ISLAMOPHOBIA AND GENDER AT THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT. AN EXAMPLE OF MB MONOPOLISATION

Islamophobia and Gender at the European Parliament. An example of MB monopolisation.

29.02.2016 Valentina Colombo

MEP Soraya Post is hosting on March 2, 2016 a public hearing on Islamophobia and Gender that confirms the strong link between S&D group and the galaxy of the European Muslim Brotherhood at the European level. It is noteworthy that such a controversial issues such as islamophobia and gender seems, at least in the case of the above-mentioned event, to be almost monopolized by organisations and individuals linked to a single ideological area, namely political Islam, of the immense and variegated universe of Muslims living in Europe. S&D group has already hosted Tariq Ramadan and Malika Hamidi, respectively President and Director of the European Muslim Network based in Brussels, Islamic Relief Belgium, FEMYSO and other actors of European political Islam.

The co-organisers of the upcoming event are the European Forum of Muslim Women (EFOMW), the Forum of European and Muslim Youth Organisations (FEMYSO) and the European Network Against Racism (ENAR). Although they seem to be independent from one another, it will be shown that they have, both in the past and in the present, not only common goals and strategy, but they also belong to the same Islamic context and trend.

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FIOE, EFOMW and ECFR

EFOMW, founded in 2006, is the European umbrella organisation of women associations belonging to the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE), which is the main umbrella organisation of Muslim Brotherhood associations in Europe.

The official goal of FIOE is to broaden the cooperation and coordination of Muslim groups in Europe and to reinforce participation in societal dialogue, emphasizing that extra attention should be “granted to the affairs of youth, women, and the professional segments”. FIOE’s Shura Council, the consultative council chaired by Samir Falah – president of the Islamische Gemeinschaft in Deutschland – has encouraged Muslim participation in the European Parliament elections and has sought to take the lead on certain international political issues such as the situation in Ukraine, “escalating violations of the City of Jerusalem”, opposition to the Assad regime in Syria and Sisi’s government in Egypt, and Islamophobia in Europe.

The fight against Islamophobia and women are declared objectives of FIOE programme. In the Final Statement of the Fifth Shura Council Meeting in the Tenth Term of FIOE (Madrid, 22-25 October 2015) it was highlighted that it “also discussed developing a strategy specifically focused on supporting the values of human rights and equality, and in combating racism, hate, and Islamophobia”. On the other hand, the last paragraph of the Final Statement of the 3rd General Assembly Meeting in the 10th Executive Term of FIOE (Tunis, 21-24 January 2016) “called for greater effort in developing the presence of women and youth in the leadership bodies and councils of Islamic organisations in Europe, and to encourage them to raise their participation in all positive spheres”. Both documents confirm that the upcoming event at the European parliament perfectly fits into FIOE strategy about islamophobia and its tendency to point out women both as the most vulnerable and visible victims of hate against Islam and Muslims and as front-line actors in against Islamophobia.

It is worth pointing out the official link between FIOE and its members and the global Muslim Brotherhood. On July 6, 2009, that is still under Mubarak’s regime, Ibrahim Munir – present deputy Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, was interviewed by the Egyptian daily Al-Masry al-Yom and clearly explained the role of the European umbrella organisation:

“Islamic activities [of the MB] in Europe are different, there is a completely independent structure which is called the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE). It is registered at the European Union; it has an office in Brussels and is known at the European level. On this basis, they cooperate. We must obey the laws of our countries and they must obey the laws of their countries. In all European countries, there are Islamic organizations that convey the thought of the Muslim Brotherhood and others that do not. All of these organizations are working for the benefit of their country and according to the laws of that country.”

FIOE is among other things behind the birth of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) in Dublin, headed by the controversial preacher Yusuf Qaradawi. ECFR inaugural meeting took place, as stated in the introduction of its First collection of Fatwas, “in London, UK, on 21-22 Dhul Qi’da 1417AH, 29-30 March 1997. The meeting was attended by more than 15 scholars who responded to the invitation of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe.” It is thus clear that EFOMW vision of women in Europe follows the model presented both by FIOE and ECFR.

