Monthly Archives: July 2010

Stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi — The Saga Continues

By: Alexandra Kinias

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is not the new face of the Iranian revolution; she is just the current one. As her story became the headline in news media worldwide, it brought back to the light the deplorable situation of women living under the brutal Iranian regime. Her story is just another reminder of the fate of women governed by theocratic regimes, that once in power claim ownership of the bodies and minds of the women they govern.

Ashtiani had been sentenced to stoning by the Iranian judiciary system for committing adultery, a crime that had not and can not be verified since there was no man brought to justice.

Ashtiani’s lawyer has said his client’s conviction was based not on evidence but on the determination of three out of five judges.

To carry on such heinous crime the victim is buried to her chest in the ground and is showered by rocks and stones by her executioners until she dies, from her injuries. The Iranian  ruthless  regimes also have specifications for the stones used. Such stones should be big enough to kill the victim, but not so large that they kill her too quickly.

Ashtiani was waiting for the sentence to be carried when her story leaked to the media.  Her children together with her lawyer, communicated to the world through her lawyer’s blog and sought the international community to help stop the sentence.

From her cold prison cell in Tebriz, Ashtiani communicated to the world , through a human rights advocate her feelings after she received the sentence.

“The day I was given the stoning sentence, it was as if I fell into a deep hole and I lost consciousness. Many nights, before sleeping, I think to myself how can anybody be prepared to throw stones at me; to aim at my face and hands? Why?”

“I am now quiet and sad because a part of my heart is frozen, …. The day I was flogged in front of [my son] Sajjad, I was crushed and my dignity and heart were broken.”

Her story created an international buzz and mobilized the energies of human rights organizations to save her. As a result of the media pressure on the government of Iran, the sentence was halted, but her lawyer went into hiding and his family was detained.

On 14 July Sajjad Qaderzadeh, Ashtiani’s son, was summoned to Tabriz’s Central Prison, and is believed to have been questioned by Ministry of Intelligence officials.  Human rights groups were  concerned that he may have been threatened, so he would not give further interviews about his mother’s case following his widely-covered interview with international media.

The global movement to stop the stoning of Ashtiani also galvanized the efforts of the Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.  He intervene to the Iranian government  and offer her asylum in Brazil. The intervention of Brazilian president raised the hope again that her sentence might be reversed.

If her life is spared,  Ashtiani would be the first woman in Iran to escape this medieval brutal fate. But would the world intervene again to save the other twelve Iranian women who have been sentenced to stoning too?

Leave a comment

Filed under Violence against women

The Priest’s Wife

By: Alexandra Kinias

It is uncommon that the news of a wife’s disappearance after a family dispute, in a small village in Upper Egypt, becomes a headline in  newspapers,  circulates on international websites,  and triggers the intervention of national security forces — unless the woman is a Priest’s wife.

The unexplained disappearance of Camellia Shehata Zakher, the 25 years old wife of a Coptic Priest in Upper Egypt, immediately ignited the  rumors of abduction and forced conversion to Islam.

After her husband falsely reported her kidnap, he used the powers granted to him by the church to mobilize demonstrations to pressure the government to find her. To curb the dormant sectarian violence volcano from an inevitable eruption, National Security intervened in full force and led a wide investigation to return the woman safely to her husband.

The vanishing of the  young woman escalated the religious tension that is already bubbling under the surface.  Within hours after she was gone, more than 3000 Copts from her home village and the neighboring villages were mobilized to travel to Cairo, in buses, to join the thousand others who were already demonstrating at the Coptic Patriarchate there. They were stopped and detained on their way by state security.

For centuries, Egypt, the land of the Pharaohs where the Holy Family sought refuge, was a land of religious and ethnic tolerance. It was widely known as a safe haven that sheltered and protected its people regardless of their  different religious beliefs.

Today with the soaring numbers of the Neo-Muslims and their preachers who are constantly venting their loath against the others, the religious tolerance is plummeting causing sectarian violent clashes between the Muslims and the Coptic minorities — especially in the south of the country, the heartland of the Copts. Such violence could be triggered by events as trivial as  school kids fighting  over a soccer game or by rumors that with no exception always involve women’s conversion to Islam.

Ibrahim Issa, CEO and Chief Editor of the Egyptian Al Dostur Newspaper wrote :

“There is an obsession among Muslim extremists who believe that converting a Christian to Islam is a victory for Islam and guarantees them a place in heaven……  [and] There is also a great deal of sensitivity among Christians who consider a conversion by a Copt to Islam to be an insult to their religion and a threat to Christianity…..”

