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HOW refreshing after the havoc engineered by Islamists over the Danish cartoons.

A Pakistani swim coach has persuaded her government to allow women to swim in open competition.

They must wear neck-to-knee costumes. Just like the ones Ian Thorpe wears.

Teenagers Rubab Raza and Kiran Khan, who are competing at the Commonwealth Games, are the proteges of Mrs Veena Masud.

This woman should be recognised as a modern-day Muslim hero.

Their achievement in swimming in public is a guided missile launched at the heart of Taliban ideology.

When Treasurer Peter Costello said devotees of sharia law should consider leaving Australia to live in countries where sharia is imposed, his comments were criticised as being "divisive" and "racist".

It is Islam which is divisive because it divides people into Muslim and "dhimmis" (non-Muslims).

Lebanese Christians and non-Muslims of so-called Middle-Eastern appearance, have little difficulty integrating into Australian society.

It is religion, not race, which is the problem. While Muslim leaders objected to Costello's comments, they have not expressed opposition to sharia and its atrocious treatment of women. It is their failure to do so which merits distrust.

Australian Muslims complain they are being targeted for the misdeeds of a few extremists.

But non-Muslims will remain wary until Australian Muslims publicly dissociate themselves from the discrimination suffered by Christians, Jews and Baha'i in Iran and Saudi Arabia. This is where some of the money for mosque-building and Islamic schools comes from.

Muslims here are free to practise their religion and to convert others. In many Muslim countries, a convert to Christianity would be convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death, as would those who converted him.

In Saudi Arabia one cannot carry the Bible, and the only Christian worship services are probably at the US Embassy.

Why do Saudis feel so threatened by Christian prayers?

In Doha, capital of Qatar, there is a Catholic church on land donated by the Emir and the sky hasn't fallen in.

Another Muslim heroine is Shah Bano, an Indian, whose husband after 40 years of marriage divorced her and stopped paying maintenance.

She was an ordinary housewife, who looked after husband and children and did not object when he took a second wife. But when he stopped paying maintenance, she filed a case with the local magistrate citing Indian law, which requires husbands to support indigent wives.

The case ended in the Supreme Court, which found in favour of Shah Bano and ordered her husband to pay maintenance. The verdict was welcomed by progressive Muslims but enraged conservatives.

Her husband, Mohammed Khan, cited sharia, which requires husbands to pay alimony for only three months, unless their ex-wife is pregnant.

Conservative Muslims lobbied then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to move a Bill, which under the guise of religious freedom, would exclude Muslim women from the maintenance provisions of Indian law.

On September 11 (a symbolic date, but this time in 2005) Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced Ontario would outlaw all forms of religious arbitration, including sharia.

Canadians can thank Homa Arjomand, another Muslim heroine, who is director of the International Campaign against Sharia Court.

As counsellor for a Toronto agency helping Muslim women fleeing abusive marriages and physical assault, Arjomand understands the insidious nature of sharia and aims to eliminate it in Iran, Iraq, India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

The Olympic movement could do far more for Muslim women's sport.

South Africa was banned from the Olympic Games during its era of race discrimination. Men from Muslim countries that do not allow women to play sport in public should be banned from international competitions.




BABETTE FRANCIS is co-ordinator of the Endeavour Forum, a counter- feminist, anti-abortion group



Member Organisation, World Council for Life and Family

NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the UN