strong faith in the help of the Almighty.

What are the adjectives that describes you the best?

Compassionate, Focused, Observant and Shy.

(Courtesy: Muallim Magazine)

'Muslims should brace politics of development and politics of education': MJ Akbar

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , ,

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedabad: It looks that Gujarat CM Narendra Modi has hired some Muslims bigwigs to project his so-called development card. The latest to fall in line seems to be senior journalist, noted writer and former editor of The Asian Age MJ Akbar, who has chosen to ignore Modi's utterly communal facade and decided to echo Modi's parroted stance calling upon Muslims to free themselves from the “politics of fear” and brace “politics of development and politics of education.”

He was speaking as the guest of honour at the 5th annual convention of Muslim Writers Academy at the world renowned Peer Mohammed Shah Library in Ahmedabad on last Sunday, the 17th of February 2013.

Muslims, Akbar said, had seen enough of “politics of fear.” According to the noted journalist, time had now come for the community to think and self introspect. The time had come to change attitude and mindset. “Changing attitude and mindset is not easy but when the time demands a change, a change should be ushered in for power flows not from a sword but power flows from education.”

M.J. Akbar
Muslims should also start a process of regaining their self-confidence and leave behind the “politics of begging.” Akbar reminded the assembly that the Muslim community was full of talent and skills and just wanted an opportunity to show case their skills and talent. Secondly Muslims of India should also consider themselves as fortunate as India was a democratic country and all communities were empowered.

Though MJ. Akbar did not use the word of NaMO But it was widely understood that he spoke to spread the message of BJP. perhaps Mr. Akbar does not knoe the ground reality of Gujarat Muslims as thousands of Muslim students were deprived from Scholardhip under Modi rule.
As of this day, Modi has done every thing possible to deprive Muslim boys and girls of the non matric scholarship. The Central contribution of 9.5 crores is already with the State Government.

The state contribution is barely Rs. 4 crore. Modi who has spent thousands of crores on the likes of Tatas and Adanis, as well on his innumerable extavaganzas like Vibrant Gujarat, Sadbhavna, Vivekananda yatras etc, iis reluctant to spend this minor amount, bacause it benefits Muslims.
The continued degradation and brekdown ofthe economy of Muslims in Gujarat for a decade is not visible to MJ Akbar. The fact that the huge Muslim majority locality of Juhapura in Ahmedabad gets almost no civic facilities from the city of Ahmedabad.

This sorry situation of unemployment in Gujarat did not allow the state to advance into a prosperous state free from poverty.

Gujarat has a high 31.8 percent population living below poverty line, says a Planning Commission report. This is higher than several major states such as Jammu & Kashmir (13.2 percent), Kerala (19.7 per cent), Punjab (20.9 percent), Himachal Pradesh (22.9 percent), Haryana (24.1 percent), Tamil Nadu (28.9 percent) and Andhra Pradesh (29.9 percent).
Gujarat has a high 31.8 percent population living below poverty line, says a Planning Commission report.

This is higher than several major states such as Jammu & Kashmir (13.2 percent), Kerala (19.7 percent), Punjab (20.9 percent), Himachal Pradesh (22.9 percent), Haryana (24.1 percent), Tamil Nadu (28.9 percent) and Andhra Pradesh (29.9 percent). The report was submitted to the Commission by a group of experts, headed by Suresh D Tendulkar late last year.

Ranked eighth among major states, the only consolation for Gujarat is, Maharashtra, its neighbour and one of the main economic competitors, has a much higher incidence of poverty, 38.1 percent.

Poverty line for Gujarat monthly expenditure of Rs 501.58 per person in rural and Rs 659.18 in urban areas is based on National Sample Survey (NSS) norms fixed in 2005-06, which includes 'nutritional, educational and health outcomes', to quote from the report.

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

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