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How Social Enterprises Are Changing Lives Of Palestinian Women

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“Our mission is to create jobs for Palestinian women”, Cayley Pater, Assistant Director of Child’s Cup Full (CCF), puts it simply for me during our interview about their non-profit social enterprise.

CCF was founded in 2008 by Dr. Janette Habashi, Associate Professor in educational psychology at the University of Oklahoma. The project started out as a student-led initiative which raised funds to support education programs in the Jenin area of the West Bank for refugee children.  Upon realizing the need for economic independence, the project was transformed into a social enterprise whose aim was to empower women by giving them economic agency through jobs that offer a living a wage.

CCF creates economic opportunities by creating educational toys and learning materials which cater to children in elementary schools. All its products are handmade by refugee women employed in its West Bank artisan center located in the northern village of Zababdeh. The center employs six full time artisans with several others employed on a part-time basis. The educational toys are made from soft fabric which fulfills a unique demand in the market; the company’s sensory learning materials are particularly well suited for play-based settings such as Montessori schools. They aid the of development of diverse skills such as memory retention and cognitive development. The products are designed in Arabic, English and Spanish, aiming to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Over the course of our conversation, Cayley explains to me the growth of the company since its founding. She travels frequently to trade shows where their brand is starting to get more and more recognition from educators and schools. CCF also recently become Fair Trade Certified; an arduous and long process but worth the effort, given the competitive edge it gives to their products. The company proudly claims that its products are not only Fair Trade, but also help empower Palestinian women artisans.

In addition to designing educational products, the organization has expanded into the ethical fashion world by launching a new fashion brand called Darzah. Darzah, which in Arabic means to stitch, specializes in creating products which carry a traditional form of Palestinian embroidery called tatreez. Tatreez is a centuries-old tradition which has been passed down from mother to daughter to the present day. It consists of colourful and vibrant patterns that can found stitched on clothes, shoes, and accessories.

Darzah seeks to introduce tatreez to the Western fashion market through his high-end fashion products. Like the educational toys of CCF, all its products are hand-made by refugee and low-income women. The leather used to manufacture these items is sourced from a family run manufacturer locally in Hebron, thus making all its products completely made in Palestine. The company is also dedicated to preserving and archiving the unique tatreez patterns in the form of a digital database; they launched a successful LaunghGood campaign this past Ramadan and raised over $37,000 for the cause.

The dream for Darzah is to be featured in places like Nordstorm, Holt Renfrew and Pottery Barn. In addition to selling through its online portal, it is already featured at select boutiques and craft expos such as the West Coast Craft Show.

CCF is not alone in its mission to bring economic independence to Palestinian refugee women. Sitti Soap is another social enterprise which is helping Palestinian women by preserving the art of Olive-oil based soap making.

Over our phone conversation, Toronto based co-founder and social activist Noora Sharrab shared with me the story of Sitti Soap. It all started when Sharrab co-founded an NGO called Hopes for Women in Education; an initiative meant to promote higher education amongst Palestinian refugee women. During her time at the Jerash camp in Jordan, she came across a group of Gazan women who were trained in the art of traditional olive oil soap making. Many of these women had tried in the past to create home-run businesses without success.  Seeing an opportunity to create a sustainable economic opportunity given her background in non-profit management, Sharrab teamed up with journalist Jacqueline Sofia and founded Sitti Soap.

Sitti, meaning “my grandmother” in colloquial Arabic, aims to preserve and promote the ancient Palestinian tradition of Nabulsi cold-pressed olive oil soap. Using all-natural and locally sourced ingredients, Sitti produces beautiful bars of soap handmade by refugee women. These soaps are becoming popular gifts that are given away at weddings and corporate events. Sitti employs about eight women full-time and several others part-time at its production site in the Jerash refugee camp. The site is located inside the camp to make it easier for the working women who often have challenges traveling.

The goal of the organization is to bring this tradition to the marketplace where it can be recognized for its uniqueness and become a means of economic empowerment for women. Using the profits from the soap bars, Sitti funds hard skills development and educational programs for refugee women and girls. The organization runs the Hopes-Sitti Center in the Jerash camp which acts as a social hub for women and offers numerous social programs and workshops. It hosts a computer lab which is home to the Bannat Connect program; a virtual language exchange which connects students of Arabic to local women in Jordan through Skype.

