“They tied her to heavy weights and threw her alive in the canal,… A father, two brothers, and a cousin ended the life of the family’s (spoiled girl) because of honor.”
I was planning on spending a peaceful weekend without inconvenience, until I saw the above headline, along with a picture and a link to a news story on the murder of a girl, by her father, two of his sons, and his cousin. The girl was not older than twenty years at the time.
The news story itself did not mention many details, it only referred to discovering a body in a canal in Monshaat Al-Qanater, and that the investigations revealed that the four perpetrators decided to kill the girl for her “bad behavior,” which is a loose expression intended to blame the victim.
The news story and its content brought me back to another weekend. The day was September 17, 1990, 30 years ago, when my mother was murdered by her brothers in a crime described by society as an “honor crime.”
My mother was in the last few months of her pregnancy with my baby brother whom I never got to see. My 18-month-old sister was lying next to her, and I was three years old at the time. Two of my uncles came to visit my mother, and my father’s family decided to leave them alone. Not long after, gunshots were heard.. They killed my mother with 8 bullets, merely for marrying my father against the will of her “Bedouin” family that refuses the marriage of their daughters to tribe outsiders.
For years, my father prohibited talking about this story or about my mother’s family, so that I didn’t even know my mother’s full name until middle school. I only knew her first name, “Fadhila,” until my grandfather asked me to look for his birth certificate and I found her death certificate among the documents. This did not stop the scattered accounts by family members who witnessed the story from the beginning to help me find out what happened.
My mother used to live with her family when my father’s military service brought him close to her home. Soon, they both felt the spark of love. My father decided to propose to her, while her family refused his proposal, but she loved him, so she decided to leave with him. They got married by a legal officiant with a legal contract, and they lived together, before my father decided to go abroad in search of a livelihood, leaving her to live with his family. Before he left, he sought reconciliation between the father and the daughter, which was successful, but against his sons’ will, who considered what my mom had done “a stain on their honor and a disgrace!”
Months before my mother’s murder, my grandmother fell ill, so her daughter went to visit her. Her mother, who spent years under male domination, warned her and told her not to trust this reconciliation, as her brother didn’t and won’t forgive her for what she did. My mother listened to her but there was nothing she could do, as she sealed her fate the day she fell in love with my father, and she couldn’t turn back time.
My mother lived with my father for five whole years, during which she had two daughters and reconciled with her family who had been visiting her regularly for two years. However, she did not know that her fate was linked to a wedding she didn’t attend, but where her brothers went and quarreled with some friends, and were taunted about their sister who married against their will. Then and there, they resolved to kill her.
My mother’s brothers thought of her as something that belongs to them, something they own. To them, she wasn’t a human being who had the freedom of choice. They were not the only ones who thought so. Our neighbor from Upper Egypt, who held herself together to face the murderers, did not try to save or help her, she left her grappling with death, and only asked the murderers to take us out of the room, telling them: “she’s your daughter and you killed her, and you’re free to do as you please, but the kids are not guilty..” She did not even wipe the beads of sweat on my mother’s forehead while her soul was leaving her body.
The police also treated my mother as a thing, when my mother’s family threatened to set my grandfather’s house on fire if my mother’s body was not handed over to them, the security forces played it safe, and my grandfather feared for his other children, so the murderers’ family carried the victim’s body and robbed me of the possibility to visit her grave.
My Sheikh once told me that the deceased feel happy with the visits of the living. I never forgot his words. Does anyone visit my mother’s grave? Did they honor her grave? This question kept running through my mind for years, and when I asked my aunt, she told me that my mother’s funeral was like a wedding procession walking a bride to a new home, her family spread henna over her grave, and the funeral procession walked all over town. But my mother was not a bride, she was a victim. She was not being walked to her groom, she was being walked to death instead. She did not go into her new home to live there, she went into her grave.
What my aunt said showed that the killers were not only the two brothers who took my mother’s life but that her entire tribe took part in her murder. The family did not spread henna over her grave to honor her, they were celebrating her murder. They sent her like a bride to her grave because they saw that death was what she deserved.
