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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 5    Issue 1   16-31 May 2010

Professor A. R. Momin

Fatwa Against Terror

The horrendous acts of violence and wanton killing by a small group of fanatics and militants on the fringes of Muslims societies have evidently widened the gulf between Muslims and the rest of the world. The terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid, London, Mumbai and other cities have reinforced the negative perception of Muslims and have increased the mistrust between Muslims and the wider society in Europe and the US. Suicide attacks carried out by misguided youths in many parts of the world, in which innocent civilians, including women and children are killed, have heightened the atmosphere of fear and insecurity around the world.

The Al Azhar University in Cairo and Darul Uloom Deoband in India as well as many prominent scholars and institutions of Islamic learning around the world have condemned reckless violence and terrorism—which are ostensibly legitimated in the name of jihad--in unequivocal terms.

In 2007 one of Osama Bin Laden’s most prominent mentors, Salman al-Awdah, wrote an open letter criticizing him for “fostering a culture of suicide bombings that has caused bloodshed and suffering and brought ruin to entire Muslim communities and families”. Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, one of al-Qaeda’s founders, who had described the 9/11 attacks on the US as “a catastrophe for Muslims,” said in 2007, “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property”.

A leading Pakistani-born Muslim scholar, Dr Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, who is at present based in Canada, issued a fatwa on March 2, 2010, backed by extensive references to Islamic legal principles and precedents and judicial pronouncements, denouncing terrorists as the enemies of Islam. Dr Qadri, the founder of an influential religious and educational organization and a socio-religious movement called Minhajul Quran, said in his 600-page edict that suicide bombers were destined for hell. “There is no room for any martyrdom and their act (of terrorism) is never, ever to be considered jihad,” he said. Dr Qadri emphasized that Islam is a religion of peace that promotes beauty, betterment, goodness and “negates all form of mischief and strife”. “Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence, and it has no place in Islamic teachings and no justification or excuse on its behalf can be acceptable,” he said. Dr Qadri emphatically pointed out that attacks against innocent citizens are “absolutely against the teachings of Islam” and that Islam does not permit such acts under any excuse, pretext or reason.

Belgium Bans the Burqa

The face-covering veil, known as burqa, has of late become a highly controversial issue in many European countries. On 29 April 2010, Belgium’s lower house of parliament approved a ban on face-covering veils worn by Muslim women. An overwhelming majority of members—136 deputies cutting across party lines—voted in favour of the ban, with just two abstentions and no vote against the move. The bill is required to be finally ratified by the Belgian Senate. If the legislation is approved by the Senate, Belgium would become the first European country to ban the face-covering burqa. A final verdict on the controversial issue may be delayed until after early national elections, which are likely to be held in June this year. Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s government collapsed on April 22 over a long-standing and intractable language dispute between the Flemish-speaking and French-speaking parties.

The veil controversy in Belgium has been simmering for quite some time. In 2004 the government imposed a ban on the wearing of face-covering veils and headscarves in public schools, which led to large-scale protests by Muslim women across the country.

According to the newly-passed legislation, the wearing of face-covering burqa or niqab in public places, parks and sports grounds is prohibited, and the violation of the ban could invite a fine of €15-25 and imprisonment up to seven days. “Wearing the burqa in public is not compatible with an open, liberal, tolerant society,” said Daniel Bacquelaine, a member of a centre-right party who proposed the bill.

An estimated 500,000 Muslims live in Belgium, comprising about 3% of the country’s population. The Belgian Muslim Council says less than 50 Muslim women in the country wear the face-covering veil. In other words, the face-covering veil is a non-issue in Belgium as well as in countries like France, the Netherlands and Italy where the move to ban the veil in public places is gathering momentum.

Amnesty International has strongly criticized the ban, saying it is violative of international law, human rights conventions and rights of freedom of expression and religion. The ban could be challenged before the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights. Isabelle Praile, vice-president of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, warned that the ban could set a dangerous precedent. She argued that the wearing of the face-covering veil was part of “individual freedoms” guaranteed by the Belgian constitution, European laws and international human rights conventions. The ban has also been criticized by the Catholic church in Belgium. Bishop Guy Harpigny asked if the state had the right to “regulate the symbols of personal beliefs”.

