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by Babette Francis, April 30, 2011


Sherene Hassan, secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, is an energetic defender of Islam. In a letter to The Australian (April 7, 2011), Mrs Hassan claims invocations to violence in the Koran are often followed by injunctions to be peaceful.

However, sharia law, the political and legal manifestation of Islam, does not have such self-correcting mechanisms because Islam does not allow for any separation between the state and religion.

Hence anyone who criticises the Koran or the prophet Mohammed is guilty of blasphemy and can be sentenced to death. Likewise, apostates — i.e., those who choose to leave Islam for another faith — are regarded as guilty of treason and merit the death sentence.

Most appalling is the treatment of rape victims, who, unless they can produce four pious male witnesses to the rape, are brutally punished for "fornication” or “adultery” and can be stoned to death.

Catholic Online (March 3, 2011) reported that a teenage girl was lashed to death for alleged “adultery” in Bangladesh. It said: “In a horrific case of rural justice, a 14-year-old girl was lashed 70 times in front of her parents on alleged adultery charges. She cried out to her mother proclaiming her innocence; her death a week later was judged a suicide by a local hospital.

“Hena Akhter was the youngest child of Darbesh Khan and his wife, Aklima Begum. The 14-year-old Hena lived with her parents and four other
siblings in a house constructed of corrugated tin and rotting wood. “Hena’s cousin, Mahbub Khan, had returned to Shariatpur from a stint working in Malaysia. His son was Hena’s age, and the two were in seventh grade together. “Khan reportedly eyed Hena and began harassing her on her way to school and back, said Hena’s father. He complained to the elders who run the village about his nephew, who was three times Hena’s age. “The elders admonished Mahbub Khan and ordered him to pay $1,000 in fines to Hena’s family. “According to her sister, many months later Hena was walking from her room to an outdoor toilet when Mahbub Khan gagged her with cloth, forced her behind nearby shrubbery and beat and raped her. “Hena struggled to escape; Mahbub Khan’s wife heard Hena’s muffled screams and when she found Hena with her husband, she dragged the teenage girl back to her hut, beat her and trampled her on the floor.

“The next day, the village elders met to discuss the case at Mahbub Khan’s house. The imam pronounced his fatwa. Khan and Hena were found guilty of an illicit relationship. Her punishment under sharia or Islamic law was 101 lashes; his 201. “Mahbub Khan managed to escape after the first few lashes. Darbesh Khan and Aklima Begum had no choice but to mind the imam’s order. They watched as the whip broke the skin of their youngest child and she fell unconscious to the ground.” The 101 lashes were delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70. Bloodied and bruised, she was taken to hospital, where she died a week later.

Amazingly, an initial autopsy report cited no injuries and deemed her death a suicide. Hena’s family insisted her body be exhumed. They wanted the world to know what happened to their daughter. Despite a “ban” by ostensibly overriding secular law, sharia and its attendant
discriminatory abuses of women compounded by barbaric punishments of these victims persist in Bangladesh.

It is of course nearly impossible for the rape victims to produce the four male witnesses required to prove their allegation. Therefore their police report of rape is taken as a confession of illicit sex and they are duly found guilty. “What happened to Hena is unfortunate and we all have to be ashamed that we couldn’t save her life,” says Sultana Kamal, who heads the human rights organisation Ain o Shalish Kendro.

Bangladesh is considered a democratic and moderate Muslim country, and national law forbids the practice of sharia. Activist and journalist Shoaib Choudhury, who documents such cases, says sharia is still very much in use in villages and towns, aided by the lack of education or a strong judicial system.

The Islamic Council of Victoria’s Sherene Hassan should note that the regret about the brutality of sharia as applied to Hena Akhter came not from corrective verses in the Koran but from the laws of secular democracy which Bangladesh inherited from its colonial past under Britain.
Sherene should cease being an apologist for Islam and speak for some of its victims, e.g., Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who languishes in jail in Pakistan condemned to death on spurious charges of “blasphemy” (see report in News Weekly, February 5, 2011).

Babette Francis is Australian and international co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., an NGO having special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC).


Member Organisation, World Council for Life and Family

NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the UN