“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” (Sahih International interpretation of the meaning of Surat an-Nisa, Ayah 135)
Sheikh Sami al-Majid:
“Justice is necessitated by nothing other than our shared humanity. We must be just towards all human beings, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. Justice is the greatest means of ensuring human dignity and human rights. Justice is what people ask for and expect from each other, regardless of their affiliations, loyalties, affections, and prejudices.
“Justice is not something that exists only in the courtroom. It is not something only judges decide. It is the way, we as people should conduct ourselves with each other in the course of our daily lives. We should instill it in our children from the time they are small. It should be the first manner of conduct that our preachers and Islamic workers call people towards. All people should be embraced by it without exception. No one is above justice. No one is excluded from it and no one is exempted from it.”
Statement by 50 year old Sri Lankan maid Ariyawathie, after doctors removed 23 nails which had been hammered into her body while working as a maid in Riyadh:
“I had to work continuously since I had to do the chores of all the occupants and when I wanted to take rest due to tiredness, they inserted the nail in my body as a punishment,” she said. “I had to work from dawn to dusk. I hardly slept. They beat me and threatened to kill me and hide my body.” She added that she arranged her travel documents to return home on her own expense. “They were really devils with no mercy at all,” she said.
Due to the graphic nature of the horrible abuse in this case, this incident is receiving a good deal of media attention. The problem of abuse of domestic workers in many Muslim countries is nothing new, however. Let us hope that increased attention to these cases is a sign that change is beginning to come.
AlJazeera English’s story on this case of torture included the following:
Hussein Shobokshi, a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat, the pan-Arab daily, told Al Jazeera that this “kind of story triggers the talk and debate to improve labour laws in the country. It is an issue that has been discussed for quite some time now through the Sharia Council and Human Rights Commission. You will soon see the ministry of labour, the Shariah Council and the Human Rights Commission jointly activate important rules and regulations in order to prevent such incidents from occurring again and punishing people who are responsible for it. Nowadays, you hear the cases being brought to justice, you hear the issues being put out in the media. This is a novelty; it had not been the case in the past.”
To get a sense of the scope of the problem, here are recent reports from media sources and human rights organizations regarding these issues.
2008 Human Rights Watch Report “As If I Am Not Human: Abuses against Asian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia”
August 1, 2010 New York Times, “Immigrant Maids Flee Lives of Abuse in Kuwait” “Rosflor Armada, who is staying in the Philippines Embassy, said that last year during Ramadan, she cooked all day for the evening meal and was allowed to sleep only about two hours a night. “They said, ‘You will work. You will work.’” She said that she left after her employers demanded that she wash the windows at 3 a.m.”
December 2009 CNN, Spate of suicides by foreign maids in Lebanon sheds light on abuse. “The two leading causes of death for migrants is suicide [and] dying while trying to escape from employers,” said Nadim Houry, Senior Researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Lebanon.
April 2010 Human Rights Watch Report “Slow Reform: Protection of migrant domestic workers in Asia and the Middle East.” “The governments discussed in this report have begun to introduce initiatives to improve the treatment of domestic workers or to prevent and respond to abuse. But change has been slow and incremental, and many of the most critical reforms lag behind, such as including domestic workers in labor laws, divesting the employer of power over the domestic worker’s immigration status, and creating stronger oversight over recruitment processes.”
I do not desire to paint all Arab and Muslim employers with the same brush. I am sure that in many cases the domestic workers are treated as members of the family and are able to improve the situations of their families, no doubt this is why people continue to come seeking work. The point is that this case is another example of something which is obviously a widespread systemic problem and must be addressed, in the interests of justice. Cases of injustice and oppression are not addressed by ignoring or downplaying them, but must be met with continued attention and demands that the governments involved meet their responsibilities to provide for justice and that all of us as individals examine the way we treat people, especially those over whom we hold power. Any true commitment to justice must be consistent regardless of who the oppressor is and who the victims are or where the oppression takes place. This is something clear in the teachings of Allah and His messenger (sall Allaahu alayhe wa sallam) and it is a standard to which we as Muslims must hold ourselves.
Most of us are familiar with the famous Hilf al-Fudul, an alliance for justice that the Prophet (saw) entered into in Makkah before he (saw) received revelation. That alliance, which was made by decent people who were outraged by the abuse of someone considered weak in the society, without tribal support to defend his rights, not only called for those who joined not to oppress others themselves, but gave them a personal responsibility to defend the rights of the oppressed who had no one else to defend them, regardless of religion or tribe. I encourage people to contact the Embassy of Saudi Arabia and express concern for the treatment of migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and to demand justice for Ariyawathie and all those who have been abused and oppressed.
Contact information for the embassy is here. I also encourage people to suggest any other actions that we can take regarding this issue in the comments section.
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