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I was branded an ex-Muslim for speaking out against human rights abuses against women

Last Sunday I was invited onto the BBC Big Questions, a show that debates moral, ethics and religion with Nicky Campbell as the host.

I spoke about the struggles that some Muslim women face when they are trying to seek Islamic divorces, with some being left in limbo while their estranged husbands remarry and have children with other women. Two of the invited speakers, Salma Yaqoob and Abdullah Andalusi, disagreed with me, claiming that Islam gave women the right to leave an abusive or unhappy marriage without question as opposed to the Christian or Jewish faith. Yes, Islam does allow a woman to leave a marriage if she is not happy but the sad reality is that it is very difficult in practice to leave an abusive marriage, with women having to go to Sharia councils, pay a lot of money, produce statements from family members (who often refuse to get involved) and then try to rebuild their lives with a ‘divorcee’ label hanging over their heads for the rest of their lives.

I was later branded an ‘ex-Muslim’ by Abdullah Andalusi in his blog and on social media, leaving me with no option but to threaten legal action against him. Mr Andalusi has advocated for the death penalty against apostates in the past. He has now withdrawn the libel and apologised, and I have accepted his apology and retraction.

The fact remains that as a Muslim woman who has spent over a decade helping other women escape abusive, controlling marriages, it was wrong for a man who has never met me, who called me a liar on national TV, who complained that I was abusive to him because I shouted at him, to then brand me an apostate. Everyone knows what happens to those deemed outside the fold of Islam. We don’t need to look further than the many brutal videos posted online by Islamic State or the amazing documentary by Deeyah Khan, that ex Muslims face certain death or a lifetime of looking over their shoulders.

I don’t wish to prolong this sorry saga, but I will add that when we see unacceptable practices happening, it is incumbent on us to stand up and speak out regardless of our religious backgrounds. And we should do so without others branding us ex Muslims.

I have not criticised or belittled my religion, I was pointing out the ways in which some people use religion to justify injustice or wrong doing. Some people may not like that, but as a Muslim, I know I have to answer to Allah and Allah alone. I do not claim to be perfect and I know I have made some very serious mistakes for which I can only pray to Allah for His forgiveness but no one has the right to silence me or to take away my faith. Islam is a wonderful, forgiving religion that recognised women right’s 1400 years ago when they were treated worse than second class citizens. Unfortunately, many of the rights given to women have been reinterpreted over the centuries via male dominated and misogynistic lens. One example if this is are the guardianship laws, as we have seen with the recent case involving Rahaf Mohammed.

I will continue to fight against human rights abuses and to speak out, and I want to do so without a great big target drawn on my back or the backs of my family.

 

 

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Why The 2019 Women’s March Organisers Want You To Bring Flowers

PHOTO: DAN KITWOOD/GETTY IMAGES
It’s nearly two years since thousands of people in London (and across the UK) joined the international feminist movement on the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency; and nearly a year since 2018’s equally impassioned follow-up rally. This month, in what seems to be coming an annual tradition, there will be another demo in the capital, but the focus is slightly different.
The Bread and Roses women’s rally on Saturday 19th January, organised by Women’s March London, will see demonstrators march against austerity in the UK and share their support with the hashtag #WeAreChange. The route and specific timings will be announced in due course, the organisers told Refinery29.
“The latest wave of marches are different because we are now moving away from a reactionary position to one of consolidation,” Aisha Ali-Khan, a co-organiser for Women’s March London, told Refinery29. “We want to outlive the Trump years because we all have so much more to offer than merely being a voice against the regressive and aggressive policies currently being pursued by the White House in the USA.”
With the Bread and Roses demo, Women’s March London activists are “setting out [their] position and stall as a movement independent of a reaction to Trump”. Ali-Khan continued: “We are now rooted more than ever to our British and London communities of activists.”

Why ‘bread and roses’?

