After three months of exhaustive cross-examinations, interviews and exhibits, the high profile trial for the Shafia murders has finally come to an end. Mohammad Shafia, his son Hamed, and second wife Tooba Yayha were found guilty of committing an honor killing. They carried out the murder of the three Shafia daughters; Zainab, Sahar, Geeti and Shafia’s first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad.

The trial which gained an international following has captivated Canadians since the beginning. How is it that a family could kill their very own in the name of honor? What twisted and perverted mind would do such a thing? The Shafias held their innocence from the start and many doubted if this was in fact an honor based crime. The jury, however, had no doubts about it and delivered their verdict after mere 15 hours of deliberations.

The Judge’s final remarks to the guilty sums up the high emotions surrounding this trial:  ‘It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous, more honorless crime’. ‘The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your twisted concept of honor, a notion of honor that is founded upon the domination and control of women, a sick notion of honor that has absolutely no place in any civilized society.’

As the disturbing details from the trial emerged, it was evident that the Shafia family was highly dysfunctional with some serious domestic abuse issues. At the head of it was the short tempered, foul-mouthed father who ruled with an iron fist. His illegal, polygamous marriage meant having to constantly lie and portray his first wife, Rona Mohammad, as an aunt. Shafia was a rich businessman, usually away on trips, and immigrated to Canada in 2007 on the “immigrant investor” program. In his absence, his son Hamed took over his command.

The Shafia daughters were the Afghan Muslim father’s worst nightmare. As one columnist aptly described them, ‘Gorgeous Zainab’ was 19, ‘Sultry Sahar’ was 17 and ‘Rebellious Geeti’ was 13. Reveling in the beauty of their youthful bodies, the eldest daughters did not hesitate to show them off. The cellular pictures in their lingerie, in promiscuous poses and with their boyfriends are reflective of their boldness. Zainab and Sahar transformed themselves when they left for school every morning, hiking their skirts, removing the hijab, and changing into revealing tops. Even 13-year-old Geeti followed suit and was once sent home from school for wearing inappropriate clothing.

The psychological oppression at home was severe. The girls were under constant scrutiny for their behavior and conduct, with their freedoms being taken away by the day. The watchful brother eyed their secretive affairs and reported them. That their behavior was normative by Canadian standards made things more difficult. They appealed to social workers and teachers for help, even tried to run away from home to a foster house. All these incidents finally added up to their unfortunate murder.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that honor killings are a problem in the Muslim community, but the familial situation I’ve described is not uncommon. The Shafia family practiced what would be termed cultural or cafeteria Islam. This is the Islam in which immigrant parents raise their children in a relatively secular household but then expect them, the girls especially, to behave as law abiding, pious Muslims. This pick-n-choose ‘Islam’ is epitomized by double standards for girls and boys; where boys are free to gallivant late at night and the girls can dare not be seen working on a school project with a boy.

Obsession with the sexual purity of women is also one of the cornerstones of this twisted version of ‘Islam’; this belief is actually rooted in patriarchal tribal customs and unfortunately has made way into Muslim societies. These families lay no emphasis on Islamic education or on the foundational pillars of faith such as prayer and fasting; all the emphasis goes into tertiary concerns such as wearing hijab, staying away from the opposite sex and my favorite – staying away from pork (not alcohol though). If these people only realized that an understanding of the fundamental tenets of Islam encourages one to automatically take up secondary aspects of the faith, dysfunctional families like the Shafia’s would not exist.

The Muslim community has much to learn from the Shafia murders. For one it highlights the struggles undergone by numerous young Muslim girls. The lure of a secular society mixed with a poor understanding and appreciation of Islam leads to a psycho-spiritual crises for most teenagers. At home, the parents don’t understand their apparent obsession with all things haram; at school their teachers and peers don’t get the ‘draconian’ rules imposed on them. Muslim counselors that can help address the challenges faced by youth are desperately needed; projects like the Naseeha Help Line need to be generously funded by the community. The Shafia girls did appeal to social workers, but these people unfortunately did not have an understanding of the complexity and seriousness of their situation.

