Saturday, April 30, 2011

And the Ummah Remains Silent, Part II - Robert Fisk: The crimewave that shames the world

It is a tragedy, a horror, a crime against humanity. The details of the murders – of the women beheaded, burned to death, stoned to death, stabbed, electrocuted, strangled and buried alive for the "honour" of their families – are as barbaric as they are shameful. Many women's groups in the Middle East and South-west Asia suspect the victims are at least four times the United Nations' latest world figure of around 5,000 deaths a year. Most of the victims are young, many are teenagers, slaughtered under a vile tradition that goes back hundreds of years but which now spans half the globe.
A 10-month investigation by The Independent in Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank has unearthed terrifying details of murder most foul. Men are also killed for "honour" and, despite its identification by journalists as a largely Muslim practice, Christian and Hindu communities have stooped to the same crimes. Indeed, the "honour" (or ird) of families, communities and tribes transcends religion and human mercy. But voluntary women's groups, human rights organisations, Amnesty International and news archives suggest that the slaughter of the innocent for "dishonouring" their families is increasing by the year.
Iraqi Kurds, Palestinians in Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey appear to be the worst offenders but media freedoms in these countries may over-compensate for the secrecy which surrounds "honour" killings in Egypt – which untruthfully claims there are none – and other Middle East nations in the Gulf and the Levant. But honour crimes long ago spread to Britain, Belgium, Russia and Canada and many other nations. Security authorities and courts across much of the Middle East have connived in reducing or abrogating prison sentences for the family murder of women, often classifying them as suicides to prevent prosecutions.
It is difficult to remain unemotional at the vast and detailed catalogue of these crimes. How should one react to a man – this has happened in both Jordan and Egypt – who rapes his own daughter and then, when she becomes pregnant, kills her to save the "honour" of his family? Or the Turkish father and grandfather of a 16-year-old girl, Medine Mehmi, in the province of Adiyaman, who was buried alive beneath a chicken coop in February for "befriending boys"? Her body was found 40 days later, in a sitting position and with her hands tied. 

