As conflict continues to batter civilians in the Gaza strip after a short ceasefire broke down overnight, Interfaith leaders of Judaism and Islam are calling the masses to stand side by side in prayer today, a joint day of fasting that falls on both religious calendars July 15.
Interfaith activists, please share this urgent call for peace.
- In stating a brave interreligious solidarity, all participating can radiate the power of reconciliation. Religion News Service and other-like media outlets highlighting the interfaith perspective on the Gaza conflict seek angles of human commonality across communities while sectarian media only engulfs masses in biased information. Grieving parents comforting each other on both sides become symbols of forgiveness shared widely on the internet.
The Huffington Post is one of the outlets focusing on the parents. An article about Interfaith prayer for peace today reads, “Sanity must prevail. Inertia cannot take over,” wrote Robi Damelin, in a July 10 editorial in The Huffington Post. Damelin, who lost her son, David, to the conflict in 2002, concluded, “We must come out and demonstrate to the powers that be. Stop the violence. As part of the Parents Circle-Family Forum, Damelin meets with Palestinian and Israeli families who have all lost children in the conflict.”
- The religious definitions of today’s fasting is explored in The Times of Israel article reporting more on the “Choose Life” movement promoting today’s peace demonstrations:
“The 17th of Tammuz, a fast day that commemorates the breach of Jerusalem’s walls before the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, falls out on Tuesday. It’s the start of a three-week mourning period leading up to Tisha B’Av, a more well-known fast day that marks the destruction of the temple.
Tuesday is also the 18th day of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims fast from dawn till sunset each day for the entire month.
The joint fast “is not a sixties anti-war thing,” said Shaul Judelman, one of the Choose Life organizers. ‘It’s coming from a religious place, which is tricky when rockets are falling. But our future seems to be here together, and no one’s going anywhere.” (Read more on The Times of Israel…)
Those in the United States wishing to join a public prayer demonstration and fast, seek opportunities like the following being organized in D.C. and Chicagoland:
- Joint Jewish and Muslim Fast and Prayer Against Violence in Washington, DC : In the past month the Jewish and Muslim communities have been shattered by the terrorist killings of four boys: Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah, and Muhammed Abu Khdeir.
In response, Jewish and Muslim clergy of the DC area are joining together as part of an international effort by religious leaders to pray for an end to the violence. On Tuesday, July 15th the Jewish and Muslim calendars are united in a day of fast: the fast of 17 Tamuz, and the fast of Ramadan. For both traditions this is a day designated for soul-searching, an opportunity for people to take responsibility, and for self repair, communal purification, and repentance.
As we join together we hope to direct the consciousness of both peoples to this day as a “peak day” – a day in which each man and woman will be invited to take part, to fast in solidarity with the suffering, violence and pain of self and others, to ask how to end the cycle of bloodshed and draw a horizon of hope and vision.
Please join Maharat Ruth Friedman and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom: The National Synagogue, Rabbi Etan Mintz and Chava Evans of B’nai Israel Congregation, and Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center on Tuesday, July 15th at 5pm in Lafayette Square in Washington, DC to offer prayers for peace and comfort. Leaders and members of all faith communities are encouraged to attend.
- JEWISH-MUSLIM FAST FOR PEACE, JULY 15 - Fountain Square, Evanston, IL 6:00pm
Friends – In response to the current violence in Israel/Palestine, Jews and Muslims in Chicago will join in a collective fast on Tuesday, July 15, when our two calendars converge:
The Fast of the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz (for the Jews this is a fast commemorating the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed) and the middle of the Fast of the Muslim Month of Ramadan.
Chicagoland Jews and Muslims will meet in Evanston, at Fountain Square (corner of Sherman and Davis, just steps from Davis CTA and Metra stations), at 6:00pm.
We will show empathy for each other’s pain and share in a collective prayer for peace, and a better future which our peoples deserve.
For both traditions, this is a day dedicated to taking an accounting of the soul, to taking responsibility, for correcting and purifying, to turning in repentance. The plan is to direct two peoples on this day to a kind of summit, during which everyone is invited to take part, to fast in identification with the suffering, the violence, the pain of one’s self and the other, to ask how we will break the cycle of violence and to create a vision of hope.
