UK: A note about working with extremists

Two months ago Robert Lambert, a senior London police official, told terrorism professionals in Denmark how the British approach terror. The Salafist extremists are not terrorists, he said, but rather people who share a different point of view. It is impossible to fight terrorism without working together with them and it would be cowardice not to seize the opportunity to do so.

This seemed to me to be an extremely lop-sided view. After all, police don't "cooperate" with Neo-Nazis in order to find out who the "real" extremists are. They don't cooperate with the mafia in order to find out who the contract killers are. They don't cooperate with people smugglers just because they happen to practice a trade that the country thinks is illegal. Why should it cooperate with subversives who openly call for the destruction of the state? Infiltrate, maybe, but actually cooperate?

Looking at the news reports about the attacks in London and Glasgow, and the fact that they were averted mostly by luck, I am therefore left to wonder: didn't the London police know about these attacks in advance? There are reports that the London attack was advertised on a Jihadi website just hours before it took place. With all the strong bonds forged between the London Police and the extremist Muslim community - didn't somebody notify the police?

See also: UK police: you can't fight terror without working with extremist Muslims

UK: Confusion over hijab

Even the Muslim representatives in this article insist on calling the veil a "hijab" when it is obviously a niqab which covered the entire face.

It is also interesting to note that the Ramadhan Foundation is an organization set up to combat extremism and terrorism in the UK.   This might be why they prefer to bungle up the terms between the more common Muslim veil and the hard-liner more Islamist niqab.

However, they are right at one point.  England and Wale's judicial system does indeed see nothing wrong with a woman wearing a niqab in court: Guidance on the wearing of the full veil, or niqab, in court   (they don't even bother to address a hijab).

A magistrate is facing an inquiry after refusing to deal with a defendant wearing a full Muslim veil, the Judiciary of England and Wales said yesterday.

Ian Murray walked out of the case at Manchester magistrates' court yesterday because Zoobia Hussain, 32, of Crumpsall, Manchester, was covered by a hijab.

Hussain's lawyer, Judith Hawkins, said her client was "shocked and distressed" and found Mr Murray's treatment of her "insensitive and unacceptable".

Miss Hawkins said she would submit a formal written complaint to the court on Monday. When the complaint is received, the judiciary will launch an internal investigation into Mr Murray's behaviour, a spokesman said.

Miss Hawkins said yesterday: "She [Hussain] remains shocked and distressed. She suffered hurt feelings and felt intimidated and deeply embarrassed by the treatment she received at court.

"She is also concerned for the feelings of others who were present in court.

"She feels that the court's treatment of her was insensitive, unacceptable and against the traditions of fairness and equality that we have come to expect from our system of justice.

"She is angry that, as a result of the ensuing publicity, she has now had to explain to her children what happened."

Hussain, who is charged with criminal damage, covered her entire face apart from her eyes when she faced the three magistrates.

Mr Murray, a taxi driver from Cheadle Hulme, Stockport, who has served on the bench for 12 years, felt the way she was dressed raised identity issues but left the hearing without explaining why.

Before he walked out, Miss Hawkins told the bench that her client, as a practising Muslim, covered herself in public places where men were present.

A statement from the Judiciary of England and Wales said: "Mr Murray is concerned about questions of identity when the full veil is worn in court.

"However, he agrees that he acted unwisely in disqualifying himself without giving reasons, and acknowledges that he should have sought the advice of his legal adviser in court, and discussed the provisions of the national guidelines with his colleagues on the bench, before taking action.

"Mr Murray is supportive of those of different faiths and cultural traditions and acknowledges and regrets his action could be misinterpreted."

The judiciary's guidelines indicate situations should be judged on a case-by-case basis. But they state there should be a "willingness to accommodate different practices and approaches to religious and cultural observance", provided "justice can be properly served".

A spokesman for the Ramadhan Foundation said: "It is despicable that the judiciary is ignoring the guidelines about the wearing of the hijab set out only in February by the Judicial Studies Board.

"They require that magistrates and judges be 'sensitive' to a woman's religious requirement to wear the hijab and work around it when possible."

Hussain's case was adjourned until July 18.

Source: Telegraph (English)

Hague: Imam wants censorship committee

Imam Fawaz Jneid has Dutch nationality, but cannot speak Dutch. In the past he's been investigated for cursing Van Gogh just weeks before he was murdered.

The Netherlands does have double morals. Lying on an asylum form, as Hirsi Ali did, is grounds for losing your passport no questions asked, but being part of a radicalization network for Dutch Muslim terrorists is cause for debate.

The deputy national coordinator for anti-terrorism Lidewijde Ongering said this week that the Dutch anti-terror approach is unique since it is devoted both to combating terror and to preventing it. Ongering said that Islamist websites were being shut down. However this should also be applied to "live" radicals who hide behind the "freedom of speech" while they prepare the next generation of terrorists.


Imam Sheik Fawaz Jneid of the As-Soennah mosque in the Hague had asked for a committe which would decide which words can and can't be used in columns. He said that in a reaction to the commotion caused after the website of the mosque published harsh statements about professor and publicist Afshin Ellian.

The curses on the publicist were a reaction to a column by Ellian in which he wrote that Salafism, a radical and ultra-orthodox movement in Islam, should be destroyed root and branch ( in Dutch). "The statements of this man are too crazy for words. I ask for a committee which would examine what can and cannot be said in such columns," according to the imam.

Fawaz Jneid was himself under fire in the parliament on Wednesday. The VVD and PVV parties were upset that Ellian was described on the website of the mosque as a "vicious tumor" that "thanks to the double moral of the Netherlands can pump his poison in our society undisturbed." They demanded the resignation of the imam and would prefer to see his Dutch nationality removed.

The imam denies that he made these statements, which which were attributed to him. "I was indeed aware of the response, but not of its contents. I support the fact that there's a response to Ellian's piece, but I would have chosen other words myself. Ellian plays with fire, he calls for terrible things, and then it is best to call something back."

According to Fawaz Jneid he's the subject of a "witch hunt". "Nobody had problems with the statements of Ellian. Politicians and media attack me together while I did not make this response at all. There are people who want to make use of this type of incidents to get rid of me."
The imam says he will not start legal proceedings to fight the accusations against him. "I know that a court case from me can never be won. In the past I've started a case against two journalists, but nothing was heard from it."

Source: Telegraaf (Dutch)

See also:
The Hague: Imam claims he's being threatened, Sheikh Fawaz Jneid of the As Soennah Mosque wants the state to prosecute parliament member Geert Wilders

Norway: Measures against female circumcision

A 24-hour crisis line, an information campaign at the airport, passport denial and planned health screenings of young girls at risk are among steps being taken by Norwegian officials to prevent female genital mutilation. Norway's center-left government unveiled a list of 14 emergency measures they're putting into place immediately, in an effort to keep girls from being sent out of the country for the procedure many describe as barbaric. The measures come after state television channel NRK broadcast a shocking report last weekend that nearly 200 girls living in Norway have been sent by their own families to Somalia in recent years, to undergo female circumcision. The practice is illegal in Norway and the country has had a law for years preventing it. Prosecution has been minimal, however, with only a handful of cases brought to court. Now officials are trying to crack down and enforce the law. That can include preventing girls at risk from leaving the country, if their families are suspected of sending them abroad to be circumcised. "Skin color and travel destinations won't be enough," Justice Minister Knut Storberget of the Labour Party was quick to point out. "The authorities must have concrete suspicions that circumcision is planned, in order for the family to be denied passports." Storberget promises, tough, "more binding" cooperation between the police and local township officials. The government will also launch a public information campaign in local taxis and on the local public transport system. A 24-hour phone line is being set up to take calls from potential victims or members of the public wanting to report cases of suspected circumcision. The number is 02800. Mandatory genital screenings for girls at risk are proposed, but that must be approved by Parliament, which is currently on summer recess. Source: Aftenposten (English)

See also: Norway: Responses to female circumcision, Norway: Somali circumcisers admit circumcising Norwegian girls

Norway: Responses to female circumcision

NRK's segment on female circumcisions on Norwegian-Somali girls in Somalia has caused a stir in Norway. I have collected the response which appeared in the online press the past few days and summarized them according to the various ideas.

