ATLANTA — As an American Muslim, I was horrified to read about the tragic death of Sandela Kanwal in Clayton County, Ga., allegedly at hands of her father in a supposed “honor killing.”
According to area police, Kanwal’s father killed her because she left her husband. According to the twisted logic of “honor killings,” Kanwal ruined the “honor” of the family by leaving her arranged marriage.
It would be easy to point a finger at all Muslims and rail against such barbaric traditions. But this I can tell you: I am a Muslim, born and raised in Tennessee, and I do not subscribe to this brand of honor.
As a co-founder of the American Islamic Fellowship, an Atlanta area organization of more than 200 Muslims, I can tell you that our organization does not subscribe to any interpretation of Islam that condones murder in the name of religion or honor. To me and our membership, this is an abhorrent expression of a universal phenomenon of misogynistic thinking that targets women as the guardians of a community’s honor.
It comes from the mouths of Christian saints, Italian philosophers, American revolutionaries, French existentialists, Baptist preachers, modern historians, European scientists, English poets, and Muslim imams, just to name a few: “It is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in every woman.”, “It is said in the state of adultery, the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman.” Why?
“Because she possesses the weapon of enticement.” and “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”
Who said which comment? The first came from St. Augustine, the second from an Imam in Australia, and the third from a Baptist preacher.
While the problem of domestic violence is not unique to Muslims, we are still struggling to eliminate this kind of “honor killing” from our communities internationally. In Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country, there were 107 honor crimes last year, according to the Pakistan Human Rights Commission. It is critical that we speak out.
The Qur’an states, “Show kindness to parents, and to family, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbour who is of your kin and the neighbour who is not of kin, and the fellow-traveller and the wayfarer” (4:36) and ” When you divorce wives, and they are about to reach their term, then hold them back honorably or set them free honorably; and hold them not back by injuring them so that you commit aggression, and whoever commits that, then indeed he does wrong” (2:231). This means that we cannot, under any circumstances, allow physical abuse in families. To do so would be to violate these fundamental Qur’anic injunctions.
I call upon all Muslim leaders and mosques to preach from the pulpit this Friday that this kind of violence is unacceptable. We need to help our communities heal and lead the way to a brighter, safer future. We need to stop allowing our religious texts to be used to justify cruel behavior. We have a humanitarian obligation to speak out against those who commit such atrocities.
As a Muslim, I have a religious obligation to speak out against oppression and injustice and to protect the rights of the disenfranchised. As a woman and a Muslim I am horrified by the tragedy of Sandeela’s death. I refuse to allow her death to be swept under the rug.
I invite all people of faith to join me in denouncing all kinds of violence and abuse. We must work together to bring an end to this malady that afflicts us all. In Atlanta, the organizations dedicated to fighting domestic violence are always in need of our support.
A few of these in the Atlanta area include the Muslim-run women’s shelter, Baitul Salaam, the South Asian organization, Raksha, in addition to the Women’s Resource Center for Domestic Violence, the Partnership Against Domestic Violence, and the International Women’s House.
Last March, the American Islamic Fellowship in partnership with the Progressive Muslim Network in Washington D.C. and I AM: American Muslim in Pheonix, AZ launched “Not in Our Name: United Against Domestic Violence” – a campaign to unite all people of faith in an effort to bring an end to this problem that affects all of our communities. Another Muslim initiative to fight domestic violence internationally is the Peaceful Families Project.
We need to support these efforts so that no life is ever taken in the name of religion.
Melissa Robinson is the Director and Co-Founder of the American Islamic Fellowship.