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.
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