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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 12    Issue 01   16-31 May 2017

Professor A. R. MOMIN

Egyptian Writes 700-Metre Scroll of Quran

The Quran has been the foundational text of Islam for over fourteen centuries. The deep reverence in which the Quran is held by Muslims all over the world, its repeated invocation in the five-times-in-a-day prayers and the reproduction of the text in a wide variety of elegant calligraphic forms have no precedent in the annals of history. From the inception of Islam, millions of copies of the Quran on parchment and paper have been reproduced by scribes and calligraphers and hundreds of thousands of complete or fragments of the Quranic text are preserved in libraries, mosques, museums and private collections in numerous countries.

In 2009, an Afghan calligrapher, Mohammad Sabir Khedri, produced a very large-size copy of the Quran in 218 pages, each page measuring 2.28 metres by 1.55 metres and the text weighing about 500 kg. The writing was completed in five years and the complete text was unveiled in 2012. The copy is wrapped in a leather cover created from the skins of 21 goats. It has been certified as the world’s largest copy of the Quran by the Afghan Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs.

A large copy of the Quran measuring 2 metres by 1.5 metres was produced in Russia’s Tatarstan region in 2011.

Now an Egyptian man, Sa’ad Mohammad, who lives in the town of Belqina, north of Cairo, has produced what is believed to be the largest and longest copy of the Quran in the world. The intricately decorated copy, which is 700 metres long, was completed in three years. When the scroll is unrolled, it is almost twice as tall as the 381-metre Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York City. Sa’ad Mohammad hopes his creation will find a place in the Guinness World Records as the largest copy of the Quran.

A Fatwa Against Child Marriage by Indonesia’s Female Muftis

Child marriages are widespread across large parts of the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. South Asia has the world’s highest rates of child marriage, where nearly half of all girls are married off before the age of 18 and one in six girls is married before the age of 15. In West and Central Africa, the child marriage rate is 42 per cent and in Eastern and Southern Africa 37 per cent. Child marriages are particularly common in the Central African Republic, Bangladesh, Niger, Burkina Faso, India, Guinea, Mozambique, Yemen, Afghanistan, Liberia, Indonesia and Nepal. In Central African Republic and Chad, about a third of all girls are married before the age of 15. India accounts for nearly half of all young girls who are married before the age of 15.

A 2014 UNICEF study says that more than 700 million women living today were married as children. According to a 2013 report of the United Nations Population Fund, one in three girls in developing countries is married before the age of 18, and 50 million girls are at the risk of being married before the age of 15 between 2013 and 2020. A 2014 report of Equality Now, citing the United Nations Population Fund, says that more than 140 million girls from around the world will be married before they turn 18 over the next decade. Despite the ban on child marriage in many countries, thousands of young girls in rural areas are married off at an early age. Some 40 per cent of child marriages in the world take place in India even though child marriage has been banned in the country. In many villages in the Indian state of Rajasthan, some of the child brides are as young as six and ten years.

Child marriages have extremely adverse consequences for children’s health, education and personality development. Early marriage deprives a girl of her right to a normal childhood and education. Many child brides suffer miscarriages or complications in pregnancy and childbirth due to the trauma of forced sex. Early pregnancy increases the risks of maternal deaths and obstetric fistulae. Thousands of young brides in poor countries die each year due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. About 70,000 adolescent girls in developing countries die each year due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Teenage brides are more likely to give birth to children prematurely and such children are more likely to die in the first month of life. About 1 million children born to adolescent mothers do not complete the first year.

Mercifully, the prevalence of child marriage around the world is declining. Child marriages declined from about 12% in 1985 to 7.5% today. This reassuring change has come about as a result of rising awareness and educational levels among women, campaigns by human rights movements, policies and programmes of governments and initiatives by international organisations.

