The ‘me too’ movement has given women in the US and elsewhere many Western countries the courage to unite against sexual assaults, harassment, physical abuse and bullying from men.

But in the male dominated Muslim world, there are dangerous consequences for women who dare to say ‘me too.’


In Denmark, one of the most liberal countries on the planet, social workers report a rise in the number of young women seeking protection from families trying to impose conservative religious values as well as subjecting them to violence.


But some Muslim women are fighting back and offering up a different, softer interpretation of Islam.


As special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Copenhagen, a battle for hearts and minds is underway.




MALCOLM BRABANT: This commercial may be designed to sell “The Dead Washer,” a book by the Danish Muslim author Sara Omar, but also alludes to abuse she experienced or witnessed in the Kurdish region of Iraq. She writes about a five year old girl, raped by an uncle; other girls murdered because they supposedly brought dishonour on their families; and an elderly Muslim woman who washes their corpses that some men regard as impure.


SARA OMAR, AUTHOR, “THE DEAD WASHER”: I want the honor killings to get an end because no woman deserves to get killed just because she wants to have a voice, she wants to choose her own partner or fight for love.


MALCOLM BRABANT: Sara Omar’s depiction of male Muslim culture as repressive has provoked death threats that police are taking seriously. She’s living in hiding.


SARA OMAR: A strong woman, an independent woman is a threat to them because they think you are coming and you want to take the power from them.


MALCOLM BRABANT: Nineteen-year-old Jasmine Osman has to live with fear as well. In July 2016 Jasmine went to Africa, supposedly for a holiday. But her Somali father had other plans. He arranged for her to be kidnapped and held prisoner in an extreme Muslim Koran school in Somaliland. After six months Jasmine escaped and raised the alarm. As a result, police raided the school and 16 other young women were freed.


JASMINE OSMAN, STUDENT: Sharia law, Sharia law is the father has property over the daughter. I thought I was going on holiday but I ended up in this place. You’re being beaten with ropes and sticks. You’re being chained with like metal bike chains. I was chained.


MALCOLM BRABANT: Jasmine is now living at a secret address while at college and is estranged from her father.


JASMINE OSMAN: I don’t wear a scarf. I didn’t dress well. He wanted me to dress a certain way. I could not dress a certain way. I could only be myself. I couldn’t adapt. He wanted me to be a Somali Muslim girl. And I wanted to be a Somali Muslim girl who is in tune with the environment, who knows about society.


MALCOLM BRABANT: Susanna Fabricius runs an organisation that helps young people like Jasmine who rebel against conservative codes imposed by families that threaten or use violence. Staff run a hotline dealing with what the Danes call social or religious control.


SUSANNA FABRICIUS, ETHNIC YOUTH: For every year we have more cases. The youngsters want to change their life situation. They want to decide about their own life, their own body. They know that it’s illegal what their parents are doing sometimes or their whole family are doing. So I think they are becoming better at asking for help.


MALCOLM BRABANT: The organisation tries not to separate children from families, but sometimes there is no alternative.


MALCOLM BRABANT, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: We’ve been allowed access to a highly secure government-funded safe house, somewhere near Copenhagen. This facility can house up to 26 people at anyone time. Right now there are 19 people inside, they all need protection and all of them are Muslim.


One of the young women in the safe house has been living here for three years. This is supposed to provide temporary shelter. But project director Anita Johnston says some come back time and again.


ANITA JOHNSTON, RED SAFE HOUSE: When you are signed into our safe house you are assessed by our psychologist. And from the psychological assessments we can see that 87% of the people we receive here suffer from PTSD. 97% of them have been exposed to physical violence. And 33% have been subjected to sexual assault.


MALCOLM BRABANT: Sherin Khankan is Scandinavia’s first female imam. She is working to soften the interface between Western society and Islam, and hopes that her brand of religion might also help to reduce Islamophobia.


