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The Common Ground News Service (CGNews) aims to promote constructive perspectives and dialogue on a broad range of issues affecting Arab-Israeli & Muslim-Western relations. CGNews is available in Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Indonesian and Urdu. To subscribe, click here. For an archive of past CGNews articles, please visit our website at www.commongroundnews.org.
Inside this edition  
02 - 08 March 2010
Muslims women wage jihad against violence
by Mehnaz M. Afridi
In light of the upcoming International Women's Day on 8 March, Mehnaz M. Afridi, a human rights activist, reflects on some of the many initiatives undertaken by Muslim women to combat violence against women and gender inequality.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 2 March 2010)
Polygamy in context
by Alia Hogben
Alia Hogben, Executive Director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, looks at what the Qur'an says about polygamy in the context of the needs of women and children at that time, and considers whether it still applies in today's context.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 2 March 2010)
Pakistani Peace Caravan expresses solidarity with victims of violence
by Shujuaddin Qureshi
Shujuaddin Qureshi, Senior Research Associate at the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, considers the impact of a recent 100-person large Peace Caravan that travelled from Karachi to Peshawar to express solidarity with those impacted by violence, mobilise people against terrorism and create harmony.
(Source: Dawn.com, 24 February 2010)
North Africans blog about conflict
by Magda Abu-Fadil
Magda Abu-Fadil, Director of Journalism Training Program at the American University of Beirut, describes how a recent training for bloggers held in Rabat has changed the way participants blog about conflict.
(Source: Huffington Post, 24 February 2010)
Behind the debate on Muslim integration in Germany
by Stephan J. Kramer
Stephan J. Kramer, Secretary General of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, contemplates the complex reality behind the debate over Muslim integration in Germany.
(Source: Qantara.de, 19 February 2010)
Muslims women wage jihad against violence
Mehnaz M. Afridi
Los Angeles, California - International Women's Day on 8 March provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the work women are doing to combat gender inequality. Violence and inequality affect women around the world, including women in Muslims societies who, like their non-Muslim counterparts, are engaged on a day-to-day basis to improve their environments for the better.

Travelling back and forth to Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan, I witness the amazing work that women are doing both for human rights and economic growth firsthand. Women are running companies, shelters and businesses, and countering the images of disenfranchised, illiterate and socially deprived Muslim women so pervasive in Western media.

Bushra Aslam, for example, opened an orphanage in Islamabad for young girls after the 2005 Pakistani earthquake. She provides educators, mentors, counsellors and interfaith activities for the 45 girls living there. Another inspiring figure is Rukhsana Asghar, the president of Fulcrum, a Pakistan-based human resources consulting company that offers scholarships to train girls from poor families in preparation for jobs.

Little is known in the West about the very positive initiatives taking place across the Muslim world. In Morocco, Egypt and Turkey, for example, women are being trained as religious guides, known as murshidat, to provide spiritual guidance for women and children in those countries.

And movements such as the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE), a global social network and grassroots social justice movement, aim to create opportunities for women in the Muslim world. One particular WISE project, Jihad (Struggle) against Violence, aims to end violence toward women to promote women's advancement both in the Muslim world and beyond.

WISE is based on the idea that "[v]iolence is a human phenomenon that exists across diverse cultures and faith communities. It remains an ever-present reality in the lives of millions of Muslims, preventing entire societies from flourishing in religious, cultural, political and economic spheres. Throughout the world, violence destroys the ability of Muslim women to thrive within their families, communities and nations."

On 6 February, WISE announced an international day of action against female genital cutting (FGC), a widespread custom across Africa. Since it happens to so many girls regardless of faith, Christian priests and Muslim shaikhs have come together to condemn the practice. To carry their message further, and as part of its ongoing Jihad Against Violence campaign, WISE is collaborating with the Egyptian Association for Society Development (EASD), a non-governmental organisation in Giza, to provide religious education against the practice, as well as financial incentives and replacement economic activities for those currently performing FGC.

For example, in 2008, members of the association reached out to Amin Hussein, a barber who regularly committed FGC illegally (Egypt banned FGC in 1996). After receiving educational training demonstrating that FGC is un-Islamic and harmful to women, Hussein agreed to stop the practice and was provided monetary compensation and new tools for his business through this programme.

