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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

Blood never cleanses


A 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 princess.

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 Sunnah:

"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: 190)

We 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 babies, girls and women in Jordan, Syria, 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.

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