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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. John

    There's no tie. It's just an unfortunate coincidence.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  2. Deathstalker

    Death comes to us all.. May God forgive us for we know nothing of what we do. Forgiveness is hard to find from our fellow humans.. Remember judge not least you shal be judged.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Amphiox

      If we are not meant to judge then why did God see fit to gift us with a moral sense? Of course we are meant to judge. We are meant to judge and to submit to be judged for our judgements. That is what it means to be human. To say otherwise is to relinquish our core humanity.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  3. Aaron

    The very first thing you have to do if you want to treat someone differently than you would want to be treated is to dehumanize them. In the case of the guy who killed his own daughters, that's what he did. They weren't his daughters, they were filthy wh0res. He set about in his own mind to do humanize them.

    But this is universal behavior of all humans and has nothing to do with Islam. If Muslim people want to murder white westerners, then they are no longer white people, they are godless infidels. They dehumanize them. If white westerners want to murder Muslims, then they are no longer Muslim people, they are Islamic terrorists. They dehumanize them. It makes the evil things you want to do to them easier.

    If people really want peace like they claim, then the first thing they have to do is humanize their supposed enemies.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  4. Bill

    Only a crazy towel head could come up with an absurd time like "honor murder".

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

      But towel-less heads come up with other brilliant ideas, such as shooting each other in the middle of America for no reason, going to mindless wars and killings scores in the process, etc., etc!

      January 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • AB

      Towel head? You idiotic red-neck...Muslim men wear a threaded white cap..Muslim women wear the hijab culturally to prevent men from seeing their body.
      Sikh men wear a turban with a dagger inside it and generally Sikhs are a warrior clan and have been for centuries. Calling either one of the men of these sects/clans/reilgions towel heads is sickening....It is like calling a conservative southern Christian an inbred incestuous nutjob.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  5. RoccoP

    Here is another example of deadly serious the prophet of Islam took honor. A quote from his own companions:
    Sahih Muslim :: Book 37 : Hadith 6676
    "Anas reported that a person was charged with fornication with the slavegirl of Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him). Thereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to 'Ali: Go and strike his neck (ie. decapitate him). 'Ali came to him and he found him in a well making his body cool. 'Ali said to him: Come out, and as he took hold of his hand and brought him out, he found that his seexual organ had been cut. Hadrat 'Ali refrained from striking his neck. He came to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) and said: Allah's Messenger, he has not even the seexual organ with him."

    Look at this, this prophet on mere hearsay orders the decapitation of a man, because he felt his honor was hurt. "Fortunately" for this man, his geenitals had been previously cut off, otherwise he would have had his head cut off to restore this prophet's honor.
    Whoever claims honor killings are un-islamic are deceiving themselves!

    January 30, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  6. Pam

    Now I have to pay for them for the next 25 years until they get out. Here is Canada it does not matter how many you kill , you only get Life once, after 25 years you can get parole. I say ship there sorry asses back to Afghanistan so I don't have to feed, cloth and provide them with the conveniences that many Canadians do not have.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  7. Andrew

    ISLAM IS THE FASTEST GROWING RELIGION IN THE WESTERN WORLD. AMERICA AND WESTERN EUROPE ARE INCLUDED. I MYSELF AM A CONVERT TO ISLAM. THERE IS NOTHING IN ISLAM THAT JUSTIFY HONOR KILLINGS AND THERE IS NOTHING IN ISLAM THAT SUPPORT HONOR KILLINGS. WITH THAT SAID, CNN CAN TRY ALL IT WANT TO PAINT A BAD PICTURE OF ISLAM. PEOPLE THREW OUT THE WORLD WILL CONTINUE TO EMBRACE ISLAM, AND PEOPLE THREW OUT THE WORLD WILL CONTINUE TO SEE THE RELIGION OF ISLAM AS A JUST AND PEACEFUL RELIGION.

    I HAVE A BETTER QUESTION OF CNN

    WHAT IS THE TIE BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, 'PEDOPHILIA'?

    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?

    CNN, CAN YOU PLEASE WRITE ARTICLES ON THESE ABOVE QUESTIONS?

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

      Easy answer: They aren`t Christians.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • PhilTheDrill

      I have a question: were you an angry person before you converted to Islam, or is this a new development?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Big Bob

      Andrew!

      CNN of all networks will bend over backwards to not slander islam. Or any of the other networks for that matter.
      Islam is a clear and present danger to anyone in this world who is not a muslim. Know why these kinds of murders aren't reported in the muslim world? Cuz there, they aren't considered crimes! Stop with the taqeeya!

      January 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • scott

      Andrew,

      With respect, you are not the brightest star in the universe.

