Women’s Action Forum shocked by brutal murders of 3 girls

PESHAWAR, Oct 21: The Women Action Forum (WAF) has expressed deep concern over the recent killing of three young women, whose charred bodies were found in the provincial metropolis, and the attempts to influence the investigation into the gory incident.

A press release issued here on Friday said the incident had shocked all and sundry as the burnt-down bodies of the women, stated to be between 18 to 24 years of age, were found dumped in Chan Mari locality of Tehkal area of the Peshawar district.

The WAF stated that it was matter of anguish that even in the 21st century the detestable crimes of killing of women and burning their bodies were taking place.

The women rights group believed nobody could have dared to resort to such a gruesome act had those who committed similar crimes in the past been brought to justice.

The WAF voiced anger at the reports being spread by some unscrupulous elements in a section of the media who were casting aspersions on the character of the murdered women to influence the police investigation as nobody was there to defend the victims.

The women rights group called for a fair and speedy probe into the brutal murder of three women by tracing the culprits and have them punished. “Attempts to mislead the public and investigators will not work. Justice should be done in this case. Crimes against women cannot be condoned under any garb,” concluded the WAF statement

Police officer, family members arrested in suspected honor killing of Samia Shahid

Samia Shahid (Credit: theguardian.com)
Samia Shahid
(Credit: theguardian.com)

When Samia Shahid died in Pakistan in July, her family said it was the result of a heart attack. Authorities now believe it was an honor killing carried out by her ex-husband, father and uncle, and that an investigator helped some of her family members flee the country.

According to the Guardian, the 28-year-old British woman returned to Pandori, a village in Punjab, under the impression that her father was sick. While she was there, she was strangled to death, a detail the station house officer of the local police station, Aqeel Abbas, initially suppressed.

“He helped people escape the country who were wanted in the case of Samia,” Abubakar Khuda Bakhsh, who’s been appointed to lead a special investigation into the circumstances of Shahid’s death, told the Guardian. “Despite clear instructions, he let them go.”

Bakhsh was referring to Shahid’s mother and sister, whom police are trying to bring back to Pakistan. Abbas, who is also suspected of having accepted a bribe in exchange for his cooperation, is currently in custody.

Shahid’s second husband, Mukhtar Syed Kazam, believes her death to have been an honor killing, her family’s retribution for a marriage they opposed. According to the Guardian, she was “pressured into marrying” Chaudhry Shakeel and outraged her family when she divorced him, then marrying Kazam.

According to the BBC, Shakeel told authorities he’d strangled her with a scarf and is being held for murder, a crime with which he was reportedly assisted by Shahid’s father, Muhammad Shahid. He’s being held as an accessory, while her uncle, Haq Nawaz, is allegedly in custody for having tried to falsify Shahid’s medical records to support the claim she’d died from a heart attack.

On top of murder, Shakeel has also been charged with raping his ex-wife, the India Times reported. Unfortunately, the killing is far from an isolated incident — the BBC reported that, in 2014, almost 1,100 women in Pakistan died at the hands of relatives who believed the women had dishonored their houses. New legislation aims to crack down on honor killings, and while it won’t be able to prevent them entirely, it’s a step in the right direction.

“Enough is enough,” Anis Haroon, a member of Pakistan’s National Commission on Human Rights, told CNN. “We don’t want any more killings in the name of honor. It’s a total falsehood — there is no honor in killing.”

Pakistani Social Media Celebrity Dead in Apparent Honor Killing

Qandeel Baloch (Credit: starsunfolded.com)
Qandeel Baloch
(Credit: starsunfolded.com)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani social media sensation, was strangled by her brother in central Pakistan, police officials said Saturday, in what appears to have been a so-called honor killing.

The police said Ms. Baloch was apparently attacked on Friday night while she was asleep in her parents’ house in Muzaffarabad, a town on the outskirts of Multan in the province of Punjab. The police suspect her brother, Waseem Ahmed Azeem, of killing Ms. Baloch. His whereabouts was unknown on Saturday.

Ms. Baloch, 26, a model, singer and social media celebrity, had gained notoriety in Pakistan recently because of provocative, seminude photographs of herself that she posted on social media sites, and appearances in music videos.

