On Thursday, 21-year-old Iman Rashid walked into an exam room at the Applied Science Private University in Amman, Jordan. After completing her test, she walked out of the classroom and encountered a man with a gun. He raised the weapon, shot her multiple times and then left the campus while shooting in the air, seemingly in celebration.
Rashid was found and transported to a hospital, where she died. Jordanian authorities have started a manhunt for the killer; there remains no clear motive for her murder. “She didn’t do anything,” her father, Mufeed Rashid, told Al Jazeera. “This is unfair … for what reason was the girl murdered?”
The killing did inspire speculation from news outlets and social media, like the Egyptian newspaper Al-Dostor, which suggested that her killer was a young man she had rejected. And it may have been for good reason — just days earlier, another young woman was reportedly killed by a jealous, aggrieved man after leaving an exam at her university campus. Naira Ashraf was stabbed to death in broad daylight, just outside the entrance at Mansoura University, in front of shocked passersby and security cameras.
The perpetrator, Mohammad Adel, was a university classmate who had repeatedly asked her to marry him. Despite her rejection, Adel continued to stalk her, forcing the family to ask local authorities to impose a restraining order. Those efforts had little impact, and Adel admitted to authorities that the killing was retribution for ignoring him. He is currently in custody and awaiting formal charges, but in the meantime, the case has created waves in Egyptian society.
“It may seem a crime of passion on the surface, but it actually revealed societal endemic ills,” Egyptian sociologist Said Sadek told The New Arab. “The incident spotlighted the violence and injustice women are subjected to in the absence of deterring laws or religious and social awareness that could confront regressive thoughts.”
Seham Ali, a lawyer and board member for the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, put it more simply. “This crime is the last straw, a warning that there must be a decisive action to protect women,” she said, observing that there are no specific laws on rejection violence and femicide in the country.
Similar cases abound across the Middle East. Last year, a young Kuwaiti woman was murdered after she rejected the marriage proposal of 30-year-old Fahad Subhi Mohammed. Incensed, Mohammad waged a campaign of harassment against her and her family, forcing them to press charges against him. Although Mohammad was detained by authorities, he bailed himself out and then devised a plan to kill Farah Hamza Akbar by stalking her, crashing into her car, abducting her and then stabbing her. He dumped her bleeding body at the entrance of a Kuwait City hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
And even when it’s not outright murder, violent harassment of young women by the men they rejected have led to fatal consequences. The story of Basant Khaled, a 17-year-old in a small village in northern Egypt, went viral last year when she died by suicide in December after being relentlessly bullied and mocked. As with the other incidents, Khaled rejected the advances of a young classmate. He then took revenge by teaming up with a friend to create and disseminate fake nude photos of Khaled, according to local media reports.
She became the center of toxic gossip in the community, which escalated with little recourse until her suicide. The ensuing uproar from people on social media ultimately led to the capture and prosecution of the two men, with the younger man being sentenced to five years in prison in March for statutory rape and circulating media without the subject’s consent.
Though these are three different people, each with their unique circumstances, the underlying motive is clear: When faced with rejection and a lack of consent, men too often lean into fatal fantasies of punishing women, justifying violence through the belief that they’re entitled to attention, love and sexual gratification.
By leveraging the narrative that women are deliberately hurting them through rejection, these angry, aggrieved young men see misogyny and violence as necessary tools for control — a concept that’s long been romanticized in patriarchal societies, not just in the Middle East, but Western cultures as well.
Much has been made of so-called sharia law and the disproportionate power of men in Arabic and Muslim worlds, including the phenomenon of “honor killings” of women by men in their own families for disobedience, perceived promiscuity and other “problem” behaviors. There are stories of young women like Israa Ghrayeb, a Palestinian who was beaten to death in 2019 by her deeply conservative male relatives for the crime of posting a Facebook photo with her fiancé.
It seems disparate from instances where rejecting a man led to a woman’s death, but in essence, Ghrayeb experienced the same force that Rashid did: The violent entitlement of men who believed they could and should exercise control over a woman’s decision-making, by any means necessary. It explains why a figure like Mabrouk Attia, a preacher and professor of Islamic Sharia at Al-Azhar University, reacted to the murder of Naira Ashraf by demanding that women “fully cover up” or else “meet the same fate” as her.
As lawyer Stephanie Palo wrote in a review of honor killings, attacks on women are often justified as men “restoring” honor and equilibrium within a community. And as journalist and human rights advocate Radhika Coomaraswamy wrote in 2005: “The ideal of masculinity is underpinned by a notion of ‘honour’ — of an individual man, or a family or a community — and is fundamentally connected to policing female behavior and sexuality.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s because these narratives and rhetoric have gained huge ground over the last decade in American, Canadian and European society, despite claims that liberalism and feminist progress distinguishes “the West” from other cultures. Indeed, self-proclaimed “incels” on one North American forum celebrated the murder of Rashid in Jordan, noting that “she deserved” being killed and that the threat of such violence was an effective tool to control and intimidate women in the future.
“Women need to realise that in the same way that women exert control over men through female monopoly power over sexual resources, men can exert control over women through male propensity for violence,” one forum user wrote. “In the same way it’s easy for a woman to deprive a man of sex with complete disregard for his biological need for sex/reproduction, it’s also easy for a man to deprive a woman of her life with complete disregard for her biological need for survival.” (Several other users eagerly agreed with this conclusion; “Ultra based,” one quipped.)
And while the killings in the Middle East are brutal, similar violence has spread exponentially in the U.S., and in arguably more extreme ways. There are certainly individual murders, including that of a 17-year-old who was killed by a Walgreens coworker who was romantically interested in her, and other tales of incels who stalk and attack women who “wronged” them. But there are also examples of mass violence inspired by men who feel they’re owed female attention, such as the Tallahassee hot yoga shooter and the Isla Vista killer.
Researchers continue to find that acts of femicide, or the intentional murder of women and girls because of their gender, are rarely spontaneous. Instead, they represent the breaking point for men who have long held grievances against women for a variety of perceived sins, and have already justified the need for violent intervention. Addressing this phenomenon requires more than shifting prosecutorial laws, or religious viewpoints, tracking potential incel killers or even banning the spaces in which they organize.
Men around the globe are increasingly blaming women and feminism for a variety of broader ills, including wealth inequality, economic stagnation, the lack of holistic health resources and the shifting definition of masculinity. Meanwhile, data continues to show that while men may be the principle victims of murder globally, women bear the burden of being killed because of gender stereotypes and misogyny in all levels of society.
A murder of a woman in Jordan may seem like a world away, but the motivations that led to her death couldn’t be closer to home. Rejection violence, and the targeting of women as catharsis for male entitlement, is happening all over the world — and extremists continue to cheer, wondering whether such bloodshed can spark an incel revolution.