Indonesia is among the world’s top ten countries for the prevalence of child marriage. According to Unicef data, one in every six women in Indonesia is married before the age of 18. Every year about 50,000 young girls marry before they turn 15. Under Indonesian law, the minimum age of marriage for girls is 16 and 18 for boys. Girls who are married at an early age are vulnerable to domestic abuse, sexual violence and maternal mortality. According to a survey conducted by the National Women’s Life Experiences, nearly one-third of all women in Indonesia experience sexual assault or rape. The survey found that 36.3% of women in cities and 29.8% of women in rural areas experience physical abuse and sexual violence. Maternal mortality in Indonesia is quite high.

The world’s largest gathering of female Muslim scholars and muftis was organised under the auspices of the Indonesian Women’s ulama Congress in Java on 26-28 April,2017. The congress was attended by about 300 Islamic scholars and muftis from Indonesia as well as from Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. On the last day of the congress, three fatwas were issued against child marriage, sexual violence and marital rape and destruction of the environment. The congress declared that marital rape was forbidden in Islam and urged the Indonesian government to make it illegal and to raise the minimum age of marriage from the existing 16 to 18. The deliberations highlighted the fact that many child brides in Indonesia are not allowed to continue their education and that nearly half of such marriages end in divorce.

Fatwas in Indonesia are generally issued by the Indonesian Ulama Council, the highest Islamic authority in the country. Educated Indonesian women and women’s organisations are now playing an increasingly important role in the educational, religious and cultural life of Indonesian Muslims. The initiative taken by the Indonesian Women’s Ulama Congress marks a welcome move in addressing some of the country’s pressing problems related to women.

82 Chibok Girls Released by Boko Haram Militants

Since 2002 the northern part of Nigeria has been in the grip of reckless violence perpetrated by a militant movement called Boko Haram. In the Hausa language, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden.” The basic goal of Boko Haram is to overthrow the present government and to establish an Islamic caliphate governed by Shariah. It considers any kind of association with the West, including modern education, Western culture and democracy, forbidden and unlawful. The violence perpetrated by Boko Haram has been directed against government buildings, police stations, infrastructure and public services, politicians, churches, schools and Muslims who disapprove of its ideology. In 2009 it carried out a spate of violent attacks on police stations and other government buildings in Maiduguri, in which hundreds were killed and thousands of civilians fled the city. More than a million people in the northeastern part of Nigeria have been displaced as a result of attacks by Boko Haram. Boko Haram militants killed some 70 teachers and more than 100 students in northern Nigeria in 2013. More than 100 schools in the region were either forcibly closed down or burned. In February 2014 Boko Haram militants shot and burned to death 59 boys at a boarding school in Damatury in Yobe State. On November 10, 2014, Boko Haram fighters bombed a high school in Potiskum, killing 48 children. More than 100 people were killed during Friday prayers in Kano’s central mosque on November 28, 2014 by suspected Boko Haram militants. More than 30,000 people, including women and children, have been killed in the violent attacks launched by Boko Haram and thousands have been forced to flee from their homes. In 2016 Boko Haram joined the so-called Islamic State and called itself the Islamic State’s “West African province.”

In 2016 Nigeria marshalled huge battalions of soldiers, supported by hunters and civilian vigilante groups, to capture or kill Boko Haram militants, but many of them have retreated to remote forest hideouts in the region that borders Cameroon. Government forces have now retaken most of the territory captured by Boko Haram militants. There was a split in the leadership of Boko Haram in August 2016.

On April 14, 2014, 276 Nigerian girls comprising Christians and Muslims were kidnapped by Boko Haram fighters in Chibok, Borno state. Many of these girls were Christian, who were forced to convert to Islam and marry their kidnappers during their time in captivity. In April 2014, the Government Girls’ Secondary School in Chibok was raided by the authorities. More than 50 of the abducted girls quickly escaped during the raid. Boko Haram militants freed a group of 21 girls in October 2016, after negotiations with the Red cross

On 7 May 2017, Boko Haram militants released 82 of the abducted girls in exchange for Boko Haram suspects held by the government, following negotiations between the government and Boko Haram leaders. The girls were brought by road convoy from a remote area to a military area in Banki near the border with Cameroon.

