Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hijab Bloggers

Hannah Elizabeth (The cut)

Young Muslim women from Cairo to Norway, Malaysia to the U.K have taken on the mainstream media by blogging about their experiences of wearing the hijab in the 21st century and people are taking note.

While most of the blogs were started as a way to pass on style advice to a section of society woefully ignored by the fashion press, they’ve managed to attract a loyal following of members eager to discuss their thoughts and feelings on the wearing of the hijab, one of the most contentious issues facing many women today.

The hijab blog, whose tagline is the tongue-in-cheek ‘with a passion for veiled fashion’, is run by Imaan Ali, a young Norwegian student studying in the US. Her blog posts news and updates on the newest designers producing clothes for the hijab-wearing woman. She also includes contributions from YouTube star Madiha MK an American-Egyptian whose ‘hijab tutorials’ on the website have made her a star amongst fashionable muslim women.

The hijab blog name checks designers such as Itang Yunasz and Reham Farouq and encourages feedback from its members on the articles posted and while the majority of postings are light-hearted and fashion-focused, Imaan is an eloquent advocate for the rights of Muslim women in the West, and more specifically, for their right to wear the hijab without suspicion or discrimination.

A recent ruling in Norway has banned the wearing of Hijab by Muslim policewomen, citing the potential for the ‘Islamisation’ of the police force. Imaan’s response to this — via the Hijab blog — was an illuminating piece on the difficulties facing Muslim women and their feelings of discrimination and persecution.

“The debate displayed a frightening attitude towards the hijab itself. The opposition to the proposal of allowing hijab in the police will lead to only one thing. People will have fewer scruples when it comes to discrimination on the basis of religious identity in hiring to any field, and this will result in even less opportunities for Muslim women choosing the hijab,” she said.

Imaan explains her disappointment at Norway purporting to be a nation committed to the individual freedoms of its citizens yet showing a distinct lack of empathy for a significant minority by banning the hijab. Other young women posting on the hijab blog forum are residents and citizens of the West and express their dismay at the ignorance and fear that their hijab-wearing provokes.

Another style-focused blog that has been making waves in the UK and beyond, Hijab style (www.hijabstyle.blogspot.com), is written by a young English student Jana Kossaibati who manages to take time out of her full time medical degree to write and post articles for young, fashionable hijab wearers about how to adapt clothing found on the British high street for more modest dressing.

She started the blog in 2007 in response to the lack of anything in the fashion media that was geared towards muslim women and has found the response has been overwhelmingly positive. She has gone on to contribute fashion pieces on Hijab dressing for the The Guardian newspaper and reported for Vogue.com from the Arabian Fashion World event in London this month.

Jana believes that the pervasive feeling among hijab wearers is one of being ignored or misunderstood and that her aim is to show fashionable Muslim women how to express themselves through their wearing of the hijab and raise awareness about what the wearing of the hijab really means. The articles and pieces on her blog show readers how to mix and match current styles from the high street as well as how to employ tactical layering to create a more modest look. She also introduces hijab-friendly designers from around the world including the UAE-based Rabia Z. The latest post discusses Dubai Fashion Week and the new Arab designers that showed there.

While hijab wearers in the Gulf may be lucky enough to enjoy a variety of options, modest dressing Muslim women in the West are still struggling to find a voice in the fashion community. According to Jana “There are many, many groups that are not paid enough attention in the fashion community — be it a lack of plus-sized clothing to a lack of darker-skinned models, the fashion industry still has a long way to go in terms of its inclusiveness.

“But that’s not to say that Muslim women need to be exclusively pointed out, because that in itself still leads to ‘otherization’ of the hijab, and the view that it is still something ‘foreign’. What would be good to see is Muslim women’s involvement in general fashion discourse, bringing their own approach to the table like any other women.’

Where fashion editors and advertisers may have previously felt that the market for modest dress wasn’t significant enough to address properly, young Muslim women are now a consumer force to be reckoned with. The problem now is with the mainstream media’s reluctance to tackle a subject about which they are ill-informed, which places even more importance on alternative media such as blogs.

While many in the west believe that hijab-wearing women are in some way ‘hiding’ themselves or shying away from self-expression though fashion, Jana insists that “Islam celebrates beauty and a pleasant appearance is not an exception to that.”

