She challenged their gender segregation and she won

When Pete and I visited New Zealand’s largest mosque we were made very welcome. We enjoyed talking to the Ahmadiyya Muslims there and could see that they were tolerant of other religions and that everyone including Jews were welcome. Like us they were concerned about extremism and their community overseas has suffered attacks from other sects who do not consider them true Muslims.

As a feminist one thing that really stood out to me during our visit was the gender segregation. Separate entrances and separate prayer halls. It was explained to me that they were separate but equal. I was told that the purpose of the segregation was to ensure that people focussed on prayer instead of being distracted by the opposite sex. I could see that they genuinely believed that what they were doing was not discrimination and that there was no intention to treat women as second class citizens.

Of course as a woman who has grown up in New Zealand used to equal rights I saw it very differently. While it is one thing to enforce gender segregation in a religious setting it is quite another thing to try to enforce it in a secular setting or on Non-Muslims. I have written before about Alison Bevege who decided to challenge Hizb ut-Tahrir for forcing women including herself to sit at the back of a secular meeting hall. Her long and difficult battle to stand up for equality and the rule of secular law took two years but she was determined and did not give up.

Alison Bevege was determined that Hizb ut-Tahrir would not get away with discrimination. (Pic: News Corp)

Without a hint of irony the next 10 tweets called me a racist. An Islamophobic bigot, a liar and a whore.It was a swarm.

Hizb ut-Tahrir fans were enraged over an opinion piece I wrote for The Daily Telegraph in 2014 that shamed the Islamist group for sending women to the back of the room at their public lecture on the war in Syria.

I wrote that it was as terrible as Mississippi blacks being sent to the back of the bus in segregated America. And it is.

People should be judged for their character, intelligence, ideas and abilities — not their skin colour or gender.

On Friday, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled the event’s organisers broke the law when they gave me no choice but to sit at the back section of the room or leave.

The Tribunal has ordered them to make sure that everyone in their organisation understands that gender segregation is not compulsory.

They have to put up signs at their venues and in all published promotional material to make this clear.

Islamists argue that gender segregation is “separate but equal”, and voluntary — a free religious choice.

But secular Muslims exposed this idea as false. Lejla Kuric, a former Bosnian refugee, is among those who have pointed out that women are subject to social coercion if they step out of line in the West — and has written about how in countries where gender segregation is enforced women are severely held back in every aspect of life.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS OVERLOOKED IN THE NAME OF RACIAL ‘TOLERANCE’

In their Draft Constitution of the Khilafa State, Hizb ut-Tahrir state that they want full Sharia, including gender segregation under a Caliphate. By imposing it at their events they are normalising it.

But the Tribunal drew a line on Friday: the rule of secular law trumps the demands of the religious in the public square.

It was a long road from October 2014 when I was first directed to the back of the room.

After filing the original complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Board there was a long stretch of email mediation with Ismail al-Wahwah on behalf of the group.

I wanted a public apology, a guarantee they would not impose it on the unwilling and for them to donate to charity.

But the dispute dragged on.

In May 2015 it landed before the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal and I asked for the maximum compensation for charity — $100,000.

I obtained an immensely helpful hour of free legal advice at Kings Cross’s Inner City Legal Centre, plus another two at Kingsford Legal Centre, and researched the law online at the Austlii website.

But disaster struck.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is not a registered organisation. They keep their leadership secret. The public face of Hizb ut-Tahrir is only “media spokesmen”. There is no legal entity to sue.

After much effort, the Tribunal gave leave to join the five “media spokesmen” to the complaint along with the association that rents the rooms they use, Public Forums Incorporated.

There were then seven respondents — and I had no addresses to send notification of the case to.

Without successfully serving documents on at least one of them, every time, it would die.

After discovering Seven News reporter Bryan Seymour had previously written about Hizb ut-Tahrir I asked him if he had any addresses. He did not — but he covered my story and stood by me every step of the way. He was always fair, even when I was called a bigot by my detractors.

The Tribunal summonsed the addresses of the top five leaders from NSW Police and the Roads and Maritime Service so I could serve papers, and the photocopying began.

Submissions of more than a hundred pages had to be copied four times for the Tribunal, one for each of the seven respondents, one for me, plus a couple of spares. It took hours — days, every time.

I posted them and they all came back: “Return to sender”.

I had to hire process servers to chase them around town.

Bankstown Sheriffs Office served Ismail al-Wahwah a couple of times. Another process server managed to find Wassim Doureihi and Ismail al-Wahwah at the KCA Centre with a group.

At one point, I posted a notification in the comments section of the Hizb ut-Tahrir Australia Facebook page. It was deleted and they fixed it so I could never do that again.

I scanned the documents and emailed, Facebooked and tweeted notifications. I stuck letters to the door of their room at the KCA Centre and on the Public Forums Incorporated mailbox.

I tried to serve directly to Uthman Badar’s address once but his mother said he had gone to Pakistan indefinitely.

Hamza Qureshi indicated on Facebook that he would be at a university talk on Orientalism — so I took my paperwork there, only to be humiliated by the MC who pointed me out to the room and announced I was a racist while lecturer Yassir Morsi smirked beside him. I did not even get to serve the documents.

Their supporters taunted me on Twitter and on Facebook saying I had no legal entity to sue.

But the Tribunal ruled that Hizb ut-Tahrir is an unincorporated association that broke the law and Ismail al-Wahwah is legally responsible for their discrimination.

No money was awarded but I don’t care about that. It is the principle that counts. It might seem trivial to those of us living in a land used to freedom, but if we don’t defend the rule of secular law, it will be eroded.

The best part is that brave progressive and secular Muslims such as Maajid Nawaz and the Muslim Reform Movement tweeted their support and are celebrating the win. For that I am deeply grateful.

We stand together in this fight.

-dailytelegraph.com.au

 


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