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Sunday, 3 March, 2002, 11:41 GMT
Muslims condemn genital mutilation
Women in Afghanistan
The women want to tackle negative images of Islam
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By the BBC's Flora Botsford in Cordoba, Spain

Delegates at an international conference on women and Islam have heard a strong condemnation of female genital mutilation - the practice known as female circumcision.

The controversial topic was not part of the official agenda, but came up in discussions on domestic violence.

Muslim women in Kuala Lumpur
200 women are attending the conference
The organisers say the practice is not recommended in the Koran, and has too often been mistaken by people in the West as an Islamic custom.

The conference has brought together more than 200 Muslim women - most of them living in Spain - although speakers have included women from Libya, Sudan and Iran.

Organisers say they are hoping to counteract the predominantly negative image in the Western media of Islam and Islamic women, which has been exacerbated by the 11 September bombings and the American-led war on terrorism.

Too often, they say, this comes from ignorance or misunderstanding, as in the case of female genital mutilation - this is traditional practice in some African societies, and has got nothing to do with the Muslim faith or the Koran, say the organisers.

Integration issues

Kamila Toby, co-ordinator of the World Congress of Muslim Women, says the subordination of women in general was also a misinterpretation of the Muslim holy book.

"Muslim women are equal in Islam," she said, adding that many countries have become confused between "what is their culture and what is Islam".

Delegates have also discussed some of the difficulties of Muslim immigrants in Spain - seen recently in the row over a Muslim teenager who was initially refused permission to wear a headscarf in school.

One of the speakers said it was a mistake to confuse integration with the obligation to adapt to Western customs.

Muslim women wanted to be part of a multi-cultural society, but they should be free to choose their own style of dress, to exercise their right to work, to marry, divorce, to have children or not.

Above all, she said, they must be given an education and a voice which can be heard.

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