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. StopJihad

    Four muslims less in Canada, thanks god

    January 30, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Edward

      Where is the "like" button when I really, really need it?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  2. amen

    reply to

    aphagenstan is not in middle east buddy.
    why dont u go back to school and learn any thing before u post u r foolish comments?

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

      why don't you go back and learn to spell. in fact, why don't you just go...? Anywhere out of north America!!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  3. Sean

    This is what Quran has to say about punishing "fornicators."

    There is no where else in the Quran does God tell Muslims to kill their daughters or wives if they "shamed" them.

    (24:1) This is a Surah which We have sent down and We have made it mandatory, and We have sent down clear Commandments in it *1 so that you may learn lessons.

    (24:2) The woman and the man guilty of fornication, flog each one of them with a hundred stripes *2 – and let not any pity for them restrain you in regard to a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day, *3 and let, some of the believers witness the punishment inflicted on them.

    (24:4) As for those persons who charge chaste women with false accusations but do not produce four witnesses, flog them with eighty stripes and never accept their evidence afterwards, for they themselves are transgressors,

    (24:5) except those who repent and reform themselves; Allah is Forgiving and Merciful .
    Allah is the most merciful of all.

    24:6) As for those who accuse their own wives but have no witness except themselves, the evidence of one of them is that he shall swear four times by Allah and declare that he is true (in his charge).

    (24:7) Then the fifth time he shall declare that Allah's curse be upon him if he be false (in his charge).

    (24:8) (As for the woman), it shall avert the punishment from her if she swears four times by Allah that the man is false (in his charge)

    (24:9) and the fifth time she invokes Allah's wrath upon herself, if he be true (in his charge). *7

    (24:10) If Allah had not shown you His grace and mercy and if Allah had not been most Forgiving and All-Wise, (you would have been in a great fix because of accusing your wives).

    (24:13) Why did the slanderers not bring four witnesses (to prove their charge)? Now that they have not brought witnesses, they themselves are liars in the sight of Allah. *14

    (24:14) Were it not for Allah's grace and mercy towards you in this world and in the Hereafter, a painful scourge would have visited you because of the things in which you were involved.

    (24:15) (Just think how erroneous you were,) when you passed this lie on from one tongue to the other and uttered with your mouths that of which you had no knowledge. You took it as a trifling matter whereas it was a grave offence in the sight of Allah.

    (24:16) Why did you not, as soon as you heard of it, say, "It is not proper for us to utter such a thing ? Glory be to Allah ! This is a great slander."

    (24:17) Allah admonishes you that in future you should never repeat a thing like this, if you are true Believers.

    (24:18) Allah makes His Revelations clear to you, and He is All-Knowing, All-Wise.

    About the ancient Arab tradition of killing female infents of fear of "shame" the Quran says:

    "When the female infant, buried alive, is questioned – for what crime was she killed; when the scrolls are laid open; when the World on High is unveiled; when the Blazing Fire is kindled to fierce heat; and when the Garden is brought near – Then shall each soul know what it has put forward. So verily I call (at-Takwir: 8-15).

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

      So Domestic Violence is OK, as long as its in the form of "flogging".
      We really need to be more culturally sensitive to our Muslim brothers and sisters.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Andy Milligan

      Yes, the worst copy/paste job ever.
      I am guessing you are an idiot!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Mbane18

      Yes, that is true what the Bible says, however no one does that because doing so would be insane!!! Christians understand that the Bible was written at a different time for a different societe that wasn't civilized like ours is. Muslims on the other hand are not educated or civilized enought to understand that.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  4. Shiv

    I dont think the Jewish connection to Hindu calf worship is true, but I know that Jews are waiting for the anti-christ to come. That is their one-eyed leader. Christians think they can have all Jews go back to the holy land and Jesus Christ can come and kill them.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  5. Akhbar u All

    I invite [those] who haven't read the Quran to simple read the book. Take out a highlighter and highlight those lines that counsel the believer to despise infidels, and you will find a book that is just covered with highlighter.– Sam Harris http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/quran/int/long.html

    January 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  6. bernie

    THE BIBLES SAYS: YOUR SUPPOSED TO KILL your wife and kids if the mouth off or disobey you. All religion is violent

    January 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • cleareye1

      Christianity has outgrown the absurdities in the Bible. Islam is unable to achieve that. It is a pitiful belief.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • bernie

      yeah but not TOO far removed. Slavery was justified by the bible and that happened pretty recently. pitiful religion it is

      January 30, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  7. Bob

    The great tragedy and irony of all religions is that they all believe, without evidence, that they alone have correctly put God in his tiny box.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  8. navyanup

    religion of peace ???????????

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

      how about you actually READ the article before flapping your mouth?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  9. Staring Horse with Tongue Sticking Out

    There are even worse things than this that God allows to happen. He loves the gore.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  10. JC

    Texas has a statute that lessens the punishment if it was committed under "sudden passion". The classic sudden passion is catching your wife with another man. Sounds a little like an an honor killing....

    January 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Staring Horse with Tongue Sticking Out

      No it doesn't.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Mbane18

      Not it doesn't. Catching someone with your wife or husband is enough to make somoeone loose their sanity for a brief period of time and act irrationally. The law accounts for that. An honor killing is something that is planed because you don't think your daughter conforms to your beliefs.

