A tragic story concerning an Egyptian father who killed his three young daughters with snakes last April was largely missed in the West. According to Emirates24:
An Egyptian man killed his three young daughters aged 7, 5 and 3 by letting a poisonous snake bite them. According to 'Al Youm Al Sabea'a' newspaper, the three kids were found dead in their bed in Bani Mazar town of Al Minya governorate of upper Egypt. Forensic reports confirm the kids died due to snake poison. The man allegedly bought two cobras and let them bite the children while they were asleep so as not to be caught. He was divorced from their mother because he doubted her. He alleged that the children's mother was in a relationship before marrying him and, therefore, denied that he fathered the kids. But she insisted he support the three daughters. However, when his second wife gave birth to a boy, he decided to do away with the children, he confessed to police under arrest.
While Emirates24 gives the story a Western spin—saying the man doubted his wife's fidelity, the true parentage of his daughters, and did not want to pay child-support—the Egyptian show, Al Haqiqa ("the Truth"), which devoted an episode to this matter, never mentioned this angle, but rather portrayed him as killing his daughters simply because they were girls. Among the many people interviewed who verified this was the maternal grandmother, who said that, beginning with the birth of the first daughter, the man became hostile saying "I hate girls" and had to be placated to return to his wife. This scenario was repeated more dramatically with the birth of the second daughter. When he discovered his wife was pregnant with a third daughter, he tried to poison the pregnant woman but failed. He then spent a year plotting how to kill the girls without getting caught and had even tried with different snakes earlier, which proved ineffective, until he finally succeeded.
After stressing that the father was clearly not insane, but acted in a very deliberate manner, the host of Al Haqiqa, Wael Ibrashi, explained that "this matter deserves discussion, since these mentalities are present in Egyptian society. We never thought that these understandings that existed in pagan [jahiliyya] times concerning female infanticide would ever return, but they have returned."
By "pagan times," or jahiliyya, Ibrashi was alluding to a famous narrative: according to Muslim tradition, pre-Islamic Arabs used to bury their newborn infants alive, if they were daughters, but the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, outlawed female infanticide.
While this was a positive step, unfortunately, it is only half the picture. Indeed, this brutal filicide is a reminder of an often overlooked phenomenon of the Muslim world: oftentimes it is not the specific teachings of Islam that inform the actions of the average Muslim—many of whom are wholly unaware what the Koran teaches, let alone Sharia—but rather the general culture born of 14 centuries of Islam. Marshall Hodgson originally coined the term "Islamicate" to describe this phenomenon, which refers "not directly to the religion, Islam, itself, but to the social and cultural complex historically associated with Islam and the Muslims…" (The Venture of Islam, vol. 1, p.59).
Consider the issue of forced conversion. While the Koran states that "there is no coercion in religion"—even Koran 9:29, which is said to abrogate such verses, allows Christians and Jews to remain in their faiths—from the dawn of history till the present, forced conversions have been a normal aspect of Islam. Why? Because while the average Muslim may not know the letter of the law, based on Islamic culture, they know being an infidel is a terrible thing. Hence, "compelling" such hell-bound infidels to embrace Islam can be seen as an act of altruism.
As for the issue of female infanticide, while Islam certainly does not promote killing females simply because they are female, it does teach any number of things which dehumanize and devalue them in Muslim society, including the notion that women are deficient in intelligence (which even an Egyptian female political candidate agrees with); men are permitted to beat their wives; a woman's testimony is worth half a man's; and infidel women taken in jihad raids can be bought and sold as sex slaves (which even a Kuwaiti female political activist agrees with). Muhammad even likened women to dogs and devils, and said most of hell's inhabitants would be women.
In this context, while Islam did not cause this man to murder his daughters, it certainly helped mold his low opinion of females, which was the seed of his misogynistic bloodlust.
Hence the great irony of Islam: it often matters less that Muhammad once said there is no coercion in religion or that female infanticide is wrong. His many other statements that characterized non-Muslim infidels and all women as "bad" have been more influential throughout the course of history, and seen any number of people forced to convert to Islam and any number of women abused and killed.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.