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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. Vox Populi

    Honor Killings are not an infrequent news item in the National Print Media of India and these are by and large among the Hindu Gujjar community among others. The state of Hariyana was in the news with Village Councils approving of such murders when a high caste Hindu marries a low Caste Hindu. These are called Khap Panchayats. The supreme court of India has spoken on t his matter as well. These murders call for the death penalty.

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

      death penalty – which is what should happen with these idiots.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  2. clnee55

    Canada has the honor to put them in jail

    January 30, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  3. Joe Cazzo

    Why are there so many Arabs in Canada ?

    January 30, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Jim Weix

      Canada lost the coin toss.

      January 30, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  4. cgs

    To be convinced that Islam is not evil we need to see Muslims loudly and emphatically denouncing these practices. Instead, we get an article by a guy with the surname of Greene. Hmm...

    January 30, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  5. syed ahmed

    don,t blame RELIGION,S for this kind of act blame the person and satan mind he got ,i belived (IDIOTS) and(COWARDS) ARE IN every RELIGION why peolple world blame ISLAM for that blame only who is guilty person not entire ISLAM

    January 30, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Tom

      and yet I haven't read in years about a Christian family doing something like this. One right wing Christian idiot shooting his entire family yes, but not a case when half of the family kills the other half of the family. Simply mush brained and seemingly unique to Muslims it seems to me.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Angela

      tom– you must live under a rock.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Jim Weix

      I suggest a bounty!
      $25 dollars for every towel turned in and a $50 dollar bonus if the beard is still attached.

      January 30, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  6. Crocker's Common Sense

    Gotta give it to the judge. He said it like it needs to be said: "twisted 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." Pass the word.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  7. Angela

    It is amazing how dense a person can be. People who specifically passionately hate a religion have such tiny brains. Do you honestly believe that one person's actions speaks for an entire religion? As a Muslim, I am very open to the beliefs of everyone around the world. The only people's beliefs im not open to are those who kill. Zionists. Extremists. People who Hate others. Those making comments, such as "Islam is vile" fall into one of those catagories. I know for a fact that the disgusting actions of that father, mother and brother are not things that only Muslims have done. I know there are other mentally disturbed humans who have committed crimes similar to this, caused their family harm, that are not Muslims. Those who believe otherwise need to take a walk through the real world for a change. We live in the land of the Free, choose to hate who you would like, but do not make such an ass out of yourself doing it. Preach on, you are no better than anyone else, if anything, you are below.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Harsh Reality

      Of course it does. Islam has everything to with it. The leader of the islamic religion, mohammed, murdered his owm grandson for a matter of "honor". Muslims see him as the guy to emulate. With role models who murder for honor, well, need I say more? He did set the example, after all. (and a bad one it was)

      You are a muslim, you've read the books. Can you deny it??

      And tell us about Aiesha, his six year old wife. . . .

      January 30, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  8. Mikej

    The problem I see with this article is that it states several times that this killing is not justified by islam. It should say it is not to be done whether or not it is justified by Islam. It is wrong no matter if a religion totally endorses it or not. Quit bending over backwards for this cult. Just because they threaten to bomb you doesn't make it Ok.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  9. togirl

    I hope this teaches anyone and everyone from these countries that if they come here (to Canada) and behave this way, this is what awaits them. They aren't going to get away with it!!

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

      Yes .. and we have to stop being so tolerant about them. I don't believe that hiding faces of women behind dark fabric makes any good to our society. Learn to live like westerners or just leave.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  10. Douglas MacNeill

    In paragraph six, the story mentions "the judge's verdict." FYI, it's _the jury's verdict_, exactly the way it would be if someone else were on trial for murder in Canada. Once the accused were convicted of first-degree murder by the jury, the current Criminal Code of Canada specifies a mandatory sentence–as in, zero discretion on the part of the presiding judge–of life imprisonment with a minimum sentence of twenty-five years before the convicts can apply for parole.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  11. glenda

    The problem is, they all will be eligible for parole in 25 years. The 21 year old will be only 46, and will have killed 4 innocent people. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. These people need to be put to death.