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

      YOU'RE AN ID10T!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Mars

      This is the reason why it is important to distinguish the as honor murders rather than honor killings. They are murders, planned and executed. The crime of passion is basically linked to temporary insanity. Catching your wife on the act of cheating creates a shock factor and thus if you do something stupid during that time, there's a legitimate reason for a bit more clemency. Now if you planned to murder your wife that you know is cheating, that is a completely different situation which is more akin to the honor murders.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  11. Daniel

    I'm proud as a Canadian that justice was served and that the son,mother and father will rot in prison for what they did.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Staring Horse with Tongue Sticking Out

      I think it was absurd to try them together. It is highly unlikely if not impossible that all three of them are h.o.m.ocidal maniacs. They were most likely fearful of the father. I am not sure justice was served because they rushed to judjement.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  12. Farooq

    Unfortunately and as ironic as it may seem these crimes are related to jealousy and being forced to follow what one does not believe in. It happens among whites too when husbands or wives kill one another for whatever reason (in some cases society celebrates it as just, watch buried alive). To bring religion into crimes such as these is playing in the hand of conspiracy to make life difficult for western muslims and then relating it to the entire group of people. These are few incidents and the ratio might be the same as spusal abuse and crimes among white westerners

    January 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • cleareye1

      One difference is that you commonly see Christian leaders condemning violent behavior, but not Islamic leaders. They fear their flock too much.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • liv

      @Farooq: Western society does not celebrate killing women and children – it actually punishes those crimes very severely. Not only does it punish killing, but it punishes physical and verbal abuse as well. "Buried Alive" is a movie – a work of fiction. To direct anyone to watch it to understand the 'essence' of the way Western society work is naive at best, and misguided and uneducated at worst.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  13. stopkilling

    ISignificant cases are happening within South Asian communities, be it Pakistani, Indian, Sikh, Muslim, Kurdish, Iranian, Middle Eastern communities. If you so shock about western culture do not come in this part of the world. Stay home please.

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

      If it doesn't shock you, then you are a part of the problem.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  14. Abu Musa


    Just youtube converts to Islam or google scientific miracles of Qur'an. People from all countries/cultures/walks of life are coming into the religion of peace. Do some sincere research and save yourself your children and family from the torment prepared for the disbelievers.

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

      The ones converting are angry confused soles who then turn their back on their country!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • PaulMc1981

      God reserves no "torment" for anyone...

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

      I bet your god can't zap me with a lightning bolt!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Never Debate

      Abu Musa, This is not the place to preach. Majority of the people here have closed minds, weather they are Muslims, Ciristians or Jews or whatever, they all have hate in their hearts.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • cleareye1

      Islam is not all bad, but what is bad is the worst human behavior that man has invented so far. To kill your own child and blame it on your religion is the lowest form of life there is.

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

      Religion of peace...? You mean like "kill the infidels?" Yeah..RIGHT!!

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

      Yes, thank you. We are now so frightened we will join your religion. Thank you for being fearful. I used to think I should be religious to be a part of a loving God experience. But you have shown me the true path of fear.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Andy

      Yeah right, religion of peace. Either you don't know the meaning of peace or you think killings and violence are acts of peace. Islam is the biggest farce created by the war monging, pedophile maniac called Mohammed. He single handedly caused the world so much damage that all natural disasters could ever create.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  15. Rahul

    If this exact crime was committed in Saudi Arabia, this guy and his son would have been awarded the Nobel Peace prize. Why do idiotic western government appease Muslims so much?

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

      It isn't a "Muslim" thing. This practice and belief has to do with ethnic culture, not religious culture. Read the article, they provide some excellent support.

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

      Oh yeah.. buddy are you forgetting the evil practices by the Hindus. Even at this modern age, I know many Indian professionals, living in USA, who abort their unborn childern just because of their female gender. Arabs used to bury the new born girls before Islam but the Indians are still practicing this evil practice.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • L. Rose

      To Myths – here is the quote in the article: "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." Perhaps you need to read the article again. The quote is from Irshad Manji, the author of "Allah, Liberty and Love: Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom," and what she states is well thought out and explained within the article.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Kay

      Rahul, you are such a waste of space!!!! It is people like YOU who have kept countries from advancing. It is DUMB people like you that have kept from unacceptable norms to be changed. It is not acceptable, regardless of whether the society allowes so or not, to kill anyone based on their life choices. The father and the mother might have given birth to these girls, but they don't decide their life. Go get some education!!! Widen your horizons!! And if you really feel that those girls didn't have a right to life, perhaps you should try to seek help!! People with absurd opinions like yours really do not deserve to have a right to speak!

      January 30, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  16. markjuliansmith

    'Freedom of Religion' works for woman and Other? Time to Reconsider.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  17. Bill

    Why bother with any religion? If these pie-in-the-sky groups, all tending towards the same myths and ending towards the same heavenly treehouse can't agree with each others' rules of the club, then just relax and go worship on your own. It's much more peaceful and if you disagree with yourself, you can just go jump in the lake.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Never Debate

      Bill, thank you for a good and a sensible posting. It is rare with current fanatics on all sides.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • GodIsTheWay

      @Bill: I've beaten myself up a few times for disagreeing with myself. However, thankfully, I always made peace with me and came out on top 🙂

      January 30, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • bob

      I "bother" with religion because God has bothered with me.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  18. jesse dez

    nice looking family . good luck at canadian jail !

    January 30, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  19. Staring Horse with Tongue Sticking Out

    I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart.

    (Mob Honor Killings)

    January 30, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  20. jack spired

    The problems lies in arabs and in Islam

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

      South Asians are not Arabs.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
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About this blog

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.