As much as one might try to hide, the ‘Muslimness’ of this case has been apparent from the start. Whether it be the references to ‘Allāh’, ‘Qurʾān’ and ‘hijab’ during the proceedings or the analysis of Afghan culture by experts; Islam was certainly under the spotlight. After the killing of Aqsa Pervez, the Shafia murders have given people another reason to question the link between Islam and honor killings. People hesitantly approached me to ask about my ‘position’ on honor killings and to clarify the Islamic stance – it’s sad that we have to do these things.

Media coverage of the trial was generally fair in my estimation. By that, I mean there wasn’t a general deliberate attempt to pin the blame on the religion of the accused; if anything, it was patriarchal aspects of Afghan culture that took the hit mostly. Not all media outlets were generous though; Michael Coreninterviewed Islamophobe Robert Spencer who tried to assure viewers that Islam did in fact allow honor killings. Barbara Kay also wrote an article trying to establish a link between Muslims and the barbaric custom. Writers across the anti-Muslim blogosphere shed crocodile tears to mark this tragic event; the Shafia girls will become their poster children for years to come.

One of the positive outcomes of this media attention was the ‘Call to Eradicate Domestic Violence’ issued by CAIR-CAN and was endorsed by over a hundred Muslim organizations. This statement denounced domestic violence, honor killings in particular, and vowed to address the issue at mosques across the country. This resulted in Imams across the nation jointly tackling domestic violence in their sermons on December 9th 2011. What is more surprising is the widespread media coverage this received, with almost every major news source reporting it in Canada; the National Post went as far as publishing imām Sikandar Hashmi’s sermon – an unnatural, but appreciated, gesture from the right-wing newspaper.

Much will be said about this saga in the days to come. Some will criticize multiculturalism, some will pin the blame on religion while others will say the ‘system’ failed them. For me, it is the non-existence of a firm understanding of Islam that leads to all this. This understanding would have taught the murderers to fear God more than society and it would have allowed the daughters to see their faith as something more than a set of dry rules. Let’s hope that this will be last time we will hear of such a heinous crime being committed by a coreligionist.

First published at MuslimMatters on Jan 30th, 2012


On the second day of his inauguration, President Obama signed executive orders calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay within a year. Three years later and as his first term approaches an end, the notorious detention facility, illegal by international standards, remains open with no signs of a closure.

Guantanamo Bay violates every possible standard laid out for an imprisonment facility; hence the rationale for building it on a naval base in Cuba. It denies prisoners protections guaranteed by the Geneva conventions, holds them indefinitely without laying charges and effectively bars them from having any chances at a fair trial.

Injustice and lies are the foundational pillars that hold up Guntanamo Bay. Prisoners at the facility are subjected to unprecedented forms of torture. This includes solitary confinement, forced feedings, sexual abuse, waterboarding and beatings. Many inmates have tried to commit suicide; six have so far have succeeded. Lakhdar Boumedine, who went on a hunger strike and was held for seven years without explanation, recalled: “Twice each day my captors would shove a tube up my nose, down my throat and into my stomach so they could pour food into me”.

Murat Kurnaz of Germany was captured while in Pakstian studying the religious sciences and wrongly detained for five years. He explained: ‘There were more beatings, endless solitary confinement, freezing temperatures and extreme heat, days of forced sleeplessness”. An FBI agent once observed that, “On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more”. What is sickening is that abuse at other U.S. detention facilities, such as Abu Ghraib and Bagram, is far worse.

Many of the ‘war combatants’ at the facility have been innocent civilians with no evidence of terrorist activities. They were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time and were caught while fleeing the invasion of Afghanistan. The Tipton Three and many others fall in this category. Some were simply handed over to the Americans based on shady evidence in return for thousands of dollars. Kurnaz was an example of this.

Since most of the inmates at the facility are Muslims, religious persecution has been a complaint as well. There have been horror stories of Qurans being defaced and flushed down toilets. Prisoners have been reprimanded for praying in congregation. Some even reported attempts by guards to get them to renounce their religion.