Her bold persona defied the conventions of Pakistan, a deeply conservative society. She was reviled by some in the country for being crass and vulgar, and prone to attention-seeking stunts. But other Pakistanis admired her defiance and independence. She attracted more than 700,000 followers on Facebook and at least 40,000 on Twitter.

“Qandeel was probably the first true female internet celebrity in Pakistan, in that her celebrity had nothing to do with any achievement beyond her provocative presence on social media,” said Hasan Zaidi, a Pakistani filmmaker and media critic.

“It was unfathomable to a lot of Pakistanis that a real woman could be as brazen or shameless about her sexuality publicly, because her entire persona was built around flaunting her body, talking about sex and being in everyone’s face,” Mr. Zaidi said.

Ms. Baloch’s latest appearance was in a video by an unknown singer, in which she danced provocatively to a song titled “Ban.” The producers of the song anticipated that it could not be broadcast on mainstream entertainment channels and instead posted it on YouTube.

Born to a poor family from the backwaters of Punjab, Ms. Baloch, whose real name was Fauzia Azeem, said she had run away from home to pursue her dream of becoming a star. She took to social media after unsuccessful efforts to enter the mainstream entertainment industry.

In interviews, she acknowledged that she was pushing the traditional boundaries of socially acceptable behavior in Pakistan. “I know I exploited the freedom given to me by my parents,” she said in an interview with BBC. “But now, it is too late.”

In June, Ms. Baloch posted photographs of herself with a well-known Muslim cleric, Mufti Abdul Qavi, which attracted much attention on social media. The pictures show Ms. Baloch pouting and wearing the cleric’s hat while he, seemingly bedazzled, stares into the camera.

Many Pakistanis saw the photographs as scandalous, and Mr. Qavi was removed from his position on the country’s moon-sighting committee, which determines when Ramadan starts and ends in accordance with the Islamic lunar calendar.

On Wednesday, she found herself in the spotlight again after local media outlets reported that a man identified as her former husband claimed that he had a son with her and that he had divorced her after he could not meet her demands to provide a house and a luxury car. In response, Ms. Baloch said she had been a victim of domestic abuse.

Ms. Baloch was not shy about saying she wanted to be famous.

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Ms. Baloch wrote: “I will fight for it. I will not give up. I will reach my goal & absolutely nothing will stop me.”

The news of her death prompted an immediate outcry on Twitter and Facebook in Pakistan, with many people condemning her killing and praising Ms. Baloch for her irreverent and uninhibited ways.

“Qandeel Baloch was no role model,” Sherry Rehman, an opposition politician and a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, posted on Twitter. “But she deserved a better life and death. Strongly condemn.”

The killing has put the spotlight back on so-called honor killings in Pakistan. Each year, hundreds of Pakistani women are killed by relatives angered by behavior they believe has tarnished the family’s reputation, human-rights activists say.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed to strengthen laws intended to prevent such killings, but critics say no concrete steps have been taken yet.

In most cases, the honor killings take place within the family, said Syeda Sughra Imam, a former senator from Punjab who has pushed for legislation against the practice.

“The accused and the complainant are from the same family and they forgive each other,” Ms Imam said. “No one is ever prosecuted.”

Ms. Imam’s proposed legislation calls for eliminating a “forgiveness clause” in Pakistani law that allows families to reach a financial settlement or to forgive the killer.

“This killing with impunity has to stop,” Ms. Imam said.

Asim Tanveer contributed reporting from Multan, Pakistan.

The Dirty Old Men of Pakistan

Karachi, Pakistan — IN the world we live in, there is no dearth of pious men who believe that most of the world’s problems can be fixed by giving their women a little thrashing. And this business of a man’s God-given right to give a woman a little thrashing has brought together all of Pakistan’s pious men.

A few weeks ago, Pakistan’s largest province passed a new law called the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act. The law institutes radical measures that say a husband can’t beat his wife, and if he does he will face criminal charges and possibly even eviction from his home. It proposes setting up a hotline women can call to report abuse. In some cases, offenders will be required to wear a bracelet with a GPS monitor and will not be allowed to buy guns.

