My mother wants me dead: Catholic convert speaks out after fleeing her Muslim family following ‘honour killing’ threat
By Rob King
A women’s rights campaigner has revealed how she fears for her life after her strict Muslim parents threatened to kill her when she dared to refuse an arranged marriage.
Sabatina James said the threat made her flee the family home at 18, change her name, convert to Catholicism and move abroad to set up a foundation for women in similar danger.
Her parents took her to court after she wrote a book about her experiences, in which she claimed to have been beaten as her teenager for kissing a boy and wearing clothes they thought were too revealing.
They sued her for defamation – and lost.
Miss James said she believed she would probably be dead now, if her parents had their way.
She told the Daily Beast: ‘I rarely go out alone.
‘I often wonder if someone is lurking around the corner.
‘I have always loved my freedom – but I have paid a high price.’
Miss James claimed that, after she refused to marry the man her parents had chosen, her father told her: ‘The honour of this family is more important than my life or your life.’
But she added that her mother was even stricter, beating her and watching her every move to the point where she had ‘no anchor’.
Miss James, who grew up in a rural village near the Kashmir mountains, said her problems began when she was 15 and the family lived in the Austrian city of Linz.
While she enjoyed the freedoms of Western culture, such as wearing lipstick and eyeliner, her conservative parents, who were brought together in an arranged marriage, disapproved.
Her father even thought acting classes were for prostitutes, she said, while her mother believed using tampons would ‘ruin’ her virginity.
It made her parents more determined to marry her off to preserve the family’s ‘honour’, she added.
Miss James said her mother once hit her across the cheek, kicked her legs and called her a whore after reading in her diary that she had kissed a boy.
So began three years of violence between them, Miss James claimed, based on her refusal to be in a forced marriage and the embarrassment it caused the family’s Pakistani peers in Austria.
Miss James said her mother smacked her in the face with a shoe, splitting her lip, for having a t-shirt that was deemed to be too skimpy.
More trouble flared during a family to visit to Pakistan when she was 16.
After she attracted hoots and catcalls from a group of men while wearing an outfit she thought was ‘perfectly modest’, Miss James claimed her mother beat her again in front of relatives.
Her mother was so ashamed that she beat herself in the chest with a metal rod – a sight that shocked Miss James, even though she was aware there were Pakistanis who flagellated themselves.
Miss James’s parents sent her to an Islamic school, or madrassa, in Lahore, Pakistan, where she shared a room with about 30 other girls.
There were no chairs or beds, flies and vermin swarmed the bathrooms, and there were no sanitary napkins, only blood-stained towels.
The girls spent all day studying the Koran, praying and listening to lectures about the prophet Muhammad, Miss James said.
Any girl who spoke out of turn would be publicly caned in a courtyard, she added.
Miss James was expelled after three months, having refused to eat, and was do desperate to go back to Austria that she agreed to marry a man her family had chosen – but only so she could return home during the engagement.
She ran away from home after her parents learned of her intention to break off the engagement and threatened her, but they only followed her as she slept in a shelter and worked at a Linz café to survive
Miss James said their harassment caused her to lose her job, forcing her to run away again, this time to the Austrian capital Vienna with the help of friends.
There she began a new life, changing her name and converting to Catholicism.
She now runs a foundation in Germany, called Sabatina, which helps women escape their overbearing families and enables them to find shelter and work.
Miss James’s story was revealed only weeks after an Afghan father, his wife and their son were jailed for life after a jury found them guilty of killing three teenage sisters and a co-wife.
A judge in Canada described the crimes committed by Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Yahya, 42; and their son Hamed, 21, as ‘despicable’ and ‘heinous’.
The jury had taken 15 hours to find Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Yahya, 42; and their son Hamed, 21, each guilty of four counts of first-degree murder.
The bodies of sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar 17, and Geeti, 13, as well as that of Shafia’s first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were found in June 2009 in a car submerged in a canal in Kingston, Ontario, where the family had stopped for the night on their way home from Niagara Falls.
Judge Robert Maranger said the murders were ‘cold-blooded’ and ‘shameful’ and had ‘absolutely no place in any civilized society.’
Police forces in England and Wales recorded at least 2,800 honour attacks during 2010.
London had the most with 495, followed by West Midlands with 378 and West Yorkshire with 350.
The Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Cleveland, Suffolk and Bedfordshire forces also recorded more than 100.
In 2006, Banaz Mahmod, from Mitcham, south London, was strangled on the orders of her father and uncle because they thought her boyfriend was unsuitable.
Cousins Mohammed Saleh Ali and Omar hussain, both 28, were jailed last year for a minimum of 22 and 21 years respectively for the honour killing of the 20-year-old Iraqi Kurd.
The victim’s father Mahmod Mahmod and uncle Ari Mahmod were jailed for life at the Old Bailey in 2007.
According to the United Nations, 5,000 women and girls are murdered around the world each year for ‘shaming’ the family by acting in ways deemed disobedient or immodest.