Controversy of British Channel 4’s new documentary about British Muslims

The British TV Channel 4 aired a document called “My Week as a Muslim” on October 23rd. The show created significant backlash because a White, British Islamophobic woman dressed up as a Pakistani, Muslim woman. Katie Freeman not only wore Muslim clothes but also wore dark make-up and prosthetic nose and teeth. Opponents of the documentary call this a racist use of brown-face.

The producer, Fazia Khan, had previously created “Extremely British Muslims” on Channel 4. She says her goal with this new documentary “was to educate, not offend.” She intended to avoid “preaching to the converted” by including Freeman, who was hostile towards Muslims like many White Britons. Khan writes, “We hoped that people who shared some of Katie’s views would go on the journey with her. I think the disguise element was an absolutely crucial part of this.”

Khan placed Freeman in a Muslim household. Khan discussed the idea with local Muslim organizations, such as the British Muslim Heritage Centre, and the family before starting the project.

As a result of the disguise, Khan argues, Freeman experienced an “insider” feeling that otherwise who not have been possible in other situations.

Others disagree that this was the correct way to portray Muslims and Islamophobia. Radhika Sanghani says that the idea of challenging racism is worthwhile but this documentary is “perpetuating old cliches and focusing on physical appearance.” She questions why the show follows a non-Muslim woman rather than Muslim women who experience racism regularly.

Freeman changes her views by the end of the segment. Still, Sanghani is concerned that the Freeman’s “week as a Muslim doesn’t just depict the reality of life behind a hijab – it implies that all Asian women look a certain way, and sends out the damaging message that brownface, with all its historical and racist connotations, is acceptable.”

Study finds British Muslim schools’ uniforms policy often require girls to wear the hijab

The National Secular Society found that 59 out of the 142 Islamic schools that accept girls have a compulsory hijab policy. Hijab refers to Islamic standards of modesty, but is being used in the articles summarised below specifically to refer to the hair-covering practice of girls. Three of the schools which require hijab receive state funding. The National Secular Society opposed these school polices and say it is duty of the British government to protect the liberty of these students.

The organisation wrote a letter raising concerns about this issue. The letter is co-signed by feminists from “Muslim backgrounds, ” including activist Sara Khan and journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

The Bradford Council for Mosques responded to this finding saying that wearing the hijab should not be compulsory for school uniforms. Spokesman Ishriaq Ahmed said, “People should have choices without the fear of being criticised…No child should be forced to do anything.”

The controversy over required hijab in dress codes follows closely after a controversy over allowing girls to wear hijab. The Sunday Times surveyed primary schools in England and found that 20% of primary schools “allow the hijab” in their uniform policies.

Gina Khan, a Birmingham children’s rights advocate, criticised the policy, saying, “Schools…need to support Muslim girls to have free choices, not to be set apart from other children.”

On the other side, Toby Howard, the Bishop of Bradford and an inter-faith leader, said, “this is a matter of religious identity not sexualisation.” The concern about sexualisation arises from the practice of starting to wear a headscarf post-puberty. But Howard noted that is not necessarily the case, as girls may choose to where the headscarf to “look like their mums.”

One Nation senator Pauline Hanson’s Burqa-wearing ‘Stunt’

Just last month, on 17 August, Pauline Hanson, a member of Australian political party One Nation, entered the Senate chamber wearing a burqa. Taking her usual seat, her choice of dress was met with gasps from her fellow senators, one of whom was heard to say, ‘Oh, what on earth?’

When invited by the Senate president to speak, Hanson, after removing the burqa, asked the Attorney-General, George Brandis, whether or not he would, in light of relevant national security concerns, move to ban the burqa.

In response, Brandis scolded Hanson for what he described as a ‘stunt’, before affirming that the government would not ban the burqa. Brandis qualified that the majority of Australia’s 500,000 Muslim population ‘are law-abiding, good Australians.’ Brandis added that each director-general of security and each commissioner of the Australian Federal Police with whom he has worked has maintained that it is in the national interest to maintain healthy relations with the Muslim community. Hanson’s stunt, conversely, constituted ‘ridicule’ in Brandis’ eyes, and he implored Hanson to ‘reflect on what [she had] done.’