A coalition of more than 30 religious and political parties has declared the law un-Islamic, an attempt to secularize Pakistan and a clear and present threat to our most sacred institution: the family. They have threatened countrywide street protests if the government doesn’t back down.

Their logic goes like this: If you beat up a person on the street, it’s a criminal assault. If you bash someone in your bedroom, you’re protected by the sanctity of your home. If you kill a stranger, it’s murder. If you shoot your own sister, you’re defending your honor. I’m sure the nice folks campaigning against the bill don’t want to beat up their wives or murder their sisters, but they are fighting for their fellow men’s right to do just that.

It’s not only opposition parties that are against the bill: The government-appointed Council of Islamic Ideology has also declared it repugnant to our religion and culture. The council’s main task is to ensure that all the laws in the country comply with Shariah. But basically it’s a bunch of old men who go to sleep worrying that there are all these women out there trying to trick them into bed. Maybe that’s why there are no pious old women on the council, even though there’s no shortage of them in Pakistan.

The council’s past proclamations have defended a man’s right to marry a minor, dispensed him from asking for permission from his first wife before taking a second or a third, and made it impossible for women to prove rape. It’s probably the most privileged dirty old men’s club in the country.

Some of us routinely condemn these pious old men, but it seems they are not just a bunch of pampered religious nuts. In fact, they are giving voice to Pakistani men’s collective misery over the fact that their women are out of control. Look at university exam results; women are hogging all the top positions. Go to a bank; there is a woman counting your money with her fancy nails. Turn on your TV; there is a female journalist questioning powerful men about politics and sports.

One of these journalists recently was grilling a famous mufti opposed to the bill. Bewildered, the mufti said: Are you a woman, or are you a TV journalist? She was professional enough not to retort: Are you a mufti, or just another old fart?

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Three decades ago, most Pakistani women who had paid jobs worked at menial tasks, and the others were confined to traditional professions like medicine or teaching or, occasionally, law. There was a small and brave women’s movement. Women were writing novels and making movies, but they were few in number. Now they are flying planes, heading companies, policing the streets, climbing mountains and winning Oscars and Nobel Prizes. There are millions of women across the country running little beauty parlors from their homes, employing other women and gaining a measure of independence.

But for every bank teller, there are still millions of women who are farmhands or house help. For every TV journalist, there are many more women who live in half-slavery, scrubbing and cleaning, and shouldering the heavy burden of protecting and raising their kids.

Let’s not just blame the mullahs and muftis. Misogyny is way older than any religion. Even people who have never seen the inside of a mosque or the Sufis who want to become one with the universe wouldn’t think twice before treating a woman as something between a pest and a pet goat.

Some members of Parliament stayed away when this bill was being passed in the Punjab assembly. They probably represent a majority. Some of us even call ourselves feminist. “See, I have never stopped my sister from going to school, never given my girlfriend a black eye. That makes me a feminist, right? But we must protect our families. You don’t want a family-loving feminist man going around with a GPS tracker, do you?”

What really scares the so-called feminist men is that a lot of women are actually quite bored with talking about being a woman. They talk about their work. A film director talks about bad actors. A development worker talks about idiotic funding patterns. A maid talks about her cellphone and the quality of detergents.

There’s a woman in my neighborhood who walks fast. She is always carrying two kids in her arms. Not infants but 3-, 4-year-old sturdy kids, heavy weights. She walks fast. Probably you have to walk fast when you are carrying two kids. She doesn’t expect a lift from the many cars passing by. She can’t afford a cab. She is walking toward her bus. Always with the two kids in her arms and a bag around her shoulder. She gives Quran lessons at people’s homes.

I don’t think all those pious men, or anyone else, can tell that woman with the two kids how to walk her daily walk. If someone asks her how it feels to be a woman in this society, she’d probably answer, “Can’t you see I’m working?”

Mohammed Hanif is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” and “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti” and the librettist for the opera “Bhutto.”


British man becomes first to be jailed for forcing wife to live like a slave

Safaraz Ahmed (Credit: independent.co.uk)
Safaraz Ahmed
(Credit: independent.co.uk)

A man who treated his wife as a slave and subjected her to “physical and mental torture” has been jailed for two years.

Safraz Ahmed, 34, is the first Briton convicted of forcing their wife in to domestic servitude.

Ahmed initially denied the offence but changed his plea to guilty.

He and his wife, Sumara Iram, married in 2006 in an arranged marriage in her home city of Gurjat, in the Pakistani state of Punjab.

When she came to the UK in 2012, she was forced to carry out endless chores for her husband, who subjected her to vicious beatings.

Woolwich crown court heard he would throw tins of cat food at her, send demeaning text messages and told her she should jump in front of a moving car or in a river.

To keep her isolated, she was locked inside the house and her mobile was confiscated. Ahmed further humiliated her by making her wash in the garden.

The deplorable conditions continued for two years, only coming to light when neighbours became suspicious.

After a brutal attack in February 2014, in which Ahmed broke her nose, Ms Iram ran into the street, fearing for her life. Neighbours spotted the injured woman and witnessed her being dragged back into the house.

Despite the police being called, her lack of English meant she was unable to lodge a formal complaint. Her husband was released from custody. Six months after the attack, she took an overdose of painkillers in an attempt to take her own life.

Ms Iram suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and claims the experience “ruined her life”.

Ahmed will now serve two years for enforced domestic servitude and eight months for causing actual bodily harm by breaking his wife’s nose. Both sentences will run concurrently.

Damaris Lakin, a lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This is a ground-breaking case which demonstrates how far we have come in tackling modern-day slavery. We believe this is the first conviction in England and Wales of a husband for holding his wife in servitude.

“After moving to the UK in 2012 to live with her husband it did not take long before the victim’s dream of a loving family life was shattered as she realised that she had been brought to the UK only to be a servant.

“She was treated with complete contempt by the defendant who responded to her requests for affection with physical assaults and verbal abuse. She was isolated from the world, allowed only very restricted contact with her family and was not allowed to leave the house unaccompanied.

“The CPS is committed to working with the police and other partner agencies to bring the perpetrators of modern day slavery to justice and support victims to help them through the prosecution process and beyond in the hope that they can rebuild their lives.”

Nergis Mavalvala: The Karachiite who went on to detect Einstein’s gravitational waves

Nergis at MIT (Credit: news.mit.edu)
Nergis at MIT
(Credit: news.mit.edu)
Karachi-born quantum astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala, Associate Department Head of Physics at MIT is a member of the team of scientists that announced on Thursday the scientific milestone of detecting gravitational waves, ripples in space and time hypothesized by physicist Albert Einstein a century ago.

Professor Mavalvala, whose career spans 20 years, has published extensively in her field and has been working with MIT since 2002.

Mavalvala did her BA at Wellesley College in Physics and Astronomy in 1990 and a Ph.D in physics in 1997 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Before that, she was a postdoctoral associate and then a research scientist at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), working on the Laser Interferometric Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO).

She has been involved with LIGO since her early years in graduate school at MIT and her primary research has been in instrument development for interferometric gravitational-wave detectors.

She also received the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Award in 2010.

The girl from Karachi

Born to a Parsi family in Karachi, Mavalvala received her early education from the Convent of Jesus and Mary school, an administration official from the educational institute confirmed to Dawn.com.

She later moved to the United States as a teenager to attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she is said to have a natural gift for being comfortable in her own skin, according to an article published on the sciencemag.org website.
“Even when Nergis was a freshman, she struck me as fearless, with a refreshing can-do attitude,” says Robert Berg, a professor of physics at Wellesley.

“I used to borrow tools and parts from the bike-repair man across the street to fix my bike,” Mavalvala says.

In an earlier report, Mavalvala’s colleague observed that while many professors would like to treat students as colleagues, most students don’t respond as equals. From the first day, Mavalvala acted and worked like an equal. She helped Berg, who at the time was new to the faculty, set up a laser and transform an empty room into a lab. Before she graduated in 1990, Berg and Mavalvala had co-authored a paper in Physical Review B: Condensed Matter.

