August 29, 2006


Islamic Revival Led by Women Tests Syria’s Secularism (KATHERINE ZOEPF, 8/29/06, NY Times)

These are the two faces of an Islamic revival for women in Syria, one that could add up to a potent challenge to this determinedly secular state. Though government officials vociferously deny it, Syria is becoming increasingly religious and its national identity is weakening. If Islam replaces that identity, it may undermine the unity of a society that is ruled by a Muslim religious minority, the Alawites, and includes many religious groups.

Syrian officials, who had front-row seats as Hezbollah dragged Lebanon into war, are painfully aware of the myriad ways that state authority can be undermined by increasingly powerful, and appealing, religious groups. Though Syria’s government supports Hezbollah, it has been taking steps to ensure that the phenomenon it helped to build in Lebanon does not come to haunt it at home.

In the past, said Muhammad al-Habash, a Syrian lawmaker who is also a Muslim cleric, “we were told that we had to leave Islam behind to find our futures.”

“But these days,” he said, “if you ask most people in Syria about their history, they will tell you, ‘My history is Islamic history.’ The younger generation are all reading the Koran.”

Women are in the vanguard. Though men across the Islamic world usually interpret Scripture and lead prayers, Syria, virtually alone in the Arab world, is seeing the resurrection of a centuries-old tradition of sheikhas, or women who are religious scholars. The growth of girls’ madrasas has outpaced those for boys, religious teachers here say.

There are no official statistics about precisely how many of the country’s 700 madrasas are for girls. But according to a survey of Islamic education in Syria published by the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, there are about 80 such madrasas in Damascus alone, serving more than 75,000 women and girls, and about half are affiliated with the Qubaisiate (pronounced koo-BAY-see-AHT).

Interview with Iranian Activist Shirin Ebadi: In early August, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi learned through the press that her human rights center in Tehran had been declared illegal. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with her about an Iranian government breaking its own laws and activism in the face of prison -- or worse. (Der Spiegel, 8/28/06)

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have been threatened with arrest unless you close down the Center for Defense of Human Rights in Tehran. But according to Iranian law, NGOs are free to operate.

Shirin Ebadi: The constitution guarantees that social organizations are free to conduct their activities, so long as they don't engage in disorderly conduct, or betray the laws of Islam. "Free" means that they don't need permission. Therefore, an NGO like ours, which is working for human rights, does not need the government's approval. [...]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You are saying, however, that the Iranian state is the party acting illegally in this situation, and not your center?

Ebadi: I am simply asking: How did we all of a sudden become illegal? We are legal, we have always been legal. We are a human rights organization. We defend people accused of political crimes for free. Yes, the country is breaking the law. The country is breaking its own laws.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What are you going to do now?

Ebadi: We're going to continue. I have no choice but to continue. That's our responsibility -- because we, unlike the Interior Ministry, we respect the law. I will fight as long as I'm alive.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Even if this means going to prison?

Ebadi: Yes. I will fight as long as I have to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2006 9:50 AM

I tried posting a cute smiley, but it wouldn't go through, so I'll just say it, you have history on your side right now so,

You Go Girl!

Posted by: erp at August 29, 2006 3:38 PM