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. Adnan Khan

    These people obviously don't know what Islam is.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Staring Horse with Tongue Sticking Out

      I know right? They totally forgot to throw acid in the girls' faces first!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • American Muslim

      What they don't realise is that their spreading of ignarance about Islam is actually helping to fuel extremists who use the same false arguments to support their cultural trash. It's time we fought ignorance with knowledge.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • tom

      Has nothing to do with religion. All the boneheads here fail to understand that.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • rowan

      ive not studied it but common sense would tell you this isnt right.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Staring Horse with Tongue Sticking Out

      And don't forget about the acid! Oh, and the stonings.

      January 30, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  2. Hassan

    THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ISLAM/ (FAITH IN GENERAL). We all have done things that are not in line with our faith. It's interesting to note, when a Christian does something wrong, why doesn't the news read, "CHRISTIANITY and XYZ(the wrong action)." Even those people that do wrong things in the name of a particular faith, it's really horrific, because much of the wrong action is inspired from personal mission (different intention) and then coated with the veil of faith.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Hassan

      I'd recommend reading "Islam Under Siege" by Akbar Ahmed- Anthropologist by training (Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University), Dr. Ahmed identifies this type of behavior as "Hyper Asabiya (tribal/group loyalty)". I will not be responding anymore, but if anyone would like to do serious academic research on this topic this is your book.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Omar

      You lie, Hassan! It is their religion that forms the basis for the culture, not the other way around!

      The most violent "cultures" are the ones that are the most religious.

      The most peaceful "cultures" are the ones that are the most secular.

      You are a liar or maybe you are too stupid to know that what you are saying is untrue.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • tom


      I am not sure what "squeaky clean" religion you believe in, but for every major religion, I can name examples of violence that are just as shocking as this. And apparently you are not smart enough to understand that religion does not necessarily drive culture and customs...depends on the society. Much of the culture and customs of the "Islamic" countries existed before Muhammad the Prophet was born. Hence, you are wrong. Get lost now.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • AchmedtheDeadTerrorist

      Silence! I keel you!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  3. Dinesh Sharma

    I agree that there are honor killings in other cultures too. However, the number is very small (and commited by illiterate, poverty-stricken sections of the society) compared to honor killings in islamic countries and the legal consequences are severe and consistent with other forms of murder (in India for example). Also the rest of the society is completely horrified by these practices. While this is not a justification there will always be loonies in every country/culture/religion. What distinguishes islamic countries, is that this and other barbaric practices are enshrined in their legal system also. As its mentioned in the article. honor killings are not punished as severely. Also many of these countries have the death penalty for blasphemy and an almost total lack of rights for non-muslims. I wish muslims would wake up and take responsibility for the various barbaric practices that are culturally and even legally sanctioned in islamic countries. Check out the case of the governor in pakistan who was killed for supporting a christian woman who was unjustly accused of blasphemy. Also check out the hordes of lawyers (well-educated people hopefully!) who garlanded the murderer of the governor and were falling over themselves to defend this murderer and so "defend the honor of the prophet"

    January 30, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • tom


      I am guessing from your name and what you wrote, that you are Indian and a Hindi. From the place that gave us the caste system, the untouchables and the aborting of baby daughters to avoid paying a dowry later on. Now that is truly a progressive culture, much better than Islam, yes???? You got no cause to point your finger at anybody.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Mel

      What country doesn't have a past filled with misdoings? We all have scars so to speak...even you. To say no one can speak if they are from a country that ever did anything wrong is ignorant and a straw man argument at best and blatant censorship at worst. Besides, just because the poster is of Indian heritage in no way means that he follows or agrees with anything or is a member of any religion. If you disagree, try to argue with facts and counterpoints rather than attacks that could very well have no basis. Besides, he seemed to agree with some of your points, that this is done in other cultures and other cultures have their share of crazies and this just isn't islam. His main point was to the FACT that some countries have it embedded in their governments to allow for these practices and this should change.

      Please, post what wasn't true about his post. Attempting to just shut him up more proves your lack of an good argument. I don't exactly even understand what your problem with this post is.....do you disagree or do you just hate anyone who says something you don't like about your religion or culture? BTW, I do agree that this is a cultural problem and not religious. I know many islamic people in the states who do not agree with this mindset and find it more abhorrent than most do. They lead peaceful free lives and believe in equality for women.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  4. abd

    whether there is a link or not, we are happy with our religion, and if you don't like it then close the door when islam knocks on your door """'deal

    January 30, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Dinesh Sharma

      No one in their right mind will open then door when islam knocks. Only a person who has lost his mind will convert to islam.

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

      And what religion are you? Why is yours so much better that someone elses?