Hanson responded by asking why anyone wearing ‘a balaclava or helmet’ who enters ‘a bank or any other building or on the floor of a court’ is ordered to remove that balaclava or helmet while a Muslim woman wearing a burqa is not. Hanson asked Brandis if the government would therefore consider changing the country’s laws in light of this apparent inconsistency. Brandis assured the Senate that the government would make no such change. Hanson, however, moved a private members’ bill on the floor of the Senate that day with regard to a proposed ban of the burqa in Australia.

A day later, while appearing on breakfast television program ‘TODAY’, Hanson spoke with host Karl Stefanovic. Stefanovic asked Hanson if she was proud of her actions. In response, Hanson said, ‘’Proud’ is not the word I’d say… Not at all. Why should I feel proud of what I did? I did it to actually prove a point here. ’ Hanson explained that the proposal to ban the burqa ‘is based on national security and social cohesion.’ Hanson also explained that it was her belief that ‘there are a lot of women out there wearing the burqa who would dearly love not to have to wear it.’ When Stefanovic asked Hanson how she had felt wearing the burqa on this occasion, Hanson responded, ‘Terrible. It is horrible. It is a horrible feeling. I really feel for these women that are made to wear it or have to wear it.’ Hanson then told Stefanovic that she had received a text message from someone in Saudi Arabia applauding her for speaking out and wearing the burqa in parliament.

Hanson also explained that she believes Australian laws that permit freedom of religion and expression are being used by certain members of society to further their own ideological agenda. Hanson continued, stating that 15 Labor Party seats are controlled by Muslim MPs, which is why Labor is ‘bending over backwards to appease the Muslim population.’ Hanson clarified, ‘I have no problems with the religion. I have a problem with the political ideology that is incompatible with our culture and our way of life and is shutting down a lot of things that are dear to our hearts as Australians.’

On 21 August, during a debate on another morning television program, ‘Sunrise’, Greens’ senator Sarah Hanson-Young chastised Hanson for her actions, labelling them an ‘absolute disgrace’ and telling Hanson she was ‘doing ISIS’s work for them’. Hanson-Young then told Hanson, ‘The next ISIS attack will be on your head, Pauline.’

A day later, and in response to this ongoing discourse, political commentator and former Labor politician Graham Richardson wrote an opinion-piece for national newspaper, ‘The Australian’. An advocate for the banning of the burqa, Richardson qualified that he believes the burqa could and should only be banned in Australia, however, following substantive dialogue with the Muslim community. Richardson was also critical of Hanson’s burqa-wearing stunt, while labelling Hanson-Young a ‘serial idiot’ for her comments attributing a future terrorist attack to Hanson’s decision to wear the burqa in the Senate chamber.

Interestingly, a recent vote among members of conservative political party The Nationals rejected the motion to ban the burqa, 55 to 51. The symbolism of the burqa and the debate about whether or not it is compatible with Australian culture and values will, however, no doubt continue. Whether or not it informs the decisions of Australians next year at the federal election ballot box is, however, unlikely.

Hijab debate splits feminists in Germany

In a new instalment of Germany’s long-running judicial battles over the hijab, the country’s highest court has in a new verdict upheld the legislator’s right to prohibit Muslim women from wearing the Islamic headcovering in certain circumstances.

 

Jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court

The Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) rejected the application for interim relief filed by a junior lawyer from the state of Hesse working at a local court. Her employer, referring to a 2007 ministerial decree, had refused to let her wear the hijab when interacting with the public in an official role.

The Court’s decision appeared to be a reversal on a previously more concessionary interpretation of legal texts, and a turn to a more categorical upholding of a quasi-laic principle of state neutrality. In previous rulings, the Court had invalidated a blanket ban on headscarves worn by teachers at public schools and also rejected demands to outlaw the headscarf at public kindergartens.

