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Where were the Muslims? A look at reactions to Shahpara Sayeed's death

The woman standing in front of the small tree-turned-shrine smack in the middle of the road, could have blamed Islam for the incident. But she didn't.

She did however confide to me that people didn't think too highly of Islam in her neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago. They considered it like dirt, she said, standing near the pink, white, blue and yellow flowers mourners and sympathizers had placed below the tree.

And the August 24 incident just confirmed their stereotypes.

Another tree standing nearby bore testimony to the horrific event: one side of it was beautiful - soft, light green leaves shone in the sunlight of the warm afternoon above the solid trunk.

But the other side was blackened. Its leaves were shriveled and gnarled. They were a dead brown color. This side of the tree had been burned.

Unlike the tree though, 33-year-old Shahpara Sayeed was the direct target of the fire in her husband's taxi on August 24. He allegedly doused her and the vehicle in gasoline, set them on fire and made sure to keep the door locked so she couldn't escape. She died later that afternoon.

Shahpara was one of five women killed in a span of one month in the area. In response to the killings, Andrea Raila a neighbor who witnessed Shahpara's murder with her child, moved forward to organize a rally on violence against women September 17.

"There were two knives, a gun, a bat and a can of gasoline (used to kill the women). If that's not horrifying, I don't know what is," Raila told the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper in an article published the day of the rally.

About 200 people attended, of all religious, cultural and racial backgrounds. They included babies, mothers, fathers, the elderly, a daughter of one of the women who was killed, the husband of another one, a few men in beards, women in Hijab.

Those who cared to show up need to be thanked for their concern and commitment to humanity. In all, about 20 Muslims attended the rally.

Response from the Muslim community

What was notable was that there was not a single Muslim leader representing Muslims in Chicago present at the rally.

Nor were there any Muslims involved in the organization of this event.

"We're pretty much seeing a dead silence. I have not heard much," says K. Sujata when asked by Sound Vision about Muslim reaction to the event. She is with the women's shelter Apna Ghar, one of the organizations that sponsored the rally.

A number of the Muslims present at the rally found out about it was through the listserv of the Council of American Muslim Professionals (CAMP), as well as through word of mouth.

Those who did attend this Sunday afternoon event must be commended. The Muslims who came showed the humanity of Islam - that the loss of one life is like the loss of all of humanity. That the abuse of women, domestic violence - these are unacceptable and that they as Muslims stand against these crimes against women and families.

There are about 300,000 Muslims in Chicago. The call to prayer is made in 84 places. Yet, interestingly, no flyer about the event was distributed at any mosque, which on a weekly basis, tends to have 10 to 12 flyers given out.

No Muslim women's group, locally or nationally, took up this cause.

No Khutbahs (sermons) were delivered about five women being killed in a span of one month, with the most brutal case, Shahpara's, involving Muslims.

Not even a representative of Council of Islamic Organizations of Chicago was present at the rally to express support for the victims and condemnation for the vicious actions.

This rally was a unique and precious opportunity for Muslims to participate in a common cause with others. It was not only an excellent opportunity to present Islam. It was an excellent opportunity to show that we live it by our commitment to humanity and women, especially.

As the rally dispersed after 2:00 p.m. ladies from nearby buildings came out. Some neighbors had refreshments for participants of the two mile long rally. A police officer who had first come to the scene of Shahpara's death, William Clancy, came by.

A car pulled up and a bearded middle-aged man with white hair stepped out. He was carrying 12 flowers of david, as they are called, white flowers with 70 to 80 leaves. That's close to the number of women killed this year in Chicago.

He placed his flower pot on the edge of the tree-turned-shrine and stood silently. After a few moments he returned to his car . But then, as an afterthought, he came back to the tree, moved the flower pot from edge to the middle and left saying under his breath 'our Masjids should do something about it.'

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Your Comments

Muhammad Abdus-Shakur, Philadelphia, PA - wrote on 8/20/2004 10:42:20 AM
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Comment: I am very saddened by this report because of the depths of angry, hatred and being so desperate that it had to come to this. I have a wonderful marry but it takes a lot of self-evaluation, praying and most of all trusting ALLAH as much as I can with everything I do and the results are in his hands. There are a lot of these incidents in the Muslim community-I pray that we have the courage to look at ourselves and learn that the blessing in life is the guidance of ALLAH and ISLAM. Allah's Blessings!

Sadaf Ijaz, Virginia - wrote on 4/11/2003 8:21:00 PM
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Comment: I am speechless. this is not domestic any more Muslim community should do something about this

Umm Shams, New York - wrote on 12/31/2002 1:48:36 PM
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Comment: This is the basic reaction we come to be familiar with: If it's one of us killing another of us; there is hardly an outrage. But the cry of victimhood is raised for all to hear if the perpetrator is OTHER than one of us. May Allah gives us the courage to stand as witnesses to justice--for all.

Umm Shams, New York - wrote on 12/31/2002 1:47:58 PM
Rating: Rating

Comment: This is the basic reaction we come to be familiar with: If it's one of us killing another of us; there is hardly an outrage. But the cry of victimhood is raised for all to hear if the perpetrator is OTHER than one of us. May Allah gives us the courage to stand as witness in justice--for all.

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