      January 30, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  5. Jim

    They are criminals who have committed heinous crimes, full stop. Life in the pen, no parole.

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

      the only thing "honor" killings do is remind women of this religion that they are no more than chttel. something t be sold bartered with ans killed at the first sign of no having been brain washed. i cant help but wonder what this world would be like if women actually ran it. made the rulesand if when a man stepped out of line would he be stoned for the audacity of having a thought in his head that wasnt placed there. a burka for a man!!! lol gives me the giggles.shes so young and so pretty.it seems that the man. maybe a penil reduction is in order. no pain killer

      January 30, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  6. shyboy69

    Of course there's a connection between Islam and the honor killing. Even the murderer admits this. So why does CNN have such a tough time admitting it?

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

      It's connected to a whacked out interpretation of Islam. Read the Quran sometime.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • tom

      How are the Muslims with their own interpretations of the Quran any different than that wacko Christians from the midwest where I grew up, who dance with rattlesnakes? There are some pieces of work in Christianity also, believe me!

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

      could you please show us which section of the Quran promotes that

      January 30, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • sa

      Actually no there is absolutely no relations b'w Islam and honor killings whatsoever b'c the very first thing Muhammad SW did when he came was to stop the then pagan arabs from burying their daughters alive, there is no concept of any kind of honor killing in Islam. This is all cultural nonsense that is practiced by these ppl.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  7. KGill

    Islam is not at the cause of honor killings. Islam is not at the cause of Genital mutilation. Islam is not at the root of terrorism. Islam is not at the root of beating wives( though in koran it explicity states beat your wife if she is disobedient. Why do these Maximum of honor killings only happen in Yemen, Saudi A, Iran, Iraq, Jordon, Egypyt, Sudan, Palestine ?

    Then there is real Muslims dont do this. Real Islam is not about this. Where is this real Islam- where is it practiced ?

    January 30, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Ishtar12

      Because they are a bunch of ignorants who think they know better!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Zia Islam

      Because 75% of all Muslims live in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia and China!!!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Howzatnow

      America, where we have laws that help people get out of families like this one, regardless.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Ishtar12

      Dude Genital mutilation is only in Somalia and Egypt or whatever and it is in 1 word IGNORANCE! ... It is not a Muslim thing ...

      January 30, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Death to Islam!

      Islam is the root of Islamic murders, terrorism, hate, intolerance, bigotry, and insanity.

      Islam is the root of these things for every Muslim. They "honor" their "god" by murder, hate, intolerance, and lying.

      There can be no peace with Islam, and no submitting to the lies that Islam is based on.
      Mohammed was a liar, a thief, a common criminal robber who murdered and stole his way across the Middle East.
      He ra.ped and tortured and his words are held up as holy by evil people who are insane.
      Islam is a lie. Islam deserves destruction. There can be no submission to the insane and murderous evil people who claim Islam as their guide to life and lying.

      Death to Islam!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  8. ashrakay

    If you think that a woman should be covered up in public, a virgin at the time of marriage and that it's okay to marry a 9 year old girl (as Mohammed did), it's probably not a stretch to kill them for the honor of your family. As with most religions, Islam is about shame, guilt, male dominance, and misogyny. I more shocked we don't find more of this amongst Christians as well.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Herbert

      Go to any Amish community and see the same thing. Religions are about hate and murder. Only secular people are peaceful.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Zia Islam

      So nuns don't cover up I guess, they should wear bikini! Also when Muhammed married Aisha, she was 19 years old. You are listening too much Limp-bag. Quit it!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • ashrakay

      @Zia Islam, As I stated, Christianity is also about repression, if you actually read my post. Regarding the child bride.:
      Sahih Muslim Book 008, Number 3310:
      'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) married me when I was six years old, and I was admitted to his house when I was nine years old.
      Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64
      Narrated 'Aisha:
      that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).
      Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 65
      Narrated 'Aisha:
      that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old. Hisham said: I have been informed that 'Aisha remained with the Prophet for nine years (i.e. till his death)." what you know of the Quran (by heart)'
      Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 88
      Narrated 'Ursa:
      The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with 'Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death).

      Sunan Abu-Dawud Book 41, Number 4915, also Number 4916 and Number 4917
      Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin:
      The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) married me when I was seven or six. When we came to Medina, some women came. according to Bishr's version: Umm Ruman came to me when I was swinging. They took me, made me prepared and decorated me. I was then brought to the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him), and he took up cohabitation with me when I was nine. She halted me at the door, and I burst into laughter.

      Do you deny these claims?