“The sight of other religious convictions”

Yet while the Court had stated in its verdict on the kindergarten case that no one had a constitutional right to “be spared the sight of other religious or ideological confessions of faith”(( http://www.spiegel.de/karriere/eilantrag-gegen-kopftuchverbot-juristin-scheitert-vor-gericht-a-1155852.html )), the present judgement seems to be based at least partly on the exact opposite reasoning. In somewhat convoluted phrasing, the judges assert that

it appears understandable if persons involved in a trial feel violated in their right to remain untouched by the cultic actions of a faith they do not espouse if they are subjected to the unavoidable compulsion of having to lead a lawsuit under the involvement of state representatives who identifiably project their religious or ideological convictions to the outside.((http://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/SharedDocs/Pressemitteilungen/DE/2017/bvg17-055.html ))

In other words, at least in the sensitive domain of the justice system, people do have the right to be spared the sight of other religious convictions.

A crossroads for feminism

The significance of the verdict is, of course, not simply juridical: whilst phrased in the arcane language of Germany’s specific legal doctrine dealing with the relationship between Church (or religion more generally) and state – the so-called Staatskirchenrecht – the import of the judges’ decision lies in the ways in which it touches upon the place allocated to Islamic religiosity and Muslim women in the German public sphere.

In this context, the issue of the hijab regularly becomes a crossroads for progressive politics. Most notably, as Meredith Haaf writes in a thoughtful article for the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/debatte-tuch-oder-tussi-1.3585227 )) – translated into English here – feminism continues to struggle over its positioning vis-à-vis the Muslim headscarf.

Combatting ‘sexualisation’

Internationally, influential NGO Terre des Femmes recently called for a global ban on hijabs for underage girls – a move that Haaf identifies as part of “the discursive stoking of discrimination against a section of the population”.

Terre des Femmes argues that the headscarf stigmatises girls and women as “seductresses and sexual beings”. Yet even if Muslim parents should indeed be acting upon this rationale, Haaf points out that many non-Muslims do the same by making their (often pre-pubescent) daughters wear bikini tops or by dressing them in ostentatiously ‘girlish’ clothing. Whether ‘oriental’ sexualisation is a more powerful force than its ‘occidental’ counterpart is thus far from clear.

Headscarf and patriarchy

Many feminists have nevertheless picked up upon the headscarf as the prime symbol and tool of patriarchal oppression in our age. In this context, a number of feminists have not shied away from entering a de facto alliance with the populist right.

In Germany, only the openly Islamophobic AfD party has called for a ban on the hijab such as the one demanded by Terre des Femmes. Needlessly to say, the AfD also supports a curtailment of women’s reproductive rights and a strengthening of the traditional family model – hardly an agenda that Western feminists have traditionally espoused.

Feminism’s rightward turn

Haaf takes particular aim at Emma, the long-standing leading German feminist publication. Founded by Alice Schwarzer, dominant persona of the German feminist movement, Emma’s editorial line (as well as Ms. Schwarzer’s personal politics) has shifted sharply to the right on matters concerning Islam.

Especially following the mass sexual assaults by predominantly North African men on New Year’s Eve 2015/2016 in Cologne, Schwarzer became very vocal in her description of Islam as a violent and inherently patriarchal ideology. In 2017, Schwarzer published an edited volume entitled The Shock: The New Year’s Eve of Cologne. In this work, Schwarzer and her co-authors assert that sexual violence is based on and legitimised (even called for) by the Qur’an.

‘Islamic feminism’

For her positioning Schwarzer has received harsh criticism from a feminist perspective. Khola Maryam Hübsch, journalist, Muslim activist, and author of the book Freedom under the Veil: What Islam Can Add to a Truly Emancipated Image of Women attacked Schwarzer for replicating the discourses and argumentative patterns employed by misogynistic Islamist extremism.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/koelner-silvesternacht-so-hilft-alice-schwarzer-den-islamfeinden-der-afd/60902 ))

