Leyla Hussein, champion against FGM and for women and girls

Remember 17-year old Fahma Mohamed, mentioned here, who has organized some 100 youth to fight FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) in the UK through rap and education?


Leyla Hussein (photo: Washington Post)

Also hailing from the UK is Leyla Hussein, who is spearheading efforts to raise awareness about the practice and work against it in the United Kingdom. Another amazing hero of our time. Learn more about Leyla’s work here.

“FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, usually with a knife or razor blade and often without anaesthetic. In its most severe form — Type 3 — the vaginal opening is sewn almost entirely shut. In addition to the psychological trauma, women can experience urinary infections, menstrual problems, infertility and even death.”


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.

Inspirational Muslim – Abdou Bala Marafa, the Emir of Gobir

“As the father of the community of Gobir, when I see a girl married too early, who became fistulous? Who can’t contain her urine, who cannot live in the society, who is really marginalized. I don’t have the right to stay seated and let things continue this way. We have been ignorant for a very long time. Instead of school we marry our daughters and put them in hell. Please women, be wise, send your daughters to school…”

Abdou Bala Marafa, the Emir of Gobir (Niger)

About a week ago, I stumbled upon the story of Abdou Mala Marafa, a tribal chieftan in the African nation of Niger. I learned about his work in the midst of doing some work on those who are working to end child marriage. Sometimes it’s easy to feel that the situation is nothing but grim – but men like this particular tribal leader really do give me hope.

In Niger, child marriage has been a common occurrence. In fact, more than three quarters of Niger’s female children are wed before the age of 18. Read the horrific story of Habiba, whose early pregnancy left her physically impaired and subsequently ostracized.

The West might assume that this is all the fault of the Muslim men in communities like Habiba’s. However, in the case of Niger (and elsehwere in Africa), Islamic leaders have done phenomenal things to protect women and end their suffering.

Abdou Bala Marafa – the Emir (tribal king) of Gobir, Niger – has lead the way in protecting girls from such a fate.  

Abdou Bala Marafa, one of Niger’s most prominent Islamic leaders, has lead the way in the effort to improve the lives of women in his country. He’s pioneered efforts to educate the population about HIV/AIDS, literacy, and more.

But one of his boldest initiatives has been to protect young girls from being married too early. He’s organized the Good Conduct Brigades – a group of trained men (and women!) who travel from village to village not just to educate and organize rallies on the issue of child marriage — but also intervene in cases where a girl is in danger.

They just might be the coolest Muslims on motorcycles I’ve ever heard of.

But, above all, they’re saving lives – in a context that would otherwise look bleak.

Non-Muslims in particular might want to click here to read a Al-Azhar University’s document on the rights and protection of children. It explains how the violation of a child is clearly forbidden in Islam; and how children must be protected.

If interested, click here to learn what you can do to help.

My commentary on Benazir Bhutto – Haaretz (this time in English!)


“…Bhutto’s position as the Muslim world’s first female prime minister defied the tribal culture in which she lived. Her leadership, however, did not. Bhutto’s legacy certainly attests to her determination and resilience. What her leadership did not demonstrate, however, was something more than mere lip service when it came to issues of human rights.

For all of her grandiose statements – for example, that she saw “all of Pakistan’s children” as her very own – she did precious little to protect Pakistan’s daughters. In fact, she did precious little that had a positive impact on the plight of Muslim women in general…”

See the entire piece here.


Special thanks to Roi Ben-Yehuda for linking to the piece as well – be sure to check out his thoughts on Bush’s visit to Israel.