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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. Jeff

    muslims commit 90% of all honor murders.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Zia Islam

      How do you know? 75% of all Muslims live in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia and China!!! None of these countries have EVER had a single honor killing – EVER>>>>

      January 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Truelight

      Zia Islam... It does not take a rocket scientist to know it ... Google and search yourself to find where and who committed what so called honor killings ... And come back to let us know your findings ... Do not be bios and blinded and ignore facts!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • dalevanh

      No honour killings in India,Bangladesh ? Get your facts straight.
      Here is an extract from a UNCHR Report.
      "In addition, the UN Commision on Human Rights report honor killings in the nations of Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, India, Israel, Italy, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, and Uganda."

      January 30, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • jespo

      did you ever consider that 90 percent of the other 25 percent are the ones doing the killing...you know, the middle eastern portion of the islamic world you so conveniently left out...?...hhmmnn....?

      January 30, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • wiggletail

      To the back of the math class, jespo. 90% of 25% is 22.5%

      January 30, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  2. prose53

    How come no other religion has "honor killings"? I Believe it's intrinsic to Islam. Any religion that denigrates women to second-class status is a reigion I want no part of, whether it's Islam, Baptists, or Catholics. And these beliefs certainly have no place in the official government of a civilized country.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Zia Islam

      When you bomb abortion clinics, how would you term that? THAT'S HONOR KILLING TO ME!!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • jespo

      Killing in the name of religion is wrong...simple...your point is what auntie islam?.... because there are other wackadoo religions doing it its ok for allahists to do it? You're all in need of a reality check...

      January 30, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  3. Long Wang

    Of course. keeping the prettiest and most peaceful image of Islam is way way more important than preventing this kind of trivial incidents from happening again every now and then.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  4. FactChecker

    If the perpetrators call it part of their religion, then it is. Just because some people do not follow or interprite a religion that way doesn't make the rules for other people.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  5. blue sky

    These girls are teenagers with emotions wanting independence and acknowledgement, which unfortunately differ than what their father's perspectives. It is tough to be parents with faith under the microscope. May Almighty Allah grant all of us peace, good life on earth and after life.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • jespo

      Bite me. Condemn the act with everything you've got before wishing peace. I heard in your comment how tough it is for faithful fathers to raise wayward girls...its exactly that kind of wishy washyness that doesnt help any community. Condemn it or shut up.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  6. Beth

    It is a cultural thing. Honor killings are not ONLY a problem among Muslims. They are a big problem in India. Things are improving but it is still a problem there and the majority there are Hindu, not Muslim. As the article said, 'On the other hand, honor murders are not a problem in Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population.' It this were tied to Islam the practice would be in Indonesia as well and it isn't. It's a sick cultural tradition in parts of this world. I can't imagine this. People treat pet animals better than this. I can't wrap my brain around a PARENT thinking it is OK to kill their child. My heart goes out to all those poor women and girls.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:03 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?

    WHYISLAM.ORG

    January 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Ian

      Here's to hoping they ban caps lock soon

      January 30, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • 2011cnn2011

      Because they are not true Christians..any religion who is supposed to represent God on earth with love and peace...no more, no less....If your faith gives you love and peace to yourself and your fellow man than great...

      January 30, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Truelight

      Go to http://bibleprobe.com/muhammad.htm
      To know what is Islam...

      January 30, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • jespo

      Oh stop with the links...speak your mind for yourself or are you refrained from doing so by page 85, verse 16, line 6, word 8, character 5?.....You have a mind, learn how to use it.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Stormfront

      @Andrew: am I really going to have to post up links about hordes of muslim animals gang r-a-p-i-n-g young white girls all over Europe and America?

      January 30, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • cudskickmy

      loloolllolool! ur sooooooooo stoopid!

      January 30, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Stormfront

      @cudskickmy: Actually, you are. Google search it. It's happening all over the place.

      January 30, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  8. Melody

    Why write an article about it when the experts in the field are saying there's no connection?
    The perpetrators even said that the Koran says nothing about this.
    In my opinion, this is just perpetuating the ignorant stereotype that Muslims are dangerous. It's ridiculous. The author should be ashamed.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • dalevanh

      Robert Spencer a leading expert on Islam had this to say. I quote
      "It is no accident or coincidence that Muslims commit 91 percent of honor killings worldwide. A manual of Islamic law certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, says that "retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right." However, "not subject to retaliation" is "a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring's offspring." ('Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2). In other words, someone who kills his child incurs no legal penalty under Islamic law."