Or Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, 13, who in Somalia in 2008, in front of a thousand people, was dragged to a hole in the ground – all the while screaming, "I'm not going – don't kill me" – then buried up to her neck and stoned by 50 men for adultery? After 10 minutes, she was dug up, found to be still alive and put back in the hole for further stoning. Her crime? She had been raped by three men and, fatally, her family decided to report the facts to the Al-Shabab militia that runs Kismayo. Or the Al-Shabab Islamic "judge" in the same country who announced the 2009 stoning to death of a woman – the second of its kind the same year – for having an affair? Her boyfriend received a mere 100 lashes.
Or the young woman found in a drainage ditch near Daharki in Pakistan, "honour" killed by her family as she gave birth to her second child, her nose, ears and lips chopped off before being axed to death, her first infant lying dead among her clothes, her newborn's torso still in her womb, its head already emerging from her body? She was badly decomposed; the local police were asked to bury her. Women carried the three to a grave, but a Muslim cleric refused to say prayers for her because it was "irreligious" to participate in the namaz-e-janaza prayers for "a cursed woman and her illegitimate children".
So terrible are the details of these "honour" killings, and so many are the women who have been slaughtered, that the story of each one might turn horror into banality. But lest these acts – and the names of the victims, when we are able to discover them – be forgotten, here are the sufferings of a mere handful of women over the past decade, selected at random, country by country, crime after crime.
Last March, Munawar Gul shot and killed his 20-year-old sister, Saanga, in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, along with the man he suspected was having "illicit relations" with her, Aslam Khan.
In August of 2008, five women were buried alive for "honour crimes" in Baluchistan by armed tribesmen; three of them – Hameeda, Raheema and Fauzia – were teenagers who, after being beaten and shot, were thrown still alive into a ditch where they were covered with stones and earth. When the two older women, aged 45 and 38, protested, they suffered the same fate. The three younger women had tried to choose their own husbands. In the Pakistani parliament, the MP Israrullah Zehri referred to the murders as part of a "centuries-old tradition" which he would "continue to defend".
In December 2003, a 23-year-old woman in Multan, identified only as Afsheen, was murdered by her father because, after an unhappy arranged marriage, she ran off with a man called Hassan who was from a rival, feuding tribe. Her family was educated – they included civil servants, engineers and lawyers. "I gave her sleeping pills in a cup of tea and then strangled her with a dapatta [a long scarf, part of a woman's traditional dress]," her father confessed. He told the police: "Honour is the only thing a man has. I can still hear her screams, she was my favourite daughter. I want to destroy my hands and end my life." The family had found Afsheen with Hassan in Rawalpindi and promised she would not be harmed if she returned home. They were lying.
Zakir Hussain Shah slit the throat of his daughter Sabiha, 18, at Bara Kau in June 2002 because she had "dishonoured" her family. But under Pakistan's notorious qisas law, heirs have powers to pardon a murderer. In this case, Sabiha's mother and brother "pardoned" the father and he was freed. When a man killed his four sisters in Mardan in the same year, because they wanted a share of his inheritance, his mother "pardoned" him under the same law. In Sarghoda around the same time, a man opened fire on female members of his family, killing two of his daughters. Yet again, his wife – and several other daughters wounded by him – "pardoned" the murderer because they were his heirs.
Outrageously, rape is also used as a punishment for "honour" crimes. In Meerwala village in the Punjab in 2002, a tribal "jury" claimed that an 11-year-old boy from the Gujar tribe, Abdul Shakoor, had been walking unchaperoned with a 30-year-old woman from the Mastoi tribe, which "dishonoured" the Mastois. The tribal elders decided that to "return" honour to the group, the boy's 18-year-old sister, Mukhtaran Bibi, should be gang-raped. Her father, warned that all the female members of his family would be raped if he did not bring Mukhtar to them, dutifully brought his daughter to this unholy "jury". Four men, including one of the "jury", immediately dragged the girl to a hut and raped her while up to a hundred men laughed and cheered outside. She was then forced to walk naked through the village to her home. It took a week before the police even registered the crime – as a "complaint".
Acid attacks also play their part in "honour" crime punishments. The Independent itself gave wide coverage in 2001 to a Karachi man called Bilal Khar who poured acid over his wife Fakhra Yunus's face after she left him and returned to her mother's home in the red-light area of the city. The acid fused her lips, burned off her hair, melted her breasts and an ear, and turned her face into "a look of melted rubber". That same year, a 20-year-old woman called Hafiza was shot twice by her brother, Asadullah, in front of a dozen policemen outside a Quetta courthouse because she had refused to follow the tradition of marrying her dead husband's elder brother. She had then married another man, Fayyaz Moon, but police arrested the girl and brought her back to her family in Quetta on the pretext that the couple could formally marry there. But she was forced to make a claim that Fayaz had kidnapped and raped her. It was when she went to court to announce that her statement was made under pressure – and that she still regarded Fayaz as her husband – that Asadullah murdered her. He handed his pistol to a police constable who had witnessed the killing.
