Meditation Upon an Honor Killing

Recently, a Muslim girl was killed by her father for her refusal to wear a hijab. When I heard of the news I contacted the editors at Guardian, where I write regularly, with a very Islamic condemnation of the killer … Read More

By / December 17, 2007

Recently, a Muslim girl was killed by her father for her refusal to wear a hijab. When I heard of the news I contacted the editors at Guardian, where I write regularly, with a very Islamic condemnation of the killer percolating on my fingers, and in my heart a burning desire to somehow adorn the memory of Aqsa Parvez with words that might match her beauty. I was not able to write anything worth submitting. Instead, I went into hiding. I downloaded the most lachrymose lamentations – equal parts Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Montaverdi – and kept to myself, occasionally foraying to use my computer. Perhaps I am a coward, who ought to be condemned for not condemning cruelty sufficiently. In my meditation I thought to myself: what would my words contribute anyway? Language, as Flaubert complained, cannot move the stars to pity, and certainly has not been known to raise beautiful children from the dead. I thought that by writing something, writing anything, I would be engaging in a selfish act: “Share in my grief! Pay attention to my condemnation! Think me to be a person of great moral clarity!” Why should I do any of that? All of those things take our attention away from what matters: the legacy of the powerful hurting the powerless has managed, yet again, to do what it has always done, and yet again, there is nothing anyone of us can do except scream (some in public, some privately). Private lamentation was the position I had adopted until exhorted by a friend, a friend that never exhorts anything, I started flipping through the Quran. I was not looking for anything except the tepid comfort that comes with flipping pages in a heavy book.

Then, suddenly, as a beautiful occurrence had happened to me the last time I ran away due to an honor killing, a meaningful thought came to me again: a God that did not assure complete equality could not be accepted; in fact, even God would not recognize such a God. I came to believe this not out of any visit from an angel, or through a brilliant legal argument, but from the simple fact that my heart tells me to believe it, the same heart which is connected to the rest of the universe, including to its creator. Yet this principle of equality does not make its way into the hearts of a vast number of Muslims. Relying upon the Quran’s kafir (infidel) versus momin (believer) distinction, Muslims – like members of every other religion and philosophy – perpetuate supremacism; a supremacism in which they are at the top of the ladder. In their lust for classification they say "nevermind" to the Quran's repeated use of the word "insan" (humanity). At this point I started to wonder: how did the idea of “I am better than you” originate in the first place? More importantly, how is that idea perpetuated? The only thought that I kept coming back to, one that I am starting to believe very deeply, is that somewhere along the way every system of inequality and supremacism justifies itself by positing the existence of a purportedly “natural” inequality between man and woman, the original dualism. Man equals strong, woman equals weak, and thus lordship, supremacy, mastery, control, power, all become tied to this purportedly “natural” difference. I think John Locke was right when in his debate with the Christian apologist Robert Filmer he sought to destroy the idea that Adam is the Patriarch. Destroy the idea — and I think this occurs in the First, not the second, book on government — that the male is naturally fitted to be in charge and you take away the foundational justification for every other kind of unequal power relation. I think it may be worth considering that the relative freedom that the children of Locke have assured themselves (though certainly not shared with others) has something to do with Locke’s willingness to demote Adam from the inappropriately assigned station that Christianity gave him. Something like this must occur within Islam as well. I would like to believe that with Islam, the task should – theoretically – be easier than it was for Christianity, because unlike its older relative, Islam’s myth of genesis actually accepts the idea that the first man and the first woman were equals, and does not assign original sin to either party. Then again, the jurists of Islam have erected quite a formidable edifice in opposition to the equality of this foundational myth, easily equal to that of the Church fathers, and the task will not be easy. The discussion comes full circle then: every time a woman dies at the hand of a man, especially a man invoking God, it should be considered not just a form of evil, but an attack on the ability of God to be deemed divine. Only a rebuke that severe will prevent the so called Defenders of God from killing the Children of Man.

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