The rally takes its name from the 1912 Bread and Roses protests in the US, otherwise known as the Lawrence textile strike, which saw women textile workers protest against a pay cut and helped to bolster women’s rights at work. The phrase was used in a speech by the US activist Rose Schneiderman, a suffragist and influential labour union leader, who said: “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” Meaning women should be entitled to both wages (“bread”) and dignified living and working conditions (“roses”). The phrase gained traction as a political slogan among western feminists in the early 1900s.

What’s the aim?

The London rally takes aim at the UK government’s austerity programme of cuts to the welfare state and public services. It’s appropriate timing, what with the Brexit deadline looming on the 29th March (the Equality and Human Rights Commission has warned that women risk losing equality and human rights protections when the UK leaves the EU); and the UN recently rulingthat the government’s “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies were politically-motivated and had inflicted “great misery” on the population.
“[Austerity] is the common denominator in the rise of economic oppression, violence against women, gender pay gap, racism, fascism, institutional sexual harassment, hostile environment and Brexit,” say the rally organisers, with marginalised groups feel the brunt of the impact. (Indeed, countless reports and pieces of research have confirmed that it’s women from poor black and Asian households who have lost – and continue to lose – the most because of austerity.)
“With the imminence of Brexit, we want austerity to end and are demanding specific assurances from the UK government. It is time to eliminate the dividing line between the ‘Haves’ and ‘Have Nots’. Equality demands that we all get to thrive and not just survive. We demand Prosperity not Austerity.”

Why ‘#WeAreChange’?

The organisers believe we each have the power to instigate change, Ali-Khan said. “We can either continue to live isolated, fragmented lives or we can come together for the greater good. We are in the current uncertain predicament because of institutions not willing to listen to the concerns of the person on the street. This has to change.” #WeAreChange will be “a rallying cry towards unity and solidarity, and to stand against the constant use of ‘othering’ minority groups to gain political points.”

Get involved

With young women potentially at risk of having our hard-won rights threatened by Brexit, it’s imperative we show our support for the cause on the 19th January – and pop to the local florist on our way there. “We’re asking those who attend to bring roses and flowers to symbolise, love, harmony and fresh beginnings,” Ali-Khan said.
Other similar events will take place globally on the same day, and while details about UK-based demos are scarce at the moment, we’ll update this page when we hear more.
For more information about the march, visit the event’s website and Facebook page.
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Black, Muslim and Single – The Trifecta of Sorrow

By Rabi’a Keeble

 

When I converted I had no idea that life for me would be significantly “different” than the life of my Arab, S. Asian and White sisters.  For the most part I was extremely happy in my new incarnation as a Muslim.  My friends and family said they saw a change in me that was positive, that pleased me, that told me that I had indeed made the right decision.  The transition was slow of course.  There was a lot to learn.  It encompassed not only diet, but dress, head coverings, learning prayers in a new language, the list never ended.   There were things I could do, and things that I could not.  I learned a new word, “Haram.”  I enjoyed the teaching from the Imam, and the Shaykh.  I enjoyed gathering with the “brothers and sisters” around food, and holidays. It encouraged me to see that my new “family” was so diverse surpassing the black white diversity in most American worship centers, I met for the first time S. Asians from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  I met African brothers and sisters from Somalia, Nigeria, and Senegal.  I met S. East Asians from Malaysia and Indonesia.  I also saw how many American Black people had swelled the numbers of Muslims.  In time I felt like I belonged a bit more, my ease with what I was supposed to do and not do grew.  