It has been well over a year since Hussein committed FGC and he proudly displays in his shop a declaration from Al-Azhar University that FGC is un-Islamic and forbidden.

WISE also works toward the prevention and elimination of domestic violence, which many in the West falsely believe is more prevalent, or even sanctioned, in Muslim communities, due to stereotypes perpetuated by Hollywood and in Western media.

Some Muslims also mistakenly believe that Islam permits domestic violence. An attitude that is the result of cultural norms, tribal practices and a lack of knowledge of scriptural interpretations empowering women.

WISE is working to raise awareness of domestic violence and offer support to victims of abuse through its members and their organisations. WISE member and psychologist Ambreen Ajaib who works at Bedari, a women's rights organisation in Pakistan, for example, provides psychological counselling to survivors of gender-based violence.

These are the kinds of commitments and transformations that Muslim women have made and continue to make to reduce the gender inequalities that result in FGC and domestic violence. Despite the work of organisations such as WISE to raise awareness of issues that negatively affect women and take real steps to stop it, more such effort is needed: the journey to equality for Muslim women is not yet over.


* Mehnaz M. Afridi, Ph.D. (www.mehnazafridi.com) teaches Judaism and Islam and is a human rights activist for women of all faiths, promoting co-existence and peace between Jews and Muslims. For more information about WISE, please visit www.wisemuslimwomen.org. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 2 March 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Polygamy in context
Alia Hogben
Kingston, Canada - Over the centuries, Muslim scholars and men have accepted polygamy, the practice of having multiple wives, but the Qur'anic permission and the context have been lost. In the Qur'an, polygamy is never discussed in terms of men's rights, but instead in terms of the needs of women and children at the time.

In fact, it is mentioned in verses 4:3, 4:127 and 4:129 of the fourth chapter of the Qur'an, notably entitled An-Nisa' - the Arabic word for women. Much of this chapter was revealed in the fourth year of migration of the fledging Muslim community from Mecca to Medina, circa 627 CE, and marks the start of the Muslim calendar. It builds on the preceding chapter regarding the Battle of Uhud between early Muslims and the inhabitants of Mecca in which many Muslim men were killed, leaving widows and orphans.

This is the context which is crucial to any discussion of polygamy in Islam, as permission was granted to men under these specific conditions. Polygamy was allowed in verse 4:3 because of God's concern for the welfare of women and orphans who were left without husbands and fathers who died fighting for the Prophet and for Islam.

It is a verse about compassion towards women and their children; it is not about men or their sexuality. It was an instruction to a patriarchal society that these women and their children needed protection and maintenance, which at the time was most effectively achieved through marriage.

When it came to orphans, God suggested, "If you fear that you cannot do justice to orphans, marry such women as seem good to you, two, or three or four, but if you fear that you will not do justice then marry only one…." This solution was to provide some protection for vulnerable women and children in a patriarchal society, so long as all wives received equal, fair treatment.

But in verse 129, God suggested that the possibility for equal, faire treatment is unlikely: "And it will not be within your power to treat your wives with equal fairness, however much you may desire it…"

Incredibly, verse 129 is largely ignored and verse 3 is used by some Muslims to justify plural marriages for men, as if the verses are about men's sexual needs rather than about the welfare of widows and orphans.

Scholars, such as the 19th century Egyptian jurist Muhammad Abduh and the contemporary Indian Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer, reject the argument that men's sexual lust should be satisfied by multiple wives, or indeed that men's and women's rights to sexual satisfaction differ.

Yet some men use the example of the Prophet's multiple wives as justification for their own polygamy. But Muhammad had only one wife for 25 years. Only after her death did he enter into concurrent marriages, most of which were political moves to cement relationships with other tribes.

However, one powerful hadith (saying of the Prophet) describes the reaction of the Prophet on hearing that his cousin and son-in-law, Ali - married to his daughter Fatima - was considering taking a second wife. The Prophet was so angered he announced publicly that if Ali wanted a second wife, he would have to divorce Fatima first.

Over the centuries, the Qur'an has been almost exclusively interpreted by male scholars, and though many have been well-meaning and learned, they have reflected their own times, cultures and assumptions.

