Friday, October 13, 2006

Australia's first honour killing?

Last year, former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali had a number of her speeches and articles translated and published in a short book titled The Caged Virgin.

Ali’s book sought to provide background (largely from her own experiences) of how many Muslim migrants practise their faith. She painted a rather nasty picture of Muslim girls being brought up in an environment where religion is enforced on the basis of guilt and shame.

Ali’s book can be criticised for any number of reasons. She imposes her own personal experiences on all Muslim migrants and cultures. However, she does talk about difficult issues that children of some Muslim migrants must experience, and that Muslim communities must face upto.

That wake-up call was again sounded on Monday night in the form of screams emanating from a Gold Coast unit. At the time of writing, details are sketchy. Elsewhere, I have criticised certain slants on the story imposed by at least one News Limited paper.

What we know from a neighbour is that a 17-year old girl of Bangladeshi origin was involved in a stabbing frenzy that arose from her telling her parents that she intended to convert to Christianity.

The girl’s mother tried to intervene, and apparently died from a single stab wound. The father was also in a critical condition arising from stab wounds.

The Australian reported on October 12 that the girl’s parents were very strict Muslims. However, their apparent strictness was difficult to understand. They sent their daughter to a liberal non-denominational Christian school. They also insisted their daughter practise a career of their choice.

Most Islamic jurists are agreed that parents are not to force their children into a certain career choice. Further, the idea of killing daughters of any age was condemned by the Koran, which condemned the pre-Islamic practise of female infanticide practised by pre-Islamic tribal Arabs.

Yet sadly, many migrant parents place enormous and unreasonable pressures on their children. They impose an irrelevant cultural form of Islam which is totally alien to the environment their children grow up in.

The cultures of the Indian sub-Continent (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) can be particularly oppressive to children. This applies not just to Muslims but also Hindus, Sikhs and other faith communities.

Indians place enormous emphasis on honour. A breach of family honour can be committed in a number of ways – poor academic performance, marrying outside culture or caste, making the ‘wrong’ career choice.

Hinduism is a pacifist and deeply mystical tradition that emphasises God’s merciful presence in all creation. Yet so many of my Hindu friends do not see this mercy in their parents, who force their children into marriage and career choices. Kids who don’t conform are shamed.

Marriage is an area where sub-Continental parents can be particularly oppressive. Even in cases where parents allow children to choose their spouses, they insist that any potential spouse must be of the same culture or caste. I know of one Indian Muslim family who refused to attend their son’s wedding as he married a Muslim girl outside their culture.

Religion is a particularly sensitive issue in the sub-Continent. Who could forget that scene in the movie Bend It Like Beckham where Jasminder, the Sikh soccer player, told her friends in the dressing room that her parents would slit her throat if she married a Muslim boy.

Indian faiths are seeped in rich ancient cultures that attract many Western devotees. Sadly, these faiths are smothered with irrelevant cultural conditions frequently force-fed on the children of migrants.

My Delhi-born parents sent me to an Anglican school. I attended chapel services and divinity classes. I associated Christianity with the lion from the CS Lewis novel The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe – the noble king of the jungle who laid down his life so that others could be saved.

On the other hand, I associated Islam with Indian culture. Islam was about learning to read and recite a scripture in a strange language. Mosques were places where foreign people would gather and where imams would speak in languages I had little understanding of. Islam was an alien cultural experience.

I was told good Muslims obeyed their parents in major life decisions like marriage and career. I associated Islam with my uncles who forced their daughters to stay home yet allowed their sons to party into the night. Islam was a religion of hypocrisy and double standards.

If I am still a Muslim today, it is no thanks to community elders or imams. Rather, it is thanks to a combination of God’s mercy and my own reading and understanding of Islam’s rich heritage.

In January I visited Indonesia and found an open Muslim society where people openly enter and leave religions for marriage and other reasons. Gender relations in Indonesia are open, and women openly participate in public life. Some of Indonesia’s most fervently Islamic communities continue to practise matriarchal cultures where women traditionally rule the roost.

Yet still I know so many young 2nd and 3rd generation Aussie Muslims who have never been exposed to other Muslim cultures. They aren’t aware of the multicultural richness of their faith and heritage. Then again, how many Aussie Christians know that the oldest hymns on earth are sung in Syria?

Muslim parents who don’t want their children to leave Islam should learn that Islam is more than just a cultural construct designed to remind parents of the ‘home country’. They should allow their children to experience a wide variety of cultural experiences that Islam in Australia has to offer. No country has as great a diversity of Muslim cultures as Australia. When elders and community leaders allow Islam to become a truly Australian faith, they will find they no longer need to force-feed the faith.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Spacehamster said...

Great article Irfam. I'm biased, because I can empathise with some of the situations that you've described above. Specifically the allusions to poor Academic marks being treated as family dishonour.

I hope you don't mind if I share my story. When I was a teenager I didn't perform very well in either HSC or University. Probably because I was an emotionally and mentally immature, and wasn't prepared for the huge intellectual jump between High School and Year 11 and 12. At the time, I felt that my parents took my Academic failure as a personal stain on their honour. I was afraid that they would disown me or thow me out of the house if I didn't perform better. I honestly considered committing suicide as a way of escaping from my own personal hell.

Neither of my parents were particularly enthusiastic that I chose IT as a career. I think I chose IT over Medicine or Accounting as an act of rebellion. It was the first time in my life that my choices weren't dictated by my parents. And I've never regretted making that choice.

So it's comforting to know that I'm not the only child of migrants who've faced such pressures to conform to a non-existent standard. Thanks for writing that article.

Anonymous said...

nice one irfy.. a good article..

too bad u follow sufism

Law Student said...

Islam+Culture = disaster

nafeesa said...

I can understand this all to well, growing up with a Bangladeshi mother that would slit my throat for marrying a Muslim man from any but very few select cultural backgrounds... She doesnt yet know that I plan to throw my Masters in the rubbish bin by enrolling into a graduate teaching degree. Oh the shame!