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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Honor Killings and Forced Marriages

I was shocked when I first read about this. A friend sent it to me acouple of weeks ago. I didn't believe it. I thought it to be an urbanlegend. I did my goggle thing, but could only find a reference to the original poster the Asian Human Rights Commission. I wasn't familiar with them and still not wanting to believe it I guess as surely theIslamophobics would try to connect it to Islamic teachings. I checkedIRIN, UN Human Rights commission, Reuther's, and found no supportingarticles. Yesterday an Islamic internet site posted this article.

In Islamabad a Pakistani lawmaker defended a decision by southwestern Pakistani tribesmen to bury five women alive because they wanted to choose their own husbands, telling stunned members of Parliament thisweek to spare him their outrage.These are centuries-old traditions andI will continue to defend them, Israr Ullah Zehri, who represents Balochistan province, said yesterday.Only those who indulge in immoralacts should be afraid. The women, three of whom were teenagers, were first shot and then thrown into a ditch. They were still breathing astheir bodies were covered with rocks and mud, according to media reports and human rights activists, who said their only crime was that they wished to marry men of their own choosing.

Something has to be said about practices that are often presented as Islamic while they are betraying the very essence of the Islamic message. The contemporary Muslim conscience is actually facing two major problems :the literalistic reading of the Quran and reductive interpretation of the scriptural sources (Hadith and prophetic traditions or Sunna on theone hand and the great confusion between religious principles andcultural practices on the other. The Ulema has blood on it's hands as does the Pakistani Parliament. An honor killing has no honor. There isnothing honorable about it. It is murder plain and simple. Any prudent Shariah court that claims to administer Islamic Jurisprudence shouldsentenced the sexist manical beasts to a Taliban Type stadium executiononly a slow one where the murderer/murderers is drenched in honey andcovered with red ants

This Zehri guy had the nerve to tell the Parliament on Friday that Baloch tribal traditions helped stop obscenity and then asked fellow lawmakersnot to make a big fuss about it. Many stood up in protest, saying the executions were barbaric. They demanded that the discussions continue tomorrow. But some lawmakers said it was an internal matter of thedeeply conservative province. What discussion? These animals brutally murdered five human beings; why aren't they in jail? I was shocked, said lawmaker Nilofar Bakhtiar, who pushed for legislation calling for perpetrators of so-called honor killings to be punished when she served as minister of women's affairs under the last government. I feel that we've gone back to the starting point again, she said.It's really sad for me.

The incident allegedly occurred one month ago in Baba Kot, a remote village in Jafferabad district, after the women decided to defy tribal eldersand arrange marriages in a civil court, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission. They were said to have been abducted at gunpoint by six men, forced into a vehicle and taken to a remote field, where they were beaten, shot and buried alive, it said, accusing local authoritiesof trying to hush up the killings. One of perpetrators was allegedly related to a top provincial official, it said.

In Afghanistan grinding poverty and the escalating war is driving an increasing number of Afghan families to sell their daughters into forced marriages. Girls as young as six are being married into a life of slavery and rape, often by multiple members of their new relatives.Banned from seeing their own parents or siblings, they are also prohibited from going to school. With little recognition of the illegality of the situation or any effective recourse, many of the victims are driven to self-immolation burning themselves to death or severe self-harm.

Six years after the US and Britain "freed" Afghan women from the oppressive Taliban regime, a new report proves that life is just as bad for most,and worse in some cases. Projects started in the optimistic days of 2002 have begun to wane as the UK and its Nato allies fail to treat women's rights as a priority, workers in the country insist. The statistics in the report from Womankind, Afghan Women and Girls SevenYears On, make shocking reading. Violent attacks against females,usually domestic, are at epidemic proportions with 87 per cent offemales complaining of such abuse half of it sexual. More than 60 percent of marriages are forced.

Despite a new law banning the practice, 57 per cent of brides are under the ageof 16. The illiteracy rate among women is 88 per cent with just 5 percent of girls attending secondary school. Maternal mortality rates one in nine women dies in childbirth are the highest in the world alongside Sierra Leone. And 30 years of conflict have left more than one million widows with no enforceable rights, left to beg on the streets alongside an increasing number of orphans. Afghanistan is the only country in the world with a higher suicide rate among women than men.