Civil liberty groups rejoiced as Obama came into office, but his efforts to actually shut down Gitmo are laughable. The President has since signed executive orders that formalize the indefinite detention of prisoners at the facility. To top up the Patriot Act, he also added new provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act that codify the indefinite detention of American citizens suspected of terrorism. The NDAA also forbids the government from using money to build a new prison or to bring detainees to the U.S., even to face trial. This virtually ends any possibility of shutting down the prison and effectively builds on the detention scheme laid out by the Bush administration.

This establishment creates a two tiered justice system; one for the bad and one for the worst. The irony is, many times the evidence against the latter is so poor that it is insufficient to lay charges or bring them to trial. Guantanamo Bay is an apparatus that gives Americans satisfaction that the perpetrators of terrorism are being punished and their country is secure. This comes at the high cost of sacrifices in human rights, civil liberties and rule of law,not to mention the millions of tax dollars spent on it.

Once the beacon of freedom, liberty and justice; America is slowly losing her status as the bastion of democracy. Illegal wars, extra judicial killings, arrests of innocent civilians, opportunist and hypocritical foreign policies all add to the abuses going on at Guantanamo Bay. Ten years past 9/11 and after the killing of Osama Bin Laden, there are no signs of an end to this disgraceful institution.

Action Item:
Amnesty Internatinal Petition : End Detention at Gitmo

More information:

Guantanamo: By the Numbers
Notes From a Guantánamo Survivor


Updated piece, original post at  MuslimMatters

Well, they’ve done it once more. Niqab (face veil) wearing women have created national frenzy yet again. This time it was Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenny, who sparked the controversy.

Effective immediately, he announced in early December, all niqabs are banned from the oath taking citizenship ceremony. Any niqab wearing Muslim woman wishing to become a Canadian citizen must remove the veil during the ceremony he stated. Kenny said that the niqab ‘reflects a certain view about women that we don’t accept inCanada’.

Minister Kenny also clarified that this isn’t just about the judge being able to see and validate the recital of the oath, “This is not simply a practical measure. It is a matter of deep principle that goes to the heart of our identity and our values of openness and equality”. The niqab obviously violates all that we hold sacred inCanadaaccording to Kenny.

So, what was the last time you heard of a woman refusing to take off the niqab before swearing the citizenship oath? Never. How many women even take the oath wearing a niqab? Probably an insignificant number. Neither Mr. Kenny nor his office could provide any statistics to back up the ban they so forcefully implemented. No one knew about this complaint up till the announcement of the ban. Clearly, this wasn’t a problem to begin with.

It is obvious that this ban is yet another sleazy bigoted move by the Conservatives to score political points and gain some short term popularity. By making inflammatory remarks about a minority group, they are appealing to our irrational fears and dividing us along the lines of race and religion. At a time when their government is under heavy criticism due to the withdrawal from Kyoto and the mess they created in Attawapiskat, playing the Muslim card is the best way out. Prime Minister Stephen Harper used similar tactics in September when he warned us all that the greatest threat to Canada was ‘Islamicism’ – whatever that is.

Regardless of the motivations behind it, the ban carries many implications. Firstly, it violates the democratic right to citizenship which is entitled to all that satisfy its prerequisites. Changing your dress code, which you adhere to religiously, is not a reasonable requirement in the least; even if it is just for the oath taking ceremony. No one should be barred from citizenship simply because of the way they dress up.

Disallowing the veil at a symbolic event like the citizenship ceremony sends a strong message that niqab wearing women are not welcome in Canada. For a country which fought hard to ensure that women have the freedom to dress as they please, this is a step backwards.

The ban further marginalizes a small minority of Muslim women and creates an ‘us verses them’ dichotomy. You can either be Canadian or a Niqabee – this is what the ban represents. It certainly flies flat in the face of the tolerant and welcoming society we aim to foster. As the Toronto Star aptly put it, the ban coerces Muslim women to fit into the mainstream – ‘behave and look just like us, or pay the price’. So much for the individualism we value.

This legislation is also extremely hypocritical for a country like Canada, which invadedAfghanistanwith the aim of liberating their women from the Taliban. The face veil is commonly worn amongst Afghan women, so one has to question why Canada feels the need to liberate these women inAfghanistanbut can’t accept them here at home. We can set up hospitals, schools, courts and voting booths for veiled women abroad and pat ourselves on the back; but at home can’t bear the sight of them?

Jason Kenny, like most, believes that he is liberating the niqabee’s from the oppression imposed on them by their husbands and fathers. Not only is this entirely false, the reality is that he is restricting their freedom and engagement with society by disallowing them to become citizens. Perhaps – this is just a wild idea – by allowing them to become citizens, we might have a greater chance of integrating these new comers into our social fabric?

Yes, the niqab makes many of us uncomfortable as we are not accustomed to it. It means different things to different people; oppression to some and devotion to others. But banning things because we don’t like them is completely antithetical to what democracy stands for. Kenney said the ban was a matter of “deep principle.” What Canadian principle was sacrificed if someone did choose to wear a veil to the ceremony? Individualism, freedom of expression, religious accommodation? Visit a ski resort in the winter and you’ll see veiled people all around.

This unnecessary ban impacts a few and is largely political and symbolic. What is disturbing is the justification behind it. Jason Kenny banned the veil because it represented to him something that was against Canadian values. Using the same arguments, he could ban a number of other things. Would he ban the Muslim headscarf, the hijab, next because it’s not inline with his myopic view of what makes Canada? Perhaps he will then follow it by a ban on Mennonite bonnets and Sikh turbans. These measures immunize the public to the marginalization of a minority group and create precedent for further bans and cuts in religious freedoms.

Veiled women frequently reveal their faces for identification and other pragmatic purposes. If verifying the oath recital was so important, a polite request by the judge to those concerned would have done the job quite well. This however, would not have gotten Jason Kenny the popularity and political support he wanted. Implementing unilateral immediate bans doest not represent a democracy, rather, it is a shade of fascism.

See my letter the Toronto Star and  Hamilton Spectator 


First published in The Silhouette on December 1st, 2011

My soul cringes with disgust every time details of the Shafia murders are revealed. So much so that I have difficulty finishing the articles detailing accounts of what the Shafia sisters were going through. But unlike most people following the trial, my disgust and anger is twice that of anyone else – partly as a human, and partly as a Muslim.

Every now and then we hear of people committing unspeakable crimes. Here in Canada, the most recent one was that of Russell Williams. While public outrage and anger was directed at Williams alone during his trial, this certainly is not the case for the Shafia trial. Afghan Muslim immigrants have allegedly committed the Shafia murders. The blame in this case has been relegated to everything but the accused, it seems. Different groups are now using this unfortunate tragedy as an opportunity to advance their respective agendas.

Right-wing media outlets have already started using the incident to attack multiculturalism and its failure in Canada. They argue that it is political correctness and accommodation of immigrants that doomed the four women. Being overly sensitive towards Muslims is what caused the authorities to overlook the ‘honour killing’ that was about to take place. How these people mix-up religious accommodation with abuse towards women is beyond me. Even the most extreme interpretations of multiculturalism don’t call for accommodation of moral vices.

The Islamophobes are using it to warn us of the impinging threat that Muslims pose to this nation. The Shafia sisters, along with Aqsa Pervez, will now become the poster children of their movement. They will use this incident to further their case that Islam is, in fact, what inspired this crime. Statements from Quran establishing the sanctity of human life, the prohibition of such despicable acts and the commandment for the good treatment of women by the Prophet Muhammad are meaningless for this group.

The secularists are using it to prove the evils associated with religion, and the misogyny that they claim to be inherent in it. Their belief that Muslim women are forced to wear headscarves is further strengthened and their mission to liberate the ‘poor Muslim woman’ has gained more momentum. Their inability to differentiate patriarchal tribal customs from the normative practices of Islam is unfortunate, to say the least. These uninformed superficial attempts only end up inflicting more harm upon Muslim women, who, for the record, are quite capable of speaking for themselves.

Since the label of an ‘honour killing’ has sensationalized the murder and has sparked a series of unnecessary debates, I for one will attempt to set the record straight. Mohammed Shafia, if you are in fact guilty, then you are a sick man. Killing your own kin is one of the most despicable acts humanly possible; doing so in the name of preserving honour is even more perverted. The dysfunctional family you fostered was your own doing. Now you’ve punished your daughters for your poor parenting.

You’ve dishonoured not only yourself but your co-religionists too. Average Canadian Muslims like me will bear the brunt of your misdeeds. We will spend the coming ages explaining to people that our faith condemns, in the strongest terms, the heinous act you committed. We will have to go the extra mile to convince people that Muslim women observe their faith out of their own free will, and not under the Nazi-style hegemony you had imposed on your family. Freedom was all your family yearned for, but you deprived them of it. I hope you too are treated in a similar fashion, with your freedom restricted behind bars for good.


Originally written for MuslimMatters

It was supposed to be just another shopping trip when Inas Kadri ventured out to the mall with her two little children last August. As she was browsing through the shops and checking out the sales, a woman approached her and started cursing and yelling at her. This woman swore at Kadri, who wears a niqab, about her religion and told her to “Leave our country. Go back to your country”. In her anger and rage, this woman took her hate to the next level and pulled off Kadri’s niqab. All this was caught in the mall’s security camera.

Last week, Kadri’s attacker, 66- year old Rosemarie Creswell, was given a one-year suspended sentence for assault. The judge also ruled she must serve 100 hours of community service, and suggested she educate herself about Muslims by attending a mosque. Creswell wrote a letter of apology to Kadri and said that, ‘Since that day, I have researched Muslim customs. I now have a much greater appreciation for what I did to you’.

This level of hate is generally unheard of here in Canada. What shocks me even more is that the act was committed in my own city of Mississauga; one of the most densely populated Muslim cities in the nation. Sheridan Center is an area surrounded by a large immigrant population and women wearing hijab is a common sight.

While the niqab is certainly not popular in Canada, as is evident in Quebec’s Bill 94, assaults on women wearing it is a first. It’s hard to gauge at this point if this is a fringe incident or a part of broader rise in anti-Muslim bigotry. This past summer’s movement to ban Friday prayers from Toronto schools and the apathy shown after PM’s remarks on ‘Islamicism’ are certainly indicators of growing uneasiness many Canadians have towards Muslims.

Inas Kadri’s intelligent and brave handling of this assault is a testament to her courage and confidence. Reporting such crimes is extremely important and many victims unfortunately are unable to do that. Doing so not only meant the attacker was brought to justice but it also allowed the average person to see the type of racism many Muslims experience. It also helps humanize niqab wearing women who often times are looked upon as the epitome of backwardness and subjugation.

As an outspoken woman with a degree in computer engineering, Kadri certainly helps bust many myths people have about niqabis. When asked about her decision to wear the veil, during an interview on national television, she made it clear; “Not my father, not my husband, not no one at all” she said, “it’s me, and it’s my choice.”


Updated version of this post on MuslimMatters

As the Middle East continues to be enveloped in political turmoil and media outlets bombard us constantly with new information, I for one had started to become desensitized to the gravity of the situation there. As sad as it sounds, after a while the stories about dreadful combat and war just become headlines you skim over. However, I was reminded of the harsh reality of the human struggle in Bahrain when I heard the heart breaking story of Zainab al-Khawaja.

Zainab al Khawaja is the daughter of a prominent Bahraini human rights activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. Her father has been instrumental in reporting human right abuses in Bahrain and has been in an outspoken advocate of civil rights and democracy. He recently also spoke about putting the Bahraini king on trial for perpetrating widespread corruption and crime.

About two weeks ago, security forces stormed Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s house and arrested him after savagely brutalizing him in front of his family. He was repeatedly beaten and was pounded to the point of unconsciousness; all this despite him offering to surrender voluntarily. When Zainab and her family tried to interfere, the women were thrust aside and her husband and brother-in-law were beaten up and arrested as well. This incident happened only after three weeks of Zainab’s uncle being arrested in a similar fashion.

