Yaser Said: Abuser, Murderer, Extremist #CatchYaserNow

A photo of Yaser Abdel Said, age-progressed by the FBI in 2014
A photo of Yaser Abdel Said, age-progressed by the FBI in 2014

If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you know that the FBI has added Yaser Said (a.k.a. Yaser Abdel Said and Yaser Abdel Fattah Mohammad Said) to its list of the top ten most wanted fugitives, increasing the award for information leading to his capture from $20,000 to $100,000. Oak Farms Dairy has added another $10,000 to this reward through the Irving, Texas police department, making the total reward to date $110,000.

Background: Yaser Said murdered his daughters, Sarah and Amina, on January 1, 2008, in Texas. He has been at large since, and it is not unlikely that he remains in the United States. The murders are the subject of a new documentary, The Price of Honor, which I wrote about here.

Yesterday, I heard from one of the filmmakers behind The Price of Honor, who has uncovered photos of Yaser’s son (and brother of Sarah and Amina), Islam Said, as well as photos of at least some of Yaser Said’s weapons.

After his two sisters were murdered for being “too Westernized” and for having male friends, Islam Said said that they “got what they deserved,” because “they knew the rules.” Those of us familiar with the case continue to call for the indictment of Sarah and Amina’s mother, Patricia “Tissie” Said, and their brother Islam.

How does a brother support the brutal murder of his own sisters?

We have repeatedly been told that the Said family was and is not “extremist,” but all signs point to the contrary. Yaser and Patricia Said raised their children in a culture of abuse, violence, and disregard for human life and dignity. Yaser Said sexually, emotionally and physically abused his daughters with the full knowledge of their mother. Islam Said was taught that this was within Yaser’s rights as a man. This image of Islam Said will be released to the media soon, but is appearing here first courtesy of The Price of Honor:

Islam Said - Raquel Evita Saraswati
Islam Said

 

The above goes well beyond the bounds of good and innocent fun. Who poses their child like this, with a weapon?

This image shows Yaser Said’s early gun collection. He shot his daughters in the back of his taxi cab 7 years ago:

Yaser Said Weapons - Raquel Evita Saraswati
Yaser Said owns at least 4 guns

 

Yaser Said remains at large only because he has had help in hiding – and because of community ambivalence.

Please see Yaser Said’s listing on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list here ( and the poster here).

Yaser Said should be considered armed and extremely dangerous. He is said to carry a weapon with him at all times. Do not approach him.

If you believe you have seen Yaser Said, or if you have any information that might lead to his arrest, submit a tip online here, or call 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324).

Raquel Evita Saraswati Yaser Abdel Said Arabic

Terveisia Suomesta! (Greetings from Finland!) – Part 1

Metro station, Helsinki, Finland (photo: Jussi K. Niemela)
Metro station, Helsinki, Finland (photo: Jussi K. Niemela)

 Greetings from Helsinki, Finland!

A very short time ago, a Helsinki-based friend and I were exchanging emails over our shared frustrations. He was working hard to combat both Islamophobia and cultural relativism in his own progressive circles. I was surrounded by boxes in my furnitureless apartment, wondering how real positive change can happen when some of the most vocal ‘activists’ are often ruled more by their own megalomania than sincere concern for the human condition. Bummed, exhausted and uncharacteristically pessimistic, I desperately needed a boost.

It came in the form of an invitation to Finland. My friend told me that he was sure there was some way for us to not just host a dynamic seminar event, but also to enrich the already blossoming movement to protect Muslim women’s rights in Scandinavia. Within twenty-four hours, we had sponsors. Shortly thereafter, we had my red-eye plane tickets totaling 14 hours in transit. I borrowed some mittens and got on my way.

With the incredible Iivi Anna Masso
With the incredible Iivi Anna Masso

This is no money-making trip, and no media-mongering frenzy, though we’ve gotten lots of helpful coverage across Scandinavia. This is something so much better. Here, we are hosting seminars on freedom of religion, honor violence, female genital cutting, and immigration. At my request, we are also meeting with activists for children’s rights and working with the staff of an HIV/AIDS support center supporting mainly Somali refugees.

I’ll keep you posted throughout the trip. So far, I can tell you that I’m moved and inspired by the Finnish dedication to understanding, honesty, compassion and real support for the Muslims coming to their shores. People have been honest about that which they believe ails the Muslim community – but have also been seeking constructive solutions to better Muslim lives. That, my friends, should be how activism is conducted. Stay tuned!

***

PS: Check out these interesting documents from the Islamic Society of North America. ISNA hasn’t always gotten it right, but I think that these guides for imams are actually more constructive than many other leaflets meant to help individuals working with victims and survivors.

1 – Guidelines for imams working with victims and survivors of domestic violence

2 – Guidelines for imams working with abusive persons

Halal grocery, Helsinki (photo: Jussi K. Niemela)
Halal grocery, Helsinki (photo: Jussi K. Niemela)

Iranians protest honor killings after the death of another young woman

Iran Telegraf)
Iranians demonstrate against honor killings (photo: Iran Telegraf)

On August 14th, eighteen year-old Fereshteh Nejati was murdered by her father. Forced into marriage at 14, Fereshteh was seeking a divorce.

