Views From Those Who Have Left The Country

What can life be like in the Islamic State ([IS], also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS]), a place under the control of a group known for its atrocities and its extreme interpretation of Sharia law? People who have fled from Raqqa, the capital of IS, to Turkey, have given Al Jazeera some insight into what life is life in that city.

Law And Order

Surprisingly some say that after the 4 years of civil war in Syria, the tight control now being exerted in the country actually offers some respite from the previous chaos and destruction. The new administration has restored electricity supply, painted road signs, imposed taxes, brought in a new education system, and implemented a highly functional, albeit punitive and brutal judicial system.

There is much checking by police patrols and at police checkpoints to ensure that residents adhere to the strict dress code and that they have paid their dues to the state. Women have to be well covered in full-length black burqas, complete and niqab and gloves, and men are stopped for checking on the length of their beards.

Banned products include not just cigarettes and items forbidden by Islam, but also some US products such as Apple phones. Prayer times are rigorously enforced and shops have to shut 5 times a day for prayers.

The revamped educational system includes a new curriculum that has replaced science, history and arts with only Islamic studies and Arabic, the forcing of former teachers to sign a document of “repentance” and to attend religious classes, and making mosque attendance compulsory for students. The sermons are used to recruit young men for the IS movement.

As expected the penalties for breaking any of the rules are harsh. For instance, having too short a beard could mean public lashings, or even imprisonment. Even the barber could be arrested. And displays of beheaded men in public squares and roundabouts are constant reminders of the harsh penalties that await anybody who tries to defy the country’s rules.

However, one attitude taken by those who have stayed is: “If you are a good Muslims, you have nothing to worry about. As long as you pray five times a day, wear the niqab, and don’t smoke”. Another said, “Imagine living in a drug-free society. . . where you can leave your business open and no one touches your stuff”.

Nevertheless, the large numbers of people who have fled the country indicate that the regime is not to everyone’s liking.

Attraction For Foreigners

The Islamic State has been attracting Muslims who want to serve jihad. However, it has also been attracting foreign professionals with skills in information technology, medicine, communications and civics. These immigrants, or muhajireen, have altered the social fabric of the city. All kinds of languages are now heard on the streets, and a class divide has emerged because the foreigners, and the currency they bring, have raised the local economy. The foreigners are paid more than the locals, and given incentives such as free housing, and gas and electricity at subsidized rates.

Think About It

How long can acceptance of a regime like that of the Islamic State be tolerated? If not for the chaos of the civil war just past, would there be such tolerance? Or, with large numbers leaving the country, is there really any tolerance of the regime? What will happen to a society where the education given consists of nothing but religious studies and Arabic? Will it mean even greater reliance on professionals from abroad, and with that, even greater social divide?

All Because He Performed In Nazareth

35-year old Sami Yusuf, billed as “Islam’s biggest rock star” by Time magazine, has now found himself banned on Iran’s state-run television.  And the reason for this ban is attributed to his recent performance in Nazareth, even though he did it for Israeli Arabs and Palestinians during the holy month of Ramadan.

The Performance At Nazareth

Sami Yusuf hailed from Iran.  When he was 3 years old, he left Tehran for Britain with his family.  He became Britain’s most famous Muslim when Time magazine called him “Islam’s biggest rock star”.

Back in Iran, it is a crime to travel to Israel.  And any Iranian citizen caught visiting Israel can be jailed for up to 5 years in prison. Since Sami Yusuf is no longer in Iran, he cannot be jailed there.  So the Iranian authorities did the next best thing – ban him from appearing on Iran’s national TV.

There was no reason given for the ban, but Entekhtab (an Iranian news website) reported: “Sami Yusuf’s recent trip to the occupied territories is the reason why his works are banned from the state television”.


Sami Yusuf reacted to the news that he has banned on state TV this way: “I was very surprised to hear that the official state TV and Radio for the Islamic Republic of Iran has banned my music and likeness due to my recent performance in Nazareth. I was not aware that bringing smiles to the faces of my beloved Palestinian brothers and sisters could cause such offense to the government of Iran. I am sorry that my precious listeners in Iran will be denied my music for sometime, but I will not apologize for performing in Palestine. Music is permeable and was never meant to be confined to borders nor used for political ends, rather, it was meant to echo freely throughout space and time. May we one day see a Free Palestine”.

