I wanted to blog about this. Yesterday, there was a story about a young Pakistani woman who was gunned down while on a post-Iftar walk in suburban Boontown with her husband and three year old son. Her husband was shot (non-fatal wound) and the child was unharmed.
There are just a couple things I want to say about this.
First, this is horrible. It’s absolutely tragic that a young woman lost her life (she was allegedly killed by her husband’s lover, although details remain murky and news accounts differ on the relationship between the shooter and the husband). It’s absolutely tragic that a child lost both of his parents and now two grieving families will surely be fighting for custody.
Second, this was allegedly arranged and carried out during the month of Ramadan. Non-Muslims may not be aware of the nuances here, so let me explain: In Ramadan, we are supposed to be on our best behavior. Telling a single lie invalidates the fast. Saying something critical or unkind about someone else invalidates the fast. Getting angry (and acting on it, either physically or verbally) invalidates the fast.
The Prophet (S) would say, “Whoever leaves food and drink and fasts for the sake of God, but his tongue is not spared from abusive or angry words, God has no need for his fast.”
So if I swear at my little brother for losing something that I lent him, that basically invalidates my fast. Forget allegedly arranging a hit.
Third, I was so afraid when I first read the news story yesterday that this is what would happen. Sadly, it’s a not uncommon pattern. Looking at the facts, they pointed toward the husband’s involvement, even from a five paragraph story from Yahoo that I read yesterday while drinking my honey water. I was so afraid that this is what would happen, and it did.
To review: the woman was out on a walk with her husband and child. This is why I was afraid he was involved: for one, the family was in an area where they didn’t live. This is fairly typical of husband-wife hits. This was a targeted shooting; that is, this wasn’t a case in which an innocent bystander caught a bullet. This wasn’t a felony-murder, in which a murder was committed in the commission of a felony – think, a robbery or sexual assault gone (even more) wrong. Another thing, the husband caught a bullet in a less serious location, sustaining a non-fatal wound, while the wife was killed. Another thing: the child remained completely unharmed.
In cases like these, where the facts are similar, it is not uncommon that the spouse was the one to arrange the hit on his/her partner.
Sadly, it’s a common trope used for TV shows. Think “Law & Order.” Think “The Mentalist.” Think “CSI.” Think of any of those cops-and-robbers-and-the-prosecution-type shows. The surprise twist at the ending is often that the grieving spouse did it.
And that’s the terribly unfortunate part. Normally, we’ll see something like this on television and think, “whoa, who saw that coming?” It’s entertaining because we conceive of it as being so far removed from our reality. But it’s actually quite a pattern, one that is exploited for sweeps, sure, but still, quite a pattern. Which is the most shocking and saddening thing about it.
The last thing I wanted to discuss is perhaps the most important. At least, to me. There are misconceptions that this situation was the result of a cultural mindset that effectively prohibits divorce.
I would agree with this and also disagree with it.
It’s important to realize here that Islam does not forbid divorce. The Prophet (S) used to say, “The thing that is permitted but disliked by God is divorce.” Permitted, though disliked. You can say the same about smoking, and eating shellfish. Permitted, but disliked.
In addition to this, the Quran discusses divorce often, mentioning that it is disliked, but permissible for Muslims. There are several passages that describe how a man is supposed to treat a woman that he has divorced: Divorce her with kindness, let her go, and do not involve yourself in her affairs afterward. The same holds true for the woman.
The Quran also discusses the more technical aspects of divorce. For example, the husband cannot take anything that the wife owns, even if he gave it to her. Whatever is hers, is hers. Additionally, the wife is supposed to remain in a period of ‘iddat’ for about 4 months, roughly. (Four months and ten days, specifically.)
During this time, she is only supposed to go to work if she needs to, in order to support herself, and isn’t supposed to mix with other friends or strangers. It’s basically a period of seclusion that one observes after the death of a spouse or a divorce. After this period, she is free to marry again, and go on about her business as she pleases. The purpose of this is to make it clear that any child she may have afterward cannot possibly be the child of her husband, since she had four months (in which she was not pregnant, not showing, etc, etc) of almost-solitude, in which she was not with her ex-husband, nor was she with any other man that wasn’t a blood relation or family.
