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January 30th, 2012
01:30 PM ET

Islam doesn't justify 'honor murders,' experts insist

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

(CNN) - Zainab Shafia's crime was to run off to marry a man her parents hated. Middle sister Sahar's crime was to wear revealing clothes and have secret boyfriends. Youngest sister Geeti's crime was to do badly in school and call social workers for help dealing with a family home in turmoil.

The punishment for all three teenage Canadian sisters was the same: death.

Their executioner: their brother, acting on instructions from the father to run their car off the road.

Another family member, their father's first wife in a polygamous marriage, was also killed.

Hamed Shafia, his father, Mohammed, and his mother, Tooba Mohammed Yahya, were sentenced to life in prison for murder, with Judge Robert Maranger excoriating their "twisted notion of honor, a notion of honor that is founded upon the domination and control of women, a sick notion of honor that has absolutely no place in any civilized society."

Leading Muslim thinkers wholeheartedly endorsed the Canadian judge's verdict, insisting that "honor murders" had no place and no support in Islam.

"There is nothing in the Quran that justifies honor killings. There is nothing that says you should kill for the honor of the family," said Taj Hargey, director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford in England.

"This idea that 'somehow a girl has besmirched our honor and therefore the thing to do is kill her' is bizarre, and Muslims should stop using this defense," he said, arguing that the practice is cultural, not religious in origin.

"You cannot say this is what Islam approves of. You can say this is what their culture approves of," he said.

The Shafia family is originally from Afghanistan.

Experts say honor murders take place in many parts of the world.

"It's definitely a problem that happens in many different places: the Middle East, Pakistan, Bangladesh and among immigrant communities in North America," said Nadya Khalife, a researcher on women's rights in the Arab world for Human Rights Watch.

Several Arab countries and territories, including Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Yemen and the Palestinian territories, have laws providing lesser sentences for honor murders than for other murders, Human Rights Watch says.

Egypt and Jordan also have laws that have been interpreted to allow reduced sentences for honor crimes, the group says.

Reliable figures of the number of honor murders are hard to come by, Khalife said, but she pointed to a United Nations Population Fund estimate of 5,000 per year.

Khalife agreed that the practice should not be blamed on Islam.

"It's not linked to religion; it's more cultural," she said. "There have been several Islamic scholars who have issued fatwas against honor killing."

Mohammed Shafia, who denied murder, said himself in court that Islam did not justify honor murders.

"In our religion, a person who kills his wife or daughter, there is nothing more dishonorable," he testified.

But Shafia was heard condemning his dead children in wiretapped conversations played in court.

"May the devil defecate on their graves! This is what a daughter should be? Would a daughter be such a whore?" he said.

Hargey, the director of the Muslim Educational Centre, said violence was sometimes the result of painful transition.

"Muslims are in a state of flux," he said.

"They are between two worlds: the ancient world and the new technological age," he said. "Women are getting rights and the ability to choose their own spouses. The family in Canada didn't know how to respond to this: the conflict between the discipline of children and the new reality."

Irshad Manji, the author of "Allah, Liberty and Love: Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom," said there was another conflict at work in honor murders, a term CNN uses in preference to "honor killings" because the latter phrase does not properly describe the crime.

It is "a tribal tradition that emphasizes the family or the tribe or the community over the individual," she said.

Although the practice may not be Islamic, she said, not all Muslims understand the distinction.

"It is a problem within Islam because of how Muslims often confuse culture and religion," she said. "It's Muslims who have to learn to separate culture and religion. If we don't, Islam will continue to get the bad name that it gets."

But one vocal British campaigner against honor violence points out that not all the crimes are perpetrated by Muslims.

Jasvinder Sanghera, who was the victim of a forced marriage, is not Muslim; she is Sikh.

"Significant cases are happening within South Asian communities, be it Pakistani, Indian, Sikh, Muslim, Kurdish, Iranian, Middle Eastern communities," she said.

"And we have to recognize that because the statistics don't lie. I am not standing here trying to embarrass those communities. But equally, those communities should be ashamed because this is happening in their community and they are not taking a stand," she said.

On the other hand, honor murders are not a problem in Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population.

"No such a practice can be found among Indonesian Muslims," said Azyumardi Azra, the director of the graduate school at the State Islamic University in Jakarta, Indonesia.

" 'Honor killing' is, I believe, a cultural problem among Arab and South Asian Muslims. I don't think that kind of practice has an Islamic basis," he said.