Following the French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s assertion last year that the face-covering veil was not welcome in the country, the government is drafting a bill that would make it illegal for women to wear the face-covering burqa in public places. Under the new law, husbands whose wives are caught wearing the veil will face fines of €13,000 and up to a year in jail. Women will face a fine of around €130. The law will also apply to tourists. The vote on the issue is expected in July.

A partial ban on face-covering veils in France is already in place. Last year, a Muslim woman was stopped from wearing a ‘burqini’ swimming costume at a public swimming pool. Last month, a woman who was wearing a burqa while driving in Paris was stopped and asked to pay a fine.

In Novara, north-western Italy, a Tunisian-born Muslim woman, Amel Marmouri, visiting a post office was stopped by the police for wearing the face-covering veil on 4 May 2010. The woman was fined €500, payable within 90 days. Novara, which is run by the far-right, anti-immigrant Northern League party, a coalition partner in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government, passed a by-law in January this year banning the wearing of clothing that prevents immediate identification in public places, in schools, on buses and in post offices. The Northern League has campaigned against the building of mosques in northern Italy.

Growing Popularity of Halal Food in France

In recent years there has come about a greater awareness and concern for halal food among Muslims living in Western countries. The easy availability of halal food products in most cities, the entry of global food companies in the halal food business, global tourism and international halal food festivals in Malaysia and Dubai have made halal food a conspicuous feature of Muslim culture in large parts of the world. According to the Malaysia-based World Halal Forum, halal food accounts for nearly 17 per cent of the global food market and is one of the fastest-growing segments of the food market. The current global market for halal food is estimated at over $600 billion annually. Sales of halal food are expected to reach $641 billion in 2010, up from $587 billion in 2004. In Europe, sales of halal food products are expected to reach $67 billion in 2010. About three million tonnes of halal meat are consumed annually in Europe.

The growing worldwide demand for halal food has prompted global food giants like McDonald’s as well as supermarket chains in Europe and North America to enter the halal food segment. The British supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury’s have separate shelves for halal food products. British pharmacy retailer Boots sells halal baby food. Nestle earns more from halal products than it does from organic food. Rotterdam Port, one of the world’s largest ports, has built a huge warehouse of halal products and is set to become “the halal gateway to Europe”.

Halal food products, including alcohol-free bubbly, goose liver pate, pork-free sausages, turkey bacon, halal duck and alcohol-free champagne, are becoming increasingly popular among France’s middle class and prosperous Muslims. Halal foie grass, first introduced in supermarket chains across the country two years ago, has become enormously popular among French Muslims.

The demand for halal food products has been increasing at an estimated annual rate of 15 per cent. Food giants such as the supermarket group Casino are cashing in on the growing popularity of halal food products among France’s 5 million-plus Muslims. The fast food chain Quick has a number of halal burger bars. Yanis Bourabi, a former IT specialist, has started a website, paris-halal.com, which lists more than 400 restaurants in Paris and its suburbs that serve halal food.

Halal food products do not taste any different from the normal food products. In fact, halal food restaurants have many French customers who do not even know they are eating halal food. “To us, that is what integration is about,” says Sosiane who worked in the property market before setting up a halal restaurant Les Enfants Terribles three years ago.

Bangladesh: The Flipside of Development

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated and poorest countries in the world. Almost half of the country’s 162.2 million people live on less than $1 a day. The country has been dogged by devastating floods that recur every year with greater intensity, deforestation, soil erosion, the widespread inundation of low-lying lands caused by rising sea levels, extreme overcrowding, poverty and destitution, disease and malnutrition.

In the 1970s, Bangladesh was faced with an acute problem of contaminated water, which caused diarrhea and led to the death of nearly 250,000 children a year. International agencies such as the United Nations and the World Bank sought to combat this problem by digging hundreds of thousands of tube wells. It was believed that tube wells would provide safe water for families. Although necessary checks were carried out by the agencies for contaminants in the tube wells, they were not tested for arsenic.