Her parents encouraged academic excellence. She was by temperament very hands-on. “I used to borrow tools and parts from the bike-repair man across the street to fix my bike,” she says. Her mother objected to the grease stains, “but my parents never said such skills were off-limits to me or my sister.”

So she grew up without stereotypical gender roles. Once in the United States, she did not feel bound by US social norms, she recalls.

Her practical skills stood her in good stead in 1991, when she was scouting for a research group to join after her first year as a graduate student at MIT. Her adviser was moving to Chicago and Mavalvala had decided not to follow him, so she needed a new adviser. She met Rainer Weiss, who worked down the hallway.

“What do you know?” Weiss asked her. She began to list the classes she had taken at the institute—but the renowned experimentalist interrupted with, “What do you know how to do?” Mavalvala ticked off her practical skills and accomplishments: machining, electronic circuitry, building a laser. Weiss took her on right away.

Mavalvala says that although it may not be immediately apparent, she is a product of good mentoring.

From the chemistry teacher in Pakistan who let her play with reagents in the lab after school to the head of the physics department at MIT, who supported her work when she joined the faculty in 2002, she has encountered several encouraging people on her journey.

Although the discovery of gravitational waves, that opens a new window for studying the cosmos, was made in September 2015, it took scientists months to confirm their data.

The researchers said they detected gravitational waves coming from two black holes – extraordinarily dense objects whose existence also was foreseen by Einstein – that orbited one another, spiraled inward and smashed together. They said the waves were the product of a collision between two black holes 30 times as massive as the Sun, located 1.3 billion light years from Earth.

The scientific milestone, announced at a news conference in Washington, was achieved using a pair of giant laser detectors in the United States, located in Louisiana and Washington state, capping a long quest to confirm the existence of these waves.

The announcement was made in Washington by scientists from the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

“We are really witnessing the opening of a new tool for doing astronomy,” MIT astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala said in an interview. “We have turned on a new sense. We have been able to see and now we will be able to hear as well.”

Saudi Foreign Minister says ‘be patient’ on women’s rights

Saudi women drivers (Credit: telegraph.co.uk)
Saudi women drivers
(Credit: telegraph.co.uk)
MUNICH: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister defended his country’s treatment of women on Friday, saying it had made progress on female education but would take time to let them drive cars.

“When it comes to issues like women’s driving, this is not a religious issue, it’s a societal issue,” Adel al-Jubeir told an audience at the Munich Security Conference.

He said it was unfair to fixate on the issue of women drivers, given the ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom’s efforts to educate girls.

“We went from no schools for women in 1960 to universal education, to where today 55 percent of college students are women,” said Jubeir.

“Some of our top doctors and engineers and lawyers and business people are women. The issue is one that is evolving just like it is in other countries.”
He compared Saudi Arabia to the United States, arguing that it took 100 years after America’s independence before women were given the right to vote, and another 100 years for it to elect its first female parliamentary speaker.

“I’m not saying ‘Give us 200 years’. I’m saying ‘be patient’,” said Jubeir.
“We hope that in the modern world with technology and communications that this process is accelerated, but things take time. We can’t expect to rush things.”

Restrictions in Saudi Arabia remain some of the toughest in the world with women forced to cover themselves in black from head to toe in public.
For the first time in December women were allowed to stand for election to local councils.

Human Rights Watch has criticised Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system which forbids women “from obtaining a passport, marrying, travelling, or accessing higher education without the approval of a male guardian”.

Pakistani Women Transition from Heels to Wheels

Punjab Women on Motorbikes (Credit: dawn.com)
Punjab Women on Motorbikes
(Credit: dawn.com)

LAHORE: The Women on Wheels (WoW) project was launched on Sunday with a motorcycle rally for women on The Mall.

A total of 150 women motorcyclists, who completed training from the Special Monitoring Unit on Law and Order and City Traffic Police, took part in the rally.

SMU launches motorbike training for women

Austrian Ambassador Brigitta Balaha and former Supreme Court Bar Association president Asma Jehangir also participated in the rally. Minister for Population Welfare Zakia Shahnawaz, Minister for Women Development Hameeda Waheedud Din, Special Monitoring Unit Senior Member Salman Sufi, Danish Ambassador Helen Neilson, American Consul General Zackary Harkenrider, UN Women Country Representative Jamshed Qazi and a prominent motorcyclist from Singapore, Juvena Huan, were present on the occasion.

