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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. Donald

    Anyone who wants to understand the connection needs to go to "thereligionofpeace" dot com and see for themselves. The actual teachings (and history) of this consistently violet and barbaric religion are obvious for anyone wiling to actually study them objectively. The founder was a battle-hardened man of blood shed and a consummated his marriage to a 6 year old when she was 9. That is for starters.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • chuckmartel

      Good points, but anyone who can read and count would come to the same correct conclusion,

      January 30, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Snap

      What are you trying to accomplish Donald? Would you like to see all the Christians rise up and stamp out this evil from God's kingdom? I mean their leader was a pedophile 1400 years ago, its so obvious what God would do.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  2. Quatro Feveiro

    To all in Islam, Bid'ah is GOOD! Christians figured it out a long time ago, and so did the Jews. Follow bid'ah, even if Mohammed says not to, even if the Quran says not to, because if they say it's wrong, they are wrong.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  3. One one

    I have this dream that when Christians and Muslims see the other group promote intolerance, hatred, and violence each will realize that all religion is a problem and that both sides will give it up. But that never seems to happen.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  4. New York Nick

    "Islam doesn't justify 'honor murders,' experts insist"

    B freaking S. These have been happening all over the US as well. The media mogul who beheaded his wife, the man who ran down his daughter in Texas, another who killed both daughters and my bet is most Americans don't even know about these three cases alone much less what goes on in the world a world away in that blood thirsty sandbox called the Middle East.

    Everyone out there who actually trusts anything any Muslim says about Islam to infidels is obviously painfully ignorant to the practice of Taquiyya which allows in their Islamic world to lie, cheat and steal from infidels when it furthers their Islamic cause for Allah. Which means frankly you can't trust anyone practicing Islam as far as you can reach em with your loaded gun for protection. Because as soon as you turn your back on these people they curse you and mock you for your western ignorance.

    Read the dang Koran yourself, I have and It's all there for the reading but most Americans are just too darn lazy to do it and that's what the Mad Muslim is counting on, your ignorance. And the MSmedia outlets like this one are obliging them.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Snap

      Could you please provide a reference to the part of the Quran that you profess to be quoting? Also if you could find it translated into English by someone who is neutral so I can trust the translation would also be helpful. I find it very hard to believe that the Quran suggests Islam participate in a religious-wide system of conspiracy against infidels by lying to them about everything concerning Allah. A practice such as that would seriously weaken a philosophies ability to spread itself, as no one would ever know what to believe because everyone keeps telling them different things.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  5. chuckmartel

    As if the west doesn't have enough of its own indigenous nutjobs, the west is now importing this dark age murderous disease. Terrorism aside, the last thing this country needs are a bunch of rag headed, reigous fundamentalists who have to whip out rugs and pray 5 times a day. At least the bible bangers don't whip out crucifixes or tabernacles when they do their praying thing. Nice addidition to the quality of life from these muzzies, standing around shoeless at airports with 3 oz carry on, underwear and shoe bombers on Christmas day jet flights, exploding airline beverages, constant thwarted terrorist attacks and alerts, censoring cartoons under death threats, threatening to kill comics they don't like, jihadi muzzie soldier gunning down indidel fellow soldiers, etc. Honor killings, another muzzie tradition, fits in well. A way of life in muzzieland, coming to a neighborhood near you.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  6. Mik

    Muslim belief : Do as I say or I'll kill you, women are not human, children are property, don't say anything negative about Islam or I'll kill you, don't say anything about Mohammed or (you gussed it) I'll kill you. No wonder Islam is not trusted and looked down on.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Ahmed

      I keel yoo!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • Snap

      Honor killing is in the Christian bible too, it just so happens our culture has learned that it is a very bad practice. Therefore you can expect to be sent to prison a long time if you do what the following Israelite priest did. If we're going to say Islam is violent because of one text out of their bible, I think we should do the same for the Christian bible personally. This is taken from Numbers 25 NIV: 6 Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand 8 and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; 9 but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  7. j

    oh no don't say that islam does not justify honor killings 1 billion 'moderate' muslims will march and call for your death.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  8. Ben

    Am so fed up with this religion called Islam....if the women feel unsafe, the door is open for them to abandon their family forever to live eslsewhere in peace or die in the hands of family.