      January 30, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Mel

      it is a far stretch from a nun who wears a uniform (in an occupation of her CHOOSING) to women who have no options who live in these male dominated societies. Only weak men fear and suppress and women in this manner in any religion. I realize there are many religions that suppress females and that is equally weak, but the fact that other religions and cultures exist that do this in no way excuses the cultural treatment of women in this part of the world.

      January 30, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  9. davetharave

    It's not because of Islam, it's just a coincidence that Islam is the predominant religion in many of these male-dominated societies where the whole thing about 'male honor' is nothing more than a macho ruse to wield authority over women. Sometimes it gets so bad that a man will wipe out his own family, like this nut job did. Hope he rots in there.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • tom

      You are wasting your time explaining...the bonehead trolls who want something to hate...and voila, enter Islam, are out in force.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  10. sipi1


    January 30, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • tom

      It is amazing to me how many boneheads with computers there are who post vile hate and nonsense.

      Don't any of you bother to understand a topic before opening your mouths?

      These "honor killings" have nothing to do with religion. It is local customs and culture. Let me repeat...has nothing to do with Islam. Bonehead, feed thyself to thy dog!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  11. EGB1

    Since these murderers believe in Sharia, it would be appropriate to publicly behead them.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Zia Islam

      LOL! You are correct!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  12. Jim P.

    "And along with the Islamic scholars and human rights advocates, he rejected out of hand the idea that religion justified it."

    If there was only one sect of Islam, I might believe it but they are as splintered and diverse as Christians and you can get eithe rreligion to opine sixteen different ways ont he same subject depending on who you talk to.

    As for "thou shalt not kill..." you left off the second part "'...unless thy god tells you it is OK to do so then you had better hop to it." The Old Testament would be a small pamphlet if no one killed in those bloody books.

    Very few religions are kind to women: Most treat them as property of the males, especially their daughters.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • American Muslim

      Most people don't know this, but in Islam women are given a great amount of rights. They have the right to work and they have the right to keep every penny they make. They have the right to own property and possessions as they choose. They have the right to vote and to voice their opinions. It is also forbidden in Islam to mistreat women in any way... this means speaking harsh words, let alone laying a finger upon them. Oh yeah, and when a man is home he is supposed to be in the sevice of his family within the context of Islam. I don't really expect most people who aren't Muslim to know these facts, I mean most people who are "Muslim" don't know them. It's time for knowledge to cure the ignorance. God bless America, God bless the World.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  13. Jonathan Stone

    Reblogged this on jonathan stone's blog.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  14. anonymous

    What other "religions" kill women for not abiding by their archaic, patriarchal totalitarian oppression nowadays? hmm.....

    Let's see: Christians stopped burning witches at the stake more than a century ago;
    Jews don't stone women for adultery any more;
    Buddhists tend to self-immolate...

    Gee, I guess that only leaves Islam - the "religion of peace" that still allows lashings, stonings, beheadings, and, oh yes - "honor killings"

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

      As you said yourself, Christianity went through this phase too. Don't go thinking that just because it happened a long time ago that your religion doesn't stink too.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • American Muslim

      Most people don't know this, but in Islam women are given a great amount of rights. They have the right to work and they have the right to keep every penny they make. They have the right to own property and possessions as they choose. They have the right to vote and to voice their opinions. It is also forbidden in Islam to mistreat women in any way... this means speaking harsh words, let alone laying a finger upon them. Oh yeah, and when a man is home he is supposed to be in the sevice of his family within the context of Islam. I don't really expect most people who aren't Muslim to know these facts, I mean most people who are "Muslim" don't know them. It's time for knowledge to cure the ignorance. And the punishment for adultery is stoning to death yes, but there must be four eye witnesses that saw penetration. And in Islam a person has the right to being innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. It is not Islam that makes these horrible cultural rules and garbage, it came to correct them. God bless America, God bless the World.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  15. Notislam

    islam is an ObamaNation to humanity. islam is vile.

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

      One would've likely thought the same of Christianity if we lived a few hundred years ago.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Trevor

      You are an idiot.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  16. Bobby Openminded

    Honor Killings in the Christian Bible:
    “And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 21:17)”

    “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him. (Leviticus 20:9)”

    January 30, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  17. Notislam


    January 30, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • American Muslim

      http://www.guideus.tv Learn the truth about Islam!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  18. Notislam

    islam is vile. Always was and always will be.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  19. Andrew WHYISLAM.ORG


    January 30, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  20. Charles

    No different from Christian preachers saying that killing doctors that perform abortion is justified.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Joe

      Well, it's a little different....they're pretty much equally disgusting but this is definitely different.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Mike, formerly from Syracuse

      So honor killing would happen about 10,000 times more often.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • J Gonzalez

      Hear Hear !!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
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About this blog

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.