She said that the Punjab government was taking effective measures for the elimination of gender discrimination, change in social mindsets and ensuring active participation of women in all sectors of the economy.

She said that in view of transport problems faced by women, the government had taken various mitigation measures. “On the instructions of the government, free training is being imparted to women to ride motorcycles under the aegis of Special Monitoring Unit,” she said.

She said that on International Women’s Day, 1,000 scooties would be distributed among women. Referring to various challenges and problems being faced by women, the minister said that equal rights and encouragement were being given to women so that they could play their role in the society.

Zakia Shahnawaz said that provision of equal opportunities of development to women was the responsibility of the Punjab government. “No effort will be spared for making the Women on Wheels project successful. The government will continue the process of legislation for empowerment of women,” she said.

Brigitta Balaha said that provision of opportunity and facilities to Pakistani women was a commendable step.

Zachary Harkenrider said that it was an honour for him to see the historic rally of motorcyclist women.

Tashfeen Malik Studied at Conservative Religious School In Pakistan

Tashfeen & Rizwan enter US in 2014 (Credit: wsj.com)
Tashfeen & Rizwan enter US in 2014
(Credit: wsj.com)

MULTAN, Dec 7— Tashfeen Malik, who went on a deadly shooting spree in California with her husband last week, studied after college at a conservative Islamic religious school here that attracts relatively well-educated and affluent women.

Officials at the Al-Huda International school said Ms. Malik took classes on the Quran for about a year until May 2014—two months before she moved to the U.S. and married a Pakistani-American man, Syed Rizwan Farook.

Earlier reports suggested she had left Pakistan after completing a university degree here in 2012. Some of her college friends said she hadn’t told them she attended classes at Al-Huda.

Al-Huda was founded in 1994 in Islamabad by a Pakistani woman, Farhat Hashmi, and now has branches around the world, including in the U.S. and Canada, according to the school.

Spokeswoman Farrukh Choudhry described Ms. Malik—who was born in a Pakistani family but grew up in Saudi Arabia—as “very loving and very obedient” while at the school. “No one would have thought that she could do something like this,” she said.

Classmates and university professors described her as traditional, but not extreme.

In a statement Monday, the school said “we cannot be held responsible for personal acts of any of our students.” It said Al-Huda promotes a “peaceful message of Islam and denounces extremism, violence and acts of terrorism.”

U.S. authorities say the 29-year-old Ms. Malik posted a message on her Facebook FB 0.99 % page Wednesday declaring her allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State extremist group, the same day she and her husband killed 14 people and injured 21 others. The couple was later killed in a shootout with police.

U.S. officials say they suspect that Ms. Malik radicalized Mr. Farook, who was born in the U.S. and worked for a county health department in San Bernardino, Calif.

Al-Huda officials in Multan, a city in central Pakistan, say Ms. Malik enrolled in their school April 2013 after completing a pharmacy degree at Bahauddin Zakariya University in the same city. She completed her last class at Al-Huda on May 3, 2014. Eight days later, she sent an email saying she was getting married and moving to the U.S., they said.

She requested information about correspondence courses and it was sent, but the school received no response, Ms. Choudhry said.

However, a woman who said she was a college friend of Ms. Malik said they went together to Al-Huda classes before Ms. Malik graduated from the university. The discrepancy couldn’t immediately be explained.

Ms. Malik appeared religious even when she started at the university in 2007, wearing a niqab—the all-covering veil that leaves only the eyes exposed—throughout her time there, according to her professors.

Unlike traditional madrassas, or religious schools, Al-Huda was founded to provide a modern Islamic education for women. In recent years, it also has begun to offer instruction to men. A poster in a shop window in Multan on Monday offered Al-Huda courses for teenage boys.


Ms. Choudhry said the group teaches students to understand the Quran. “We have no politics, no sect. We don’t touch controversial issues,” she said.

The school’s website says it aims to help students “find inner peace, develop good character, demonstrate effective interpersonal relations and become beneficial members of society working to better serve humanity.”