One of the most terrible murders in 1999 was that of a mentally retarded 16-year-old, Lal Jamilla Mandokhel, who was reportedly raped by a junior civil servant in Parachinar in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Her uncle filed a complaint with the police but handed Lal over to her tribe, whose elders decided she should be killed to preserve tribal "honour". She was shot dead in front of them. Arbab Khatoon was raped by three men in the Jacobabad district. She filed a complaint with the police. Seven hours later, she was murdered by relatives who claimed she had "dishonoured" them by reporting the crime.
Over 10 years ago, Pakistan's Human Rights Commission was recording "honour" killings at the rate of a thousand a year. But if Pakistan seems to have the worst track record of "honour" crimes – and we must remember that many countries falsely claim to have none – Turkey might run a close second. According to police figures between 2000 and 2006, a reported 480 women – 20 per cent of them between the ages of 19 and 25 – were killed in "honour" crimes and feuds. Other Turkish statistics, drawn up more than five years ago by women's groups, suggest that at least 200 girls and women are murdered every year for "honour". These figures are now regarded as a vast underestimate. Many took place in Kurdish areas of the country; an opinion poll found that 37 per cent of Diyabakir's citizens approved of killing a woman for an extramarital affair. Medine Mehmi, the girl who was buried alive, lived in the Kurdish town of Kahta.
In 2006, authorities in the Kurdish area of South-east Anatolia were recording that a woman tried to commit suicide every few weeks on the orders of her family. Others were stoned to death, shot, buried alive or strangled. A 17-year-old woman called Derya who fell in love with a boy at her school received a text message from her uncle on her mobile phone. It read: "You have blackened our name. Kill yourself and clean our shame or we will kill you first." Derya's aunt had been killed by her grandfather for an identical reason. Her brothers also sent text messages, sometimes 15 a day. Derya tried to carry out her family's wishes. She jumped into the Tigris river, tried to hang herself and slashed her wrists – all to no avail. Then she ran away to a women's shelter.
It took 13 years before Murat Kara, 40, admitted in 2007 that he had fired seven bullets into his younger sister after his widowed mother and uncles told him to kill her for eloping with her boyfriend. Before he murdered his sister in the Kurdish city of Dyabakir, neighbours had refused to talk to Murat Kara and the imam said he was disobeying the word of God if he did not kill his sister. So he became a murderer. Honour restored.
In his book Women In The Grip Of Tribal Customs, a Turkish journalist, Mehmet Farac, records the "honour" killing of five girls in the late 1990s in the province of Sanliurfa. Two of them – one was only 12 – had their throats slit in public squares, two others had tractors driven over them, the fifth was shot dead by her younger brother. One of the women who had her throat cut was called Sevda Gok. Her brothers held her arms down as her adolescent cousin cut her throat.
But the "honour" killing of women is not a uniquely Kurdish crime, even if it is committed in rural areas of the country. In 2001, Sait Kina stabbed his 13-year-old daughter to death for talking to boys in the street. He attacked her in the bathroom with an axe and a kitchen knife. When the police discovered her corpse, they found the girl's head had been so mutilated that the family had tied it together with a scarf. Sait Kina told the police: "I have fulfilled my duty."
In the same year, an Istanbul court reduced a sentence against three brothers from life imprisonment to between four and 12 years after they threw their sister to her death from a bridge after accusing her of being a prostitute. The court concluded that her behaviour had "provoked" the murder. For centuries, virginity tests have been considered a normal part of rural tradition before a woman's marriage. In 1998, when five young women attempted suicide before these tests, the Turkish family affairs minister defended mandated medical examinations for girls in foster homes.
British Kurdish Iraqi campaigner Aso Kamal, of the Doaa Network Against Violence, believes that between 1991 and 2007, 12,500 women were murdered for reasons of "honour" in the three Kurdish provinces of Iraq alone – 350 of them in the first seven months of 2007, for which there were only five convictions. Many women are ordered by their families to commit suicide by burning themselves with cooking oil. In Sulimaniya hospital in 2007, surgeons were treating many women for critical burns which could never have been caused by cooking "accidents" as the women claimed. One patient, Sirwa Hassan, was dying of 86 per cent burns. She was a Kurdish mother of three from a village near the Iranian border. In 2008, a medical officer in Sulimaniya told the AFP news agency that in May alone, 14 young women had been murdered for "honour" crimes in 10 days. In 2000, Kurdish authorities in Sulimaniya had decreed that "the killing or abuse of women under the pretext of cleansing 'shame' is not considered to be a mitigating excuse". The courts, they said, could not apply an old 1969 law "to reduce the penalty of the perpetrator". The new law, of course, made no difference.
But again, in Iraq, it is not only Kurds who believe in "honour" killings. In Tikrit, a young woman in the local prison sent a letter to her brother in 2008, telling him that she had become pregnant after being raped by a prison guard. The brother was permitted to visit the prison, walked into the cell where his now visibly pregnant sister was held, and shot her dead to spare his family "dishonour". The mortuary in Baghdad took DNA samples from the woman's foetus and also from guards at the Tikrit prison. The rapist was a police lieutenant-colonel. The reason for the woman's imprisonment was unclear. One report said the colonel's family had "paid off" the woman's relatives to escape punishment.