      Sincerely,

      Scott

      January 30, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Phil

      The point of this article is that it is not related to Islam. Read before you rant.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • hooked on phonics

      Then why do the hadiths say that Muhammad was willing to kill someone on hearsay simply for the sake of his honor?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • HHHA

      First off Andrew, when you use all capital letters you are yelling. Stop yelling. Secondly, just because you make a claim does not make it true. Back up your accusations with some data. Thirdly, CNN does report on those type of killings, but the killers usually do not tell someone it was an honor killing. Why are you trying to make a counter accusation when you should have just denounced their actions like you did and then shut up? Honor killing seems quite prevalent in muslim culture, especially overseas, you can't deny that it doesn't go on. Christians used to burn supposed witches but they progressed. Since you are now muslim maybe YOU should modernize your religion out of this type of behavior.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • ca3b

      You're making the assumption that everyone in the US is Christian. The ones doing "family murders" in the US are typically not church-going Christian families. And NONE of the murderers are shouting that they're committing murder in the name of Jesus.

      If you're religion is so peaceful, how come Coptic villages in Southern Egypt are being burned to the ground and the Coptic Christians killed. You don't have to go back very far in your "archives" to read about it. It was happening in 2011.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • SRSage107

      I understand that because of your new conviction you are fiery in your rhetoric both to condemn these killings as well as quickly go on the offense and point out killings here in the United states. Here's the difference. Yes Christians kill one another all the time, men, women children, families, but none of them said God told them to do it or that it was backed by their religious beliefs or culture. They're just either greedy, selfish, insane or a mixture.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Dave

      I don't know if you really don't understand Christian religious beliefs, or if you're trying to be cute in equating family massacres with honor killings. As a rule, Americans don't commit honor killings which are supposedly triggered by the shame brought onto a family. Yes, there are many murder/suicide situations in the U.S., but again, I'm not aware of many of them being motivated by shame brought on by not meeting religious expectations. From what people can ascertain from U.S. murder suicides, or simply familial killings, is that most are driven by sheer insanity, not some societally-accepted view of killing to resolve shame. Get your facts straight.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Viscythian

      Save your Takia for those who will believe your lies. Takia allows you to lie for the advancement of Islam. You know you're lying. Honor killings and Islam are linked. The difference between pedophiles in the Catholic Church is pedophilia is not the official doctrine of the church, while takia and honor killings are taught by Islam. Seriously, do you expect people to believe your lies after all the direct quotes?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • SRSage107

      Oh one additional thing. The reason why Islam is "on he rise" as you say, which is a fraction of a percent, is because muslims are fleeing their own home nations and coming to the United states and other western countries to have freedom and rights that the nations they come from will not give them. Most of the rise in Islam comes from Immigrants who are already Islamic. It's not like there is a line at the local Mosque for people waiting to be converted. In fact with the current state of Islam and people becoming more and more aware of the religious and cultural atrocities being commited by the people who claim to be good muslims and then align their actions alongside this religion, it is making it less and less appealing everyday for the world.

      Have a nice day Andrew, get your facts straight and fix your keyboard.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  8. bff

    "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. "
    Steven Weinberg, US physicist (1933 – )
    Quoted in The New York Times, April 20, 1999

    January 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  9. PS

    If Islam does not say such things, then how come such honor killings and beheadings are always tied to the Islamic community at large? Why don't they come out in droves, protesting such bloody acts? Why don't the Muslim leaders talk about nonviolence for everyone to hear? It is not just for the Gandhis of the world to speak! Muslims should speak louder about peace if they care!

    January 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • hooked on phonics

      It was said in the article that Muslims as a whole need to learn to differentiate cultural beliefs from religious beliefs. That might help to explain.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  10. chemmajor

    The point about this being cultural, not religious is well put. We have had our share of similar deadly conduct in our history: dueling, slavery, Koresh, FLDS, etc. Those that try to justify such morbid behavior by using religion as an excuse only tie the noose tighter around their moronic throats.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  11. Ahmed Hashim

    There is nothing that call honor killing It is just a name to hide the real motive this is pure hatred between the families. So you call this premeditated Murder

    January 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • PS

      Is there anything in Islam like peace, nonviolence and such other lofty concepts that other religions have had for centuries?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  12. ca3b

    It's an old argument. Car bombs set off in town centers killing innocent people, honor killings, burning down churches, acts of teroristm, etc etc. It's just cultural, and has nothing to do with Islam. It's just a coincidence that the perpetrators are shouting
    "Allah is great!" as they're doing these acts. If the masses are unable to distinguish culture from their religion, as this article states, then maybe the Imams need to spend more time instructing their people. The rest of us are just getting tired of the excuses.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  13. Name*edd

    If it looks, like a cult,walks like a cult,smells like a cult and acts like a cult its a CULT

    January 30, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Kurt of Canada

      Ridiculous - it's not a cult.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  14. April Moreno

    Islam has proven to be the worst possible religion!! I am so glad to an atheist!!!!

    January 30, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Kurt of Canada

      Is it somehow worse that Christianity? The atrocities committed in the name of Christianity aren't exactly insignificant.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  15. bob

    At the end of the day and in the morning I believe in God.
    When there is no one to turn to, I believe in God.
    When I am imprisoned, I still believe in God.
    And when I finally turn away from this dark world, I will still believe in God.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • closetiguana

      I was born not believing in gods
      As a teenager they tried to convince me gods were real but wasn't convinced
      when I die I still won't believe in gods

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

      Why?

