Sabatina James, born January 01, 1982 in Dhedar, Pakistan, was able to free herself from the oppression facing many Muslim girls and women. The oppression of forced marraige and the violent consequences for those Muslim women who resist being forced into an unwanted marraige. She wrote a book about her own painful experiences and has established Sabatina e.V., a non-profit organization which assists Muslim women lead lives of freedom and self-determination. Sabatina e.V. is to help women who are threatened by oppression and violence, to offer them protection and shelter as well as to assist them in developing their talents. Sabatina wants to increase public awareness of this abuse of women and prevent its use against them. Her mission is to fight for tolerance and respect for cultural diversity fostering a non-violent and peaceful co-existence in this world. When Sabatina James refused to participate in an arranged marriage, she sparked a violent war within her family that culminated in a threat on her life. When she was 18 years old her parents threatened to kill her. It was a threat they meant and if they would have had their way, Sabatina would certainly be dead today. The trouble began when she was 15 years old living with her family in the Austrian city of Linz. Austria was a world away from their native Pakistan, where she had grown up in a rural village in the shadow of the Kashmir Mountains. Sabatina loved the freedoms of her life in Europe with the T-shirts and blue-jeans, the lipstick and makeup. But her conservative parents did not like these western ways of dress and appearance. She and her parents continually fought about whether she could do things like taking swimming lessons and acting classes. Her father would tell her that these kind of things were for prostitutes. Tampons were an issue with Sabatinas mother because she thought they would ruin Sabatinas virginity. When her mother found her diary one day and learned that she had kissed a boy in the park after school, she physically assualted Sabatina and called her a whore. Just because when she herself was the same age as Sabatina she was already in an arranged marriage, she decided it was time for Sabatina to do the same.
Sabatina disagreed and this began a violent three-year long battle with her mother. In families rooted in tribal tradition, marriage is the obvious fate of a daughter. Strangely enough, fathers are not always the primary enforcers, sometimes it is the mother who is the most adament, which is much worse. in my opinion. When a young girl is trying to become a mature young woman and at severe odds with her mother it can be very detrimental. Sabatinas mother began watching her every move. One day, when her mother found a T-shirt that she thought was too skimpy, she struck Sabatina hard in the face with a shoe, splitting her lip. Still, Sabatina refused to submit because she didn’t want to disappear into a forced marriage. She wanted her freedom. For her parents, her rebellion was a source of deep shame for the family. They felt increasingly embarrassed among their Pakistani friends in Austria and they became more determined than ever to marry Sabatina off and restore honor to the family. At the age of 16 Sabatina and her family visited Pakistan. She can remember walking outside in clothes I felt were perfectly modest with loose pants and an ordinary blouse, but others saw it differently. A crowd of men formed, hooting and catcalling, prompting hear mother to beat her again in front of a roomful of relatives. And then a crazy thing happened - her mother began beating herself. Sabatina knew there were Pakistani religious fanatics who flagellated themselves when they were in a state of suffering, but she never expected to see her own mother doing this. She watched her mother in horror as she struck herself repeatedly in the chest with a rod, screaming, “I have given birth to a whore!” So, next her parents shipped her off to an Islamic school or madrassa in Lahore to “get educated” as her mother referred to it. Sabatina lived in a room with around 30 other girls with no chairs, no beds and no ventilation. In this room they did nothing all day but study the Quran, pray, and listen to lectures on the prophet from a mullah, who stood behind a curtain. If one of the girls spoke out of turn, she would be publicly caned in the courtyard of the compound. Flies and vermin swarmed the washrooms and there were no sanitary napkins. All that was available was just some blood-stained towels with a toilet that was just a hole in the ground.
After three months Sabatina stopped eating with this resulting in her being expelled. Eventually, she agreed to marry a man her family had chosen, just so she could return to Austria during the engagement. Later, when her parents realized she did not intend to go through with the wedding, her father told her - The honor of this family is more important than my life or your life. This was a direct threat on her life. It may sound extreme to most westerners, but it does happen. According to the United Nations, over 5,000 women and girls are murdered around the world each year for “shaming” the family by behaving in ways deemed disobedient or immodest. Sabatina decided it was time to leave home and she fled. She survived by sleeping in a shelter and working at a local café in Linz. Her parents harassed me at both the shelter and the café, showing up and demanding that she marry the man that had been selected. Each day they closed in more and more, like possessed demons, until she lost her job. Sabatina was only 18 years old at the time, so she escaped to Vienna with the help of friends. There she started a new life, changing her name and converting from Islam to Catholicism. Sabatina wrote a book about these experiences and her parents sued for defamation, but the court ruled in her favor. These days Sabatina is trying to break the marry-or-die tradition. She runs a foundation called Sabatina in Germany where she now lives. Her organization acts as an underground railroad, helping women escape their families by finding them shelter and jobs. Nowadays Sabatina rarely goes out alone and often wonders if someone is lurking around the corner waiting to attack her. She has always loved her freedom — but she has had to pay an extremely high price for it.
In a short note from Sabatina to her Facebook Friends about the recent study on forced marriages in Germany Sabatina said:
The study published by the family ministry proves that in Germany, more than 3,000 young girls have been forced to marry. If one calculates the number of the arranged marriages in addition, which are to be equated, in my opinion, with forced marriage, the numbers might lie, according to the Munich sociologist Dr. Aydin Findikci, and be at more than 30,000 cases per year. The study also proves that compulsive marriage mostly occurs in very religious Muslim families - 83.4 percent of the victims identify their parents are religious Muslims.
For years, cultural relativists wanted to beat into us that compulsive marriages have nothing to do with Islam. However, it now becomes clear that Islam is very much a cause for forced marriages. The role model of the prophet Mohammed plays a big role in the life of Muslims. He was more than 50 years old when he married his last wife, Aisha. When the marriage was contracted, Aisha was only six years old*. (* according to Bukhari) At the time of the marriage, she was nine. With this background, I call on Islamic associations to explain to Muslim believers that the practice from Mohammed’s life is not transferable to today and that forced marriages and arranged marriages are a crime.
From Sabatina James on Facebook
Sabatina James now runs the Sabatina EV Foundation, which offers aid and legal counseling to girls at risk of being forced into arranged marriages. She has spoken internationally on the topics of honor killings and forced marriage and her most recent book, The Truth Will Set You Free, was published by Droemer in September 2011. Her first book was called Condemned Without a Crime, but unfortunately neither is available in English at this time. A former devout Muslim who converted to Christianity, Sabatina lives life on the edge. She has been forced to move 16 times since 2001 because of death threats on her life for having left Islam. She is currently living in an unknown location in Europe under police protection.
See more and make contributions at www.sabatinajames.com
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