I AM A WOMAN

 

 

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Photo: Gareth Barton

 

 

From the shores of the deep red sea, a long way I have come.

To the luscious green hills of an island called Britain to hear the seagulls hum.

Autumn leaves falling off trees.

Lavender and honey bees.

And piercing questions of who are you?

Where do you come from? And what do you do?

With gleaming eyes and flashing teeth, I smile and reply.

A long illustrated answer I supply.

I’m not from the east or the west.

I’m not defined by geography or what I do best.

My name is yet to be carved on polished walls.

My word is a sword in my fist never to rust never to fall.

My head bows to no one but God and before none shall I kneel.

My fingers are my instrument to write, create and feel.

I am a woman and that is my identity.

So please forgive my disobedient tongue.

For I have been stung.

Over and over.

But as long as the blood pumps through veins.

And the heart sends signals to the brain.

You will watch me as I sway my hips.

Gaze stretched beyond the stars.

As I send flying kisses from my sweet cherry lips.

All the way to Jupiter and Mars.

Only to descend as raindrops to this earth.

And shower you clean from what you have seen.

Patriarchy, misogyny, worldly systems so obscene.

No! I’m not a princess I am a queen.

I am the summer’s moon and the winter’s sun.

Cleopatra of the Nile and Helen of Troy.

The Kurdish soldiers “girls of the sun”.

Women warriors fighting to destroy.

ISIS the evil savages who made the world so chaotic.

No! I am not a narcissist but a flower so narcotic.

Named by Socrates “Chaplet of the infernal Gods”.

Seeded and needed to heal your wounds against all odds.

No! I am not complicated. I am complex.

I fold and I flex. Tip-toe around your stress.

And use rational and emotional means to assess.

I filter and compress before I address.

So think of me no less.

I am a woman… and this world is a mess.

And I am here to disturb your calmness.

And calm you down when you are disturbed.

I am here to light up a spark in your darkness.

Because I’ve paced the centuries and observed.

That the only thing us women are incapable of.

Is getting rid of love.

And with that, I pledge allegiance to both women and men.

Yes! Man. You are not an enemy.

So let’s blend our differences and mend.

Let’s build together hand in hand gracefully.

And find answers to all the how’s where’s and why’s

Let’s find the path that fits us both in this maze called life.

Let’s rise up by lifting each other to the highest highs.

It is not a battlefield. It’s just a thing called life.

So suck it up and suck it all in!

Secularism Is Not Against Islam. It Is Against Exploiting Islam

 

 

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Photo: elonpendulum

 

At a time when the concept of secularism is viewed as a threat in the Middle East and anti-Muslim sentiment is high in the West, I have tried to keep an open mind on the issue of religion. The recent butchery of Muslims by violent Islamists and repressive authorities has, however, forced me to make a choice.

I was born in England in 1981 but lived in Saudi Arabia until the age of 25.  In 2014 I moved to London to claim my UK nationality. I went against the norm of Saudi women and lived alone without a guardian (mahram).  After thirty years in Saudi Arabia, I could no longer accept the authority of Sharia law. As there is no opportunity to protest Sharia law, my only option was self-exile. Today I write this article from my apartment in Chelsea with my dog brushing against my feet.

On September 3rd, 2016, the National Secular Society  organised a conference in London. As secularism is a topic that is hardly vocalised in the Saudi media, I made sure to attend and learn how it is approached publicly in the West.

I listened attentively with an open mind full of hope and optimism, sipping on a cold cup of coffee. My brain was drifting towards the defense line wondering, is this really the right battle? Is religion the basis of all wars and conflicts or is power the basis of all wars and conflicts? Why do I still find Douglas Murray’s humour so amusing? And why am I still sipping this very distasteful coffee?

When it was time for the Q&A session I raised my hand, hoping I was not being surveilled by Saudi authorities. I grabbed the microphone and stuttered, more so to make a point than to ask a question:

Countries that are governed by Sharia law, are not only governed by religion, they are also governed by tribal law, traditions, political interests and economic interests. Should Islam be removed from the equation (separating state from religion), there are no guarantees of stability, peace and freedom, given the other ruling factors will still serve the same political agenda.

As well as injustice, violence and oppression in the name of religion, there is injustice occurring in the name of secularism today. The discrimination against hijab-wearing Muslims in France has been the topic of discussion and disappointment in the press lately. However, one could argue that the laws of a secular country are prone to adjustments, debate and reform, whilst theocratic religious ruling rejects reform and leniency.

If the objective is world peace, then the means to ending this turmoil should not be fixated on attacking religion, but rather highlighting how it is exploited and politicised and accepting reform for the greater good.

Secularism is a political viewpoint which separates religion from politics. Islam is my faith and it is personal. When Islam, the religion, is used as a tool by rulers to control the concept of state, it is moulded into an imposed form of man-made law and everything attached to its history is manipulated and exploited to serve the law.

Countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan still view secularism as a Western conspiracy theory to undermine and consume Islam. However, secularism is not against Islam, it is against exploiting Islam for political purposes.

“There is no teaching in the Qur’an on how to form an Islamic State after the death of the Prophet [Muhammad]. In fact, the word state has not been mentioned in the Qur’an once,” said Maajid Nawaz from the think tank Quilliam Foundation at the conference.

Islamic scholar Ali Abdel Raziq, basing his views on the culture of ijtihad (independent inquiry) and tajdid (renewal), said: “Islam has allowed us absolute freedom to organise the state in accordance with the intellectual, social and economic conditions in which we are found, taking into consideration social development and the requirement of the times.”

The message from Allah to the Prophet Muhammad in Surat Al-Imran, “Consult them in their affairs,” commands the Prophet to address the collective problems of the people through consultation.

The scholar Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im argues in his book, ‘The Future of Sharia: Islam and the Secular State’, that secularism promotes voluntary compliance with Sharia and allows religious piety out of honest conviction (niah) as opposed to hypocrisy (nifaq). He also believes that this would enhance genuine religious observances and nurture the role of Islam in the public life.

I, therefore, call for secularism because:

  • 45% of reported abuse cases in Saudi Arabia are of women by their men who mostly get away with it in the name of religious law; because free thinkers are lashed publicly and sentenced to decades in Saudi prison for peaceful expression, and because some of the best literary resources are banned in Saudi Arabia, and education is limited to an imposed academic system that is incompatible with the modern time;
  • I, as well as so many other Saudi women, am not allowed to travel without a granted signature from a male guardian, and because my non-Muslim friends are discriminated against and judged by conservative society;
  • Orphans in my country are not allowed to be adopted by families in the name of religion, and because 14 million women in my country are forced into wearing black attire covering their figures in the name of honour and religion.

I call for justice, human rights and women’s rights and I stand against exploiting religion for power because the Quran says:

“O you who believe!  Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it is against the rich or the poor…” (Quran 4:135)

Individuals must unite for a greater cause that is within our instinctual nature as humans to coexist on this earth. The law must serve humanity first and foremost, and accept the diversity of people’s faith’s and beliefs

 

Original Feature: http://www.sedaa.org

The Steep Price of Freedom of Expression

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Saudi Arabia has witnessed the rise of liberal activists over the last few years. The demand of civilians for democratic reform within an Islamic framework received prominent attention in media concerning human rights when activists have been rigidly controlled by the religious establishment and faced harsh punishments for peacefully expressing their ideas.

“Society needs to open its collective mind to all ideas and ideologies. It needs to give its people the chance to listen to the opinions of others, and then examine them critically instead of rejecting them prematurely. Such a creative dialogue based on positive critical thinking can enhance and develop ideas.” –Voiced Raif Badawi.

In 2012 the liberal Saudi Activist Raif Badawi was arrested on charges of insulting Islam through electronic channels, including apostasy and brought to court. In 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. In 2014 the court increased his punishment to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes. His wife Ensaf Haider; author of Raif Badawi: The Voice of Freedom, took refuge in Canada along with their children.

Unfortunately, the harsh punishment does not only fall on the convicted liberals but those who defend them are also silenced and punished under a cyber-crime law in addition to the recently released law of anti-terrorism, which was released to protect Saudi citizens from radicalization and control them from joining Islamists violent groups such as Daesh.

This law has also been exploited to serve in silencing those who engage in dissent. Howbeit, there is no written code or guideline for free thinkers and human rights defenders to follow in order to avoid being prosecuted. Hence, they are criminalized on the basis of a broad range of offenses.

Amongst those who were punished is the prominent human rights activist, Waleed Abulkhair (Raif Badawi’s lawyer) who was sentenced to 15 years in prison, a 15-year travel ban and a fine of 200 000 Saudi Riyals. He was convicted of breaking allegiance to the ruler, insulting the judiciary and harming the state by communicating with international organizations.

While the Saudi jurisprudence of free speech remains an impediment to human rights activists, the involvement from the rest of the world to defend human rights are vastly evident. A member of a non-governmental organization named Center for Inquiry sought to defend Raif Badawi at the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. She was repeatedly interrupted by the representative of Saudi Arabia, who demanded that she would be silenced. The permission to speak was granted by votes from U.S., Ireland, Canada, and France. Below is part of the report:

“We call on Saudi Arabia, as a newly elected member of this council,

to release Raif Badawi immediately and unconditionally, and drop any pending charges against him and others for blasphemy, insulting Islam, or apostasy.

As an elected member of this Council, Saudi Arabia is obliged to (uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and fully cooperate with the Council) if it is to retain any credibility as a member, we urge it to reform its laws”

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, I was made aware of the possible consequences of discussing topics that are deemed sensitive such as religion and politics. So I chose to turn a blind eye and expressed my feelings towards cultural and Islamic progression through designing contemporary Islamic furniture instead.

