In Khaled Hosseini's soul-piercing novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, the character Nana, a poor unwed mother, tells her five-year-old daughter, Mariam: "Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man's accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam."
Hosseini's novel is about life in Afghanistan, but in the 30 words above he sums up the way men govern the lives of women across most of the Muslim world. Like Mariam, millions of Muslim girls are told very early in life by their mothers that their place in society is one of submission; submission, not to God, but to man.
This ownership or possession of Muslim women by the men in their families was summed up best by professor Shahrzad Mojab of University of Toronto as "the crude Arabic expression that 'A man's honour lies between the legs of a woman.' "
Hosseini could not have imagined that the fictional characters he created in his novel about Afghanistan in 2007 would come to real life in Canada two years later. Since 2009, the country has been caught in the drama unfolding in court where a father, brother and mother are being tried for the alleged honour killing of three daughters and their step mother. In hushed voices and measured commentary, the media is shedding light on the practice of honour killing and its relationship to Muslim culture and Islam.
Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star sums up the question all non-Muslim Canadians have on their lips, but dare not ask:
"What did the females do that was so deplorable, so unendurable, in the eyes of their family accusers -- if not to the point of homicide, which is for the jury to decide, but to engender the chronic mistreatment that made their existence a misery, as attested to by a slew of witnesses?
Zainab pushed for marriage to a Pakistani man deemed unsuitable -- a union that was dissolved within 24 hours. Sahar had a boyfriend. Both teenagers dressed provocatively when they left the house. Geeti was caught shoplifting. All three chafed against severe restrictions imposed, wanted to be more like their Canadian friends; to date, to socialize, to discard the hijab. And Rona, after two decades in the ménage à trois, reduced to a peripheral role in the family and ejected from her husband's bed -- purportedly, at Tooba's insistence -- had requested a divorce."
Despite the propensity of facts that show honour killings as most prevalent in Islamic societies (with some occurrence among non-Muslim Indians and Christian Arabs) the Muslim leadership in Canada has once again tried to deflect attention from the evidence and denied any links.
First it was the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) who came out with a statement denouncing the use of the term "honour killing," suggesting the use of the phrase "customary killing" instead, as if this would make any difference.
Then on Dec. 2, 60 Muslim organizations came together to denounce the deaths of the four women. However, they refused to acknowledge the links between Islamic teachings and honour killings, instead describing the tragedy as "Domestic violence... in the extreme." They said, "practices such as killing to restore family honour violate clear and non-negotiable Islamic principles."
These self-anointed leaders had a great opportunity to come clean about the links between honour crimes and Sharia law, but instead, they tried to deflect attention and spin-doctor the truth.
Sanction of wife beating
Of course they are right in that the Qur'an does not address the issue of honour killing, but it does sanction the right of a husband to beat his wife. Verse 4:34 of The Qur'an is quite explicit:
"Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them."
Without addressing this verse, which gives sanction to the second-class status of women in Muslim male eyes, a discussion cannot lead to any resolution. The 60 Muslim leaders ducked the issue altogether while not a single reporter from the mainstream media asked them if there was a contradiction between their stated position against domestic violence and their belief in the said verse as God's direction to Muslim men on how to discipline errant wives.
The 60 leaders could have stated explicitly that in the era of the nation state of the 21st century, the verse should not apply and be seen strictly in a historic context. Instead they relied on the timidity of the reporters to escape scrutiny.
Stoning to death for adultery
Wife beating is just one behaviour sanctioned by Sharia law that has led to male violence against Muslim women. The other is the sharia law that sanctions the stoning to death of women committing adultery. Stoning is not sanctioned by the Qur'an, but has been part of Sharia law ever since the wife of Prophet Muhammad; Aisha claimed that a goat inadvertently ate up the Quranic verse sanctioning the stoning to death of women.
Stoning women to death is not restricted to allegations -- proven or otherwise -- of adultery; it is applied to all male-female relationships outside marriage, whether it is teenage girls dating boys or mature single men and women in a civil union.
The fact is many Muslim families in Canada do not permit their teenage daughters to have boyfriends, let alone to fall in love in a serious relationship. Dating boys leaves these girls living in a state of terror because this act alone, or the fact that they held hands with a boy or dared kiss him, let alone have consensual sex, is enough to be considered a transgression that can leave a Muslim girl or young woman vulnerable to harassment, beating, or in the case of Aqsa Parvez and the Shafia sisters, death.
The right to date boyfriends
The mosque leadership in Canada and the 60-odd Muslim leaders should have stated explicitly that Muslim teenage girls or young women have the right to date boys or men, but they didn't. It seems in the eyes of these Canadian Muslims, falling in love can only happen in fiction or the movies, poetry or prose, never in real life.
In their ossified state of mind these leaders of Muslims consider these girls or young women, committing an act of sin and that justifies being reprimanded by the men in the family. Is it any surprise that their fathers, brothers and even mothers beat these girls in their homes? Is it any surprise that Aqsa Parvez died, to be followed so soon by the Shafia family's daughters and stepmother?
At the trial of the alleged killers of the four Afghan women, the crown's honour killing expert, Prof. Mojab, told the court that women embody the honour of the men to whom they belong -- first fathers and brothers, later husbands.
"A woman's body is considered to be the repository of family honour. Honour crimes are acts of violence committed by male family members against female family members who are held to have brought dishonour onto the family.''
She said, "Cleansing one's honour of shame is typically handled by the shedding of blood. It's really about men's need to control women's sexuality and freedom.'' Yet mothers, too, will participate in the crime, Mojab added.
Many Muslims, including the liberal Muslim Canadian Congress, stayed away from the charade put up by Canada's leading Islamist groups. They reminded us of the Muslim leaders who met with then prime minister Paul Martin in the wake of the London bombings to assure him that jihadi terrorism had little to do with Islam. Within months we had the Toronto 18.
Not until the 60 so-called Islamic leaders state that Sharia laws against women's rights are no longer applicable, will they be seen as speaking the truth. Until then, they may be able to fool the gullible liberal media, but not those of us who have witnessed the horrors of Islamist misogyny at close quarters.