 

My personal life changed.  I took down photographs in my home of my mom, father and other people.  A sister told me no photos were allowed.  I tried to make sure that I ate only halal meats, but I lived far from any halal butcher shops, my diet slowly began to resemble more of a vegetarian one out of necessity.  After awhile, some years, I began to think of marriage.  I lived alone and basically from what I saw a Muslim was not complete until they married.  At least it seemed so for most everyone else.  I noticed something almost right away that the black sisters were not being matched off with anyone, that many of them lingered and in fact grew bitter as they were overlooked for marriage.  Pakistani married Pakistani, Bangladeshi married Bangladeshi, Arab usually married Arab, but as the Imam told me sadly one day when I ventured to ask about possible marriage; “No one is asking to marry Black women, they ask for Arabs, or anything else, I don’t think I will be able to find a husband for you.” I felt at that moment as if I had fallen into a well where there was no rescue and no way out.  So what did that mean for me? That I would grow old alone? That my almost perfect experience in Islam had now come to a complete standstill because of this idea of race, and nationality? I had been told in Islam there was no race, everyone was the same.  Grudgingly I now felt that I had been lied to, that something was not quite right.

 

But it proved to be true enough.  Black men always showed up at the mosque on Fridays with Asian women, white women, anyone besides a Black woman.  I found to my dismay that there was this fiction, this lie being told in male circles that Black American women were somehow tainted or flawed beyond Islam’s ability to fix.  If someone mentioned matching with a Black American the man would act as if he had been slapped.

 

The few who did stray from this racist ideology would ask the most asinine questions: Do you have any hair? One Syrian asked me.  “Yes, I have hair” he then said, “Well how long is it?” I was stymied, what line of questioning was this and how was it important at all? I never heard from him again, perhaps he didn’t believe I had hair at all, who cared? A man that shallow needed a nanny not a wife.  Once a Jordanian man who I knew was interested in me, was so obvious in his desires the sisters who sat around me in the mosque would tease me about him. Problem was he was married, the other problem was he left nothing to the imagination that he desired me and that was embarrassing.  One day his wife who was not Muslim came to the mosque crying and causing a scene as he had told her he was going to marry someone else, a second wife, and she fell apart.  It turns out, he was talking about me, without talking to me about his intentions directly.  

 

Many of the Black women around me in the mosque environment were unhappy, some bitter when their lifelong spouses opted to leave them for younger women, because Islam allowed this.  Some never overcame their pain and the feeling of rejection.  To say that the completion of the “deen” for black woman was a challenge was an understatement.  Once when a Turkish brother showed obvious interest in me, the other side of the environment of women became obvious, jealousy.  The few single white skinned sisters felt they should have him, not me, and sabotaged the enter situation with lies: Saying things like: I had several batches of kids with several baby daddy’s.  Why he never asked me about the truth of it, I will never know,  this told me that there was a real problem with him and that I dodged a bullet.   I finally married a Persian man from Iran.  Old fashioned, strict in his Islam, but not so strict in his morals.  I caught him cheating on me with a woman who was not Muslim and who had several kids out of wedlock.  I guess I will never know why he did that.  

 

