William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet concludes with the words, “For never was a story of more woe, Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Fortunately for him, Shakespeare had never paid a visit to Pakistan where all love stories end in woe and young lovers tend to die not in overwrought murder-suicide pacts, but in Karo-Kari honor killings by their own families. The Muslim versions of the Montagues and Capulets don’t drag their children home and berate them; they hold a session and decide that they should die.
Last year there were at least 675 honor killings in Pakistan and that number is a fraction of the total figure which can only be guessed at due to the culture of silence. In Sindh, famously known as “The Gateway of Islam,” where many Pakistani Romeo and Juliets run away to elope, there have been 227 such killings. To understand just how common this culture of death really is, we are introduced to one such couple. Her sister was killed for falling asleep on a train and coming home late, which convinced her family that she had run off with another man. His brother was killed for dating outside the clan. Together they are both on the run with a death sentence on their heads, which means that two siblings in each family were marked for honor killings.
There was a time when every family either had a member who fell victim to Polio or knew someone who had. In Pakistan, Islamic morals are the local Polio, and everyone knows someone who has been touched by the disease.
Now just in time for Valentine’s Day, in Faisalbad, a city named after the Saudi king, two men were arrested for killing their sisters. In Punjab, a man killed his wife and sister and their mother, because he suspected his wife of talking on her cell phone to another man. In Toronto, a city not yet renamed after a Saudi king, a Muslim cook was sentenced to jail for strangling his wife. This comes on the heels of the conviction of the Shafias in Ontario for murdering their three daughters and Mohammed Shafia’s first wife.
In Turkey there was a girl who wanted to marry a local musician, and her father decided that he wanted approximately 8500 dollars and some gold and jewelry. The musician didn’t have that kind of money and his daughter didn’t want to marry the man who did. So the father beat her, then got her 12 year old brother to finish the job by shooting her in the chest and reported it to the police as an accidental shooting. In the United States, there are gangs that use children to commit crimes for them, knowing that they won’t face real criminal charges. In the Muslim world, parents get young boys to kill their older sisters for the same reason.
You can see why Muslim clerics are not particularly fond of Valentine’s Day. A sermon by the Department of Islamic Development in Malaysia warned that asking someone to “Be My Valentine” was a violation of Islamic beliefs. This isn’t just talk. State Islamic Department officers will be conducting Operasi Mencegah Maksiat or Operation Sinful Act in pursuit of any Malaysian Romeo and Juliets.
The Assistant Minister in the Office of Islamic Affairs, said that, “Islam was never against love per se, but it must be expressed within proper boundaries as allowed in the teachings of the Quran.” And that is certainly true. Islam is not against love. It is against love outside the “proper boundaries.” As Hazim Abu Ismail, an Islamist candidate for the Egyptian presidency put it, Islam is like the military. And there is no fraternizing in the ranks. You can love, so long as your heart obeys Sharia law.
But Islam does have its love story that is every bit the equal of Romeo and Juliet.
The love story of Mohammed and Aisha began, as so many of these tribal love stories do, when the prophet of Islam felt a compelling need to marry a six-year-old-girl and the girl’s father wanted an alliance with the rising power of Mohammed. Mohammed’s father was his first real ally outside the family, except that thanks to the rape and abuse of a little girl, he wasn’t “outside the family” at all.
The abuse of Aisha is the foundation of Islam. Due to this “marriage,” Aisha’s father was able to succeed Mohammed and become the First Caliph. After his death she was the pivot that helped split Islam into Sunnis and Shiites. It is all but impossible to imagine Islam as we know it today without her.
What was the marriage of Mohammed and Aisha like? Aisha was playing on her swing set, and then she was brought into the house and placed on Mohammed’s lap. She continued playing with dolls and lived with Mohammed and his other wives until he died when she was only eighteen. Afterward, as the widow of the prophet, she was forbidden to remarry and compelled to remain celibate for the next 50 years. But she got her own back by playing a role in the assassination of two Caliphs.
There isn’t much love in this story, but there certainly is a great deal of tragedy, and yet there are countless Sunni girls named Aisha who are raised to view her as the embodiment of Muslim womanhood. Countless little girls continue to be sexually abused because of the Islamic precedent set by Mohammed’s sexual abuse of Aisha. The horrors stemming from that would have driven Shakespeare to drink poison.
Last year in Pakistan, a 9-year-old girl had acid thrown in her face by her 10-year-old husband, who was also her cousin. These married children were acting out all the aspects of a Muslim marriage, which includes the ritual blast of acid to the face when the wife displeases the husband. A 5-year-old was nearly married off by a Muslim cleric who protested that, “The marriage is allowed in Islam.”
Where the love story of Mohammed and Aisha ended, the nightmares of countless 5-, 7- and 9-year-old girls began. Those nightmares have since spread to the West. Nine-year-old girls are being married off in Britain, in Sweden and in Canada. Forget “Little Mosque on the Prairie” and think of “Little Brides” instead.
As Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day, for Muslim girls there is only another day of compulsion, terror and pain. The Muslim world is right not to celebrate Valentine’s Day, for what is there to celebrate about child marriages and honor killings. The real question is will America still be able to celebrate it a century from now or will we have exchanged the love story for the compulsion of Sharia?
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