Although women and girls make up the overwhelming number of victims, there have been at least some male victims, including Ahmet Yildiz, a gay Turkish man whose fugitive father is the main suspect in his 2008 shooting death.

Britain has had about a dozen honor murders per year for the past several years, said Ghayasuddin Siddiqui of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.

He, too, said the crimes were not justified by Islam.

"This comes from tribal customs where the father - not both parents - see children as their property. A girl decides to marry somebody of whom their parents do not approve, and they conspire and find some way to kill and dispose of this body," he said. "This is a kind of misplaced shame that parents feel that their daughter has decided to marry somebody of her choosing, not theirs."

Britain's Crown Prosecution Service has an expert devoted to prosecuting honor-based violence, Nazir Afzal.

Convicting perpetrators can be difficult, he said.

"There is a wall of silence around this, and people are not prepared to talk," he said.

But Afzal insisted that it was "absolutely important that you bring every single person to justice because you want to deter other people from doing it."

And along with the Islamic scholars and human rights advocates, he rejected out of hand the idea that religion justified it.

"At the end of the day, murder is murder. There is no faith on Earth, no community on Earth that justifies this," he said.

"Abrahamic faiths say 'Thou shalt not kill,' " he pointed out. "At the end of the day, nobody should die for this."

CNN's Paula Newton, Atika Shubert, Bharati Naik, Ashley Hayes, Ivan Watson and Becky Anderson contributed to this report.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Canada • Islam • Violence

soundoff (2,112 Responses)
  1. Dr Mahasen

    This is not what Islam approves of. You can say this is what their culture approves of>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Islam is a good religion and I am proud that H am Muslim woman, I am Doctor of theoretical physics in a university in Egypt , I am free an no one can abuse me . please say the truth about Islam and don't say lie.

    May 6, 2013 at 1:22 am |
    • Maria

      Death for Adultery:::

      If a man commits adultery with another man's wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death.(Leviticus 20:10 NLT)

      Death for Fornication

      A priest's daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death.(Leviticus 21:9 NAB)..

      June 25, 2013 at 5:40 am |
  2. Incusyrousy

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    April 10, 2013 at 12:02 am |
  3. madihwa

    So what would this be called? I know a middle aged American divorced father of 2 who recently married a middle aged divorced woman from Iran. He is being forced to become a Muslim. He was told that if he and he wife came back to Iran to visit her family he would be in danger of being beheaded unless he converts. It's not her family that's threatening him. It's the other people in the country. Medieval or what? It should be nobody's business but their family's, right? But it appears it's not. Seems barbaric to me.

    October 26, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • Ahmed

      It's her fault. She can't marry a non-muslim. Rules are simple. Like the alien status in USA. You have a right to welcome certain people up to a certain time. It's your business.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:54 am |
  4. AwiseManSaid

    All religions suck, some more than others, none more than Islam!!

    October 13, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Brad

      A manual of Islamic law certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, says that "retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right." However, "not subject to retaliation" is "a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring's offspring." ('Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2). In other words, someone who kills his child incurs no legal penalty under Islamic law.

      Do "honor killings" have their roots in tribal practices? Certainly. However, Islam is deeply rooted in those same tribal practices, and honor killings are similarily based upon Islamic theology, and indeed approved by Islam.

      October 15, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
      • PROVE IT.

        Oh really?

        http://www.shafiifiqh.com/maktabah/relianceoftraveller.pdf

        This the ruling you're referring to? Or from some garbage right-wing, Islamophobic, racist, anti-Muslim website? Because surely someone like yourself, who would have done SOME basic research would find that what you're quoting is nothing more than BULL.

        You racists crack me up.

        And before you go on a diatribe about "you can't be racist to Islam" – more BULL, Islamophobia is already found to contain huge racist elements and motivations on the parts of those hating on Muslims; you're the same people who say "I'm not racist but" – which I suppose you think justifies you're genocidal prejudices. Moral of the story: don't make up porkies, and stop the hate there, racist.

        October 29, 2013 at 12:24 am |
    • Ahmed

      To Brad:
      That is not true. Islam does not approve of any unjustified killings. No exceptions for killing offspring or any others without a similar killing (i.e., death sentence). Review that book again. There is a mistake somewhere. Furthermore, Islam is not based on culture. It's a message from Allah. If you read a little more in perhaps better introductory books, you see what I mean. Islam is a religion of justice and peace and many other virtues. Unfortunately, many crimes and committed in its name by ignorant followers who don't understand Islam.

