A martyr for Muslim women
The Taliban recently murdered Sitara Achakzai, Afghanistan’s leading activist for women’s rights. She was gunned down in broad daylight by assassins in front of her house. Ms. Achakzai was an instrumental figure in promoting women’s rights in the war torn country that has become the symbol of everything that is wrong with the Muslim world today. Earlier this year, she led a nationwide sit-in of 11,000 Afghan women in seven provinces who gathered to pray for peace on International Women’s Day.
As a Muslim man, as a believer and as a voice in Hollywood and the media, I am here to say to her killers: you are evil, twisted men, and you will not escape the consequences of your crime against our Muslim sister, who stood for peace and justice. Even if you flee into the protective arms of your Taliban sponsors, Allah is the Lord of justice, and you will never escape Him, in this world or the next.
And you will not succeed in destroying Ms. Achakzai’s legacy. In fact, you have only given it greater power. For you have made Sitara Achakzai a martyr. She died for the same reason as the first martyr of Islam, a woman named Sumayya bint Khayyat, who was killed for speaking truth to power.
In my novel, Mother of the Believers, I detail how Sumayya’s killer, the Meccan leader Abu Jahl, thought that the murder of an innocent woman would terrify the poor and weak followers of Prophet Muhammad into rejecting monotheism and returning to the idolatry of the Arabs. Instead, Sumayya’s death ignited the fire of resistance that would one day topple the proud Meccan overlords who ruled Arabia with an iron fist.
Like Sumayya, Sitara’s death will only cause those of us who believe in an Islam of compassion, justice and human brotherhood to fight harder against those who would return us to the Days of Ignorance, as Arabia before Islam is called. The tragedy we now face is that the enemies of Islam, those who wish to defame and destroy our great faith, no longer speak out against it. Instead, they wrap themselves in its robes and proclaim themselves its leaders. Somewhere in the depths of Hell I know that Abu Jahl is laughing.
In my novel, I show how Islam was born as a proto-feminist movement, with Prophet Muhammad championing the rights of women in a primitive and hostile world. I portray incredible Muslim women, like the Prophet’s first wife Khadija, who was a wealthy businesswoman who hired young Muhammad and then proposed marriage to him. I show Aisha, whom the Prophet married after Khadija died, and who went on to become a scholar, a statesman and a warrior who led armies. I show Sumayya, who was killed in front of her son for refusing to worship idols. I show Nusayba, the courageous housewife who defended the Prophet with a sword and a bow when he was nearly killed at the battle of Uhud. I show Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter, who would feed enemy prisoners of war with her own hands to make sure that they were treated with dignity.
These are the true women of Islam, the women of courage and faith without whom our religion would have been stillborn in the desert wastes. These are the women who inspired Sitara Achakzai and millions of other Muslim women to stand up against the forces of darkness and hold forth the torch of Islam. Not Islam as the fundamentalists and the Islamophobes want it to be, a religion to oppress mankind, but as it truly is – a faith that lifts up the poor and the weak and brings human beings together in the bonds of love and justice.
The Taliban and those who share their twisted, primitive vision of Islam do not know the history of their own faith. And as a result, they have become the very monsters that Islam was sent to destroy. But as long as there are courageous Muslims like Sitara Achakzai who refuse to accept the false Islam that the extremists try to ram down our throats, the true message of Prophet Muhammad will never disappear from this earth.
The last thing the Prophet said in his famous final sermon before he died was that men and women have rights over each other, and that the Muslims would be judged by how well they treated women. His words have come true, in a tragic way. Islam, the religion that began as a women’s rights movement, is now seen by much of the world as a bastion of misogyny. We have been judged, and we have been found wanting.
It will be up to Muslims like Sitara Achakzai, myself, and the millions of others like us who remember what Islam was meant to be, to put us back on track.