by Huma Ahmad (jannah.org)
For the last two weeks, Muslims on the internet have been enthralled by a real-life drama playing out before their eyes. On Friday, December 16th, Aisha Khan, a 19-year-old Muslim woman from Kansas City, disappeared. According to media reports, she left voicemails with her family two hours before a final exam, describing a drunk man who accosted her. When her family raced to the campus location she specified, they found only her backpack and mobile phone and Aisha was nowhere to be found.
Thereafter followed what can only be described as an on-the-ground and online media blitz. Police coordinated a search with over ten detectives, 50 officers and security from campus, while officers on horseback diligently searched nearby parks and other locations. Video surveillance footage from nearby businesses were studied and every house within a mile of the University was canvassed. Family and friends created fliers of the beautiful Muslim girl showing her with and without a hijab, to blanket the city and the internet. Hundreds of emails were sent to Islamic lists and national Islamic leaders sent out tweets asking for people to help. Muslims and non-Muslims updated their social network statuses and added links about the disappearance, asking everyone to spread the news and pray for her return. Aisha’s parents, siblings and husband appeared tearfully on national television pleading with kidnappers for the return of their daughter, sister, and wife. The FBI was called in to help and a $10,000 reward was announced for any information leading to her safe return.
A facebook page was created with news and updates and people were asked to change their profile pictures to Aisha’s “Missing!” poster. Hundreds of comments appeared on the page by the hour from Muslims and non-Muslims as far away as Australia and Egypt with messages saying they were praying for Aisha and her family. Some said they were depressed, anxious, crying and praying all night and couldn’t sleep for worry.
The critical 72-hour mark came and went and still officials were no closer to finding out what happened to Aisha Khan.
Finally, on the night of Dec. 21, five days after Aisha went missing, the news broke. She had been found. She was safe and unharmed and was never held against her will. “On behalf of the Khan family, we are ecstatic to announce that Aisha has been found,” her family said in a statement posted on the ‘Help Find Aisha Khan’ Facebook page. “She is safe and is unharmed. The family is truly grateful to each and every one of your support and encouragement during this difficult journey.”
Within minutes, there was an outpouring of thankfulness and gratefulness, immediately followed by a firestorm of messages and statuses asking where Aisha Khan had been and what had happened to her. People were upset and felt betrayed. That were angry she had “lied and staged a kidnapping” and that she “had wasted the resources of the police, the media, the internet and the Muslim community.” Some were upset that she could put her parents through something like this. They called her “selfish”, “immature”, and “a brat” and using her “Missing” poster, created profile pictures with wording to mock her. Those who posted prayers for her just days before now were full of hate against her. Some were upset that the next Muslim girl who went missing would not be taken seriously. Others were upset that this was another reason for people to attack Muslims and Islam in a time of heightened Islamophobia. On the other side, rumors abounded that she was forced into an unhappy marriage and had sent emails to her family indicating she wanted to leave, and that she still wanted nothing to do with them. Other conspiracy theories included that something did happen to her but that the family wanted to keep it quiet for the sake of her reputation or that she might have had a nervous breakdown or had psychological problems. New articles in the media appeared talking about the “Facebook Mob” that wanted answers from Aisha Khan. Comments full of vitriol and argumentation for and against Aisha Khan and her family number into the thousands and continue until today.
The circumstances and reasons behind Aisha Khan’s disappearance are a mystery to us, and will probably remain so well into the future. The reasons may be difficult to understand and appreciate even for her family – and as a psychology major, I would say perhaps even to Aisha herself. I believe that we only know perhaps 10% of this story, while the controversy and speculation surrounding it have spun completely and disproportionately out of control. I don’t think we as Muslims should be fighting over what happened and who is to blame. There’s a larger and more important story here and that’s recognizing and working on the problems in our community.
As the transition from largely first generation Muslims moves to a second generation, a host of new problems and challenges will be presented to us. Whatever the truth may be in the Aisha Khan story, we can’t ignore the fact we have major problems affecting Muslims and their families in the U.S. We can choose to ignore them and have story after story and controversy after controversy affect us; or we can acknowledge that we have to change and work on certain things from the inside out in our communities first.
I thought that we together could come up with some *positive* things we can start working on in our community instead of arguing about the details of this controversy.
Let’s begin with…
- We need more trained Muslim counselors and mediators. These are people who are well-versed in Islam as well as in social work. Communities can set aside scholarship money for students or even adults to go back to school and do a degree in counseling in exchange for having open office hours for the community. Confidentiality agreements would be extremely important here. Perhaps we can bring in non-Muslim counselors along with an imam for when there is a problem in the meantime.
- Announce that our mosques are safe havens and if any kids feel that they cannot stand things at home anymore and want to run away, they can come to the mosque with impunity, and without judgment or punishment. Members of the community can help take care of them and try to work out solutions with the families.
- Educate our communities on the practice of forced marriage and how it is wrong in Islam. A girl always has the right to not marry someone. Parents are not the final authority, especially if they are acting in a way that is oppressive. We should recognize that forced marriages nowadays are not going to be with father holding a gun to a daughter’s head, but often through psychological pressure, which amounts to the same and is just as wrong.
- Educate the youth on how to deal with their problems in a mature way. They can go to other community members, family, imams, teachers or organizations for help as well.
- As Muslim communities we need to learn not to hide the very real problems going on among our youth and families. Yes, it is difficult to talk about domestic violence, child abuse, adultery, forced marriages and so many other of a myriad of issues. But it’s important for us to bring them out into the open and so that we can deal with them.
- Hold parenting seminars on a regular basis. Teach Muslims parents how to communicate and educate their children from an Islamic perspective.
- As in the story of Prophet David `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), authorities and people should be careful not to make judgments or take a side until they have heard both sides, and even then they should admit they do not know the whole story.
- Pre-marital counseling. In some faiths couples have a minimum of three to four sessions with their pastor to make sure they are compatible, ready for marriage and understand their rights and responsibilities before they are allowed to marry.
- Leaders in Muslim communities can hold crisis management seminars so families can understand how to deal with family issues in a productive way.
- Mosques and imams need to make themselves more open to women. Their education and spiritual needs should be met. Muslim women should not be left out in the cold and made to believe that mosques are “good ole boys clubs” and that they are second class citizens in Islam with no rights. They need the support and welcome of the entire community.
- Better marriage system and community support for Muslims to meet compatible people for marriage. The alarming divorce rate and amount of singles in our community who can’t get married is too high. We need to work on this problem as soon as possible.
Please add your suggestions here.