But within days, National Security investigations revealed that Camellia left her home willingly after a fight with her husband. She was located at a friend’s house, detained by  National Security forces and escorted back to the husband, against her will, without even considering the reasons of why she left in the first place.  The country’s national security is by far more important than its women’s rights.   Camellia  denied all allegations that she was kidnapped or subjected to attempts to convert her to Islam.  However,  she confessed that she was not planning to return back to her husband who played the sectarian card to bring her back.

Not only was Camellia forced to return back to her husband against her will, in exchange for the country’s security, but to add to the drama of this soap  opera, the president of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights in Cairo, Dr. Naguib Gibrael, sent a request to the Pope Shenouda III to issue a papal order that bans  priests’ wives from seeking employment outside the church. This is a strange request coming from a human rights activist. It raises the question, whose rights does Dr. Naguib represent?

Camellia’s disappearance brought back the memories of Wafaa Constantine’s episode in 2004. Constantine, an unhappy wife of another priest took refuge in a police station in mid-December 2004 and announced that she had converted to Islam. A combination of an unhappy marriage and the church’s ban on divorce seemed to be the reason behind her action. Constantine demanded protection from her co-religionists, who sought to convince her to return to her husband’s side.

Within a few weeks, Pope Shenouda III himself went into seclusion and threatened to stay there until the matter was resolved, even if it meant skipping mass on the January 7 Coptic Christmas. Eventually, the security services came to an accommodation with the church: Shenouda would come out of his retreat and Constantine’s conversion to Islam would be considered null and void (under Egyptian law, conversion from Islam is illegal, but not the reverse). Constantine has since been sequestered in the monastery of Wadi Natroun and has not been heard from, to the alarm of human rights activists who believe she is being held against her will.

As long as the suffering of women continues, Zakher and Constantine’s cases will neither be the first nor the last.  They will always be a reminder of the strict Church laws governing marriage and divorce. Such laws are forcing  thousands of unhappy women and men to live together, against their will, because they don’t have a way out. They also shed a light on the fragile situation of a country that tries to stay stable by involving its security apparatus to resolve family disputes.

To read more about the subject:


Filed under Interfaith marriage in Muslim societies, Women Rights in Egypt

History of the Veil: Part 3: Early Days of Islam

By Alexandra Kinias

After the rise of Islam, Prophet Mohamed in an effort to unite the tribes under its banner set new laws to govern the people and regulate the relationship between them. As a result, the status of women improved. Female infanticide ceased and for the first time women from certain tribes had the right to divorce, own property, choose a husband and inherit from their deceased relatives. Marriage was also organized, but neither polygamy nor slavery was abolished. On the contrary, the Islamic conquests brought more slaves into the Muslim lands, which later contributed to the dramatic changes that happened to the women of the Islamic Empire, as will be addressed in future articles.

During the life of Mohamed, women’s freedom was neither restricted nor was the veil enforced upon them. Women joined men in the mosques, fought by their side in the battles and worked. Asmaa, the Prophet’s sister in law, told this story,

“I ran into the prophet and his companions on my way back from the field with a load of straw on my head. He offered me a ride behind him [on his horse or camel]. I was embarrassed and told him that my husband would be jealous if I did. When I later told my husband what happened, he responded that it was more painful for him to see me walk with the straw on my head than to ride with the men.

As Islam gained momentum, the new believers sought the Prophet for advice, and his house became their meeting point. In the process, Mohamed’s wives, who became known as the Believers’ Mothers, lost their privacy.

Two incidents quoted in the Koran enforced the segregation of the Believers’ Mothers from men, and ordered men to talk to them from behind a screen or a hijab, that served as a barrier.

The first incident happened on the night of Mohamed’s marriage to Zeinab Bint Jahsh and was described by Anas Ibn Malek, his personal servant:

“After the marriage ceremony, guests were gathered in Zeinab’s house for dinner. After dinner, most of the guests left, but as happens in such events, a group of men stayed longer than they should have. The Prophet was embarrassed to ask them to leave, so he himself left the house to give them a message that the party is over, and I followed him out of the house. Few minutes later we returned back to the house and we found that the crowd was still there. We then left again and when we returned the second time, the crowd was still there. This insensitivity of the guests upset the Prophet very much.

Subsequently, the verse 33:53 was instituted.