      January 30, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  9. WillH85

    Its typical of Islam to deny any connection to their religion and the trouble and destruction it causes. If they'd take responsibility for the trouble that Islam causes and do more to condem these kinds of things, there might not be such back lash. But when a group ries to just avoid any blame and tell everyone else that they need to be more understanding, that doesn't work out well.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  10. Long Wang

    Denial, Denial, Denial.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Zia Islam

      Of what?

      January 30, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  11. Rev. Charles

    Let us be honest, we can twist any caltural practice and call it blief. African culture is different from Italian culture but both an African christian and Italian christian are christians. The cultural practice of one does not justify condemning all christians and christianity. Simply, No matter how hard we try to twist factsn we cannot attach this crime with Islam. Accept the fact that this is only a cultural practice in Indo_pakistan region. Enough of this baseless hate. As christians, we should strive to tell the truth no matter how bitter it is.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • dalevanh

      Dont confuse cultural practices with religious law. Islamic law permits honor killings, which transcends cultural practices.Here is what Robert Spencer a leading experton Islam has to say. I Quote:
      "It is no accident or coincidence that Muslims commit 91 percent of honor killings worldwide. A manual of Islamic law certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, says that "retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right." However, "not subject to retaliation" is "a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring's offspring." ('Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2). In other words, someone who kills his child incurs no legal penalty under Islamic law."

      January 30, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  12. Andrew

    GO TO WHYISLAM.ORG

    January 30, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  13. b4bigbang

    Cyg: "Nothing we haven't seen a Christian do with an Abortion clinic or a federal building."

    And yet, Cyg is a Christian.
    Self loathe much?

    January 30, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  14. Riaz Haq

    Honor killings among Muslims have received a lot of air time and print space in recent years. The unfortunate fact is that such honor killings still happen, and are not limited to specific countries or religions. This heinous practice cuts across faiths, social strata and incomes. A United Nations report says there are 5,000 honor killings every year across the globe. The crime is rampant in India as well as West and Southeast Asia. Even in the United Kingdom, the police contend there is at least one such murder every month among Asian communities.

    Honor killings in India claim over 1000 lives every year, according to an Indian website reporting such statistics. Last year, there were 100 honor killings recorded in the Indian state of Haryana alone, according to Washington Post.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Zia Islam

      BTW, Haryana is a HINDU STATE!!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  15. jespo

    No religion in the world, book on my table, or god in a heaven could make me harm my, or someone else's child...those that do are deranged animals...and don't let the pc b-s fool you...religion defines the culture it thrives in, both feeding endlessly off each other...this is about religion and its ill place in civilized society.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  16. Ram

    Allah Please Save Islam from fantic muslims

    January 30, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • dalevanh

      Here is a more valid proposition.
      Allah + Islam = Fantic(sic) Muslim

      January 30, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  17. pditty

    Since when do we seperate a regions culture from their religion. The two are totaly related.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • AJ

      You are totally naive. South asian region has a lot of hindus. This practice is followed by hindus of India a lot. There is no one religion. Not just that, the region has christians who follow this practive.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  18. Elevatorman

    hmm. i feel like I'm reading about people whose consciousness has not evolved past some sort of primal state. not sure they can catch up.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  19. tACO

    silentwitnessDOTnet/states/us_map.htm

    January 30, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  20. Rev. Charles is nuts

    Rev. Charles is compairing honor killing to insurance fraud? wow you are reaching to defend on that one

    January 30, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Rev. Charles

      Both are cultural,practices in the respective regionscommited frequently. Check the facts and you will see that the so-called honor killing has no place in Islam. Don't just condemn, give facts. Check Quran, and Hadith (the two only sources in Islam), and you will never find "honor killing" there.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Rev. Charles

      If telling the truth is nuts; so be it. Christians should be encouraged to stand by the truth no matter what. If this is what yyou call nuts, I will accept it than go along with hate and falsehood.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • dalevanh

      Rev.Charles it is you who needs to check your facts. The fact is that these killings are sanctioned by Islamic law. Here is what Robert Spencer a leaning expert on Islam has to say. I quote:
      It is no accident or coincidence that Muslims commit 91 percent of honor killings worldwide. A manual of Islamic law certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, says that "retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right." However, "not subject to retaliation" is "a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring's offspring." ('Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2). In other words, someone who kills his child incurs no legal penalty under Islamic law."

      January 30, 2012 at 8:02 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.