"I had never thought that there were so many. This goes against the indications I get from Somali mothers," says midwife Sara Kahsai.

Kahsai works at the Norwegian Center for Minority Health Research (NAKMI) and has conducted a study in the past about complications and treatment after female genital mutilation.

"We had hoped the attitude towards circumcision was changing and when I speak with Somali mothers they say that they will not expose their children to this. The reports of NRK are a setback for us," she says.

Kahsai stresses that she cannot confirm the numbers that were presented and thinks there's reason to be skeptical about them, saying it is difficult to remember all the people who had been circumcised several years back.

Religious Approach

Bashe Musse of the Somali Network (Somalisk Netwerk) would like to see stricter regulations and better information campaign. He suggests a fatwa against circumcision.

"We need a fatwa, which is a Muslim law, against circumcision. With such a law people will stop it," says Musse to Aftenposten. He thinks Somalis must take responsibility and show greater engagement in the issue.

"The Somalis must understand that they don't own their children, but that children are protected by Norwegian law. They must also clearly understand that there are consequences for those who break the law," says Musse.

He would like to see immediate measures for girls who go on vacation to Somalia and who are in danger of being circumcised. He suggests speaking with the parents and explaining to them how much unnecessary pain they inflict on their daughters and that they can be punished when they return to Norway.

Safia Yusuf Abdi, Norwegian Somali, says that imams should be approached. She does not like the fact that the "lighter" form of female circumcision, clitoridectomy , is called 'Sunna' and says it has nothing to do with Muhammad's life. She is right, but that name has nothing to do with the Muslim sunna and does not come from Muslim tradition.

Abdi thinks that an imam who knows that Koran should use the religion to protect the girls, but that instead they stay quiet. "Why don't the imams react when the religion they lead is being abused to legitimize female circumcision," asks Abdi. She also supports gynecological examinations.

Sociologist Katrine Fangen has worked with Somalis in Norway and she thinks religious leaders are the only ones who can turn back the positive attitudes towards circumcision. "These women listen to what the imams say," she thinks.

Informative Campaign

Erna Solberg (Conservative party) suggests that all Somali families with children under 18 should be called in for a discussion about female circumcision, either by local or school health authorities, where the consequences of such actions will be clearly explained to them.

"They will be informed about the punishment framework, about the possibility of being deported and of course about what consequences they will be for the girls," says Solberg. She wants to encourage the government to do so in their action plan against female circumcision.

"A translator, and preferably one competent with their culture, should be present," says Solberg. She thinks that also other immigrant communities who come from countries where female circumcision is common should be called in to such talks.

She says Norway already has a arrangement where all asylum seekers are informed of Norway's attitudes towards female circumcision, but till now this has not been done for those who come on family reunifications, which is common by Somalis.

Solberg had in the past voiced her opposition to the Parliament's decision to gynecologically examine all girls, saying it was degrading.

Minister of Children and Equality Affairs Karita Bekkemellem says that the problem is that the information doesn't reach the people who need it. "That means that we must increase the effort and inform what Norwegian laws say on this type of attack," says .

Stricter Measures

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg says he feels personally responsible for these girls. "We will have lots of tolerance for ethnic and cultural multitude, but we shall have zero-tolerance towards such a breaking of laws and human rights that this is," says Stoltenberg.

"To circumcise your child is totally and completely unacceptable. It is doubly criminal. It is a violation of Norwegian law and it is a violation of basic human rights," says Stoltenberg, adding that he'll need to learn more on the subject.

The prime minister suggests that circumcision cases are difficult to investigate and points out that nobody are been convicted in Norway in the past 11 years in which the law against circumcision had been on the books. He is not happy with the efforts the police, the prosecution and child services have put in till now and adds that this will be given priority and that the government will increase its efforts against circumcision.

Gynecological examination

Annika Huitfeldt (Norwegian Labour Party), suggests that every family who comes from Somalia and other risk-countries must sign a contract stating that no family member will be circumcised. This contract will be legal and binding. Breaking the law would lead to criminal charges.

"Additionally girls with a background from counties in risk-zones must be followed up regularly and gynecologically examined." In this she diverts from the Parliament's decision on asking the government to perform such checks on all Norwegian girls.

Huitfeldt thinks it isn't appropriate, but stresses that she understands that the proposal can stigmatize specific groups. "It is a counter-argument. But is not good enough. We're talking here factually about measures against female circumcision," she says.

Safia Yusuf Abdi (see above) thinks that information about Norwegian law is not enough and that gynecological examinations are needed.

"Even if health personnel think it is a little unpleasant to examine a girl in this way, people should ask themselves what is worse: to examine somebody because of concern about them and their health, or to circumcise a young girl? We must react and endure some unpleasantness to get change," she says.

Sources: Dagbladet 1, 2 (Norwegian), Hardanger Folkeblad (Norwegian), Afternposten 1, 2 (Norwegian) 3, 4 (English)

Norway: Female circumcision leads to medical complications

More than 250 girls and women have sought help from Oslo's largest hospital in recent years, because of physical problems resulting from female circumcision, also known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

The mutilation, which many of the female patients were subjected to as young girls in Muslim African countries and Northern Iraq, has left the women with severe urinary dysfunction, infections and problems after their vaginal openings were sewn shut.

Sarah Kahsay, a midwife at Ullevål University Hospital in Oslo, told newspaper Aftenposten that she and her colleagues have tried to help around 260 girls and women during the past three years.

Kahsay, of the National Competence Center for Minorities' Health at Ullevål, said that 90 percent of the girls and women are ethnic Somalians. Female genital mutilation has also been found, she said, among female patients from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Gambia and Senegal.

The mutilation also seems to have spread to the Kurdish community, with Kahsay mentioning that Norwegian Church Aid has claimed it's a problem for females from Northern Iraq. "Reports we've had from our health stations (in the Oslo area) involve Kurdish girls as young as 11 and 12, who've been circumcised," Kahsay said.

The girls and women have almost always said the circumcision, which is illegal in Norway, occurred before they emigrated. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported over the weekend, however, that an alarming number of young girls born or living in Norway have been taken back to Somalia during school holiday periods and subjected to circumcision.

The agonized screams of one young girl being forcibly held down while her genitals were being cut shook Norwegian viewers and has led to a political outcry on the issue. There have been calls for increased enforcement of the law prohibiting female circumciscion, a fatwa against the practice, and regular medical checks of young girls believed to be at risk.

Source: Aftenposten (English)

See also:
Norway: Somali circumcisers admit circumcising Norwegian girls

UK: Special guidelines for Muslim students

The SACRE guidelines are quite an interesting read. I find it amazing that SACRE decides what is and isn't permissible for Muslim students.

A British government advisory body has issued a set of recommendations for schools in the western London borough of Ealing on dealing with Muslim students for "success through diversity," The Daily Mail reported on Sunday, June 24.

"The guidance suggests that the pools allow these burkinis," said Nora Leonard, one of the authors of guidelines issued by the Ealing council's Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE).

"I have spoken to the firm which runs our pools and they are all in favor of it."

The Guidance for Schools with Muslim Pupils asked schools to let Muslim girls wear the head-to-toe burkinis in swimming lessons.

The governmental advisory body cited complaints by an increasing number of Muslims that the conventional swimming costumes violate their Islamic beliefs.

"Swimming facilities in the borough do not allow girls to wear full leotards and leggings in the pool for health and safety reasons," said the guideline.

Authors said adopting the burkini would stop Muslim girls from trying to cover their bodies with other unsuitable clothing.

"Schools are being encouraged to allow burkinis because of that," Leonard said.

