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. Chin Tu Fat

    People actually invest so much time in hating Islam? Why so much effort? Are your children being good Christians or good atheists?

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

      well last i checked not to many other religions seem to support, or be the motivation for, blowing ones self up in a crowd of people shopping for vegetables.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  2. A Muslim

    Alli u Akhbar is an imposter who wants to sound Muslim. Please delete his hateful comments!

    January 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • American Muslim

      There is no need to delete his comments, but to reply with knowledge. Knowledge is the cure for ignorance!

      January 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  3. Ed Sr of Dallas Tx

    There is NO justification for premeditated murder!Self defense is one thing but premeditated murder is a heinous crime and they need to be executed for doing this to their children!

    January 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  4. ML

    We have lived in a male dominated society since the beginning of time. In some societies the rights of women have advanced more than others.

    All major organized religions including Shristianity and the Catholic church harbor prejudices against women. The bible is full of instances teaching how women are inferior to men and should be subjugated (to men). To this day, the Catholic church doesnt allow women to be ordained because women are not equal to men in the eyes of the church and their rules regarding birth control are absurd and contribute to millions of deaths each year from HIV related diseases.

    In summary...ALL religions are guilty of harboring prejudcies toward women over the years. Some are currently more prejudical than others, but they all ROOTED in past customs and prejudice. Certain countries are still more firmly rooted in their prejudices and customs. Male dominated religious structures (not scriptures) are to blame. In some Islamic countries women are treated more liberally than others partucilarly in countries "closed" to outside infleuences.

    You can typically track the progress on womens rights by the amount of political freedom that a country allows...not necessarily religious freedom.

    In the mean time, wherever we can support womens rights, we should. It will take a few more generations for Afghanistan to evolve...unless of course the Taliban take over again.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  5. Andrew









    January 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • bobby

      islam has no value, no meaning and no purpose....its is a religion, as are all religions, not to be confused with belief in God, made up by man to control people and use God as a way to eliminate any argument as to its truth....and argument that only works for stupid people with weak minds.....in short...its bll$h!t.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Edward

      And I can wait until Islam is thrown out threw out the world. lol.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • navyanup

      Muslims are killing eachother,
      look at iraq , pakistan , palestine
      why are muslims so stupid ,
      they must be pathetic people , taking honor in killing women and children

      January 30, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Dan

      Typing in all caps doesn't make your point any more clear, it just makes people want to skip whatever you write and move on to the next comment.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • One one

      You make a good case for giving up all religions. They are all pretty much the same and equally repulsive.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • American Muslim

      The world strife we are currently seeing is simply a symptom that the Muslims are not truly following the faith of Islam. It's proof that they have allowed for their beleifs to be corrupted by cultural garbage. This ignorance will only be cured by education... science, math, social sciences, history and yes the Muslims must come to the right understanding of Islam (which as it is said in the Qur'an is for those with knowledge.) We cannot fight ignorance with ignorance, we will only fuel groups like Al-Qaida and the Taliban in their false understanding of Islam and hatred. Hatred is forbidden in Islam! God bless America, God bless the World!

      January 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Wilma

      You should go back to school and learn how to spell and how to write. Then maybe you will make sense.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  6. Lee

    The article author is correct of course but the ignorant will still blame islam.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • bobby

      reverse the islam / honor killing connection and understand that most societies where this is condoned are islamic....so then one can say that stupid heathen cultures who make women wear sheets over their heads and kill them when they don't...pick islam as their map for life....islam is stupid....period

      January 30, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  7. dtruth

    The politically correct keep trying to distort the "truth". While "tolerance" allows for all ideas to be heard, it does not allow for all ideas to be correct or equal. If you are not aware of the honor killings taking place all across the U.S. – wake up and get informed. If you are aware and just can't comprehend that something like this could take place here, you are using the Judeo-Christian values that this country was founded on as your filter or window in which you evaluate the situation. The Muslim world do not share these values. If you are not aware of the parts of the Quarn and Sharia Law that not only condone this behavior, but order it; again, WAKE UP and do some home work.

    The lack of cultural integration among many Muslims give them cause to consider any form of Westernization, such as using a cell phone, wearing modern fashions or dating a boy in school, is considered a dishonor. Some of these problems come directly from teachings in the Quran, such as a family member who leaves Islam, becomes an Apostate and converts to another religion. The Quran specifically calls for that family member to be killed.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Lee

      Just as the bible call for a child that is disrecpectful of his parents to be put to death. Frankly you sound like another bigot who simply want to blame islam for everything.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  8. navyanup

    Atheism , the best way to live your life

    January 30, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • bob

      If there wasn't a God then there could be no atheists.

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

      bob...no actually if athiest saw God there would be no athiests. There in fact would be light even if darkness did not exist.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • American Muslim

      This world is a test. A test to see whether or not we will seek knowledge and then use that knowledge to find our Creator. There are signs everywhere for those who would open their minds to the truth. That said, God gave us the choice in this world to worship Him or to not worship Him. There is no compulsion set upon us to believe, nor upon the believers to attempt to make other believe. Those who believe are only allowed to convey the message and then do their best to live by it themselves as an example to mankind. If someone doesn't like the fact that a person is allowed to choose their faith of their own free will, then I'll gladly take up the Red, White and Blue along with pride and join my fellow Americans in the struggle for the right to freedom of religion. God Bless America, God Bless the World!

      January 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Nocturnal


      So Unicorns must exist in order for us not to believe in them? I don't believe I have a million dollars in my bank account. Should I be worried about being charged for tax evasion?