As one author (who lost his son in war) recently said: the situation is too desperate for us to drown ourselves in despair.
Looking back, I never would have imagined that my introduction to the interfaith movement would change the trajectory of my undergraduate career. Now, as a new graduate of Saint Louis University, I find myself at odds with this transitional moment in my life. For the past four years, the interfaith work in which I have been so thoroughly involved helped me find a voice for my passion and put my values into action. But more importantly, it allowed me to cultivate a community out of solidarity.
Interfaith organizing on a college campus can sometimes feel surreal. On a college level, I have had access to student groups, allies, and resources that help mobilize like-minded individuals to action. It’s easy to feel like you’re making a difference. The frustrating part can be when you feel like you’re preaching to the choir. Yet, at the end of the day, I can confidently say that my interfaith work has allowed me to strengthen my own leadership. It has helped me build a coalition of inspired young people, who are ready to create change.
The truth is, I feared not knowing how to access similar communities once I graduated. One of the biggest criticisms that the interfaith movement, like many other movements, is that it can tend to be idealized and focuses more on dialogue and less on action. I worried that this would become a reality for me without the network and resources I had previously worked so closely with.
This past month, I was one of two students who were selected as the St. Louis Citizens for Global Solutions Chapter Essay Contest winners. In the essay, we were asked to speak about what the US can do to solve our global issues. I wrote about the role that a global ethic could play towards creating a new cadre of religiously and culturally competent citizens around the world, and how it could serve as a call to action for faith and secular communities.
While in Washington D.C., we learned about a variety of issues including world federalism, international treaties, and grassroots leaderships. We attended a conference sponsored by Citizens for Global Solutions, and lobbied on Capital Hill. I was most surprised on the last day of the conference, when I attended a workshop about how the major World Religions can help establish a peace system of a democratic world federal government. Dr. Oughton, the guest presenter, referenced the Parliament of the World Religions’ Global Ethic as a guiding document to action.
I was, like everyone else in the room, truly inspired by the notion that interreligious dialogue can help build peace and justice in our global communities. I now understand that interfaith action is something that applies to all communities – both domestically and internationally. The world’s religions are responsible for building a foundation of peace by promoting the ideals of a global community through the teachings of the Golden Rule, the Global Ethic, the Charter for Compassion, and so forth. Interfaith is not limited to one network or community; it is all encompassing and inclusive to any worldview. As I begin this transition to the working world, I am certain that my motivation for interfaith action will continue to shape my experiences and interactions.
Ms. Sara Rahim, is a Parliament of the World’s Religions Youth Rep to the UN-DPI, and a recent graduate of Saint Louis University in Public Health and International Studies. Sara’s passion for social justice expands to global health, interfaith, and refugee/migration issues. She has studied Arabic in Egypt, offered healthcare in Honduras, and spent a semester in Morocco, where she conducted a study on access to healthcare for undocumented sub-Saharan migrants. She later returned to Morocco to work with grassroots NGOs that focus on sub-Saharan female migrants’ health. On campus, Sara has spearheaded the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Challenge for the past two years, while organizing student interfaith programming. Off campus, Sara has interned at Interfaith Youth Core coaching students to be leaders of interfaith action, and she has worked in refugee resettlement at World Relief. In the future, Sara would like to pursue a career in global health and international development, with a focus on communities in conflict, and she hopes to use interfaith as a tool towards sustainable development.
The Parliament is announcing its partnership to the Union Theological Seminary’s upcoming conference on climate, “Religions for the Earth.”
In a recent Time Magazine article reporting on its plan to divest $108.4 million from fossil fuels, Union announced news of its hosting the climate conference bringing attention to its partnership with the Parliament as well as GreenFaith, the Interfaith Center of New York, The World Council of Churches, and Religions for Peace in coordinating the event.
Choosing to live out their values, Union becomes the first seminary institution to divest from fossil fuels. In this spirit several organizations are coming together in this event to spread dialogue about climate change.