Councilors have already encouraged local pools in the borough to stock the £29 Lycra "burkini". The "burkini", a two-piece swimsuit incorporating a head covering, a loose-fitting chemise and leggings, was designed in Australia to allow Muslims to go swimming. The head-to-ankle costume is made from ultraviolet- and water-protected polyester. The word is derived from the words burqa (a head-to-ankle dress) and bikini.

Religious Diversity

The guidelines set recommendations for schools to respect Muslim students.
The 24-page SACRE document said that Islamic moral perspective should be taken into account in Ealing schools where 25 percent of the pupils are Muslims.

For example, "whenever possible it is preferable for male staff to teach boys, female staff for girls."

The guidelines also affirmed that it is "good practice" to reassure parents that their children would not be asked to join activities that contradict their religion.

"…it could be a problem after puberty if forms of dance such as ballet, jazz, tango and disco are performed in mixed groups," said the document.

It also urged schools to meet the religious needs of Muslim students with respect to prayer.

"Schools are encouraged to have a designated 'quiet' area for prayer (e.g. space in the library).

"If it is not possible to allow students to perform the prayers at the allotted times, it is suggested that schools allow them to do so at the beginning or the end of the lunch break."

School uniform policies should allow girls to wear hijab and full-length loose skirt, said the advisory body.

The umbrella Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has recently published a document of guidelines on meeting the needs of Muslim pupils attending state schools in the UK.

The 72-page guidelines said that British schools are ignoring the sensitivities of Muslim pupils with regard to religious assemblies, sex education and changing rooms.

There are 400,000 Muslim students in Britain, home to a sizable Muslim minority of nearly 2 million.

Source: Islam Online (English), h/t Nieuw Religieus Peil

Netherlands: No tax deduction for halal mortgage

Bilaa-Riba would like to set up a scheme where they don't charge interest, but they still want their customers to get the tax deduction the government offers on interest. Overall, their argument sounds valid - the government gives a tax deduction because it wants to encourage people to take mortgages, so why shouldn't halal-mortgages also get a tax deduction?

However, the government is doing more than encouraging mortgages. It is encouraging the current financial institutions and structures by agreeing to help out with the interest paid. The government is aware that finance today needs interest. Why should the government finance a business which buys houses and then sells them for a profit while making sure this money will never enter financial transactions again?


Bilaa-Riba Islamic Finance from Leiden is the only credit provider in the Netherlands whose proposal to give halal mortgages was checked by the tax services. Now it turns out that the tax authorities rejected this construction already at the beginning of the year.

Both the tax authorities and Bilaa-Riba remain secretive as to the exact reasons.

One important point of contention regarding halal mortgages is the question whether an interest tax deduction is possible for an interest-free mortgage.

Bilaa-Riba thinks it is. Without the tax deduction, halal mortgages are not viable. Formally no interest it paid for a halal mortgage, just profit. A residence is bought by Bilaa-Riba and then sold for a higher amount to the client, who pays the debt in installments. "You pay indeed no rent, but the costs for the client are the same," stresses spokesperson H. Dini. "Thus we'd like to see the fiscal benefits applied also to the halal mortgage.

According to Dini, about 5000 Muslims are currently waiting for this type of mortgage. "The waiting list grows every day."

Bilaa-Riba is working on an adapted proposal that "in the shortest possible period of time' would be sent to the tax services.

Jan Willem ter Avest, spokesperson for Rabobank says that halal mortgages bring up many problems. The bank is 'considering' the possibilities but has no concrete plans. "We say many obstacles. You don't talk about interest, but do want an interest tax-deduction. Fiscally that's problematic naturally. And therefore it is important that we satisfy both Dutch and Islamic law." for example, he says that no interest may ever by charged for the money they put out for the halal mortgage and that requires a lot of research work.

Source: Trouw (Dutch)

See also: Hague: Halal mortgages

You can read more here Dutch Tax Office rejects Islamic Mortgage structure

Utrecht: Boys abuse neighbourhood children

Dozens of boys and girls have been systematically abused, intimidated and molested by a group of older boys in the Utrecht neighbourhood of Overvecht for almost a year, the Telegraaf reports. Municipal council member Bouchra Dibi (Labour PvdA) investigated the incidents taking place at the playground near the Neckardreef in Overvecht. Children aged 8, 9 and 10 were dragged into the bushes and coerced into performing sexual acts on boys a few years older. Most of the children involved are of Moroccan background, the newspaper reports. The municipal council member told the Telegraaf that the problems are not being addressed. "This has been going on for almost a year. People just talk and talk and talk. And nothing is done," she said. Social workers, police and the municipality do not know how to approach the parents, Dibi says. "These sorts of things are taboo to talk about in the Moroccan community." Utrecht Mayor Annie Brouwer-Korf (PvdA) acknowledges that there have been problems among children since the end of last year. "Intimidation, threats and fights, and, since the beginning of this year we have seen signals of sexual abuse. A report of sexual molestation by children has been passed on to the public prosecution department," the mayor says. Brouwer says it is difficult to get an idea of how widespread the abuses are because there is no concrete information on suspects, victims and locations. Council member Dibi says this is mainly due to parents' hesitance to report incidents. "Parents do not dare say anything because they are afraid of the perpetrators. There is a great deal of fear. That is why they don't always report these things."

Source: Expatica (English)

See also: Overvecht: A look into a problem neighborhood, Utrecht: Problem youth unmanageable

Spain: The right of return

The Spanish Muslims would like to compare themselves to the Spanish Jews who were expelled from their homeland, and to the residents of the former colonies, who were exploited by Spain, but they are using inverse logic. The Muslims conquered and colonized Spain. Unlike the Jews and colonies, there are even those among the Muslims who would like to reconquer those lands. Why should Spain work towards reconciliation? Shouldn't it be the colonizers who reconcile with those they've colonized, like Spain has done with its own colonies?

A call for descendents of Muslims expelled from Spain in the seventeenth century to be given preferential terms for Spanish citizenship has highlighted the country's uneasy relationship with its Islamic heritage.

The proposal was made at a meeting this week in Cordoba, a city in Andalusia which was the centre of Islamic civilization in the Iberian peninsula during nearly eight centuries of Moorish rule of much of what is now Spain and Portugal.

In 1609, Spain's King Philip III ordered all Muslims to leave his kingdom, leading to the expulsion of about 300,000 people. Their descendents today mainly live in North Africa and still regard themselves as "Andalusians", after the old name for Muslim Spain -- "Al Andalus"

Giving them preferential terms for Spanish citizenship would be an act of symbolic reconciliation, said Mansur Escudero, head of Spain's Islamic Board, the biggest group representing Spanish Muslims.

"The Andalusians who live in North Africa, most of them in Morocco, in Tunisia, in Libya, they're part of those societies and aren't going to want to come to Spain," Escudero said.

"It would be more of an emotional, moral gesture, a recognition of an historic injustice," he told Reuters, adding that some "Andalusian" families still preserved keys to houses they left behind four centuries ago.

Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors were expelled from Spain in 1492, already have a special right to obtain Spanish citizenship after two years legal residence in Spain, a privilege also available to citizens of Spain's former colonies.

A small left-wing party, Izquierda Unida, has backed the call for preferential citizenship for descendents of Spanish Muslims. The governing Socialists, who have promoted an "Alliance of Civilizations" between the West and Islam, have yet to give their response, Escudero said.

But many Spaniards, particularly Catholic conservatives, fret about Muslim assertiveness, especially now that immigration has given the country a significant Muslim population -- about one million -- for the first time in 400 years.

The Madrid train bombings, blamed on a group linked to al Qaeda, which killed 192 people in 2004, have deepened suspicions about Islam in sectors of the Spanish political right.

Former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a member of the conservative Popular Party, last year called for Muslims to apologise for invading Spain in the eighth century.

The Popular Party's current foreign affairs spokesman, Gustavo de Arestegui, has also published a book whose subtitle is: "The obsession with reconquering Al Andalus."

