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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. logicalMan

    Regardless of religion, the problem I have with this case is that the family was found guilty on the basis of a phone conversation where the defendant literally does not admit murder (its implied or interpreted as such). If its claimed that they murdered the 3 girls first and pushed them in to water...the question is have they found the murder weapon? The broken headlights is a weak evidence. I also see a case of jury rushing to judgement based on the assumption of "honor killing" culture.

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

      They may have drowned them first individually than 'drowned' them again so to speak.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  2. knucklehead

    Can't wait for that Arab Summer....

    January 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  3. pherz

    .. they're like that wasn't US .. that was all HIM. 🙂 LOL.. too bad these more commonly happen and you don't hear about it in Muslim countries.. nice try you ol' Islam peddlers of CNN!

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

      It's true actually, it's part of the pre-existing cultures in that part of the world. It's not part of Islam. It was there before Islam, and these psychos would probably still be doing it even if they were athiests, and I don't use the term psycho lightly. Their religion helps though. A religion that allows no earlthly pleasure with the exception of "righteous" sadism is naturally going to indulge in that one earthly pleasure every chance they get, much like medieval christians. Fortunately, we've socially evolved since then...

      January 30, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      Not to mention Caiha you are rewarded by your peers for being the Most Fundamentalist.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  4. Kingofthenet

    Behead those who say Islam is Violent!

    January 30, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  5. CAP

    I cannot think of anything more DIS-honourable than killing your own children. Murder is not murder. Murdering your own children is the most evil thing I can think of. You'd have to be a shell of a person....soul-less.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  6. pdv

    "Honor killings" have been a part of human society for hundreds/ thousands of years, including all sort of religions/ civilizations/ societies. It has nothing to do with any specific religions with more with the level of education. I'm a non-muslim asian & know of a little known fact in the western media... honor killings happen every day in developing world, irrespective of the religion practised. This is also a perfect example of lack of "education" (not just being literate) in the family led to this very sad situation for these young "progressive" MUSLIM women... despite being in a developed country.

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

      You are correct but the violence and intolerance towards women in the Islamic religion enables it to be more violent towards women. Why is it then that Islam has more than 90% of all honor killings in the world??

      January 30, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  7. Sy2502

    The reason Islam is so misogynistic is that it is a religion that is the product of a misogynistic culture. The culture was there before Islam was even born, and Islam carries the mark of the culture that produced it.
    My feeling is that this miserable individual hated his daughters for the simple fact they were daughters and not sons. He hated them and was looking for a reason to unleash his hate on them. Let's face it, what those girls did couldn't be called a death deserving crime under any mentally sane definition. This man had absolutely no affection or emotional bond with his daughters, and therefore he had no qualms to see them dead. Only the most profound hate can motivate this kind of actions.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  8. BooseyBoo

    What I don't get is...why do people come from a clearly backwards country only to clutch onto clearly backwards ideas and then expect their children to adhere to the same standards as if they were still in the country from where they came.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  9. navyanup

    5 years jail for being atheist in most modern islamic country
    how can you defend islam?????

    January 30, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  10. Bob

    A challenge that Islam faces is its lack of symbols - when other faiths attend services, frequently various religious icons draw their attention to a higher power or purpose. Islamist extremists tend to shun any symbol or idol. Think of the outcry for the cartoonist who depicted Mohammad in a cartoon, for example. In a place of worship, without symbols or idols reminding the lay people that attend that there is a higher power, too much power is transferred to the human religious leader who's very words seem to become law. I would suggest that not only is this a cultural issue, but it is an issue that seeks out religious authority to approve of the actions. This makes it a problem for Muslims whether or not they like it. Far too much power is in the hand of the local Imam.

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

      Very astute observation. No central authority also seems to contribute.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  11. Talley-Wacker

    Islam sucks, we should just burn their quran if they misbehave.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  12. lou50

    This is great, these animals are now finding out they can't pull this off outside their country.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  13. Eric G

    Another weak attempt to justify ones actions with belief in a god that there is no evidence to support it's existence.

    Belief is dangerous.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  14. bobby

    "They are between two worlds: the ancient world and the new technological age," There is no "between" Islam, once the most modern religion as proven by tolerance and science....is a culture of heathan infants in modern society.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  15. Blake

    I hope this guy endures some nice prison r*** from a muslim convert

    January 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  16. stephendouglas

    The problem is in the interpretations of the coreann by Mz lms. The coreann specifically tells how to discipline women, including when and how hard to physically punish them. This is in chapter four, verse 34. So, when you have a so called holy book that specifically points out how to treat women, you can bet there will be extremists who will go to a new level.

    No matter how you slice it, the fact is, this is not a religion of peace and tolerance. It is a religion that specifically subjigates women. It is a religion of terror.

    In fact, it is not a religion at all, it is a cult.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Haas

      Total BS.

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

      No, total truth right from the English version holy Qur'an sitting here on my desk

      January 30, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  17. navyanup

    5 years jail for being atheist in most modern islamic country
    how can you defend islam??

    January 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  18. Pete/Ark

    The Islamic clerics raise a valuable point.."honor killings"are NOT based on religion they are based on culture. Such events are known in this country to occur among some socio-economic groups who isolate themselves from mainstream society, as well as those who consider family to be a "possession". If a christian kills an unfaithful spouse do we blame Christianity?

    January 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • stephendouglas

      hmmm....have not heard of any Christians doing the honor killing thing....

      January 30, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  19. 1492Refugee

    How many times that we hear religion used as an excuse for murder, or genocide? It has been used but it will never be justified. How many times have we used tribal or cultural differences to commit murder of the masses? What about those "tolerated" customs of "bride burning" (which includes torching the children along with the mother) just because the wife's family could not pay the in-laws all the "favors" that they desire, or that the inlaws found another woman from a more wealthy family that can appease them? What about one of our US presidents who won his election by priding himself on how he "slaughtered" innocent and defenseless elderly, women and children at Tippecanoe? The genocide was popular! Remember "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too?" There is a common thread here: before these innocent people were slaughtered they were "degraded" or "put down" or "placed in a position" of inferiority to one equal or less than animals (or insects.) Let's quit pointing the finger at one another until we FIRST point our finger IN THE MIRROR! (Myself included!)

    January 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  20. Rev. Charles

    Honor killing is cultural to "Indo-Pakistan-Afgahan" region. It is purely a cultural thing in these countries. The rest of Islamic countries do not practice this. This is just like using example of those men who kill their wives for insurance benefits in the Western culture, and then blame the rest of the Christians in other parts of the world, and then link it to Christianity, Christians and Bible. Let us not poison our minds, let us be honest. For those who do not know, please research this for your self; and you will find that this cultural practice is NOT Islamic, and has nothing to do with Islam.

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

      Yes, Rev., let's be honest. Chapter 4, verse 34 of the Islamic holy book says-

      Men are the protectors and maintainers of women...beause they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in their husband's absence what Allah would have them guard...As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them first, next refuse to share their beds, and last beat them, but if they return to obedience, seed not against them means of annoyance, for Allah is most high, great above you all.

      So, it is ok to beat your wife if you just suspect she is cheating on you, correct? I just want to make sure I am reading this correctly.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Stan

      This is the best review I have read after reading all the bloggers. I salute you Rev. Charles.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:46 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.