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. Shardik

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

    Yep. Don't be fooled by people seeking to validate their warped POV by selectively quoting a particular "Holy Book."

    January 30, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  2. Ajit Thomas

    The beautiful Shafia sisters were not run off a road. They were brutally drowned by their own family. Get the facts straight CNN. This is a major story.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Shardik

      IIRC, the son ran their car off the road into the water.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Denise

      He's correct, the women were drowned before the car went into the canal.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • choongjung

      It was both actually. They were run off the road into a canal where they drowned. Either way it is a tragic case.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  3. Diane from L.A.

    As a woman who came from a very strict background, you can raise a child to be moral, but to demand morality by being tyrannical leads to rebellion in the greatest sense. Shame on this family for destroying their daughters' lives. If they were so intent on keeping their children from becoming "westernized", why move to the West??

    January 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Frogman

      Thank you.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  4. BooseyBoo

    It is interesting that many state that "honor killings" are cultural rather than religious. However, IMHO, the problem is culture and religion are synonymous in the middle east. These types of killings keep occurring because the men who are head of the household use their position to control and dominate women even though the Quran indicates to love and protect women. The men prefer to control and dominate due to their insecurities and the influence of other men to keep THEIR honor.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • boboTheClown

      Its all go back to small P3nis problem once again.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  5. Roger

    These honor murders occur throughout the Arabic and Islamic world. To suggest they are local or tribal is to ignore the obvious. These attacks are Islam.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • I see dumb people

      Next time you have a thought, let it go.....because you're an idiot.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  6. Fahmi

    Is there a tie between christianity and priest child abuse? is there a tie between christianity and high rate of child pregnancy in the west? Is there a tie between christianity and high murder rate in the west? let us apply the same logic to other religions!? this happens not because of religion but because of our evil souls as humans........

    January 30, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Roger

      No because the acts you describe are specifically prohibited. People who do these things may call themselves "Christian" but they are not. It's like a person telling all their friends about what a good Liberal they are yet they vote conservative in every election. Calling oneself a Liberal while voting conservative does not make a person Liberal.

      Understand now?

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

    I work with refugees from Islamic countries and can tell you that "honor k/llings" are very common. And even though many Islamic teacher try to deny this, it is clearly encouraged by their prophet in the Hadithe - which is regarded as authoritative by Sunni Muzzlims Here just one quote: al Bukhari :: Book 8 :: Volume 82 :: Hadith 829
    Narrated Al-Mughira:
    Sa'd bin Ubada said, "If I found a man with my wife, I would kill him with the sharp side of my sword." When the Prophet heard that he said, "Do you wonder at Sa'd's sense of ghira (self-respect/honor)? Verily, I have more sense of ghira than Sa'd, and Allah has more sense of ghira than I."

    January 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  8. navyanup

    Tell me one good muslim country , which has good record of human rights

    January 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  9. mudge

    It's a cultural phenomenon, it takes centuries to change, if indeed it can be changed.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  10. Jataka

    Ties with Islam......This is Islam! Wake up retards!

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

    This is truly a horrific story. It is hard to imagine a father, mother, and son killing their family for being disobedient.I am pleased to hear that the jury found the murders guilty. If someone is religious or not, they have no right to kill someone. It truly breaks my heart to know we live in a world where this kind of stuff still happens.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Midorihafu

      "It is hard to imagine a father, mother, and son killing their family for being disobedient"

      You haven't read Deuteronomy 21:18–21?
      18 “If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will anot obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them,19 then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city 1at the gateway of his hometown.20 “They shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 “aThen all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and call Israel will hear of it and fear.

      Yahweh was a pretty vindictive god, donchaknow?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  12. ak

    Good. At least someone still holds racial purity in high regard.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  13. 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 6:06 pm |
  14. Juil

    Just Google Islam Religion of Peace and you will surprised at how many killing go on in this world.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  15. david

    I live in Ont,Canada. This is CANADA, with Canadian laws, that shall not, nor "ever" be altered to allow such "murder". Murder is murder. R.I.P

    January 30, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  16. fastball

    This kind of action is the response of a man who has no responses at all. He doesn't want to think...he doesn't want to have to change...he doesn't want to have to adapt.
    You come to my country (and I say this to EVERY nationality, creed and religion)..you come to MY country – you leave that kind of garbage behind. If you don't like my Canadian culture (or any Western culture) then feel free to stay in whatever hole in the world you came from. You live here, the laws of MY land will always supersede your cultural norms.
    Otherwise, stay the eff away.

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

      amen bro, amen..

      January 30, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Pro

      Perfectly right!! Mr fast ball
      I am an immigrant too. I say to the Muslims, Hindus,Sikhs, go back home and practice your faith and enjoy your superior (??) culture of ignorance, hate and murder in the name of Allah or cultural tradition like killing bride for lack of dowry,. Leave us alone. We do not need your sharia law, or your cultural values. Western culture and values I enjoy.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  17. cleareye1

    This man represents true ignorance. In his blind hatred he has managed to destroy everything, and everyone, that he should have cared for. Why? He thinks his God told him to. Is there are worse form of ignorance?

    January 30, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  18. Adam

    The right wing islamophobes are just loving this article. Islam does not justify honor killings and most islam haters on here dont know sh**. They misinterpret everything with false quotes or only partial quotes from anti islamic websites. If you want to learn about Islam go to a modern Islamic country like Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, UAE, Brunei.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • cleareye1

      Turkey may be the best example of how modern Islam can succeed for its followers. Turkey has a horrendous past, much like our own.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Mark


      I hate to say it but Honor killing reports and cases come out of Muslim and only Muslim countries.
      Feel free to debunk that observation by posting a link to an honor killing story from a Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish community.......

      January 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Mark

      To Cleareye1

      I wouldn't use Turkey as a modern example, They still haven't admitted responsibility for the Genocide of 1.5 million Arenians (mostly Orthodox Christian) by Ottoman Turks (Muslim) in the early part of the 1900's

      And they are still doing a good job of killing and surpressing ethnic Kurds.

      Bad country example my friend.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • paul

      We dont hate the people, however every honor killing is muslim, every suicide bomer is muslim, our emabassys in Africa were bombed by muslims, 911 was performed by muslims. The israel olympic team were gunned down by muslims. One of our Navy seals was shot in the head and thrown off the plane onto the tarmack by muslims. Daniel Pearl was beheaded by muslims. Leon Klinghopper was killed and dumped while still in his wheelchair off of a cruise ship by muslims forgive us for being ignorant.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  19. petemg

    How can a Muslim preach love and yet hate their own flesh and blood so much to do something like this. People who do this are only concerned about themselves and their own popularity. I pray that Canada can address this in a manner to show this act is inhuman. How long before it hits America and Obama wants to accept and make Sharia a Law above our own laws. Please, Muslims, speak up against this before more people dislike you and your religion.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • peoplearecrazy

      Look up Andrea Yates..

      January 30, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Denise

      Do you have any clue how many people in other countries hate Americans and "our" religion? Don't be so ignorant.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  20. Colin

    I have read many of these posts and agree with the many voices this was an absolutely vicious crime whether because of tribal or cultural reasons, i as a father would think that my love and duties as a father wou outway any teaching to harm my children. this family moved to canada, montreal as i did more than 30 years ago under the guise of a better life. unfortunately that didn t happen. I did not see 3 muslims found guilty i saw 3 people that stole the lives from 4 people willing to evolve in todays modern age. as the lead investigator said yesterday lets stop talking about them and remember the victims

    January 30, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Dude

      And you know Colin? Those girls were pretty hot.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:31 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.