A couple of quick links — before the jet lag takes over again!

Well, I’m back from Finland. Still thawing…and¬†dealing with a nasty flu. (Some souvenir!) ūüôā Thanks to everyone who has kept reading!

I wanted to direct your attention to a couple of things:

1 – Mona Eltahawy has just published a commentary on the death of¬† Aasiya Hassan. I will have more to say about this case later, but thought it important to share this piece. (Also, I’d like to redirect readers¬†to this post, where I posted some of the Islamic Society of North America’s materials on domestic violence.) While we continue to struggle with violence in the community, it would be unfair not to mention positive steps like these by ISNA.

2 – The Hijablog’s webmistress is back with a post about the headscarf in Norway. Glad to see you posting again, girl!

3 – More on choice:¬†this blogger, who posted about my trip to Finland, also posted a blog about the issue of hijab in the workplace. Both of the above bloggers highlight the importance of choice for women. Now, while I’d take¬†back some of the “rebellious” choices I made¬†during my¬†late teens and early twenties¬† (from fashion to social alliances!) – I also know that some of the things I chose helped to bring me full-circle back to my authentic values. This was, for me, an educational experience – cementing consistent values in an often inconsistent world. We should trust women to make the choices that best help to nurture their self-esteem, integrity, and intellectual development. Most Muslims would agree.¬† The key is to highlight those leaders in the Islamic community (and beyond) who will help provide the necessary guidance young women often seek.¬†¬†

4 РI just received word about a couple needing global support. Two young Pakistanis are facing a possible death sentence for marrying outside of their tribal communities. Read more about their case here Рwhere you can also submit an appeal to help them. The couple also has a child, whose life is obviously set to be devastated should its parents lose their lives.

Greetings from Finland, Part III

Visiting the HIV/AIDS support center in Helsinki
Visiting the HIV/AIDS support center in Helsinki

Today, our main goal was to take steps¬†toward improved immigrant and refugee integration into Finnish society. This morning, I met with Panu Laturi, a Finnish politician from the Green League. Together, we discussed ways to support refugees and immigrants so that they can lead successful, safe, and healthy lives. My primary message: nations avoid problems with extremism, crime, and strain on their economies when individuals are not left without their basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and education. Further, women in particular must be reached via creative and sensitive methods. I shared specific and tangible¬†ideas with him about how Finland –¬†a nation with a small but growing population of refugees and immigrants – can support women and youth, empowering them to be effective members of their new society. It is clear that both Panu and the Green League are committed to a proactive, human-rights centered approach to immigration and refugee orientation. I’m truly hopeful about Finland as a place where minorities can succeed – exactly because the country is thinking about challenges and ways to address them even before they arise.

Next, I met with a faculty member from the University of Helsinki. A specialist in International Law and a native of the Netherlands, she was able to provide me with some yet unheard insight about the case of Geert Wilders. Some of her¬†assertions and observations were truly compelling –¬†and unlike anything ¬†shared with most residents of the United States. More on Wilders at some point soon to come.

We also discussed the issue of the niqab, and the views of philosopher Martha Nussbaum.¬†I’ll be sure to say more about Dr. Nussbaum later¬†on – but for now, see some of her writing here¬†and here.

With Batulo Essak
With Batulo Essak

Finally, I had the extraordinary honor of meeting Batulo Essak and visiting Helsinki’s HIV/AIDS support center. The experience was a phenomenal one. From her work with HIV/AIDS patients, to her role as a politician and¬†the many initiatives she spearheads to improve the lives of women and girls in Somalia (from campaigns against female genital mutilation, supporting women’s enterprise and education, counseling couples and individuals on sexual health, relationship matters and more) – Batulo is a force to be reckoned with! We have already come up with some concrete and major ways to collaborate in order to improve HIV/AIDS services¬†for Finland’s newest residents.

And oh yes – I walked (along the frozen Baltic)¬†to visit ¬†Finland’s Presidential Palace. Madame President herself was home! (No, we didn’t meet and share Finland’s best coffee, though it is wonderful and a Moccamaster is totally on my Eid-list. Rather, I learned that when the flag is raised and two soldiers are standing guard, President Tarja Halonen is at home.)

Remember to check out my Finland photo album – I’ll keep updating it as much as I can while I’m here!