IMAM SHERIN KHANKAN, MARIAM MOSQUE: I think that the Mariam mosque is the first mosque in Denmark who actually has a specific focus on women’s rights, on gender equality. So what we’re doing is that we are rereading the Koran according to our times and our societies, with a focus on women’s rights.


MALCOLM BRABANT: Khankan’s female congregation doesn’t permit the filming of prayers. We were given access as she told visiting American students about one of the principles that distinguishes her House of God from the traditional.  Here, above a pedestrian shopping street, Muslim women are allowed to marry men of other faiths. Khankan says this is controversial.


IMAM SHERIN KHANKAN: One of the biggest dilemmas of the youth today in Europe and the rest of the world is the question of love across -- not only across national identities but also across religious identities. So how do we solve that problems? And as an imam we have to find Islamic solutions to existing dilemmas in the youth. This is -- I mean, this is an obligation.


MALCOLM BRABANT: Khankan’s interpretation of Islam has put her at odds with majority Muslim opinion, but she is not backing down.


IMAM SHERIN KHANKAN: If the patriarchal structure represents the way we disseminate Islam so if that is male dominated, the message will be male dominated. It is about time we challenged the patriarchal structures within Islam.


MALCOLM BRABANT: Khankan says that while Muslim women nominally have the protection of Danish law, many feel constrained by the common belief that only men can seek a divorce. She is reinforcing a women’s right to end a bad marriage.


IMAM SHERIN KHANKAN: We have constructed a new Islamic marriage contract, that gives women the rights, the right to divorce, the right over the children in the case of a divorce. Polygamy is forbidden. And if mental or physical violence occur, the marriage is annulled.


MALCOLM BRABANT: That resonates with Halima El-Abassi, who works in the front line where Western values clash with those of conservative Islam. At the age of 15, she says, she was forced into marriage with a cousin. Three children later, she used her right as a Danish citizen to file for divorce, an act which outraged her Moroccan family, who claimed she had dishonoured them.


HALIMA EL ABASSI, PHD, RESEARCH FELLOW IN SOCIAL POLICY: Danish society suffers from the perception that it knows what goes on in these communities. But they don’t have the full picture. I work with these families, so therefore I have insight into the issues involved here and it’s far worse that the Danes can imagine.


MALCOLM BRABANT: There is a battle for young hearts and minds in places like Norrebro, a district of Copenhagen heavily populated by Muslims. Radicalisation experts fear that extreme Islamic groups are pressuring families to dress and behave conservatively. Halima El Abassi says the authorities need to be more proactive to protect those who want to resist.


HALIMA EL ABASSI: School teachers, health care workers, social workers they all need to intervene far more especially where they might think, oh, this is too private. But where they sense is something is not right. We have knowledge of honour-related conflicts and social control. There is funding to combat the issue. We have developed strategies to fight it, but we still dare not interfere.


MALCOLM BRABANT: At the Danish parliament in recent years, right wingers have set the integration agenda. But now the main opposition, the centre left social democrats are taking the lead. In their manifesto, just released, they’ve promised to crack down on social and religious control. Mattias Tesfaye is the party’s spokesman on immigration and integration matters.


MATTIAS TESFAYE, SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY: The freedom rights we have in Denmark, apply to everybody, including youngsters who live in Muslim communities. And it is important that we work together with the rising number of young Muslims who are rebelling against arch conservative, reactionary attitudes towards family, gender, child rearing, and sexuality. We are not waging a religious war against Islam. We are fighting for democracy. And where religion clashes with democracy, God has to yield.


MALCOLM BRABANT:The most influential Muslim organisation here is the Islamic Society of Denmark, We asked to interview their spokesman Imran Shah. The organisation declined, saying it did not consider the issues to be an Islamic problem. Author Sara Omar says she is not against Islam. Just those who use religion as justification for abuse and worse.


SARA OMAR: When I was oppressed, I wished that someone would speak up for me. And nobody did.





































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