In the early years of my marriage, my husband and I were rewatching the series “Sheikh Al-Arab Hammam”. My husband did not understand why I was upset with him when he wished the character of “Jaber,” the bandit, would not appear, as in his opinion, he’s the reason the relationship between the show’s main character and his cousin was ruined because the bandit wanted to marry a girl from the “Hawwara” tribe, which only allows its daughters to marry their cousins. In the heroine, “Leila,” I only saw my mother and in “Jaber,” I only saw my father. In certain moments of my life, I wished my father hadn’t come into my mother’s life. I had not yet understood that the problem wasn’t my father, it was my mother’s fearless will, challenging her family for her love.
A few weeks ago, I watched “Kira & El Gin,” a movie inspired by true events. I couldn’t hold myself together during the last third of the movie, when “Dawlat Fahmy” was killed. In my head, “Dawlat” was another one of my mother’s many characters. When I read the novel on which the movie was based, a friend asked me why Dawlat’s family hadn’t tried to confirm her virginity before killing her. I didn’t answer her then, but I answered to myself that it was because Dawlat was not killed for sinning, but because the men in her village said she deserved to be killed, just like the men in my mother’s tribe determined her fate at a wedding and killed her for something called “honor.”
Over a decade ago, my husband and I were friends with a Christian guy who was his colleague in college. We were also brought together by Tahrir Square during the January revolution. In the same year, an incident, identical to that of my mother’s, happened. The victim was Salwa Adel Atta, a Christian woman from Asyut, who converted to Islam and left for Cairo, got married to a Muslim man, and lived with him for seven whole years, during which she had two kids. She reconciled with her brothers who used to visit her. But in April 2011, amidst the state of lawlessness, they saw an opportunity to take back what they thought was theirs, and execute the delayed death sentence. And in a friendly visit, they murdered the mother and her son and proceeded to try to murder the daughter and the father before the neighbors were able to stop them.
I was shocked to find that the comrade considered what happened to be normal, because she brought disgrace upon them twice, once by converting to Isalm, and the other by getting married without their consent, and that her converting to Islam was not out of conviction, it was out of love. Thus the comrade decided that the victim was nothing, just something that belongs to men, and that murdering her is a normal outcome of not following men’s orders and bringing them disgrace.
My mother left, leaving me with a constantly bleeding wound. A wound that destroyed my relationship with my father for years, because I thought of him as the one responsible for the murder of my mother, as he was the one who loved and married her, he was the one who led her to death.
That wound also stopped me from speaking of my mother to people, as I was afraid they would judge her for sinning. I had already judged her, I was the girl spending her days in the circles of religious scholars telling me that getting married without the guardian’s consent is fornication. How could I tell them that my mother got married without her family’s consent? Also, Non-believers may think that a woman should be broken, should be silent and never speak among men, and should have her “rib broken” so that she wouldn’t bring disgrace upon her family. How could I tell them that my mother dismissed men’s words and married the one she loved?
The wound kept bleeding silently. Every time I read a news story or a headline about an incident of “honor killing” where a woman loses her life because the men in her family think that her staying alive is a “disgrace,” I picture my mother in the victim’s place, and imagine all the judgments made about her. What would an editor write about my mother today? Would he assert that she stained the family’s honor? Would he exaggerate the crime and slander her to attract readers? Would the comments keep coming saying she deserves this ending?
For years, the wound kept bleeding, and I think it will keep on bleeding as long as I am alive. The difference now is that I know that my mother was not the guilty one, that my father was not the one who led her to her death, he was her lover who she wanted to be with, and she was free to make that decision. She was the victim, not the sinner. The murderers, however, were not only her family, they were an entire society that let itself rob women of their right to choose.. A society that sees a man hitting his sister, daughter, or wife and stands still while getting stirred up at the sight of a wife resting her head on her husband’s shoulders in public or a husband kissing his wife on the street. A society represented by our old neighbor who left my mother fighting pain and death on her own, because they were her family and were free to do with her as they pleased.