Source: Reuters (English), h/t Nieuw Religieus Peil

Netherlands: Schools close on Muslim holidays

Teachers and students at the ROC De Lijgraaf schools, with branches in Oss, Uden and Veghel, will start the summer vacation a few days later than other schools in North Brabant. The reason is that during the past school year the school had given time off during the Muslim Eid ul-Fitr holiday. In the upcoming school year De Leijgraaf intends to give time off for Eid ul-Fitr as well as for Eid ul-Adha. The summer vacaton in 2008 will therefore also begin a few days later.

The initiative to give time off on Muslim holidays comes from the school board. "We are convinced that we contribute to their integration if we, just as we do with Christian holidays, set out the Islamic holidays as a free day. Integration begins with respect," says chairman Marc Veldhoven.

The employee council had agreed with the arrangement this year, but won't do so next year, after grumbling from the people. The arrangement will go through anyway. Veldhoven: "I heard reactions like: should we also be closed for Chinese New Year. No, since Chinese are not a target group of our institution, Muslims are."

Veldhoven had tried without success to convince secondary schools in the region to join in. "They think it's an issue of the government."

In the Randstad (urban areas of the Netherlands) there are more schools who give all their students time off on Muslim holidays. "That is also very practical," says Z. Arslan of the Institute for Multicultural Development Forum (instituut voor multiculturele ontwikkeling Forum) Moroccan students often want to take time off on Eid ul-Fitr. In order to prevent absenteeism it is then sensible to make it a day off.

The organization Inspraakorgaan Turken agrees. "I recognize that the Netherlands has many religious viewpoints, yet your must make sure that groups don't compete," says manager A. Azeural. Chairman M. Barth of the CNV education union thinks it's good that schools work in this "made to order" manner. "I think it's a sad argument when people say that you shouldn't do something like this in a Dutch school. Islam belongs in the Netherlands. If we take each other into consideration, then life would be nicer."

"I think it should be like that. They also have time off on Easter no? This make us simply equal." Sharon Thomasen's (16) reaction is clear. The student of ROC De Leijgraaf in Veghel thinks it's good that all students get time off on the Muslim holidays. Sharon in not alone. Cansu Solmaz (20) is very happy with the school's decision. "I was born here, this is also my country. It's about respect for each other's culture. And that should come from two sides."

It's a pretty compromise, says Patrick van Meltvoort (17). "I know that there were plans to make of them national holidays, in exchange for a couple of Christian holidays. This is better."

They don't really care that the summer vacation starts later, saying it's only a couple more days anyway.

Zeliha Ozeren (16) thinks it's fine that they now don't have to ask for vacation for the Muslim holidays. "An immigrant kid now won't miss any more class. All schools should do this." She says the holidays are not discussed in school and that everybody is simply happy with the extra vacation day.

Marlijn Geenen (17) speaks of "equal limits". "Otherwise you have these days when all immigrants stay home. I remember that well. I thought that was so stupid." Her friend sitting next to her agrees. "And they should implement this in all schools. My mother thought it was so crazy that I got time off and my sister didn't."

Paul van Veghel (21) says that schools should decide on their own whether they close on Muslim holidays or not. "Personally I say: the more vacation, the better."

Sources: Brabants Dagblad 1, 2 (Dutch)

See also: Netherlands: Can Muslim kids be released from school on holidays? , Netherlands: Trade union supports recognizing Muslim holiday, Muslim kids may take vacation for holy day

Norway: Christianity to save Afghanis

After marching 600km the Afghani asylum seekers in Norway whose asylum request has been rejected have hit upon a new way of forcing their stay: convert to Christianity.

Pastor Olav Slåtten says he has baptized between 15-20 Afghanis during the past year. Noorullah Safari was baptized in September and according to Slåtten he had no political reasons for doing so. Several more Afghanis were converted just recently.

Dagbladet reports that Al-Jazeera had already made a report on the Afghanis, and though their conversion wasn't stated, they appeared on TV wearing Christian symbols.

This apparently puts them at risk should they ever be sent back to Afghanistan.

I'm not sure what's worse, the Afghani exploitation of the Norwegian system, or the Church's exploitation of the Afghani's situation.

Source: Dagbladet 1, 2 (Norwegian)

See also: Norway: Afghani protest leads to political discussion, Norway: Afghanis march in protest

Why do we need visas anyway?

Why is a French citizen allowed to enter Bahrain with a purchased visa at the airport when a Bahraini must wait for hours on end outside the consulate in Manama?
(..) The other answer, and this must be addressed head-on, is that few Westerners want to blow themselves up in kamikaze operations - thus the requirement to undergo a background check. It may be true that a German will not necessarily embark on a terrorist mission in a Gulf city but this is a facile response.

Dr. Josesph A. Kechichian brushing aside the real reason why travelers worldwide, Muslims and non-Muslims, are subjected to degrading security checks. Must be the "9/11 syndrome".

However, he also ignores the issue of immigration. A French citizen will be given free access to Bahrain since nobody thinks he will overstay his visa. For some reason the French authorities have a more suspicious mind and think everybody wants to move to France.

Source: Gulf News (English)

Norway: Somali circumcisers admit circumcising Norwegian girls

NRK Dagsrevyen was in Somalia and interviewed several women who circumcise Norwegian-Somali girls. NRK interviewed 10 circumcisers who say that together they have circumcised 185 Norwegian-Somali girls - most of them in the past couple of years.

Now school is over and many of the 18,000 Somalis in Norway go home to different parts of Somalia for the summer vacation. For many years it has been speculated that Norwegian-Somali girls are circumcised when they go back to their homeland on the summer holiday.

NRK can now document for the first time that women who work in circumcision confirm that to a great extent they circumcise girls who live in Western Europe. And not least: they say that Norwegian-Somali parents are good customers - every summer - after school ends in Norway. Parents from Norway are among those who pay best. The price for circumcising a girl is 150 kroner.

Since January 1st, 1996, it is illegal to circumcise girls in Norway. It is also forbidden for people living in Norway to circumcise their daughters abroad. Breaking the law could lead up to 8 years in jail. But nobody has ever been indicted or convicted for this in Norway.

In the past 11 years many times Norwegian-Somali parents have gone home to Somalia during the summer vacation, in order to secretly circumcise their daughters.

NRK interviewed 10 women who work as midwives at hospitals and health centers in Hargeisa, the largest city in northwest Somalia, called Somaliland. In their free time they earn money as circumcisers. They say that together they have circumcised about 185 girls with Norwegian-Somali background in 2005-2006.

"I had circumcised many from Norway. I don't remember the exact number but I remember that I circumcised about 40 girls," says Foosia Adantil.

The circumcisers say that they do the type of circumcision that the Norwegian-Somali parents ask for - also the extended circumcision called infibulation, which almost completely closes off the vagina.

They also do sunna-circumcision (ie, traditional), which means that the whole or part of the clitoris is cut off.

Some of the circumcisers say they refuse to do infibulation on Norwegian-Somali girls, even if the parents demand it.

These circumcisers do nothing illegal. Female circumcision is not forbidden in these part of Somalia. It is the Norwegian-Somali parents who break the law.

The circumcises say the would prefer stopping circumcising. Many of them think it is a unfortunate tradition.

Midwife Safia Dualleh Farahtil: "They circumcise girls on their free time because they earn little money working at the hospital or health station. They say they don't have enough money to let it go".

Farah is working for the authorities in Somaliland to be a contact person for international organizations that work against female circumcision in this area of Somalia.

Some of the circumcisers say that now in the summer they had agreed with Norwegian-Somali parents on circumcision of girls.

As one of the circumcisers says: "They haven't come yet, school is not over yet, but I hope they come to me. If God wills".

Source: NRK (Norwegian)

See also: Norway: Possibly 50% parents continue female circumcision tradition, Norway: Illegal female circumcision

Copenhagen: Imams cooperating with Hizb ut-Tahrir

This is a summary of two articles on Hizb ut-Tahrir's attempt to cooperate with the larger Muslim community and the Copenhagen's imams agreement to do so. As Naser Khader points out at the end, cooperation can only mean something if you agree on basic terms.