In the early 1990s it was found that up to half of 10 million tube wells were contaminated with arsenic. The World Health Organisation took a serious note of the potentially calamitous consequences of arsenic-contaminated water and called it “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history”. It warned that the scale of the environmental disaster was greater than any seen before, that it was beyond the accidents in Bhopal in 1984 and in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986.

Subsequent studies warned that, ultimately, one person in 10 who drinks water from the arsenical wells would die from lung, bladder or skin cancer. By 2004, some 3,000 persons were dying each year from arsenic-related cancers. Since the 1990s, organizations such as Unicef have turned to developing alternative sources of water, such as collecting rain water and filtering surface water. Consequently, the percentage of families exposed to contaminated water has dropped. However, about 13 per cent of the population in the country—some 20 million people—are still using contaminated water. Children are particularly vulnerable to arsenic-related health risks, especially skin lesions.

The lesson one may draw from this experience is that even well-meaning development projects may have unanticipated, potentially disastrous consequences and that the receiving country, international agencies, civil society and the media need to keep a watchful eye over such projects and to continuously monitor their progress and repercussions.

Impact of Climate Change on the Nile Delta

The Arab Human Development Report 2009 pointed out that the Arab countries are faced with growing challenges that emanate from the environmental crisis, especially from dwindling natural resources, population pressures, water shortages, growing desertification and atmospheric pollution. Though Arab countries are among those that are the least responsible for global climate change, some Arab countries, particularly Egypt, Lebanon and Sudan, are likely to be the most affected by climate change. An increase in the earth’s temperature by three or four degrees would raise the sea level by approximately one metre, resulting in the flooding of 4,500 square kilometers of agricultural land in the Nile Delta, causing more than $35 billion in economic losses and giving rise to 6 million climate refugees in Egypt.

Most of Egypt’s 80 million people are crammed into the fertile Nile Delta. Now the Nile Delta, which has been known as Egypt’s bread basket for millennia, is faced with a deep environmental crisis. As the sea on the Egyptian coastline has risen by 20cm during the past century, salt water has seeped into the Delta soil and has nearly destroyed the farming lands. In 2009, Egypt’s environment minister, George Maged, told a parliamentary committee: “Many of the towns…..in the north of the Delta will suffer from the rise in the level of the Mediterranean with effect from 2020, and about 15% of the Delta land is currently under threat from the rising sea level and the seepage of salt water into ground water”. Many experts predict that the sea level on Egypt’s coastline will rise by almost one metre by the end of this century, which will pose a serious threat to the city of Alexandria and the millions of people who inhabit it.

Child Brides in the Arab World

The Arab Human Development Report 2009 pointed out that, by and large, Arab women continue to remain victims of institutionalized discrimination, social subordination, violence and deeply entrenched male domination. Several horrifying practices such as female genital mutilations and child marriages are still rampant in many Arab countries.

Several studies indicate that early marriages and teenage pregnancies pose a serious threat to the health of mothers and new-born babies. Furthermore, early marriages often result in divorce, family breakdown and poor child rearing. Arab countries have yet to adopt laws prohibiting child marriage before the age of 18. Although child marriages are on the decline in many Arab countries, the practice is still widespread. Based on the available data in the period 1987-2006, Unicef estimates that the proportions of women aged 20-24 that were married by the age of 18 were 45 per cent in Somalia, 37 per cent in Yemen and Mauritania, 30 per cent in Comoros and 27 per cent in Sudan. It is estimated that nearly 60 per cent of cases of child marriage result in divorce.

Yemen is among the poorest countries in the Arab world. It is ranked 134 out of 134 countries in the World Economic Forum’s global gender gap index. The index assesses countries on how well they are dividing their resources and opportunities among the male and female sections of the population. One of the serious problems faced by Yemeni society is child marriage, which is reinforced by poverty, ignorance and traditional beliefs. Though Yemen has a law which stipulates that a girl cannot be married before the age of 15, the law is often flouted, particularly in the rural areas.