More more information please visit the Religions for the Earth.
Dr. Jane Goodall visited New Zealand this week on her latest round of tours promoting her work and the launch of Roots and Shoots in New Zealand all the while celebrating her 80 years.
The UN Messenger for Peace caught up with one of the Parliament’s International Ambassadors in New Zealand, Robert Mackay while in Wellington.
Dr. Goodall was a key speaker at the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona and is a leading conservationist and primatologist.
For more information on Jane or her Institute click here.
For more information on the Roots and Shoots Initiative click here.
By Kevin Childress
There simply was no diversity in the small southern town I grew up in. Virtually 100 percent of the population was white, middle-class Baptists. The most “exotic” people in town were a small number of Lutherans, including my close friend Laura and her family. Hearing how people talked about Lutherans, I wanted to defend them, and I started seeing myself as an outsider like them. From that time onward I have identified with outsiders.
As an adult, my life has taken me around the world (for example, I lived in Armenia for two years, working with the Peace Corps). I’ve been to Egypt, Turkey, Russia, India, and all over Eastern and Western Europe. And in all these places I have witnessed expressions of hatred and superiority that one group of people directs at another. No country is free of it. But in those same countries I witnessed extraordinary acts of kindness, sympathy and respect for outsiders.
When I finally got around to it in my 40s, I went back to school to formally study comparative religion (the comparison of doctrines and practices of the world’s faith traditions). It was something I had always wanted to learn more about, perhaps because of my commitment to respecting outsiders. I never wanted to solely study a particular religion, as it is the diversity in particular that most fascinates me, and what I wanted to center my work around.
Two years ago, I read a blog by Lisa Sharon Harper (a columnist with “Sojourners”) about her experiences as a non-Muslim fasting during Ramadan. The idea was appealing to me, as it clearly conveyed a message of respect for, and solidarity with, Muslims.
When I decided to fast last Ramadan, I posted something about it on my Facebook page. That was all I initially said about it to anyone. I prepared myself for fasting with what I thought was practical planning – figuring out schedules for when I would prepare and eat food. I am such an organized person (one of those people with a Master List of smaller “to do” lists), and I dove into it with enthusiasm. For a while it was pretty easy. And I learned a lot of tips. For one thing, it helps to have ready-to-eat food on hand. Late at night, I sometimes just didn’t have the energy to cook. And it’s important to be sure to eat when the time arrives – missing the mealtime window can make for a very uncomfortable day.
Some people say they gain spiritual insight during fasting. It might sound odd, but I have to say that during my fasting time, I found myself reading more poetry, and thinking about the world around me in poetic terms. I rarely ever write poetry, but during fasting I found myself writing haikus about the smell of summer rain, or the intricacies of a well-made shirt. I developed a kind of stillness in my mind that allowed me to “unpack” an idea, to hold it to the light and attempt to see it more clearly. Some people might joke I was simply experiencing protein deficiency or something, but I don’t think that was it. I think I was just a little closer to what I call the “eternal,” and what most people call God.
My post on Facebook attracted a bit of attention. Muslim friends sent me the obligatory “High Five” comments in the beginning, and checked in with me on occasion to see how I was faring. Muslims I hadn’t met before sent me friend requests, because they’d seen something about my fasting on their friends’ Facebook pages. As Ramadan went on, people started sharing with me how fasting was altering their views of the world and themselves, often (to my surprise and pleasure) using poetry as a means of communicating their feelings. One friend on Facebook quoted the Sufi poet Rumi, who compared the fasting person to a musical instrument ready to be played: “We are lutes, no more, no less.” I had often heard that fasting during Ramadan brought Muslims together, spiritually and emotionally (through their shared experience), and physically (in breaking the fast every evening). It was interesting to discover the same type of thing happening virtually.
My first invitation to attend an Iftar (the evening breaking of the fast) came from someone I had met on Facebook. At that Iftar, I met numerous people who in turn invited me to other Iftars. Thanks to these invitations, I could easily have gone to a different one every evening, and quite a few of them were interfaith iftars – some hosted by city politicians who weren’t even Muslim. And it was in the gathering together with people to break the fast that I knew I was engaging in something marvelous and important: around the table, as we met and got to know each other, we changed from strangers into neighbors.