Jana crossing over from blogger stylista to Vogue correspondent shows the influence that these women have over a market underrepresented. While subscribers to the hijab style blog are more than happy to carry on taking the fashion advice posted, it shouldn’t be long before the marketing men spy an opportunity and hijab-wearers are paid some long-overdue attention. Where the internet leads, the glossies follow; hijab fashion should be gracing a magazine near you very soon.

Teaching Science & Maths in English hurts Arabic schools warn

PPSMI is also a concern in the UAE as the pilot programme shows some deterioration amongst the local Arab students.

“Arabic language should be the priority; it is the mother tongue, the language of our culture, and the language of our religion.”

English hurts Arabic schools warn

Hala Khalaf

DUBAI // A state school programme that uses English to teach maths and science is threatening to undermine pupils’ Arabic skills, school principals have warned.

One said the Arabic vocabulary of younger children is so poor, some cannot name their body parts.

Principals from the Madares Al Ghad (Schools of Tomorrow) programme, commonly known as MAG, took their concerns to the Federal National Council (FNC) yesterday. They want the Ministry of Education to take action.

The MAG programme was introduced into 50 schools in the UAE in autumn 2007 by the ministries of Education and of Higher Education and Scientific Research as a pilot programme. One of the main goals is to create bilingual graduates by teaching maths and science in English, as well as the English language.

Though principals said there were benefits to the programme, such as an improvement in pupils’ English skills and a marked rise in the use of analytical skills, most principals admitted to being disappointed with what they described as an “unrealistic” curriculum.

“We have noticed that the younger children just don’t use their Arabic as much; their vocabulary is suffering,” said Toubi Ali, principal of Al Khulafa Al Rashideen Primary School in Dubai.

“They cannot even describe all their body parts in Arabic, because they are learning the English words for them instead in their science classes.”

One of the objectives of the MAG programme is to change from rote-based teaching to student-centred learning, and to produce graduates proficient in both Arabic and English.

Many students are spending five to six years at university, because they are forced to take remedial courses in English before they can enter federal universities where the primary language of instruction is English.

Creating a curriculum that is strong in both languages is meant to eliminate that problem.

But some principals feel that students’ Arabic language skills are suffering as a result.

“Our kids should be taught English as a language, not have it be used as the language of instruction for all students at the expense of Arabic,” said Hamda Yousef, principal at the Dubai Modern Education School.

“Arabic language should be the priority; it is the mother tongue, the language of our culture, and the language of our religion.”

Principals also worried that teachers not proficient in English are teaching mathematics and science in English.

“Our teachers are not strong in English — they are Emiratis who teach in Arabic,” said Mrs Ali, from Al Khulafa Al Rashideen Primary School.

“For us to come now and ask them to teach maths and science in English to our students, which is exactly what MAG is about, is not realistic.”

Maryam al Jassmi, principal of Hessa Bint Al-Mor Primary School in Dubai, said the instruction of mathematics and science in English was causing problems between students and their parents.

“The parents are not as good in English, so they can’t help their children with homework, or explain a concept to them, and in turn, the children don’t know their numbers in Arabic, or their science terms even. There has to be a solution for this if we want our kids to be truly bilingual.”

Some principals, however, said there were benefits to the MAG programme, which involves English-speaking mentors training usually Arabic speaking teachers.

“The kids are better conversationalists,” said Khawla al Mulla, principal at Alnoof High School in Sharjah.

“The change in teaching methods has lead to better English grades and better teachers.”

Intissar Issa, principal at the Maria Coptic for Secondary Education school said: “At first we were worried that the MAG teams sent to each school will have a negative impact on our kids, due to the cultural difference.”

“Instead, our students benefited from this cultural exchange, and had a reference to go to that is better than the internet or a dictionary. We noticed an improvement in their accents, as well as the accents of our teachers, and a big improvement in the English language skills of everyone.”

Both the principals and the members of the FNC agreed that to get students interested in Arabic, they need a dual curriculum that is as attractive as the English texts.

“The tools used to teach Arabic are not modern; they are not being developed,” said Hana Kanan, project manager of the MAG School programme.

Ireland vs UAE during the crisis

I was supposed to migrate to Ireland in 2007....Ireland has been hit badly by the current downturn.....I could be jobless by now in Dublin. But it is the same situation in the UAE, everyday is another surviving day with more uncertainties.