In Basra in 2008, police were reporting that 15 women a month were being murdered for breaching "Islamic dress codes". One 17-year-old girl, Rand Abdel-Qader, was beaten to death by her father two years ago because she had become infatuated with a British soldier. Another, Shawbo Ali Rauf, 19, was taken by her family to a picnic in Dokan and shot seven times because they had found an unfamiliar number on her mobile phone.
In Nineveh, Du'a Khalil Aswad was 17 when she was stoned to death by a mob of 2,000 men for falling in love with a man outside her tribe.
In Jordan, women's organisations say that per capita, the Christian minority in this country of just over five million people are involved in more "honour" killings than Muslims – often because Christian women want to marry Muslim men. But the Christian community is loath to discuss its crimes and the majority of known cases of murder are committed by Muslims. Their stories are wearily and sickeningly familiar. Here is Sirhan in 1999, boasting of the efficiency with which he killed his young sister, Suzanne. Three days after the 16-year-old had told police she had been raped, Sirhan shot her in the head four times. "She committed a mistake, even if it was against her will," he said. "Anyway, it's better to have one person die than to have the whole family die of shame." Since then, a deeply distressing pageant of "honour" crimes has been revealed to the Jordanian public, condemned by the royal family and slowly countered with ever tougher criminal penalties by the courts.
Yet in 2001, we find a 22-year-old Jordanian man strangling his 17-year-old married sister – the 12th murder of its kind in seven months – because he suspected her of having an affair. Her husband lived in Saudi Arabia. In 2002, Souad Mahmoud strangled his own sister for the same reason. She had been forced to marry her lover – but when the family found out she had been pregnant before her wedding, they decided to execute her.
In 2005, three Jordanians stabbed their 22-year-old married sister to death for taking a lover. After witnessing the man enter her home, the brothers stormed into the house and killed her. They did not harm her lover.
By March 2008, the Jordanian courts were still treating "honour" killings leniently. That month, the Jordanian Criminal Court sentenced two men for killing close female relatives "in a fit of fury" to a mere six months and three months in prison. In the first case, a husband had found a man in his home with his wife and suspected she was having an affair. In the second, a man shot dead his 29-year-old married sister for leaving home without her husband's consent and "talking to other men on her mobile phone". In 2009, a Jordanian man confessed to stabbing his pregnant sister to death because she had moved back to her family after an argument with her husband; the brother believed she was "seeing other men".
And so it goes on. Three men in Amman stabbing their 40-year-old divorced sister 15 times last year for taking a lover; a Jordanian man charged with stabbing to death his daughter, 22, with a sword because she was pregnant outside wedlock. Many of the Jordanian families were originally Palestinian. Nine months ago, a Palestinian stabbed his married sister to death because of her "bad behaviour". But last month, the Amman criminal court sentenced another sister-killer to 10 years in prison, rejecting his claim of an "honour" killing – but only because there were no witnesses to his claim that she had committed adultery.
In "Palestine" itself, Human Rights Watch has long blamed the Palestinian police and justice system for the near-total failure to protect women in Gaza and the West Bank from "honour" killings. Take, for example, the 17-year-old girl who was strangled by her older brother in 2005 for becoming pregnant – by her own father.
He was present during her murder. She had earlier reported her father to the police. They neither arrested nor interrogated him. In the same year, masked Hamas gunmen shot dead a 20-year-old, Yusra Azzami, for "immoral behaviour" as she spent a day out with her fiancée. Azzami was a Hamas member, her husband-to-be a member of Fatah. Hamas tried to apologise and called the dead woman a "martyr" – to the outrage of her family. Yet only last year, long after Hamas won the Palestinian elections and took over the Gaza Strip, a Gaza man was detained for bludgeoning his daughter to death with an iron chain because he discovered she owned a mobile phone on which he feared she was talking to a man outside the family. He was later released.
Even in liberal Lebanon, there are occasional "honour" killings, the most notorious that of a 31-year-old woman, Mona Kaham, whose father entered her bedroom and cut her throat after learning she had been made pregnant by her cousin. He walked to the police station in Roueiss in the southern suburbs of Beirut with the knife still in his hand. "My conscience is clear," he told the police. "I have killed to clean my honour." Unsurprisingly, a public opinion poll showed that 90.7 per cent of the Lebanese public opposed "honour" crimes. Of the few who approved of them, several believed that it helped to limit interreligious marriage.
Syria reflects the pattern of Lebanon. While civil rights groups are demanding a stiffening of the laws against women-killers, government legislation only raised the term of imprisonment for men who kill female relatives for extramarital sex to two years. Among the most recent cases was that of Lubna, a 17-year-old living in Homs, murdered by her family because she fled to her sister's house after refusing to marry a man they had chosen for her. They also believed – wrongly – that she was no longer a virgin.
Tribal feuds often provoke "honour" killings in Iran and Afghanistan. In Iran, for example, a governor's official in the ethnic Arab province of Khuzestan stated in 2003 that 45 young women under the age of 20 had been murdered in "honour" killings in just two months, none of which brought convictions. All were slaughtered because of the girl's refusal to agree to an arranged marriage, failing to abide by Islamic dress code or suspected of having contacts with men outside the family.