As Ramadan continued, what started to be a problem for me were encounters with people who didn’t know I was fasting. I would show up at someone’s home and they would have this lovely lunch laid out. “I made lasagna because I know how much you love it,” a friend said. It reminded me of a time in Armenia when a poor village family had invited me over for a meal. In honor of my visit, they had killed their only goat, and fried its liver. They brought the dish to the table with such pride, and I remember feeling queasy just looking at it. But, in knowing what it cost them – and what it meant to them to serve me – I ate as much of it as I could. So when faced with the lasagna, I made a quick decision to eat it. Later I felt bad about breaking my fast, thinking I had failed. But then I realized I had sacrificed something that was important to me in order to offer my respect and regard for another person. Maybe I hadn’t failed after all.
For the rest of Ramadan, I fasted as much as I could, but I broke fast when situations like this arose. A Muslim would never make such concessions, of course – and they would rarely face such situations anyway, since most people know they are fasting. But for me, my fasting had been successful because it prompted me to be mindful of food, and to think about the function of food in society. The sharing of food can break the ice between strangers; it can be a gesture of hospitality, and an indication of trust and respect. And it certainly helps us to celebrate joyful moments in our lives, when people come together around a table to share a meal.
Beside fasting during Ramadan, there are countless ways a person can join in experiencing the faiths of other people. Guests are warmly welcomed at the Jewish Passover Seder, Christmas Mass, a Sikh Diwan, or the annual Hindu Diwali. But what I learned from my Ramadan experience is something that perhaps leaders and members of faith communities should keep in mind: for the people outside your doors who are interested in sharing your faith – they need to be invited. An implicit and generic “We are always open to visitors” isn’t really enough. Much better to issue an explicit and specific invitation, a “We invite you to join us next Tuesday” type of thing. Like a meal, the sharing of faiths requires a proper invitation.
About the author: Kevin Childress is the sole proprietor of SocialNet Works, LLC. While his academic background is in Comparative Religion, his professional background is in Business, with more than a decade of experience in Information Technology, Public/Media & Donor Relations, Executive Management and Finance. He has extensive knowledge of digital imaging, including video production and, of course, all avenues of social media. A 22-year resident of Manhattan, Kevin has worked with religious and civic leaders in every borough of New York City.
The Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago (CRLMC) presented its inaugural Interreligious Leadership Award recognizing the distinguished His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, Ilene Shaw, and Rabbi Herman Schaalman in a downtown Chicago ceremony June 19.
Of the honorees, Rabbi Schaalman, who was the spoksperson of the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, is remembered for helping to mobilize a worldwide interfaith movement rooted in Chicago.
President of the CRLMC and Parliament Board Vice-Chair Rabbi Michael Balinsky says, “Schaalman is a respected and beloved voice on the Council whose very presence and wisdom fosters an atmosphere of interreligious cooperation. He is looked to for guidance and wisdom on the issues facing our city and the role the interreligious community can play in fostering activism and healing.”
In a Chicago release, the JUF echoes this statement describing Schaalman as “one of the most respected Rabbis to serve Chicago’s Jewish community.”
According to the CRLMC, Cardinal George has served the council for 17 years, and honor Shaw recognizing her support to the Council’s educational efforts. In its report, the Council states, “Mrs. Ilene Shaw, who, under the auspices of the CRLMC, “has made possible the production of an InterFaith Calendar featuring 17 different faith traditions describing their basic tenets, beliefs and observances. The calendar is recognized nationally as an excellent vehicle to promote interfaith understanding and respect,”
To read more about the ceremony and its address by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, please read more by visiting the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.
By Arun Gandhi
The Parliament of World Religions condemns all forms of violence any where in the world. While the world claims to be progressing toward civilization, the actions of brutal ethnic violence in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, as well as in other parts of the world, must be strongly condemned by all peace-loving people.