Think About It

Ayatollah Khomeini once said: “Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious”.  So how did Sami Yusuf get to become popular in Iran in the first place?  And was it wrong for Sami Yusuf to perform for Palestinian audience even though the performance took place in Nazareth?

Judicial Review Of Marriage Law

Under Article 7 of Indonesia’s Marriage Law, which was passed in 1974, 16 years is the marriageable age for females, and 19 for males. This law underwent judicial review at the Constitutional Court earlier this week. However, the Constitutional Court upheld 16 years as the marriageable age for females, on grounds that there is no guarantee that increasing the age to 18 would reduce divorce rates and solve health and social problems.

Arguments For Raising Marriageable Age For Females

Indonesia has one of the highest number of underage marriages in the world and the second highest in ASEAN after Cambodia. According to Indonesia’s Central Statistics Agency’s 2010 census, 6% of boys and 13.7% of girls aged 15-19 were already married. That census also found that more than 22 million Indonesian girls and boys aged 10-14 were already married. The reason why so many could be married so early is that a provision in the law allows young children to be married if there is parental consent and judicial approval.

Pregnancies at an early age carry enormous risks for the mother. Compared with pregnant women aged 20-15, those aged 10-15 years have a 5 times greater risk, and those aged 16-19 have a twice greater risk of death in pregnancy.

Girls who marry early are also put at a severe social disadvantage because they are also not mentally and emotionally ready. Early marriage deprives them of educational opportunities, and they enter a vicious cycle of poverty and death, not knowing their rights, and giving birth and raising families without proper knowledge and access to health services.

Many of the young girls are married to men much older than themselves, and end up being vulnerable to physical and mental abuse throughout their lives.

Challenge To Marriage Law

In 2014 the Women’s Health Foundation filed a request for a judicial review of the Marriage Law of 1974 on grounds that it conflicted with other laws that defined a child as any person being under the age of 18.

In December 2014, at a hearing of this petition, the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) and the country’s two largest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, argued for the petition to be rejected. MUI leader Amidhan Shaberah said that the marriageable age of 16 is consistent with Islamic teachings. Ahmad Isomuddin, from Nahdlatul Ulama, argued that early marriage protected children by preventing extramarital sexual intercourse for minors. Muhammadiyah argued that a passage in the Koran said that those who were considered mature enough to get married were those who already had the urge to raise a family.

However, one Islamic witness was in favour of raising the age of marriage. Among the expert witnesses presented to the court by the petitioners was noted Islamic expert Quraish Shihab, who was for a short time in 1998 Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs. He told the Constitutional Court that Muslim leaders and scholars are divided over marriageable age. He pointed out that, without specifying what is marriageable age, the Koran says that a couple can enter into a marriage if they are physically and economically capable. He then said, “I think the 16 years old mentioned in the Marriage Law no longer accords to the changes of our times”.

Possible Way Forward For Change Of  Marriageable Age

Although this week’s decision by the Constitutional Court not to raise the minimum marriageable age for girls is final, there is still one way to revise that provision. It would be through the government and the House of Representatives.

Think About It

Was the Constitutional Court being too conservative this week? Did it show itself unable to move with the times? Why did it not heed the comment of Islamic expert Quraish Shihab that Muslim leaders and scholars are divided over marriageable age? Did the court really not worry about the high risk of death with pregnancies at an early age, or of the adverse effects of denying girls the chance to further their education. Did it really think that early marriage is a good way of preventing extramarital sexual intercourse for minors? If the issue of marriageable age were to be brought before the House of Representatives, would the members of the House give the petition a more favorable hearing?

Previous posts

Indonesia – Women’s Health Foundation Seeking Judicial Review Of Marriage Law
Indonesia – 13 -Year Girl In Child Marriage To 39-Year Old Man

The More Capable Parent Should Get Custody

It sometimes happen that a child was born a non-Muslim but became a Muslim because one of the parents converted to Islam after which the child was unilaterally converted to Islam by the converted parent.  But what happens to the child when the parents subsequently divorce?  Who gets to keep custody of the child?

Should The Muslim Parent Get Custody?

The Syariah Court in Malaysia usually grants custody of the child in a divorce situation to the Muslim parent.  But now, a recent fatwa issued by the fatwa committee of Perlis suggests that this may not necessarily be the case.

Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin gave the following explanation behind this recent fatwa.  He said: “The overall welfare of the child includes his or her physical, moral and emotional needs. The parent who is more able to provide these needs should get custody, whether they are Muslim or not”.

Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin believes that this fatwa could well be a turning point in how custody cases are decided at the Syariah Courts.

But what happens when both parents are equally suitable to meet the overall welfare of the child?  Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin has an answer: “If both parents are equally suitable to care for the child, then the child has the right to choose which parent he or she wants to live with. This is provided the child is old enough to decide”.

The fatwa also says that if the mother is still breastfeeding the child, then custody should automatically be granted to the mother.


Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin clarifies as follows: “I would like to make it clear that the fatwa does not involve custody of a child born as a Muslim, in a Muslim family where one of the parents later changes his or her religion but it only applies to the child born and raised as a non-Muslim until one of the parents converts to Islam”.

When asked whether this fatwa will weaken the child’s Islamic faith, Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin said: “How can the fatwa weaken the Islamic faith of the child when he or she was born and raised as a non-Muslim (in the first place)?”

Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin made a further clarification: “However should custody be given to the non-Muslim parent, the Muslim parent is still obliged and has the right to introduce Islam to the child”.

Think About It

Will this fatwa be the turning point in how custody cases are decided in the Syariah Courts as suggested by Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin?  Or will the Syariah Courts stick to the its current preference of giving custody to the Muslim parent?

Stipulating Dress Code For Women

In some places Muslim women fight to be allowed to wear Islamic attire such as hijabs and burkas. It’s quite the opposite in Sirte, Libya, a stronghold of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). There, enormous billboards have been put up stipulating what women should wear.

ISIS In Libya

here has been a revolutionary war in Libya since 2011 as various armed groups battle for control of the country. These groups have now been aligning themselves into one of two groups, either supporting Libya’s internationally recognized government (which has been forced out of Tripoli and now operates from Tobruk in the far east of Libya), or supporting an Islamist-leaning government of “National Salvation” in Tripoli. Entering the fray has been the Islamic State, which took control of Derna and Sirte. However, last month the Islamic State was driven out of Derna by al-Qaeda-linked militia.

Instructions On Billboards

One billboard carries a picture of a woman covered head to toe in a black robe. Alongside the picture is a list of stipulations about women’s clothing. The clothing must be heavy and cover the whole body, and it must be made of heavy material. It must not be made by a famous brand. It must also not resemble men’s clothes or garments worn by “female unbelievers”, not be decorated so as to attract attention, and not be scented.

Another billboard, which reads “We want nothing other than the rule of God’s law among us” outlines the desire of IS for people to live according to Sharia law.

Penalties For Breaking Code Of Conduct

Late last year IS released a list of offences and their punishments. They include 80 lashes for drinking alcohol, the cutting off of a hand for theft, death for blasphemy, stoning to death for adulterers who are married or 100 lashes plus exile for unmarried adulterers. Homosexuals face death, as do those who “spy for the unbelievers’.

As for Christians in Libya, recent videos show how they were beheaded en-masse by ISIS.

Think About It

How will the people of Sirte react to these billboards? Will they dare break the stipulations? ISIS was able to hold on to Derna for only a few months. Could their hold on Sirte be as short lived? But then, if Sirte is taken over by another extremist Islamist group, would the people of Sirte be any better off?

Updating The Quran?

What is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad thinking in ordering the release of a “revised” Quran? Why is there a need to do this revision?  The official reason given is the need to stop “distortion” or “misleading information”.  But what are the changes in this “revised” Quran?

The “New Standard Version”

President Bashar al-Assad recently authorized the publication of the “New Standard Version” of the Quran.  The announcement concerning this “New Standard Version” of the Quran was made on television.  Present with President Bashar al-Assad were Mohammad Abdul-Sattar al-Sayyed, Minister of Religious Endowments (Awqaf), and members of the Permanent Committee for the Holy Quran Affairs.

Official state reports indicate that the “New Standard Version” of the Quran will contain simplified letters standardized by official “accredited standards” set by Islamic scholars.

Commenting on this “New Standard Version” of the Quran, President Bashar al-Assad said on TV: “We truly need such acts at this critical stage of distortion and misleading”.

Short On Details

So far what is known is the name of the new Quran version.  But did President Bashar al-Assad change the wording of the Quran? Or did he just challenge established interpretations without changing the wording?