When it comes to women both Qaradawi and ECFR hold ambiguous positions. For instance, Qaradawi in his essay The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam explains the reason of the prohibition of marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man as follows:

“A marriage between a man and woman of different faiths can be based only on the husband’s respect for his wife’s beliefs; otherwise a good relationship can never develop. Now, the Muslim believes that both Judaism and Christianity originated in divine revelation, although later distortions were introduced into them. He also believes that Allah revealed the Torah to Moses and the Evangel to Jesus, and that both Moses and Jesus – peace be on them – were among the messengers of Allah who were distinguished by their steadfast determination. Accordingly, the Christian or Jewish wife of a Muslim lives under the protection of a man who respects the basic tenets of her faith, her scripture, and her prophets, while in contrast to this the Jew or Christian recognizes neither the divine origin of Islam, its Book, or its Prophet (peace be on him). How then could a Muslim woman live with such a man, while her religion requires of her the observance of certain worships, duties, and obligations, as well as certain prohibitions? It would be impossible for the Muslim woman to retain her respect for her beliefs as well as to practice her religion properly if she were opposed in this regard by the master of the house at every step.”

This position is also confirmed by ECFR fatwa. Although ECFR issues fatawa for Muslims living as minority in Europe and is meant to adapt sharia to a new minoritarian context, ECFR views about women are definitely conservative. For instance, the need of segregation between men and women is confirmed by the following ECFR fatwa regarding the attendance of mixed ceremonies by women:

“Our opinion in this matter is that Islamic Shari’a did not object to men and women being present in one place on condition that three matters are avoided and refrained from:

First: Seclusion, i.e. where a man and woman meet in a position where no one else can see them.

Second: Adornment of women, i.e. where a woman uncovers what Allah (swt) decreed to be covered from her body, perfume or jewellery or walks in such a way which draws attention and raises ill-thoughts and feelings.

Third: Contact, i.e. skin contact.

If these three matters were avoided and refrained from then there remains no legal objection to the congregation, whether it is a marriage ceremony or any other. However, we see that people often do not abide by these conditions in weddings, and thus the presence of men and women in one place becomes unlawful.”

Similarly, in ordinary life ECFR advises a correct form of dialogue between men and women that finally relegates it to greetings and limited intercourse:

“There are many Hadiths which confirm the permissibility of men greeting women and women greeting men, as well as the lawfulness of men visiting sick women and vice versa.

However, this does not imply the lifting of all boundaries, so that women start speaking to all men who come and go or that men start speaking to all women, as this is rejected by logic and good taste before being rejected by Islam. It is permissible for a woman to speak to a male relative, a teacher, a neighbour, a supervisor at work, and others according to the requirements and needs of every day life and complex relations amongst people in our days, as long as trust is established, troubles (fitna) are in restraint and conditions are normal.”

During Session 24, which was held in Istanbul August 16-19, 2014, ECFR issued many fatwas that apparently aimed to appease the West and its standards. For instance Fatwa 24/3 about “the cure for recalcitrance of a woman toward her husband” explains that the Qur’anic verse referring to it as IV, 34 that is “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them; but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all)”. The key expression is “beat them”.

ECFR states that Muslims have to follow the example of the Prophet who never hit his wives, however, in an interview with the London-based Guardian newspaper, Qaradawi said he accepts wife-beating “as a method of last resort – though only lightly.” He also said that female rape victims should be punished if dressed “immodestly” when assaulted.

ECFR Fatwa 24/4 about khul’ – that is the Islamic divorce at the instance of the wife, who must pay a compensation – is interesting because after stating that in Europe there is no such a divorce, it advises the woman to refer to “Islamic centers or sharia councils if existing, because this is not against the law since the International convention for human rights states that minorities have the right to practice their religion”. The fatwa thus implicitly allows double standards and allows Islamic centers to handle family issues.

ECFR went also so far as issuing a fatwa about the possibility for a woman to ride a bicycle:

“Riding a bicycle or car or any other form of transportation is permissible in itself. The Arab woman during the days of ignorance as well as Islam used to ride camels. The Prophet Mohammed (ppbuh) said: The best of women who rode camels are the women of Qureish; they are the most merciful with their children and the most considerate with their husbands’ wealth” .

However, a woman must abide by Islamic mannerisms when riding a bicycle, such as wearing appropriate Islamic dress and avoiding physical contact with men. As for the possibility of teenage girls losing their hymen; it is important to examine such possibility. If it remains a rare occurring, then Islam has decided that a rule cannot be based upon a rarity.