The details of her murder are gruesome. The response to the tragedy, however, shows signs of hope for Iran’s women.

Where am I finding this hope? Well, Fereshteh’s community decided that enough is enough. Some 2000 people – men and women – gathered in the streets to demand an end to honor killings, and to claim Fereshteh’s body for a respectful burial.

See photos of the demonstration here

As always, check out the International Campaign Against Honour Killings . There, you can join communities like Fereshteh’s in their efforts.

ACTION ITEMS:

* Please remember to keep taking action for Kobra Najjar, an Iranian woman facing imminent stoning.

* Sign the anti-honor killing petition I’ve told you about here.

* Send letters to the Pakistani government demanding that they take action against honor killings.

* Work against the epidemic of rape in Afghanistan.

* Help protect women threatened with acid attacks.

Call on Iran’s leaders to release Kobra Najjar

August 9, 2008
August 9, 2008

I told you about Kobra Najjar in a previous entry. Thank you to one of my readers for sending along another way we can help her – and speak out against all stoning in Iran.

Consider signing this petition, written by Muslims and addressed to Iran’s leaders.

And, if you haven’t already – remember to check out the International Campaign Against Honour Killings – and sign up for their mailing list.

Jumu’ah dispatch #2

Last week, I posted a blog for jumu’ah, and have decided to do so every week. The subject will be likely be a spiritual matter I’ve been reflecting on over the week. I also welcome your suggestions for topics. Please feel free to leave a comment or email me  your ideas.

“Sectarian bloodbaths in Iraq … suicide bombers blowing themselves up in parking lots of hotels, taking innocent lives…female madrassah students in Islamabad waving cane sticks at shopkeepers and vendors … people being turned away from Islam from the harshness of many of those deemed “religious” …

There is a loss of mercy and gentleness around. Yet we see anger and harshness abound, and one wonders what has gone wrong.

In reality, Divine guidance and Prophetic teachings are nothing but a manifestation of mercy-and any understanding of religion lacking in mercy is lacking in true understanding.”

– Faraz Rabbani

Since last Friday, I’ve blogged about some of the most grievous things one human can do to another. Women in Pakistan have been threatened with acid attacks. Kobra Najjar, an Iranian woman, is facing imminent execution by stoning after having already survived sexual slavery.

I’ve received quite a bit of feedback on both of the above items. Many of you – Muslims and non-Muslims – are taking positive action: writing letters to Iranian officials to support Ms. Najjar, and signing up with the non-governmental organizations working against things like acid attacks and honor killings.

By taking these positive steps, you’re exhibiting mercy. Mercy, and gentleness in judgement – are both commanded of Muslims. Those who perpetrate crimes like those above are acting in violation of some of Islam’s most fundamental precepts. That is why it is so important for the rest of us to step up to the plate.

Last night, after a meaningful email exchange about judgementalism, mercy, and values, I stumbled across this article from Islamica Magazine. In it, we are reminded that when confronted with insults – judgements – the Prophet (pbuh) insisted on responding with gentleness and mercy. He said that “Allah is gentleness, and loves gentleness in all matters.”

Not only should our actions for social justice come from mercy – so should should our daily interactions and reactions – no matter the vitriol, the tension, or even the hate we are faced with. A valuable reminder for me, and hopefully for others too.  

What does mercy mean to you? What does your faith/set of values say about judgement and mercy?

Pakistani Taliban: wear hijab, or be disfigured

Good news: Congratulations to The Hijab Blog and Hijab Style on their feature story in the Toronto Star. I’m excited about the additional coverage being given to women who are pushing the envelope. In challenging expectations about Muslim women, they’re not only educating the West – but also empowering Muslim women worldwide.

Think their work is all superficial? You’d be wrong. Many women – including a hefty number of Western feminists – refuse to openly condemn human rights abuses that have some sort of “cultural” underpinning. Even if the excuse of culture is obviously rubbish. Many of them don’t have the guts. Imaan of The Hijab Blog does. She is “infuriated” about what I’m about to share with you – and I am too. 

Very, very bad news: Yesterday, the Pakistani unit of the Taliban announced not only that it demands “unislamic” businesses to close (CD shops, cable service providers and internet cafes) – they also warned women that they have 15 days to start wearing hijab – or have their faces maimed with acid. These guys claim to be out to destroy the “traitors of Allah” – while they go against every Qur’anic command to respect human rights.

Disfiguring women’s faces with acid has a long, scary history. See this story about women being burned in Kashmir, this account of acid burning in Pakistan, not to mention Bangladesh, Uganda, Vietnam, Cambodia, Ethiopia, the UK, Turkey, Colombia, Thailand, and the United States.

In some cases, like this one in London, acid is used to destroy DNA evidence after a woman has already been brutalized by rape.

While acid attacks do happen most frequently in Muslim-majority countries, this crisis doesn’t plague Muslims alone. It is vitally important to understand just how widespread these kinds of attacks are.