Saudi Arabia has no minimum legal age for marriage and it is common, especially in the poorer, tribal areas to get girls married off before they reach puberty. The absence of a minimum age for marriage for girls in Saudi Arabia has led to legal complications and injustice. In April 2009 a Saudi judge refused to annul a marriage between an 8-year-old girl and a man in his late forties, saying that she could not seek divorce until she reached puberty.

Winds of change have begun to blow across some parts of the Arab world. Nujood Ali, a 10-year-old Yemeni girl, was married to a deliveryman in his 30s. After marriage, her husband forced her to discontinue her studies and began beating her, often at the instigation of her in-laws. Unable to bear the torture, she sneaked away one day and took a taxi to reach a court. She narrated her story to the judge and told him that she wanted a divorce. She eventually won her case and returned to her school and to her family. She has recounted her horrifying experiences in an autobiography “I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced,” published in the US in March 2010.

A 12-year-old girl in Saudi Arabia has recently won a divorce from her 80-year-old husband. She was married against her and her mother’s wishes to her father’s elderly cousin in 2009. The groom had paid a dowry of 85,000 Saudi riyals (£14,500) to the girl’s father.

The girl’s case was defended by the state-run Human Rights Commission, which has recommended a legal minimum age of at least 16 for the marriage of girls. Shaykh Abdullah al-Manie, a senior Saudi scholar, spoke out in defence of the girl. The Saudi government has instituted three expert committees consisting of medical experts, child psychologists, social workers and the ulama to examine the possibility of a ban on child marriages. Based on the recommendations of these committees, the Human Rights Commission and the Minstry of Justice will issue guidelines and prescribe a minimum age for marriage.

Surgical Restoration of Virginity

Since ancient times, the vaginal membrane has been regarded as a crucial marker of virginity. In Muslim societies as well as in other traditional cultures, the dilation of the hymen of an unmarried woman is perceived as a proof of having indulged in premarital or illicit sex.

As a result of large-scale migrations, modernity and globalization and living in a cultural environment that is suffused with sexual freedom and permissiveness, some Muslim women in Western societies fall a prey to the lure of premarital sex. The violation of this deeply ingrained religious and social taboo is often accompanied by feelings of remorse, guilt and anxiety, particularly in respect of prospects for marriage.

Now modern medical technology has come to the rescue of women who have had their hymen ruptured as a result of premarital sex. Young Muslim women in France and other European countries are increasingly turning to hymenoplasty or hymen restoration surgery. Hymenoplasty is a surgical procedure designed to restore and reconstruct a ruptured hymen. The tearing of the hymen—named after Hymen, the Greek god of marriage—is typically caused by a woman’s first experience of sexual intercourse. However, in rare cases, the hymen may accidentally rupture during sports like cycling, horseback riding or gymnastics.

Hymen restoration surgery pulls the tissue back together to restore a “virgin-like” condition. The surgery takes about 30 minutes under local anaesthesia and costs between 1500 and 3000 euros. The demand for hymenoplasty in France, especially among young women of North African origin, has been rising for the past three or four years. Some of the patients are reported to have said that most women who undergo hymen restoration surgery do so out of respect for their culture and family traditions.

Dr Marc Abecassis in Paris performs a hymenoplasty at least two or three times a week. He says that the average age of the women who come to his clinic for the procedure is about 25 and that they come from different social backgrounds. Some of the women take a virginity certificate from him in order to ensure that their marriage is trouble-free.

The increasing demand for hymen restoration surgery is not confined to Muslim women alone. It is becoming increasingly popular in Latin America as well as in Britain and the US, especially among women from conservative Christian families where virginity is highly valued. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons says that vaginal surgery, including hymenoplasty, is one of the industry’s fastest-growing segments. In the US, some women are going for hymen restoration surgery for cosmetic and libidinous purposes. Gynaecologists in many American cities are marketing hymen restoration surgery in magazines, local newspapers and online.