Growing intolerance, widening disparities, a life-style of exploitation, a burgeoning armament industry freely producing and selling weapons of mass destruction, are all the kinds of fuel that ignite people’s imagination for violence. Sri Lanka and Myanmar are the latest flash-points on the world map where ethnic violence has taken many innocent lives. But the world as a whole lives on the edge of the precipice of conflagration fueled by ethnic, economic, political, religious, national, gender and many other issues that become more contentious by the day.
It is important for all of us to understand that the path of hate and destruction destroys the very things we seek to preserve. Religious beliefs, economic progress, security and sanctity of life can only be enjoyed and preserved for future generations by respect, understanding, harmony and compassion.
The world community cannot ignore the strife in parts of the world because it does not affect us immediately. What happens in one place today will happen all over tomorrow. We are all sitting on a tinder box of intolerance that only needs a spark to ignite.
There are two main reasons for this state of affairs in the world. As Mohandas K. Gandhi said many decades ago: the more materialistic we aspire to be the less moral we become. This is reflected in the seven social sins that Gandhi said leads to violence in humanity. The world is guilty of indulging in politics without principles, in commerce without morality, in science without humanity, in religion without respect.
Massacres of people in the name of God and religion have become the norm with events like those in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and many other parts of the world. These events are not aberrations, they are a reflection of the unmitigated religious bigotry exacerbated by political chicanery.
It is this kind of religion-political exploitation and abuse that the Parliament of World Religions seeks to change. Religions is not how many times we pray, but how sincere and truthful we are in practicing our beliefs in real life and relationships.
Arun Manalil Gandhi, Born 1934 in Durban South Africa, Arun was sent by his parents to India when he was 12 years old so that he could live with and learn from his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi. It was then that young Gandhi learned the principles of non-violence that he continues to espouse until today. Dr. Gandhi spent much of his adult life in India working as a journalist and promoting social and economic changes for the poor and the oppressed classes. Along with his wife Sunanda he rescued about 128 orphaned and abandoned children from the streets and placed them in loving homes around the world. They also began a Center for Social Change which transformed the lives of millions in villages in the western state of Maharashtra. In 1987 Arun came to the United States and in 1991 he started the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2007, the Institute was moved to the University of Rochester, New York. In 2008 Arun resigned from the Institute to begin the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, with its mission to build basic education schools for the very poor children of the world. The first school will open shortly in a depressed village in western India (www.gandhiforchildren.org). Arun Gandhi has taken the message of nonviolence and peace-making to hundreds of thousands of high school and university youth around the United States and much of the Western world. His publications include The Legacy of Love; The Forgotten Woman: The Life of Kastur, wife of Gandhi, and several others.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions tells a 121-year story of extraordinary, inspired people from around the world- belonging to literally hundreds of faith traditions- coming together with global leaders to create a better planet. Where common bonds and prayers transcend spiritual paths and national origin, these luminaries and lay leaders collaborate to empower the worldwide interfaith movement. This collective of interfaith activists work through a shared love of humanity to create a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.
Take a glimpse inside the vaults of Parliament history to see that another world is possible, and what those who have experienced the life-changing encounter have to say about the Parliament of the World’s Religions. .
“A Parliament, in essence, is a big conversation.”
-Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Parliament of the World’s Religions
The Birth of a Movement
“What we need is such a reinforcement of the gentle power of religion that all souls of whatever colour shall be included within the blessed circle of influence.”
– Fannie Barrier Williams, the only official African-American presenter at the 1893 Parliament
Towards a Global Ethic
“The Parliament’s keynote address spelled out clearly the destruction that humans have wrought upon the planet, and this theme was echoed throughout the week. What better time for Earth-centered spiritual paths to enter the conversation.”
– Sarah Stockwell
A New Day Dawning
Cape Town, South Africa
“In the year 1999, you gathered in our own continent, Africa, in the city of Cape Town. You inspired us. In 2002, IFAPA (Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa) was founded. It embodies the spirit of the Parliament.”
New Pathways to Peace
“The most important lesson I learned in my role as Parliament Chair was that interfaith dialogue and engagement empowers us to understand that our differences present us with an opportunity to go deeper. Beneath our differences we share a common humanity. It is this vision of our deep unity amidst our diversity that gives me hope and keeps me doing the work I continue to do.”