Through the dark veil of Afghanistan's village punishments, we glimpse just occasionally the terror of teenage executions. When Siddiqa, who was only 19, and her 25-year-old fiancé Khayyam were brought before a Taliban-approved religious court in Kunduz province this month, their last words were: "We love each other, no matter what happens." In the bazaar at Mulla Quli, a crowd – including members of both families – stoned to death first Siddiqa, then Khayyam.
A week earlier, a woman identified as Bibi Sanubar, a pregnant widow, was lashed a hundred times and then shot in the head by a Taliban commander. In April of last year, Taliban gunmen executed by firing squad a man and a girl in Nimruz for eloping when the young woman was already engaged to someone else. History may never disclose how many hundreds of women – and men – have suffered a similar fates at the hands of deeply traditional village families or the Taliban.
But the contagion of "honour" crimes has spread across the globe, including acid attacks on women in Bangladesh for refusing marriages. In one of the most terrible Hindu "honour" killings in India this year, an engaged couple, Yogesh Kumar and Asha Saini, were murdered by the 19-year-old bride-to-be's family because her fiancée was of lower caste. They were apparently tied up and electrocuted to death.
A similar fate awaited 18-year-old Vishal Sharma, a Hindu Brahmin, who wanted to marry Sonu Singh, a 17- year-old Jat – an "inferior" caste which is usually Muslim. The couple were hanged and their bodies burned in Uttar Pradesh. Three years earlier, a New Delhi court had sentenced to death five men for killing another couple who were of the same sub-caste, which in the eyes of the local "caste council" made them brother and sister.
In Chechnya, Russia's chosen President, Ramzan Kadyrov, has been positively encouraging men to kill for "honour". When seven murdered women were found in Grozny, shot in the head and chest, Kadyrov announced – without any proof, but with obvious approval – that they had been killed for living "an immoral life". Commenting on a report that a Chechen girl had called the police to complain of her abusive father, he suggested the man should be able to murder his daughter. "... if he doesn't kill her, what kind of man is he? He brings shame on himself!"
And so to the "West", as we like to call it, where immigrant families have sometimes brought amid their baggage the cruel traditions of their home villages: an Azeri immigrant charged in St Petersburg for hiring hitmen to kill his daughter because she "flouted national tradition" by wearing a miniskirt; near the Belgian city of Charleroi, Sadia Sheikh shot dead by her brother, Moussafa, because she refused to marry a Pakistani man chosen by her family; in the suburbs of Toronto, Kamikar Kaur Dhillon slashes his Punjabi daughter-in-law, Amandeep, across the throat because she wants to leave her arranged marriage, perhaps for another man. He told Canadian police that her separation would "disgrace the family name".
And, of course, we should perhaps end this catalogue of crime in Britain, where only in the past few years have we ourselves woken to the reality of "honour" crimes; of Surjit Athwal, a Punjabi Sikh woman murdered on the orders of her London-based mother-in-law for trying to escape a violent marriage; of 15-year-old Tulay Goren, a Turkish Kurd from north London, tortured and murdered by her Shia Muslim father because she wished to marry a Sunni Muslim man; of Heshu Yones, 16, stabbed to death by her father in 2005 for going out with a Christian boy; of Caneze Riaz, burned alive by her husband in Accrington, along with their four children – the youngest 10 years old – because of their "Western ways". Mohamed Riaz was a Muslim Pakistani from the North-West Frontier Province. He died of burns two days after the murders.
Scotland Yard long ago admitted it would have to review over a hundred deaths, some going back more than a decade, which now appear to have been "honour" killings.
These are just a few of the murders, a few names, a small selection of horror stories across the world to prove the pervasive, spreading infection of what must be recognised as a mass crime, a tradition of family savagery that brooks no merciful intervention, no state law, rarely any remorse.
Surjit Athwal
Murdered in 1998 by her in-laws on a trip to the Indian Punjab for daring to seek a divorce from an unhappy marriage
Du'a Khalil Aswad
Aged 17, she was stoned to death in Nineveh, Iraq, by a mob of 2,000 men for falling in love with a man outside her tribe
Rand Abdel-Qader
The Iraqi 17-year-old was stabbed to death by her father two years ago after falling in love with a British soldier in Basra
Fakhra Khar
In 2001 in Karachi, her husband poured acid on her face, after she left him and returned to her mother's home in the red-light district of the city
Mukhtaran Bibi
The 18-year-old was gang-raped by four men in a hut in the Punjab in 2002, while up to 100 men laughed and cheered outside
Heshu Yones
The 16-year-old was stabbed to death by her Muslim father Abdullah, in west London in 2002, because he disapproved of her Christian boyfriend
Tasleem Solangi
The Pakistani village girl, 17, was falsely accused of immorality and had dogs set on her as a punishment before she was shot dead by in-laws
Shawbo Ali Rauf
Aged 19, she was taken by her family to a picnic in Dokan, Iraq, and shot seven times after they had found an unfamiliar number on her phone
Tulay Goren
The 15-year-old Kurdish girl was killed in north London by her father because the family objected to her choice of husband
Banaz Mahmod Babakir Agha
The 20-year-old's father and uncle murdered her in 2007, after she fell in love with a man her family did not want her to marry
Ayesha Baloch
Accused of having sexual relations with another man before she married, her husband slit her lip and nostril with a knife in Pakistan in 2006

