Thursday, 20 August 2009

Book Review: Mukhtar Mai – In The Name of Honour

I tend to avoid the “Not In My Name/Death Of A Princess” type books which are generally about women who have been mistreated horribly by Muslim men, mainly for two reasons. The first is because it annoys the hell out of me when people read this kind of book and apply the nastiness of the situation to the 1. billion Muslims around the world without any further thought into the matter. The second is that many of the books feel sensationalist and have been written by people outside of the culture and faith, with little understanding or ability to separate these two things.

This book caught my intention because firstly it was supposed to be ghost-written for Mai herself and secondly because she is Pakistani and attitudes towards her really amazed me. When I picked up this book, the seller handed me a few more of the “Muslim woman in peril” literature which I politely declined.

This is a short and easy to read book which I got through in two days. The subject matter however, is far from easy reading. Mukhtar Mai came to prominence in Pakistan when she reported to the police that she had been raped on the orders of a village council to avenge her 11-year old brothers’ alleged rape of one of the council members’ sister.

On suffering this horrendous crime, she describes going through the motions of considering suicide and then finding herself unable to function at all. This gives way to such a rage that she goes against the expectations of her family, village and aggressors and reports the crime to the police.

What follows is obstruction from the police who, aware that she is illiterate attempt to make her sign a false statement and threats from the family. All of this changes when the national and international media take up Mukhtar Mai’s story. The rest of the book describes her terror and hope as she takes the matter to the courts and the support she is given by many in her country as well as accusations that she is a traitor, is blackening the country’s name and wanted to be raped to make money out of the story!!! (which says a lot about some nasty little people’s mentalities).

Mukhtar Mai comes across as humble, but determined in this book. She has dictated her story to a French journalist who then assisted her in getting the book published and written. There were a few occasions when I wondered if these were really her words and thoughts, but could not be sure. I was also intrigued by another person who is mentioned often in the book. This is Salma, the sister of the rapist’s who Mukhtar Mai’s brother is alleged to have raped. Mukhtar Mai very clearly has a great deal of animosity against her and again and again mentions her loose morals and dubious sexual history. This is despite her assertion that women are often kept in control by threat of being slandered. This small element stuck out for me every time it was mentioned.

Something else that struck me was how much of this I did not recognise. The events take place in the poorer south of Punjab. My family is from the more affluent northern part of Punjab, and whilst I have no doubts over the truth of the story, what happened to Mukhtar Mai under order of the village council, or “panchayat” as we call it would be unthinkable in that region.

Overall this is the account of a horrible event, told simply and sparely, without voyeuristic details and with a specific intention to bring about change and improvement in the lives of Pakistani women and children.


  1. salaams sister, i too have read this book although it was quite a while ago so am not as clear on the content as you will be. however i do remember questioning some of the content while reading it, not trying to say that what happened to her is not true but i do think there is definitly sensationalism when it comes to the treatment of muslim women in the media.

  2. Assalam-alaikam Sister,
    As with you I could not say that what happened was not true, but I too had to question so much in the box. I could not point to specific parts of the book or be clear on what was making me uncomfortable (apart from the criticism of Salma) so I didn't dwell on that. I suspect a reader who is not of Pakistani origin or has not been to Pakistan might not pick up on these things at all.