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Allah, too little too late

Posted by Don McLenaghen on February 8, 2012

Canadian imams issue fatwa against honor killings last week. Seems a bit late, but better late than never. I find it funny that in a religious context it was not obvious that killing or maiming women for the sake of honour was wrong…morally wrong. Okay maybe not exclusively religious but seems to be the last bastion of this kind of thinking. What is honour killing? When the head of the family perceives a member of the family has committed an act that brings shame or dishonour on the family, they punish the offender to restore the family honour. This punishment (most often against wife or daughter but occasionally against sons who ‘marry wrong’ or are gay) can be as simple as in-house imprisonment or a beating however occasionally women have been burnt alive, have had acid thrown on their faces or just simply shot to death. To give an example how twisted this idea of honour can be (at least in more traditional cultures), women have been maimed and killed because THEY were raped…yes, they get punished for being sexually assaulted by someone else.

In response to the convictions of four people in the Shafia family murder of four female members, over 30 imams signed a fatwa that condemns honour killings, domestic violence and misogyny as “un-Islamic.” In a classic apologist play, this group attempts to explain how previous translations or interpretations of Koranic verse were incorrect. That those (and it was, is?, the majority) who think that when the Koran says a husband is superior to his wife it means the man is better than the women…no, no, no….the term ‘superior’ doesn’t mean better than but only that the husband has a greater responsibility (ie superior responsibility) to provide for the family. aaAAHHhh(sound of coming realization), so superior really means more accountable .

They go on to address domestic violence directly by stating that the term “wadhriboo-hunnah” ( وَٱضۡرِبُوهُ نَّ ) has been mistranslated. The wrong read is ‘strike’ where it should be ‘cite’. So, when imams and the faithful use to incorrectly read what to do if you find your wife having an affair they thought Allah commanded them to 1) advise her, 2) abandon her bed and then 3) strike her until she learns to obey. How they should have read the commands is 1) educate her on what her duty is, 2) move to separate bedrooms, and 3) CITE her to the authorities (where they can ostracize her or whatever the sharia court may impose). They do make it clear when they also add “Honour killing is a major sin in Islam.” and those who commit this crime should be punished both by secular law as well as the justice of Allah in the next world.

[Small aside – if this is the unerring word of god…failure to follow or understand this religious laws/lifestyle will mean eternal damnation…it seems odd that a loving god would be so ambiguous. Seriously, if the original Arabic was inaccurate why not correct it when the language was available…Allah is supposed to be all powerful? He (I assume it’s a he considering the treatment of women whether you think it special or inferior) ]

The fatwa is three pages long, four if you include the ‘signature’ part, and mostly tries to explain that Islam is not a religion of violence…never was, it’s all about love and genuine obedience to Allah. Standard PR stuff. It comes across as very apologetic for Islam and that ‘real Muslims’ would never condone this. On that, I think most PEOPLE do not, in spite of their religious beliefs, think killing your spouse appropriate.  That said, claiming that the Islamic community does not have a major problem with domestic violence because of religious doctrine seems disingenuous; in the same way the Pope says that the Catholic Church does not have a pedophile problem. It is true that all peoples suffer from domestic violence, and that it is not uniquely an Islamic problem; however it is unique that many Muslims are new immigrants who come from very conservative cultures. Because of this and the current geo-political atmosphere, conservative views are common in their community.

Pakistani activists perform a skit in a street in Hyderabad, Pakistan (2008) to portray the recent "honor killings" in a tribal town

I think the imams missed a golden opportunity. They could have moved their community forward by acknowledging they have a particularly worsening problem in their community (along with perhaps Orthodox Jews and Fundamentalist Christians) that must be addressed and not excused away. I think most people who perpetrate regular or extreme domestic violence do so because of personality defects; however religion and religious communities can become enablers for violence…providing the excuse to do violence; and then provide the apologetic. The message was clear by the imams that Islam condemns domestic violence…as stated; however it would have been more powerful and responsible if they acknowledged the complicity by which Islam and Koranic tradition has been in allowing this tradition to exist and the need to use human standards for ethics and, not a 1500 year old befuddling document.

{End note – I do not think Islam is more (or less) ‘wrong’ than any other religion. My disdain of religion is universal. This could be seen as anti-Muslim, but that would just play into the hands of the apologist and those individuals who perpetrate violence. This only talks about Islam because that is what the story is about…in the same way the “hiding priests” scandal was a catholic church thing, not because we hate Catholics but because it was their wrong doing that was the story. }




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