Hübsch decried the fact that interventions such as Schwarzer’s essentialise ‘Islam’ or ‘the Qur’an’ and in this way “torpedo the attempts of all those Muslims who don’t tire of pointing to the obvious: particular verses need to be interpreted in textual and historical context. They must not be abused selectively for egoistically motivated behaviour.”(( http://cicero.de/kultur/koelner-silvesternacht-so-hilft-alice-schwarzer-den-islamfeinden-der-afd/60902 ))

Clashing feminisms

In many respects, Hübsch’s comments are expressive of a self-consciously ‘Islamic’ feminism, represented in Germany by voices such as Kübra Gümüsay. Islamic feminists highlight the ways in which mainstream feminism has – in their view – sidelined Muslim women by denying them agency and by conceptualising them as passive objects in need of saving.

Yet Hübsch’s account stressing the possibility of uniting feminism and the hijab is, of course, far from uncontested. Other Muslim commentators strike a very different note. Activist Zana Ramadani, author of the book The Veiled Danger, accuses mainstream feminism of having become politically correct and complacent. Ramadani sees Gümüsay and others as using accusations of Islamophobia and racism in order to silence critical voices raising uncomfortable questions about the nature of Islamic religiosity.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-und-frauenrechte-pseudo-feministinnen-mit-kopftuch ))

Reverting to ad hominem attacks against Islamic feminists, Ramadani asserts that “these ignorant headscarf women are part of an Islamist lobby that through trickery has managed to obtain the solidarity of not only leftist feminists. They have all been hoodwinked by the Muslim fake-feminists such as Gümüsay”.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-und-frauenrechte-pseudo-feministinnen-mit-kopftuch ))

The different meanings of the hijab

Thus, both sides castigate one another as having undermined feminism’s progressive credentials. In spite of the often lacklustre nature of the arguments employed – especially on the part of those blindly accusing headscarf-wearing women and their defenders of complicity with terrorism – neither side is necessarily completely wrong: the hijab may be imposed as an oppressive garment; yet it may also be freely chosen.

Thus, what is often difficult to understand and appreciate for both sides is the polyvalence of the hijab as a symbol. Those feminists who only conceive of the hijab as a symbol and a tool of domination fail to accept the fact that women may choose to wear the headcovering of their own accord. Those who see it as a potentially liberating object fail to see that it is at times violently imposed.

Religious obligations

Another facet of the problem is, however, even more difficult to conceptualise. Religious precepts are – at least in their traditional understanding – not based on free-wheeling ‘individual choice’ but on a communal tradition that is perceived as binding on the individual. To give but one example: Jewish and Muslim parents circumcise their male offspring – without the child having much of a say in it.

In a highly remarkable verdict in 2012, a German court condemned this practice as violating the child’s right to bodily integrity. While the legislator in Berlin quickly passed a law creating a loophole that allowed for the continued legality of religiously motivated circumcision of boys, the underlying point still stands: free individual choice and the belonging to a religious community may frequently clash.

The hijab as the norm

The same could quite well apply to many women wearing the hijab: it is true that an increasing number of women particularly in Western societies might make the individualistic choice to wear the Muslim headcovering. Yet in many cases, they will wear it because their families and their (Muslim) environment have signalled them that this is “the way things are to be done” in the community.

In many respects, Islamic feminists and their feminist antagonists both argue from the standpoint of a radical, individualistic choice: the former assert that Muslim women ‘choose’ the headscarf; the latter claim that Muslim women should be enabled to become true individuals by abandoning the garment.

Communal obligations vs. individual choice

Neither side tackles the much harder question concerning the place of communal obligations in an increasingly individualised society. Does it per se make people ‘unfree’ in a relevant way if they conceive of themselves as part of a religious community that is seen as imposing certain rules that go unquestioned by the community’s individual members and that thus curtail individual choice?

The framers of Germany’s Basic Law did not seem to think so: in their Staatskirchenrecht, they enshrined far-reaching guarantees for citizens to be able to belong to religious communities and to project their communal affiliations and beliefs to the outside, including in the public sphere. Yet as the recent verdicts given by Germany’s top courts reveal, the renegotiation and actualisation of these foundational principles in today’s context continues to be a challenge – especially in relation to Islam.