The following is from Hizb ut-Tahrir's "Dangerous Concepts to attack Islam and consolidate the Western Culture":

It is incumbent on Muslims to be clear that the task of the Islamic State after its establishment is restricted to Shar'a. Whether it is internal such as looking after the affairs of the people and implementing the Hudood (penal code), or external such as conveying Islam though Jihad to the all mankind and destroying the material obstacles that are a barrier to the implementation of Islam.

Apparently, Danish imams do not see a problem with that.


Hizb ut-Tahrir invited four of Copenhagen's more well known imams, who are generally not associated with the movement, to their assembly at Nørrebro last Sunday.

Mostafa Chendid, of the Islamic Society, Muhammed Albarazi of the Islamic Association, Abu Suheib of the Islamic Cultre Center and Muhammed al-Banna of the Taiba mosque.

They had been invited by Hizb ut-Tahrir to debate the challenges facing Muslims in Denmark and to work towards cooperation between them.

The party, which is known for its aggressive rhetoric and defiant attitude towards Danish society now wants to contribute to helping solve social problems. After the summer vacation Hizb ut-Tahrir will arrage several debate meeting on terror and the Iraq war, says their spokesperson Fadi Abdullatif. He says there had been contact earlier but that it will be done in a more structured way now and that they will work for things that everybody agrees on, such as fighting criminality, social marginalization among Muslims and threats to the Danish community.

Torben Rugberg Rasmussen from Syddansk University, who has researched the movement, says it is unusual since Hizb ut-Tahrir had always worked alone with its own strict interpretation of Islam.

The Islamic Society sees Hizb ut-Tahrir's invitation as a positive thing. Kasem Ahmad's, their spokesperson, says that they each have their own theology and politics which can not be reconciled, but that they can work together for their mutual interests. He already sees possible cooperation for the Copenhagen mosque, demonstrations and working on divorce councils. He knows that working with Hizb ut-Tahrir can be controversial and says that if they feel the cooperation will work against them, they will stop it.

Imams Mohammed Albarazi and Abdul Wahid Pedersen are open for dialog but are waiting for more concrete actions before taking a stand. Pedersen points out that he can't ignore the pull they have on many young people and that they have helped them out of criminal life.

These imams are considered authorities not only among the Muslims, but also by the Danish authorities and Danish Security Intelligence Service who have had discussions with them about important issues such as integration and terror.

Torben Rugberg Rasmussen says that Hizb ut-Tahrir is working with these Muslim leaders for a reason. Hizb ut-Tahrir's agenda does not include integration. Their current strategy had much opposition, and by working together with other Muslim leaders they show up as more respectable.

Tina Magaard, an Islam researcher from Aarhus University, is surprised at Hizb ut-Tahrir's new line but says at the some time that the movement and the Islamic Society have potential for working together since they both work towards a parallel legal system that will apply to Muslims and by working together they can achieve much more.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in Germany and the Netherlands due to their anti-democratic opinions. However, Torben Rugberg Rasmussen thinks there's no need necessarily for concern if they work together with the Islamic Society, who were one of the major players in the Muhammed crisis. He says it shows that there's a religious, political process which shows an interesting movement within the community.

Tina Magaard is more skeptical. She says she was always critical of the government's dependence on, for example, the Islamic Society whose agenda is not that different in many areas than Hizb ut-Tahrir's. This new cooperation will not further integration for Muslims, when people are defined as Muslims first and citizens later and when non-liberal imams decide on what it means to be a Muslim.

Abdul Wahid Pedersen points out that the meeting which kick-started the new cooperation had put Arabic aside for four hours.

Naser Khader, Ny Alliance's leader, doesn't believe Hizb ut-Tahrir's good intentions, but the movement's image among the people is so bad that they needed to do something, he thinks. He says he does not understand the imams who agreed to work together with them. He says he himself could talk with neo-Nazis, but that cooperation will never mean anything due to their differing points of view.

Source: Berlingske 1, 2 (Danish)

See also: Copenhagen: Hizb ut-Tahrir kindergarten, Copenhagen: Hizb ut-Tahrir protest

Scotland: Hijab banned in football games

"It is ridiculous that I will have to tell the girls that they won't be able to join the league because of this nonsensical ruling. The majority of the girls in our team wear the hijab and it is completely unfair to ask people to choose between their faith and sport. Quite rightly their religion will always come first."

People have always been asked to choose between faith and sports.  If somebody's faith prevents him from participating in a certain sport then it is up to them to decide what they prefer, not for the sport to change the way it is run.

To compare, should a woman who insists on wearing a dress be able to participate in a football game?  Feminism did not force football to change, it enabled women to wear what they want so they can join in.

Source: (English

Athens: First mosque

Immigrant organizations on Friday opened the first official Islamic prayer site to operate in Athens since the end of Ottoman rule more than 170 years ago. Government plans to build a mosque that would serve tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants living in the capital have stalled, and the downtown cultural center was funded by businessmen from Arab countries. "This is the first time in all the 35 years I've lived in Greece that we have a proper place to pray," said Naim El-Gandour, the Egyptian-born head of the Muslim Association of Greece. "It's hard for be to describe what's happening — I am overcome with emotion." Most Muslims in Athens currently use makeshift mosques for prayer, including sites prayer set up in basements, apartments, and converted coffee shops. For weddings, funerals and other religious ceremonies, they often travel more than 700 kilometers (435 miles) to the northeastern region of Thrace, which is home to a 120,000-strong Muslim minority which is mostly Turkish speaking. More than 1,000 mostly Arab immigrants gathered at the center for its official opening. El-Gandour said the 1,800 sq. meter (19,500 sq. foot) site had been converted from an old textile factory to become a cultural center that would also be used as a prayer site. He said he was not aware of the cost of the new facility, which included large refurbished prayer rooms, with flat-screen televisions and uniformed volunteer stewards. Men in traditional Islamic dress squatted beside immigrants in overalls to attend prayers. Representatives of Muslim organizations in Europe traveled to Athens to attend the ceremony. Also present were representatives of the Iranian and Saudi Arabian embassies in Athens, senior imams from Muslim countries, and a representative of Greece's Orthodox Church. "This is a very big day for us. This is a clean place where we can pray properly," said one teenager who identified himself only as Ibrahim. "We've been waiting for this for a very long time — since before I was born." Previous plans to create a mosque had been unpopular, through their association with centuries of rule by the Ottoman Empire. Some 97 percent of Greece's native-born population of 11 million is baptized Orthodox Christian. A proposal to build a mosque outside Athens before the 2004 Olympics was blocked because of objections by residents, and opposition from Greece's powerful Orthodox Church, which disagreed with the location and plans for funding to come from Saudi Arabia. But last year, the government promised to spend €15 million (US$20 million) for a new mosque in Athens by 2009. The Education and Religious Affairs Ministry will set up a committee to chose the head imam of that mosque, but has said individual communities will be allowed bring their own imams to the site. International human rights reports, including a 2005 report on religious freedom issued by the U.S. State Department, had previously criticized Greece's government for failing to create an official site for Muslims to pray in Athens.
Source: International Herald Tribune (English)

UK: Protest over Rushdie's knighthood

A Muslim peer compared Salman Rushdie to the September 11 hijackers yesterday as protests over the author's knighthood escalated.

At Regents Park Mosque in London, demonstrators held up placards saying "May God curse the Queen" and one speaker said that should Tony Blair become an envoy in the Middle East he should be sent back "in a bag".

The Labour peer Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, who was interviewed in Le Figaro newspaper in France, added fuel to the row.

"This honour is given in recognition of services rendered to Great Britain," he said. "Salman Rushdie lives in New York. He is a controversial man who has insulted Muslim people, Christians and the British. He does not deserve the honour.

