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Let Nadia Murad speak

Why are so many determined to censor survivors of ISIS?

Nadia Murad speaks at a news conference in Paris. Associated Press/Photo by Francois Mori

Let Nadia Murad speak

The Iraqi Nadia Murad, 28, is a survivor of sexual violence. She seeks to inform the world of sexual violence and those who perpetuate it. But the Toronto District School Board effectively canceled her.

Murad is self-identified as Yazidi—a minority religion that incorporates elements from mysticism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam.

She is co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, and also a UN Goodwill Ambassador. She was named the 2016 Woman of the Year by Glamour Magazine.

Nine years ago, while a teenager, she was kidnapped by fighters of ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), after the terrorists massacred more than 600 men of her village. She was then sold among the fighters as a sex slave, along with many other Yazidi girls.

According to the worldview of the ISIS members, enslaving Murad was morally justified, especially because she was not Muslim. It was war and female war captives are considered sex slaves—a dogma largely supported by traditional interpretations of the Quran, and many statements from Muhammad’s teachings and the historical record.

In fact, ISIS’ members may claim to be following Muhammad’s footsteps, as trusted Muslim sources reveal that he “had a female slave with whom he had intercourse, but [his wives] ‘Aishah and Hafsah would not leave him alone until he said that she was forbidden for him.”

Under the cover of ISIS, Murad—and many other Yazidi girls—were beaten and raped. But Murad was able to escape after three months. She found protection in a Western refugee camp and later moved to Germany under refugee status.

From Germany, she began an important mission seeking to support survivors of genocide and sexual abuse, drawing upon her experience under the ISIS’ terrorists. Her book The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight against the Islamic State became a New York Times bestseller.

She was recently scheduled to speak about her book with students from the Toronto District School Board, which has nearly 600 schools (with more than 250,000 students). However, Helen Fisher, the school board superintendent, canceled the event. She claimed it would “foster Islamophobia.”

Fisher’s unfortunate decision to cancel Murad is another disastrous failure of our Western education system in supporting free-speech and defending genuine victims of sexual abuse.

But we cannot combat the ideology of ISIS and its like without constantly exposing it for what it is and allowing a free space for critical thinking.

Toxic ideologies can only grow in a soil of ignorance. By censoring Murad, this decision gives cover and protects an ideology from criticism and critical assessment. Murad was sadly silenced for long by terrorists, and now, after she escaped, some want to silence her again.

Canceling Murad creates a dangerous space for more uninformed people to live in ignorance and an opportunity for ISIS to recruit those who would embrace such ideologies.

It cannot be denied that ISIS is still appealing to some—and that’s dangerous. They may have been defeated somewhat militarily, but their ideas, assertions, and teachings are still vivid and flourishing. They keep recruiting more “soldiers,” as they rely on the Quran, Muhammad’s sayings, and historical precedents to appeal to Muslims, especially impressionable young men.

Nadia Murad’s story exposes ISIS, its claims, and interpretations. But the superintendent is concerned about offending people. She uses a buzzword to support canceling the important event.

The word is “Islamophobia.”

By definition, islamophobia is presumably a phobia—an irrational and unrealistic fear of Islam as an ideology.

But note the fact that the term flourishes mostly in the West, and it really serves to shut down any criticism of Islam. For school officials, it seems, are afraid of Muslims, and maybe even more afraid of Western secularists.

I question Fisher’s use of the word, as no one is calling for hating Muslims. We should all support Muslims and love them, as people created in God’s own image.

Nadia Murad and many others like her are not irrationally afraid of an ideology. They are rightly concerned with the flourishing of radical religious claims and the advancement of atrocities supported by Islamic texts. In fact, this concern is shared by many Muslim scholars, who denounced the actions of ISIS’ fighters and followers.

School officials in Toronto should reverse course and allow Murad to speak. The decision to cancel her must be troubling for anyone whose job it is to think critically and speak freely. If talking about the ideology and actions of ISIS offends some people, it would be advisable to take a closer look at ISIS and its ideology. The truth is there for all to see.

Nadia Murad is seeking to inform the world of her true story—a 2014 Yazidi genocide, her abduction and sex enslavement by ISIS, and her freedom in the West, where she lives and flourishes.

Let her tell the truth—let her speak.

A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.

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