Muslims must learn this, for it is the key to the Ummah's Salvation - from IqraSense

Matters of the (Muslim) Heart…
In a metaphysical sense, we use our hearts in a variety of interesting ways. We love, hate, shed tears, feel happy, etc. based on the beliefs and understanding of various matters that we hold in our hearts. In general, our behavior is largely driven by the world that we build in our hearts. Mankind are known to go to great lengths to perform acts that range from being heroic to being absurd, all based on the value that one places on various matters – people and things – in one’s heart.
It is no wonder therefore that Allah mentions the “heart” in various contexts in more than 100 places in the Quran.
Consider what the prophet said in a hadith:
“There is a piece of flesh in the body if it becomes good (reformed) the whole body becomes good but if it gets spoiled, the whole body gets spoiled – and that is the heart.” [Bukhary, Volume 1, Book 2, Number 49: Part of the Hadith Narrated by An-Nu'man bin Bashir]
If what we hold in our hearts drives us to act – sometimes pushing us to extremes – then it’s only prudent that we feed the right beliefs and knowledge to the world of our hearts.
Without proper knowledge and religious understanding, we can’t expect to build the levels of our faith and without faith there can’t be devotion in our actions. Ibn Al-Qayyim said, “..if actions were useful without devotion, He (Allah) would never have dispraised the hypocrites.” He also said,“Allah will never purchase any good (deed) that has not been refined by faith.” (Al Fawwaid)
It should come as no surprise therefore that we will be questioned about the knowledge that we acquire and how we use that knowledge to build the worlds of our hearts.
Consider the following verse:
“And follow not (O man, i.e., say not, or do not, or witness not) that of which you have no knowledge. Verily, the hearing, and the sight, and the heart of each of those ones will be questioned (by Allâh)” [al-Israa’ 17:36]
We know that the foundation of our religious understanding is based on our upbringing and our continued efforts to acquire knowledge. The weaker the foundation, the more difficult does it become to live Islam. It also lets a carefree attitude take root in our hearts making us even more negligent of our priorities. One of the pious and knowledgeable salaf ‘Ata’ al-Sulaymi was asked about his fear of Allah and his concerns and he said: “…. Death is close at hand, the grave is my house, on the Day of Resurrection I will stand and my path is over a bridge across Hell, and I do not know what will become of me.”
Obviously, if our knowledge and understanding is weak, our minds wouldn’t worry about such matters.
Unfortunately, in such a state many don’t even care to know what they don’t know and what they need to know.
On the contrary, when we invest in building the foundations of our knowledge and religious understanding, we become more cognizant of Allah and fear Him accordingly.
For those of us who feel better about their levels of knowledge, understanding and faith, we need to careful in not developing a false sense of ‘Iman’ (faith). This is because we live in a world where it is common to find religious understanding founded on superficial knowledge garbled with philosophies of the day (that abound) and bits of personal viewpoints.
Sometimes that religious understanding is also tainted with cultural norms giving rise to Islamic viewpoints that are not in line with what was revealed by Allah on our prophet Muhammad (SAWS).
We, therefore, should be wary of falling into such traps of distorted enlightenment.
Consider the example of Umar Al-Khattab (the second Caliph of Islam). The prophet had said that if there was going to be a prophet after him, it would have been Umar. It was the same Umar who on his death bed asked for his head to be put on sand and he kept saying that “…May God be merciful on me. Oh you whose kingship never deviates have mercy on the one whose kingship has just deviated.
If Umar – one of the very few who had been promised paradise in his life – was so worried and anxious about getting Allah’s mercy, how can we become complacent about the levels of the faith and ‘Iman’ that live in our hearts?
Elevating our knowledge and religious understanding thus should get a renewed sense of urgency. Let’s remind ourselves that the excuses that we may have today for not enhancing or correcting our religious knowledge and understanding, won’t pass the test of time. They have not for anyone in the past.
ibn Al-Qayyim said, “The person who is profoundly knowledgeable of Allah would be interested in consolidating the foundation and strengthening it. And the ignorant person would be interested in constructing but without taking care of the foundation, and in no time, his establishment would collapse.”
Allah says in the Quran:
“Is it then he, who laid the foundation of his building on piety to Allah and His Good Pleasure, better, or he who laid the foundation of his building on an undetermined brink of a precipice (steep rock) ready to crumble down, so that it crumbled to pieces with him into the Fire of Hell?” (At-Tawbah, 9:109)”
Getting the right knowledge will also elevate our positions in front of our Creator. As Allah says:
“Allah will exalt in degree those of you who believe, and those who have been granted knowledge” [Part of the verse in al-Mujaadilah 58:11]
Finally, a useful Dua that we can make to inculcate the fear of our Creator is the one taught to us by the prophet. He (SAWS) used to make the dua:
“I seek refuge in you, O Allah, from knowledge that does not benefit and from a heart which does not fear.”
Let’s therefore spend our time to acquire the knowledge that can correct the condition of our hearts and make our lives a bit more meaningful. Let’s also be wary of what we are not feeding our hearts. Ultimately, we are in front of people and in front of our Creator based on what’s in our hearts.

