Sunday, August 8, 2010

Review of The Imam's Daughter My Desperate Fight to Freedom by Hannah Shah

As promised, here is another book written by a woman who was raised Moslem. Hannah Shah (she's changed her name for security reasons) was born in Pakistan but raised in northern England. Hannah begins her story with the memories of growing up on a street mostly populated by Pakistani immigrants who left the grinding poverty of their homeland to make a better life for themselves and their families.

     Hannah starts off her tale with some good memories: walking by herself as a young child down the street going into whatever neighbor's house she chose where she'd be welcomed with some “Pakistani tea- water boiled with tea leaves, hot milk, heaps of sugar,and sometimes cardamon- and something to eat...curry or chapattis.”

     Unlike the other Pakistani fathers who worked hard at trades or professions, Hannah's dad was the Imam- the leader of the local Mosque for the community. According to Hannah, he used this as an excuse to live off the dole and the neighborhood's donations. He lived off English tax payer dollars but he hated white people. Hannah, other than at school, was not allowed to associate with anyone who was not Pakstani. Those people were goray-white people, nonbelievers. In his mind it was permissible to cheat and lie to them.

In fact, Hannah observes in her community and culture that it is actually acceptable to do anything wrong or sinful as long as one doesn't get caught. It wasn't the act that was wrong but rather getting publicly exposed. That would cause shame and dishonor to your family. Every action was determined by whether it would cause the family dishonor. There was no sense of mercy, either. If you did something that caused your family to look bad, not only you but every relative of yours would be ostracized. As Hannah develops her story, she exposes the horrible reality of her own living situation where it doesn't matter how many laws, bodies or spirits are broken, everything is tolerated and ignored as long as what's happening is not made public.

What starts out as a seemingly innocent story about Pakistanis living in England turns quickly into a nightmarish tale of a little girl's physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Her family knows what he's doing but ignores it. The entire community reveres her father because he's the Imam. She points out that the neighbors have to hear what's going on inside her house but for the sake of the Imam's honor pretend they don't.

As a teenager, Hannah turns to a teacher for help. This teacher, meaning well, calls social services who send a Pakistani social worker to help her. Hannah decides to trust this man but he only reports everything to her father. His reason? “It's not right to betray our community...” Dishonor, shame etc..

For Omer, the honor of the community was always more important than the rights of any individual, even when that individual was a child being raped by the Imam.

Finally, Hannah reaches a breaking point. It comes when she finds out her father is planning to send her back to Pakistan to an arranged marriage. According to Shah this is a typical fate of Pakistani girls in England. They grow up in a westernized society and then, without warning or preparation, are plunged into a primitive, poverty-stricken one forced to live with an uneducated, often abusive man who is much older than they are. These girls are helpless.

When Hannah realizes her fate, she runs away. Another teacher, who is a Christian, allows her to stay at her house. This teacher helps her get the legal help she needs to stay safely away from her father. Receiving the unconditional love and acceptance from her teacher, teacher's family and church eventually led Hannah to Jesus Christ. For the first time she felt worth. In her own words:

I had expected God to rant and rave about how bad we humans were, not emphasize the love Bob (the pastor) kept talking about. God's love made him come to earth as a man to communicate with us and care for us... Love. Love. God's love. I felt my heart racing as Bob spoke, and I wanted to know Jesus. I wanted to be a Christian.

Disgustingly, her mother and father, first through tears and wails, try to get her to return to their community. They complain to her how they have all been shamed through her behavior. This same mother who never defended her, who ignored the beatings and the rapes is now distraught over how she would stand in the community. Her father, when tears didn't work, took to organizing mobs to threaten and harass her. For a long time Hannah had to move every few months.

Hannah Shah wrote this book to create public awareness about the harsh realities that are going on inside Moslem communities throughout England. In school, she describes how everyone studies all the religions, but no negative attribute is mentioned in order to create “tolerance for diversity”.

At school our politically safe lessons had avoided that dark and misogynistic side of forced marriages. It was presented as a cultural and religious practice that, while seeming strange to most British people, should be treated with respect and understanding. The reality- that this was often a shocking and brutal abuse of women- was left unreported.

According to Hannah, this is perpetuating the abuse of Moslem girls. It makes me angry to think about the Bishop of the Church of England who is advocating allowing Moslems to live according to Shariah law when such a law enables young girls to be abused and even murdered at times.

It is interesting to note that in this book, though I've merely recorded the stark events, actually is more even in its description of Moslems than the other books I've reviewed. Hannah is quick to point out that not every Moslem home is as hers was. She also says some very interesting things about the Koran and its mention of Jesus. Nevetheless, Hannah makes it clear that Islam is religion that motivates through fear. She found freedom through Jesus Christ when she found that He is motivated by His unconditional love for each of us.

For more information about Hannah Shah and her work you can go to  On this website she has book reviews of other books on the same subject she has written about. It also has links for women who want confidential help and advice.

No comments: