When I watched Afshan Azad entering the Yule Ball as Padma Patil with Ron Weasley in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I did not even think about whether or not she was a Muslim. Instead, like many Potter fans, I was thinking about Hermione, and how the two of them really just needed to get the Gryffindor together.
According to an article in the Daily Express, Azad was allegedly beaten because she was heard talking on the phone to her Hindu boyfriend. The article refers to her assault as an occurrence during what it calls a “family honor” row. Azad pressed charges against both her father and brother, but has since requested to drop the charges.
If there is one thing that irritates me more than self-righteous domestic abuse, it is the reasoning of “family honor.” The article utilizes the term as a buzzword, but does not really make any attempt to unpack what this term might mean, thus inviting the reader to homogenize Muslims.
Asra Nomani reflects about Azad’s story, and uses it as an opportunity to write about her own hardships choosing a partner outside of Islam, and the resistance she has met from the Muslim community. Why is it always about Asra?
Nomani’s article is problematic because it projects overarching religious friction onto something that occurred within a family unit. This is not about “us vs. them;” it is about a woman being in danger because of her family—something personal—which cannot simply thrown into a growing collection of examples of why Islam is misogynistic.
Let me reiterate this: domestic abuse is deplorable, and I believe that people should be able to make their own decisions about their partners or the way in which they want to live their lives. But this is something that worries me about coverage of honor killings, as seen in Marie Claire: highlighting the concept of “honor” or “culture” gives those excuses a certain amount of power. I do not know how many times I have heard the excuse of “different culture” or “this is the way it is” as the reasoning for an awful occurrence. This is just another step against reinterpreting what honor or women’s rights in Islam can mean; it’s also a step in making violence and Islam a logical association.
A number of reasons might culminate in someone being abused by her family. Violence against women is something that occurs in a number of places, in attachment to a wide range of cultural and religious values. Violence does not discriminate. What scares me about seeing phrases like “family honor” and other terms combining Islam with a certain sense of tribal element is that it makes it seem as though domestic violence is the problem of a certain uncivilized force, which just pushes the real issues into invisibility.
The real issue at hand is power. There are a myriad of ways in difference countries and cultures that women are kept powerless—economically, institutionally, religiously—through societal structures.
It becomes very easy to simply mutter, “those crazy Muslims” when reading an article such as that covering Azad’s sad story. But violence against women is a problem that belongs to all of us. Something that we all have a responsibility to fight, despite different religions or cultures.