Being a free thinker and a strong believer in human rights, I felt confined by a law that went against my human nature. In 2014 I made the decision to reside in the UK where I was born. Living in the UK allowed me to practice my faith the way I desire without being concerned for my safety. Safeguarded by the active presence of Human Rights Organizations.

Although I am unable to measure the risk of writing this article, I feel a sense of duty towards citizens of the country I grew up in. My personal stance against inhumane punishment for any kind of peaceful practice is to add my voice to those who seek defend the people who sacrificed their lives paving the way for freedom of expression, social stability, economic growth and intellectual development. It is time for our ideas to flourish in dignity and peace.

The call for compassion, acceptance, and tolerance are denoted in several verses of the Quran:

 “He who has killed an innocent soul is as if he has killed all of the humanity. And he who saves an innocent soul is as if he saved all of the humanity”

 “You have your faith and I have my faith and you are free to practice your faith and I’m free to practice mine.”

These verses were mentioned in an argument by Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir when he was invited to Germany to comment on Daesh (ISIS) being Islamic.

On that note, I would kindly address the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia to act upon the compassion and mercy mentioned in the book we both hold sacred and take an active role in saving innocent souls such as Raif Badawi and Waleed Abulkhair and call for releasing them from such harsh punishments.

 

To the reader:

Should your conscience nullify your fear, please sign the petitions linked below, your voice can make a difference.

 

Raif Badawi:

http://www.raifbadawi.org/component/k2/item/411-petitions.html

 

Waleed Abulkhair: https://act.amnestyusa.org/eaaction/action?ea.client.id=1839&ea.campaign.id=42773

 

This Saudi Woman is Not a Criminal

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Photo: Gareth Barton

 

Some said she ran away to join ISIS. Others said she has been brainwashed by the west. Some believed that she was lured by a cult that provokes women to fight the traditional system, and some diagnosed her with some kind of mental illness.

 

This Saudi 17-year old teenager made the decision to leave her family during a vacation in Turkey this summer and succeeded in crossing the border to Georgia. She is now convicted with a criminal record for running away and stealing passports.

 

This 20-year old Muslim woman ran away from her family in Saudi in 2014. She wrote anonymously on http://www.reddit.com five months after her escape saying, ‘I stopped wearing black and started making eye contact with men and women alike. I still struggle with confidence and speaking up but it’s really cool to talk to people like a normal person, and not an intimidated husk of a young woman.’

 

This Saudi woman named Hind Al-Otaibi escaped her abusive father who raped and injured her. She was sent back to her father by social services after her father (an Imam in the Ministry of Interior) persuaded authorities to find her and take her home.

 

This Saudi woman named Sahar Al-Sharif attempted to escape domestic violence and her abusive brothers by getting married. Her husband turned out to be even more abusive and brutally beat her during her first year of pregnancy. She almost lost the baby.

This Saudi female in her twenties married an American. She refused to enter Saudi Arabia until she was granted her US nationality, as she feared for her life as a Saudi national.

 

This Saudi female in her thirties made the decision to reside in the UK. She is attempting to claim her rights to a UK passport and refusing to return to Saudi until this matter is resolved.

 

These Saudi women are not criminals; they have simply made a conscious decision to live! They haven’t caused any harm and they still take their family into account. They are not mentally ill, yet it is likely that they are suffering from the effects of trauma due to enduring pernicious circumstances.

 

While media publications capitalize on their stories of struggle with stereotypical headlines like ‘escaping the ‘gilded cage’, women are publicly scrutinized and disparaged for seeking the least of their rights. For the record, it is not a gilded cage: it is a rusty iron cage chained with dated tribal ideologies.

 

There are no official records disclosed on the number of Saudi women escaping domestic violence, but according to various NGOs, the records show an estimated number between 1500 and 3000 of escape cases in the Kingdom.

 

‘The most important reason for women running away is ill-treatment. Civil society should admit the existence of such problems and avail itself of the sound and legal means guaranteed by the state in cases of abuse,’ lawyer Bayan Zahran said in a report on last year.

 

Before demonizing these women, consider the alternative they face and all the unmitigated efforts to negotiate for their lives. Then take a moment to consider the dangers they faced both prior to and during their escape and unless you can provide help or a constructive say in this matter, I urge you to step out of this.

 

My message to women who want to escape

Take solid decisions with caution. Be realistic with your approach. Your life is your choice and you deserve to live it.

 

Consider the facts and obstacles. You are living in a country that is governed by strict guardianship rules. Understand the rules to avoid being convicted.

 

If you decide to seek legal protection (contacts provided below) within the country or asylum outside the country, you may be faced with obtuse reactions. Few will understand what you are going through. You will need to validate your complaint with evidence and documentation.