Having not heard a word about her family’s whereabouts for three days, Zainab’s desperation led her to take extreme measures. In order to protest this injustice and to bring the world’s attention to her cause she decided to go on a hunger strike. She marked the beginning of her hunger strike with an open letter to the President of the United States posted on her blog, AngryArabiya.

Western powers have been opportunistic as usual when it comes to opposing regimes on humanitarian grounds. Zainab in her letter addresses President Obama and pleads to withdraw his support of the monarchy in Bahrain. If he is vocal in speaking out and helping the humanitarian cause in Libya, then at the very least he should quit supporting the Bahraini dictator she argued. Intervention from the West is based on interest, not principle it appears.

Zainab’s cause did gain reasonable attention, perhaps not as much as it deserved though. The story was blogged around and reported on websites of many major news outlets including The NewYork Times, The Guardian and BBC; I myself heard her narrative on CBC Radio. Her determination inspired hundreds of people in Bahrain, USA and Saudi Arabia who went on hunger strike to protest as well.

Suffering from extreme weakness, Zainab ended her hunger strike on its 10th day after persuasion from human right groups who wanted her to continue speaking and fighting. She also heard from her father for the first time; almost two weeks since the arrest. He called her and requested clothes for his trial; when asked about his situation he responded simply, ‘the oppression is great’. When lawyers, human rights groups and Zainab’s family went for her father’s trial they were turned away and were told they had no such person in custody. Zainab is still waiting to meet her father.

Zainab’s struggle, or her jihad, serves as a role model for those wanting to fight injustice and protest Western foreign policy. Her non-violent methodology has proved to be far more successful and demonstrates that civil disobedience, though not as dramatic, can still be quite effective and inspirational.


The devastating news of the Tohoku earthquake in Japan made headlines across the globe on Friday, March 11, 2011. The nerve wracking images and videos of the merciless tsunami waves sent shivers down our spines and gave us a glimpse of the catastrophe that had struck Japan.

A few hours after news of the earthquake, another aspect of the story started to surface. This was the story of the damage to the Fukushima nuclear reactors that were closest to the epicenter of the quake. From exaggerated reports of hazardous radiation leaks to the possibilities of a nuclear meltdown- these stories overshadowed the humanitarian crises in Japan and dominated the news for the remainder of its coverage.

There are many aspects of the news coverage that troubled me deeply. No doubt that damage to the nuclear reactor was important to report but it was frustrating to be constantly bombarded with updates of a possible radiation leak while there was no mention of the thousands that had already died and were left homeless. Media’s desire to sensationalize the news and debase the nuclear industry caused the human plight of the disaster to be ignored. This, I believe, is one of the main reasons why fundraising for this calamity has been deplorable.

As someone who currently works at a nuclear plant, I was fortunate enough to have access to information directly from sources at the Fukushima plant. It was this perspective that shielded me from the overly exaggerated and flawed reports that at times would draw outrageous parallels between Fukushima and Chernobyl. It was also this perspective that allowed me to sympathize with the workers at the plant and gave me a glimpse into the enormity of the task these people were dealing with. Imagine solving a nuclear crisis under conditions where your co-workers have passed away or your family is missing.

Since the coverage of this event has been antagonistic, the average reader is inclined to blame the operators of the plant for the crises, forgetting the fact that Fukushima has had to deal with two natural disasters simultaneously; which it has dealt with quite remarkably, might I add. Anti-nuclear protests have been spurred in several parts of the world and governments are nervous about going ahead with new builds despite the industry’s 30-year safety record.

It has only been in recent days that we have heard of harmful levels of radiation outside the plant due to a possible breach of containment. Still, the number of people affected by the nuclear incident so far is negligible compared to the thousands that have died due to the earth quake and tsunami. Many of their voices have been ignored thanks to the obsession of media outlets with news that is melodramatic but not necessarily relevant.

Originally written for The Mirror