Years later and much disappointment I felt tired, I felt Muslim men in general were spoiled, lacked maturity and needed help growing up.  They were full of demands but brought little to the table except entitlement.  They did the choosing, they demanded virgins when they weren’t, they demanded youth even when they were grey headed and needed double viagra shots, they demanded never married women when they themselves had many marriages.  I was fed up.  I told my friends all the time my desire was to have a wonderful Muslim husband, no matter the race, or the nationality.  A good Muslim man was all I sought.  I got older, and none came forward.  I was always a dancer.  It was my anti-depressant, it was my therapy.  When I wasn’t dancing I gained weight because I ate and slept too much.  The heart wants what the heart wants.  I insisted upon celibacy even when I felt it was a useless exercise, that I should instead be sowing wild oats like there was no tomorrow, at least a kiss.  Hadn’t I lost several friends even recently? Time was not our friend.  I went dancing every Sunday to just be out, to be around people, and to exercise.  I took dancing classes.  I’d take my class and go home.  I never really met anyone in all the years I went out.  I arrived late that particular Sunday.  The class was so crowded that I thought I’d have to leave, but I looked at all the faces of the men, and saw him.  He was clearly middle aged, his hair a mix of black and grey.  He had a kind face.  He seemed uncomfortable as if he didn’t fit.  I thought he was middle eastern.  There was a few Sundays when a series of Turkish men came through, and some Azeri’s, all eager to dance, and show off, but none willing to do much more.  I walked to where this man was standing and asked if I could squeeze in.  He said sure.  We dance in a circle, inside and outside, each man dances once with each woman.  I never danced with him.  I could tell there was a powerful chemistry between us, it seemed like a magnet pulling me towards him, he towards me.  When the class was over, I packed my things to leave, but something told me, dance with him.  I walked over and said, “Would you like to dance?” He smiled.  We danced that night and haven’t stopped dancing yet. We have been dating for four months, we are in love.  It feels right.  It feels like he’s the one.  He is not Muslim.  I am almost glad of that.  He has no “issues” with those parts of me that no longer are in line with what Muslim men want.  He has no issue with my age, my color, my hair, my nationality.  He told me, “I have always like brown skinned Black women.” He himself is not even so olive as Arabs but tending towards a pinker hued Latin color.  His eyes are hazel, a odd if not haunting mix of “colors.”  I find him incredibly handsome, and yes sexy.  I told him I was celibate, and he had no problem with that at all.  I had the luxury of not being pressured by him into sex, we had the time to know one another and relax, and laugh and dance.  It was only recently we began to say “I love you” and that feels so powerful.  I am not worried about marriage at all, in fact if he never asks, I am fine with that.  I would prefer it, but I am not tethered any longer to this idea that my entire worth as a human being is around whether or not I am so called marriageable or marriage material, but rather of my inner existence and desire to be a good person.  He has seen in hijab and without, he likes both believe it or not.  When  he see’s me in hijab his face softens, and he looks at me differently.  I feel safe, and I feel loved.  He does not walk ahead of me, but beside me and searches for my hand before I seek his.  I look forward to his melodic Spanish, and his tender ways.  Yes, there are those who’d say I broke the rules, but I guess I don’t care, I know the God I serve and love wants me happy.  I am happy.  

 

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Mary Robinson statement fails to address concerns from human rights activists after meeting Princess Latifa

Mary Robinson, former United Nations high commissioner for human rights and Irish president, refuses to answer questions from concerned activists following her meeting with missing Dubai Princess Sheikha Latifa on 15 Dec 2018

Mary Robinson, former United Nations high commissioner for human rights and Irish president, refuses to answer questions from concerned activists following her meeting with missing Dubai Princess Sheikha Latifa on 15 Dec 2018

Letter for the immediate attention of Ms Mary Robinson,

Dear Ms Robinson,

I write to you in light of the recent photo released by the Dubai ruling family showing the missing Dubai princess, Sheikha Latifa, sitting next to you. This meeting between the both of you is alleged to have taken place on 15th December 2018.

While women’s rights activists & campaigners who have been fighting to discover the fate and whereabouts of the Princess since her disappearance some nine months ago are delighted to see the Princess looking well and alive, we are still understandably concerned about the veracity of the photos as well as her current location and well being. This information has not been forthcoming, either from yourself or from the ruling family itself.

I now ask you, on behalf of the many that are still concerned about Sheikha Latifa’s current situation and location, to address the following questions:

1 Did a meeting take place between you and the Princess on 15th December 2018?

2 If so, where did this meeting take place, who else was present and who set this meeting up?

3 Given the international concern surrounding the Princess’ disappearance, why were details of the meeting not released at the time?

4 Why have you or your office not confirmed details of this meeting since the photos were released on 24 December 2018, despite multiple requests to do so?

We would like to have these concerns addressed immediately to stop the ongoing speculation as well as concrete assurances from the Dubai ruling family, government and other relevant authorities that Princess Latifa is alive, well and free to leave whichever location she is currently being kept in.

Kind regards

Aisha Ali-Khan (Co-organisor for Women’s March London)

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Mary Robinson declares Princess Latifa “troubled” and “receiving psychiatric care” in latest PR stunt by UAE ruling family.