These acts can do much more than maim someone’s physical appearance. Blindness, loss of speech and even death can result. Many, after losing significant amounts of skin, are unable to survive the infections that ravage their bodies after an acid attack.

UNICEF once reported a story about a baby girl whose father poured acid into her mouth because she was not the boy he wanted his wife to bring into the world. She grew up unable to speak or hear.

Receiving the threat of an acid attack is alarming – but to see the pervasiveness of this horror is petrifying.

Now, an acid-maiming campaign is being launched – openly – against Pakistani women. Unlike when communities have been taken by surprise, the Pakistani Taliban has stated their gruesome, disgusting mission publicly. We cannot claim shock this time around.

BBC)
Kamilat Mehdi, Ethiopia (photo: BBC)

What can you do?

* Get involved with groups like the International Campaign Against Honour Killings. Acid attacks are often used in instances where a woman is seen has having “dishonored” her family, community, or religion. The ICAHK works against this brutality.

* Learn more from Amnesty International, and join their campaign to protect women’s rights.

* Educate yourself and take action. Start by watching videos like this in their entirety, and learn about the organizations you can become involved with. An example is the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which releases yearly reports on violence against women.

We cannot claim ignorance or justify inaction.

Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)
Asha, India (photo: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)

The bravery and legacy of Aqsa Parvez

Aqsa Parvez was a 16-year old Muslim student living in a suburb of Ontario, Canada when her father allegedly strangled her to death. Aqsa was, according to the press, a young woman whose father brutally ended her life because she chose not to wear the hijab – a Muslim headscarf. The story is nothing short of bone-chilling. As a young woman – and particularly as a young Muslim woman – I found my core especially shaken by Aqsa’s untimely and unthinkable end.

Aqsa’s story has been covered by several international media outlets, both mainstream and independent. Most, I’ve found, have treated both Aqsa and Islam with a respect and dignity rarely employed by the media when such a tragedy occurs.

I can’t say the same for all of my fellow Muslims.

I recently read a commentary on Aqsa’s case by a progressive Muslim activist.  The writer advised his audience not to “read too much into” Aqsa’s death. After all, perhaps Aqsa’s father hadn’t killed her. Perhaps it was an “accident”. We were told that what happened to Aqsa shouldn’t be seen as evidence that honor killings are becoming an epidemic (though even modest figures as to their frequency suggest otherwise).  We were also cautioned against making all Muslims look bad by being outraged at a cultural – not religious – system condoning the death of countless innocents. We should, he seemed say, lay low. Let this one slide.

This response, or non-response, is nothing short of complacency in the face of murder. The writer should be ashamed of himself. Equally shameful is whatever permits him to sleep at night without speaking out, unconditionally, against the slaying of his Muslim sister.

Am I worried about making Islam look bad? No. My faith is secure enough to tackle the question of why Muhammad Parvez joined the many Muslims who have deemed death a reasonable punishment for the “crime” of dishonor. I am also able to recognize, as many Muslims are, that honor killings are not an Islamic practice – but a cultural one its defenders justify by employing Islamist dogma, not Islamic faith.

Most of all, I am not worried about making Islam look bad because I know that Islam itself calls on us to fight injustice whenever we find it – and no matter who may not like us for doing so. In other words, the above writer, in his defensiveness about Islam, did both Aqsa and our faith a major disservice.

How can Muslims treat Aqsa with the dignity she deserves? By living up to the best of our faith.  Aqsa made the inherently Islamic choice to exercise free will. Aqsa was brave enough to not just realize, but also to live chapter 4, verse 135 of the Qur’an: “Believers, conduct yourselves with justice, and bear true witness before God, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, or your family”. This ayat (verse) tells me that we have a fighting chance of defeating those who manipulate our faith to further their own malignant intentions.

When Muslims also invite non-Muslims to criticize unjust practices happening under the banner of Islam, rather than playing victim to post-9/11 prejudice – claiming that non-Muslims have “no business” messing in “our business” – we demonstrate that our faith is, in fact, one capable of reconciling faith with human rights and religion with reason. Unless we live this ideal ourselves, we have no right to utter the phrase “Islam means peace”.

Aqsa Parvez paid the ultimate price for bravely exercising her God-given right to be true to herself, even in the face of terror.  May Aqsa rest in peace, and may we, the Muslim faithful, finally recognize that it is we who hold the power to end the kind of fear in which she lived daily. No culture, no society, and no religion should be exempt from examination, and Islam and Muslims are no exception. Until every Muslim takes ownership for the ills that plague our faith, Aqsa’s death is just as much on our hands is it is on her father’s. 

Reform-minded Muslims recognize our responsibility to act. To that end, we have started Project Ijtihad, an initiative to create the world’s largest network of reform-minded, human-rights focused Muslims and non-Muslim allies. Our lives are dedicated to making sure that one day, young women like Aqsa no longer fear for their safety or their lives. We call on all Muslims to live up to Qur’an 13:11 – “God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves”.

 God bless you, dear Aqsa. May we not permit your passing to be in vain.