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.


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.



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  • cows4me

    “Separate but equal”, sounds like a vacuous ideology run by very vacuous people.

  • Bluemanning

    I read this and remembered that back in Labour days this woman challenged the PC Maori cultural dominance over women. There is a connection to this article and the child abuse here.

    It appeared the court dismissed her case as ‘grandstanding’ and ‘breaking the rules’ disregarding that her performance in this job perhaps was hindered because of her gender having to work around the sexist rules in place. But it appears that she may have won the cause as follows;

    I wonder if this is still the case.
    So this women had to ‘coach’ criminals in a system that allowed and sanctioned that women be treated as second class citizens. Pretty difficult.
    This also relates to the subjugation of women and their treatment of Maori women and their children because of the PC acceptance of ‘culture’. It opens the possibility that this cultural segment will also be susceptible to Islamic teaching and possible radicalization? Also how do their children stand a chance to live if the system encourages subjugation of women instead of practicing that women are their equals.

  • Really?

    I wonder which way our Susan Devoy would go on this one.

  • Abdullah

    I attended a Marae early this week. Men were asked to sit on the chair and the ladies were told to sit behind us on the floor. From my understanding this has been their tradition ever since and this will not change in the foreseeable future.

    My take on this – I have been invited to attend their function. They have their own set of rules. If I disagree with their rules, I will leave.

    It will be interesting to know what will happen from now on. Are they now going to stop ‘public meeting’ and only run ‘private meeting’?

    • spanishbride

      That is my point Abdullah, when I am at a Mosque or Marae I follow their rules. If they hold a meeting open to the public in a secular building I expect equal rights as per the law of the land.

      • Wheninrome

        It follows that they should follow our laws when on “public land or in public spaces” and indeed when entering a bank, getting their drivers licences in our country etc.,
        I would cover up in their country, I will remove my shoes when entering a marae and will follow the custom of the marae regarding speaking rights etc., but in the local hall those “mores” will not apply even if they have hired it for a function of theirs.
        This would follow with Rotary, the Lions and dare I say it the “Masons” or the Odd Fellows meetings. I won’t talk about the goat.

      • Abdullah

        Yes – I agree we are on the same page on this. Although what I can see will happen from now on is that, HT will stop public meeting and turn to private/invitation only meeting. I am not familiar with HT but others who are interested or curious to hear their talk will not be able to attend.

        There will be secrecy surrounding their meeting from now on and then we wish we knew what are they discussing. Yes she win the tribunal – but is it really good for the future? I don’t know.

        “People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can not control”.

        This is why I make it my own personal mission to get more people to know us. This is why I invited you and Pete to spend time with us. See what we do and break that barrier. We don’t hide anything – it is there, on our facebook, on youtube live etc. My invitation is still there and I extend it to everyone here who are interested ([email protected]).

        • Mrs_R

          As a Christian, you and I differ in our beliefs. I gave you an up-vote because where we agree is in the understanding that people will continue to do and believe what they wish, and where there is opposition from others- then steps will just be taken to discourage the critics from participating and knowing what is being said and done behind closed doors. I personally would have thought the conduct of all those individuals Alison tried to interact with during the process of taking her claim to court would have been more than enough for her to think twice about whether she would even want to attend any of their meetings, publicly or in private – never mind worry about where she was sitting.

          • Abdullah

            Hi Mrs_R, thank you. Our belief may have slight differences but we are the followers of the Abrahamic faith. The main difference for Judaism, Christianity and Islam is on Jesus pbuh. The Jews reject Jesus as the prophet, Christianity elevate Jesus to be god and Islam accepted Jesus as the prophet of god.

            Hopefully we will reconcile our differences after the return of Jesus pbuh. Until then, we have to make the most of this life and strive for the peace for everyone in this world. We have to stop dividing ourselves, after all we are sisters/brothers in humanity.

            I agree wholeheartedly with regards to your last point. If it is true that those bunch behave badly during the process of taking her claim to court, I would stay away from them, although I reserve my judgement until I heard both sides of the story.

            Have a great day :-)

  • kayaker

    “they were tolerant of other religions…” I would like to see them change their mindset to being “accepting of other religions”.

    • duve

      Islam will never be “accepting of other religions”, because a basic tenet of the Quran is that it must not be. It is that simple, you cannot be a Muslim if you accept other religions. By my reading of the Quran, even “tolerating” is stretching it, i.e by refusing to convert, members of other religions become second class citizens in countries with a Muslim majority.

  • rua kenana

    Didn’t someone post here a month or so back saying that, even as a non-Muslim NZ woman, she was nevertheless prepared to follow the Islamic practice and cover her hair if asked?
    Who actually does, or should, set the rules in NZ? My view is that we all be free to make our own choices. But is that really the Muslim way?

    • spanishbride

      I think you may be referring to me. Before I went to the mosque I was worried that they would ask me to cover my hair. I really didn’t want to but was prepared to comply in order to start a dialogue. I have always removed my shoes before entering a Maori Meeting house and I removed them when requested before entering the prayer rooms in the mosque.In the end I was not asked to cover my hair.

      I may not like other cultures or religion’s rules but when in Rome you do as the Romans do. I was on their property and it was important to show them respect. This is consistent with my views on Islamic clothing in Western countries. In a Western country I expect immigrants to show respect by dressing as westerners. In an Islamic country I have to dress according to their standards not mine so it is reasonable and fair for them to do the same here in New Zealand.