However, if it is likely that the girl will indeed lose her hymen if she rides a bicycle and no measures can prevent her from doing so, then the Muslim girl ought to be stopped from this, so that people do not think ill of her and that she is not accused of what she has not committed. However, if riding a bicycle is an actual need for the girl, for instance to get to her school or important work, etc., then it remains that necessities make prohibitions permissible. Allah (swt) stated:

“But if one is forced by necessity without wilful disobedience nor transgressing due limits, then there is no sin on him. Truly, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (2:173)” (Fatwa 38)

It is interesting that both Qaradawi and ECFR stand for the veil as a duty for Muslim women, while there are many Islamic theologians saying that it is not a duty, but a free choice. Considering the veil an Islamic duty, any action and/or law against it can be targeted and labelled as islamophobic. This is why not only EFOMW, but also ENAR have been focusing on projects on both gender and islamophobia. Last, but not least it should be noted that Qaradawi also heads the International Union of Muslim Scholars, based in Doha, that on the eve of the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women which was held between March 4th and 15th 2013 issued an official statement in which IUMS attacked the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) because it contradicted Islamic principles for the following reasons:

“1- Substituting qawwama (male caretaking or responsibility) with partnership and complete sharing of roles inside the family between the man and woman (spending, child care, household issues).

2- Complete equality in marriage laws (cancelling all forms of: polygamy, `idda, guardianship, dowry, a man’s spending commitment toward the family, allowing Muslim women to marry non-Muslims and so on).

3- Equality in inheritance.

4- Withdrawing the power to divorce, referring it to the judiciary, and a sharing of all possessions upon divorce.

5- Giving women the authority to file a complaint against her husband accusing him of rape or harassment. The concerned departments would be obliged to exact a penalty on the husband equal to the penalty specified for a person who commits rape or harassment against a woman of no relation to him.

6- Granting complete sexual freedom to girls in addition to the freedom to choose her sex, and the sex of her partner (i.e. to choose to have natural or homosexual relations) in addition to raising marriage age to 18.

7- Giving teenage girls access to contraceptives, training them to use it, and allowing abortion to dispose of an undesired pregnancy (under claims of sexual and reproductive rights).

8- Equating an adulteress with a wife, equating children from an adulterous relation with legal children completely in all rights.”

IUMS statement eventually clarified its vision of women. Most of IUMS members – such as Qaradawi, Rached al-Ghannouchi, Ali Qaradaghi – are also members of ECFR. It should thus be assumed that ECFR, which is the theological reference for FIOE and EFOMW, shares IUMS views about women. Although EFOMW and FIOE promote women’s activism – which is limited to an élite and a restricted group of leading figures – in society and politics, they consider ordinary women’s role as mainly complementary to men’s role in family and life.

FEMYSO and ENAR

EFOMW partners for the event at the European parliament are FEMYSO and ENAR.

FEMYSO is a transnational umbrella organization, connecting 33 Islamic youth and student organizations in 26 European countries, which can be considered the breeding ground of FIOE.

The first meeting of MB Muslim youth organisations across Europe took place in Sweden in 1995, when the Foreign Ministry of Sweden in co-operation with the Swedish Muslim Youth organization (Sveriges Unga Muslimer), organized an international conference on “Islam in Europe”. The participants expressed the need to establish better communications between the organizations and to undertake steps towards more fruitful and organized cooperation. Jeunes Musulmans de France, Young Muslims UK and Sveriges Unga Muslimer were given the responsibility to further develop this idea. In June 1996 FIOE invited the three organizations in Birmingham to facilitate this process along with the Islamic Foundation based in Leicester. During a successive meeting in the same year FEMYSO was established as a youth offshoot of FIOE, whose Youth & Students section is member of FEMYSO.

FEMYSO is headquartered in Brussels, where it is registered as an international NGO. It adopts a formal administrative structure and communications activities similar to that of other MB EUOs. The organization has tried to maintain its autonomy from the global MB; however, FEMYSO’s composition and ideology represent indelible marks indicating that it is an important component of the MB European network. By operating out of Brussels FEMYSO is well placed to foster contact with EU institutions, allowing it to position itself as the voice of young Muslims in Europe.

FEMYSO Executive Committee confirms the nepotism in its upper ranks, as sons and daughters of senior MB leaders hold its key roles. Many past and current Executive Committee members have remained in power for extended periods, sometimes only switching offices. For instance, FEMYSO former President Intissar Kherigi – Rached Ghannouchi’s daughter – is a former Vice President, just like Huda Himmat – Ali Ghalib Himmat’s daughter – who was replaced by her brother Youssef at the end of her term. Youssef Himmat is now FEMYSO President. At present Intissar Kherigi sits on the Board of Trustees both of FEMYSO and ENAR and acts more behind the scenes.