Iman And Halima Aden Get Real About Islam, Hijabs And Somali Pride

Halima Aden, a Somali-American has taken the fashion world by storm, rocking a hijab while walking the runway at the most recent New York Fashion Week. The 19-year old made headlines last year when she wore hijab and traditional clothes during the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.

She along with Supermodel Iman are speaking out about what it means to take pride in being Muslim women from Somalia, and its inspiring.

 

Iman shared her own experience as a black Muslim woman who chooses not to wear a hijab, adding: “I’ve heard all types of critiques—as a Somali girl, as a model, as a mom, as a Muslim who does not wear a hijab, marrying a white man, my late husband David Bowie. But you know, I live my truth.”

Capture of underage female IS-supporter in Mosul shows extent the group’s appeal

 

As the so-called Islamic State’s last bastions in Mosul fell, Iraqi soldiers and militias captured a host of IS-fighters. Amongst them were a larger number of foreigners who had joined the terrorist group over the preceding years.

Trip to the Levant in 2016

Yet few arrests have called forth more international attention than the case of Linda Wenzel, a 16-year-old girl from a small town in Saxony, Germany. She was discovered by Iraqi forces in a tunnel along with 20 other female IS-supporters, three of whom were also German.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islamischer-staat-vermisste-jaehrige-aus-sachsen-im-irak-aufgegriffen-1.3599355 ))

The teenager had left her home in 2016 and had been missing since then. Her turn towards jihadism had occurred unbeknownst to her parents and her family. According to investigators, online conversations with IS-sympathisers were key in swaying the girl to travel to the Levantine battlefields via Frankfurt and Istanbul.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/islamischer-staat-die-dschihad-braut-aus-pulsnitz-a-1159114.html ))

“Jihadi bride”

Her precise role within IS remains unclear. Iraqi sources have described her as a sniper; yet given the group’s conservatism in gender matters it seems unlikely that the young woman was allowed to play an active combat role, even if she should have wished to do so.

According to intelligence sources, she was married off to a Chechen IS-fighter; a fact that has led many media outlets to refer to her as a “jihadi bride.”(( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/18/teenage-german-isil-bride-captured-mosuls-old-city/, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/islamischer-staat-die-dschihad-braut-aus-pulsnitz-a-1159114.html )) This points to the ways in which the IS’s female recruits are seen as even more ‘exotic’ and quintessentially incomprehensible than their male counterparts.

IS’s female members

Yet in contrast to many other jihadist groups, the IS has been extremely adept at attracting female supporters. According to the German domestic intelligence service, the Verfassungsschutz, 20 per cent of Germans who have joined the group are female. And among the minors flocking to the caliphate, 50 per cent are women.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-07/islamischer-staat-linda-w-dresden-is-kaempferin ))

German Islamic studies scholar and counter-terrorism expert Marwan Abou-Taam points to the ways in which the IS has managed to offer an appealing vision to many young women. Many are taken in by the glossy portrayal of jihadi fighters online. Becoming a wife and child-bearer to a fighter provides new sense and meaning, Abou-Taam highlights.((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-07/islamischer-staat-linda-w-dresden-is-kaempferin ))

Extradition to Germany

Not all women are joining the IS for personal or marital reasons, however: many wish to make a contribution to the creation of the caliphate and are highly ideologically motivated.

Whether this was the case for Linda Wenzel remains to be seen. Personnel from the German Embassy are in touch with her and the other German women arrested in Mosul. It is understood that Germany will seek their extradition. If they remain in Iraq, the women may be facing the death penalty, as marriage to and support of IS-fighters are treated as a capital offence in Iraq.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-07/islamischer-staat-linda-w-dresden-is-kaempferin ))

Challenge of reintegration

In her home town of Pulsnitz in Saxony, public opinion is split on Linda Wenzel’s arrest and her potential return. Some of the town’s inhabitants expressed relief that the girl had been found. They hoped for a speedy reunion with her parents.

