Active Heart Listening (sam’a) as a Response to Femicide and Gender-Based Violence
I address you today with a deep sense of foreboding. We have been witnessing the devastation associated with the recent spate of gender-based violence and femicide.
The dictionary informs us that femicide is “the intentional killing of a woman by a man because she is female”. Femicide is a gender – based hate crime.
This seems to be an apt description for what we have been witnessing during the last couple of days.
The South African Police Services (SAPS) reported 177, 620 crimes against women in the 2017/8 book year, of which 36 731 were for sexual offences, including rape, and 2 930 for murder.
On Saturday 24 August 2019, UCT student, Uyinene Mrwetyana, was killed while collecting a parcel at the Clareinch post office just a few hundred metres from this masjid. She was killed by a postal worker, someone who would have been in ‘normal’ contact with many of us who live in this area.
Similarly, on Friday 30 August, Leigh Ann Jegels, the boxing champion from East London, was killed by her policeman ex-boyfriend, against whom she had an interdict.
Also on Friday evening 30 August, UWC student, Jesse Hess, and her grandfather’s bodies were found in their flat in Parow. Other recent victims were 14-year-old Janika Mallo, Lynette Volschenk, and Meghan Cremer.
May Allah have mercy on their souls and the souls of all those women who were killed during recent times. They died because of a musiba, a great gender violent calamity that impacts how women have to live, survive and die.
Allah (Q2, V 156), affirms their God – given humanity with the declaration that,
الَّذِينَ إِذَا أَصَابَتْهُم مُّصِيبَةٌ قَالُواْ إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ
Who say, when calamity [of femicide and gender-based violence] befalls them, “Verily, unto Allah do we belong and, verily, unto Allah we shall return.
May their innocent blood, martyred in the cause of gender justice, jolt us out of our complacency.
We’ve been listening to the anguished voices of women on public radio, in social media and we’ve heard their beautifully courageous voices at the various pickets, marches and protests across the city.
Our collective breath is taken away by their fear, anxiety and despair. The cries of our women are given voice in the qur’anic supplication,
رَبَّنَا أَخْرِجْنَا مِنْ هَـذِهِ الْقَرْيَةِ الظَّالِمِ أَهْلُهَا
وَاجْعَل لَّنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ وَلِيًّا وَاجْعَل لَّنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ نَصِيرًا
“Our Lord! Rescue us from this habituation and place whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You one who will protect, and raise for us from You one who will help. (surah al-Baqarah, 4, Verse 75).
The demand for protection and safety and courageous leadership is now the clarion call of all women. We must respond to this call, properly, redemptively and transformatively. It cannot be business as usual.
An overhaul of our ethical compass. must be based on entirely reimagining our existence. We must now place the conferring of women’s dignity (karamat al-Nisa’) at the centre of our restorative behaviour.
Such a centring of women’s human dignity means working at all levels of society; governance, economy, education, the criminal justice system, religious discourses and institutions, family, and interpersonal gender relations.
We have to create the conditions for women to live lives of personal bodily freedom, free from violence or its threat.
If we are to change the conditions of their habituation and livelihoods, as the du`a exhorts, we must get busy changing our patriarchal culture.
Protecting women and providing safety must be accompanied by creating conditions for gender parity and equity in our homes, mosques, educational institutions, work participation, and leadership structures.
The first response by government to the current gender-based violence was defensive and callous. The government twitter handle tweeted out that, “Violence and abuse against women have no place in our society. Govt [government] is calling on women to speak out and not allow themselves to become victims by keeping quiet. Women who speak out are able to act, effect change and help others”.
The tweet has since disappeared. How sickening it is to put the onus on the victim. Such a response says as much about the government’s indecision in coming to the defence of women, as it does about its inability to target the type of social reform that will protect women and create the conditions for them to live in safety free from the threat of femicide.
This is a moment of confoundment. We struggle to understand what’s going on and our own role in it. We are exasperated by societal and governance failure.
And, we are too mired in misogynist domination to recognise the profound need for disrupting oppressive gender norms and practices wherein the perpetrators of gender violence are born, raised and resides.
Us men must interrogate our role and complicity in patriarchal dominance that creates and nurtures the male monsters who perpetrate gender-based violence.
