The murder of 16-year-old Canadian teen, Aqsa Parvez, by her Pakistani immigrant father for her refusal to wear a burka or hijab has shocked and saddened the nation. As people from all walks of life are mourning her tragic death, Muslims — particularly their religious leaders — have joined the chorus of denials that “Islam has nothing to with the death of Aqsa.”
Here is a Muslim riddle. When one criticizes the practice of Muslim women wearing the burka or hijab, Muslims quickly respond that their religious symbol or choice is being attacked, but when girls like Aqsa die for refusing to accept the same religious symbol, Muslims quickly respond by saying their religion has nothing do with the death.
It is indeed a fact that wearing the burka (not the more liberal hijab) is a religious duty for Muslim women commanded by Allah. The Quran [24:31] commands Muslim women to “draw their veils over their bosoms” so as not to expose their physical assets to unrelated people. Allah says [Quran 33:59]: “O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers [Muslims] to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad).”
No Muslim will deny that Allah’s commands in the Quran are non-negotiable and binding on all Muslims. When someone dies for refusing to comply with those binding Islamic obligations, it is ridiculous to say the Islamic religion has nothing to do with that death.
When I was growing up as a Muslim, my religious teachers at my school and madrasa used to tell us that a righteous Muslim parent must ask his or her children to follow their religious duties at the age of eight and pressure them at the age of ten. If they continue to refuse, beat them at the age of twelve. In many Muslim countries not all parents apply this protocol rigorously, but it remains a widely accepted guide. Some parents do follow it closely in order to bring their disobedient children onto the righteous path. As a result, injuries and even deaths occur, like Aqsa's. These injuries and deaths can in no way be separated from the Islamic religion.
Whether it is for the refusal to wear the burka/hijab, or to follow other religious obligations, deaths such as Asqa’s occur in Islamic countries on a regular basis. The UK’s Sunday Times reported on December 16th that 48 women have been killed in Basra, Iraq in the last six months for “un-Islamic behavior.” The actual number of these incidents is likely to be much higher since many of them go unreported.
Red graffiti in Basra warns women, "Your makeup and your decision to forgo the headscarf will bring you death." In Pakistan, an estimated 1,500 women die from honor killings every year. People in those countries hardly make a fuss about it. That’s a price those women have to pay for violating the Islamic codes. It is well accepted in Muslim societies, and people pay little attention to such incidents. In most cases, they go unreported.
Aqsa’s death is not a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence in Western countries, either. In the UK, there have been at least 25 confirmed honor killings in the Muslim community in the past decade, but the real number is likely to be much higher. On 1 November 2006, Riaz Ahmed, a British immigrant from Pakistan, burned his whole family alive (his wife, 39, and their four daughters, 3-16 years of age) for their Western lifestyle and his wife’s refusal to arrange marriages for their daughters.
In Germany, according to a February 2005 report, there were 45 recorded cases of Muslim honor killings during the past eight years, while there were at least five such cases in just four previous months in Berlin alone.
Imam Syed Soharwardy, of the Calgary Islamic Centre, suggesting that violence and Islam do not mix, went on a hunger strike to protest Aqsa’s death. Imam Sheik Alaa El-Sayyed, of the Islamic Society of North America in Aqsa’s home city, Mississauga, said in a news conference, “Islam condemns violence and teaches adherents not to force their beliefs upon others.”
Imam El-Sayyed’s claim, which is far too common among Muslims, is historically unsound from the time of Prophet Muhammad to the present day. Prophet Muhammad’s biographer Ibn Ishaq records that when the Prophet attacked Mecca in 630 CE, he gave his father-in-law and opponent, the leader of Mecca, the following choice [Life of Muhammad, Oxford, Karachi, p547-8]: “Isn’t it time that you should recognize there is no God but Allah? …Submit and testify that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the apostle of God before you lose your head.” Abu Sufyan complied.
According to a document on the Oman Government website, (removed now), the Prophet’s letter to the Christian king of Oman in 628 read: “…Embrace Islam, and you shall be safe. I am God’s messenger to all humanity, here to alert all those alive that nonbelievers [non-Muslims] are condemned. If you submit to Islam, you will remain kings, but if you abstain, your rule will be removed and my horses will enter your arena to prove my prophecy.” Terrified, the Oman king replied accepting his directives.
These are no instances of sweet-talking or a persuasive way for converting nonbelievers, there is only enforcing Islam on them at the pain of death. Indeed, with a Quranic decree [2:190-3; 9:5], the Prophet had annihilated Paganism (Polytheism, Idolatry) from the Arabian Peninsula by giving the people a choice between conversion to Islam and death. These are well-documented historical facts, recorded by Muslim chroniclers.
It is a fact that murders among Muslims around the world for noncompliance with the Islamic way of life are common, and go mostly unreported. According to a 2000 UN estimate, “…around 5,000 girls and women in at least 14 countries, among them Pakistan, Jordan and Turkey, were killed yearly because their families felt they brought dishonor on them.” These are far too common incidences of unjustified cruelty, which make very few news headlines.
Muslims go about their business happily as these brutal murders happen on a daily basis. It is only when the Western press makes a fuss about it, pointing particularly to their religion, that Muslims all of a sudden break their slumber and join the chorus of denials, or accusations of unjustified attack on their religion.
What is needed is for the Muslim community to try its best to ensure that another innocent life, full of possibilities, like that of Aqsa Parvez, does not meet the same fate. Denials, putting up a show of a hunger strike, or accusations of attacks on their religion will not help, but will only perpetuate the tragedy.
In spite of these denials, hunger strikes, and accusations, Muslims know well what is written in their scriptures and their duty to enforce them. What is needed is for the Muslim community to look honestly into where the problem truly lies. They must initiate an open debate in their community about what is enforceable in their scripture and creed, and what is not. It is going to be a long time before such a debate will stop innocents like Aqsa from dying, but without it, Aqsas will continue to die in their thousands yearly, as occurs today around the world, without an end in sight.