CCF and Sitti Soap are examples of two enterprises helping bring real, sustainable change for Palestinians and removing dependence on foreign aid. Projects like these are often under supported from the activist community who tend to focus on more popular movements such as BDS. While BDS is important, the approach to helping the Palestinian cause needs to be multi-faceted. The pressure on institutions to stop aiding the occupation needs to be coupled with support for ventures that help build the Palestinian economy. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the occupation; with no end to the conflict in sight, the status-quo is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. The need to support social enterprises that improve everyday Palestinian life is therefore now greater than ever.

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Waleed Ahmed writes on current affairs and politics for MuslimMatters. He focuses on Muslim minorities, human rights and the Middle-Eastern conflict. Based out of Montreal, he's currently pursuing a Ph.D. at McGill University in fundamental physics. Waleed also has a keen interest in studying Arabic and French. He spends his spare time reading, playing basketball and praying for Jon Stewart to run in the next presidential election.

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#Life

I Encountered A Predator On Instagram

A predator on Instagram posing as a hijab modeling consultant, going by the name of @samahnation, tried to prey on me- an underage, 16-year-old. We don’t know if the photos on Instagram page have been stolen from a victim. These predators operate under various names.

instagram predator
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It was a Wednesday night in April and as I was getting ready to go to bed, a direct message popped up in my Instagram inbox. A little background; my personal  account on Instagram is private and it is rare that I let anyone, whom I do not know, follow me. But seeing that this was a grown “woman” with a baby and I had at least seven mutual friends, I let her follow me. 

I will say, I was definitely in the wrong to respond to someone I didn’t personally know. Somehow I thought her 105K followers gave her credibility. 

I was gravely mistaken. 

I opened the direct message. 

She had sent me a message complimenting me. This wasn’t new to me because I often get messages with compliments about my appearance from friends — we are teenagers. However, the stark difference was that I didn’t know this person at all. (I came to learn that these types of messages can go under the category of grooming). After complimenting me, she asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company. 

Many young women are targeted by predators on Instagram. Here is my story. 'After complimenting me, 'she' asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company.'Click To Tweet

I replied, saying that if I had more details I’d consult with my parents and give her an answer the next morning; to which she responded demanding she must have an answer the same night as she had other offers to make. 

I then went to ask my mother. Mama was sick with the flu, quite woozy, but despite her state she said,

“this sounds like a scam to me…”.



I decided to play along with it and test her. 

I told @samahnation to tell me more and how I could verify her and her company. She then sent me numerous copied and pasted answers —hecka long— about how I could trust her; how the company would pay me and how they will still make money in the meantime. 

hijab modeling scam

Thankfully, I was apprehensive during the entire ordeal, but as you can see, this type of manipulation is so real and possible for young women and girls to fall prey. This experience was honestly quite scary and jarring for me. I was so easily distracted by what she was portraying herself as on her profile. She had a GoFundMe for a masjid in her bio and posts of photos depicting her love for her baby.
predator

I began to do some research. I stumbled upon an article about a ‘Hijab House’ model scam. Using the title of ‘consultant director’ for a well-known hijab company, Hijab House, predators were allegedly preying on young girls in Australia. Hijab House has denied any link to this scam. 

Hijab House model scam

 

The predator went as far as to blackmail and pressure their victims into sending nude photos, or doing crazy things like smelling shoes! Eerily enough, @samahnation’s Instagram bio stated that she was based in Melbourne, Australia.


The more I engaged with this predator, the more ludicrous their responses and questions got. And this happened within the span of 24 hours. 

She went as far as to ask me if I would answer questions for a survey, saying all that mattered was honesty and that the purpose of the survey was to make me uncomfortable to see if I “won’t fall under pressure.”

Clearly, this last statement about being a speech analysis specialist was a complete fabrication. Again, may I reiterate that even older people can fall prey. You don’t have to be young and impressionable, these manipulative perpetrators will do anything to get what they want.



As shown below, the situation reached an obscene level of ridiculousness. You can see clear attempts to gaslight me and pressure me into answering or changing my stance on my replies.


This was the last thing I said to the predator before I blocked and reported them in an attempt to get them caught. Observe how as soon as I called this person out they immediately became defensive and tried to manipulate me into thinking that what they were doing and asking me was completely normal- that I was the crazy one for asking for proof. 

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. They had asked me questions I found too lewd to even answer or take screenshots of.

This bizarre encounter was honestly astonishing. I do not even know if I was talking to a man or a woman.

Alhamdullilah, I am so glad because even if I was a little bit gullible, I was aware enough about predatory behavior that I didn’t fall victim to this perpetrator. I am especially grateful for my mother, who has educated me about predators like this from a very young age; whom even in her drowsy state was able to tell me it was a preposterous scam.