Muslims believe the Quran is perfect, eternal and inviolable word of Allah.  To change the wording of the Quran will not be accepted by Muslims.  And the majority of Muslims are unlikely to accept new interpretations as the established interpretations are accepted by the vast majority of Muslims.

Think About It

So back to the original question – why is there a need to “revise” the Quran? What are the  “distortion” or “misleading information” in the Quran or in the established interpretations that need correction?

Rules On Clothing Upset Muslim Women

There have been various rules, and the reasons behind these rules, that prevent Muslim women from wearing their traditional headgear and robes. Recently new rules for sitting an examination in India have upset Muslim women because of the stipulations about clothing.

Rules That Prevent Muslim Women From Wearing The Hijab And Burka

Many companies have a company uniform, and the traditional Islamic headgear for women may not be in keeping with the kind of look that the company wants. For Disneyland, its desire to maintain a particular company look landed it in a lengthy legal suit. Although Disneyland did design a uniform specially to accommodate Muslim requirements, the employee refused to accept it and instead filed a suit against the company for religious discrimination and harassment.

In Europe some countries ban the burka in public places, the official reason being security. Thus it is not only Islamic wear that is banned, but any kind of covering that masks a person’s identity.

Ban On Islamic Wear When Sitting The All-India Pre-medical Test (AIPMT)

Students sitting for the AIPMT this Saturday July 25 have 10 rules to observe. Essentially, the rules limit what the students can bring into the examination room, and what they can wear. The dress code has upset many Muslim students. One of the rules prohibits items such as “cap, scarf etc”. Another stipulates that the candidates have to wear “light clothes with half sleeves”. The reason for these rules is to prevent cheating by not letting examination candidates hide cheating technology and notes in their clothing.

One potential candidate, Akhtar, told the Hindustan Times, “My father took special permission so I could wear my scarf to school. Why will I give it up now?” She is even considering opting out of the AIPMT and sitting for the Uttar Pradesh state medical examination instead.

Masoom Moradabadi, general secretary of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, said, “This amounts to a violation of religious freedom  and therefore fundamental  rights. Scores of Muslim girls may opt out”.  He appealed to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to reconsider its dress code for the AIPMT, but the Board’s response was “We are not referring to a religious headscarf at all. These instructions refer to the other kinds of caps and scarves”.

Think About It

It’s all very well to protest about the rules and to claim that they violate religious freedom. But what about the reason for the rules? Can the protestors offer alternative means of preventing cheating? Or are they implying that Muslim women do not cheat? Can they prove it?

Previous posts

Disney Sued by Ex-employee For Religious Discrimination And Harassment
Muslim Disneyland Employee Agrees To Beret Over Her Hijab
Hijab Bans – Different Responses, Different Endings

Halal Or Non-halal?

Health authorities are encountering some Muslim parents who refuse outright to vaccinate their children, thereby exposing them to health risks in their later years.  And the reason is because some unnamed guru told them that vaccines are not halal, despite halal certificates being shown to these parents.

The Mysterious Guru

According to a report on an online news portal, government primary care physician Dr Jickson Ng said that he had encountered 3 sets of Muslim parents who refused to allow routine vaccinations for their children.  And the reason for their refusal?  Dr Jickson Ng said: “They kept saying their guru (religious teacher)  told them the vaccines are not halal”.

But none of the parents was prepared to name this guru.  Dr Jickson Ng said: “They say they have studied or read books, but they won’t say which books or give the names of their gurus or ulama”.

But what is puzzling to Dr Jickson Ng was the fact that these Muslim parents appeared to be well educated.  Dr Jickson Ng elaborates: “They tell me that vaccines are bad, that they have met doctors who are against vaccination. No matter what I tell them or how I reason with them, they won’t give in”.


But the fact remains that all vaccines needed to protect children from preventable diseases are halal-certified in Malaysia.  Dr Jickson Ng explains: “We have official statements from the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) and the Health director-general (Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah) saying that all vaccines in Malaysia, especially the compulsory ones, are halal’.

Dr Jickson Ng continues: “If Jakim says it’s halal, why do you say it’s not? Children are most vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases due to their weaker immune system. It is highly recommended that children are vaccinated as early as possible according to the immunization schedule. I even tell them (those refusing vaccinations) that they need to be vaccinated if they want to go on the haj because the meningococcal vaccine is made compulsory by both the Malaysian and Arab health ministries”.