      November 12, 2012 at 3:57 am |
    • Dr Mahasen

      This is not what Islam approves of. You can say this is what their culture approves of>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
      Islam is a good religion and I am proud that H am Muslim woman, I am Doctor of theoretical physics in a university in Egypt , I am free an no one can abuse me . please try to know the truth about Islam.

      May 6, 2013 at 1:25 am |
  5. Smilla

    "Experts" say that honour killings don't exist! Like they know anything at all... Any society based on shame and honour has it in for women, and Islam is one of them. Oh yes.

    October 4, 2012 at 2:22 am |
  6. Trials

    Test

    September 16, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  7. Trials

    Trials and tests

    September 16, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  8. borntdings

    Every moslim interviewed in this article who said honor killing was a cultural phenomena and not encouraged by islam is a LIAR!!! AND I JUST LOVE CATCHING moslims RED HANDED IN THE MIDDLE OF LYING!!! Honor murder is purely islamic in origin. The quran clearly states that the murdering your children is both permissible and encouraged in order to better serve islam.
    quran chapter 18 verses 75, 81 and 82. I have to paraphrase a little because the quran is a rambling mess of babble. Here are the honor murdering versus straight from the quran; "So they journeyed on till, when they meet a young boy, HE SLEW HIM. Moses said, Hast thou slain an innocent person without his having slain anyone? Surely thou hast done a hideous thing? He replied, did I not tell thee thou wouldst not be able to journey with me in patience?" "And as for the youth, his parents were believers, and we feared lest he should cause them trouble through REBELLION AND DISBELIEF. So we desired that their lord (allah) give them in exchange a child better than him in purity and closer in filial affection."
    islam is the religion of hate and murder, to include child murder!

    August 30, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Joshua

      I am astounded by the length that some people go to to lie, distort facts and spread hate. The versus you mentioned refers to a story about an experience that Mosses had when he accompanied a wise man on a journey to learn from him, the wise man asks Moses not to question any acts that he might carry for things are not always what they appear to be (the versus you listed are not very accurate and I think you allowed yourself to manipulate them to serve your goal), this story is also mentioned in the old testaments as well. None of the texts in the Koran nor in the old testament encourages nor advocates honour killing or killing of any sort. I do wish you look deep into your soul and try to find the reason for this desire to lie and deceive that you harbour and seek forgiveness and accordingly peace with yourself and man kind.

      September 1, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Saad Alvi

      Because of course you would know better than those who have practiced Islam their whole lives

      September 3, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Jake

      Liar, liar, liar.
      Putting a verse about Moses, telling an old story making it look like islam's instructions.

      October 14, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Truth Hurts, Doesn't it?

      The verses you mentioned in your comments, they are about Moses, and it have nothing to do with any type of killing. Another Christian or Jew trying to degrade Islam, so his baseless religion look better.

      October 14, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Ahmed

      "The quran clearly states that the murdering your children is both permissible and encouraged in order to better serve islam". That is simply not true. Nor is Islam a religion of hate and murder.
      The verses you are referring to mean that Allah wanted to have mercy on those parents instead of letting their son cause them a lot of trouble later. Allah is all knowing and all merciful. Think of it like preventing a crime before it happens. Not only do you save the victims, you also save the potential perpetrator. Calm down and read stuff with an open mind.

      November 12, 2012 at 4:02 am |
    • Dr Mahasen

      this is a story before Islam . In Islam the killer mus be munched.

      Islam is a good religion and I am proud that H am Muslim woman, I am Doctor of theoretical physics in a university in Egypt , I am free an no one can abuse me or my childeren . please say the truth about Islam and don't say lie.

      May 6, 2013 at 1:33 am |
  9. Shazo51

    Mestre,
    You are the ignorant one. You told Imran to study, but you didn't even bother to read the above article. If you had, you would have learned that this barbaric treatment of women and the idea of killing girls and women to maintain family honor is NOT religion based. These cultural values existed way before Islam came to these people. It is so ingrained in them that no matter what religion a person belongs to, it is almost impossible to get rid of the practice. First, you have to educate the people and that could take hundreds of years. Even if someone is more "enlightened" to the point that they have given up the practice, pressure from other family and society may over-rule that person and take the matter into their own hands. Every religion and every society has its good and bad points, but not everything has to do with religion. Try to look at your own history. It isn't perfect either.

    August 28, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • borntdings

      Shazo51, you have absolutely no integrity! The quran clearly endorses murrdering your children for the sake of islam. You are a fool.

