Badriya Yasmeen Dowe, thestar online - The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) is currently holding an exhibition on the role of women in the Islamic world. The image of Muslim women was, to some extent, set in the 19th century when they were depicted as less than real individuals in art and literature.
Today, the view held by many in the West is that Muslim women are second-class citizens, trapped in their homes and hidden behind the veil. While this latter view is true in certain countries, it is by no means the norm as often the oppression of women is due to cultural rather than religious traditions.
Since the beginning of Islam, women have played important roles in society. Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, was the first convert to Islam. His third wife, Aisha, was a great contributor to the sayings of the Prophet (hadith), which went on to become a component of the shar’ia (Islamic law).
The deeds of these women secured them a place in the annals of Islam and it would be hard to find a single Muslim that did not know who they were.
Unfortunately, the same acknowledgment has not been extended to the many women who were able to attain the exalted position of sovereign. Occasionally, in Islamic history, women ruled jointly with their husbands, but they have also governed their own territories outright, having their names mentioned in the Friday khutba (sermon), and inscribed on coins.
One such woman was Yemen’s Arwa binti Ahmad al-Sulayhi. She was born in 1048 in Haraz, Yemen, a member of the Sulayhid dynasty, vassals of the Fatimid dynasty in Cairo.
Arwa was taught that in Yemen, the wife of the ruler shared power with her husband and was not meant to stagnate in the harem. At 17, Arwa was married to her cousin al-Mukarram. After considerable upheaval, al-Mukarram passed his power on to Arwa, and retreated from public life.
Queen Arwa focused her attention on the welfare of her people, building mosques, roads and fountains. She also took a deep interest in cultural and religious studies and set up several centres for education. Arwa ruled Yemen for over half a century, never losing the support of her people, who affectionately called her Balqis al-Sughra (Young Queen of Sheba).
In the Indian subcontinent, Nur Jehan may be less famous than Mumtaz Mahal, but her fame among the Mughals was far greater. Born Mihr-un-Nisa (Sun Among Women) in 1577, she was a handmaiden at the palace.
Prince Selim (Jahangir) fell in love with her when he spotted her at the palace bazaar in the spring of 1611, but his desire to marry her was thwarted by his father, Emperor Akbar.
Eventually the two were married and she was given the honorific title Nur Jehan Begum (Light of the World Queen).
Nur Jehan brought the emperor under her influence, concentrating real political power in her hands. Using the emperor as a puppet, this wily individual ruled in his name for 11 years, from 1616 till 1627. She became a legend, sitting on the throne alongside the emperor, with firman (pronouncements) and coins issued in her name.
Women have been among the most significant factors behind the success of Islamic empires since the 7th century. Their faith, intelligence, influence and beauty have been central to Islamic history. Their role in religious, military and social affairs was acknowledged as early as during the time of the Prophet.
Why then is so little known about these extraordinary women?
The reason for this is the scant attention they were given by contemporary and later historians, who either completely omitted them or downplayed their significance. Though Islam raised the status of women and ensured them certain rights, the society they lived in was still extremely patriarchal. And there were those within society who found no pride in being ruled by women.
The two above-mentioned queens are just a sampling of the plethora of Muslim women that were able to rise to prominent positions. The exhibition Faith and Power: Women in Islam at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) brings these women out of obscurity and gives them their pride of place in Islamic history. The exhibition runs until July 4, this year.
There is an accompanying catalogue available for purchase at the IAMM gift shop which provides a more comprehensive look at the lives and achievements of the women featured in the exhibition. The women highlighted come from all over the Islamic world, from Spain to South-East Asia, and span the entire Islamic period up till the present day.
A forum will be held at the IAMM auditorium to discuss issues relevant to the modern Muslim women. This is open to the public and free of charge. The tentative date is May 31.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is seriously concerned about an increase in fighting in the city of Taiz.
In a press release issued on Friday, the ICRC said that there has been indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, and essential infrastructure is being destroyed.