      January 30, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  9. Patriot

    Honor Killings sounds like murder to me the worse kind, family. Men of the middle east come of age will you, unreal, love your family not kill them stupid.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  10. A Muslim

    Some of these customs were pre-Islamic, and Islam came to combat it in many areas of the ancient world. It was in fact a custom in some tribes to bury their new born females fearing they could bring shame to the family in future. So, Islam, and God forbidden these and there are many clear verses in the Quran, see 81:8, quran.com/81/8. Therefore it has nothing to do with any religious teachings, and is done by some cultures in the east regardless of their religion.

    Finally, in the west they refer to this kind of crimes as "Crime of Passion". Either way, murder is one of the greatest seven sins in the religion of Islam (Submission).

    January 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  11. TheRationale

    The Qur'an would insist on permanent house arrest if they were found guilty of "lewdness," though. Because Islam is such a fountain of intelligent ideas...

    January 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • American Muslim

      Wrong again friend. The Qur'an states that a man who thinks his wife is cheating on him to admonish her, then to refuse to share the same bed with his adulterous wife, and finally to leave her. Most people do not understand Islam, and only know what ignorant people tell them about it. This is why groups like Al-Qaida, and various groups that are violant towards Islam exists... ignorance creates both sides and then there are Muslims like me who students attempting to know the truth behind Islam. God bless America, God bless the world.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  12. Andy Milligan

    Question: What is the difference between children and atheists?
    Answer: Children have adult supervision.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • FYI

      "Answer: Children have adult supervision."

      Not always, there are 1.5 million children just in America that are homeless.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Jeff

      Christians have adult supervision – a murderous genocidal sky fairy who loves killing innocent babies and likes to order his minions to brutally murder entire tribes and civilizations and steal their land.

      Oh, and despite this "supervision" they still have higher rates of incarceration and criminality than atheists. Maybe god messed up on this hell thing, since it doesn't seem to stop you good Christians from violating his laws.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Denise

      Ignorant fool.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  13. Alli u Akhbar

    Quran (9:30) – "And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!"

    January 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Denise

      That's no worse than half the stuff that's in the bible, which has God ordering his followers to smash baby's heads on rocks.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • American Muslim

      How is that verse supposed to be relavent to the article at hand? I would have used the one where God talks to some people who say they are believers and tells them that evil indeed are the deeds that their faith inspires them to do, if they are ineed believers. i.e. These people are not believers, much like a good portion of the so called "Muslims" who do evil deeds like this and then claim they are of faith. God bless America, God bless the world.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  14. bobby

    "Nadya Khalife, a researcher on women's rights in the Arab world" Interesting....she she attempting to research something that does not exist.

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

      Thanks so much for the laugh. I have surgery tomorrow so I needed to laugh tonight.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • PaulMc1981

      Nice attempt at painting a black-and-white picture of things.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  15. Incredulous


    January 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  16. vjpgh

    Sad that people are uneducated enough to believe that crap.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  17. PaulMc1981

    Commenters with names like "Rahul" making a bad name for Hindus. Not all of us are Muslim-hating bigots.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  18. Akhbar u All

    The Quran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers. Some are quite graphic, with commands to chop off heads and fingers and kill infidels wherever they may be hiding. Muslims who do not join the fight are called 'hypocrites' and warned that Allah will send them to Hell if they do not join the slaughter.

    Unlike nearly all of the Old Testament verses of violence, most of the verses of violence in the Quran are open-ended, meaning that they are not restrained by the historical context of the surrounding text. They are part of the eternal, unchanging word of Allah, and just as relevant or subjective as anything else in the Quran.

    Unfortunately, there are very few verses of tolerance and peace to abrogate or even balance out the many that call for nonbelievers to be fought and subdued until they either accept humiliation, convert to Islam, or are killed. Muhammad's own martial legacy and the remarkable stress on violence found in the Quran have resulted in a trail of blood and tears across world history.

    Quran (3:151) – "Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority". This speaks directly of polytheists, yet it also includes Christians, since they believe in the Trinity (ie. what Muhammad incorrectly believed to be 'joining companions to Allah').

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

      all hindu must get rid of muslims

      January 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • bff

      ...and who should be surprised by this? Any religion worth it's salt needs to have self preservation clauses embedded in it. So there are good bits, to attract more moderate people and really scary bits to to force those that might stray.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • American Muslim

      Here is a good sight if you want to know more about Islam and the concept of Jihand.... http://www.aboutjihad.com/ There is not a reference to the Muslims to simply kill the disbeleivers. There are in fact only three or so verses in all of the Qur'an that speak of fighting (Qital). And fighting (Qital) should not be mixed up with Jihad (struggle), they are not the same. I wish people would at least try to learn about Islam properly before they speak. Destroying the ignorance regarding Islam would also destoy groups like Al-Qaida and make the world a much safer place. God bless America, God bless the World.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  19. navyanup

    islam is for stupid people

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

      judism is for stupid people

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

      Agree 100%. They need to be rounded up, detained and shipped back to Mecca! Then Nuke'm.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • TheRationale

      Religion is for stupid people.

      There we go.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Denise

      All organized religions are for stupid people. There's not much difference between Islam & Christianity in my opinion. Buddhism is about the only one that does not promote hatred & violence.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • American Muslim

      Ignorance is for Stupid people. So let's all try to get some knowledge 🙂

      January 30, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  20. Ian

    Islam is a horrible evil religion

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

      I disagree. Blaming Islam for all the problems of the world is like blaming Christianity for the US invasion in Iraq.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Denise

      So is Christianity.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:18 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.