Fortunately today many scholars, such as Engineer, conclude that "polygamy was contextual, and monogamy is the norm" for our times. Some countries, such as Tunisia, have based their laws on this understanding.

The Qur'an's message is eternal, but understandably the context has changed, and there are examples of the evolutionary teachings of the Qur'an.

For example, slavery existed for a long time within Muslim communities. It is true that most slaves were those taken in war, but slaves they still were. The Qur'an teaches kind behaviour towards slaves and encouraged freeing slaves as an act of charity, but did not eradicate slavery. Yet today, no Muslim would justify slavery.

Muslims, both men and women, must understand the restricted contextual permission for polygamy. It is not a God-given right for Muslim men and in today's context it no longer applies as a means of protecting women or providing for them.


*Alia Hogben is Executive Director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW). This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 2 March 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Pakistani Peace Caravan expresses solidarity with victims of violence
Shujuaddin Qureshi
Karachi, Pakistan - It was an unusual gathering at Karachi's Cantt railway station, where over 100 people from civil society organisations and political and trade unions, along with intellectuals and journalists, had gathered for a peaceful cause. Sixty of those gathered, including more than a dozen women, were part of a Peace Caravan that left Karachi on 13 February for Peshawar to express solidarity with the people of Peshawar and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

The idea of organising a Peace Caravan emerged at a consultation meeting of the Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC) at the Karachi Press Club in November 2009. Civil society participants underlined the need to form a delegation to visit terrorist-hit areas of the NWFP. The objective of the caravan was to express solidarity with people of the province; mobilise the working class, civil society and political parties against terrorism; build pressure on the government to fulfil its responsibility of maintaining law and order; raise a voice against the US-led international "war on terror"; and create harmony among working people in these difficult times.

When the train whistle announced the start of the journey, caravan participants and their friends on the platform raised pro-peace slogans. Many people at the station were happy to see civil society organisations expressing solidarity with the working class, which is facing economic hardship due to faulty economic and political policies.

In Hyderabad, the second largest city in the Sindh province and the first stop for the caravan, a large number of civil society activists were anxiously waiting to join. Men, women and children showered flower petals over the caravan members and raised slogans: "We want peace not war" and "We want peace not bombs." The Joint Action Committee (JAC) Hyderabad issued a statement supporting the initiative, saying that the people of Sindh, the land of Sufis, are against all kinds of terrorism.

The caravan made its way to Khanpur, a small city in Pakistan's Punjab province, where only two activists joined the caravan. At Multan, another city in Punjab, intellectuals, labour leaders, writers, journalists and residents also joined.

"Silence is criminal and we appreciate those who have broken this silence," said local leader Saleem Lodhi.

Dr. Alvin Muran pointed out the diversity of those participating: "There are Muslims, Christians and Hindus in this caravan, which depicts a true picture of Pakistan."

Arriving in Lahore in the evening, the caravan was greeted by hundreds of trade union and civil society activists and workers of the Awami National Party (ANP), a leftist political party, as well as several civil society organisations including the South Asia Partnership (SAP-PK), a civil society movement striving to empower marginalised sections of society and influence policies in favour of the people; Strengthening Participatory Organization, an organisation that supports community organisations and public interest institutions of Pakistan; Bonded Labour Liberation Front, an organisation that aims to eliminate bonded labour and child labour; GIYAN, a foundation in Lahore that works for culture and human rights; and PILER, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research.

The main purpose of the visit was to celebrate Peshawar and the resilience of those living in the midst of terror. During its two-day stay in Peshawar on 16 and 17 February, more than 100 caravan participants enjoyed a warm welcome. SAP-PK and Aman Tahreek, a representative body of civil society organisations, hosted a lunch for the participants at the city's Grand Hotel. Aman Tahreek's representative, Dr. Syed Alam Mehsood, lectured on the conflict and the root causes of "Talibanisation". Later, caravan participants staged a demonstration and raised anti-war and anti-Taliban slogans on the main road.