The reckless violence and destruction carried out by Boko Haram fighters has created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity across the country and has widened the gulf between Muslims and Christians. Many Muslims have stopped sending their daughters to schools due to fears that they may be targeted by Boko Haram. Prominent Muslim scholars and Muslim organizations, including the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, have unequivocally condemned the violence unleashed by Boko Haram. Nigeria’s Muslim scholars have questioned Boko Haram leader Abu Bakar Shekau’s understanding and interpretation of Islam. The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’adu Abubakar, a widely respected spiritual leader of Nigerian Muslims, has described Boko Haram an un-Islamic outfit and an embarrassment to Islam. Emir Muhammad Sanusi, a highly respected and influential Muslim leader of Kenya, called on people to arm themselves against Boko Haram.

Growing Vogue of Islamic Haute Couture

Islamic economy, comprising Islamic finance, the halal food industry, modest Islamic clothing, halal travel, halal media and recreation sector and halal pharmaceutical and cosmetics sector, is growing at twice the rate of global economy.

According to a recent study by Thomson Reuters, global Muslim spend on apparel and footwear in 2015 was $244 billion, accounting for 11% of the global market spend. It is expected to grow to $322 billion by 2018 and to $368 billion by 2021. The global Islamic garments, fashion and design market is larger than many top global clothing markets such as Japan, with customer spending worth $111 billion, Russia, with $106 billion and Germany, with $101 billion in 2012. The global Muslim market ranks third behind the US and China and ahead of the UK.

Islamic fashion shows and festivals, international and local media, Islamic fashion magazines, global fashion brands, websites and blogs and social media have played an important role in the growing popularity of Islamic haute couture. Mainstream global fashion brands such as H&M, Dolce and Gabbana, DKNY, Zara, Burberry, Marks and Spencer, Tommy Hilfiger, Mango, Uniqlo and Oscar de la Renta are waking up to the growing vogue of trendy and modest Islamic clothing among Muslim women around the world. Fashion-conscious Muslim women from affluent families, who are keen to combine fashion with modesty, are driving this market forward. Fortune magazine recently described Muslim women as the next big untapped fashion market.

Several leading designers have started producing and showcasing garments especially designed for Muslim women. DKNY launched its Ramadan Collection of trendy and modest garments in 2014 and Tommy Hilfiger launched its Ramadan Collection in June 2015. Zara, Mango, Burberry, Uniqlo and Oscar de la Renta have also brought out their special Ramadan Collections.

The Italian fashion house Dolce and Gabbana launched its first collection of headscarves and abayas for the Middle East market in the beginning of 2016. The brand has recently launched a new line of headscarves and abayas, which will be sold in the Middle East, London and Paris. The signature garments are accessorized with oversized sunglasses, stilettos and high-end bags. The pieces are gorgeously crafted. Forbes called it Dolce and Gabbana’s ‘smartest move in years.”

Many global brands have showcased their products through models, many of them Muslim, wearing the headscarf in the advertising campaigns. H&M debuted a hijab-wearing Pakistani-Moroccan-British model, Mariah Idrissi, in a commercial that encourages the retailer’s customers to recycle their clothes. Idrissi has appeared in headscarf advertisements for Elle, Marie Clair and Teen Vogue.

Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing company, launched a new Hana Tajima LifeWear Collection on 3 July 2016, available in some stores in Singapore and online. Tajima, a Muslim designer and fashion blogger, has created loose blouses, skirts and dresses for the new collection, along with hijab and abaya.

Some global sports brands such as Capsters and ResportOn have been leading brands for sports headscarves for the past few years. Nike recently announced a newly crafted sports hijab, which has been especially designed to make sporting activity more comfortable for Muslim women. The sports headscarf is made from light fabric that has tiny holes for breathability. Its length has been designed to prevent it from coming untucked during sports activity. It will hit shops in 2018.