Think About It

So who is this unnamed guru?  What books did he ask his followers to read that convinced them not to vaccinate their children?  Did he write these books?  Is it right for a religious teacher to tell his followers not to vaccinate their child with halal-certified vaccines?  In doing so, wasn’t this guru challenging the health authorities and the government who are able to produce valid halal certification for vaccines?

Harassment By Religious Police

Some Muslim-majority countries have a police force to enforce sharia laws. A Saudi Arabian woman who was recently harassed by some members of this force in a shopping mall has hit the headlines because she did not take the harassment lying down.

Saudi Arabia’s Religious Police

Saudi Arabia has a huge religious police force of a few thousand officers as well as thousands of volunteers. These religious police, known as the mutaween, or also as the morality police, have the power to enforce sharia as defined by the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. They are known for the extremes of paying attention to very minor offences and for meting out punishments grossly disproportional to the offence. Thus there are not many who would challenge the mutaween.

The religious police enforce Muslim dietary laws and dress codes, arrest unrelated males and females found in each other’s company, seize consumer products and publications regarded as anti-Islamic (including Valentine day gifts), and prevent the practice or proselytizing of other religions. They have even arrested a priest for saying Mass.

One incident for which the mutaween were seriously criticized occurred in March 2001, when they prevented schoolgirls from escaping a burning school in Mecca because the girls were not wearing headscarves and abayas (black robes) and were not accompanied by a male guardian. Fifteen girls died.

Another highly criticized incident occurred last year when the mutaween pursued a car at high speed, and rammed the car three times before pushing if off a bridge, because they objected to the patriotic songs two brother were playing on their car stereo. Both young men died.

Confronting The Muttaween

Fatimah Ibrahim Hussein was shopping in the Nakheel Mall in Riyadh with her husband, when 6 muttawa officers ordered her leave the mall for dressing provocatively and for wearing too much make-up. Instead of leaving the mall, Fatimah Ibrahim Hussein filmed them following her.

When they enter a jewellery store, the men tell the shopkeeper not to serve her. Fatimah Ibrahim Hussein then asked them to identify themselves, but they refused. She asked the shopkeeper to see an item of jewellery, but he too refused on grounds that the police would not let him.

She then turned to the muttawa officers, saying, “My name is Fatimah Ibrahim Hussein. Tell me what your name is if you’re a real man!” They continued to insist she must leave the mall, but eventually gave up.

Fatimah Ibrahim Hussein posted a series of videos about her ordeal, and now plans to complain against the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

Think About It

Why do some Islamic countries need a religious police force? Is Islam a religion based on faith in a God, or is it based on adherence to man-made rules? And are the rules clear, or do members of the police force have the power to decide the limits, such as what is too much make-up? Does Fatimah Ibrahim Hussein have a strong case against the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice?

Enlightening View

It is often said that Islam is a religion of peace.  Yet how does this statement square with the atrocious actions of jihadists such as those fighting for the so-called Islamic State in the name of Islam? Here is where the views of Perak’s Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah may be helpful.

“The Spirit Of Tolerance”

In a recent speech at the opening of a religious school, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah made the following statements about Islam:

1.   Islam promotes harmony, and as such, it does not oppress other faiths.  Islam did not impose itself on others but instead encouraged its followers to accept and respect differences. Moreover, followers of Islam are prohibited from insulting and mocking other faiths.

2.   Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah backed this up by saying: “Tolerance towards other religions is exemplified by Prophet Muhammad’s move to foster an agreement enshrined at the St. Catherine Monastery at Mount Sinai in the year 627″.

3.   Driving this point further, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah gave another example, saying: “The spirit of tolerance was also highlighted in an agreement between the Prophet and the Najran Christians in 631″.

“Greatness Of Islam”

Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah summed up his conclusion this way: “Those who understands the contents of the Quran will appreciate the greatness of Islam as an universal religion that advocates justice, equality, peace and moderation”.

Think About It

So back to the question – how to square the statement that Islam “advocates justice, equality, peace and moderation” with what is going on in the world today, where Islam has been hijacked by different groups dishing out beheadings, whipping, stoning, etc.? What can be done, and by who, to bring Islam back to its greatness once again?