On the evening of 16 February, the delegation also visited the mausoleum of Rehman Baba, a 17th century Sufi poet, which was bombed by Taliban militants in March 2009. Caretakers of the mausoleum explained the losses sustained by the mausoleum to the delegation. The caravan also participated in a public meeting in Hayatabad, in which more than 1,000 workers participated. The evening was concluded at a Pakistan's People's Party-Sherpao reception hosted by Sikandar Hayat Sherpao, an elected member of the NWFP Provincial Assembly who was previously injured in a suicide attack, and Senator Haji Ghufran.

The following day, at a lunch reception, NWFP Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani stated that the visit of the caravan had boosted the morale of the people and would be a major breakthrough in reducing public fear of the Taliban. A similar theme was discussed at the Peshawar Press Club, where the caravan paused to express solidarity with journalists who were targeted in December 2009 by a suicide bomber.

As a final stop, the delegation visited Bacha Khan Markaz in Peshawar, headquarters of the ANP. Senior ANP leaders and representatives of the delegation, including Mian Abdul Qayom, a labour leader from Faisalabad, engaged in discussion. The ANP leadership expressed hope that the peace caravan initiative would bring together people from different parts of the country.


* Shujuaddin Qureshi is Senior Research Associate at the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER). This abridged article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews). The full text can be found at www.dawn.com.

Source: Dawn.com, 24 February 2010, www.dawn.com
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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North Africans blog about conflict
Magda Abu-Fadil
Beirut - Eighteen North African bloggers gathered in Rabat last week for a workshop on constructive and effective writing about conflict and upgrading their social media skills, despite censorship problems and various technical constraints in the Maghreb region.

The training, organised by the Washington, DC [and Brussels] based non-governmental organisation, Search for Common Ground (SFCG), included sessions on the needs and challenges facing bloggers, censorship, blogging and social media as forms of self-expression and activism, the impact of blogs in covering conflicts, the evolution of blogging and online media ethics.

The bloggers and activists from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia put their newly acquired knowledge and ideas to the test, with participant Naoufel Chaara writing that the workshop had surpassed his expectations: "Admittedly, I was wrong. The SFCG training didn't match my pre-set idea about workshops and conferences where we suffer from boring speakers and doze off," he said. "Today, a lot of things will change."

The dynamic nature of the workshop allowed the bloggers to learn, interact, take pictures, shoot video, tweet and post content as they discussed what they can and can't do in their respective countries.

Morocco enjoys relatively more cyber freedom than its neighbors, with Algeria coming in second and Tunisia maintaining a stranglehold on access to social media vehicles.

The blogs themselves range from political and social forums, to more personal agendas, to strongly worded treatises on freedom of expression.

"We created a group on the Web and decided to pursue our discussions on our common woes: chats on the left, chats on the right, exchanges of photos, solidarity with the weak, and we said in unison: 'No to suppression of freedom,' and 'Yes to freedom of expression,'" wrote Chahida Lakhouaja on her blog, adding that the participants were proud to proclaim they were bloggers.

The workshop was launched with gusto by Leena El-Ali, Director of SFCG's Partners in Humanity programme that works to positively affect how individuals and groups in the West and Muslim world think and feel about cross-cultural issues.

She briefed the bloggers on the common ground approach of highlighting solutions, rather than just dwelling on problems, as well as providing a voice to all stakeholders.

El-Ali encouraged participants to write for the Common Ground News Service and set guidelines to help pave the way.

According to El-Ali, a common ground article provides constructive and solution-oriented perspectives and concrete steps for collaboration and understanding where possible; seeks areas of common ground or common goals and interests; promotes dialogue and cooperation; emphasises positive examples of interaction between Western and Muslim cultures; expresses constructive self-criticism; instills hope and optimism in readers that non-adversarial solutions to conflict are possible; highlights positive experiences between individuals that humanise the other and offer hope; and contributes to understanding between Muslim and Western cultures.

Moroccan journalist/blogger Rachid Jankari, director of MIT Media and publisher of www.maroc-it.ma, kept the charged pace going, introducing participants to the latest in cyber offerings and tutoring them on how to master the use of various Web tools.

The bloggers could hardly keep up with his delivery and enthusiasm about the Web's endless possibilities.

Also on hand was Mohamed Daadaoui, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Oklahoma City University, whose Maghreb Blog focuses on politics, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region. Daadaoui spoke about how blogs have been used in covering upheavals and conflicts. He also focused on how blogging has been a source of problems, and when blogs have helped in promoting solutions.

