‘Vigil-aunties’ policing behaviour of young Muslim women

By Rebecca Davis 2 February 2012

They are calling them 'vigil-aunties', and two events in different corners of the world this week have brought them into the spotlight. By REBECCA DAVIS.

This week a horrifying story from Canada caught the world’s attention: three teenage girls murdered by their father, their brother and their mother. The parents, Mohammad Shafia and Tooba Mohammad Yahya, discovered that their three daughters – Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13 – had been dating boys, and found a packet of condoms in Sahar’s bedroom. They killed the girls with the aid of their 21-year-old son Hamed, and made the crime seem like an accidental drowning. Many commentators found the most disturbing element the role of his wife, Tooba, who defended her actions after the verdict by saying, “I am not a murderer, and I am a mother, a mother”, as if that identity provided sufficient justification for punishing her daughters with death for the crime of becoming too westernised.

Tooba is an extreme example of a type of Muslim women being dubbed ‘vigil-aunties’, operating as a kind of moral police force to enforce modest behaviour of younger women. In Pakistan this week, a journalist called Maya Khan was dismissed from the Samaa TV channel for her role in an hour-long TV show where she and a group of other women harassed couples in public areas. The women were filmed approaching couples, who were doing nothing more risqué than talking, and demanding, “Do your parents know your whereabouts?”, as well as other more intrusive questions.

Writing for the Daily Beast, author Asra Nomani says these incidents are not isolated: “Across the world, older women routinely harass, punish and sometimes even beat Muslim girls into submission.” Nomani pleads: “It is time for us to challenge what is honourable and what is shameful in Muslim society.” DM

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Photo: Mohammad Shafia and Tooba Mohammad Yahya and their son, Hamed, walk towards court. REUTERS/Lars Hagberg


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