Link Between Honor and Islam

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.

3 thoughts on “Link Between Honor and Islam

  1. you bring up a very interesting point. i have also met many black american muslims (who have muslim families) living in many circumstances not associated with muslim people (unmarried and pregnant, unmarried with multiple children, a part of the clubbing scene, drinking, etc.) and their families don’t make a huge fuss over it and they’re certainly not a topic of gossip amongst other black american muslims. on the other hand, arab and desi muslims who do those same things are outcast, dogged out by the other members of the community, etc. i often think to myself, even though my family is not muslim anyway, that i am so glad to not be from an arab or desi muslim background because i’d feel so much pressure from my family and culture in general to conform and be a certain way so i fit into the monolithic muslim identity and character that many muslims, unfortunately, have created for themselves. i think black americans (muslim or non) are a lot more flexible about life and understand that, well, **** happens. not to say that it’s “okay,” though.


  2. Assalaamualaikum,

    Exactly, Margari.

    At the same time what inevitably comes rushing into my mind is the sense that no matter how many generations of blackamerican Muslims there are, no matter how “orthodox” a blackamerican Muslim is there is a segment of non-muslims AND muslims who believe they aren’t the “true” Islam. It really is up to the more daring and innovative Muslim thinkers to break down these assumptions.

    This is also evident when thinking about Muslim identity at the intersections of race and gender- I am always perplexed at the authority given East Asian and Arab women when talking about gender issues and Islam. (I also suspect that some black Muslim women who embrace Islamic feminism succumb to addressing gender issues through paradigms that are not connected to their own history and experiences in order to obtain some type of authenticity)

    You have an Asra Nomani making a lot of generalizations about the condition of Muslim women which are in fact very particular to her position as a Pakistani woman who, while economically priviledged, encounters/ed a lot of culturally specific baggage around sexuality.

    You are on to something about looking at how an Islamic understanding of redemption and repentance plays into how blackamerican Muslim families deal with issues of honor.


  3. Pingback: links for 2009-08-24 at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

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