I could have been blackmailed.

Talk to your parents or a trusted adult

I am grateful for having an open channel of communication, that my relationship with my mother is based on trust and I could go to her when this occurred. This is a reminder and a learning opportunity for all of us how these scary things can happen to anyone. We must learn how to take caution and protect ourselves and our (underage) loved ones against such situations.

Sis, please talk to your parents. They love you and will be your first line of defense.

Grooming

Grooming is a very common tactic online predators use to gain the trust of their victim. According to InternetSafety101, young people put themselves at great risk by communicating online with individuals they do not know on a personal level. “Internet predators intentionally access sites that children commonly visit and can even search for potential victims by location or interest.

If a predator is already communicating with a child, he or she can piece together clues from what the child mentions while online, including parents’ names, where the child goes to school, and how far away the child lives from a certain landmark, store, or other location.
Online grooming is a process which can take place in a short time or over an extended period of time. Initial conversations online can appear innocent, but often involve some level of deception. As the predator (usually an adult) attempts to establish a relationship to gain a child’s trust, he may initially lie about his age or may never reveal his real age to the child, even after forming an established online relationship. Often, the groomer will know popular music artists, clothing trends, sports team information, or another activity or hobby the child may be interested in, and will try to relate it to the child.”

These tactics lead children and teens to believe that no one else can understand them or their situation like the groomer. After the child’s trust develops, the groomer may use sexually explicit conversations to test boundaries and exploit a child’s natural curiosity about sex. Predators often use pornography and child pornography to lower a child’s inhibitions and use their adult status to influence and control a child’s behavior.

They also flatter and compliment the child excessively and manipulate a child’s trust by relating to emotions and insecurities and affirming the child’s feelings and choices.

Predators will:

* Prey on teen’s desire for romance, adventure, and sexual information.
* Develop trust and secrecy: manipulate child by listening to and sympathizing with child’s problems and insecurities.
* Affirm feelings and choices of child.
* Exploit natural sexual curiosities of child.
* Ease inhibitions by gradually introducing sex into conversations or exposing them to pornography.
* Flatter and compliment the child excessively, send gifts, and invest time, money, and energy to groom the child.
* Develop an online relationship that is romantic, controlling, and upon which the child becomes dependent.
* Drive a wedge between the child and his/her parents and friends.
* Make promises of an exciting, stress-free life, tailored to the youth’s desire.
* Make threats, and often will use child pornography featuring their victims to blackmail them into silence.”

Gaslighting 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? 

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. “Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind,” writes Dr Stephanie Sarkis. 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? Click To Tweet

Recognizing signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting:

Second guessing. Are you constantly second guessing yourself when talking to this person or questioning your own morals that you wouldn’t have thought twice about otherwise? For example, when this person popped up in my inbox I wouldn’t have thought twice about blocking or just deleting the message if it was a man but, since it seemed to be a woman I was duped into thinking that it was more acceptable or I could trust them more.

Feeling as if you are being too sensitive. Again I cannot emphasize this enough that you must trust your instincts, if you are feeling uncomfortable and your internal alarm bells are ringing- listen to them! Anyone can be a victim of gaslighting or manipulation. 

Feeling constantly confused. Another sign that you may be falling victim to gas lighting is when you are constantly confused and second guessing your thoughts and opinions.

Three takeaways:

1. Trust your instincts (I’m going to reiterate this, always trust your gut feeling, if you feel like you are uncomfortable whether it’s a situation you are in or if you don’t have a good feeling while talking to a certain person I advise you exit the chat or don’t answer in the first place.)
2. Never answer to someone whom you don’t know. I will say this was my first and biggest mistake that I have made: allowing this person’s messages into my inbox, and replying to their ridiculous claims and questions. Now that I think about it I don’t even know if this was a woman or not.
3. Set your boundaries! This is probably the most important tip to take away from this article. Setting up your boundaries from the beginning is so important. Whether it is a friend, partner or colleague, if you do not set your boundaries from the beginning of your interaction or relationship with that person; people will not respect your limits and choices later on. Especially if your boundaries have to do with religion, moral compasses, or even specific pet peeves you have. I cannot emphasize how much boundaries matter when it comes to any daily interaction you may have in your daily life.