"Two weeks ago Tony Blair spoke about constructing bridges with Muslims. What hypocrisy. What would one say if the Saudi or Afghan governments honoured the martyrs of the September 11 attacks on the United States?"

The protest at Regents Park was organised by Anjem Choudary, who also organised the protests against the publication in Denmark of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

At the rally, two dozen protesters burned a paper St George's flag and said the Queen should "go to hell.

One speaker referred to Mr Blair's possible role as a Middle East envoy, adding: "I hope Tony Blair comes back in a bag. What bag is up to you.

One placard read: "Rushdie knighthood exposes hatred towards Islam and Muslims.

Leaflets handed out to people leaving the mosque after Friday prayers said: "The British Government's decision to honour Salman Rushdie is a public demonstration of their hatred and contempt towards Islam.

Protesters attacked photographers and one shouted: "Salman Rushdie is a devil. He should be attacked. We as Muslims should never forget how he insulted the prophet.

"We have a responsibility to hold the Queen accountable for standing with the people who insult Islam."

In a letter to more than 500 mosques, the Muslim Council of Britain accused Mr Blair personally of rewarding an author who had "vilified" Islam. "Muslims can only see this action as an attempt to create deep offence to Muslims and divert their attention from contributing to community cohesion in these challenging times," said Muhammad Abdul Bari, the secretary-general.

But he called for peaceful protest.

Source: Telegraph (English)


Reading more of Lord Ahmed's views on the topic, I ran across this quote:

'This man - as you can see - not only provoked violence around the world because of his writings, but there were many people that were killed around the world and honouring the man who has blood on his hands, sort of because of what he did, honouring him I think is going a bit too far,' he said.

In other words, Rushdie, who did not call on anybody to kill anybody else, should be punished since other people called to kill him and thereby started off worldwide riots. That is, if some white racist supremacist would have gone and killed Muslims in protest of Ahmed's being named peer, then that would have, according to Lord Ahmed's logic, make Ahmed himself ineligible for being a peer.

Source: Newspost India (English)

Switzerland: Islamist website owners found guilty

Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court has handed down a guilty verdict on a couple accused of supporting radical Islamic organisations via internet sites.

The Tunisian man was sentenced on Thursday to six months in prison plus an additional 18 months suspended for supporting criminal organisations and inciting violence. His Belgian wife was given a six-month suspended sentence for aiding and abetting him.

This was the first time a court in Switzerland sentenced someone for supporting an Islamic terrorist organisation.

The accused stood trial in Bellinzona for allegedly letting groups linked to al-Qaeda use internet forums they had set up to exchange information.

The prosecution accused the couple, who lived near Fribourg in western Switzerland, of running four websites in addition to online forums. They were arrested in February 2005.

The sites were allegedly set up to promote racially motivated crimes. They were also used to publicise claims of responsibility for attacks and threats against Western countries as well as broadcasting images of Islamist attacks and executions.

"The defendant has not just made use of the right to freedom of expression, but made pure propaganda," said judge Bernard Bertossa, who chaired the trial. The prosecution demanded two-and-a-half years imprisonment for the man and 12 months for the woman

Source: Swissinfo (English)

See also: Switzerland: Terror incitement trial

Denmark: No ban on veiled daycare worker

A wide spread political demand to ban a veiled daycare worker in Odense has come to nothing.

When Berlingske Tidende had written about the case six weeks ago, even the prime minister reacted, saying that if there was no law for the ban then a law would be made.

Now family services, which is under the Consumer and Family Affairs Ministry ministry, answered the Odense municipality, but with a completely different tune.

On the one hand a veil, where the woman's  body and face are covered "as starting point" is not considered compatible with taking care of children.  But on the other hand, it is preferable not to subjectively prevent a daycare worker or a public employee from working by posing such a particular demand for work.

Jane Jegind, a Liberal council-member in Odense is disappointed, but had sent it to the municipality's lawyer for further research.  She says that they will not give up and that they will demand from the government to hold on to their promise to make such a law.

The case revolved around a woman from the Odense neighborhood of Vollsmose who was employed by a group of Muslim parents to take care of their children in a private care center.  The municipality's supervisor thought that the the women's niqab was incompatible with the pedagogic aims of child care, but the municipality' lawyer found no basis to say no to the woman and therefore the municipality continues to pay for the care.

Source: Berlingske (Danish)

See also: Denmark: Burka debate

Denmark: Evading the 24 year law

Eyvind Vesselbo, member of the Liberals, statistician and culture sociologist, wants to investigate new totals that show that especially Turks and Pakistanis slip through the 24 year law and the requirement for a connection to Denmark.

Resident Turks and Pakistanis have found a loophole to come to Denmark without needing to abide by the 24 year law. There are clear statistics that show that, says Vesselbo, who had analyzed the latest immigration statistics.

It shows a marked pattern: since the tightening of the family reunification law in 2001 the number of Turks and Pakistanis coming through marriage immigration had gone down. But those who came to Denmark for education and work went up.

In fact, the number of immigrants had stayed constant overall, and taking it all together, the same number come today as those who came for family reunification in 2001.

Vesselbo says that the numbers indicated that both Pakistanis and Turks have found out that the 24 year law and the requirement for a connection to Denmark, like the other requirements for family reunification, can be avoided by coming to Denmark for work and studying.

Head of the immigration council in Århus, Leif Randeris, says outright that he advises Turks and Pakistanis on how to evade the laws. "It's like water, that finds the easiest way."

Integration minister Rikke Hvilshøj denies that it's a problem in itself if the total number of people coming on education or work residence permits is going up. "It can't be denied that it is worth investigating. But if we have succeeded in converting passive family reunification to active study residence, than that is a good development, providing that they also learn or work."

Eyvind Vesselbo agrees but thinks there is one basic problem in such a case - if people can come for work or studies, is the 24 year law, and the limitation of people's right to marry, really necessary?

Source: Berlingske (Danish)

See also: Denmark: Marriage immigration drops

Wallonia: 10% of mosque recognition requests denied

One in ten requests for mosque recognition in Wallonia had been declined (5 of 48). "We followed the advice of the State Security Service," explains Walloon minister of foreign affairs Philippe Courard. State Security veto applied especially to mosques in the Hainaut province and one in Liège.

60% of the "Turkish" mosques and 40% of the "Arab" mosques had been recognized. 80% of the mosques in the Walloon Brabant and Luxembourg provinces were recognized compared with 50% in Hainaut and 35% in Liège. There are currently 43 mosques in Wallonia.

Source: HLN (Dutch)

See also: Belgium: Recognizing mosques

Denmark: Adding Spanish and Arabic as foreign languages

Secondary school students are doing poorly in their foreign language classes because they have only been able to take German in secondary school A new study has shown that at lack of interest and a lack of choice is resulting in poor performance in language classes at the nation's secondary schools, reported Berlingske Tidende newspaper Wednesday. Altough English is a mandatory course starting in primary school, the study, conducted by a national educational watchdog, indicated that 75 percent of the country's secondary schools offer only German as an optional foreign language. German, however, is considered old-fashioned by many of today's students, who expressed a preference for languages such as Spanish or Arabic. The group has recommended to Bertel Haarder, the education minister, that schools be required to offer students more than one foreign language in addition to English. The recommendation was lauded by the Danish Chamber of Commerce in a statement: 'What we hear from our members is that they don't need people who can speak a bit of three languages, but rather two languages fluently. Our wish list in terms of priorities are English, German, Spanish and Arabic.' German is still a big language within business, but students want other choices. Politicians are open to the proposal to stimulate more foreign language interest, but are less certain it could be implemented effectively. 'We'd like to help broaden students' language abilities,' said Henrik Larsen, chair of the children and culture committee of Local Government Denmark. 'There would be questions about funding, but it's certainly something we can discuss.' Christine Antorini, education spokesperson for the Social Democrats, agreed. She said the call for more Arabic benefits teens with roots in the Middle East. 'We could offer Spanish but we also have proposals to start teaching some of the more widespread languages in the Muslim world. Bilingual children can learn the other language better after they become proficient in Danish ,' she said. But Larsen said the proposal may not be logistically feasible. 'It can be a problem if there aren't enough students who take a certain subject. Then you have seven students for three different classes. Beyond that, I'm not even sure we can find qualified Spanish or Arabic teachers. We can't even find enough French teachers as it is.'