Partial Ban on Full-Face Veil in Germany

Germany’s lower house of parliament recently approved a bill that places a partial ban on the wearing of full-face veils or burqa in public institutions. The bill prohibits judges, civil servants and soldiers from wearing the face-covering veil. The bill requires to be ratified by the upper house before it can be enforced.

The issue of the veil has been surrounded by a good deal of controversy and contestation in Germany as well as many other European countries. In September 2003 Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled in favour of a Muslim teacher who wanted to wear the headscarf in school. However, the court held that since the German state has a federal structure, state could pass their own laws in respect of wearing of headscarves by teachers and students. At least half of Germany’s 16 states have banned teachers from wearing headscarves in schools. In the state of Hesse, the ban is also applicable to civil servants. In the past few years, right-wing political parties and organisations have been pressing for a total ban on face-covering veils in public places. In December 2016, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a nationwide ban on full-face veils, wherever legally permissible. Germany has not pursued a total ban on the wearing of face-covering veils in public places as it would violate the guarantee of religious freedom, which is enshrined in the German constitution.

While a large number of Muslim women in Germany wear the headscarf, which leaves the face and hands uncovered, only a tiny minority prefers to wear the burqa.

In recent years, the issue of the headscarf, particularly the full-face veil, has become highly controversial in many European countries. Some European nations have enforced a total or partial ban on face-covering veils in public institutions. France was the first European country to ban full-face veils in public places. The French parliament approved a law on 11 April 2011 prohibiting the wearing of face-covering veils in public places and stipulated a fine of €150 for those violating the law. The law also lays down that anyone found forcing a woman to wear the face-covering veil will be liable to pay a fine of €30,000. Nicolas Sarkozy, then French president, said that veils oppress women and were not welcome in France. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban on 2 July 2014 after a case was brought by a 24-year-old French woman argued that the ban on the burqa violated her freedom of religious expression, which is guaranteed in the French constitution. In 2016 mayors in the French Riviera imposed a ban on women’s full-body swimsuits or “burkinis.” The ban was later lifted in seaside resorts after France’s top administrative court overturned the law.

An estimated six million Muslims live in France. While many French Muslim women wear the headscarf, only about 2,000 wear the full-face burqa.

Belgium’s parliament approved a law in July 2011 which banned the wearing of the full-face veil in public places. Those found violating the law will have to pay a fine of €410.

The European Court of Justice ruled in March 2017 that employers were entitled to ban staff from wearing visible religious symbols such as the headscarf.

On 16 May 2017, Austria’s ruling coalition comprising the left-wing Social Democrats and the conservative Austrian People’s Party approved a law in the Austrian parliament banning full-face veils in public institutions such as courts and schools. Those wearing the face-covering veil will be fined €150. The measure is seen as an attempt to counter the rising popularity of the far-right Freedom Party. The government said full-face veils were an impediment to “open communication,” which is fundamental to an open society. The ban requires parliamentary approval before it can come into force.

The population of Muslims in Austria is around 600,000. While many Muslim women in the country wear the headscarf, the number of women wearing the full-face veil is extremely small – estimated at about 150.

In November 2016, the Dutch parliament approved a law banning full-face veils in public institutions such as schools and hospitals and on public transport. The ban requires to be ratified by the Dutch Senate.

The population of Muslims in the Netherlands is more than one million. Only about 300 Muslim women wear the face-covering veil.

Several towns in Italy have banned the face-covering veil in public places. In 2010 the Spanish city of Barcelona enforced a ban on face-covering veils in some public places such as municipal offices, markets and libraries. Two smaller towns in Catalonia have enforced a similar ban. But a ban on face-covering veils in the town of Lleida was overturned by Spain’s Supreme Court in February 2013 on the grounds that it violated the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religious expression.

Russia’s Stavropol region has enforced a ban on face-covering veils in public places. The ban was upheld by Russia’s Supreme Court in July 2013.

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