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

      I don't believe in "gods" either. But I do believe in God.

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

      @bob,
      Not believing in gods also covers the singular.
      Anyway, why do you believe?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • closetiguana

      Bob – So you don't believe in the other religions gods only your god?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • bob

      i was looking for the truth when it found me. God is singular not plural. Do you know someone searching for the truth??

      January 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • closetiguana

      (As Bill stated, your god in included with the other gods.)

      January 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • closetiguana

      (typo)

      (As Bill stated, your god is included with the other gods.)

      January 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • bob

      In all true religion there is only one God. I ask again, is someone looking??

      January 30, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • bill

      OK, I'll bite. You were "looking for the truth when it found you". Now what does that mean. Put yourself in someone's elses shoes that is trying to understand you. Can you explain what actually found you?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • closetiguana

      Bill? Can I make a prediction? You were "lost" until you found religion. Right?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • closetiguana

      What do you mean by "In all true religion"?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • bill

      Ahh, I give up. It's like opening a Pandora's box. Trying to understand someone like Bob is futile. They can never supply any real answers. That means answers that mean something to someone other than themselves (ie objective answers).

      January 30, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • closetiguana

      bill – It is a mystery trying to get your head around the way they think. It's so perplexing.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  16. Fahmi

    Islamophopic will take pleasure in this story. They forget in the US there is not a week passes but some person most likely christian will kill his family, coworkers, classmates or complete stranges in public places........

    January 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Kurt of Canada

      It's true.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • John V

      In the name of Christianity?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • bigpics

      Opposing abhorrent behavior can not be written off by simply labeling all those who oppose it as any kind of "phobics."

      January 30, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Atul Chaudhary

      But they don't kill in the name of Jesus, on the call of JIHAD, their priests. Inspite of weaknesses in Christianity, the religion has matured, people have grown to be more mature, self-educating rather than blindly following their leaders. The reason is pure and simple – EDUCATION. Majority of Muslims are illiterate (madarsa education is just a brainwash, not an education). That's why will listen to Mullas who will misguide and misdirect gullible followers. No wonder in most of the Islamic countries, they will deny education to women because they fear a revolt.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  17. Ted Ward

    You can take the cave-muslim out of the cave but you can't take the muslim out the the cave-muslim.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  18. closetiguana

    Who here believes the same thing couldn't just as easily happen in The U.S?

    January 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • hooked on phonics

      You could reword your question for any nation that hosts people from the parts of the world where honor killings are commonplace. What's your point?

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

      hooked on phonics. My point is I've rad comments like "Oh Canada". Like Canada has something to do with this.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • bigpics

      It does happen here. I was a social worker in a children's hospital, where a teenage female patient had a "crush" on a boy patient, and the hospital had to sue for custody when the father decided to sign the girl out against medical advice – because he actually admitted to the Hospital Director (who happened to be Muslim himself) that his reason for doing so was to kill her for dishonoring his family. And this was over 20 years ago.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  19. baller23

    I am not suprised that cnn would link honor killings to Islam. There is absolutely NOTHING In Islam about honor killings. This term doesn't even exist. Period. It's not hard to find out what the source of honors killings are. It is a cultural practice of some people, just like burying daughters alive in India is. For CNN to suggest that it is possible that this is linked to Islam only goes to show you what they really want you to think.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • John in Iowa

      Actually, CNN goes out of its way to point out that honor murders are a cultural phenomena, not religious. They also point out that it is mostly an Arab and South Asian think and that Indonesia does not have this problem even though the country is mostly Muslim.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • PhilTheDrill

      There is absolutely no link. It is just pure coincidence that honor killings like this are carried out by Muslims. It is also just happenstance that most of these occur in largley Islamic countries.

      While Islam may not promote these killings specifcally in its teachings, you can't deny that there is a link between Islam and honor killings. There is nothing in the New Testament that commanded Christians to carry out the crusades, either. You can't deny that those were motivated by religion.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Kurt of Canada

      Not really true. They don't want you to "think" anything. They just you to view their programs/websites. It's not good journalism but it is engaging.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Andrew M. Craig

      Just because a religion's holy text doesn't specifically instruct the act of honor killing, it does not mean that religious people cannot justify such killings with religion . . .because they do. In Islam, in Christianity, and others, many murders (historically speaking as well as today) have been carried out in the name of God, despite the fact that both the Qu'ran and the Bible instruct against murdering people.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • michael

      Original poster needs to read this article again. They obviously missed the point.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Page

      CNN did not link this to Islam. The question is being discussed-rightly so -and CNN is covering it. The article points out that although there have been a string of honor killings committed by Muslim immigrants the phenomena may be cultural rather than religious.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  20. peter

    religion is silly

    January 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Mike

      religion is deadly.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:20 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.