Aqsa Parvez is dead, and the main thing that many analysts want you to know about her death is that it had nothing to do with Islam.
Aqsa Parvez was sixteen years old; her father has been charged with strangling her to death because she refused to wear the hijab. Shahina Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Social Services Association, declared: “The strangulation death of Ms. Parvez was the result of domestic violence, a problem that cuts across Canadian society and is blind to colour or creed.” Sheikh Alaa El-Sayyed, imam of the Islamic Society of North America in Mississauga, Ontario, agreed: “The bottom line is, it’s a domestic violence issue.” Nor was this denial limited only to Muslims. Lorne Gunter said in the Edmonton Journal: “I see nothing uniquely Muslim in her death. If, indeed, her father killed her, her death is his doing, not Islam’s.”
Gunter explains: “Of course, other cultures are also prone to intergenerational clashes and Muslim fathers have so far shown no more predilection for murder than fathers of other cultures.” Quite so. Is, then, any linkage of Islam with the murder of Aqsa Parvez simply a manifestation of bigotry? Or is an examination of some elements of Islamic theology and culture necessary in order to try to prevent more young Muslim girls from being similarly victimized in the future?
Toronto radio host John Oakley has declared: “No one is on a witch hunt here trying to demonize an entire faith, but rather to get to the bottom of what seems to be a nasty little secret within a certain segment of the community; women are treated as second-class citizens. If that is, in fact, at the root of violence and abuse meted out by some Muslim men, it’s high time to take ownership and confront the elephant in the room….Denial is not an option.”
Are women indeed treated as second class within Islamic culture? Certainly there is plenty of divine sanction for their being thus treated. The Qur’an declares that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man: “Get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her” (2:282). It allows men to marry up to four wives, and have sex with slave girls also: “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice” (4:3). It rules that a son’s inheritance should be twice the size of that of a daughter: “Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females” (4:11).
Worst of all, the Qur’an tells husbands to beat their disobedient wives: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them” (4:34).
Numerous hadiths even have Muhammad informing a group of women that their gender will populate hell: “Once Allah’s Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) of ‘Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, ‘O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).’”
When they ask him why, he explains, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.”
Muhammad’s assessment of their deficiencies comes from his Qur’an, as he explains further: “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man? [cf. Qur’an 2:282, above]...This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?...This is the deficiency in her religion” (Bukhari 1.6.301). The idea that hell will be filled with more women than men occurs frequently in the hadith. According to Muhammad, “I looked at Paradise and saw that the majority of its residents were the poor; and I looked at the (Hell) Fire and saw that the majority of its residents were women” (Bukhari 7.62.126).
These traditions demonstrate why some Muslim men have so often fit the stereotype that they treat women with suspicion, disdain and derision. When they deal with women, they are dealing with a group that suffers from severe moral and intellectual deficiencies, not to mention all sorts of physical impurities in a religion obsessed with ritual cleanliness. Women are, consequently, headed for hell.
In light of all this, think for a minute about what Muslim spokesmen in Canada could be saying. They could acknowledge that the divine sanction given to the beating of disobedient women by Qur’an 4:34 has created a culture in which such abuse is accepted as normal. They could call for a searching reevaluation of the meaning and continued relevance of that verse and other traditional material that reinforces it, and call in no uncertain terms for Muslims to reject definitively its literal meaning, now and for all time to come. They could acknowledge the prevalence of honor killing in Islamic culture, which has no sanction as such in Islamic theology but nonetheless enjoys enough Islamic approval that the Jordanian Parliament a few years ago rejected on Islamic grounds attempts to stiffen penalties for it. They could call for sweeping reform and reexamination of the status of women in Islam.
For any of this to happen, Muslim leaders in Canada would have to adopt an unfamiliar and uncharacteristic stance of self-criticism, and Canadian leaders would have to abandon their ongoing infatuation with multiculturalism.
Unfortunately for Muslim women in Canada and elsewhere, neither seems likely. But Aqsa Parvez deserves no less.