(Published in: National Post, December 12, 2007)
The tragic death of a Mississauga, Ont., teenage girl — allegedly at the hands of her own traditionally minded Muslim father — has sent shock waves across the world. Canadians are justified in raising concerns as to whether this is a sign of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in their own backyard.
Aqsa Parvez, a sprightly 16-year-old, beloved of her friends and peers at Applewood Heights Secondary School, was only trying to be herself, was only wishing for a normal adolescence amid Canada’s rich cultural mosaic. Her father has now been charged with murder, and his son with obstruction, while a young life has been snuffed out — likely in the name of honour and Islam.
Radical Muslim men consider themselves ultimately responsible for the conduct of the womenfolk. This outlook is rooted in a medieval ethos that treats women as nonpersons, unable to decide for themselves what they should wear, where they must go and what they must accomplish in life. If their conduct is seen as contravening this austere religious outlook, they are invariably subjected to abuse.
The hijab in particular has become a thorny issue among Muslim families. It has been elevated as a sort of "sixth pillar of Islam" among militant sects. Young teenage girls are often lectured over the virtues of the hijab by their family members. Once they hit puberty, compliance is deemed a non-negotiable religious requirement.
Yet none of this is actually mandated by the Koran. The Koran, while speaking generally of modesty in dress and demeanour, falls short of specifying the details of that modesty. Scripture also makes allowances for non-compliance of religious edicts if the environment is not conducive to their observance.
The Koran exhorts compassion upon parents, caretakers and guardians of young girls. Yet some families instead exhibit a strict conformity to doctrine and dogma, which in turn leads to violence, bigotry and intolerance of alternative understandings of faith.
There is much discussion in Canadian society about the religious freedoms of those who choose to wear the hijab. We hear relatively little about the oppression of young girls who make the opposite choice. Seldom is their oppression from within their own community, or even their own family, cast as a human rights issue.
If convicted, Aqsa’s father and brother must be handed the strictest penalty available under the law. As for the imams and clergy of Canada’s mosques, who constantly berate young women for not wearing the hijab or snub them for "violating Islam," they need to reflect on the consequences of their sermons.
Consider, as an example, the Montreal mosque that recently posted on its Web site a warning to the effect that if young girls took off their hijab, they could end up getting raped and having "illegitimate children." Other proffered risks included "Stresses, insecurity and suspicion in the minds of husbands" and "instigating young people to deviate towards the path of lust."
As if the threat of rape and the fear of illegitimate children were not enough, these pre-teen girls were told that if they took off their hijab, they would cease to be Muslims: "By removing your hijab, you have destroyed your faith. Islam means submission to Allah in all our actions." Little wonder then, that Canadian girls walk away from sports tournaments rather than remove their hijabs.
Muslims need to stand up to this sort of emotional and religious blackmail by imams who spread the competing agendas of Saudi Arabia and Iran into Canada. Young Aqsa Pervez’s death cannot be reversed. But in her memory, we can at least challenge those whose message leads to rage and madness.
— Tarek Fatah is author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, to be published by Wiley & Sons in March, 2008. Farzana Hassan is author of Islam, Women, and the Challenges of Today. Both are members of the Muslim Canadian Congress(mcc muslimcongress.ca).