Susan MacAllen, 2007
The Question of Islam continues, with more voices joining the discussion. National magazines offer profiles of international terrorists and Muslim leaders. The internet buzzes with opinions from every quarter . . . can we trust our Muslim immigrant populations? What is really being said in the mosques? What is the true aim of the Muslim “charity” down the street?
The Question has moved from the halls of universities and the corridors of government into American living rooms. The war in Iraq has revealed the extent of the danger radical Islam poses to world peace. Iran grows more belligerent and closer to becoming an atomic power while it funds the spread of the most radical forms of Islam worldwide. Our schools bring the study of Muslim culture into classrooms; Christian churches offer classes exploring similarities between the three faiths of the peoples of Abraham - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - hoping that common ground will beget understanding.
Amidst the hope of discussion, activist groups and governmental leaders struggle to open eyes to the dangers of radical Islam. It is confusing to the average American - who is by heritage interested in peace, in common ground, negotiation, integration. While the looming shadow of radical Islam grows daily, the individual wavers between being sensible about protecting one’s family and future from obvious menace, and retaining some measure of the humanity that has defined the American spirit for three centuries. So for the individual, in his heart of hearts, the Question of Islam is also: What is Right?
Finding the answer becomes more complicated as time reveals the complexity of militant Islam’s intentions for the West. The challenge for an individual to retain faithfulness to an ethical code will become more difficult as the rise of Islamofascism becomes bolder. It will be far harder to hold onto fairness and charity of heart, far too easy to slide into the unjustified prejudice born of justified fear. But as the Western mind struggles with ethics, there are those who struggle with life and death - and they aren’t those you might imagine. Knowing them and their stories reminds us when prejudice beckons the mind…that, in fact, some of the most heartbreaking of Islam’s victims aren’t all non-Muslims.
On December 24, 2006, a new trial began in northwestern Iran for Malak Ghorbany. Malak, a devout Muslim, 34-year-old illiterate wife and mother of two, had waited for 18 months in prison for a bit of hope.
In 2005, she was living happily with her husband and two children in the Iranian town of Urmia.
In that summer, a man she had never met began calling her persistently. He told Malak that he was infatuated with her. He refused to stop his pursuit. She was frightened.
One day the phone calls turned to terror - when Malak answered the phone, she heard Morad’s familiar voice. Still on the phone, she went to answer a knock on the door - and found Morad. He forced his way in, and raped her. While he lingered in her house, her brother and husband arrived home and chased him out. They chased him down and stabbed him 20-25 times, and killed him.
Then Malak’s real nightmare began. The avengers returned to her, and using the same knife stabbed her repeatedly and beat her severely, putting her in the hospital in a coma. When she awoke she realized her dilemma: under Islamic Law, there was no punishment for her beating, and she could not prove rape - this required four male witnesses to the event. Crimes against her were therefore inconsequential. . . .but her husband, for killing a man, would be punished with death.
Malak thought of her children . . . where would they be with no father and a mother whose reputation was forever tainted by dishonor? She made a decision, which she explained to the court:
I am a woman from a small village; I have had little formal education and I have no understanding of the law or the legal system. I thought that by saying that the murder was a response to some wrong-doing on my part and in an attempt to restore the family’s honor, I would be able to save my husband and my brother from execution. So I said things that were not true . I had no idea that those statements could be used to incriminate me for a crime that I did not commit.
Malak told the court that she had committed adultery, thereby lessening the responsibility of her husband for the murder. Her husband and brother were spared, and each received a six-year prison sentence for killing Morad. Malak received a death sentence for adultery: she was to be stoned. Under Iranian Penal Code, based as it is on Islamic Law (Sharia), adultery is a capital offense. Stoning is the penalty for many “acts incompatible with chastity” for women - it is not uncommon. (Malak did not receive legal counsel, and little representation.)
As a kid, I had a children’s Bible. On the page containing the story where Jesus stopped the stoning of a woman by telling the mob, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” I still recall the illustration - that of a woman, crouching and covering her face and head with her arms, and three or four men at the ready with rocks. As an adult, I know that the reality of a stoning is very different.
The hands of the person to be stoned are tied. She is then bound in a sort of body sack. She is placed in a pit, standing, and buried up to her neck. A circle is drawn and behind this circle her community of peers stands. The size of the stones is determined by Islamic Law - they must be big enough to cause pain and injury, but not so big as to make death too swift. She is then pelted with stones until she is dead.
Malak was given a miracle - someone learned of her case and contacted human rights organizations on the outside. A team of lawyers arrived to help, and petitioned the court to stay her execution and retry her. They were ignored, and they appealed to the international community. Through efforts led by Iranian dissident groups in the West, the story was told to the world. There are now over 16,000 signatures on a petition to save Malak. The U.N. has issued a proclamation reminding Iran that it was a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - and that aside from the travesty of her “trial”, stoning was universally unacceptable. Finally last fall, a retrial was granted.
Malak's story is the story of one such individual - isolated, uneducated, unaware of the very concept of universal human rights - enveloped within the world of Islamic Law. Many women await stoning as you read this. There are other petitions, and Malak’s ordeal is not over. Whatever the outcome of the new trial, her name is now synonymous with the gruesome punishment of stoning.
As we all struggle to remain good-hearted people while radical Islam rises to stare us in the face and threaten our way of life. . . . it will do us all good to remember Malak.