To Wail, or Not to Wail (Part I of II)

By B. R. Gowani

(I dedicate this piece to I. K. Shukla, who passed away on September 17, 2008. He was a fiery writer, a passionate egalitarian, a great humanitarian, a learned man, an honest intellectual, and a good friend. His death is a great personal loss to me.
Good bye, Shuklaji, many will miss you. May you continue your battles with gods, goddesses and God in the nether world.)

The Paradox

The hijab, burqa, chador, niqab, abaya, or whatever other names there may be for different kind of veils have become one of the most contentious subjects in many parts of the world today.

With the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, militants in many countries have made lives of women unbearable, and they weren’t much bearable to begin with.

Occasionally, women try to overcome the restrictions by getting around them. A few years ago there were signs on several walls in a small Indian town warning girls not to leave their house without a burqa. The young women had to heed the warning but once they left the neighborhood, they removed their burqas.

The famous poet Attiya Dawood’s 11 year-old daughter was punished by a reputed private school in Pakistan for not putting on a piece of cloth across her chest, since she preferred jeans and T shirts. The poet writes: “When my daughter wore a dupatta (veil), I saw tears in her eyes.”

Women are also victimized by cultural and tribal traditions. Many traditions and tribal customs are gradually losing ground to modern times. But the Saudi Arabian petrodollars and their export of Sunni Wahabbism have strengthened the religious militants in many countries thus destroying the minimal secularism that had existed there. Added to it are the economic grievances of the majority, the territorial disputes with neighboring countries, the rise of minority ethnic groups demanding their rights, the rise of the Taliban, and the United States’ “war on terror.” Lastly, (certainly not least) let us not forget that monster Zia-ul-Haq who, with the help of the US and Saudi Arabia, changed the shape of the South Asian Islam forever by enforcing a more orthodox Islam. (His predecessor Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto bears some blame too.) All this has created a breed of violently fanatic Islamists who are totally out of touch with modern times. These fanatics are anti-women and are thus allied with the traditionalists and tribalists who vehemently share this trait. In many places the religious fanatics, the traditionalists, and the tribalists are one and the same.

Interestingly, many Muslim women in the West, on the other hand, want to put on a headdress or niqab and where they are asked to give these up, they are fighting back because they feel their basic rights have been denied.

This is the paradox Muslim women face today. While many Muslim women in non Western countries are fighting against religious, traditional and tribal oppression and so many other cruelties and restrictions, including the hijab; their sisters in the West are putting forward arguments in favor of the veil!

Crimes against Muslim Women

Amira El Ahl describes the circumcision of Fatima, a Somali girl, in these words:

“Two men and her mother press the delicate child against the floor and pull apart her thin little legs. An old woman crouches in front of Fatima, holding a shiny razor blade and a thick, threaded darning needle. Today is the day Fatima will become a woman, a decent woman.

“The purpose of the thick darning needle is to lift the lips of the vulva to facilitate cutting them off. The old woman moves the razor blade into position. First she slices off the small lips of the vulva and then the clitoris. There is blood everywhere. The girl arches her small, sweat-soaked body. The old woman repeatedly pours a milky liquid onto the wound to prevent infection. Then the grandmother comes into the hut, pokes at the wound and tells the old woman to make a deeper cut. The process starts all over again. Fatima’s screams become almost unbearable. If the sight of this girl under female circumcision is so difficult to bear, how can she possibly stand the pain?

“Finally the deed is done. The wound is sewn shut with thorns, leaving only a tiny opening. A straw is inserted into the small opening to prevent it from closing. Then Fatima’s legs are tied together with a rope to allow the wound to heal. She will lie in bed, her legs tied together in this fashion, for several weeks.

“The old woman completes her barbaric task with a slap on her subject’s behind. Fatima is now a woman.”


The World Health Organization describes FGM (female genital mutilation) thus:

  • Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, rarely, the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris) as well.
  • Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
  • Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, and sometimes outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
  • Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

(Most of the FGM occurs in Africa and is practiced by people of various religions, including the traditional ones. The number of victims is between 100 to 140 million.)

Provincial Minister Zil-e-Huma Usman was murdered for her uncovered head in Pakistan. “I have no regrets. I just obeyed Allah’s commandment,” “I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path, if I am freed again.” The killer had previously been accused of killing and mutilating four women sex workers.

In England, a scarf was tied around a 25 year-old businesswoman Samaira Nazir’s throat that was cut in three places by her brother and cousin. Her 2 and 4 year old daughters were commanded to witness their mother’s gruesome murder as a lesson to them. Her crime was that she wanted to marry an Afghan asylum seeker.

Two women, allegedly “prostitutes,” were executed by the Taliban in Afghanistan that is supposed to be under the US supported President Karzai’s control.


The 21-year-old Hina Saleem was murdered in Italy by her father and two brothers-in-law for living with her boyfriend.

21 women and 8 children died and many were injured in a stampede in a madrassa in Pakistan. The male rescuers were blocked from helping.

Mohammad Yassin’s 10 year old daughter was raped. Tribal verdict: rapist should hand over his daughter Samia to Yassin’s son to marry!