Source: Copenhagen Post (English)

Switzerland: Terror incitement trial

Two Muslims stood trial on Wednesday accused of running internet sites calling for holy war and supporting a criminal organisation. It is the second trial in the Swiss Federal Court about possible terrorist involvement since the September 11 attacks in the United States. But an expert says securing a conviction may be problematic. The accused, a couple that lived near Fribourg in western Switzerland, allegedly ran four websites as well as online forums. They were arrested in February 2005. Prosecutors have said the sites were set up to promote racially motivated crimes. They were also allegedly used to publicise claims of responsibility for attacks and threats against Western countries. [Moez Garsallaoui] A 39-year-old Tunisian national is charged with setting up the internet sites. His 48-year-old Belgian wife [Malika El Aroud] is accused of aiding and abetting him, as well as running her own website. They are both accused of inciting violence. Both defendants maintained their innocence and pleaded not guilty on the first day of the trial. The content on the websites and other data seized by the federal police left little to the imagination. Pictures and videos are said to have shown the execution of an Egyptian driver, the massacre of bus passengers in Iraq, the decapitation of a Korean hostage and the murder of an American. Proof According to Gilles Monnier, a professor of criminal law at Lausanne University, the difficulty of securing a conviction in this case is to prove how much the accused knew what was going on. "If a person who manages a forum filters the comments on a regular basis, it is hard to claim that they didn't know what was going on," he told swissinfo. "On the other hand, if there is no surveillance, you can also say there is no responsibility." Both accused - who were held by Swiss police for less than one month during the investigation - have denied knowing everything that was happening on the sites. While admitting that they are Islamists and saying that they want to resist oppression, they claim to be against the loss of innocent lives. The man is alleged to have used the forums to suggest that two French journalists taken hostage in Iraq be exchanged for a ransom, killed or set free. The woman for her part allegedly told another correspondent to go "fight the war in Iraq". The husband is now based in Lausanne. His wife, who returned to Belgium after being expelled, has received a promise of safe-conduct to attend the trial at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona. It is not clear whether she will attend the proceedings. A verdict is not expected to be announced before next month, according to Italian-language Swiss radio. Second case This case is the second this year focusing on Islamic terrorism, with prosecutors hoping to secure convictions this time round. In February they suffered a setback when seven defendants were cleared of belonging to and supporting al-Qaeda. "This is a criminal case, so the prosecution has to prove intent," said Monnier. "Showing that the accused were negligent will not be enough." The Belgian woman is the widow of a suicide bomber who killed anti-Taliban warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud in 2001. In an interview with CNN last year she admitted to being devoted to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The woman was cleared in 2003 by a Belgian court of charges of complicity in Massoud's murder.
Source: Swissinfo, Broadcastnewsroom (English)

Sweden: Call to ban arranged marriages

A senior Stockholm politician is calling for a ban on arranged marriages and for social services to be allowed to investigate honour-related issues involving young people without first contacting their parents.

The proposals come from Ulf Kristersson, who holds the Social Affairs portfolio on Stockholm council, and Kickis Åhré Älgamo, who leads a Stockholm project that combats Stockholm's honour-related issues.

The pair, writing in Dagens Nyheter, said it was "pure discrimination" for Sweden to allow arranged marriages in cases where such unions are part of the culture in the family's home countries.

"Forced marriages are naturally not allowed in Sweden," they wrote.
"This provides little comfort to those young people pushed every year into arranged marriages by their relatives."

They also called for the government and education authorities to ban schools from allowing pupils to use cultural or religious background as a reason to skip lessons such as physical education or sex education. They cited a recent doctoral thesis in which 27 percent of foreign-born girls interviewed were banned from some lessons.

The article's publication date comes eight years to the day after a 19-year-old Swedish girl, Pela Atroshi, was shot dead in Iraqi Kurdistan. She was said to have dishonoured her family by wanted to live in a western style.

Source: The Local (English)

Netherlands: Growth in Islamic banking

According to the quarterly report of De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) Islamic banking in the Netherlands is on the rise. More and more Dutch financial institutions have an interest in offering Islamic banking.

Islamic financial products abide by the Sharia. This means, among other things, that the bank may not offer interest or invest in the pork, drink or weapon industries. Islamic banks enable their clients to save or take loans through other constructions.

According to DNB this type of banking is on the rise worldwide. According to recent estimates the market has grown by 15% a year since 2000. At the end of 2006 300 Islamic financial institutions managed about 400 billion dollars. In Europe, and especially in London, Islamic banking is on solid footing.

In the Netherlands the potential demand for Islamic banking will rise in the coming years "as a result of a growth in population, the educational and income level of Dutch Muslims," according to DNB. The central bank says that the risk profile of banks deviates from that of traditional banks but the supervision framework is effective, according to the organization.

Source: NRC (Dutch)

See also: Sweden: No interest in Islamic banking

Norway: Somalis support female circumcision

Many Somali women who have arrived in Norway recently defend female circumcision and their reasoning is more and more often taking a religious character

Minister of Children and Equality Affairs Karita Bekkemellem says that this group is not informed enough about health and Norwegian law.

Source: Aftenposten (Norwegian)

See also: Norway: Possibly 50% parents continue female circumcision tradition

Norway: "Koran exhibit" upsetting Muslims

A new exhibit by Morten Viskum is upsetting Muslims. The exhibit, titled "Son of Abdulla" shows a wax figure of the artist kneeling with his back to a neon sign saying "Mecca", with a Koran in front of him.

Ali Duymaz, head of the Drammen immigrant council is himself a Muslim, was interviewed a few months ago and said his only problem was with the media portrayal of the exhibit.

Duymaz said he sees nothing wrong with the Mecca sign since it is not obvious that the man is praying with his back to Mecca. "In in the work of art the wax figure reads in the Koran, it is something else than praying. I see this as an advertisement for the Koran," he said.

Now that the exhibit opened in Drammen, it seems Muslims are upset over the use of the Koran and Duymaz says that the immigrant council did not approve the exhibit beforehand.

About 50 Muslims were creating a ruckus when Duymaz passed by. He removed the Koran which, apparently, was his.

Viskum, who is known for his provoking exhibits, said that his intentions were to build bridges between Muslims and Christians.

Sources: VG, NRK (Norwegian)

More of Viskum's work can be seen here

Oslo: The non-veiled Muslim

"Fatima", an 18 year Kurdish-Iranian, was attacked on the streets of Oslo this past week by a Pakistani couple.

Fatima believes the attack was provoked by her Western style short dress and says she refuses to let extreme Muslims decide what she should wear or do. Her family is not religious and both her mother and sister wear normal Norwegian dress.

"Many react that I get permission to have a Norwegian boyfriend and go out without a veil. A boy I know said one time that if I had been his sister he would have killed me. Then I answered that luckily I was't his sister and I had my own limits."

Fatima's brother was also scolded for not taking care of his sister's and familie's honor. The youth say that they notice a difference from North-Norway, where they lived before, and østlandet where there are more Muslim immigrants.

"Many behave as if they continue to be home home in Kabul or Teheran. I think more than 90% of the Muslim girls in Norway must submit to the men and live by their orders. Many girls are treated as slaves and by Islam women don't have their own freedom," says Fatima's brother Erfan.

He knows that she is sticking her hands into a relgious and political wasp's nest when he critizecize Islam's attitudes towards women but thinks it is time for people to dare discuss the issue.

"See what happened when Kadra was attacked after she criticized the Koran's attitude towards women. But nobody dared to touch the debate afterwards," says Erfan.

