Thursday, June 21, 2012

Afghan Refugees Find Precious Support From Iranian NGO

Dressed in beautiful traditional costumes, several Afghan elementary students stood on stage singing a song about their love for Afghanistan.  On the eve of the World Refugee Day, I was invited to speak at the opening ceremony of HAMI. HAMI is an NGO devoted the protection of refugee women and children. Since 1998, Fatemeh Ashrafi has led a non governmental effort to support refugees in Iran. According to the UNHCR official site reports Iran still hosts more than one million registered Afghan refugees. It ranks as the first country in terms of refugee number as well as duration of refugee stay. More precise statistics however, point to a number of 5-6 million Afghan refugees in Iran, most of whom do not have legal status and stay or work permit. Iranians have patiently hosted Afghan citizens for more than three decades when their country faced most difficult times of war, terror and insecurity. Their stay in Iran has been fruitful for both guest and host, although the burden has been mostly set upon Iranians and their government. Due to low economic status and low education, Afghan presence in Iran has been  marred by significant records of unlawful activity resulting in some degree of negative perception among the Iranian society. This has led to certain unreasonable reactions in which for example a  local authority in a northern province banned Afghan nationals from taking part in a certain public ceremony . This led to a strong reaction among some social activists .
HAMI has provided free education for Afghan children, through the establishment of two schools in Tehran and other cities and has supported their families now for several years. Stressing on the importance of providing education for refugees, Ms Ashrafi stated that when parliament elections were held in Afghanistan she felt proud to see that many candidates had announced in their campaign that they  were educated in Iranian universities.
The commitment of the civil society  to humanitarian assistance for refugees residing in Iran is indicative of strong social trends that have persisted in spite of official distaste and aversion, during the recent years specifically . In this particular case HAMI seems to receive some support from government officials.
At regional levels, while government support for neighboring states Afghanistan and Iraq has been significant and substantial the civil society has also been effective in strengthening ties between nations. I remember well that during the official visit of President Khatami to  Afghanistan, after the installation of President Karzai,   President Karzai made the point in a bilateral meeting that Iran had provided the greatest support for post war Afghanistan to that date.

In my speech last week I asked for more recognition and support for our precious civil society efforts from international organisations like the UNHCR and UNICEF as well as from the Iranian government.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Appointment

The Prophet of Islam was appointed today on Mabaas the 27th of Rajab to promote the message of the Revelation.  According to the Holy Quran, Mohammad (SA) is a good example for all( Sura Ahzab 21). He has said : " I have been appointed to complete the best morals". He loves humanity and his life is full of sacrifices for the betterment of mankind.   Yet he is also human and a messenger for all times (Sura Asra 92-93). As Muslims we can name ourselves followers only when we take him as an example in our lifestyle, in our ways and in our words. This requires that we take the Prophet   as a role model, and that we understand his Mission and the teachings of the Quran. The question that arises today is that how can the personality traits of the Prophet and his ways and deeds be applicable to our lifestyles in the 21st century. Islamic scholars and Ulema have divergent views on this matter.
The more conservative and traditional Ulema stipulate that believers should follow and obey the teachings and lifestyle of the Prophet, as it was 14 centuries ago. The progressive scholars believe that Muslims should find the similarities between the lifestyle and manners of the Prophet and seek to implement them. The more modern intellectuals believe that while adhering to the principles and strategies Muslims may improvise to meet the requirements of modern times.
The sublime ethical and spiritual personality of the Prophet along with his sympathy for the oppressed and downtrodden and his support for those suffering from spiritual and material afflictions as well as his love for all humanity all set him in the apex of human history.
He serves as a beacon of hope for the wandering ship of humanity, guiding this wrecked ship to the shores of salvation and bliss.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Farideh Mashini and the Fate of Women's Studies

Iranian universities have  provided post graduate degrees in the field of Women's Studies since 1998. The MA degree program was established by the efforts of both academicians and civil society. The non-governmental Institute for Women's Studies and Research , of which I have been a founding and trustees member, had an instrumental role in proposing the degree and preparing its curriculum in 1996. I was part of that effort and we had proposed at least three branches for the degree program, including women's rights in Islam, family studies, social roles of women.  After approval in 1998, many students studied in this field during the past decade . Recently, during a major review and restructuring of  Human Sciences in Iran, which has been conducted with a certain ideological and political mentality, the Women's Studies degree has been changed to Women's Rights in Islam, thereby limiting the focus of the studies and courses provided. Since the initial attempt had been to delete the degree program in total , this seems to be a compromise to keep the program, but in a controlled manner that would subside the worries of certain conservative groups about the so called Feminist ideology that might permeate and poison such courses. The reality is that an academic approach should enable familiarity with all lines of thought in a particular field,  for only after such an approach would it be possible to make scholarly and unbiased comparisons and appraisals of each school of thought. This is the approach that Islamic leaders and scholars have historically  promoted based on the teachings of the religion.

We have lost a renown woman activist and Quranic researcher, and one of the early graduates in the    Women's Studies program.  Farideh Mashini (1960) died of cancer on Wednesday, after a long struggle against the disease. Farideh is well known among women activists for her dedication to the cause and for her support for the families of political prisoners particularly after the disputed elections of 2009. Mrs. Mashini was briefly arrested in 2009 and interrogated later as well.  Farideh had since several decades, convened sessions for the exegisis of the Holy Quran , particularly on women's rights and status. She was known for her progressive views and insight on these matters. She was a member of the board of the Institute for Women's Studies and has contributed to Farzaneh Journal of Women's Studies  Farideh has also written many research articles and contributed to many national and international conferences. She was one the Muslim Students Following the Line of Imam in 1979 .
We all pray that her soul rest in peace and eternal happiness.