Pakistan: acid attack victims find beauty – in themselves

**Update: May 6, 2010**
Dear readers,
It has been brought to my attention that the Depilex Smileagain Foundation and its founder, Massarat Misbah, are being investigated for misuse of funds and other charges.
I have been in communication with activists on the ground in Pakistan for many months and am very alarmed by the information I’ve received. Please see a statement from the Italian sponsors of Depilex here.
In any event, and whatever the ultimate verdict is in this case, the stories of acid attack survivors, and the dangers against women and men in Pakistan are very real. I have left the below posting up because women like Irum Saeed and Urooj Akbar must be heard and must be helped.
To learn more about how to help survivors of acid violence, please see this post – where I introduce you to an organization I’ve worked with personally. I encourage you to support their efforts.
Irum Saeed, survivor of an acid attack (photo: MSNBC)

My post on acid attacks in Pakistan was viewed 4,000 times in less than 24 hours. No post of mine has ever gotten that much traffic so quickly. The post quickly skyrocketed to seven thousand and counting. While reactions have been mixed, many of you are taking action. Thank you.

Emails have continued to come in, asking about the welfare of Pakistan’s women. While so many accounts are bleak, I was referred to a story last night that I need to share with you.

Meet Saira Liaqat and Urooj Akbar, who work at a Lahore beauty salon founded by Massarat Misbah. They are acid attack survivors who have found new promise after experiencing the unthinkable.

Massarat Misbah is not an acid attack survivor herself. However, five years ago, she encountered a woman whose face had been maimed in an attack by her husband. The woman needed assistance, and Misbah came to her aide. She also placed an ad in a local newspaper looking for other women who needed help. Misbah learned that several of the women who had been maimed had wanted to work in beauty salons like her own.

Since then, Misbah has founded the Depilex Smileagain Foundation, which employs acid attack survivors to work in beauty salons. She has arranged for ten women take beauty courses in Italy last year. The Foundation also raises money to help women find refuge and obtain medical care.

“I’m independent now, I stand on my own two feet,” she says. “I have a job, I work, I earn. In fact, I’m living on my own … which isn’t an easy thing for a woman to do in Pakistan, for a lone woman to survive.”

– Urooj Akbar

Regular clients of these women are inspired by their resilience, and they also say that they’re more aware of the trials faced by women in their society.

Read the rest of their story here, and learn more about the Depilex Smileagain Foundation here.


PS: I know I owe you some Jumu’ah Dispatches! I’ll get on it as soon as I can. I also received a comment from a reader asking me some really interesting questions about human rights, liberalism, and more. Rather than answer it buried in a comments section of another post, I’ll dedicate an entry to my answer when I’ve got more time on my hands.

Achieving women: Al-Gassra and Maddow

Stu Forster / Getty Images Asia Pacific)
SO cool. (photo: Stu Forster / Getty Images Asia Pacific)

Remember my blog about Rachel Maddow? I called her a “great mind to watch out for”. Well, she’s getting her own show on MSNBC! Here are her comments on the achievement. This is excellent news – congratulations, Dr. Maddow!

From HijabTrendz: an update on Bahraini Olympian Roqaya Al-Gassra, who is literally storming the scene for Muslim women athletes.

You go, girls.

(Next year: maybe we’ll find a tough-as-nails Muslimah regular on MSNBC … one can dream, right?)

Iranians protest honor killings after the death of another young woman

Iran Telegraf)
Iranians demonstrate against honor killings (photo: Iran Telegraf)

On August 14th, eighteen year-old Fereshteh Nejati was murdered by her father. Forced into marriage at 14, Fereshteh was seeking a divorce.

The details of her murder are gruesome. The response to the tragedy, however, shows signs of hope for Iran’s women.

Where am I finding this hope? Well, Fereshteh’s community decided that enough is enough. Some 2000 people – men and women – gathered in the streets to demand an end to honor killings, and to claim Fereshteh’s body for a respectful burial.

See photos of the demonstration here

As always, check out the International Campaign Against Honour Killings . There, you can join communities like Fereshteh’s in their efforts.


* Please remember to keep taking action for Kobra Najjar, an Iranian woman facing imminent stoning.

* Sign the anti-honor killing petition I’ve told you about here.

* Send letters to the Pakistani government demanding that they take action against honor killings.

* Work against the epidemic of rape in Afghanistan.

* Help protect women threatened with acid attacks.

Full volume

A friend slipped this note into a CD for me on Saturday night.

Yelling doesn’t have to be literal. It doesn’t have to be loud. It doesn’t have to be shrill. It doesn’t have to insult, to shame, to guilt, or to hurt. When these become the aim of speaking, the word becomes poison.

The written word can shout. Survival itself is a scream against the unthinkable. Speaking the truths no one wants to hear is an unapologetic shattering of the status quo.

Even at a whisper, there’s nothing quiet about living life full-volume.

So, this week, even if all signs are pointing to shut up – don’t. Ever.

Urgent appeal: five women buried alive in Pakistan

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from a remote area of Balochistan province, that five women were buried alive, allegedly by the younger brother of Mr. Sadiq Umrani, the provincial minister and a prominent leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, the ruling party. However, police have still not arrested the perpetrators after one month of the incident.

The Asian Human Rights Commission

In another “honor” related incident, five Pakistani women ages 16-45 have been buried alive as punishment for pursuing marriages of their choice.