TL;DR: Islam permits divorce. This couple was a Muslim couple. Ergo, it was perfectly permissible for them, under Islamic law, and according to the dictates of freaking common sense, to obtain a divorce. End of story.
The murkiness comes about as a result of culture. To be more specific, it’s one of the many cases in which culture basically supercedes religion.
This woman was Pakistani, just like me. I am more than familiar with our culture. There are many things I despise about it, namely, things like these: things in which culture supercedes religious dictates. Islam sees no problem with a divorce when a divorce is necessary.
Culture still does.
If a woman divorces, she brings great shame to her family. Somehow. Yes, sure, divorce isn’t something to dance about, but this is where things get ridiculous. I’ve heard of many South Asian families simply refusing to accept a daughter back if she goes through with divorcing her husband, effectively leaving the woman trapped in a terrible marriage because she has no place to go.
This is mind-boggling. The fact that a family could pressure a daughter to stay in a bad marriage, where she is likely to be abused, physically hurt, raped, or worse, in the name of honor and in the bastardized name of Islam is just mind-boggling.
Especially since, in a well-established narration, the Prophet (S) said, “The best among you are those who welcome back a daughter and support her when she has been divorced by her husband.”
Mind-boggling. Because it really doesn’t get any clearer than that.
Additionally, the victimhood built around too many South Asian women in the name of protecting them also cannot go ignored. Girls are protected in our culture. Extremely so. We’re sheltered and coddled, and it’s not a bad thing, really. It can be, but in itself, it’s really not.
I’ve lead an extremely sheltered life, for example. I don’t do anything, really. I don’t pay my car insurance or take my car in for repairs. I’m not expected to do the grocery shopping. I’m not the one that’s called when there’s an emergency and someone has to go do something. I’m not expected to fulfill any family chauffeur duties. Heck, I’m twenty-five years old, I’ve been driving a car on my own since I was sixteen, and my father STILL prefers that I not go to a gas station to fill up the car by myself. (I can. I have, many, many times, when I felt the need to do so, but it’s still always his hope that I let him know when I need gas so that HE can go do it.)
South Asian girls are protected. I complain about it often, but I see the merits. And I’m grateful for what I have and what I enjoy, that so many people in the world do not.
But at the same time, this protection of the woman can, unfortunately, contribute to her victimhood.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve always had that spark of curiosity and the utmost faith in myself. Combined, that’s a tremendous asset.
Growing up, if I was ever curious about something and no one would tell me how to do it, out of misguided modesty/shame (feeling it was something a young girl didn’t need to know) or just plain not knowing how, I’d go look it up and I’d read about it.
It’s why I know how to fill up my car if I need to. It’s why I know how to stitch up wounds if I have to. It’s why I (kind of) know how to defend myself, despite my small size and the fact that I have the muscle definition of overcooked linguini. In case I have to. It’s why I know how to change a flat tire, even though my dad gave me a AAA card and told me to call them and call him if I ever get stranded on the side of the road. It’s why I know about birth control, and what to do to make sure I don’t get pregnant if I have sex.
Plus, I went to law school. I know how to write wills, I know how to file a divorce in IL. On the technical side of things, I know how it’s done. But above and beyond all of that, I know that I can get things done. Even if I have no clue, even if it’s a completely foreign situation, I’ve learned enough to know that I will most likely be able to deal with it and do what I have to do.
This is, unfortunately, more than what far too many South Asian girls can say.
For some, being trapped in a marriage is … well, it’s all they have. There aren’t many other options for them. Some of them don’t work outside the home, and instead stay home with the kids or the in-laws. Some don’t have any advanced degrees, and few prospects for continuing their education. (Additionally, sometimes the husbands or in-laws are against the wives working outside the home or going back to school, and that’s as good as it being forbidden to them.) Some are in new cities where they don’t know many people and don’t know who to call for help. In addition to that, our culture carries with it an innate distrust for authority. You only have to visit India and Pakistan and have a run-in with the police (no, really, don’t) to understand why.