Others openly voiced their fears. One of the girl’s former neighbours asserted that “we don’t need her here. At the end of it, she might show up with an explosive belt.”(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/islamischer-staat-die-dschihad-braut-aus-pulsnitz-a-1159114.html ))

This highlights once more how the arrest of the so-called “foreign fighters” that had joined extremist groups in Iraq and Syria is not so much an endpoint as a new start to the problem: the meaningful reintegration of these men, women, and children remains an issue that European governments will have to struggle with for the foreseeable future.

“The Missing Muslims” report discusses public benefit of enfranchising British Muslims

British non-profit, Citizens UK, published a report called, “The Missing Muslims: Unlocking British Muslim Potential for the Benefit of All.” The report was based on the work of an interfaith commission, convened by Citizens UK. The study included public hearings, roundtable discussions, and closed discussion with various stakeholders, both Muslim and not. A Muslim Leadership Group and Muslim Youth Leadership Group were consulted. The report is not clear about which groups made which suggestions but tries to summarise the ideas of the Muslim communities and other stakeholders.

Muslim involvement in public life is beneficial to all, says the report. Public life is understood to include civic engagement, public service delivery, the ability to be part of a “cohesive and strong society,” and opportunities to share ideas.

The study finds that Muslims are not active in British civil society which is a “growing problem.” Muslims have been involved in some important initiatives to serve the public good, such as the British Islamic Medical Association and the Ramadan Tent Project which invites homeless and other non-Muslims to engage in dialogue and eat with Muslims; however, in many ways, Muslims are excluded from public life.

Some problems with Muslim/non-Muslim interaction were acknowledged. Diversity within the British Muslim community is too often ignored, which contributes to polarisation and the us/them dichtomy. Terrorist attacks, such as 9/11 and 7/7, have contributed to distrust of Muslim communities. This led to problematic government policy. The Prevent Strategy was often mentioned by Muslims in their studies. The aim to counter extremism was seen as legitimate by Muslim respondents but there was a concern for the effect on the safety of children, especially, who may be targetted by government suspicion. This is because the government often focuses its prevention in schools. There are also concerns about a general police state atmosphere, unclear definitions and roles within Prevent, the conflation of religion and culture with extremism, and the mistrust in public institutions as the strategy moves away from just security professionals.

Another problem is that housing is often segregated along ethnic lines. While Muslims may be integrated into their own ethnic minority communities, there needs to be better engagement across ethnic categories. Employment discrimination, especially in relation to Muslim women, is severe. There is also a need for more transparent and effective leadership training. Another issue is women’s rights. Muslim women often face cultural limitations to their engagement in public life.  Fears of discrimination discourage the participation of young British Muslims in political life.

The recommendations for non-Muslim aspects of society are as follows.

The commission suggests partnerships between local authorities and civil organisations to promote diverse leadership. They promote mentorship programmes for the Muslims community which would allow individuals to support each other in areas such as employment. They suggest that businesses should adopt anti-discrimination policies including name- and address-blind applications and unconcious bias and religious literacy training.

They suggest that the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) focuses more on fair reporting of Muslims by assessing the relevance of stories, the appropriate use of statistics, and the fair inclusion of terminology (especially in regard to Arabic words which are often misused). The government should engage with certain organisations (the specific organisations are not listed in the report) which they seem to boycott in order to hear a broad range of views. The government should also listen to the many stakeholders related to the Prevent Strategy, even though (and especially because) stakeholders have serious criticisms of the strategy. The report also suggests that the government is more explicit in pursuing integration and anti-prejudice strategy.

For Muslim communities, the report suggests umbrella bodied can create a voluntary set of standards such as for mosque governance. These could include training, a stronger stance against discrimination against other religious groups, including diverse voices in mosque governance, fostering partnerships with other communities, and investing in British-born Imams.

A critique of the report by a Muslim PhD student in sociology at the University of Cambridge, Ali Meghji, says the report should be more focused on the needs of the Muslim community and not about the Muslim community being better “for all.” This can lead to blaming Muslims for terrorism and extremism.

