Newspaper article International New York Times

Afghan Woman, Once a Pariah, Is Now a Martyr ; Death at Hands of Mob Transforms Victim into Rare Religious Champion

Newspaper article International New York Times

Afghan Woman, Once a Pariah, Is Now a Martyr ; Death at Hands of Mob Transforms Victim into Rare Religious Champion

Article excerpt

Farkhunda has emerged as the rarest of Afghan figures: a female religious champion who ventured into a shrine to preach Islam and was felled by ignorant men.

In indignant tones, the Islamic law student told her family about the superstitious practices she had witnessed earlier that day at a historic shrine in Kabul.

She had seen illiterate mullahs sell good-luck charms and visitors who were convinced that prayers offered in the shrine were bound to come true.

Over a family dinner, the student, a 27-year-old woman named Farkhunda, vowed to return and speak out against what she deemed superstitious and un-Islamic behavior.

That decision -- and what awaited her at the shrine -- has convulsed Kabul.

When she returned there last week and began chastising people for their ignorance, an attendant at the shrine countered with a far more dangerous accusation: This woman, he shouted, was an infidel who had burned the Quran. A sparse crowd quickly became a mob of hundreds, and the men railed at her, beat her and set fire to her body.

In little over a week since then, Farkhunda has been transformed from a woman so despised that officials had defended her lynching, into a celebrated martyr. And more, she has emerged as the rarest of Afghan figures: a female religious champion who ventured into a shrine to preach Islam and was felled by ignorant men.

"Farkhunda was a true Muslim, a religious hero," said Shahla Farid, a law lecturer at Kabul University and a member of a commission appointed by the Afghan president to investigate Farkhunda's death. "Here a woman challenged a man and defended Islam."

The shrine attendant who falsely accused her of burning the Quran now sits in jail, as do more than two dozen other men accused of a role in her death, which was captured in numerous cellphone videos. There are growing calls for the public executions of those responsible.

Banners depicting Farkhunda's face grace the spot where she was killed. And her family, first told to flee the capital for their own safety, has proudly taken her name as their surname.

The country's Religious Affairs Ministry has pledged to rid shrines of fortunetellers and peddlers of good-luck charms, whom Farkhunda was preaching against when the crowd turned on her.

For some women in Kabul, the despair and terror they felt upon watching Facebook videos of the lynching have given way to a cautious hope.

"She has improved the status of women in Islam and in our community," Ms. Farid said. "I believe Farkhunda is now giving more hope to more women."

But Ms. Farid allowed that her female students were less optimistic. When a new school year opened this past week, only two of the 30 enrolled female students appeared for her class; male attendance was better. Usually, she said, it is the opposite when the school year begins: Female students, who are more isolated, show up for the first lectures, while the male students skip class to hang out. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.