In defence of the friends of Nabra Hassanen

Picture of Nabra Hassanen, a young woman with light brown skin, wearing thick, dark-rimmed glasses, a beige headscarf, a long, loose white over shirt with sleeves rolled up, and blue jeans with a tear at the right knee.Early last Sunday morning in a northern Virginia town, a young lady was kidnapped off the street during or after the taraweeh prayer (the night-time prayers held during Ramadan) having gone to get food to eat before beginning her daily fast. Nabra Hassanen, aged 17, was later found dead and police are awaiting results of tests as to whether she was raped before being murdered. The killer, an illegal Salvadorean immigrant named Darwin Martinez Torres, who had been involved in a confrontation with the group of friends Nabra was walking with, one of whom had allegedly thrown a drink at his car. The youths, ten boys and five girls, ran from their attacker; Nabra tripped over her abaya, was struck by Martinez with a baseball bat and taken off in his car. In the days since, some accusations have appeared on social media that the boys in the group displayed cowardice by running away and failing to protect Nabra. They are misplaced.

One of the posts reads:

If you claim to be a man (or even a boy, for that matter) and you see a sister being attacked, and you run, you are not a man. You’re not even a vertebrate.

Brothers, hear me well: You must DIE before you allow harm to come to a sister. You must GIVE YOUR LIFE to save her. If you flee so that you can live, you don’t deserve to breathe another breath.

I don’t want to hear anyone ever say anything about Hijab or Mahram or men being protectors of women or ANY of that until every so-called Muslim man understands that giving one’s life to save a sister is the only option. Fleeing to save one’s own life is never an option for a Muslim! A nation that does not honor, respect and protect its women can never be a nation. They will only seek to be one but will never achieve it. That is where we are at.

I’m not sure where he got the evidence for his comment in the Qur’an or Sunnah from. We know it is a major sin to flee from battle; laying down one’s life for another individual as an obligation when the odds are very much against you is another matter. We do not know the ages of the boys involved in this incident; they could have been as young as 13, when most boys, even if they have physically reached puberty, are no match for most grown men. One can also assume that the boys in the group were unarmed; the attacker had a baseball bat (and a car, which as we very well know can also be used as a weapon) and they did not know if he had any other weapons or not. Although American law allows adults to carry weapons, if they have a licence, minors (which it appears these boys were) are not permitted to in Virginia; open-carry is permitted to those over 18 with a licence, while concealed-carry licences are issued only to those aged 21 or over. There is no comparison between this and anything that happened in the time of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) because in that time, most men carried swords and were trained to use them from a young age, and no attacker would have been carrying anything more powerful than a sword. In our time, most people have never seen a sword.

I made these points on Facebook and somebody calling himself “Ideal Muslim Man” reminded me that teenagers are men in Islam, not boys. True. But western society expects those under 18 to accept the status of a child, and punishes them for behaving above that station. In many schools, pupils stand to be punished for using violence even in retaliation for bullying or to defend someone else. They are expected to get adult help. Middle-class people of colour, and increasingly Muslims, are taught not to display aggression; this can get you killed, as authority regards them as threats by default. The young lads who ran away were doing exactly what would have been expected of them, and we are assuming they even knew that Nabra had been taken — if they did not hear any sound, they might well have assumed that she was running, like them, and realised otherwise only when they arrived back at the mosque. There is a well-known hadeeth about making “seventy excuses for your brother”, yet here we see men condemning boys without even knowing the full facts of the situation.

Another Muslim brother who had worked with troubled adolescents and saw some of this chatter commented:

I worked in a behavioral facility for the total of about 6 or 7 years. We routinely had to deal with acts of aggression committed by teenagers who took out their violence on the staff (sometimes justifiably). When you take a group of kids who are not used to fighting and pair them with a couple of grown men, from my personal experience and witnessing, the kids lose EVERY TIME. Fifteen “street hardened” teenage boys (16-19) from the rough parts of Washington, D.C. could not handle 3 or 4 grown men who were restrained by company policy and the threat of legal ramification. Those were young men. With girls, I personally watched one man half my size get jumped by a group of 6 girls who were routinely aggressive handle every last one of them with relative ease. Had you given him a baseball bat, the few scratches that he did walk away with would not have been there.

Nabra Hassanen and her father, a middle-aged man of Arab appearance, and a young girl in front of him in an airport departure lounge. Nabra is holding a sign which says 'Is someone you know being detained? Free legal help'He believed when he wrote that that all of the group were female. But the fact remains: very young men and boys are generally not a match, even in a group, for men in their prime, and no adult has a right to condemn a group of young Muslims who have suffered a traumatic loss for doing what society has taught them to do and possibly the only thing they could have done in the situation, without knowing the full facts. It’s undeniable that Muslim women are being expected to put themselves in danger to a greater extent than most Muslim men at the moment by wearing hijab in an increasingly hostile western environment, to bear the brunt of other’s hate stemming from things Muslim men do, while their menfolk dress in western clothes and grow a short beard and usually look indistinguishable from anything else. We cannot, however, blame teenagers for the inadequacies of their elders.

The official reaction to this crime has caused a lot of anger in the Muslim community, with local police at one point stating that they were treating the incident as one of ‘road rage’ rather than a hate crime in which the young lady was attacked for her religion. Especially as they were investigating the possibility of rape, something which does not normally happen in road rage incidents (as opposed to assault and, sometimes, murder or manslaughter), this suggestion seems crass and calculated to blame the survivors, who gave no provocation that could possibly justify attacking and killing a defenceless young woman. It will come as no great comfort to anyone that the murder of Nabra Hassanan was part of a much longer history of violent hate than modern Islamophobia — namely, misogyny.

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