“Oh believers, don’t enter the houses of Prophet Mohamed for a meal without permission. If you are invited, you may enter, but be punctual (so that you won’t be waiting inside the house while the food is being prepared). When you have finished eating, leave his house. Don’t sit around chatting among yourselves. This will annoy the Prophet, but he will be embarrassed to tell you. God doesn’t feel embarrassed to tell you the truth. When you want to ask something from the Prophet’s wives, ask them from behind the hijab (veil). This would be more proper for you and for them.”

The hijab in Arabic means a barrier that separates people; a wall, a screen or a curtain. And although it’s translated as so, it’s now used to describe the women’s head cover.

On another occasion, Aisha, Mohamed’s youngest wife went missing in the desert after she was accidentally left behind in a battlefield. She was rescued by Safwan Ibn Mu’attal al Sulami who carried her back home to Medina on his camel back. This incident triggered controversy over Moslem women’s behavior  as people spread indecent rumors about Aisha’s.  

After this incident, the verses 24:30-31 were instituted.

“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their chastity; that is purer for them. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze, guard their chastity, and not to show their beauty or adornments except what is apparent. Let them cover their breasts/ bosoms with their Khimar.”

Women were asked to cover their chests with a Khimar (cover) which could have been a scarf, shawl or whatever garments they used.  The verse doesn’t order women to cover their heads. Even if we accept the translation of the word Khimar as a head cover, women were ordered to cover their chests with it and not their heads. This verse is the reference for Moslem scholars that covering women’s hair is compulsory in Islam.

The Believers’ Mothers were special women. Their veil and segregation during Mohamed’s life and living in widowhood after his death were exclusive orders for them.

When Mohamed died, his slave Kattila, returned to her tribe and got married. This angered the Caliph Abu Bakr, but later acknowledged her marriage when the Prophet’s companions clarified that she never married Mohamed because she went unveiled during his life. This incident further shows that the Prophet’s companions didn’t care or expect other women to follow in the footsteps of the Believers’ Mothers.


Filed under History of Veil

Arabian Nights and the Scheherazad-ization of Women

By: Alexandra Kinias

Scheherazade, the glamorous beauty and the heroine of the ‘One Thousand and One Nights,’ became famous as the woman who captured Shahrayar’s imagination by her seductive nature and captivating tales. This psychotic dude, who at best would have been admitted in a mental asylum, married a new virgin everyday and sent yesterday’s wife to be beheaded to avenge his first wife’s betrayal. In this process of soul searching while recuperating from an injured pride, three thousand women were sacrificed by the time he was introduced to our fame fatal, Scheherazade.

It took Shahrayar one thousand and one nights of bedtime’s stories to fall in love with the mysterious, seductive and exotic lady, who meanwhile also gave birth, nursed, and changed the diapers of their three sons while going through postpartum depression. At the end of these one thousand and one nights, Shahrayar spared her life and made her a Queen. And they lived happily ever after. So, why am I not happy?

Scheherazade who had been in the limelight for over a thousand years as the woman who enchanted Shehrayar became the image of a new art of seduction. As a woman I despise this analysis, and discredit the rationality of this story, even though we are talking here about a fairytale.

It is pathetic that facts were distorted to glorify the abuse she had gone through.  Her story was a classical case of submission. She didn’t create the art of seduction, but rather the art of manipulation. Nobody could blame her for that as she was kept hostage and tyrannized by a blood-thirsty pervert king. How could she have refused his marriage proposal with a sword pointing at her neck? In today’s world of psychology she would have been diagnosed with Stockholm syndrome as she fell in love with her captor.

This brutal story came to my mind while I was browsing the UN website:  UNITE To Stop Violence Against Women. The international organization is engaging forces to adopt and enforce national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls; which its secretary general refers to as a pandemic that has to be eradicated.

Violence against women is indeed a pandemic and a global curse where no country and no creed are spared. However, geographic locations can sometimes dictate the fate of the abuser. In the West there are strict punishments against men who abuse women physically. In other countries, where violence against women is sometimes licensed by religious scholars, women’s abusers walk freely in the streets, often hailed for their testosteronal bursts of manhood by their fellows, who share the belief that violence against women is part of their creed. The blame goes to the culture and tradition of these societies as well as to the clerics who promote the abuse of women.

The net result is that as violence against women is culturally  accepted and traditionally embedded in some societies, the UN’s journey to eradicate such brutal acts against women is going to be a long and challenging one. But none the less, it is time to set such a global movement in motion before the day of reckoning comes where we shall be haunted by the ghosts of Sharhayar’s three thousand beheaded wives.


Filed under Violence against women