The issue of the permissibility of hymenoplasty from the perspective of Islamic Shariah was discussed for the first time at a meeting of the Islamic Organization of Medical Sciences in Kuwait in 1987. At this meeting, an Egyptian medical doctor, Kamal Fahmi, made a presentation in which he described several medical situations in which doctors might be asked to perform a hymenoplasty operation. Theo other presentations were made by Muhammad Naim Yasin, dean of the Shariah Faculty at the University of Kuwait, and Izz al-Din Tamimi, the Mufti of Jordan. While Yasin argued in favour of the permissibility of hymenoplasty, Tamimi argued against it. Both, however, recognized that hymen dilation could be caused by factors other than illicit sexual intercourse.

Tamimi opined that hymen reconstruction amounts to a potential fraud against the future husband of the woman. He argued that according legitimacy to hymen restoration surgery would result in the dilution of societal sanctions against premarital sex, which in turn would encourage waywardness. He concluded by saying that though hymenoplasty is not without certain benefits, its negative consequences and implications far outweigh these benefits. Therefore, in his opinion, hymen restoration surgery is not permissible.

Yasin, on the other hand, pointed out that the Islamic Shariah accepts only two kinds of proof in respect of illicit sex: confession by the accused, or the testimony of four eye-witnesses. The Shariah prescribes harsh punishments for false accusations of illegitimate sex. He argued that to conclude from a dilated hymen that a woman has indulged in illicit sex is against the regulations and spirit of the Shariah. He dwelt at some length on the positive and negative consequences of hymen reconstruction surgery in different situations and suggested that it may be permissible in cases where the woman did not indulge in illicit sex or had erred just once.

Yasin’s paper was severely criticized at the meeting. The final recommendation issued at the end of the meeting stated that any alteration of the human body aiming at deceit should be forbidden.

This broad recommendation is undoubtedly in keeping with the principles and guidelines laid down by the Islamic Shariah. However, the Shariah also admits of exceptions to the general rule in extraordinary situations. One frequently hears of physical violence and rape against innocent girls and women, which not only causes unspeakable agony and distress to the victims but also puts their marriage prospects in jeopardy. During the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s, tens of thousands of innocent Muslim women were brutally raped by the Serbs. Documents submitted by the wartime Bosnian government in 1993 put the number of rape victims at 20,000 to 50,000. A committee of the European Union estimated the number of rape victims in Bosnia at 20,000.

Sexual violence, including the rape of adolescent girls, has assumed epidemic proportions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nearly 27,000 cases of rape were reported in 2008 in a single province of the country. Nearly 70 per cent of the women of one town were sexually assaulted and raped. According to the United Nations estimates, nearly 200,000 women and girls have been raped in Congo since 1998. When war broke out with Rwanda and Uganda, rape became a weapon of war. The majority of those who are raped are adolescent girls, and most of the perpetrators are militia fighters and government troops. South Africa has one of the highest incidences of child rape in the world.

Is it permissible to make an allowance for hymen restoration surgery, as an exceptional case, for victims of physical violence and rape, or in the case of an accident involving injury or rupture of the hymen?

Popularity of Turkish Kebab in Germany

The number of Muslims living in Germany is estimated to be around 4 million, the second largest Muslim population in Europe after France. Muslims in Germany have made a significant contribution to the country’s economy and culture. One of the most popular fast food items in Germany (as well as in Austria) is the doner kebab, first introduced by Turkish immigrants in Berlin in the early 1970s. Doner kebab is a lamb dish cooked on a vertical pit, which is then sliced off and served with a salad consisting of chopped letuce, cabbage, onions, cucumber and tomatoes.

There are nearly 15,500 doner kebab businesses across the country. The doner kebab business in Germany is worth about €2.5 billion annually. It is estimated that there are over one thousand more doner kebab stands in Berlin than in Istanbul. Every day, more than 400 tonnes of doner kebab meat is produced in Germany. In most German cities, doner kebabs are more popular than hamburgers and sausages.

The first ever doner kebab trade fair was held in Berlin in March 2010. The highlight of the fair was the world’s first doner kebab robot.

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