The Thumbprint of Muhktar Mai (Excerpt)

Susan Yankowitz

It is twilight when I begin walking toward the farm of the Mastois, holding my prayer book to my breast. I am not afraid. I have done no harm to anyone. I have faith in God and respect the Sunna, our Islamic tradition based on the words and deeds of the Prophet. I know the Holy Koran by heart. With my father and uncle, I travel the dirt road and enter the Mastoi compound with its high walls. The clan chief, Faiz Mohammed, and four other men are standing there with rifles, and behind them are more men of their tribe; I cannot count how many, but I hear their angry voices. I spread my shawl on the ground to show submission and silently recite a prayer:

Praise be to God, Lord of the Universe,

The Compassionate King of the Day of Reckoning,

Thee only do we worship and of Thee only do we ask help…

Then I raise my head and say, “If my brother has offended you, I ask pardon for his action and beg you to set him free.”

Faiz glares at me with wild eyes and now I understand! He has no intention of forgiving our family, he wants only the thrill of humiliating someone—and as always it will be a woman. But never could I have imagined what happens next: Faiz shouts to his kinsmen,

“There she is. Do what you want with her.”

Four men pull me by my hair and arms and drag me into a windowless room. I am thrown onto a dirt floor…a stable. The only animals there…the only beasts!…are those men. I scream for them to release me but one man shows me his gun and the others hold me down. For more than an hour, I am raped by those four men of the Mastoi tribe.

My father and uncle could do nothing for me. Men with shotguns forced them to wait outside. They must have known what was happening, but they had no power. In my mind I can still see them standing outside the door, helplessly, while the men took turns, one after the other.

Day and night, I tell you, night and day, every woman, from the time she is a little girl, walks in terror of what happened to me. By the time we are eight years old, ten years old, we know that a man can grab us whenever he pleases and take us to some dark place where he will push us down…break into our bodies…destroy our childhoods and our futures. Inside our homes, we feel safe—but whenever we go outside we know we are in danger, and this fear takes hold of us, day and night, night and day. It is like a vulture flying just above our heads while we walk or work or play. And when it happens, as it happened to me, it is beyond any nightmare.



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Publisher & Editor: Herbert LEIBOWITZ
Co-Editor: Ben DOWNING
Associate Editors:
Assistant Editors:
Design and Art Direction: Alyssa VARNER
Printer: Cadmus Press

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