Which Version Did You Read?

A salaamu aleikum,

Hoping you and your family are all well.

I'm still trying to bounce back from having an article printed about me that misrepresented me (Utusan's Muharram/hijra pullout cover article) but after reading about another woman's story, I think my situation was NOTHING!

For therapeutic and other reasons, I want to write about my "brush with the Malaysian media", but before I do I am trying to be very careful, very sensitive to cultural issues and do some background reading. I came across this woman's story and thought I ought to share it with you to encourage you to be careful about what you read. (It's an excerpt from a longer article which you can find here)


What happened to her is horrible: A woman was gang-raped in a remote Pakistani village by members of a feudal clique that bullied the local populace. Her father tried to get into the house where the crime was being committed and later threw his shirt around her and walked her home; the village imam expressed outrage about the crime from his pulpit; a Pakistani journalist publicized her cause. They and other Muslims helped her to bring the perpetrators to justice, and death sentences were meted out thanks to shariah’s capital punishment for rape. Because a higher court took into consideration the legal checks and balances built into the country’s judicial system, the death sentences were overruled and lesser sentences imposed, causing many in the Pakistani society, including feminists and other supporters of women’s rights, to stir public debate about the handling of her case and the injustice of the lighter sentences. She was awarded punitive damages and with the money, opened a girls’ school in her hometown, surviving the horrific ordeal with her dignity and strength of soul.


A New York Times columnist broke the story to U.S. readers in September 2004. In his version, the woman had no supporters in her family, there was no concerned mullah on her side, and her entire society only wanted her to commit suicide. Readers were told that Mai’s entire village watched her walk home “naked” and did nothing to assist her. The columnist did not acknowledge his fellow journalist whose work helped bring Mai’s cause to the public, or if he did, an editor must have dropped the reference. The support of Mai’s father and other family members and the advocacy role played by the small-town imam were also left out. A photo that accompanied one early Internet report of the story showed only a veiled Muslim woman with her head bowed, weeping. Mukhtaran Bibi’s strength was left out of the story, and she was turned into a mute marionette needing Western rescue. Her faith was left out. The positive role of shariah — yes, shariah — in punishing the rapists was left out. The existence of many people in the Pakistani society who were outraged at what happened to her was left out, as was any mention of the fact that there are laws against rape in Pakistan and a judicial system that is willing to enforce them within the limits of rules of law, which exist in the U.S. and should exist in any democracy.

Thank God for alternative media such as Islamica, whose interview with Mai set the record straight on some of those missing elements. It was incomprehensible, if you only read the Western story, how Mukhtaran Bibi had the fortitude to found a girls’ school with her reparations, how townspeople in a culture that values modesty would watch a rape victim walk home naked, or why she would want to continue living in her country after her trip abroad, if it is such a dungeon for women. My office-next-door neighbor, a white American feminist theory professor, came to me questioning the story as reported in the Times, saying “something seems to be missing here,” asking intelligent questions, and seeking alternative media sources.

Well, enough said.
Time for me to hit the sack. (It's 2AM in Kuala Lumpur)

ma'a salaama

p.s. If they are not alread in your duas, you may want to read this article entitled The Nightmare of Afghan Women

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