Friday, April 29, 2011

And the Ummah Remained Silent: the 2006 story of Ghazala Shaheen

Pakistani graduate raped to punish her low-caste family

A YOUNG Pakistani woman has been kidnapped, raped and beaten by a gang of high-caste villagers because her uncle eloped with one of their relatives. She was chosen for punishment because she had recently gained a degree and was the pride of her low-caste family

Ghazala Shaheen, 24, and her mother Mumtaz were abducted last month by men dressed in police uniforms from their home near Multan in southern Punjab.
Her shocking ordeal mirrors that of Mukhtaran Mai, 29, who became a symbol in the campaign for women’s rights in Pakistan after she was gang-raped because her 12-year-old brother had been seen with a higher-caste woman. Six men were found guilty but five later had their convictions overturned.
That case provoked an international outcry and led to moves to reform Pakistan’s Islamic rape and adultery laws which effectively criminalise rape victims.
Last week human rights campaigners said Shaheen was unlikely to see her attackers brought to justice because President Pervez Musharraf had failed in an attempt to repeal the Hudood Ordinance, which requires four male Muslim witnesses to support a rape charge. If the accused is acquitted, the victim becomes liable to prosecution for adultery.
While Musharraf was out of the country earlier this month, a committee of hardline Islamic scholars neutered his bill to protect women’s rights which would have repealed the Hudood Ordinance. The scholars claimed the bill was un-Islamic because it “encouraged adultery”.
Shaheen’s ordeal began last month when 11 armed men, believed to be security guards employed by one of Musharraf’s ministers, forced their way into her home, attacked her father and brothers and pulled her and her mother into the street.
“They said we were wanted by the police and dragged me and my mother outside. My shirt was torn off in the struggle,” she said last week.
“Outside, I saw about six or seven motorcycles. They put me on one and my mother on another. We were crying and shouting. They threatened to kill us if we kept shouting. They gagged our mouths with sheets. At one point my mother started resisting and she was beaten with guns.”
They were moved between isolated desert houses at first. As night fell on the third day, Shaheen’s mother was taken to another location and she was left alone with one of the gang members.
“This man sat next to me. A moment later he was on to me. He hit me with his gun on my back and on my body and raped me. I was crying and weeping. But he did not listen, and he repeated it,” she said.
“In the morning, I was told to stand up and accompany this man. I was in pain. I could barely walk. Finally we reached a big house with Nazar Mirani (the gang leader) sitting outside. The man who had raped me told Nazar that he had done what he wanted with me and now it was his turn. They took me to a nearby cotton field and Nazar Mirani raped me.”
Shaheen said she knew Mirani’s name because he had filed a case against her uncle, accusing him of eloping with his wife. Mirani had previously threatened and harassed her father, a former soldier who runs a shop from their mud and brick home.
Mirani later told Shaheen he was taking her to Lahore to marry her so that she could not give evidence against him or his men. As the women were being driven from the house, they were stopped at a police roadblock and freed by officers Shaheen’s father had alerted.
According to her relatives, she had been selected as a kidnap target to maximise her family’s humiliation. She had been been the first in her family to gain a degree. This earned her a job as a local schoolteacher, but the offer was withdrawn after officials said they did not want to be associated with someone who had been raped.
Shaheen said she was determined to bring her kidnappers and rapists to justice. “My mission is to get all of them arrested and hanged, so they cannot do this to any other woman,” she said.
The prospects of a successful prosecution appear slim. Only Mirani has been arrested on kidnapping charges, and without the four essential witnesses a rape conviction is unlikely.
Rashid Rehman of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission said that while hospital tests confirmed Shaheen had been raped, the examination was conducted too late to identify the rapists.
“Ghazala Shaheen has no chance of getting justice. The evidence has been destroyed. Doctors confirm she has been raped but she can’t prove that she has been raped by the suspects,” he said. There are hundreds of similar cases in southern Punjab every year, he added.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Culture of Errors: Separating Male-Driven Oppression and Islam - Habiba Kavalec

There is Islamic tradition, the illustration of Divine Will, which advocates women’s rights and gender equality; and then there is the non-Islamic culture of misogyny, the creed of patriarchal systems, which male-biased machinations have stamped on Islam.  The grossly oppressive practices perpetrated against women in Muslim communities are not reflective of the dictates of Islam.  They are the manifestation of customs that date back to jahiliyya (pre-Islamic era), which are rooted in the socio-cultural and political dynamics of male-driven society.  Islam neither levies undue hardship on believers, nor does it restrict a woman’s human rights.  But self-serving male structures have craftily woven Islam and culture together, devising a religious formula for oppression and basing their argument on unreliable hadith as well as perverted interpretation of proven hadith and religious text.  Tragically, this distorted un-Islamic mindset still finds place in the moral fabric of Muslim societies. 
These prevalent practices revolve within the realm of dark-age logic.  Although they may vary by country, nevertheless, the framework is consistent; men are superior beings, and women are inferior and compelled to be submissive to men.  It is a powerful and bulletproof institutional order, which, in my particular community, capitalizes on the Muslim woman’s natural aspiration to attain excellence in worship and obedience to God.  It derives its strength and success from conditioning that begins very early in the developmental stages of childhood.  Boys are nurtured as superior authority figures, while girls are primed to be subservient.  The conditioning ultimately creates an inbuilt propensity for women to resign themselves to subordination, and readily accepting of male justification based on ambiguous Sunnah. 
This conditioning tactic provides one of the answers to the question of how women, even the well-educated who hold master’s and doctorate degrees, succumb to subordination and the imposed position of second class citizens.  Those who do not toe the line or dare challenge the status quo face certain retaliation.  And, any attempts by outside third parties to contest the subjugation of women are vehemently opposed by conservative Islamists, who insist that the reforms are anti-Islam.  
As a Muslim woman, I became increasingly apprehensive of what I was experiencing, and, consequently, I spent the majority of my life running away from what I only knew to be a “rigorous, oppressive and unfair religion.”  Like my counterparts, I saw Islam as the problem, and I took refuge in western society where I could thrive as a woman on my own terms.  This decision was not without some level of repercussion, but I was willing to take that risk.  It took many years before I dared return to my roots.  By then I had become complete as a woman in Islam, motivated and empowered by my God-given rights as ordained in the Qur’an.  Over the years, it had become painfully obvious that the very reasons for my fear and apprehension had nothing to do with the tenets of Islam, but they were the upshot of the age-old world order of female oppression and devaluation.  Nevertheless, it still took me many years before I was able to push through the childhood conditioning, and embark on an independent study of Islam through the revelation of God, and not on the footing of any human manifesto.

