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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 (2,115 Responses)
  1. Cathy

    Although Islam doesn't officially condone the honor murder, it does virtually nothing to stop it. In Egypt, since the Islamists took over the homicide rate for women has increased 14440%. Coincidence? No. Islam brainwashes people to think women should be submissive to men and are second rate people. That belief system sets the stage for abuse and murder of women.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Aliyah

      I could not have said that better

      January 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  2. jon

    Islam lists women as property and Sharia law condones it, Muslims can deny it all they want, but it's a daily occurance

    January 30, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Angelica

      I'm sorry but you are so horribly wrong. Islam gives me the right to work outside my home, divorce my husband if I am unhappy, the right to marry who I wish, the right to an education, the right to inheritance. We have the right to our children after divorce. We don't take our husband's names because we are NOT his property and he is NOT ours. We don't view men and women as IDENTICAL but we are EQUAL in the rights afforded to us. So you can deny this all you want but believe me you are the telling the fallicy, not me.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  3. micook

    Rescue all Muslims who wan't to live in the 21st century, bring them to other lands and then Nuke the hell out of the rest! No need for a bunch of fools who stuck 500 years ago in time!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  4. watash60

    just brainwashed muslims at work

    January 30, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  5. Jack

    According to the official statistics only 32% of Honor killings are committed by Muslims. 43% are committed by Christians and the rest are made up of Hindus, Atheists and others.

    Stop spreading lies just because you hate a religion

    January 30, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • 3rdman

      I appreciate the statistics but it would be nice if someone in the comments section actually posts the sources of these links.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • toadears

      Total and complete horse hockey. There is no such practice as honor killings in Christianity. Just because someone is caucasian and living in a western country does not mean they are Christians. You are insane and proving with every post that Islam is in denial about its problems.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  6. Jack

    The Qu'ran states that women are equal to men. It does not dictate they cover their face that is a cultural habit that had been happening since Moses.

    Incoming out of context quotes

    January 30, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  7. sftommy

    These men dishonor themselves in Allah's eyes. Allah stamps all the souls with dishonor of those who kill their children. Just as Allah/Yahew,/God marks all those those who kill the innocent with dishonor. Which ultimately is why still Allah favors the US over most of the nations of the middle east. Stop killing each other and Allah may relent in your sufferings.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  8. Andrew

    TIME TO PULL OUT THE ARCHIVE

    IT IS A UNDENIABLE FACT THAT THERE ARE MORE FAMILY MASSACRES HERE IN THE UNITED STATES, THEN ANY PART OF THE MUSLIM WORLD.

    WHY ARE SO MANY CHRISTIAN MEN MASSACRING THERE FAMILIES HERE IN THE UNITED STATES?

    WHY ARE SO MANY CHRISTIAN YOUNG BOYS AND TEENAGERS SLAUGHTERING THERE PARENTS HERE IN THE UNITED STATES?

    WHY ARE SO MANY CHRISTIAN TEENAGERS AND YOUNG ADULTS KILLING PEOPLE THAT THEY GO TO SCHOOL WITH?

    January 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • toadears

      Why are you insisting on typing in all caps?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • sean

      Why does islam permit the phrase" honour killing" ? there is no honour in murdering anyone.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • @ Andrew

      I would off you if you were my son for typing in all capitals...just saying.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • shut_up

      why the LARGE caps and why cant you spell?????

      January 30, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • GodIsTheWay

      Will you be so kind as to find the quotes in the New Testament that demand honor killings? I'd appreciate it, as they don't exist.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  9. Jack

    According to the official statistics only 32% of Honor killings are committed by Muslims. 43% are committed by Christians and the rest are made up of Hindus, Atheists and others.

    Stop spreading lies just because you hate a religion

    January 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • closetiguana

      Atheists honor killings? How exactly does that work? Children dishonored the family by believing in gods? Celebrating Christmas? List one example, please.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • toadears

      GET HELP. We have never heard of the term 'honor killings' in the West until people from the Middle East arrived here.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • marc

      You are making your own statistics!!!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • GodIsTheWay

      Your "statistics" are made up. Christianity does not allow honor killing, or killing of any kind. Love thy neighbor, and love God. I don't see either of those condoning killing of any kind. I will say that man has killed man "in the name of God" ever since the days of Pagans in Europe. Even then, clan fought clan over the name of God. They just had different names for Him, then. I'll also say, that having done research on Islam, all of my research indicates that the Quran actually calls it an Islamic duty to kill anyone who does not follow Mohammed's rules to the letter.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • utahsang

      What are the official statistics and where can some one find these statistics?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  10. Steve P

    RE:Steve C

    Oh, Canada ???? Oh, Canada, what? This has nothing to do with Canada or Canadians. These honor killings could have easily happened in the US and has happened in the UK and other European countries. It has to do with a subset of Muslim immigrates to Canada that cannot adjust to Western society. In particular, they were not able to deal with the inclusive, tolerant society that Canada is for different cultures and instead they cling to a perverse version of Islam.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • utahsang