 

Bear in mind that the shelter homes provided by either of these sectors are temporary and in some are in direful conditions. In some cases, a guardian may exploit his ‘rights’ of guardianship. Speaking up when subjected to any kind of injustice, before it becomes too late and you lose credibility. In the event you approach the personal status court in Saudi Arabia, they will require physical evidence of the abuse. Otherwise, you will not have a case and will be sent back home.

 

In the meantime, I suggest you use the time to equip yourself with knowledge and skill. Earning a living is empowering and can help you live independently.  If you are reading this article, then you must have online access. This means that you can read, learn a skill or even get an online degree. You may even be able to earn a living and work virtually – but beware of scammers.

 

I write this article in solidarity with every Saudi woman who decides to take matters into her own hands, but I also write this to shed light on a deeper rooted problem and question the structure of a civil society in Saudi Arabia.

 

Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system remains the most significant impediment to woman’s rights in the country. HRW Humans Rights Watch has released recent campaigns to remove male guardianship, albeit insufficient to make a staunch shift in a male dominant society. It is still one step in the right direction.

 

‘It is necessary that the weakness of the powerless is transformed into a force capable of announcing justice. For this to happen, a total denouncement of fatalism is necessary. We are transformative beings and not beings for accommodation.’

― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

 

 

Contact Numbers & Help Centers:

The Committee of Protection from Domestic Violence in Saudi Arabia:

CALL 8001245005 OR HOTLINE: 1919

Ministry of Social Affairs.

Tel: 477 1480 / 478 7166

link: https://sd.mlsd.gov.sa/ar/services/622

 

*Original Article: sister-hood magazine

 

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Born to Be Wild

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Photo: cosmicsoulmedicine

 

 

You are born to be wild, not to be tamed or claimed.

You are not to be chained, restricted or shamed.

You are born to explore the extents of this universe.

You are to be free to live your life. It is not a curse.

Laugh hard at yourself in times of doubt.

Fall in love, scream out load.

You are born to burn like a flame, go off and burn anew.

You are to immerse in the energy of this wild life you drew.

You are born to ponder in calm and fight in fiery.

You are not to be worked out, fragmented and weary.

You are a daughter, a sister and a mom to those who seek you.

You are to jump fences and break all the barriers that confine you.

You are an illusive leopard, growling in anger, purring in content.

You are an intuitive wolf, of strength and affection. A wild descent.

You are an evocative metaphor of a solid tree in a thunderous forest.

Shedding dwindling leaves of old notions. Branching out glorious and modest.

You are a graceful swan, gliding through water, in balance and beauty.

You’re a lotus flower blossoming in murky ponds, multi layers of purity.

A dazzling star, over the mountain cones it shines.

As the evening cradles the wild earth and its mines.

You are born in the wild to be wild.

BE. SEE. DO. My child.

 

 

Love & Live,

Ghalia

On Death

Death

 

Take me like the water running through the pebbles of a river.

Like the sun setting in warm ocean water, slowly it fades.

Like a pink petal falling off a rose and a leaf off a dusty miller.

Take me when the night folds. Swiftly changing purple blue shades.

Let there be no walls around me. Let me be a free spirit roaming in the wild.

Take me with my sister’s palm beneath my head, whispering of love and forgiveness. The language of the soul.

Let me be surrounded by the giggles of a happy child.

Let me take my last stroll.

Take me as I stare you in the eye and smile.

Like a warrior seizing victory, or even like a gypsy in a caravan.

Let me say good-bye to all the places before I leave this aisle.

Let me carve in rocks, the unspoken truth about man in land.

Take me to the goodness and beauty of the unknown.

Let me no longer sulk. Let me be free.

Like the fluttered feather, by the wind blown.

Like the flowing moon-set tides of the sea.

Take me an emollient death.

Let me surrender sweetly as I take my last breath.

Let there be no pain or stealth.

Let them hold my hand as I part this world in good health.

Let me leave behind me a legendary tale.

Let me harness the seed I sowed of love and hope.

Let me leave in strength and not in frail.

Let them remember me with love and for love and cope.

My Heart Beats Without Sound

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A box of dried roses was mailed to me, with a red satin ribbon around. I had to decline…

They had to be rooted in ground…

Through my door’s peephole I see, a sporadic visitor I found. I had to decline…

The door lock was sound…

On my desktop I receive, pigmented papers in sisal rope are bound. I had to decline…

The ink spilled over text so profound…

My soul tried to retrieve, all the scriptures and passages. From a distance I hound. It was all declined…

In time, It will all come around…

My mind wanted to believe… Reason in what I found. I had to decline…

The mind only listens to the hearts that pound…

A note spoke to me. A faint voice among a noisy crowd. I couldn’t decline…

For my heart beats without  sound…