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

      We don't have the death sentence here. Maybe he'll be 46, but his sisters are dead, and i doubt his parents will be alive. He's a pariah no matter what happens.

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

      In this type of case, I don't agree with granting parole at all. I am against death penalty and the an eye for an eye theory. Our crime rate is not high compared to other countries so I am glad to contribute, as taxpayer, so the system would never allow these people to be free again.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  12. Notislam

    Wherever islam festers we find intolerance, hatred, violence, terrorism, murder misery and death. islam is vile.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  13. Marc

    No doubt that justice was served here Canada. On the other hand, we are targeting the consequence when the real cause is to allow immigrants, little-to-none familiar with our western culture to come and live here without any serious cultural training. The result is a cultural shock ad their bringing of their values and beliefs into a completely different society. I tend to think that most of us, "westerners" would face hige difficulties living in countries like afghanistan, pakistan, china, iran, just to name a few. I believe that we have to start solving the cause of the problem because the cnsequences, like in the shafia's case, are irreversible. Eithr non-westerners learn to live the life as it is in our country, in our society, or they should not be allowed in without proper screening and cultural training.

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

      I agree; and if they don't like it, they can leave.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  14. Deborah

    I know only too well about Honor Killing especially woth Afghanistanis. I live with a native of Kabul for 3 years and it was my hell on Earth...Yes they do believe in this...I do am lucky to be here by the grace of Go. I was almost murdered too by my common-law husband. I escaped luckily and had him arrested....Until you walk a mile in OUR shoes it is easy to say these comments...When you comen to our Country, you must adapt andrespect the cultures here...Afterall, if we go to Afghanistan, we MUST adapt asap and cover ourselves from head to toe. These Deviled lunatics need to be put in the same car they drowned these lovely girls and or send them back to Afghanistan as we dont want you anyway...Why should we pay now for the rest of their lives for thier warm cell and food....It just sickens me to death...thank you Deborah Toronto

    January 30, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  15. J Gonzalez

    I understand the parents rights to kill there children, we've all thought about it. I just will never understand how a brother could kill his own sisters. That for me is very hard. I love my sister and now matter what happens, that love is unconditional ! That's what it is and will always be.

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

      Huh!?! What parents' rights to kill their children?

      January 30, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • togirl

      Oh really? where do parents have the right to kill their children?

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

    Honor killings, or a better description would be "honor murders" are a phenomenon largely confined to the Muslim world but not a single Islamic country is free of the custom. Honor murders have their root in a vulgar and ancient Arabic expression, "A man's honor lies between the legs of a woman." Boy......that kind of thinking is what we need to enlighten the world. Islam is a sham primitive religion.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  17. Harsh Reality

    Of course it does. Islam has everything to with it. The leader of the islamic religion, mohammed, murdered his owm grandson for a matter of "honor". Muslims see him as the guy to emulate. With role models who murder for honor, well, need I say more? He did set the example, after all. (and a bad one it was)

    It's in their holy books. Really.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  18. AhhPures

    It will take a hundred years of peace and a total reworking of Islamic culture before Muslims can be viewed positively by the rest of the world.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  19. Bah

    With ISLAM you cannot separate the culture from the religion AT ALL!

    Just like any religion, it is used as a basis for the culture, not the other way around!

    All you idiots and liars who want to say different should be banned from speaking your lies and idiotic insanity!

    January 30, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  20. Captain Canada

    I really wish all you American buttinskis would stop discussing something that happened in Canada!

    January 30, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • the infidel

      Ya, ok flapperhead.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Jim Weix

      Don't you have a gun to ban or a Queen to honor or something?
      Is it true that Quebec and California are going to form their country? A great idea!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:59 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.