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

      How do you feel about christian cults that say it is OK to beat their children?

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

      What a ridiculous comment. You clearly have no idea how ingrained ANY religion becomes when it is brought up in a family from a persons birth, and you know even LESS about strong social structures. FEW will ever abandon their family for such a reason, which is why ALL religions are bastions of abuse and hate.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      So like getting a lickin is about the same as being drowned in a canal right?

      January 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Children have died as a result of beatings and other forms of excessive punishment by their christian parents.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  9. Rev. Charles

    Note that All Muslims do not come from the same culture, and culture should not be confused with religion. An African christian cannot represent all christians in the wold based on practices of his or her culture. Think of this.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • New York Nick

      Very true sir but sadly the people do it..... and Christianity is the religion most under attack around the world right next to Judaism. In fact Islam is the most protected religion on the planet right now as ridiculous and suicidal that action is.

      Frankly in the Islamic world they can't stop laughing at western ignorance to their grand plan, even though people like Ahmadinejad regularly state it for the world to see and hear, almost daily he states their intent to destroy Israel and the US and we run tail between legs every time no matter who the president is.... 🙁

      January 30, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  10. 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 WHY ISREALIS KILL LITTLE PALESTINAN BOYS AND GIRLS. AND CAN YOU PLEASE WRITE ABOUT HOW THE ISREALIS ARE DENYING THE PALESTINAN PEOPLE RUNNING WATER AND FORCING THEM TO LIVE IN GETTOS.

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

      Why are you yelling? Does the truth hurt? This is a cult, not a loving,caring religion.

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

      Keep shouting, really brings your message home...

      January 30, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • HHHA

      Why did all the responses to Andrew get deleted???????

      January 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • chuckmartel

      you are an idiot with no concept of analogy.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Ben Wallace

      Dude no freaking religion that i have studied, and thats quiet a few, supports killing of any kind, i have seen where people have killed in the name of their "god" and wiped out entire villages. i have seen cases of mass suscide in the name of a gods. it has nothing to do with religion it has to do with people taking culture and religion to far.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Bigboard

      HHHA, my question exactly. His rant was left intact, but those taking more moderate but contrary positions to him were deleted.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  11. krishna

    but islam / quran creates idiots like these. a vast majority of them are morons. out of touch with reality. driven by 6th century tribal ideologies. the quran needs to be changed.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Rev. Charles

      Honor killing is also practiced by Hindus, do we accuse Hiduism? and insult Hindus? Common Krishna!!

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

      @Rev. Charles...but not in such a grand scale. you will never find so many misguided people in Hinduism. a few here and there yes. like some fundamental christians.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  12. matt houston

    Couldn't be..Islam is THE religion of peace...right? Anyone???

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

      I guess that means you missed the best part of the article; the whole good vs evil is based on culture more than religion.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  13. sharkfisher

    Put them in a round widowlless room so they can't tell east from west and feed them a pork diet.

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

      Naw, just shoot 'em and bury 'em w a pound of bacon.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  14. RightTurnClyde

    Oh.. so glad to hear that Islam does not justify honor murder because they are the religion of peace; right? And we know they do not justify using your own kids as b.o.m.b.s either... or polygamy or b.l.o.w.i.n.g up airliners or removing heads from shoulders .. or shooting rockets across borders (into Israel) or .s.e.x. crimes (Egypt) or t.e.r.m.i.n.a.t.i.n.g. Christians (also Egypt and other parts of Africa) .. or mistreating women in general .. an d of course they to not justify destroying trade centers in down town Manhattan .. or government buildings.. It's good to know they do not condone any of that stuff because then whom ever dies any of those things .. they are not true Moslems right? ( It's kind of how the pope does not condone what's been embarrassing to the Catholics too.) But, of course, there is a big difference in the nature of the crimes as well as in the frequency. But still nobody is saying it is right .. but it just sort of happens huh? How 'bout that? You just never can tell.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  15. Ben Wallace

    I have studied religions philophies and mythologies from all over the world and no where have i seen where it says that you should kill someone. it is in culture that surrounds the religion that dictaces that these "honor killings" should happen.

