If there is one reality that drives home the point that freedom-loving, liberal secular, ordinary Muslims are the first victims of the orthodox, ossified, political Islamism – it is honour killing. Unfortunately, in India, it devours the non-Muslims too in its brutality – the ones who dared to challenge the ‘honour’ of the Muslim ummah – often fought over Muslim women’s bodies.
I wrote about Pakistan’s most infamous honour killing of Qandeel Baloch a few years ago. I recall the painstakingly put together Academy Award-nominated documentary by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy – A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness on the honour killing of 19-year-old Saba Qaiser from Punjab Province whose father shot her in the head for marrying without his permission.
As the latest honour killing of Billipuram Nagaraju, a Dalit man by his wife’s brother flashes across the screen and his hapless wife’s video of trying to stop his assault and asking for help is replayed, old wounds started to bleed internally and it was time to scratch at the scabs from 1994.
For a woman of Muslim heritage to even think of fraternising with a person from another community is an insult to the ‘honour’ of a Muslim family, to choose him as a life partner is the most horrendous challenge she can throw at the Muslim ummah. Not only is she exercising her right to love and use her mind, which gets frowned upon but she is also displaying her secular, liberal mindset by crossing the Islamic ‘Lakshman Rekha which warrants her wajib-ul-qatl (justified for murder).
Modern nation-states, their Constitutions born out of struggles for freedom and liberty from colonial rule and medieval mindsets gave people laws to enjoy those freedoms with a set of rules and regulations to live daily. Day-to-day living and economic and social transactions made it mandatory for people across social and religious groups to form working relationships to move the country/civilisation forward.
In an increasingly connected world where economic hive activity and social fabrics of neighbourhoods and cities are visible to even the most brain-dead moron on the street; fraternising with the “Other’, the enemy is mandatory for the smooth workplace intra and inter transactions, business deals, the celebration of festivals, which is proclaimed chest-thumpingly, “my best friend is a Hindu/Jew”, etc.
But that’s where the social mores and norms draw a line. To think of marrying across castes, and class lines are forbidden, frowned upon, and discouraged within the ummah but to choose across faith lines is a strict no, no and the reprisals are brutal from beatings, deprivation of food, water, solitary confinement, lashings, marrying off to undesirables to throat slashings, bullets in the head, strangling, stabbings and even drowning. There is no rationalising the hard as granite attitude.
Brought up on social maxims of, “Muslim men can marry People of the Book’s daughters (Jews, Christians) provided they convert them”; “your cousin (female) married a European Christian but he’s from the ‘People of the Book’, and he has converted to Islam and goes by the name Mustafa, etc now”. Readers, keep in mind, that conversion to Islam is easy (you just have to recite the shahadah), whereas leaving it altogether is a whole new ballgame.
This internal triumph at having increased the numbers of the ummah can be illustrated with a visual example of how the marriage of Parmeshwari Handoo in 1967 to a Kashmiri Muslim was celebrated with a procession through the streets of Srinagar. It’s a legend narrated to growing girls by mothers, aunts, and grandmothers.
The social media comments when Tina Dabi married Athar Aamir Khan, both IAS toppers showed that the internal community triumphal attitude hadn’t changed at all since the 1960s. As we came of age, we realised that interfaith marriages were more common among celebrities, upstanding community elders, bureaucrats and the who’s who of the elite Left-Liberal, political dynasts, etc.
That they were immune to the common wrath of families among the middle class and lower-income groups was clear as the Internet made inroads into media starved regions and the dots started getting connected.
Common, ordinary people fed on the Wahabi/Salafi interpretations of Islam by the likes of the puritanical Zakir Naiks throughout the 80s and 90s hardened the attitudes of the Muslim community of South Asia. That these theological preachers were speaking in English, dressed Western-style, and using scientific inventions such as spectacles, mikes, tablets, cameras, and satellites funded by petrodollars made the impact on impressionable minds more deadly, especially in the geopolitical upheaval of the 80s and 90s Muslim world, ME and Central Asia.
Using 19th, and 20th-century modern technology these preachers spewed 7th-century medieval ideas formulated by the insulated, Bedouin nomads, and eventual male clergy harping about the glory days of the conquests of political Islam. The Friday sermons became more about demonising the “Other” than about spirituality or compatibility of Islamic values with modern times or about how to treat their women.
And reprisals for crossing the community principles or rules are swift, be it the assassination of Salman Taseer, a Pakistani businessman and politician for defending Asia Bibi, a Pakistani-Christian woman from blasphemy laws, or the murder of Ankit Saksena, a Delhi photographer by his Muslim girlfriend’s family in broad daylight. As an insider whose honour killing was discussed in front of her in 1994, it was jaw-dropping to see the closing of ranks of fanatic relatives, non-believing lapsed Muslim members (labelled Commies in Kashmir) and liberal, enlightened, educated professionals who were settled in Europe and North America.
That was what started me on my quest to question this absurd communal mentality which didn’t even tolerate matrimonial alliances between Shias-Sunnis, or Ahmadis, let alone with Sikhs or Hindus. This led to discovering the “Othering” theology embedded in the religious instructions/interpretations of the Quran, the Hadith, the Friday sermons, the Salafi malaise and the deracination of the Muslim community in general since the sacking of Baghdad in 1258, effectively ending the Age of Translation or the so-called Golden Age of Islam and Moorish Spain.
That Kashmir was in the grip of insurgency and terrorists were using the ‘gun culture’ to settle personal scores did not help my case; a warning by an Uncle to send ‘militants’ after the Hindu boy was enough for me to give up any rebellious plan I had in mind. But it cemented the conclusions I was making during my ‘living room’ trial where all the elders of the family sat and passed judgements while ignoring their own lived lives or the waywardness of their male children (my cousins). Talk about the famous Kashmiri hypocrisy!
The only thing that stopped the inevitable ‘honour killing’ was a logistical problem – what to do with the body and how to explain the murder, being respectable members of a politically important neighbourhood of Srinagar city.
What is the solution for this rigid mentality that unites all hues of Muslims-lapsed, Commie, believers? What can be done about this ossified attitude that spans decades of modern history that technology has only started to document, record and archive?
As a member of the ummah, who despite clipped wings at the age of 19, ostracised, without community support, and deprived of inheritance due to Sharia laws from my father’s and late husband’s side (yes, I found a wonderful man, a victim of Islamism too, and exercised my right to love and choose again) self-made herself through talent, skills, sheer hard work, pushing through academic qualifications, every stitch on my body bought by me, supporting not only a child but an Intifada-factory censored husband as well (he was a writer, journalist).
I can say, that empowering the Muslim women with financial schemes, banning triple talaq, encouraging women sarpanches, and bringing in UCC is not enough. The elite Sunni Muslim male has to be held responsible for his thoughts, attitudes, mentality, and actions.
Just as any iota of a sexual harassment allegation is enough to destroy the career, reputation, ‘honour’, of a billionaire in the West or an Editor or sitting MP in India or a media celebrity globally, the same way, the Muslim male has to be held accountable for harbouring thoughts that his family’s or community’s honour lies in the choice that his daughter, sister, or niece is making when she exercises her Constitutional right to choose and use her mind.
(Arshia Malik is a Delhi-based writer, blogger and social commentator.)
(Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own.)