Yesterday I wrote a letter to Mary Robinson asking her to clarify details of the meeting that allegedly took place between her and the missing Dubai princess Sheikha Latifa.

This morning, Robinson appeared on BBC Radio 4, primarily to discuss her work regarding climate change, but was forced to answer questions regarding the missing princess by presenter Mishal Husain. The full transcript of the interview can be found here:

So what do we know about the meeting thus far?

  • The ‘meeting’ between Robinson and Princess Latifa was arranged by HRH Princess Haya, who is married to Princess Latifa’s father, the current ruler of Dubai, Maktoum bin Mohammed Al Maktoum.
  • There were at least five other people present, including Princess Haya and two 11 year olds.
  • The photos were released to the current UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, who then released them to Sky News.
  • The Princess is receiving medical and psychiatric care.
  • Robinson was in Dubai to promote a book she had recently authored on climate change, and the BBC interview was originally booked to discuss the book.

According to Robinson, Princess Latifa is “vulnerable, troubled, needs medical and psychiatric care” and now “regrets” making a video in which she claimed she was being tortured and held against her will. Indeed, the word ‘troubled’ was used four times by Robinson to describe Princess Latifa in a 3.45 minute segment of the interview. Robinson then accuses the Princess of trying to extort $300 million from her family, with a demand of $30 million upfront (this figure has fluctuated from $100 to $3 million depending on which news report/ piece of UAE propaganda you read) The “demand note” was alleged by Robinson to have been made in the middle of Latifa’s escape.

I simply do not accept this version of events. If Latifa was truly regretful then she could very well come forward and tell the world herself, while assuring us she is safe and for us not to be concerned. Instead, Robinson has been used as a mouthpiece for Latifa by her father and her step mother Princess Haya, who Robinson openly declares she is friends with at the beginning of her interview. She is neither impartial nor does it seem that she is concerned with the actual well being of the Princess.

Robinson goes on to name at least three other people with whom she has had contact regarding Latifa’s current well-being, these being Kenneth Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, the most recent UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Michele Bachelet, the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

There is no doubt that Robinson is a well respected campaigner with a solid background in human rights campaigning but why was she chosen to meet with Latifa seeing as she had held the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002, and why did she then contact both the current Commissioner and the most recent one? Why couldn’t Latifa and her family contact these individuals directly themselves? This makes no sense whatsoever, if not to whitewash the actions of the UAE ruling family. What have they got to hide?

Yes, Robinson refused to attend Dubai Literature Festival when details of British academic Mathew Hedges incarceration came to light but she is now back in Dubai promoting her latest book and making plans to return in early March 2019.

By using someone like Robinson, Latifa’s family have tried to add further legitimacy to their claims that they are looking after her wellbeing. But the world is no longer naive or gullible. We can see right through their cynical attempts to manipulate international opinion in favour of the Sheikh and his family.

In the interest of transparency and justice, I now call on Bachelet, bin Ra’ad and Roth to release the details of their communications with Robinson.

It seems clear to me that Robinson has been used as a willing pawn in the PR battle between the UAE ruling family and the rest of the world who have expressed concern and outrage over the ongoing treatment of the royal princess. This is not how civilised people behave; locking up and torturing any family members who dared to speak out.

The timing of the release of the photos was itself suspicious; a day before Christmas when many people were going to be busy with seasonal festivities and spending time with their loved ones. This stunt further shows the lengths that the ruling family are willing to go to ‘reassure’ the West that the UAE is a safe place to visit and conduct business with; it clearly isn’t.

On a final note, I wish to add that I hold no personal grudge against Dubai or the UAE. I speak out because of the appalling human rights abuses that the UAE authorities are carrying out against Emiratis and foreigners on a daily basis.