      • Abdullah

        “In a Western country I expect immigrants to show respect by dressing as westerners.”

        Out of my curiosity – what do you mean by that? Do you mean the ‘current’ western dress code? I remember one of the posts here where the ‘western’ lady was chuck in jail for wearing tight fitting clothes despite it covers from her ankle to her neck many years ago.

        In your view, an Indian lady who want to wear Sari? Is that acceptable or not to you? What about the Sikh with their headgear?

        Or do you specifically mean that Immigrant Muslims should be wearing bikini, low cut tops, yoga pants etc? Or are you specifically referring to the Hijab? If it is the latter – what is your take on the nuns who wear the exact same Hijab as what Muslim women do?

        I have made a mistake in the past where I thought the lady was a Muslim and it turns out that she is a nun. Haha :-P

        • spanishbride

          I was taught at a Catholic school and even back then Nuns dressed like normal western women apart from a tiny scarf that was more like a nurse’s cap that is held on by hair clips.They wore that because of their profession just as a nurse wears a uniform. It tells the world what they are just as a fireman’s helmet and a Police officer’s uniform tells us their profession. It is not their ordinary off duty clothes.

          In a religious setting religious headgear is to be expected as Jews, Muslims and some Christian religions wear it. When I see someone who is not a religious leader ( ie Priest, Nun, Imam, Rabbi ) wearing religious clothing in public that to me is not respectful of Western secular society. A sari is not religious and while Indian women often do wear them it is rare for them to wear them every day to work and out in public in New Zealand. A Hijab is religious and so is a Sikh’s headgear and they are worn every day and out in public.

          It is true that a Sikh’s headgear does not upset me the way a Hijab does because it is not about modesty and it is not sexist. If Muslim men also wore Hijabs for modesty I would feel a lot more comfortable with it.

          As for the Burka no Muslim man would ever wear such an awful restrictive piece of clothing, yet some find it perfectly acceptable to inflict it on their womenfolk.I admit I use the argument of showing respect to our Western culture to try to give these women a reason to escape from it. It frustrates me that our society does not protect them from what I see as being the equivalent to walking around with a ball and chain on their ankle.

          • Abdullah

            I think the biggest mistake, you assume that women who wear the Hijab, Niqab or Burqa has no power/respect. I am not surprised this is your personal view given that you have not spend time with them at all. Those behind the Hijab or Niqab in NZ, some of them are engineers, medical doctors, teachers etc.

            With regards to Burqa, the only time I have seen in NZ is when a friend of ours visited us. She is a kiwi, born and bred in NZ, I think she is either from Waiheke island or Auckland. Long story short, she reverted to Islam, completed her PhD and left NZ to work in Saudi. She was here for holiday and it was either her or her daughter who showed me how they wear the Burqa. That is the only time I saw being worn in NZ.

            A couple of NZ women wearing Niqab has been interviewed on the television in the past. I will let them speak for themselves.

          • spanishbride

            Tolerance is not a virtue to me when we are tolerating something that is wrong. It IS important to make a judgement. Not making a judgement means we accept everything which is ridiculous. Of course we need to make moral and other judgements.A masked person is a very intimidating thing. It goes against all our natural human instincts to not be able to see a person’s face.
            Just because some women tolerate the restrictions of their religion does not make it acceptable. Some women tolerate child marriage, plural marriage and female genital mutilation for example but that does not make it acceptable behaviour to us in the West.

          • Abdullah

            1. When I was in Dunedin, I learnt from a friend in the US. I believe it was New Hampshire where a girl can get legally married as young as age 13, it is still being practised according to him. In some cases I was told they can get married legally even at the age of 10. I have not met anyone who is a Muslim that married as young as this age. I have however explained to you that getting married around this age is a cultural practise rather than something that we Muslims observed religiously.

            2. Female genital mutilation is NOT an Islamic practise. It is a cultural practise. That’s why if you go and look at this problem, 99.99% of the time they are from the Africa. No muslims elsewhere do this. What they do is totally against the teaching of Islam.

            3. Your judgement today is different from what it was 10 years ago. It will be different 20 years in the future. I remember when Judith Collins got upset when Labour attempts to legalize prostitution. I see that is not a problem for her anymore. I remember her strong words back then. Our judgement change as we age and from experience that we have.

            Have a good night :-)

  • PersonOfColor:WHITE

    Hizb ut-Tahrir’s ducking and diving and avoidance of being any kind of ‘entity’ tells you a great deal about them. It appears you need to be dedicated to fight against the insidious Islamic encroachment…..let’s not have ANY in NZ…

  • Orange

    Can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but at a recent powhiri the women got to their seats before being told they were in the wrong place and to move to the second row.

    • spanishbride

      It is well past time that female Maori leaders moved Maori traditions into the 21st century. European women no longer allow men to treat them the way they did 100 years ago so why should Maori women tolerate gender inequality?

  • johcar

    Found an interesting quote online today:

    Humankind is made up of two sexes, women and men. Is it possible for humankind to grow by the improvement of only one part while the other part is ignored? -Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder and the first president of Turkey (19 May 1881-1938)

    • duve

      Only two? You’re likely to upset the transgender brigade with that statement.

      • johcar

        From a scientific (statistical) viewpoint, humans only have two sexes. I don’t care what gender some people “identify” with…

        • duve

          Agreed – my comment was somewhat tongue in cheek, in light of the current debate on “bathrooms”, particularly in the US.

          • johcar

            I did “see” the bulge in your cheek… :)