Campaigners say these are nationwide figures but in war-torn provinces, such as Helmand, the British area of responsibility, oppression is often worse, though the dangers make it impossible for them to monitor itaccurately. The banned practice of offering money for a girl is still rampant along with exchanging her as restitution for crime, debt ordispute. With the going price for a child bride at £800 to £2,000 asmuch as three years salary for a labourer many grooms are forced totake loans or swap their sisters instead

Mrs Hashemee, who has fought for the rights of her fellow Afghan women, initially for refugees in Pakistan, for almost 20 years, said: "For me the issue that breaks my heart is the forced marriages because of poverty even girls as young as eight. They don't get to go to school or to go out. They are told 'you are not allowed to visit your family,we paid, now you have to work'."

In 2007 a law was passed banning marriage under 16, but Mrs Hashemee said: "The majority of people are not even aware of it. Early age marriages are increasing." The vast majority of international aid goes directly to the Afghan government rather than non-governmental organisations. Activists are calling on the British to ring-fence some of the funding for human rights issues such as gender-based projects and to ensure the money reaches appropriate beneficiaries.

Often illiterate women are instructed on how Islam views women as equal.Training is offered to young men in why sexual abuse is wrong.Communities are being "mobilised" to fight for and monitor women's rights encouraging mullahs to promote the equality that the Quran teaches. But there are no women's rights associations in Helmand. The closest is one courageous group working in another southern province,Kandahar. Yet Mrs Hashemee is positive. She said: "I don't want to be disappointed. We will struggle on and hopefully the government and international community will help."

Ina report this month the chairman of the International DevelopmentCommitte e, Malcolm Bruce MP, said: "There is a dangerous tendency to accept in Afghanistan practices which would not be countenanced elsewhere, because of 'cultural' differences and local traditions. "Webelieve that the rights of women should be upheld equally in all countries. The government of Afghanistan has a vital role to play inthis by ensuring that the international human rights commitments whichit has made are fully honoured and given greater priority."

Forced marriages and honor killings are two very serious challenges: some `ulamâ', Muslim scholars, are keeping silent or even accepting these practices by relying on some texts read literally without referring tothe overall Islamic teachings (and their objectives) or at least contextualizing these very marginal scriptural sources. Muslims are very often confusing cultural practices with religious principles andthey think that forced marriages, to which they were used to in their culture (the current one or the culture of origin) are in fact Islamic.The literalistic and cultural readings of the hadith and the Sunna are two dangerous phenomena for they mislead the believers and betray the very essence of Islam in numerous fields : gender issues, human rights,political systems and, of course, family life, marriages, etc.

It is thus in the name of Islam that we have to say that forced marriages and honor killings are not acceptable and we need to insist Ulema and shariah courts put an end to such practices. Forced marriages and honor killings are not Islamic and must be condemned in the name of Islam! Nothing, in the overall Islamic teachings, can justify forced marriages or honor killings. These women and children are our sisters we are obligated to protect them. While a better knowledge of Islam among Muslim parents and the young Muslim men and women might help, a few castrations or beheadings of the perpetrators might provide adequate deterrents We cannot remain silent anymore!

We need a strong and clear Islamic message because too many things aredone (or understood as being done) in the name of our religion that indeed are against the very essence of Islam. Verses in the Quran and prophetic traditions ( ahâdîth) are clear about the issues and many scholars throughout our history have maintained that a marriage must be a union between two free minds and wills. Nothing in the Quran allows anyone to murder except in self defense.

In the name of human rights and dignity, it is time to speakout and to act accordingly against some of the contradictions we see among Muslims. A self critical approach and a reform process must shape and feed our spiritual and religious conscience in order to be more consistent with our values and our principles. The need to stop behaviors done in the name of Islam that have nothing to do with its message is our moral duty. Let us start in the name of our faith;Islam, in the name of justice, in the name of our common respect for human freedom and dignity, and in the Name of God to put an end to this oppression of Muslim Women!

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