On April 7 of this year, a 17-year-old Kurdish girl by the name of Duaa Khalil Aswaad was stoned to death by a mob of a thousand men who accused her of having illicit relations with a boy in a neighboring village in northern Iraq. They had ambushed her as she headed home after a week-long confinement at an undisclosed location. Her father had isolated the girl to protect her from public controversy, fearing precisely the fate that would ultimately befall his young daughter. The irate men, shouting pious slogans while affirming their faith in god, hurled bricks and stones at her as she lay pleading for her life.
Such self-righteous piety, often oblivious to its own inhumanity, is nonetheless ever-ready to condemn perceived immorality in the most vicious manner. Regrettably, such hypocrisy pervades many fanatical societies today.
Duaa, a Yazidi girl – Yazidis being an ancient religious community incorporating elements of Islam – made the mistake of falling in love with a Sunni boy. In the eyes of the fanatics she committed not one but two crimes, first by daring to love in the first place and second, to do so among "enemies." She thus incurred the wrath of her uncles and cousins, who taking the law in their own hands, passed the death sentence against her.
The world came to know about the tragedy when jeering bystanders took pictures of the public humiliation and stoning of the ill-fortuned girl. Not one came to her rescue.
Sadly, honor killings of women have risen astronomically throughout the Islamic world with the rise of fundamentalism and its male-centered morality that often skews the sense of what is moral, compassionate and just.
According to a United Nations report, such incidents numbered forty in January and February of this year in Iraq alone. Also unfortunate is the absence of public outrage over such atrocities from moderate segments of Muslim society. So far there are only four arrests in the April 7 stoning of Duaa Khalil Aswaad.
One may therefore ask: Is there tacit approval among religious communities for the kind of retribution for perceived moral turpitude, as meted out to Duaa? Does Islam permit or prescribe death as punishment for adultery? The answer to such injustice is an endorsement of the principle of the separation between religion and state. Muslims and other faith communities must come to the realization that laws are made by mortals and their elected representatives rather than being based on divine texts. For Muslims in Canada, it should be unthinkable to harbor support for laws based on divine texts that cannot be argued or debated in parliament.
Justifications for cultural differences in the name of pluralism often result in the formation of ghettos that have little to do with the standards set by civilized society and time-tested principles of human dignity. In fact, in the heated discourse on pluralism, these champions of diversity often lose sight of such standards, resulting in the continued oppression of the downtrodden within these enclaves that become ever more impenetrable.
Also forgotten is the fundamental principle on which pluralism rests. The Canadian policy of multiculturalism emerged out of a need to recognize two competing cultures, the French and English, during the formative years of our democracy. With the influx of immigrants from different corners of the world, the heterogeneity of Canadian society expanded to include cultures that are perhaps not in line yet with modern notions of gender equality, civil society and democracy.
In the absence of an honest evaluation of their cultural mores, from both within and without, the result will be an abuse of the principle on which pluralism is based – one that acknowledges diversity, but after an agreement has been reached on what is civil, just and compassionate.
Cultural relativism that forces women to wear burqas or sanctimoniously places demands of a certain type on females alone, need to be examined critically with a view to uplifting these moral and ethical sensibilities. Perhaps the parameters of pluralism ought to be redefined in our vastly changed Canadian mosaic from the times of our founding fathers.
Last but not least, as we proceed with a redefinition of cultures and societies and the place of multiculturalism in them, let us not forget to invoke the compassionate elements of religion that foster love, peace and understanding, as well as forgiveness for transgressions.
It is imperative even for traditionalists who so uncompromisingly advocate stoning for adultery to remember that forgiveness is at the forefront of the tenets of Islam.
I fail to understand why it did not surface even once during the brutal episode of the stoning of Duaa Khalil Aswaad.
[Farzana Hassan-Shahid is President of the Muslim Canadian Congress, Freelance writer, public speaker and author of "Prophecy and the Fundamentalist Quest" and host of the radio program Islam: Faith and Culture.]