Playing to a Stereotype II

I heard Shahla Khan Salter speak in Ottawa last night. Looks like she was also writing a fair bit, shortly before the event. Guilty Muslim men everywhere, it seems. Not fair, but no matter, when guilty not guilty; confusing path, known to many.

Whose Daughters Will Be the Next Shafias?
Posted: 01/29/2012 4:53 pm
Shahla Khan Salter, as published in The Huffington Post

They were in the news everyday. They were my daughters. Their mother was my sister.

Their names were Zainab, Sahar, Geeti, and Rona. One of the men convicted for their murder is their father and husband, Mohammad Shafia.

I did not know them.

But if like me, you are a Muslim living in Canada, Zainab, Sahar and Geeti were your daughters and Rona was your sister. Because when you are reminded of their loss, you grieve for them, and you pray that a tragedy like this will never take place again.

What must we do — us Muslims — to ensure none of our daughters and sisters are murdered by their fathers, husbands, and brothers?

And what must we do — us Muslims — to forever vanquish a version of Islam — the false one, blasphemy actually — that purports that a man may kill the women in his family to guard his honour?

Are there more Zainabs, Sahars, Geetis, and Ronas out there? And when we find them, will it be too late?

Us Muslims — we have a problem. We know this.

We have lived in Canada for more than seven decades, with the first significant wave of Muslim immigrants arriving in the 1960s. As a community we have raised previous generations of children so we know the cultural gap between immigrant parents and their children is sometimes great.

And we Muslims — some of us watched our community change, as secular Muslims left our mosques. Though most Muslims in Canada love their country and appreciate its freedoms, some of us have arrived with ideas influenced by a version of Islam, promoted by dictators, hungry for power — power gained by opposing Western imperialism and all that it encompasses — good and bad — including human rights.

We Muslims — we know that like all communities, our community struggles with domestic violence but domestic violence in our community, though it does not take place more often, it has a few unique origins.

In some instances traditional interpretations of our holy scriptures has perpetuated the patriarchal notion that men are allowed to use force against their families and that the honour of men, characterized by the modesty and chastity of female family members, must be guarded.

One major misinterpretation of the Qur’an that gives men license to use force against women is found in verse 4:34 which states that a man may as a last resort in the face of disobedience “beat” his wife.

Atop this idea lies the notion that women in Islam must remain under the protection of men. It is a school of thought enshrined in Saudi law, which provides for a male guardianship system, one that does not legally allow women self-determination, financial or otherwise, regardless of age, without the consent of their closest male relative.

But change is upon us. In our community progressive and moderate Muslims are making waves that are allowing us to swim inside the most conservative channels of our community to create real and lasting change.

Some conservative Muslim leaders are finally recognizing after several years female scholar Laleh Bakhtiar’s interpretation of the Qur’an, which deletes all reference in 4:34 to the word “beat.”

And in some parts of the community, debate about the role of women in Islam has been elevated from whether a woman can work outside the home to whether she can lead a congregation composed of men and women in prayer and give the sermon, or khutbah.

Though it may be a few years before female imams become commonplace, many Muslim community leaders are spreading the message that the use of force against one’s family is un-Islamic, as illustrated by Peaceful Families programs that are popping up in parts of the country.

These programs are being organized in some cases by Muslim community leaders joining with social service agencies.

We Muslims — we cannot do this alone.

Social services agencies, schools and law enforcement must not be shy to inquire about the home atmosphere of a child, for example, if abuse is suspected and take action when necessary.

Sometimes action may mean giving families professional advice on how to cope peacefully with differences and learn the skill of non-violent communication. Sometimes it may mean giving a young person a safe place to spend the night. Sometimes it may mean making an arrest. Opening more women’s shelters must also become a priority. Many are overcrowded and have long wait lists.

Still this is not enough.

We Muslims — as a community we must engage in discussions about boundaries. How do we enforce social and moral boundaries within Islam? Do we use love and compassion or anger and discipline?

We need honest reflection and debate on issues like modesty, premarital sex, and the continuing effort towards the self determination of women. The definition of what is acceptable in regard to such issues — or at least tolerated, by conservative Muslim standards, must expand so compassion for our young people replaces authoritarian rule.

And we need fellow Muslim Canadians of the second generation to come out of their Muslim closets and talk about what it was like when we grew up.

We must talk about how we bridged the cultural gap with our immigrant parents and how we built good relationships notwithstanding our differences.

Finally, we must as a community embrace our humanity which crosses all cultural boundaries.

We must embrace the fact that there will be differences in opinions, even values, between our children and ourselves.

And we must embrace foremost the 1400-year-old Islamic tradition that emphasizes not the responsibility to guard our modesty, but the duty to show compassion.

Because compassion is the greatest honour we can bestow upon our family, upon our community, and upon the world.

Shahla Khan Salter is the Chair of Muslims for Progressive Values Canada and a member of the Board of Directors for Muslims for Progressive Values.,,

About brucelarochelle
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