Today a Canadian court delivered a guilty verdict in the prosecution of Mohammed Shafia for the “honor murders” of his three teenage daughters and first wife. Once again Islam is in the spotlight as the acts of three ignorant people cast a horrible light on the religion they profess, Islam. Okay, just so we’re clear here. There is NO place in Islam for so-called “honor killings”. Honor killings are murder, plain and simple, and anyone who tries to claim that they are condoned by Muslims or by Islamic law is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I can’t put it any more bluntly than that. Well, yes I can, but I’d probably end up using bad language so I’ll just leave it at that.
I should state categorically that violence against women is condemned by all human beings of conscience, whether it be “honor killings”, smacking the old lady around after one too many cans of beer, sexual exploitation of girls enslaved as prostitutes, or any of the other forms of abuse and torture that are all too common on our planet. The villages of Afghanistan are not worse than the brothels of Bangkok or the slums or even dignified suburbs of America. The violence may change but the game remains the same: strip women of their dignity and power, reduce them to chattel, treat them as less than human, and when they are all used up, discard them.
As a Muslim, I am particularly disgusted when I hear about a person who claims to be Muslim committing a crime against a woman. Islam, this religion I studied and chose almost two decades ago, is supposed to protect and ennoble women. The time in Arabia preceding Islam is known as the Jahiliyya, or time of ignorance, and Prophet Muhammad, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, brought a message that was supposed to replace the ignorance with knowledge, violence with peace, culture with religion, subjugation with understanding. Over 1400 years ago, women were enshrined as individuals with rights. They were allowed to choose their marriage partner, allowed to work, allowed to become educated, allowed to keep any money they earned, allowed to be full human beings. Such freedoms as were unheard of even in the West were made the law of the land in Arabia over fourteen hundred years ago. So what the hell happened?
What happened was a long, slow decline of Islamic knowledge and practice. What happened is that Muslims abandoned their religion in favor of the ignorance of their tribes or the glitz of modernity. They decided it was important to get degrees in engineering and marketing, but not important to make sure their kids went to the mosque to learn. They decided that they wanted to chase the American (or in this case, Canadian) dream of making money and left their children to be raised by Spongebob, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, and Myspace. They chastised their children if they failed to practice for the spelling bee but never woke them for the fajr prayer. They were content to bear all the trappings of Islam, naming their children Muhammad and Aisha, paying lip-service to faith in Allah while they paid for designer clothing with credit cards and sold liquor in their stores, hired belly dancers to bring in the crowds on Saturday night, and turned their backs on the truth of Islam. The truth that says all human life is sacrosanct. The truth that says men are supposed to cherish women and teach them (and learn from them) and help them to become the best they can be. The truth that says mothers are supposed to raise their girls with a strong sense of self-worth so they know the way to Paradise. The truth that says that if you kill one person without cause, it is as if you had killed the whole of humanity.
So what do we do now? The Canadian justice system is taking care of Mohammed Shafia and his wife and son. They will hopefully spend the rest of their lives in prison. Punishing them cannot bring back Zaineb and Sahar and Geeti. We can pray that Allah will not punish them for their shortcomings and will have mercy on them for the challenges they faced during their short lives. Perhaps the mercy of their deaths is that they are free of him, free of this monster of a man who does not deserve the title of father. If they leave a legacy behind, maybe it will be that the Muslim communities around the world will finally wake up and recognize that we have to do something to prevent more of these killings. I honestly don’t think that will be the case, cynic that I am, but perhaps this case will wake up a few people. Perhaps one father will repent to Allah and realize his daughters are just as precious as his sons. Perhaps one mother will refuse to allow her husband to abuse her, will take a stand and not allow the cycle of violence to continue. Perhaps some more Imaams will have the courage to stand on the minbar and decry the violence against women and remind their congregation of their duty to Allah. Perhaps one woman will listen to the doubts in her heart and not marry that “perfect” guy who let slip his belief that women in tight clothes are all whores. Perhaps some bloggers will shine a spotlight on this issue and force people to stop sweeping it under the rug. Perhaps there will be one less honor murder, one less acid attack, one less wrecked life. Perhaps.
I am a Muslim. I am proud to be a Muslim and I am proud of Islam. Mohammed Shafia has nothing to do with me and my religion. He makes my job harder, for sure. Non-Muslims will be tut-tutting as they read about the case online. They will make comments about “those barbaric Moozlums” and pundits on TV will take every opportunity to connect these murders with my faith. I don’t like it, but I have to live with it. I’ll just have to work harder, write more, to get the truth of Islam out there and to undo some of the damage done by yet another case of Muslims Behaving Badly. You’d think I’d be used to it now.