City of Brass

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child abuse

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

I am pleased to see that Mr. Syed Mustafa Zaidi of Manchester, UK has been found guilty of child abuse. Zaidi, a Shi’a muslim, forced two young boys to participate in a ritual self-flogging exercise during the holy month of Ashura, in which Shi’a lament the martyrdom of Imam Husain AS, the grandson of the Prophet SAW. This act of self-flogging is an extreme one, only observed by a tiny fraction of Shi’a muslims, and even Zaidi’s own religious community expressly forbade boys younger than 16 to take part in the ceremony. That has not stopped Mr. Zaidi from (predictably) claiming that this is an issue of religious expression and a necessary act of faith.

The issue is notable because it serves to highlight the necessity of governmental oversight of
religious practice. Not to define what religious practices are
“correct” or not, but rather to simply be blind to religion when
evaluating issues against the law. The question of whether
self-flagellation is an authentic Islamic or Shi’a practice is a
(bloody) red herring – the question is simply whether the actions
violated Law. And they did, so Mr. Zaidi deserved to be prosecuted
accordingly. Bringing this issue into the domain of religious freedom
only serves to cloud the issue, and taint the entire muslim community,
Sunni and Shi’a alike.

(see related discussions at Talk Islam and at Deenport)



  • razib

    the question is simply whether the actions violated Law.
    what about sikhs and helmet laws? in the *ideal* i agree with this, but, as a matter of practicality there are cases where i think accommodation should and will always be made. that being said, this isn’t a black-white dichotomy; when it comes to the rights of women and children i doubt there will be much accommodation. when it comes to something like helmet laws the impact on other people is less important (though the public arguably will have to pay for medical bills in cases of injury in many states).

  • Aziz

    with regard to helmet laws, there are other arguments besides religious ones as to why a helmet should not be mandatory – this gets into the whole nanny-state debate, essentially. If such shades of gray exist then it’s hardly an “accomodation” – it is more of an acknowledgement that the Law is more an attempt at social engineering than a flat moral principle. Laws themselves are not black and white entities and also have a range from outright moral dictates to utterly asinine whims. As such, the sikh-helmet issue fits neatly into the gray area.

  • razib

    this gets into the whole nanny-state debate
    nations with universal health care are de facto nanny-states. the medical argument is a common one given for why sikhs should have to abide by them (though usually they end up not having to).

  • razib

    but more relevant to your point, some scandinavian countries (i believe sweden) have thought about banning infant male circumcision as child abuse since the the infant can’t give consent and obviously reconstruction is a rather difficult process. obviously this intersects with the religious dictates of many muslims* and jews, and the non-religious customs of many africans.
    * i know in some muslim countries males do not get circumcised traditionally until around puberty, like in turkey. so that might not be banned.

  • thabet

    As you know, I firmly put these sorts of questions in the ‘freedom of religion’ debate because the defendents frame them that way and the state is required to consider whether such acts (cicumcision, ritual flogging, avoidance of wearing helmets, etc) are an integral feature of a ‘religious tradition’, and thus deserving of the state’s protection.

  • pagansister

    Zaidi was properly charged, IMO. Forcing anyone for religious reasons (or any other so called “reason”) to “torture” themselves is abuse. I’m not even sure a 16 year old should be beating on himself, but at least he can perhaps refuse. The younger children didn’t have an option according to the charges.

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