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Shafia's treatment of women 'very non-Islamic,' imam says

Mohammad Shafia, centre, Tooba Yahya, right, and Hamed Shafia, left, arrive at the Frontenac County courthouse in Kingston, Ont., on Jan. 29, 2011.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Amid the often disturbing anti-Muslim sentiment generated by the Shafia murder trial and its guilty verdicts, dozens of imams (religious leaders) will gather at a mosque in Mississauga Saturday to issue a fatwa, spelling out that so-called honour killings and violence toward women have nothing to do with the real teachings of Islam.

A fatwa is a kind of religious edict, issued by an Islamic scholar. And while it is considered morally rather than legally binding, it carries considerable weight, particularly within the Shia branch of Islam.

The three-months-long Shafia trial culminated Sunday in a total of 12 first-degree murder convictions for Afghan-Canadian businessman Mohammad Shafia, his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya and the couple's eldest son, Hamed. It was freighted with evidence suggesting the three killers murdered four of their relatives because they believed the family "honour" had been stained.

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And while trial testimony also stressed that the crimes were rooted in primitive cultural beliefs rather than the Koran, the damage to Canada's million-plus Muslims has been enormous, said Imam Syed Soharwardy, who has congregations in Calgary, Montreal, Mississauga and Vancouver, and is drafting the fatwa.

"This has been very, very difficult and very embarrassing for Canada's Muslims. Very hurtful and cruel," he said.

And however perverse misogyny, domestic violence and murder may be, a small minority of Islamic clerics do promote anti-female sentiment, notably in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, but also to some extent in North America, he acknowledged.

"That attitude toward women is, in the opinion of those working with me on (formulating) the fatwa, very non-Islamic," he said.

"And it is not just that those people need to be reminded of this. We are also going to challenge them and say, 'Sit down with us and talk to us. How can you justify beating up a woman?'"

The fatwa will be released Saturday afternoon at the Jamia Riyadhul Jannah Mosque on Campobello Road, where more than 30 imams and muftis (Muslim priests) including a number from the United States, will endorse it.

"The purpose of this fatwa is to explain the verses of the Koran, and to tell not only clergy but also ordinary people, 'This is what Islam is,'" Imam Soharwardy said.

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"(The Prophet) Mohammed, peace be upon him, said; 'When somebody tells you the truth, your heart hears it and if you don't accept it, it is a sin.'"

In particular the edict will address a key section of the Koran – Chapter four, verse 34 – that specifically addresses women and encompasses language that often gets misinterpreted in the translation from the original Arabic, Imam Soharwardy said.

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At The Globe and Mail since 1982, in assorted manifestations, chiefly crime reporter, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Board, Tim is now retired. More

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