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Earth Day Vogue – How Choosing Our Brands Can Save Lives And Our Planet

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By Afshan Khan

 

The Muslim fashion industry is growing, and is expected to grow even further reaching $327 billion by 2019, according to a study by Dinar Standard. It’s no wonder then, that over the last few years major retailers and  brands are actually recognizing our needs and representing us – I mean, we are after all a considerably large, and profitable segment that cannot be overlooked.

Some brands such as H&M have featured a hijabi model, American Eagle has introduced their denim hijab, while others are reaching out to hijabi influencers in order to cash in on the modest fashion bandwagon. Muslim women have already been shopping at these retailers for a while, so it is indeed wonderful to finally be represented. We all get really excited about these campaigns lending its share and we are constantly talking about it on our social media. All the same, I say we should ditch these big “fast fashion” retailers.

“But why?,” you may ask.

Well, firstly, fast fashion is like fast food- quickly and inexpensively producing short-lived trends. But this mainstream fashion industry has reached a critical point. Being the second most polluting industry, it is a major contributor to climate change. Over 50% of our clothes are made up of cheap synthetic fibers like polyester that are not biodegradable. They remain on the planet for thousands of years and are not breathable either, which means our bodies can not lose the heat we produce, and we sweat a whole lot more! Each time we put our clothes in the wash, they release microparticles that end up in the ocean, and eventually find their way to our food chain. Not to mention the toxic and carcinogenic dyes that destroy our rivers and are linked to cause cancer. All this affects the health of fashion industry workers, animals, plants, environment and eventually us the consumers as well.

 

Second, fast fashion means poorly made garments that are designed to last just a few wears; this keeps consumers coming back for more. We don’t feel bad disposing them because they never cost that much to start with. Besides, we have the next fashion trend to follow. Eventually, we end up buying a lot more garments then we actually need, spending a lot more than what we would have in buying perhaps, a well made garment that lasts.

 

Thirdly and most importantly, fast fashion means cheap labor. Most of our fast fashion clothes are made in developing countries that have no regulations, and often times exploit labor. When a price of a t-shirt is just as much as your latte, you should know someone somewhere is paying the price for it. Prices are kept down artificially at the cost of slave labor. Garment workers are abused,exposed to dangerous working conditions, and made to work long hours without overtime pay. One would think that the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that took the lives of 1,034 workers in 2013, would have been a huge wake-up call to change in the industry, but unfortunately, four years down the line and 2017 was reported to be the deadliest year for workers in Bangladesh. Bangladesh: a majority Muslim country and the second biggest exporter of garment. This should mean something to us.

The big box corporations are rushing to get our attention with their huge budget campaigns.What that tells us is that our collective buying power matters, and that our dollar has the power to make a change. There is a revolution taking place in the mainstream fashion industry, and we should make sure that as Muslims we lead the way to better the lives of our brothers and sisters.

 

As the modest fashion industry takes off and veiled Muslim women claim their spot in the industry, it is essential that we don’t fall victim to the problems and narrative created by fast fashion. Rather, send a strong signal that modesty not only means the outward expression of our faith, but also the inward morals and values of Islam that accounts for the well-being of others, in us acting as the true guardians of this earth. We won one battle by getting the representation, now lets win the war by setting the industry on the right path.

 – Get involved with movements such as fashion revolution to call brands to change

 – Educate yourself, and read labels to make informed decisions on your purchasing

 – Support brands that producing clothing in a responsible and ethical manner

 – Take small steps like mending your clothes, upcycling, or thrifting

 

All of which will surely add up in the end, and hopefully create a greater impact on the betterment of our world.

 

Afshan Khan is a former Human Resource specialist and founder of Purple Impression. She is passionate about sustainability, using her experience in HR to develop the skills to foster entrepreneurship and training of women artisans.

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#Life

Legacy of Khan: Eyebrows or the Lack Thereof

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When I was 14, my blonde mother sat me down- unprompted- and did what blonde ladies do to tidy up their eyebrows…I think. She shaved the top half of my eyebrows off and told me to keep it up. This might have worked for her. After all she was descended from a variety of European heritages. Irish, Scottish, and some German. My mother’s family came from many places but none of them were near Mongolia.

Being a non-blonde and bi-racial though, my Genghisesque eyebrows began growing back in full, immediate force. Instead of having thinner eyebrows, I now had a sort of gradient system going, starting from the darkest on the bottom and the lightest towards my forehead.

Later that same year, my sister and I went to spend the summer with our cousins in Pakistan. Being non-blonde descendants of Genghis Khan and his many savvy wives, they took one look at me and said: “What the heck have you done to your eyebrows!?”