In this sense all men are complicit and Muslim men, as a specific instance of a broader patriarchal trend, have to now confront our ignorance, complacency and complicity. Ignorance is in fact guilt by omission. Ignorance doesn’t absolve our roles in perpetuating a gender violent society.
Men must explicitly take a position that gender-based violence will not happen in their name, and take active steps to act on such a position.
The onus is on society, men and women, to hear the cries of women for freedom. The onus is on us to confront what the Qur’an (Surah Bakarah, Q2, V17 and 18) describes in a parable,
مَثَلُهُمْ كَمَثَلِ الَّذِي اسْتَوْقَدَ نَاراً
فَلَمَّا أَضَاءتْ مَا حَوْلَهُ ذَهَبَ اللّهُ بِنُورِهِمْ وَتَرَكَهُمْ فِي ظُلُمَاتٍ لاَّ يُبْصِرُون
Their parable is that of people who kindle a fire: but as soon as it has illumined all around them, God takes away their light and leaves them in utter darkness, wherein they cannot see.
These are the people whom the Qur’an describe as,
صُمٌّ بُكْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لاَ يَرْجِعُون
Deaf, dumb, blind – and they cannot turn back.
It is apparent that a patriarchal misosynistic culture is mired in the darkness of its own doing, its own denials, complacency and complicities.
Our senses – hearing, sight, feeling – and our conscious knowing struggle to understand, even intuit, the ‘dhulm’ (out of placeness) and violence against women in our society. This is the metaphorical inability to recognise the limits of our transgression, which the Qur’an frames as a transgression against our fitrah, our perfectible disposition.
Unable to recognise our transgressions, patriarchal culture then is utterly unable to understand how and why women are violated, and it is now our collective responsibility to deny, expose, challenge and overturn such lack of recognition, such tone deafness and blindness, to force into the open our patriarchal complicities in gender-based violence.
The Qur’an offers us the metaphor of active, present-minded heart listening – sam’a – as a way of confronting our tone deafness. Allah explains (Q5, V37) that,
إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَذِكْرَى لِمَن كَانَ لَهُ قَلْبٌ أَوْ أَلْقَى السَّمْعَ وَهُوَ شَهِيدٌ
In this, behold, there is indeed a reminder for everyone whose heart is wide-awake, that is, [everyone who] lends an ear with a conscious mind.
Listening with one’s heart and with a conscious mind gives us some chance to disrupt our intuitions and understandings. Perhaps, such listening would enable us to better intuit, understand and act.
Listening with presentmindedness would allow us to discern the deep historical dimensions of generalised patriarchal violence in and across the body politic and the ways it is being held up by state and societal violence.
Listening properly would help us understand how gender – based violence affects gender relations and the vulnerable positions of women in society.
The nasiha (advice) is to ‘listen with the heart’ to the suffering of our mothers, sisters, nieces and daughters.
We would come to understand how a lack of safety and security and a faltering criminal justice system contribute to women’s vulnerability.
Sam’a, or active heart listening, listening with compassion, would per chance make us responsive to Allah’s exhortation,
وَمَا لَكُمْ لاَ تُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ
وَالْمُسْتَضْعَفِينَ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ وَالنِّسَاء وَالْوِلْدَان
And how could you refuse to exert yourself (fight) in the cause of God and of the utterly helpless men and women and children. (Q4:V75)
Most importantly, the spectre of femicide requires us to listen to the utterly helpless women and children as the Qur’an puts it, listening, with the inner depth of our heart, the location where we are able to intuit justice, the justice available to the heart of the human being.
Courageous, beautiful, vulnerably anguished women say to us that,
Danger for women is everywhere; in their homes and when they leave their homes. We cannot leave our anatomy at home. We are being killed because of our anatomy.
The power of women’s words requires no explanation. They are crystal clear. Sam’a or active listening brings their meaning to devastating consciousness.
Active listening, however, is the necessary, but not sufficient, condition for pursuing gender justice.
Pursuing the gender jihad means that we, as a community of believing men and women, together, should place the struggle for the dignity of women at the principled and strategic heart of everything we do.
Anything less would mean that we would continue to remain complacent and complicit in the perpetuation of gender-based inequity in our society, a situation which would be contrary to the Qur’anic requirement of conferring dignity on all God’s children.