-Rev. Bob Thompson, Chair Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth
“Only the Parliament, the largest interfaith gathering on earth, has the potential to serve as a platform to mobilize interfaith social justice movements on a global scale.”
A Legacy for the Future
“The Parliament was an opportunity for people with different ideas getting together, discussing issues for better understanding. Religions plays such a big role in so many people’s lives, that if we can manage to get people to be tolerant towards each other where religion is concerned, other problem areas should be a lot easier to sort out.”
– Ms. Hettie Gats, Cape Town, South Africa
I watched a Muslim youth and a Jewish youth join hands on the stage of Good Hope Center. Each sang a prayer, one in Arabic and the other in Hebrew, and I wept at the profundity of their simple gesture.”
– Rev. Pete Woods
“With open hearts and minds, the Parliament’s participants will be returning back to their neighborhoods in our shared global village enriched with new experiences, friendships and new success stories after a joyful six-day long intensive listening and learning experience. Many of them will be making their personal commitments in writing on how they plan to change the world”
-Abdul Malik Mujahid
Prestigious Catholic Theology Award Presented to Parliament Trustee John Pawlikowski, OM for Lifetime Pluralism Scholarship
The Parliament extends deepest joy in congratulating Parliament Board Trustee John Pawlikowski, OM, on his receipt of the Murray award given by the Catholic Theological Society.
The Servite Provincial Office Order of Friar Servants of Mary in Chicago says in a release,
Our Servite brother, John, joined a list of “Who’s Who” among theologians, when he received this most prestigious award, given annually by the Catholic Theological Society of America, for lifetime contributions to study and research in theology. Joe Cheah, also a member of CTSA, and Mike Pontarelli (representing the Provincial Council and Province) were present at the award banquet held in San Diego this past Saturday, June 7, 2014.
JP, who has written about John Courtney Murray, now joins such previous recipients of the award named for Murray, including: Bernard Lonergan, Charles Curran, Richard McBrien, David Tracy, Monika Hellwig, Margaret Farley, Ladislaus Orsy, Kenan Osborne, Elizabeth Johnson, Sandra Schneiders, Virgilio Elizondo, and his colleagues (former and present) Zachary Hayes and Robert Schreiter.
Murray, a Jesuit, was known for his efforts to reconcile Catholicism and religious pluralism, focusing on the relationship between religious freedom and the institutions of a democratically structured modern state. He played a key role, during Vatican II, in persuading the assembly of the Catholic bishops to adopt the Council’s ground-breaking Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae.
We are proud of our brother who has been given this tremendous honor, and congratulate him for having been recognized by his scholar colleagues for his body of signficant theological contributions over many years.
And he’s not done yet!! CONGRATULATIONS!!
Women & Girls Victimized, Killed in the Name of Honor – Rampant Impunity
By Syeda Hameed
Lahore (Women’s Feature Service) – On May 28, 2014, Farzana Parveen was stoned to death outside the Lahore High Court in Pakistan. She had come to the court early in the morning to give testimony in favour of her husband, Mohammad Iqbal, who she had married against the wishes of her family. Farzana was 25 years old and three months pregnant. The incident occurred bang next to the High Court and within two kilometres of the District Court, Aiwan-e-Adl (Hall of Justice), where family disputes are settled. The driver, Rashid, who took me back and forth on that particular stretch the next day informed me that this place is a ‘women’s adalat’.
I had reached Lahore a day after the gruesome killing, crossing on foot from Wagah. On the Delhi-Amritsar flight I had read the chilling story filed from Lucknow about two teenaged dalit girls from Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh, who had been gang raped by five men and found hanging from a tree, which was described by the police as ‘probable suicide after the brutal attack’. Violence against women is the one persistent, omnipresent, blatant reality in every country of South Asia. Despite all that has been said at various political forums, it occurs throughout the region every single day and becomes a little more heinous each time.
