In almost every religion, there are certain practices that often come into conflict with the secular laws of the land but, because of religious sensitivities, legal intervention is rare, especially if ethnic minorities are involved.
But in the first case of its kind in Britain, hailed as a refreshing break with too much political correctness, a British Pakistani Shia Muslim has been convicted of child cruelty after he forced his two minor sons aged 13 and 15 to flog themselves with zanjeer zani, an instrument with sharp curved blades, as part of a ceremony to mark Muharram, the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed.
The boys, who cannot be named for legal reasons, suffered deep cuts and multiple lacerations on their backs.
Shia Muslims observe Muharram by beating their chests and flagellating themselves with chains and other sharp instruments until blood starts to ooze out. They believe that the more pain they inflict on themselves the more sincere is their grief. It is of a piece with the idea of penance, sacrifice and devotion found in other major religions of the world.
However, the practice, which is more common in South Asia, has no religious sanction, according to Islamic scholars.
“It has no basis in basic Islamic sources and is almost unique among South Asian shias,” said one expert of Islamic law.
During his trial, Syed Mustafa Zaidi, a 44-year-old warehouse supervisor from Lancashire, claimed that what he did was in accordance with his religion.
“This is a part of our religion,” he told the court denying that he had anything wrong.
He said it was “it was an emotional time and the children were happy.”
“No one forced anyone,” he claimed but the younger boy insisted that his father put pressure on them.
“We said ‘we don’t want to do it,’” he told the jury adding that Zaidi kept “pulling” and “pushing” his elder brother after he refused to beat himself any more.
He said his father insisted: “Keep doing it.”
A jury at the Manchester Crown Court found Mr. Zaidi guilty of two counts of child cruelty and he will be sentenced soon. The Crown Prosecution Service made clear that the prosecution of Mr. Zaidi was “not an attack upon the practices or ceremonies of Shia Muslims” ; and happily there has been no negative reaction from the Muslim community: a sign that Muslims living in the West are slowly starting to recognise the limits on religious tolerance in a secular society. In fact, Mr. Zaidi himself acknowledged that had he known that his actions were illegal he would “never have done it” and fellow Shias actively cooperated with the police in their investigations. He might have got away with it if, in the name of misplaced shia solidarity, they had chosen not to cooperate with the police. Indeed, the CPS made a point of acknowledging the community’s cooperation saying that it “relied as part of its evidence upon the president of the local shia community centre” who had apparently warned Zia that forcing minor children to flog themselves was not permitted.
The case, which attracted widespread media attention, has implications for other religious groups and is expected to lead to more prosecutions against those who have tended to get away with cruel practices in the name of religion.
“This [verdict] says that there have to be some absolute boundaries across which people cannot step whether for religious reasons or some other,” Julia Thomas, a legal specialist in children affairs told The Times as the verdict sparked calls for a crackdown on female circumcision , common among some African communities, though it is illegal.
The ordinary Britons who comprised the jury at the Manchester Crown Court deserve to be saluted for having the courage to bell the cat, finally.
* * *Television tales
First, the grumble was that the British television industry, especially the BBC, was “hideously white, male and middle class,” to recall the words of one of its director-generals. The latest is that television is the “worst” place to be in if you are white, male and middle class.
A war of words has broken out in Britain’s broadcasting circles after one of the BBC’s biggest stars Jeremy Paxman, who is reportedly paid more than a million pounds a year for fronting its prestigious current affairs programme Newsnight and the University Challenge quiz show, complained that women were taking over the BBC and other TV channels.
“The worst thing you can be in this industry is a middle-class white male. If any middle-class white male I come across says he wants to enter television, I say: “give up all hope.” They’ve no chance,” he said speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival recently.
He then named a few of the country’s top flight women broadcasters as evidence of the alleged bias against white middle class males. “Do I think it’s [television] a man’s world? That’s the most ridiculous question I’ve been asked all week,” he said responding to a question.
His remarks provoked fury among women and non-white male broadcasters.
“Jeremy names five women because he couldn’t possibly name all the men in positions of power in television because he would have been there all day,” retorted Mariella Frostrup, a former BBC host.
“He talks about middle-class men as a beleaguered species, but excuse me …it seems to me that television is a fantastic place to be for middle-class white men,” she said.
Krishnan Guru-Murthy, who reads Channel 4 News and is one of the few high-profile non-white male broadcasters, pointed out that the people who really faced the “biggest struggle to make it into television” were those from working class backgrounds and ethnic minorities.
Meanwhile, the “war” continues…
7 months ago