The following is a list of North African blogs:



* Magda Abu-Fadil is Director of the Journalism Training Program at the American University of Beirut. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the author.

Source: Huffington Post, 24 February 2010, www.huffingtonpost.com
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Behind the debate on Muslim integration in Germany
Stephan J. Kramer
Bonn, Germany - The relationship between the popular majority in Germany and the country's Muslim residents is one of the foremost topics of public debate in Germany today, and a discussion that often escalates into a dispute.

One side accuses Muslim immigrants of simply not wanting to assimilate into German society, while the other accuses the majority of Germans of being hostile to Islam and trying to exclude Muslim residents from public life in this country.

The reality is admittedly much more complicated than that, and this complexity must be acknowledged and appreciated.

An important part of this recognition is to illuminate the background against which demands for integration must be met. Historically, German identity has been shaped not only by German language and culture, but also by Christian faith. Anyone whose culture did not fit into these parameters was perceived as alien. The group that experienced the effects of this exclusionism most painfully was the Jews. The tragic culmination of Jewish strivings to be accepted by the German people is only too familiar.

Today, Germany is a liberal democracy. Therefore, any parallels drawn between the Holocaust and the xenophobia that exists today in Germany with regard to Muslims is not only an insult to the victims of Nazi genocide, but also reveals an utter disregard for and ignorance of the democratic achievements of the Federal Republic of Germany since 1945.

Nevertheless, the historically anchored self-image held by German society remains omnipresent and places a burden on the integration of immigrants and their children. This is not meant as a reproach - for it is just as impossible to impose a supra-ethnic national identity from above in Germany as it is in any other country - but it does make it all the more pressing for us to find a better model for coexistence.

For the majority, the key tasks are to spread knowledge of Islam, as well as to consistently inculcate respect and tolerance for others. I would dare to claim that most Germans are not familiar with the basic facts about Islam and Muslim culture.

In debates about Islam, for instance, God is usually referred to using the Arabic word for God, "Allah" - leading to the perception of a different, separate divinity, so to speak, more severe and unyielding than the Christian "God of love". And how many Germans know anything about Islamic social doctrines, jurisprudence or the duty to act charitably?

Hence, it is urgent that a more balanced view of Islamic religion and civilisation be imparted to the larger German population. So long as this does not happen, or does not happen sufficiently, prejudices will proliferate.

This is no easy task. It requires the creation of teaching materials for schools and other institutions, the education of teachers, plenty of time and, of course, funds, which always seem to be scarce. And it is not always popular politically - people are loath to give up their old prejudices, and thus avoid coming to terms with uncomfortable themes.

And yet, without a comprehensive effort at enlightenment on the federal, state and municipal levels, "Islamophobia" and hostility toward Muslims will continue to spread. This is not only immoral, but promotes divisiveness and cements the tendency of some Muslim social strata to set up parallel societies.

On the other hand, we must reject the demand made by hardline Muslim circles that we should compromise our basic liberal, democratic order in Germany to achieve successful integration.

We must likewise refuse to condone replacing the German code of law with Islamic jurisdiction for Muslims.

Naturally, every form of religiously motivated violence, whether directed against other Muslims or non-Muslims, must be combated. In the process, the law-abiding and democracy-affirming majority of German Muslims must stand shoulder to shoulder with the law-abiding and democracy-affirming majority in our country.

In a free society, democrats must dissociate themselves from anti-democrats -not from Muslims, Christians or Jews. Therefore, leading figures in the Muslim community - politicians, religious leaders, community activists, authors and others - are now, as before, called upon to clearly distance themselves from extremists in every way. The more resolutely they do so, the more they contribute to the integration of Muslims.

However, not only prominent members of the majority or minority bear this duty, but rather each and every citizen. All of us should not only advocate respect for others in theory, but should live by this precept in our daily lives.

We must do so not only with our heads, but also with our hearts, in keeping with the Bible's Third Commandment (Leviticus 19:18): "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself". This is the only way to ensure a common future for the good of our country.


* Stephan J. Kramer is Secretary General of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Qantara.de.

Source: Qantara.de, 19 February 2010, www.qantara.de
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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