“[7 year old] Samia … is regarded as a slave and for two long years experiences every kind of torture and discrimination. The family daily beat the innocent child and locked her down in a dark basement. They injured her body by using hot metal pieces, pulled her hair, kept her naked and force her to stay outside in the freezing weather for hours and many other such bestial punishments.”

Samia was released by some Afghans upon learning her condition.

After the earthquake in Pakistan, the Muslim elders didn’t allow medical students to dig out wounded girls from under the rubble of their school building.

“According to eyewitnesses, a 29-year old, named only as Amina, was dragged out of her parent’s house in Urgu District, Badakshan province, [Afghanistan] by her husband and local officials before being publicly stoned to death. The man accused of committing adultery with her is alleged to have been whipped a hundred times and freed.”

Fifteen young girls died in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, because the “mutaween,” (religious police of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) beat them and prevented them from leaving the school building on fire because they were not wearing the head scarves and the abayas, the long robes.

As customary, the school was locked in order to maintain total separation of girls and boys.

The people are scared of the mutaween who stroll streets to see that males and females do not meet, are wearing proper clothes, and that prayers are offered on time. People who disobey the rules are beaten and may be imprisoned.

In 1998 in Bangladesh, the number of women acid victims were 101, in 1999: 178, and in 2000: 186 a third of which were between the ages of six and fifteen year old girls! The motives cited for throwing acid at girls were revenge, envy, and refusal to entertain sexual favors. There may have been some economic motives, too.

Tanbira Talukder says, “Bangladesh is the country with the largest number of acid victims in the whole world.”

A 16 year-old Canadian, Aksa “Axa” Parvez, was strangled to death by her father for refusing to wear a head scarf.

Few months back, three girls aged 14, 16, and 18, and two women (victim’s aunt and another’s mother), were shot and injured in Pakistan. The girls were kidnapped by the provincial minister’s brother. Two of the girls’ skulls were smashed. They were then buried alive. The women had supported the girls in their choice of their mates.

A senator from Baluchistan, Mir Israrullah Zehri, defended this heinous act: “These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them … Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid.”

When a senator from Sindh, Yasmeen Shah, raised this issue, she was told by Zehri that a death squad of 12 tribesmen was on its way to kill her.

In 1999, just ten days after his marriage to Gudiya, Mohammed Arif had to report for duty as the mini-war in Kargil between India and Pakistan had begun. On September 16, he disappeared from the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir; Pakistanis had captured him. Her hope for his return was shattered when the Indian Army declared him a “deserter.”

(Majority can screw the country but the minority has always to prove their “patriotism.” And this is true in almost every country.)

After waiting for four years Gudiya got married to Taufeeq and had gone to her parent’s home for delivery. It was then that Arif showed up on August 9, 2004. Muslim scholars and elders declared the second marriage null because it was “anti-Islamic.” Gudiya was devastated and had to be admitted to the hospital where she told reporters that “I am not a cow or a buffalo that I can be sent away just like that.”

Zee News satellite TV held a “mock panchayat” or council of elders where Gudiya, Taufeeq, Arif, relatives, and Islamic scholars were invited. Gudiya declared: “I want to go with Arif.”

The first time in the history of Indian television a personal issue had been debated and decided on television.

The headline in Indian Express conveyed the outrage aptly: “Gudiya’s personal trauma, nightmare paraded in public on TV horror show.”

She was ill and eight months pregnant then. The Zee TV’s ratings went up as Gudiya’s life sunk further down.

“My father didn’t tell me anything initially. But then everybody started telling me to go to Arif. My father also joined them. It was according to the Hadith [the Prophet’s sayings]. I had to go to Arif.” When questioned if she was joining Arif on her own, her reply was: “It was everybody’s decision.”

The child’s custody also became a matter of dispute. Arif agreed to adopt Mateen but wouldn’t give him his last name. “I cannot give my name to the child. He belongs to Taufeeq. I will tell him when he grows up. That is his fate. It is not my fault. That is what the Sharia Law says.”

Gudiya died a painful death due to multiple organ failure in January 2006.

Arif and Taufeeq both claimed they loved her. A better resolution, in my opinion, was for them to come to an arrangement whereby Arif and Taufeeq would each alternate time spent with her, or all of them living together, or any other suitable arrangement. <1> This may have prolonged her life and would have given the 15 month-old Mateen maternal love and the love of his real and step fathers.

Interestingly, they have both remarried and Mateen is living with Gudiya’s mother.

Seven men gang-raped an 18 year-old married woman known as “Qatif girl” and a man unrelated to her. The rapists were flogged and sentenced to prison terms. The victims were to get 90 lashes each for a khilwa crime, which means being caught with a person of the opposite gender who is not an immediate family. The punishment was increased to 200 lashes and a 6 month sentence because the lawyer had appealed their case. Following international pressure, King Saud pardoned the woman and the man.

What was their crime, one may ask?

These are a few cases from the hundreds of thousands of Muslim women who are victims of tradition, tribalism, and religion.

(However, violence against women is not restricted to Muslim women only. Every year thousands of Hindu women are burned to death under the euphemisms of “kitchen deaths” and “suicides” because they didn’t provide enough dowries. Once the wife is murdered, the husband can remarry and get another dowry. Hindu and Sikh women also get killed in the name of “honor.”)

To be continued tomorrow.

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

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