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An eye-opening story concerning an Egyptian father who killed his three young daughters with snakes last April was largely missed in the West. According to Emirates24:
An Egyptian man killed his three young daughters aged 7, 5 and 3 by letting a poisonous snake bite them. According to ‘Al Youm Al Sabea’a’ newspaper, the three kids were found dead in their bed in Bani Mazar town of Al Minya governorate of upper Egypt. Forensic reports confirm the kids died due to snake poison. The man allegedly bought two cobras and let them bite the children while they were asleep so as not to be caught. He was divorced from their mother because he doubted her. He alleged that the children’s mother was in a relationship before marrying him and, therefore, denied that he fathered the kids. But she insisted he support the three daughters. However, when his second wife gave birth to a boy, he decided to do away with the children, he confessed to police under arrest.
While Emirates24 gives the story a Western spin—saying the man doubted his wife’s fidelity and the true parentage of his daughters—the Egyptian show, Al Haqiqa (“the Truth”), which devoted an episode to this matter, never mentioned this angle, but rather portrayed him as killing his daughters simply because they were girls. Among the many people interviewed who verified this was the maternal grandmother, who said that, beginning with the birth of the first daughter, the man became hostile saying “I hate girls” and had to be placated to return to his wife. This scenario was repeated more dramatically with the birth of the second daughter. When he discovered his wife was pregnant with a third daughter, he tried to poison the pregnant woman but failed. He then spent a year plotting how to kill the girls without getting caught and had even tried earlier snakes which proved ineffective, until he finally succeeded.
After stressing that the father was clearly not insane, but acted in a very deliberate manner, the host of Al Haqiqa, Wael Ibrashi, explained that “this matter deserves discussion, since these mentalities are present in Egyptian society. We never thought that these understandings that existed in pagan [jahiliyya] times concerning female infanticide would ever return, but they have returned.”
By “pagan times,” or jahiliyya, Ibrashi was alluding to a famous narrative: according to Muslim tradition, pre-Islamic Arabs used to bury their newborn infants alive, if they were daughters, but the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, outlawed female infanticide.
While this was a positive step, unfortunately, it is only half the picture. Indeed, this brutal filicide is a reminder of an often overlooked phenomenon of the Muslim world: oftentimes it is not the specific teachings of Islam that inform the actions of the average Muslim—many of whom are wholly unaware what the Koran teaches, let alone Sharia—but rather the general culture of Islam. Marshall Hodgson originally coined the term “Islamicate” to describe this phenomenon, which refers “not directly to the religion, Islam, itself, but to the social and cultural complex historically associated with Islam and the Muslims…” (The Venture of Islam, vol. 1, p.59).
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