They staged an intervention and threaded my eyebrows into the Pakistani equivalent of a bow that is meant to shoot the arrow of my glance straight into a young man’s heart.

Pakistani icon Noor Jehan is a classic example of “bow & arrow” eyebrows. Pew pew!

It was years before I learned that overhauling (versus tending) your eyebrows is not permissible in Islam, but by then, three things had already happened:

  1. I had forgotten what my real eyebrows actually looked like.
  2. I had grown to believe that my real eyebrows were hideous and that growing them out would cover the top half of my face.
  3. I was so far down the eyebrow rabbit-hole that I was more Golden Arches than Ghenghis.

It took me almost fifteen years to finally stop reshaping my eyebrows. It was hard at first – they grew in seemingly random places and kept straying further and further from the invisible boundaries that I had assigned to them.  I would look at myself in the mirror and sigh. Transitioning my eyebrows from “overgrown” to “growing out” took months.  My one source of encouragement- believe it or not- was my husband, and he had no idea what an emotional ordeal I was even undertaking.

He walked past me one day and casually said; “Hey, have you done something to your eyebrows?”

“What? Me?” I squeaked, my conscience guilty for wishing that I had. “I’m letting them grow in.”

“Oh,” he said.  “They look really nice.”

I was dumbstruck. It was another few months before my husband noticed the next boundary grown over, and this time he said, “I like your eyebrows this way.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, “Don’t you remember what they looked like when we were married?”

“I do,” he said. “I thought they looked…fake.”

I glared at him and went to the sock drawer where all truly important family records are kept. I found our wedding photos and to my surprise, my old, thin, highly manicured eyebrows struck me as looking… fake. While I wasn’t yet in love with the eyebrows au-naturelle, I was at least disillusioned with the artificial looking alternative.

If you’re a brother reading this article and wondering what place eyebrows have in the modern Muslim experience, trust me- it’s front and center. The clash between spirit and self happens on a daily basis for your sisters. Faith versus Fashion is the epic battle that rages daily in the hearts, closets, and bathroom mirrors of Muslim women every day.

If you’re a sister reading this article, then you’ve heard conversations like this before:

Sister 1: “Wallah, my eyebrows are so unruly. I know we’re not supposed shape them but I feel like such a neanderthal!”

Sister 2: “What are you talking about? Your eyebrows look fine. Now, MY eyebrows… they look like I ordered them from a Jim Henson catalog.”

#selfie

Sister 3: “You’re both crazy and your eyebrows frame your eyes perfectly! Now *my* eyebrows, they look like a handlebar mustache without a sense of direction…”

The circular consensus seems to be everyone has a real problem with their eyebrows, but everyone else looks fine and they’re just stressing for no reason.

Recently, heavier eyebrows have come back into fashion, I think this is a great time to piggy-back on the bandwagon and wave the flag for more natural looking eyebrows. While Muslims, of course, don’t wait for fashion to agree with religion before deciding to become religious, it is nice when fashion can do a part- even a teeny tiny one- to help boost our natural-looking self esteem when it comes to eyebrows.  Yes, the women are all still uncovered, photo-shopped, artfully painted and arranged by professionals- but the point is, they have big eyebrows and they are daring you to make caterpillar jokes about them.

I haven’t come as far as to say I’m in love with my natural eyebrows, but who am I to even suggest that Allah made a mistake in how He made them?  Allah Himself designed what my face and eyebrows were going to look like, and it should go without saying that His designs for what humans should look like are Divine (with a capital D) and everything else we do is just fixing what isn’t really broken.*

(*like when God makes women’s teeth too square.)

Please note- this doesn’t mean I’m saying that things like cleft palates are Divinely created and who are we therefore to alter them. Defects in the original human design are permissible to correct, like replacing a lost eye or reconstructing a face after an accident or congenital birth defect.  There’s a difference between correcting a defect to meet the standard and redesigning the standard altogether. Deciding that all of femalekind has been designed with the “wrong” kind of eyebrows is an attempt to redefine acceptable parameters for the female design.*

(*like when God makes women’s necks too short.)

While women in general has a problem accepting themselves in different shapes and sizes, accepting a tiny part of us- like our eyebrows- is a good first step. Eyebrows are perfectly designed for whatever it is that Allah designed them for.  Whether your naturally drop-dead gorgeous arches are meant to be a life-long battle with ego, or whether your hirsute forehead is an exercise in accepting the Qadr of Allah, they have a place in your life.*

*On your face.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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