Source: Dagbladet (Norwegian)

See also: Norway: Attack on Islam critic

Cambridgeshire: First police officer with hijab

RUKSHANA Begum is, without question, one of a kind. This week, the 23-year-old will become the first police officer ever to wear the Muslim hijab, or headscarf, on duty in Cambridgeshire. And she can't wait.

"I've struggled to get where I am," she admits. "But I feel that my generation is the one which is going to break barriers. I hope that people will look at me and think, 'If she can do it, so can I'."

When they discovered she was planning to join the police force, Rukshana's parents went mad. Such a thing was, she explains, unheard of for a young Muslim woman. But, aged just 19, Rukshana herself had no doubts about what she wanted to do.

"I'd always been interested in the police," she explains. "And while I was at Cambridge Regional College I studied public services. The more I learned, the more I thought 'This is really good, I wouldn't mind doing it myself '.

"When I left college and was applying to university, I decided I may as well apply for a job with the police too - keep my options open. But when the letter arrived, saying I'd passed the application stage, my sister opened it by mistake - we have the same initials.

"She showed my parents, and they were really shocked, mostly because I hadn't mentioned it to them. They were disappointed, because they've always been very pro education and wanted me to continue my studies.

"But I didn't want to give up on policing, so we came to a compromise:

I'd go to university and do a degree, like they wanted, but I'd also join the specials, so I could be a part of the police force in my spare time."

One of eight children, Rukshana stuck to her word. And, during her training, her parents seemed to come round to the idea. But when she started going out on duty, for four hours each and every week, her mum and dad quickly voiced their disapproval.

"I think their reservations had a lot to do with me being the first, it just wasn't expected," she adds. "And it happened to coincide with a regular officer's arm being slashed. That made them take a step back.

"My dad said 'Are you sure you want to do this? There's so much risk
* you could end up getting killed'. But the way I see it, there's risk in every job - my dad's a taxi driver, and any weirdo could get into his cab. At least in the police you're trained to deal with it."

Along with their fears for her safety, Rukshana thinks her parents had a negative perception of the British police. Hailing from Bangladesh, Rukshana's family once had to call officers to their Cambridge home after a group of youths threw stones at their window.

"The police came but said they couldn't do anything, and my dad took it quite personally," she explains.

"Whatever the police force might have been like in the past, I've found it to be very inclusive."

Despite her family's reservations, Rukshana was determined to carry on policing - and even resorted to keeping some of her shifts a secret.

"One of the reasons I didn't want to stop, despite the pressure from family, was how welcoming the force had been," she explains.

"They really look after you. And whenever anything big's going on, like a festival, they give me a ring and ask if I want to do it. That makes you feel really involved and appreciated."

Rukshana has just completed a degree in criminology at Anglia Ruskin. And she admits it's not always been easy to fit in her shifts as a special.

"Once or twice I had to cancel a duty when family came over," she confesses. "They'd say 'Is your daughter a police?', like it was something shameful. It did wind me up. It's such a respectable thing to do, it's not like I was dossing in my spare time."

Since those early days, Rukshana's family and friends have got used to her being a special. A handful of relations, thinking of signing up themselves have even asked for application forms.

Raised a devout Muslim, who learned how to pray and read the Qur'an at Cambridge's Abu Bakar Siddiq Mosque on Mawson Road, Rukshana recently came to another big decision: from now on, she's going to wear hijab - even when she's on police duty.

"Our parents never forced us to wear it," explains Rukshana. "But I'm a practising Muslim: I pray, I read the Qur'an, I fast during Ramadan . . . I thought 'If I can do all that, I want to take the next step forward to show my devotion to my faith'.

"And so I decided to wear a headscarf. You can't cherry pick when and where to wear it. That would be hypocritical, wouldn't it?"

Rukshana contacted Cambridgeshire Specials Co-ordinator Shahina Ahmed, herself a Muslim. At the time, last autumn, hijab was not issued as part of standard uniform. So the constabulary set about getting a scarf designed and made specially for Rukshana.

Sourcing various examples, from the few UK forces which provide hijab, they came up with the finished design earlier this year - with safety in mind. While most headscarves are held in place with pins, Rukshana's is fastened with a strip of poppers.

Should an assailant grab her hijab, while on duty, it will simply pull apart. Made to order by a tailor in Yorkshire, from a special stretchy material, the scarves cost £15 each to buy.

"I think it's a very positive thing," says Shahina. "The Chief Constable, Julie Spence, has been supportive from day one. But we did have some resistance from members of the force, asking 'Do you want to put your officer at risk?' I don't see it that way
* people have to accept you for who you are."

After four years as a special (the only Muslim in her station), Rukshana has done everything from directing traffic to dealing with public disorder offences. And she's never encountered any violence or racism.

"People have always looked at me and known I was from an ethnic minority," she explains.

"Wearing a headscarf will narrow down my identity - people will know I'm a Muslim.

"And I see that as a really positive thing; it feels right for me, and I'm not expecting any negative impact.

"Since 9/11, the whole terrorism thing, people think all Muslims must be members of al Qaeda. But my family is from Bangladesh, which is nowhere near the Middle East.

"Hopefully, when people see me out on the street in my police uniform, it will make them think again."

Supporting her choice

RUKSHANA'S move to wear hijab has received the backing of Cambridgeshire Constabulary's top brass.

"Our staff represent the many communities we serve, and we respect and always try to accommodate any adaptation staff with particular beliefs may want to make to their uniform," says Deputy Chief Constable John Feavyour.

"Uniform is obviously there to serve a purpose in terms of identity and safety, and all changes to uniform are made in line with guidelines that ensure the officer or staff member is able to conduct their normal policing or other duties safely and effectively."

Her efforts have also been welcomed by the wider Muslim community in Cambridge. Abdul Arain is coordinator of Cambridge Muslims Online and a leading member of the Abu Bakar Siddiq Mosque on Mawson Road in the city. He says: "Muslims in the UK are active supporters of and instigators in the positive progress of British society.

They should be able to fully integrate with every section of that society, including the armed forces, the police force and all the other institutions which exist. So this is definitely a step in the right direction."

Father is proud of policing career choice

RUKSHANA'S father, Asgor Ali, has told the Newshow much he admires his daughter's determination.

"I am a very proud father," he says. "I wasn't sure to start with, I'll admit that. You only have to look at a newspaper or turn on the TV to hear about incidents involving police officers, so that was on my mind.

"But an officer from the force came to visit me in my home to explain more about the job, and now I'm pretty happy with what Rukshana is doing.

"She's the only police officer in Cambridgeshire wearing a hijab, and I'm very happy she's chosen to wear it. It's very much in our religion. I think it's a very positive thing.

"Rukshana is a very strong character and very determined - she said 'Yes, this is what I want to do' and she stuck to it. I'm very happy she wants to do something with her life.

"I know she'll be dealing with all sorts of people, sometimes good and sometimes not. But life is about challenges, isn't it?"

Forces gear up for hijab wearers

AT THE moment, Rukshana is very much in the minority - among both regular and special police officers. A spokesman for the national Police Federation says it is almost impossible to quantify the number of Muslims nationwide who elect to wear hijab on duty, because it is very much a personal choice and, as yet, the headscarf isn't issued as uniform across many forces.

Ibrar Hamed, of the Association of Muslim Police in London, says the Met are currently in the process of introducing hijab as a standard uniform option.

While Rukshana will wear a protective bowler hat on top of her hijab when necessary, to protect her head from potential blows, the Met's aim is to provide a special skull cap instead, which can slot under the scarf.

"In brief, the policy states there is a need to risk assess the officer's tasking," adds Ibrar. "If the risk assessment indicates a bowler hat would normally be required, then the officer can obtain a protective insert for her hijab from clothing stores.

She should not normally be forced to wear a bowler hat over her hijab but has the choice to do so."

Source: Cambridge News (English)

See also: London: Row over handshaking