I want to be clear about my objective for this op-ed.  It is not to condemn Muslim men, but intended to join others in bringing more awareness to the salient fact that the repressive cultural practices, that harm and disadvantage women, do not represent Islam.  Hence, these customs must be publicly and privately separated from Islam, both in words and actions.  Among many others, these include domestic violence and abuse, honor killing, forced marriage, arbitrary divorce, female genitalia mutilation, and denial of equal gender rights and access to education.  Muslim women must not be barred from exercising and enjoying all of the rights and privileges granted to them by God, as evidenced in the Qur’an.  That is the reason why it is critical that we consistently keep this issue in the forefront.  Not only to shatter the myths, but, also, in the hope that Muslim leadership will be moved to adopt measures to better protect women and uphold their God-given rights.  And, additionally, for the same to outlaw the un-Islamic barbaric practices of murdering or maiming women, and bring to justice any man that commits these crimes in the name of Islam.  It is unfathomable how a father or a brother can unleash abject brutality on a daughter or a sister.  But, the distressing reality is that many men sincerely believe this to be a God-given right and directive, and not what it truly epitomizes, which is an atrocious anti-Islamic cultural ritual. 

Although there is some progress being made in segments of Muslim communities, the high risk societies remain unmoved largely due to the reluctance of male-dominant structure to conclusively separate Islam and culture.  In their thinking, such initiative will only serve to undermine the authority and control they exert over women; and, in one case, the argument was that this will “strip them of their humanity.”  Such disparaging standpoints speak volumes about male attitude toward women in some Muslim communities. 
Given the uninspiring stance of leaders who could help curtail oppressive practices, but do not do so, the situation seems hopeless.  Nevertheless, we cannot be discouraged.  A call to action is in order for Muslim women to judiciously study their religion and read the Qur’an, which contains many verses that uphold women and validate their equal rights.  Many Muslims rely on translations of the meaning of the Qur’an in their native tongue.  But, it is important to remember that these translations are the work of human hands and subject to the author’s comprehension of the Arabic text.  That is the reason why it is strongly advisable that non-Arabic speaking Muslims strive to learn the language of our faith so as to have the advantage of reading the Qur’an from that vantage point.  This is of specific importance for women, since the translations in circulation are predominantly authored by men.  This very subject is at the core of efforts by a growing body of modern thinkers and female scholarship to challenge the theories and methodologies used to interpret the religious texts.  Their focus is on the field of Qur'anic interpretation, or tafsir, in a quest to prove that the inequalities entrenched in Islamic law are not illustrations of divine will, but rather the result of human constructions.  Muslim women also need to venture to become more active and outspoken in their communities about the edicts of Islam in relation to the position and rights of women.  Additionally, younger generations should be encouraged to consider the field of Islamic Studies as a career option, because it increasingly is important that we have more female representation in that discipline.

Undeniably, Islam does not oppress women.  This may sound cliché, but it is the simple truth.  The Muslim woman’s oppressor is the male ego and its machinations; just as it has always been for women of every race and religion, and in every country and society around the world.  In all actuality, Islam is the solution and source of liberation for the age-old male culture of female oppression and devaluation.  That is the divine decree handed down more than 1400 years ago.  So, my tears today are for those who are still trapped, with little to no hope for reprieve.  But, the reality is that any improvement in the condition of Muslim women cannot be lasting and successful without a comprehensive restructuring of Muslim societies’ outlook and way of life.  In essence, the Muslim world needs to bring itself closer to the ideals of Islam.  The plight of Muslim women and the problems of Muslim communities are not a result of excessive attachment to religion; but the severe consequence of a long and deep detachment from Islam in all of its purity and splendor.

Habiba Kavalec is the founder of Muslimah Compass, an organization dedicated to the empowerment of the Muslim woman. She is an example of the type of Muslimahs, serving our Lord(SWT), which are so desperately needed in our Ummah at this time.