Shapes of Cuelty

                                                        Majid Ali, M.D.

Emigration is traumatic. The old support structures of immigrants are uprooted, and the new ones need time to take root. Even after many years, the new relationships are fragile. For immigrants, the conflict between old and new values is never fully resolved. The children of immigrants grow up in the adopted country with little, if any, understanding of the old traditions. For people in the Judeo-Christian tradition, immigration does not add deep religious schisms to the problems of cultural assimilation. Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and other Asian peoples who belong to various other religions seem to acclimate readily to American society without serious and prolonged difficulties. But for most Muslim immigrants the conflicts frequently seem beyond resolution.

More than one immigrant Muslim family is torn apart by the deep religious rifts between traditional Islamic values and contemporary American mores. Dating, for example, is explicitly prohibited in Islam. Muslims—especially women—have a great deal of difficulty coming to terms with the idea of their daughters dating before marriage, let alone going out with non-Muslim males. This, of course, makes finding husbands for Muslim women so much more difficult, because Muslim men date women of other religions freely.

A Pakistani woman once consulted me for poor general health and asthma. She lived a very stressed life. She was deeply troubled by the conflict her children faced growing up in the United States. I understood her anguish but had no answer.

“The worst part,” she spoke sadly, “is the way my own family treats me here. In Pakistan, we were all simply cousins. We went out together, talked, shopped and ate. We were like sisters. There was no hierarchy. Here, my cousins have become Bismillah sisters—that’s their family name. They consider themselves elite Muslims. They live as a tight clan. Everyone else is an outsider. They deride me for not keeping a Muslim home. It’s not that they don’t want to see me. They invite me to their houses, then make it very clear that they are superior Muslims, and that I am not one of them. I can somewhat understand when Americans discriminate against us, but to receive such treatment from Pakistanis in this country! And from those I knew well in Pakistan! From my own family! Women whom I regarded as my own sisters!”

One Muslim woman told me of her deep hurt when her own brother told her not to invite him to her daughter’s wedding if the daughter decided to marry a non-Muslim. Cruelty has many shapes.


Lions are the only feline species in which the females are so militantly sociable… Once a female becomes solitary, she can live in a group only if she rears a daughter. Unlike single males, who readily join unrelated companions, solitary females almost never team up with females from other prides.

Craig Packer, in “Into Africa”

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