A few days ago, my aunt called and informed me of the passing of my step-grandfather (may Allah have mercy on him and make it easy on my grandmother). Since she is not always known for her tact, she switched the subject and asked me about my thoughts on the case of the teen who feared for her life because her Muslim father wanted to kill her for converting to Christianity. You can read more about the story here. At that time, I hadn’t heard of the story and I was a bit shocked that my aunt would bring this case up. After an awkward pause, I became a bit flustered and said, “I’m not sure what does this have to do with me. You know Black Americans make up one of the largest groups of Muslims and you have never had a single honor killing occur amongst Black Americans.” I went on, “You have all these Black people with Muslims names running around who are no longer Muslim and their families aren’t trying to kill them. What does this have to do with me?” I wasn’t saying this because I didn’t want to engage in a discussion about freedom of choice. Rather, I felt annoyed that somehow, as a Muslim, I had to answer for every Muslim. Plus, the timing of the conversation was a bit off. I was still in shock over the death and slowly sinking into mourning. Now my head was spinning with the typical misunderstanding and interfaith conversation you have with classmates or co-workers. But it was family, so that made it different.
I think my point at the time is still valid. Islam doesn’t condone honor killings. I don’t want to sound like an apologist nor do I want to sound like a cultural bigot. But, really, let’s think about it. If there was a major link between Islam and honor killings, why aren’t there any cases to date involving convert families or Black American Muslims (and yes there are second and third generation Black American Muslim families). You’d think that the hard core who have adopted all sorts of cultural practices from the Middle East would have even more to lose in terms of their so called “Islamic authenticity.” I’ve seen some underage niqabis make out with underage boys on the trolley, high schooler muhajabats holding hands with their teenage boyfriends, imam’s daughters getting knocked up by non-Muslim to have their children raised by their grandparents, young Muslim girls going and getting tattoed up and piercings, coming home with hickies, and so on.You wold think that a case might arise in Philly, a city of Muslim contradictions.
Black Americans have a totally different notion of honor than that which arises from South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. I’ve even noticed a certain level of tolerance for sexual improprieties, and personal choices that contradict Islamic norms, as a reality of our condition in this society. Perhaps this has more to do with our understanding of redemption and repentance. After all we live in a confessional society where secrets do not prevail. We accept the notion of freedom of choice knowing that we can’t impose conformity, let alone religious identity, upon our children. I think anthropologists and sociologists can write volumes of comparative studies on the reproduction of Islam in American families. The reality is that when you take into account indigenous American Muslims, and Black American Muslims in particular, a number of presumptions about what comes from Islam and what comes from culture will be laid to rest.