Greetings from Finland – part II

Salaams from Helsinki! I’ve finally gotten around to creating a photo album for this trip, which I’ll update regularly while I’m here. You can see it by following this link – enjoy and check back often!

Discussing honor violence - February 21, 2009

Last night, the Finnish Broadcasting Network featured an interview with Raija Ala-Lipasti and myself – we were discussing honor violence. Raija, who is the operations manager of the Turku Women’s¬†Centre, has¬†worked with women who have been subject to and threatened by honor-based violence. This is an issue many people across Scandinavia have taken interest in – especially following the death of Fadime Sahindal.

(The white lettering above is what I’m saying – in Finnish subtitles. I point out that these crimes are committed by only a small percentage of the Muslim community; and that advanced nations should provide assistance to their Muslim residents. During the day’s events, I also highlighted cases of honor violence not committed by Muslims – like the case of Du’a Khalil Aswad. )

Tomorrow, I meet Finland’s refugee of the year from the year 2000, Batulo Essak. We will be working at the AIDS support center and also discussing the issue of female genital cutting.¬†Finland has an ever-growing¬†number of refugees from Somalia; where 90% of women are “circumcised.” Eighty percent of these circumcisions are Type¬†III – the most severe form of genital mutilation.¬†

Stay tuned for more updates from the snowy north; and remember to stay up-to-date by checking out the International Campaign Against Honor Killings regularly. For women and girls¬†like Aasiyah Hassan, Sarah and Amina Said, Aqsa Parvez, Sandeela Kanwal, and the many who have already lost their lives –¬†it is too late. Let’s not let them pass in vain – we can and must take action.

If you’re living in the UK, be sure to see this story about a new helpline founded to help those in danger of honor violence and forced marriage. It is already receiving calls. Hopefully, crisis management professionals the world over will take a cue from this latest initiative, training their staff to handle these cases effectively.

Terveisia Suomesta! (Greetings from Finland!) – Part 1

Metro station, Helsinki, Finland (photo: Jussi K. Niemela)
Metro station, Helsinki, Finland (photo: Jussi K. Niemela)

 Greetings from Helsinki, Finland!

A very short time ago, a Helsinki-based friend and I were exchanging emails over our shared frustrations. He was working hard to combat both Islamophobia and cultural relativism in his own progressive circles. I was surrounded by boxes in my furnitureless¬†apartment,¬†wondering how real positive change can happen when some of the most vocal ‘activists’ are often ruled more by their own megalomania than sincere¬†concern for¬†the human condition.¬†Bummed, exhausted and uncharacteristically pessimistic,¬†I desperately needed a boost.

It came in the form of an invitation to Finland. My friend told me that¬†he was sure there was some way for us to not just host a dynamic seminar event, but also to enrich the already blossoming movement to protect Muslim women’s rights in Scandinavia. Within twenty-four hours, we had sponsors. Shortly thereafter, we had my red-eye plane tickets totaling 14 hours in transit. I borrowed some mittens and got on my way.

With the incredible Iivi Anna Masso
With the incredible Iivi Anna Masso

This is no money-making trip, and no media-mongering frenzy, though we’ve gotten lots of helpful coverage across Scandinavia. This is something so much better. Here, we are hosting seminars on freedom of religion, honor violence, female genital cutting, and immigration. At my request, we are also meeting with activists for children’s rights and working with the staff of an HIV/AIDS support center supporting mainly Somali refugees.

I’ll keep you posted throughout the trip. So far, I can tell you that I’m moved and inspired by the Finnish dedication to understanding, honesty, compassion and real support for the Muslims coming to their shores. People have been honest about that which they believe ails the Muslim community – but have also been seeking constructive solutions to better Muslim lives. That, my friends, should be how activism is conducted. Stay tuned!


PS: Check out these interesting documents from the Islamic Society of North America. ISNA hasn’t always gotten it right, but I think that these guides for imams are actually more constructive than many other leaflets meant to help individuals working with victims and survivors.

1 – Guidelines for imams working with victims and survivors of domestic violence

2 – Guidelines for imams working with abusive persons

Halal grocery, Helsinki (photo: Jussi K. Niemela)
Halal grocery, Helsinki (photo: Jussi K. Niemela)