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Full Transcript of Mary Robinson interview with BBC re Princess Latifa

Full transcript of the interview between BBC Radio 4 presenter Mishal Husain and Mary Robinson, former UN commissioner for Human Rights this morning:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0001rlz

Mary Robinson: I was asked to Help with a family dilemma, and the dilemma was that Latifa is vulnerable, she’s troubled, she made a video that she now regrets and she tried to escape or what was part of a plan to escape, its erm, under circumstances that we need to erm be examined because immediately there was a very big demand note for 300 million dollars and 30 million right away and then she was taken off the boat and is now in the care of her family and erm I had lunch with her. She’s a very likeable young woman but clearly troubled, clearly needs some medical care that she’s receiving. Erm, we talked about climate actually because I had given a book, a copy of my book, my climate book to Princess Hayat…

Mishal Husain: I just want to ask about what she said in her video that was seen around the world that she was imprisioned for three years and tortured repeatedly on her return. The government of the UAE has said that you were reassured that she’s receiving the necessary care and support she  requires. So do you think you were able to have a frank conversation with her given, you know, given the circumstances in which you met her, where she’s with her family?

MR: I was able to assess the situation. She wasn’t with her wider family, she was with PH and some of PH younger family and erm two other people, it wasn’t erm a big number. I was…

MH: PH is married to the father..

MR: Yes I was very aware of how troubled she appeared to be but also that she er, talked about being a sky instructor, a sky diving instructor, to the two 11 year olds that were at the table and she talked about the er future and we talked about climate change and I mentioned that I will be back in Dubai in early March because my book, I will be promoting it at the Emirates literary festival but I also (MK tried to ask a question but is unable to do so) sent a report that evening before to Michele Bachelet current commissioner of human rights and while I was in Dubai I had a telephone conversation with the most recent high commissioner Zeid (bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein), who is also a good friend, these are good friends of mine..

MH: to those who are concerned about Sheikha Latifa you would say you are assured that she is well looked after?

MR: Yes, I erm, think its a very complicated situation, I erm understand the concern, I talked..

I have also been in email exchange with Ken Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch coz I know they’ve been very concerned but I think you have to bear in mind that this is a troubled young woman who has a serious erm medical situation, she’s receiving psychiatric care and erm they don’t want her to endure any more publicity and that was the dilemma. When I wrote to Michele Bachelet, I sent her the three photographs that I would be happy would be released to help the family to er, allow it to be understood that this a family matter now and that she is in the care of, loving care of her family.

MH: Mary Robinson, that you very much.

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Calls for Mary Robinson to confirm meeting with missing Dubai Princess Sheikha Latifa

Mary Robinson, former United Nations high commissioner for human rights and Irish president, is alleged to have met with missing Dubai Princess Sheikha Latifa on 15 Dec 2018 but further details of the meeting have not been released

Letter for the immediate attention of Ms Mary Robinson,

Dear Ms Robinson,

I write to you in light of the recent photo released by the Dubai ruling family showing the missing Dubai princess, Sheikha Latifa, sitting next to you. This meeting between the both of you is alleged to have taken place on 15th December 2018.

While women’s rights activists & campaigners who have been fighting to discover the fate and whereabouts of the Princess since her disappearance some nine months ago are delighted to see the Princess looking well and alive, we are still understandably concerned about the veracity of the photos as well as her current location and well being. This information has not been forthcoming, either from yourself or from the ruling family itself.

I now ask you, on behalf of the many that are still concerned about Sheikha Latifa’s current situation and location, to address the following questions:

1 Did a meeting take place between you and the Princess on 15th December 2018?

2 If so, where did this meeting take place, who else was present and who set this meeting up?

3 Given the international concern surrounding the Princess’ disappearance, why were details of the meeting not released at the time?

4 Why have you or your office not confirmed details of this meeting since the photos were released on 24 December 2018, despite multiple requests to do so?

We would like to have these concerns addressed immediately to stop the ongoing speculation as well as concrete assurances from the Dubai ruling family, government and other relevant authorities that Princess Latifa is alive, well and free to leave whichever location she is currently being kept in.

Kind regards

Aisha Ali-Khan (Co-organisor for Women’s March London)

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