Reactions to ‘gender-equal’ mosque in Berlin: anger from abroad, limited impact at home

As Euro-Islam reported, lawyer and women’s rights activist Seyran Ateş has opened a gender-equal mosque in Berlin. After the first Friday prayers on June 16, co-led by Ateş and an openly gay French guest Imam, reactions to the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque have been strong, especially from Islamic authorities in Turkey and Egypt.

Reactions from Turkey

The Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs – Diyanet – mounted a fierce attack on Ateş’ project, describing it as “un-Islamic” and as an attempt to “undermine and destroy” religion. In a press release, Diyanet went on to declare that the mosque violated “the foundations of our sacred faith that are determined in the Quran and the sunna.”(( http://www.fr.de/politik/berlin-moabit-eine-moschee-fordert-den-islam-heraus-a-1300030 ))

Yet in keeping with the current political climate in Turkey, Diyanet’s most vociferous criticism was reserved for the alleged connections of the new mosque to the Gülen movement: “It is clear that this is a project of religious remodelling that has been implemented for many years under the leadership of Fetö [The Gülen Movement] and other nefarious organisations” – or so Diyanet argued.(( http://www.fr.de/politik/berlin-moabit-eine-moschee-fordert-den-islam-heraus-a-1300030 ))

Fake news of a Gülenist conspiracy

These allegations of Gülenist sympathies or influences were swiftly rejected by Ateş, who called the accusations “absurd”.(( http://www.ndr.de/kultur/Seyran-Ate-zur-Kritik-an-liberaler-Berliner-Moschee,journal888.html )) The Chair of the Gülenist Foundation for Dialogue and Education, Ercan Karakoyun, also denied any involvement with the mosque. He pointed out that while in a pluralist society his movement would tolerate Ateş’ initiative, her mosque “does not correspond to our vision of Islam”.(( http://www.berliner-kurier.de/berlin/kiez—stadt/ibn-rushd-goethe-moschee-morddrohungen-wegen-liberaler-moschee-in-berlin-27820764 ))

Karakoyun’s denial of any involvement with the new mosque came after Turkish TV channel AHaber had falsely named him as a confidant of Ateş’ and her mosque project; a claim that had resulted in death threats being uttered against Karakoyun. AHaber went on to label the opening of the mosque an act of “treason”.

Turkish newspaper Sabah spoke of the “liberal mosque madness” while also zeroing in on Ateş’ supposed links to Gülenism. The Star network described the mosque as a “Fetö-church” where women with headscarves would not be allowed to enter.(( http://www.fr.de/politik/berlin-moabit-eine-moschee-fordert-den-islam-heraus-a-1300030 ))

Reactions from Egypt

That Ateş’ initiative would be met with criticism from certain Turkish actors was, in many ways, to be expected: over the course of her career, the activist born to a Turkish mother and a Kurdish father had repeatedly been accused of fouling her own nest by Turkish media and decision-makers.

However, the opening of the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque also brought to the scene the Egyptian state fatwa office, Dar al-Ifta’: “no to the violation of religious foundations – no to the liberal mosque”, the Office wrote in an official statement on Facebook.

The Cairene institution was particularly incensed at the gender aspect of the project, criticising the mixing of the sexes at the mosque, the fact that women were not obliged to wear a hijab while praying, and the fact that female Imams were leading the congregation. Dar al-Ifta’ denied that the project would combat religious extremism: “to the contrary – the disrespect of the foundational rules of a religion is extremism, too. This is an attack on the religion.”(( https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/fatwa-moschee-berlin-101.html ))

Reactions in Germany

The echo in Germany has been much more restrained. The main Islamic associations have kept a guarded silence vis-à-vis the new mosque, although the chairman of the Islam Council (IR) stated that he did not believe that the mosque’s approach was in accordance with the basic tenets of Islam.(( https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/in-germany-a-new-feminist-islam-is-hoping-to-make-a-mark/2017/06/16/fc762d00-529c-11e7-b74e-0d2785d3083d_story.html?utm_term=.fcc83e557c0f ))

