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. guest

    With each passing year my belief that Islam is actually satanic in origin and has nothing to do with God becomes stronger, and with each of these brutal acts perpetrated by "Muslims" (see today's story about the Afghan man who murdered his wife for have a baby girl instead of a boy) I feel a strong sense of dread that we (North America) are letting these people come and live in our countries. Want to see how people lived before Jesus came? You don't need a time machine, just look at the Middle East. Very frightening.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      Wrong – it is about men who hate women because women reject them. This is not a problem that is limited to any religion or country. As for changes after Jesus came... The only thing that changed was the names of the deities.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  2. winstonsmith

    To the people who say, "WHY DO NO MUSLIMS TAKE A STAND AGAINST THIS?"

    2 things...

    1) Many of them do, where are you?

    2) If you follow a religion, say Christianity, do you make a stand against those people who bomb abortion clinics, to the nuts who use Christianity as a reason to kill and hurt; do you stand up against past sins like the crusades, or how about the neo-nazi groups in Europe that still kill and torture using the Bible as an excuse??

    Oh, right, our news media focuses on Muslim atrocities only, so they must be the only ones doing bad things. OF COURSE.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • keeeleee

      Yes, true Christian will condemn the alleged violence you stated.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  3. CommonSense

    If Islam doesn't justify "honor killings" then why don't their religious leaders denounce it?

    January 30, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Persian Phoenix

      They will never do that because they control their society in the name of religion and twist things further to gain more control.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  4. RonenC

    So places like the palestinian territories have lesser sentences for "honor killings" ad Israel is probably the only country in the middle east that is as normal as any western country but yet people still hate and blame Israel.. what a world we live in

    January 30, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  5. harunanagogo

    Religion&Culture are 2 different phenomenon

    January 30, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  6. Mcraider

    Do what Holland did, you come to our country live by the rules, learn to speak the language, and KEEP THE LAW, OBEY THE LAWS OF A CIVILIZED NATION. Too bad Canada does not have Capital Punishment, too bad they were not convicted in Texas. Off with their Heads!!!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  7. Hamza

    I don't know if the hate mongers in here have noticed that none of these people actually even look like Muslims. They proudly wear the wester attire, clean shaved – baby face etc. There is a huge difference between practicing and non-practicing Muslims. So why do the freemasons/jews always bring Islam into every crime commited by Muslims? Freakin jewbags!

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

      You were doing ok until you went off the rails on racist conspiracy crap at the end.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  8. NeilPeart

    ALL religions are ancient CULTS that need to be relegated to the dustbin of history. All conceived of, and written by, mortal men.

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

      From a fellow Lerxt/Dirk/Pratt fan... Hopefully this will happen before the year 2112. 🙂

      January 30, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • keeeleee

      Your statement is pretty religous.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  9. MYTCH

    They are all a bunch of sickening, twisted towelhead moooslims and should all be immediately executed!!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Seriously?

      wait, so you think that even muslim children and babies born to muslims should be killed as well?

      how are your statements different that what hitler wanted and tried to do to the jews?

      honor killings have no place in society, but your statement is ignorant to condemn an entire race

      January 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Love

      You're sick. The article just explained that this wasl cultural and your're saying to kill Muslims. You need to look into your heart nnd change whats wrong.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  10. Starrface

    What a bunch of BS. When "Sand Fleas" come to the western world from their third world, god foresaken countries, their birzard customs should stay in the old country. When you live in the west there are laws against murder!!! These guys should never be let out of prison and made to eat pork chops everyday.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • fez

      wow that was REALLY mature and humane of you WESTERN person 🙂

      January 30, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      I imagine a lot of Native Americans felt the same way about 500 years ago...

      January 30, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Love

      This is not a game. Stop being ingnorant.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  11. anagram_kid

    IMHO, this is an example of the remaining purposes of religion – to control others and to provide a justification for behavior they know is absolutely wrong. We don’t need religion to explain the sunrise or why people who eat uncooked pork get sick. We don’t need religion to see that killing, stealing and lying are not beneficial to society. So this is what is left; a means to say that some illogical authority figure says Person A (usually a man that has been routinely rejected by women) gets to control and punish Person B (usually a woman).
    And for anyone that argues that religion does a lot of good, those good deeds can happen without religion too.
    Be a good person because it is the right thing to do.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  12. Ali A. Rizvi

    Look up 4:34 in the Quran. Violence against women. Look up 8:12-17. Tells you to behead infidels. Look up Deuteronomy 22:20-21 in the Bible. Tells you to kill a woman found not to be a virgin on her wedding night.