Founded in October 1998 by grassroots activists on a mission to achieve legal changes at the European level and make decisive progress towards racial equality in all European Union member states and based in Brussels, Belgium, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) connects local and national anti-racism NGOs throughout Europe and acts as an interface between member organizations and the European institutions. ENAR is a result of the 1997 European Year Against Racism. Between March and September 1998, more than 600 NGOs were involved in national and European roundtable discussions regarding the viability of such a structure. The Constitutive Conference of ENAR brought together more than 200 representatives of these organizations to draw up a common program of action. According to its website, ENAR is the only pan-European anti-racism network that combines advocacy for racial equality and facilitating cooperation among civil society anti-racist actors in Europe.

ENAR states its “mission is to achieve full equality, solidarity and well-being for all in Europe” by fostering a collective voice in civil society and to influence decision-making in the EU. To this end, its main activity is to lobby the European Parliament on behalf of its member organizations, notably by calling on MEPs and political groups to establish a strong cooperative on anti-racism in the European Parliament, to advance a comprehensive anti-racist agenda and to jointly react to manifestations of racism and hate.

ENAR issues an annual Shadow Report on racism in Europe, which is a compilation of information and data collected by member organizations and produced to fill the gaps in the official and academic data while offering an NGO perspective on the realities of racism in the EU.

The Belgian convert Michael Privot, who started as networking and campaigns officer in January 2006, in March 2010 became ENAR director. Besides being an international expert on radicalization processes within Muslim communities, in 2008 the Belgian newspaper Le Soir published an article of his, entitled “Muslim Brotherhood: Time for Coming-Out”, where he declared his belonging the MB. Later he explained that he did not join the Egyptian Brotherhood, but he felt close to the way of understanding Islam of an Islamic organisation close to the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Policy officer is Julie Pascoet, who joined ENAR in April 2010 after working as communication and advocacy assistant for the NGO Islamic Relief Belgium and converting to Islam.

The presence in ENAR’s board of Intissar Kherigi has strengthened the relation and coordination with FEMYSO.

ISLAMOPHOBIA AND GENDER EVENT

All the speakers of the public hearing on Islamophobia and Gender at the European Parliament belong to the above-mentioned network:

  • Raghad Al Tikriti represents the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), which is member of FEMYSO and FIOE. Al Tikriti is the sister of Anas Al Tikriti, one of the key people of the MB network in the UK and president of the Cordoba Foundation;
  • Ilham Skah, presented as researcher on conditions of Muslim women in Norway, is an activist in the Islamiska Forbundet, which is member of FIOE;
  • Julie Pascoet is the responsible of the ENAR project Forgotten Women Project and ENAR policy officer;
  • Nora Rami is presented as an expert on the question of “laïcité” (The March 15th Freedom Committee). As a matter of fact, the March 15th Freedom Committee has been founded to defend the right of women to wear the veil and has been working very closely with the Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (UOIF), member of FIOE;
  • Fatima Doubakil, Swedish Muslim Human Rights Committee. She is very active in Swedish Islamic organisations close to and members of FIOE;
  • Yasser Louati represents the Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France (CCIF), which is a partner of FEMYSO in the IMAN Project about Islamophobia, funded by the Directorate of Justice of the European Commission;
  • Assia Oulkadi represents FEMYSO;
  • Lamia Elamri is President of European Forum of Muslim Women (EFOMW) and Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of Islamic Relief Worldwide.

The above-mentioned list of speakers totally belongs to the same area of influence and to the same ideological background. The event organised at the European Parliament will consequently deal with the issue of Islamophobia and Gender only from one point of view without any questioning and true debate and will empower and strengthen the idea that organised/political Islam is the main representative of Muslims in Europe.

The event thus confirms the monopoly of Muslim Brotherhood linked organisations not only within the S&D group, but also within European institutions. On June 24-25, 2015 S&D group and the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), which is headed by former Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, co-organised a conference in Brussels entitled “Call to Europe V: Islam in Europe”. The conference was attended by some European actors of the ideological galaxy of the MB, notably the Belgian Michael Privot, German Mehmet Celebi, deputy head of the Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland (Central Muslim Council of Germany), and Tarafa Baghajati, chairman of the Austrian Muslim Initiative (AMI).

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and vice president of the European Commission, presented the closing remark suggesting European policy should include not only Islam, but also political Islam:

“I am not afraid to say that political Islam should be part of the picture. Religion plays a role in politics – not always for good, not always for bad. Religion can be part of the process. What makes the difference is whether the process is democratic or not. That is what matters to us, the key point.”

The 2nd March public hearing finally highlights the trend of confusing Islam and political Islam at the European level, of turning the latter in the only representative of Islam and Muslims in Europe which is unfortunately very far from the reality on the ground and discriminating towards the variegated majority of Muslims who live their religion in an apolitical way and do not recognise themselves in the above-mentioned organisations.

Valentina Colombo

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