The Frankfurt-based hardline organisation “Reality Islam” castigated the mosque as an example of “the disfigurement of Islam and its emptying of all meaning in Germany”. Ateş project, for them, is a form of “intellectual colonisation” that seeks to illegitimately “redefine Islam in accordance with Western ideas of gender equality.”(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/themen/reportage/berliner-moschee-fuer-liberale-muslime-der-islam-gehoert-nicht-den-fanatikern/19919994-all.html ))

Ateş defends herself

Againt this backdrop, Ateş sees her long-standing criticism of conservative Islamic associations as vindicated: in an interview with the NDR network, she – perhaps somewhat simplistically – stated that authorities such as Egyptian Dar al-Ifta’ had not criticized and attacked al-Qaeda or the Islamic State as they had attacked her. “This shows the true face of the fundamentalists”, she asserted.(( http://www.ndr.de/kultur/Seyran-Ate-zur-Kritik-an-liberaler-Berliner-Moschee,journal888.html ))

Ateş also expressed dismay at the fact that many deem her commitment to an Islamic religiosity to be disingenuous. Her initial announcement that she would open a mosque had been met with surprise, given the fact that in the public’s perception her persona had been associated with a critical – even hostile – stance towards Islam and an atheist positioning.

In an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio, Ateş highlighted that already in her 2003 autobiography she had stated that she did not fight Islam but patriarchy. “Yet there are people who have never bought that I’m a believing Muslim.”(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/imamin-seyran-ates-muslime-organisiert-euch.886.de.html?dram:article_id=388789 ))

Positive yet muted feedback

According to Ateş, “95 per cent” of the feedback she has received for her mosque initiative has been positive, especially from the Kurdish community. Nevertheless, participation at the first Friday prayers has been somewhat muted: at the congregation on June 16 there were more journalists than worshippers.(( http://www.berliner-kurier.de/berlin/kiez—stadt/allah-fuer-alle-hier-beten-maenner-und-frauen-gemeinsam-27808522 ))

The mosque has nevertheless sparked some interest from elsewhere: Muslims from Hamburg and Bremen have established contact with Ateş; they seek to open their own mosques and to join forces in a new, liberal Islamic association.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/themen/reportage/berliner-moschee-fuer-liberale-muslime-der-islam-gehoert-nicht-den-fanatikern/19919994-all.html ))

Michigan Case Adds U.S. Dimension to Debate on Genital Mutilation

NYT Op ED:

The arrest of 3 doctors in Michigan for performing female genital mutilation prompted Tasneem Raja, 34, a journalist, to write about being cut in New Jersey. She said she had received “an outpouring of emails from people saying thank you.”

“This Michigan case made me think I want to speak out,” said Nazia Mirza, 34, who was cut at age 6 in her hometown, Houston. “To me it’s very much like a rape survivor. If you don’t say anything, then how are you going to expose it and bring awareness?”

But Ms. Raja said the case was exposing a spectrum of feelings. Even among Bohra women who oppose cutting, she said, views range from “women who say this has greatly impacted their sex life and their ability to enjoy sex, to people like me who walked away with lifelong emotional trauma, to people who say, ‘I don’t see what the big deal is.’”

Another doctor, wife charged with female genital mutilation in Michigan

According to an unsealed criminal complaint, while a doctor removed parts of the girls’ genitals, the wife of the clinic owner held the girls’ hands “in order to comfort them.”

Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, 53, and his wife, Farida Attar, 50, both of Livonia, were arrested Friday morning at the Burhani Medical Clinic, where the alleged cuttings took place.

They’re charged with conspiring to perform genital mutilation on minor girls by letting a doctor use their clinic to perform the procedure. Prosecutors say two Minnesota girls had their genitals mutilated in February by Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who was charged last week in what is the nation’s first federal prosecution of genital cutting. She was arrested April 12 and ordered jailed pending the outcome of her case involving the two Minnesota girls, though the FBI believes she has several more victims.

All three defendants (Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who did the cutting was arrested earlier) are part of a small, Indian-Muslim community known as the Dawoodi Bohra, which was at the center of an Australian genital cutting prosecution that sent three people to prison in 2015.