"We call on the parties on the ground in Taiz to allow the safe passage of ambulances, medical workers and aid workers so that lives can be saved and the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance can be made possible," said the head of the ICRC in Taiz, Olivier Chassot.
The ICRC indicated that the health situation in the governorate is particularly dire. The handful of hospitals still functioning are having to deal with large numbers of wounded people as well as severe shortage of supplies. The ICRC has had serious difficulties in delivering lifesaving medical and surgical supplies to a number of hospitals in Taiz.
The European Union (EU) has affirmed that the recent airstrikes on Hodeida port imposed an immediate hindrance to imports food, fuel, medicines and other supplies.
A joint Statement by the Spokespersons of the High Representative / Vice-President Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides on the bombings in Yemen of port facilities in Hodeida said:
“The current conflict in Yemen is having a dramatic impact on the civilian population whose needs have reached alarming proportions. Access for the delivery of humanitarian aid and essential supplies, including fuel, food and basic commodities to ordinary Yemenis remains extremely difficult.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has described the humanitarian situation in Yemen as catastrophic.
"The humanitarian situation is nothing short of catastrophic. Every family in Yemen has been affected by this conflict. The people are facing immense hardship. And it is getting worse by the day. The world needs to wake up to what is going on," said Peter Maurer, who just ended a three-day visit to Yemen on Tuesday.
"The compounded effects of intense fighting and import restrictions are having a dramatic impact on health care," Maurer said. "Health facilities have been massively attacked as well as suffering collateral damage."
President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Peter Maurer has said that the ICRC will expand its activities in Yemen.
In a press conference in Sana’a on Sunday, Maurer affirmed that his visit will achieve positive and prompt results with regards to the humanitarian response in Yemen.
He said that he is optimistic that the visit will result in doubling the ICRC efforts to face this “disastrous” situation as what the ICRC and its partners currently provide cannot cover all the humanitarian aspects, specially that the country is under siege.
The Saudi aggression continued on Sunday to launch airstrikes on several governorates in the country.
A security source said Saudi war jets launched a number of raids on different parts of Hajjah governorate, destroying the building of the Roads and Bridges Authority in Haradh town in addition to many air raids carried out by drones in the town.
The Saudi warplanes also launched many raids on al-Hamara area of Lahj governorate, which led to numerous fatalities, including women and children. More than 16 sorties were carried out against areas of Muthalath al-Anad, al-Anad Air Base, Abain and Karesh, the source said.
In Dhamar governorate, the Saudi warplanes launched an airstrike targeted the Yemeni Economic Corporation building in Ma'abar city.
The United Nations has announced that the number of Yemeni internally displaced persons (IDPs) due the military aggression had doubled in less than two weeks.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the number of Yemeni IDPs had increased twice in 19 governorates since 17 April 2015 when 150 thousand Yemeni IDPs were registered.
It warned of the gravity of situations in Yemen because of the aggression.
The statement pointed out that the big number of IDPs are from the northern Hajjah governorate, in addition to southern Al-Dhalea and Abyan governorates.
Amnesty International has called for investigating the killing of hundreds of civilians, including scores of children, by the Saudi Arabian-led airstrikes across Yemen.
"The month-long campaign of air strikes carried out by Saudi Arabia and its allies has transformed many parts of Yemen into a dangerous place for civilians," said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.
"Millions of people have been forced to live in a state of utter terror, afraid of being killed at home. Many feel they are left with no choice but to move away from their destroyed villages to an uncertain future."
The UN has stated that more than 550 civilians have been killed including more than 100 children since the military campaign began on 25 March.
Amnesty International said it has documented eight strikes in five densely populated areas, which are Sa'ada, Sana'a, Hodeida, Hajjah and Ibb, noting that several of these strikes raised concerns about compliance with the rules of international humanitarian law.
According its research, Amnesty International said at least 139 people, including at least 97 civilians, 33 of whom were children were killed during the strikes, and 460 individuals were injured, at least 157 whom are civilians.