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

      Sure...culture embraces the religion...and it becomes the new religion...thus, it becomes the new norm. Islam isn't exactly a 'friendly' religion

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

      @Specs, Likewise one could say that Christians aren't very nice because the majority of Americans are Christian, and Americans aren't nice. Your argument misses the point so completely. I'm not Christian, but I can definitely see how Jesus' teachings were of peace, but yet there is a endless flood of evil people that claim to follow him. According to your argument, the teachings of the religion are now evil because of the actions of a person, who most likely was a very confused individual. It's just such a disconnected argument your bringing.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Islam also allows bald-faced lying - duh

      Ben, you are clearly a LIAR because Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious texts ALL HAVE MURDER IN THEM commanded and approved by their GOD!
      How can anyone say these are not religious in nature when they clearly ARE?
      Just because a place like Indonesia happens to be more secular and non-observant of the MURDER that their RELIGION COMMANDS THEM TO DO does not mean that the religion somehow disappears when these DEVOUT Muslims use their RELIGION to make value judgments on what is "honorable" according to their RELIGION irrespective of what culture they came from!
      If their god commanded them to never kill anyone and to always protect the lives of others including those of their own family, THEN it would be cultural without any religious influence. But that is not what we see here, is it?

      They use their religion to make these judgments on what is "honorable" in their RELIGIOUS culture where a THEOCRACY formed the backbone of the culture!
      It is the RELIGION that is to blame because that is the whole BASIS for their culture!

      You cannot separate the religion out of these murders!
      These are DEVOUT MUSLIMS and Islam is the MOST VIOLENT RELIGION IN THE WORLD!!!

      It is no different than if a Christian used their religious abhorrence of gayness to murder their gay children!
      NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL!
      They use the murderous religious text as justification for these murders and commit the crimes because their religion approves of it and because they came from a theocratic culture where the religion is used in all levels of the culture!

      Thus, an Evangelical FUNDAMENTALIST will murder their children, a Muslim FUNDAMENTALIST will murder -their- children, and Jewish FUNDAMENTALIST will murder their children.
      Why?

      BECAUSE A FUNDAMENTALIST IS A DEVOUT LITERALIST AND THE RELIGION SAYS TO KILL, MAIM, TORTURE!

      AND A THEOCRACY IS A CULTURE WHERE DEATH IS ALLOWED AND COMMANDED BY "GOD" ACCORDING TO THE RELIGIOUS TEXTS, RELIGIOUS / CULTURAL LEADERS!!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  16. Jackson

    The connection between honor killing and Islam is like the connection between Aids and pneumonia!

    January 30, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  17. Floretta

    It has little to do with Islam and everything to do with male control over females, period.

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

      Why sure .. that's what is. That is why everybody else does it too. Right?

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

      Islamic people are utterly conservative and when combined with teachings of Islam and muslim way of living, a slight individual insanity can cause a person to commut such gruesome crimes.
      Now explain a Burkha Vs. girls dressed in skirts in muslim's house to me.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  18. John Kantor

    Islam doesn't justify murder or terrorism. Murderers and terrorists use Islam to justify what they do. But the problem is still with Islam. Muslims have allowed their religion to be hijacked by fanatics. And now they want it both ways. They say they are against fanaticism, but they don't do anything about it. Until they stand up and change it, Islam will remain a backward medieval religion – no better than Catholicism was in the Middle Ages.

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

      Good point. However, how does one stop someone from hijacking their religion? What if a bank robber decided to wear a cross, and give money to the poor? What would the religious leaders do to stop this criminal from hijacking their religion? I think the only thing they can do is get on the news and let everyone know that isn't their religion, which is exactly what these Islamic leaders are saying. Is it possible that maybe they're being honest about this? I think so.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  19. One one

    The religion comes from the culture and the culture comes from the religion.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  20. tim

    Keep religion out of our government. Religions can, and do, justify every sort of evil in the name of their gods.

    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.