      August 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  10. TM

    Honor Killing has nothing to do with Islam. I am from Syria, and yes we have this problem, but it is not as common as western media leads you to believe. In the west, it is called "Crime of Passion" but you never see Anglo Westerners label those who commit these crimes as Christians , or they commit these crimes because they are Christians. Why are you Westeners so judgmental?

    August 27, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Jake Focaccia

      i'm not from the middle east, nor am a muslim, but it seems to me that there's confusion as to what is culturally embedded and what is religiously embedded with regard to the middle eastern societies. and i think the cultures in the middle east hide behind this confusion and use it as a 'scapegoat.

      there are a lot of cultural customs that are accepted and perpetuated of which the religion of the land has not "accepted." that's the argument, but the problem is that if the lopsided majority IS muslim, why should there be confusion as to what is accepted or not and why are these actions still going on. islam is a very strict religion, yet they can't handle their own extremists? c'mon, the reason why these heinous actions still go on and are a part of the daily lives over there is because they DO accept these actions in their religion.

      it seems that everyone is supposed to be tolerant of muslims, yet they are not tolerant of anyone. hm...

      August 27, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • borntdings

      I LOVE CATCHING moslims RED HANDED IN THE MIDDLE OF LYING!!! Honor murder is purely islamic in origin. The quran clearly states that the murdering your children is permissible/encouraged in order to be better serve islam.
      quran chapter 18 verses 75, 81 and 82. I have to paraphrase a little because the quran is a rambling mess of babble. Here are the honor murdering versus straight from the quran; "So they journeyed on till, when they meet a young boy, HE SLEW HIM. Moses said, Hast thou slain an innocent person without his having slain anyone? Surely thou hast done a hideous thing? He replied, did I not tell thee thou wouldst not be able to journey with me in patience?" "And as for the youth, his parents were believers, and we feared lest he should cause them trouble through REBELLION AND DISBELIEF. So we desired that their lord (allah) give them in exchange a child better than him in purity and closer in filial affection."
      islam is the religion of hate and murder, to include child murder!

      August 30, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • TM

      @Jake Focaccia

      This is a cultural practice that also happens in the Christian community. IT has nothing to do with Islam. If you have never been to the Middle East then how would you know what life is here?Why are white people so judgmental? I only see the level of ignorance from Anglo west,spreading hate and lies.And Honour Killings are not common in the Middle East as the western media portrays it to be. YOu in the west have crime of passion and kill women for simple things.Stop pointing your fingers at other society and look at your own backyard.

      September 1, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  11. imran khan

    Islam is the religion of peace and love. Islam does not allow anyone to impose his/her wish on his/her children. Islam teaches us to kill a single human being is alike killing all humanity. Islam gives free choice to girls to choose their husbands.I don't know why people or media blame Islam for bad things.They don't know Islamic principles but start criticizing it.I read some of the comments cites above, they are trying to show Islam is a religion of brutality and killing, I just say war in the way of ALLAH is(if someone is try to occupy your land and then war against those are obligatory in Islam). Before criticizing Islam one should study Islam thoroughly in order to get the basic of it.

    August 27, 2012 at 3:45 am |
    • Mestre Silva

      Imran,
      you ignorant fool, you should study, Islam is not a religion of peace, nor harmony. Look at what your religion created. the most ignorant, retarded community. It is easy to use the freedom that western societies provide to sugar coat a belief that is idiotic and divisive.
      May Ala, spider man, santa and the fairy god mother be upon you.

      August 27, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • borntdings

      imran khan is a liar!!! islam does not believe in defensive war, it believes in offensive war in order to spread it's hate. Honor murders ARE islams way of keeping people in line, if they step out of line they get slaughtered.

      I LOVE CATCHING moslims RED HANDED IN THE MIDDLE OF LYING!!! The quran clearly states that the murdering your children is permissible/encouraged in order to be better serve islam.

      quran chapter 18 verses 75, 81 and 82. I have to paraphrase a little because the quran is a rambling mess of babble. Here are the honor murdering versus straight from the quran; "So they journeyed on till, when they meet a young boy, HE SLEW HIM. Moses said, Hast thou slain an innocent person without his having slain anyone? Surely thou hast done a hideous thing? He replied, did I not tell thee thou wouldst not be able to journey with me in patience?" "And as for the youth, his parents were believers, and we feared lest he should cause them trouble through REBELLION AND DISBELIEF. So we desired that their lord (allah) give them in exchange a child better than him in purity and closer in filial affection."

      islam is the religion of hate and murder, to include child murder!

      August 30, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • awojoone

      Then show me a

      peaceful"" muzzslum???

      September 17, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
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