Unfortunately, far too many women are trapped with no real way out. Saying, “She should have gotten out! She should have left him!” really has very little meaning in such situations. I’m not blaming parents for this by any means. Not at all. All I’m saying is that when women are protected and sheltered, there are benefits – many. But to pretend as if there aren’t any disadvantages does us all a disservice.
Protect a girl, sure. Protect a girl all you want. (Hey, it’s a patriarchal culture – I had to put my Susan Brownmiller away for a bit.) But make sure that girl also knows how to protect herself. THAT is the best way to protect her.
In this situation, it’s clear that the woman, Nazish Noorani, really didn’t know how to protect herself. It’s clear she was at a loss as to what to do. She sent a text message to a friend, saying that her husband abused her, and if she ever died, to suspect him first.
I couldn’t imagine being in that situation, fearing that my spouse could kill me. But more than that, I couldn’t imagine being in that situation and not being able to get out. Because I know myself. Although none of us can be sure of how we’ll act in horrible situations, I like to think that, at least when I come to my senses, I will know enough to get out. No second chances that would possibly endanger my life. None.
And I’m lucky enough to have many, many Muslim friends, also female, also South Asian, also born and raised here, who immediately answer the same way when the horrible scenario is posed. Just get out. Go anywhere. Just get out.
I can’t imagine the fear Nazish felt. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her. I can’t imagine what the two families must be going through right now – one family having lost a daughter to the man they arranged her marriage to, and the other family having lost a daughter-in-law in addition to having lost a son to the justice system.
But I wanted to post a little (okay, a long) something about about it. Just to say that:
- This is exceedingly horrible.
- It happened in Ramadan – twist the knife, why don’t you?
- This is, unfortunately, part of a pattern.
- This woman wasn’t trapped in her marriage due to the crazy dictates of a religion born in medieval Arabia. She was trapped because of the dictates of an often backwards, misogynist culture, dictates that often flout Islamic rules.
Saying that this happened because of ‘those crazy Muslims,’ in whatever capacity, does nothing to address the situation.
Furthermore, my turning this into a teachable moment about Islamophobia also does little to address the situation.
The real lesson here, and the real point of my post, despite the Chris-Crocker-leave-the-Muslims-ALONE-leave-them-alone riff, is that there are some very real things we can do to combat this scenario that, unfortunately, is hardly a rare, freak incident in our community.
Those very real things include empowering our South Asian girls to protect themselves, and instilling confidence in them. Because confidence isn’t the belief or attitude that whatever you’re doing is right; confidence is knowing that even when you do something wrong, you’ll be able to fix it. It’s knowing that even if things go wrong, you’ll be okay.
And in the face of our unrelenting, almost rabid instinct to protect young South Asian women in the name of honor, in the name of Islam, in the name of just being good parents and good older siblings and good community leaders, we forget that in some very real ways, we really are leaving those same young women to the wolves. We’re leaving them to the mercy of other people, people that we believe will protect them the way we do. People that sometimes do not.
If you’re a South Asian woman reading this, and it hits anywhere near close to home, please, think about it. Don’t push it away because it’s sad or uncomfortable and you’d … just … rather … not. Think about it. Think about something – ONE thing – that you can do to help fix this. To help fix this for even ONE person.
I don’t care if this means setting up a halaqa at your local masjid or Islamic school to discuss issues of domestic violence with other young women, or if it’s forming a support group for women in this situation, or if it’s donating your time or money to places like Apna Ghar here in Chicago, or if it just means taking your favorite, cute little South Asian tween out for ice cream every week or month or whatever, and broaching topics of self-respect, bodily dignity, self-defense, domestic violence, etc.
Commit to doing just one thing and maybe we’ll end up making a real difference for someone who would have been in a really bad place otherwise.