Please see here to learn more. The site includes a sample action letter to the Pakistani government, and an automated way to send your letter straight from their site. Your letters may bounce back to you – please continue trying. If possible, also try calling and faxing official offices. Contact information is all listed here.

Remember to stay on top of cases like these by visiting the International Campaign Against Honour Killings  regularly.

Progressive Muslim: nothing contradictory about it

with Yazmin, August 2008
Feisty Muslim females: with Yazmin, August 2008

I met Yazmin Khan on the set of Shariah TV this summer, when she turned to me and made a truly poignant commentary about something I had said. Following the taping, we skipped out to spend the afternoon discussing our experiences and the issues discussed on the show. We’ve kept in close contact since then, which has been a wonderful experience for me. She recently published an especially thoughtful blog post about how the term “progressive Muslim” often feels like an oxymoron.

I actually think her post helps to illustrate how this simply doesn’t have to be so. In fact, being “progressive” and being a Muslim are quite compatible. I’d also assert that Islam itself takes on human rights issues some vehemently anti-religious progressives shy away from. I’d further argue that when Muslims live up to the best of our faith, “progressive Muslim” almost becomes redundant.

An excerpt from Yazmin’s post:

“Being a woman within the framework of speaking about Islam and being Muslim is an incendiary position to be in. I find that speaking to other Muslims, my Islamic authenticity is challenged and questioned, as if believing in equal rights for all people, not supporting injustice of any kind and being pro-social justice makes my shahada (declaration of faith) less valid. People, including a coworker last week, will literally quiz me on the pillars of Islam or details regarding the proper way to pray or verses from the Quran that all Muslims must memorize in order to be able to pray. I find these interactions incredibly insulting and frustrating- I self identify as a Muslim, therefore I am.

… None of this faithful belief infringes on my ability to think that women should have control over their bodies always and under all conditions and that women deserve nothing short of reproductive justice and freedom- all the time, no matter what. That includes everything from access to abortion, birth control, family planning, right to marry or not marry as one chooses, the right to an education, the right to move freely where and with whomever and wherever a woman pleases, the right to work, the right to pursue any occupation, career or life path a woman might ever want, the right to love whomever she wants, and the right to protection against all forms of rape, genital mutilation, assault, harrasment, domestic violence, molestation, and any type of intimidation or coercion that puts any girls or women in any kind of danger.”

Read the rest here.

Support the Eesha Project – and taboo-busting Muslim youth!

My piece in the latest issue of Eesha
My piece in the latest issue of Eesha

Eesha Magazine is a UK-based journal of Islamic thought and culture. They’ve featured a piece by me in their most recent edition. Above is a sample, but buy a copy to read the fine print! 

You’ll be getting far cooler things than just my article. See this site to learn more.

The brains behind the project is Hasin Tariq Amin. I’m proud to call him my akhi. He is only 15 years old and is going nowhere but up when it comes to positive social and cultural change. It’s been wonderful to see this commitment of his grow over the past year. He’s also a deeply faithful Muslim. That fact guides his work and his willingness to take on difficult issues. Enjoy.

Afghanistan: another brutal series of reminders

In a previous post, I reminded readers that the situation in Afghanistan has far from resolved.

If there is still any doubt lingering in your mind that the people of Afghanistan are not free from being terrorized, brutalized and dehumanized – there’s plenty in the news to set you straight. If the news is this awful, imagine what is going unreported.

Read this story of a twelve-year old girl – a survivor of gang rape. Her family has said that they will commit suicide if justice is not served.

Before you jump to conclusions: the family is not talking about persecution of their daughter for “honor”. They’re talking about wanting real justice for their precious, traumatized child – and their family.

Rape is becoming more and more of a problem in Afghanistan. Only recently, a three year old girl was kidnapped and raped. The assailants of countless women, girls and boys are roaming the country without punishment.

The infrastructure necessary for effective implementation of the law simply isn’t there.
Human rights workers are calling this the result of the war that’s been ravaging Afghanistan. Ironically and disgustingly, one of the justifications for war has been to “save Afghanistan’s women.”

Nice work. Not. I didn’t buy it in 2001, and don’t begin to buy it now. Especially not now. Not when mass violation is par for the course and death is called an “accident”.

I could go on – for this story has had me unable to focus on much all day. However, once again the important thing is to take action. Here’s what you can do to help:

* Educate yourself: Human Rights Watch covers the situation in Afghanistan regularly. For example, see this letter, in which Human Rights Watch urges the international community to put human rights at the forefront of conversations with Afghanistan’s government. 

* See this list of non-governmental organizations needing your support. This page is asking you to donate to the organizations, but I’m urging you to do what YOU can, even if you simply read more to stay informed. You can also sign up for mailing lists and blog about the work these organizations are doing.

* I’ve posted this before, but it’s worth reposting regularly: Al-Azhar University’s paper on how women and children must be protected under Islam. For those who don’t know, Al-Azhar is one of the oldest operating universities in the world, and the epicenter of Islamic scholarship.

(Feel free to forward this paper to George W. Bush and Hamid Karzai. If you’re going to be an Islamic republic or you’re just prone to bombing them, consider the inherent rights you’re going to either uphold or brutally violate, eh?)

* Spend some time searching for information about and work being done in Afghanistan. You’ll find things like RAWA and the Afghan Women’s Mission.

“None but a noble man treats women in an honorable manner. And none but an ignoble treats women disgracefully.”

The Prophet Muhammad (At-Tirmithy)