Ireland is in deep economic crisis. Real GDP is shrinking at an annual rate of over 8% and the unemployment rate climbed to 11% in March taking the jobless rate to a level last seen in the mid 1990s. Consumer price inflation is now negative - the prices of goods and services are falling as are asset prices, especially property where the housing market is mired in deep slump. It will come as no surprise that consumer confidence has collapsed and that the Irish government’s own finances are in a real mess - income taxes may have to rise to plug some of the widening gap - the fiscal deficit now means that Ireland will suffer a further credit downgrading in the near future. Retail sales are falling at an annual rate of 20%.

Has Ireland's luck run out?

Ireland and the UAE: a tale of two crises

I have often been struck by the similarities between the Republic of Ireland and the UAE: comparable populations (between 4 million and 5 million), living alongside a dominant neighbour (Britain and Saudi Arabia), and both living off their wits as commercial entrepreneurs in a competitive global business environment.

The histories of Ireland and the UAE also demonstrate the importance of migrant labour, but in rather different ways. For many years after independence 90 years ago, Ireland’s biggest export was its people. Hundreds of thousands of Irish left the country to seek their fortunes abroad, as my parents did in the 1940s when they went to England, and helped sustain their families by sending some of their hard-earned money back – what we call “remittances”.

The Emirates, on the other hand, has been a magnet for migrant labour since its inception in 1971. The armies of workers that helped build Dubai and Abu Dhabi into world-class cities are the direct equivalent of the Irish navvies who rebuilt Britain after the Second World War. The UAE workers, too, have helped sustain their families at home by sending cash back to Kerala, Karachi and Guangzhou.

The pattern changed in Ireland in the early 1990s, when rising standards of living at home reversed the labour outflow and instead made Ireland a net importer of people. There is much historical debate over the reasons for this change. British sceptics point to the generosity of the EU, which subsidised the Irish economy through grants; with the Irish responding that European handouts were only part of the story. Innate entrepreneurial endeavour and an enlightened tax regime (another similarity with the UAE) played just as important a part, they would argue in Dublin.

Whatever the reason, the past 20 years were boom-time for Ireland. The “Celtic tiger” showed the highest rates of growth in Europe and made many of its citizens wealthy. This coincided with the oil-fuelled expansion of the UAE, which had a similar effect on the lives of nationals and expatriates. The good times rolled, in Galway as they did in Garhood.

Until last year. The first signs of weakness in the Irish economy came last autumn, when the full extent of the nation’s reliance on property and construction became apparent. Expansion had been fuelled by a 10-year property bubble that made Dublin one of the most expensive cities in the world. The Irish banking system, in turn, was reliant on these property assets and when the bubble burst the government had to step in with the by-now familiar techniques of credit-crunch management – bailouts, nationalisation and voluntary bankruptcy.

Last week, the Irish government announced the most savage budget in its recent history. What remains of the banking sector has been reined in, exploding national debt has been tackled by ruthless public-sector cutbacks, and the lenient tax regime, the central plank of Ireland’s long run of economic success, reversed, with jumps in personal and corporate rates.

The entrepreneurial Irish middle classes are groaning under the weight of the enormous debts they and their children have inherited, and perhaps it will not be long before they send their sons and daughters abroad again to earn a living for them. The Celtic tiger has become the sick man of Europe, even if the illness may turn out to be less than fatal.

Compare the Irish reaction to the global economic crisis with the initiatives of the UAE. Sure, property prices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have fallen significantly, and certainly the banking system has felt the strain. There have also been injections of liquidity into the system, most notably the US$10 billion (Dh36.73bn) government-backed bond issue for Dubai. And there are forecasts that the population will shrink as migrants head home.

The great difference, of course, is the bank of capital that the UAE has built up during the past decade of historically high oil prices. This has provided a cushion of financial security. The Irish exchequer has a black hole of billions of euros at its centre, while the UAE has a substantial cash pile. Some economic forecasters are looking at a five-year recession for Ireland; even the gloomiest of analysts believes the UAE will bounce back much faster than that.

There is a final similarity, which will stand both countries in good stead in the challenging times to come. Both the UAE and Ireland remain enthusiastic participants in the great globalisation movement, which can only help the world economy recover from its troubles. Ireland is committed to playing its role in Europe and the broader international economy, just as the UAE is an active participant in the Gulf Co-operation Council and a leader of the Middle-Eastern business community. They must surely both emerge as stronger countries.