      It has happened in the United States just last christmas morning in Texas a muslim man dressed in a santa suit killed six of his family members and himself. However these honor killings I believe only represent a small radical part of Islam.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  11. jimzcarz

    You know with this whole arab spring movement they ought to update the quran a bit and give women higher status than goats.
    Even the christians adopted a new testament.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • 3rdman

      Yeah but it took them several hundred years to do it.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Carl

      The New Testament not only took a long time, but it was far from perfect. Ephesians instructed slaves and women to submit to their masters and husbands as they would submit to Jesus.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  12. Common Sense Behavior

    Take the good, throw out the bad and ugly and then run out the door from whatever B.C. or 100 A.D. and towards the year 2012. No one takes it literally anymore that we have to make bbq sheep sacrifices to Baal or whatever today. It was just good advice that if you didn't follow, you would die of disease or some kind of social problem like your neighbor killing you out of anger. Today, do we need a book written millienia ago to tell us how not to be barbarians, or are we pretty much the same but with better killing tools. Use your common sense and after all why can't people just be good people. Antique codes for a medieval time gone by.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  13. Carl

    You can always find a religious "expert" who will deny that whichever religion does not support a particular heinous act.

    These are not general experts on Islam, they are promoters of a narrow and [thankfully] peaceful interpretation of it, in spite of the disturbing reality of many of its texts. However, they do a disservice to their own cause by pretending that their interpretation is the only possible reading of the Hadith and Koran and therefore they act as if there is no reason to refute the bad parts of their religion. This is not not helping.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • toadears

      Agreed. They waste too much time in defending the bad apples in their midst instead of praising and pointing out the good ones.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  14. Dolphinvet

    If there is no connection between Islam and honor killings, then why do 91% of honor killings involve Muslims?

    January 30, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • winstonsmith

      Anything negative you say about Islam you could also say about Christianity. They both have insane ideas and laws if taken literally. So if you're a devout Christian, you better not spout off a single thing about what the Quran says... in fact the hatreds of both are very similar. Culture evolves; our understanding of religion needs to do so as well.

      Also, I've seen some numbers that indicate a higher percentage of Christians commit "honor" killings than Muslims, so saying "why do only Muslims do this" is at best not an accurate fact and at worst it's an outright lie.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Nick Rymond

      WRONG WRONG WRONG. EXPERTS AGREE OVER 75% OF HONOR KILLINGS DO NOT INVOLVE MUSLIMS AT ALL !!!!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • toadears

      What Christian honor killings can you cite? What Christian suicide bombers can you point out? How does Christanity even enter into this conversation. Do any of you understand that the Old Testament, as gentiles call the first part of the Bible, was written by Jews who do not believe in Christianity? why do you turn EVERY SINGLE STORY around to bash Christians? Where does this bigotry come from? Saturday Night Live and Hollywood?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  15. jimzcarz

    What an oxymoron...Islam/Honor. kinda like military intelligence.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • utahsang

      Nick Rymond what experts are you talking about?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  16. jim

    This is BS Baloney, if the muslims want to do honor killing, bring it back to the Middle East, not Western Hemisphere, Not in USA or Canada, GO HOME!!!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  17. toadears

    The Muslim communities need to stand up and protest this outrage if they are truly against it. Make a stand.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  18. Jack

    The Qur'an specifically states killing your children will send you to hell. The killing of daughters is a cultural habit of Arabs and has been since well beyond 300BC (900 years before Islam ever exist). You never see anything about Pacific Islanders "Honor" Killing even though they make up over 62% of the Muslim population. For the record only 20% of Arabs are actually Muslim and many Christians in the Arab countries "Honor" kill and kill their daughters as well.

    Please do not spread lies when you have never even picked up a Qu'ran

    January 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • toadears

      Possibly true. I have never read it, but I have read history and this action seems to pre-date Islam. Instead of defending Islam, wouldn't it make more sense to be outraged at the people who keep tarnishing it? When you bring up honor killings in other religions and belief systems, it doesn't send a very strong message that you disapprove this action in Islam.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      What are the other 80% if they're not muslim?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • marc

      Arabs are more than 90% muslims... not 20%.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  19. gera

    http://www.islam-watch.org/SyedKamranMirza/honor_killing.htm

    January 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  20. Reaper081087

    Islam is a DARK AGE religion that must be abolished. I am an Atheist and I don't hate Muslims. But I had their religion and how it poisons the minds of otherwise normal people!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Jack

      You are an uneducated moron. Unless you are stating 2.2 billion people are corrupted by the religion. Please remember the differences between Christians and Muslims are few and far between
      "Jesus came down with a sword"

      January 30, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • toadears

      Not a literal sword, Jack, please. He was peaceful throughout his entire walk on this earth accept for that whipping he aimed at the money changers in the temple. (And looking at some churches, we could use a little of that now).

      January 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.