On the morning of December 17, 2004, a young, pregnant mother named Iman Muhanna Mohammad was stabbed to death in the bedroom of her Metarie, LA home. Her husband, Fakhri, discovered her body when he returned home from taking the children to school. Iman Muhanna Mohammad had been stabbed thirty-three times; some of her wounds were defensive, which means she fought to save her life and that of her unborn baby girl. Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office investigators found that while the phone line had been cut, there were no other signs of forced entry. Fakhri Mohammad was cleared of any suspicion almost immediately, and the case has seen little movement since. Repeated requests for comment for this article from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and the lead detective went unanswered.
Iman was a devout Palestinian woman and Islamic studies teacher, a graduate of the Islamic University of Gaza who helped found the Muslim Academy in Gretna, Louisiana, suburb of New Orleans. She and Fakhri were caring for two children (including his daughter from a previous marriage), and were expecting a third child. She was an admired and beloved member of the New Orleans Muslim community. Although we’re in the midst rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina’s fury, she is still deeply missed and we have not forgotten her. But what angers many of us is the silence surrounding her case.
As of this writing, there has been almost no coverage of Iman Muhanna’s murder by the mainstream and Muslim American media. In fact, most of the writing about Iman Muhanna has been on our respective blogs. As Jefferson Parish, like the rest of the region, struggles to rebuild after Katrina, how much attention will be paid to Iman Muhanna’s case?
The Muslim American Society, along with the Jefferson Parish Muslim Association and Crimestoppers New Orleans, have offered more than $45,000 as a reward for tips leading to the perpetrator(s) of this crime. Although this reward is more than the usual offers, there have been no tips. The MAS Freedom Foundation Executive Director Madhi Bray said last spring, “Laci Peterson and Natalie Holloway have received so much support and coverage, but there is virtually no coverage for Iman Mohammed. Someone out there knows something about this case. Mrs. Mohammed needs someone to advocate for bringing her murderer, or murderers, to justice and we plan to do just that. It would be great if Nancy Grace of CNN and other crime solving programs would give this case coverage.”
But the silence around Iman Muhanna Mohammed is a larger reflection of how the media treats women of color and violence. The media spent counless hours on the tragic murders of Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, and Lori Hacking, as well as the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba. Even the so-called “Runaway Bride”, Jennifer Wilbanks, who faked her own kidnapping to escape her wedding vows, was interviewed with Barbara Walters and Katie Couric.
But Latoya Figueroa, a pregnant Black Latina woman in Philadelphia who went missing for weeks before her body was discovered by police, got no attention in the media until local bloggers took up her case. Dr. Zehra Attari, an Indian Muslim pediatrician dedicated to serving lower income people, went missing for weeks only to have five minutes dedicated to her on the Nancy Grace show. In this current climate of Islamophobia, it seems that missing Muslim women will not garner any attention unless the perpetrator is another Muslim.
We can only imagine what kind of media sensationalism would have evolved had Iman’s husband, Fakhri Mohammad, been a suspect. We’re all familiar with the stereotype of the violent Muslim man, immortalized in countless Hollywood films such as Not With My Daughter and True Lies. It’s this same stereotype that lead Jordanian writer Norma Khouri, author of Honor Lost, to present as real a fictitious story about a Jordanian Muslim woman who falls in love with an American Catholic man and is subsequently stabbed to death after the discover of their affair. Only after Khouri’s book sold millions of copies and received glowing reviews from the New York Times did journalist and activist Rana Hussieni reveal that the entire story was false. While presenting herself as an activist-writer, Norma Khouri made glaring errors about Jordanian culture and law, the Arabic language, and Islam, which ultimately lead to the revelation of her lies. She happily cashed in Western stereotypes and fears of Muslims. Even now, more than a year after her hoax was revealed, Khouri’s book is still being read and circulated in libraries, and, incredibly, some still consider her a believable source.
So that leaves us, American Muslim writers and activists. As of this writing, only iviews, Islam Online, Q-News, and now, alt.muslim, have covered the story of Iman Muhanna Mohammad. As in the Figueroa case, independent bloggers raised awareness by writing about her murder. While there were numerous articles about the controversial female led prayer back in March 2005 and the validity of female imams, Iman Muhanna and her story went unnoticed.
Since September 11th, there has been constant pressure from within and outside of the Muslim community to address women’s issues within the community. The fact remains that while we argue about whether or not hijab is obligatory, or whether or not women should lead prayers, there are Muslim women all throughout the world that are being victimized by poverty, war, and disease. And while talking about the murder of our women will always be a difficult subject, we have to address it. We need to address safety concerns for women who wear hijab in intolerant parts of the United States. We need to talk about Iraqi, Afghani, and Palestinian women who are being killed by biological and chemical weapons. We also need to address the pre-Islamic practices still infecting our cultures which lead to the gang rape of hundreds of women such as Muktaran Mai. Please make dua for Iman Muhanna Mohammad and her family and may they receive justice in this life and the next.