Thursday, February 14, 2008

Shahida: Female Martyr for Allah?

There is a fascination with the woman who commits or conspires to commit a violent act. Whether it’s Charlize Theron popularizing serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the film Monster or via the Oxygen network’s popular show about female killers, Snapped. The commonly held belief is that women are nurturers who are inherently loving and compassionate. However, the fact remains-women kill. In January 2002 Wafa Idris detonated a bomb in Jerusalem that ended her life and catapulted her into martyrdom and history as the first female Palestinian suicide bomber. And there have been others like eighteen-year-old honor student Aayat al Ahras, Palestinian attorney Hanadi Jaradat, a mother of two Reem El-Reyashi, Darin Abu Issa, Andleeb Suleiman Taqtaqah, Faiza Amal Juma`a, Hiba Azeem Daraghmeh… and other young girls and women who took their own lives. They are Shahida, female martyrs for Allah.

What cannot be disputed are their irrevocable acts or the lost lives. What is an issue is whether or not these women committed these acts of their own free will. Free will in and of it self is troubling when you consider the strict social and cultural mandates for these Muslim women living in Palestine. University of Cincinnati Professor Mia Bloom has said with regard to the Shahida, “Female terrorists throughout the world have chosen to do so in order to atone for sins or wrongdoings by one of their family members.” So did these women wish to atone for sins by paying with their lives and the lives of others? Was this their final and symbolic act in favor of a free Palestine? Or were they women who had stepped outside the realm of being “virtuous” Muslim women and saw no other way except for a violent death that would silence truth?

All the women named in this piece were either divorced, barren, considered spinsters, rumored to have been raped, having affairs or pregnant outside of marriage. Faiza Amal Juma`a is the exception as she considered herself a man, was undesirable as a wife in her culture, could not afford a sex change operation and would never have been allowed to live freely as such. Even the whispered rumor of a woman being “impure” could end in an honor killing but that act only cleanses the family not the sinner. But choosing to become a Shahida guarantees that the women will be welcomed by Allah into paradise, makes her a national heroine and her family revered. Although if you are Shahida family members can never receive your remains; they are buried in Israel in unmarked graves.

Why, in a country where women are so restricted and their place rigidly defined would they be allowed to participate in such a horrific act? How did these women who can’t travel or socialize freely even be recruited? Many point towards close male relatives, often known participants in Pro Palestinian organizations. But why? It goes back to the fascination with woman who kill. A female suicide bomber story receives much greater coverage than that of a male, this equates to greater exposure for the organization that claims responsibility for the act. It also gives the appearance of equality. In my opinion it just looks like a pimp mentality where women are seen as expendable and/or goods to be bought, sold or otherwise used. Without the religious overtones this can be likened to the thousands of women languishing in U.S. prisons for a man.

Shahida is also an Arabic girl’s name meaning witness and all of Palestine’s daughters have certainly been witnesses to death and marked by war. Who can say what is in the heart or mind of these soon to be Shahida as they were driven or walked to their targets, truth died with them. But what I am certain of is this; death will not make them equal.

-Adisa Vera Beatty

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