Violence against women
This cruel sickness
A man who kills a woman over an abaya, or over her speaking
to a non-Muslim occupying soldier is not doing God's work. He does not have the
sanction and approval of God.
By Saraji Umm Zaid, June 2, 2008
girl named Rand, who lives in Basra, 19, is seen speaking with a British
soldier she comes into contact with as a volunteer. She is the only one in the
volunteer organization who speaks English. She tells her friend she's in love
with him, though they have only spoken a few times. The soldier gives her a
teddy bear, and Rand tells her friend that he calls her a
Her father hears, months later, that she was seen speaking to an occupying
soldier. He stomps, strangles, stabs, and beats her to death with his two sons.
They throw her in a grave, unwashed, not prayed over. Her uncles spit on her
body. She died a virgin.
The police congratulate him. He is asked to leave his job, but still paid a
salary. He boasts to the international press about what he's done, claiming it
was necessary because of his honor as a Muslim father. "My daughter
deserved to die," he says.
Her mother, who we shall call Leila Umm Rand, or Leila, mother of Rand, is
beaten and brutalized by her husband for daring to stand up to him. She leaves
him and is disowned by her sons. She escaped and was being sheltered by a
women's rights organization, which was preparing to send her to safety in
'Amman. Today comes word
that Umm Rand was brutally gunned down two weeks on a street
corner on her way to escape. The women with her have been threatened with death
if they continue to fight against "honor" killings in Iraq. Inna
lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un.
This is not Islam, we know it. We know it, but he doesn't. We know it, but many
of the thousands of people reading that story don't know it. We know it and we
don't do much. Some people say, "Sister, these people are under
occupation," meaning the Palestinians, or the Iraqis, or "These
people are suffering from great internal fitnah and oppression,"
meaning everyone else, and "Sister, we can't afford to look at women's
rights until the greater wrongs of the situation are dealt with."
This is how people enforce silence on sexual and child abuse in Palestine, on
honor killings in Iraq and Pakistan, on other issues affecting women and
children in the Muslim world. But God does not change a people's condition
until they change themselves. How can we cry for our brethren or ourselves to
be freed from occupiers, from oppression, if we ourselves are in turn
oppressors? If you oppress a child or a woman in your life, how can you cry to
be freed from the jackboot of a dictator or invader?
You should know that however the Western press exaggerates and distorts things
-- and they do -- the fact of the matter is that the things reportedly going on
in Basra and elsewhere in Iraq are happening. We have relatives who fled from
there, and I asked, "Is this just the media or is it...?"
And she said, "Why am I here? I was threatened for wearing a long skirt
and a scarf. They wanted me to wear the abaya. It is true. It is all true, and
they are ruining our country." I look at her clothes. Very presentable for
a middle aged women in Jordan, conservative for a woman in the US.
"Women being murdered for not wearing the scarf or abaya?" I asked,
my mouth hanging open.
She nodded her head slowly, sadly.
We cannot blame the cruelties of our own men on the cruelties inflicted on them
by others. It may explain the some of causes, but it does not exonerate them.
We cannot blame the English soldier for talking to the Iraqi girl. He was
probably told not to do it but there is no death penalty for speaking to
someone in Islam. No, her father and brothers are the ones with blood on their
hands. Point the finger at your brother, for he is the one who has done this.
As stupid and careless as the soldier was, he did not beat her, he did not
strangle her by placing his foot over her throat, he did not cut up her body as
she lay dying on her bedroom floor. Her father and her brothers, given the
solemn obligation by God to protect her, did this.
A man who kills a woman over an abaya, or over her speaking to a non-Muslim
occupying soldier is not doing God's work. He does not have the sanction and
approval of God. He has transgressed the boundaries set down by the Qur'an and
"Who transgresses the boundaries of Allah: such are
wrong-doers" (al Baqara:229)
"Surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits." (al Baqara:
can not point our finger at the horrifying partner-related murder rates in the
US or Mexico or anywhere else and say, "It's not just a Muslim
thang." It isn't. But as Muslims, as human beings, we have a duty. Not
only to our own daughters and sisters, but to the daughters and sisters being
murdered by their husbands and boyfriends in the US, Mexico, and anywhere else.
Instead, we wash our hands at this point, shrugging, saying, "This is
beyond my control. It happens everywhere." It does indeed. But what power
have you been given, what opportunities?
As Western Muslims, we have some diversity amongst us in terms of education,
professions, income, and so forth. However, by and large, we are much better
off and have many more opportunities than many people in the world, including
many other Muslims. We are blessed to live in societies where cutting edge
technology is the norm, and where it is widely available. Although we may
sometimes feel like the bottom rung in the American or British Muslim community,
we need to realize that our rung looks pretty high from the views of many other
Muslims in the world. With these gifts, then, comes a responsibility.
It may start in your masjid. It may start in your family. It may start in your
neighborhood. It can start on a blog or website. I don't know about your blog,
but I know I have readers from all over Jordan and the Middle East, as well as
South Asia and other parts of the world where things like this... happen. If
you can reach one person, and that one person reaches his father, and that
father reaches his brother... and that's just in English. Imagine the influence
of bloggers and web masters who can promote what is right in Arabic, Urdu,
Pashto, Dari, Turkish, Kurdish, Spanish, Portugese, and so on. A simple page
showing, from Islamic sources, why these things are wrong and why they have to
be stopped today -- not when Palestine is liberated, or Iraq is free from
occupation -- can do so much to change the world. I believe that. But you have
to speak to people from the context they live in. You can't go to deeply
religious or conservative or old fashioned people and talk about human rights
conventions and feminism and secular humanist values. You have to have
credibility -- as a Muslim -- and you have to
speak to them from the sources that matter -- the Qur'an and the
Sunnah. Such dialogs have begun to
take place in the Muslim world, and are meeting with success.
Allah does not change the condition of those who do not change themselves. In
the past year, we have been hit with some very brutal stories of the murders of
girls and women in Jordan,
and Iraq (among other places). We have seen some of the most unimaginable
things going on in our own community in the United States. We are fully aware
of abuses and harm being done within the Muslim world, and within our
community. It does not negate the abuses and harm being done in other
communities and other parts of the world. But we need to start cleaning up our
own backyards before we go demanding other people clean theirs up.
Saraji Umm Zaid is the author of the popular Brass Crescent
Award-winning weblog Sunni Sister.