    The religion/culture dichotomy is fake. Religion is a part of culture. They are both human inventions. If someone wrote these "holy" books last week, they'd be condemned for hate speech and incitement to violence.

    The very fact that Muslims (I was raised one, but eventually grew up) immediately jump to the defense of their religion – instead of the victims – when something like this happens is telling. Human beings have rights. Books and ideologies don't.

    Islam – and virtually all other religions – have at their core the oppression and violent subjugation of women. Deny it at your own peril.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • keeeleee

      Read the whole Bible please, before you come to the conclusion.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Justice786

      The Prophet (s) stated that in a Hadith from Tirmidhi that "The most perfect of the believers is the best of you in character, and the best of you are those among you who are best to their wives.", and there is not a single example of him ever lifting even a finger on any of his wives as his wife Aishah (ra) reported in an authentic tradition (Bukhari #2328).. The interpretation of the verse you mentioned needs thus to be contextualized (http://womeninislam.ws/en/misconceptions_wife-discipline.aspx). Most importantly, Islam does not distinguish between women and men with respect to piety, and this is the only difference allowed by Islam when comparing one person to another.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • devon

      Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims, yet "honor killings" are virtually unheard of there.

      Why do you think this is then, if the religion and culture are too intertwined

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

      John 8:1-11

      January 30, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  13. Andrew


    January 30, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  14. OhCanada

    I'm all for immigration of people that contribute to Canada, but the Middle East seems rife with people with this backwards mentality. Why can't Canada get immigrants from places like South/Central America?

    January 30, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • John in Iowa

      Three Words: Great White North

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

      People from LatinAmerican do not like to be around the canadian muslim populations; The LatinAmerican people are roman catholic.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • closetiguana

      Actually immigration into Canada is at an all time high, from Americans looking for work.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  15. caalli


    January 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  16. amer

    welI this act has nothing to do with Islam. It just represents the sick mentality and some old tribal / cultural traditions, which are not according to the teaching of Islam.

    Religious scholsrs (Islamic) have openly condemned this act. I think media should take it as a crime, and should not tie it with Islam. These acts of killing innocent people are against the basic teaching of Islam.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  17. David K

    Whether or not it is religious or cultural is NOT the point. The point is that regardless the reason, these barbarians should not be allowed into the country in the first place. Who cares what the reason behind it is? The fact is that it's there – and there's no denying that, liberals – and it's going to be here. What can you say about an allegedly patriotic person who insists that this country is somehow improved by the massive importation of peoples who have no business living in a civilized society? That's mental.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  18. Abu Musa

    The Islam-haters in here obviously don't realize that the Qur'an is full of modern scientific miracles, which is an evidence for people looking for a concrete reasoning behind the truth of Islam. Shall I start mentioning the names of scientists in todays world who have converted to Islam? How far will the kuffar run away from the truth?

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

      @Abu Musa,
      I'm not really concerned with Islam, but " the Qur'an is full of modern scientific miracles," doesn't sound correct. Please provide examples.
      And the number of scientists converting to Islam is irrelevant, even if it is true.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • AcclaimedMan

      Should we start listing all the explosions in the name of Islam?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Ahmed Nasr

      @Abu Musa: The Quran is full of scientific what?? You're joking right?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • keeeleee

      Many Qur'an claims are false

      January 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • keeeleee

      Many Qur'an claims are false and contradict to historical facts.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Justice786

      Please see my comment above. Honor killings has nothing to do with Islam.

      With respect to what others have said in response to Abu Musa: (1) Yes, the Qur'an contains many accounts relating to science that are only now being validated, e.g. string theory. (2) There is no contradiction anywhere in the Qur'an. Don't cite me the English translation. Cite me the actual verses in Arabic where there are so-callled contradictions. None exist. Don't just repeat what you read in some Islamophobic site or book.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Nah, just start with Abraham being willing to kill his own son and go from their for all Abrahamic religions.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  19. Rahul

    Allah is a perverted moon-god. He is the one who needs to be killed by honor killing.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Carl L

      didn't get enough cow-pee today?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  20. 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.

    "Jesus came down with a sword"
    Its not hard to take a statement from a book out of context

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

      Athiest Honor Killings?

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

      Proof with links please or this is just more lies.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:13 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.