It was 17 years ago that as Member of the National Commission of Women I was witness to my first case of honour killing. It had occurred in a village, Sudaka, in the Taodo block of district Mewat, Haryana, a mere 40 minutes drive from Delhi. The name of the two victims, Maimun and Idris, will forever be branded on my heart. The couple had eloped and married. The girl’s cousin had her gang raped, her body slashed and then left for dead. After she was rescued she escaped to Delhi and came within our protection. We took up her case with the Supreme Court, which gave its verdict in favour of the young couple. The two were forced to live incognito in the Capital where he worked as a mechanic and she gave birth to two children. Six years later they were tracked down by her family and it was in her own room that she was ‘honour’ killed by her younger brother.
In Lahore, Farzana Parveen was accosted at 7:45 am by a hostile group of 20 family members, including her father Mohammad Azeem, her brothers Zahid and Ghulam Ali, her cousins Mazhar and Mohammad Iqbal. She had come with her husband to contest an abduction case her family had filed against him. They fired shots in the air and tried to snatch her away but when she resisted they began pelting her with bricks from a nearby construction site. There was a crowd of onlookers who watched the stoning. Her husband told the BBC that the police was ‘watching silently’ while his wife was beaten to death despite desperate attempts to get them to act. Then he made the most bizarre statement; ‘One of my relatives took off his clothes to catch their attention. A naked man was crying for help before the court but nobody intervened’. Farzana’s father showed no remorse when he surrendered to the police and called the cold blooded murder: ‘my honour redeemed’.
When I went to the scene of crime it was bustling with life. I looked up at the beautiful domes of the Lahore High Court building and then down at the pavement where she must have been killed a mere two days ago. What bricks did they use; were they construction leftovers? Did they bring rods which they used to smash her skull? The media reported ‘batons and bricks’. Did her brain spill onto the pavement that was burning with May heat? I looked around but there was no evidence, not a shred. There was only the incontrovertible scene of crime screaming its story for anyone who cared to listen.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a relentless crusader, once again spoke about the failure of the State to protect its citizen’s lives. In 2013 alone the HRCP had recorded killing of nearly 900 women in honour crimes. It stated: ‘These women were killed because the State did not confront this feudal practice supported by religiosity and bigotry’.
The stories are the same across this region. A swathe of blood of innocent girls, some of them children, courses through all seven countries though we hear of more cases from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Back in 1997 when I filed my report in the honour killing case there was a storm in the country. After the Supreme Court had intervened, I felt a heady sense of victory. What I and even the Supreme Court had not foreseen was that ‘honour’ would find a way to redeem itself even after the passage of several years.
Following the Lahore incident, the media has gone wild in reporting stories about this killing. One account that has emerged is by Farzana’s sister Khalida who has said that she was killed by Iqbal (her husband) and his accomplices who shifted the responsibility to her father and brothers. One can discount the tales and stick to the very first report that appeared hours after the kill, but the rot underlying this practice is incontrovertible. And that pertains to the practice of ‘diyat’ or blood money that allows the victim’s family to forgive the murder in compliance with blood money laws, which simply means compromise and payment, sometimes even offering a girl in marriage. In this one family, for example, three women have been murdered.
It is reported that Iqbal had killed his first wife ‘because I fell in love’. His son, who had reported the murder of his mother, forgave his father under the blood money laws. Farzana’s family had killed one of her sisters but had escaped punishment because her son had given forgiveness. Quite likely that the same formula will work once again, allowing free passage to Farzana’s killers as well. The third woman killed in one family.
Impunity flourishes under the fig leaf of religious sanction, while society looks on. Columnist Nazish Brohi’s comment on the incident, ‘intolerance and violence are the only factors to have had a trickledown effect’ applies equally to the Indian context where we too wear dark lenses of cynical acceptance.
And the black humour in the comment of a family witness to the Farzana Parveen bludgeoning that ‘a naked man was crying for help but no one listened’ is matched in the report of the dalit girls’ hanging in UP on the last page of ‘Dawn’. It reports on Congress Vice President’s visit to the village, Katra Shahadat Ganj: ‘Mr Gandhi also saw the tree where the girls were found’.