Critics of the group say it promotes a rigid, puritanical mind-set.

Sadaf Ahmad, author of a book on Al-Huda, said its followers have a “sense of righteousness” and their beliefs “have the potential to become de-humanizing, dangerous and harmful for others.”

Khaled Ahmed, a Lahore-based expert on religious extremism, called Al-Huda’s teachings “retrogressive.” He said because the founder, Ms. Hashmi, “is educated, speaks out against the ‘religious right’ and is a woman, other women find her teachings more acceptable and legitimate.”

He said the group is “increasing in popularity among educated, urban, upper-middle-class and upper-class women.”

Ms. Hashmi has a master’s degree in Arabic from Pakistan’s Punjab University and a Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, according to her website.

Her lectures in Pakistan and abroad often attract thousands of women. Her website says most of her funding comes from students, and she claims there that she has no affiliation with any religious group.


Ms. Malik’s family, originally from Pakistan, has been based in Saudi Arabia for about 30 years. One of her brothers, reached by phone in Riyadh, said the family only learned of her role in the California assault on television.

“We are in shock,” he said. “We don’t know what happened to our life.” He described his sister as studious and quiet, and said she showed no evidence of drifting toward extremism.

“She was very normal here,” said the brother, who didn’t want his name used for fear he would lose his job. “She was living in Saudi Arabia. There is no social life here. There is no life outside, no friends.”

He said he last saw her sister around a year and a half ago. They would speak every couple of months under pressure from their mother. “My mother would say: ‘She is your sister, why are you not talking to her?’”

—Margherita Stancati in Riyadh contributed to this article.

Afghan women soar out of burqas into open skies

The Burqa Generation
The Burqa Generation
KABUL, Sept 21: Zakia Mohammadi, a woman in Afghanistan’s first national paragliding team, waited on a hilltop on the outskirts of Kabul for a wind to lift her craft into the sky, as dozens of watching teenagers clapped and cheered.

She is one of a group of young Afghans taking to the skies of a capital where military helicopters and surveillance balloons are a far more familiar sight.

“When I went up to the sky, I thought I was a bird which had just been freed from a cage,” said Mohammadi, one of two women in the newly established team of 15 that includes two trainers.

“I really enjoyed it.” Women in Afghanistan’s conservative Muslim society are increasingly entering areas such as education, sports and the workplace, but most still wear the head-to-toe garment, the burqa.

“When women see me they don’t believe that an Afghan woman can do this,” said Leeda Ozori, the other woman in the team. “The situation is not good, there is no security, but I am brave and I can do it.”

During the rule of the militant Taliban in the 1990s, Afghan women were kept out of schools, universities and public life. They could not leave their homes unless accompanied by a male family member.

“When we first came here, children were pelting us with stones,” paragliding trainer Mehran Rahbari told Reuters at the top of the hill in Kabul.

“But later, when they found out that we were coming here for sports, they stopped throwing stones at us. Now they love us.” Paragliding is an expensive pastime, however, in a city where the average wage is about $200 a month.

Even a middle-class Afghan will find it tough to afford the $500 cost of two weeks of training, while paragliding equipment costs $5,000.

Getting to the tops of hills takes hours of climbing in a four-wheel drive vehicle, in the absence of proper roads. An army vehicle carries the team’s equipment, with a police escort to fend off possible attacks.

But the team’s biggest concern is their vulnerability when aloft. “We fly for around 20 minutes in the sky and sometimes we fly over people’s houses,” said Naweed Popal, who pooled his cash to set up the group just over three years ago.
“We are concerned if something happens and we find ourselves with no means of defence.” Each craft has a steering mechanism to avoid collisions, and every team member is given a radio to maintain contact.

Although the team hopes to expand operations to other Afghan provinces, security worries now restrict it to Kabul.

“We cannot go anywhere outside Kabul,” said Iranian trainer Rahbari. “We are afraid if we go out and get attacked, one bullet can end all our efforts.” But the women on the team are undeterred.

“Our idea is to show to the world that Afghan women, although living in war and insecurity, have the ability to improve and become developed,” said Mohammadi.