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. Keith

    I'm curios as to why Obama had George Bush Sr. and Jeb Bush in the WH this weekend? What's up with that?

    January 30, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Stormfront

      @Keith: Probably wanted to honor kill them, as Mohammed demands.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  2. RichInMtl

    What a croc of baloney. I am amazed how religious intellectuals conveniently differentiate cultural or tribal morality when an act is nasty while in the next statement insist that all societal morality derives from religion. If the guy (because 99% of them are male) in the pulpit condemned acts of violence against women with the same vigour as he uses to espouse (I.e. Champion) the virtues of God/Allah or the flying spaghetti monster then there would be no cultural or tribal ambiguities.


    January 30, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  3. Danedjo

    And they wonder why north americans dislike them.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  4. johnutah

    This has NOTHING to do with Islam, this is all culture related!!!! Whoever insists it has to do with Islam has a biased hatred negative agenda towards Islam. Before Islam came around in Arabia they used to regularly kill of their female newborns but Islam put a STOP to all of that stuff. This is a fact.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • jespo

      ....then they took up suicide bombing...or is that a political thing?...I keep forgetting which killing method is which gosh darn it...

      January 30, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • mtnmn7

      you are a fool johnutah, Islam is hatred killing and earning your way to "heaven". Mohammed is a snake oil salesman and a slimy liar himself.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • DDM

      Islam knowingly & deliberately incorporated and promoted cruel horrors of 'honor' murdering among other barbaric behaviors, and it remains more prevalent in Islam than elsewhere – http://www.islam-watch.org/SyedKamranMirza/honor_killing.htm

      January 30, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  5. This is Islam

    Visit this website to know Islam: http://bibleprobe.com/muhammad.htm

    January 30, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • skarphace

      BibleProbe. To research Islam. Right. Could you find a less objective source? I don't think so.

      January 30, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  6. marg


    January 30, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • mtnmn7

      God in Islam is Allah – a false gog.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • mtnmn7

      God in Islam is Allah – a false god.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • skarphace

      I don't know about the meaning of Allah, but both Jehovah and it's original pronounciation, Yahweh, means "I am that I am". In other words, God has no name. Or alternatively, there is no name for God.

      January 30, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  7. cantilever

    Other point: Until very recently, 'honor killings' were a regular phenomenon in the Christian world. Sicily is an example. So is Armenia, which shares part of the *culture* of Afghanistan.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • dodo

      What a nonsense. Since when Armenia 'shares' culture of Afganistan? Go educate yourself.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • ItalianGuy

      Sicilians are degenerates, for the most part.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  8. Klaark

    Great. Too bad the ignorant bigots have made up their tiny minds on Islam and won't change no matter how many facts they are confronted with. Their simple view of the world will not be complicated further, they just can't handle it.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • jespo

      Foolish us for having made up our minds after 1500 years of bloodsoaked hands holding a book in one hand a head saw in the other...go back to the mud with your filth...

      January 30, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  9. cantilever

    Speaking of "wall of silence," why does the article not mention the man's wife, who was also convicted of first-degree murder? There is no evidence she was opposed to the murders; in fact, she helped commit them in her own way. I guess it spoils the 'anti-patriarchy' mood to point this out, right? By the way, these are not peasants; the familly was extremely rich.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  10. Wilson

    CNN is covering Isla. Period.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  11. Rev. Charles

    Most of us on this board are stuck with FALSEHOOD. Be ware of your responsibility as christians. Tell the truth no matter what. Get rid of your hate and you will definitely be a better christian. Hate has no place in christianity period.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Herbert

      Christianity has tons of hate and violence within it.
      Only when you are secular and choose to not observe your religious hate will you be more peaceful and non-violent.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • jespo

      All religions have an enemy...all of them...people are stupid, people will hate...all religions have hate. Show me one that doesnt and i'll show you a religion you dont know....

      January 30, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  12. NTI

    The post is nothing but a deceiving cover-up for Islam! Honor killing can not be blamed on cultural. Honor killings happen in almost all the Islamic countries weather it is Arabic countries, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, North African, Western African. Hello? Which culture, except for Islam, connects this vastly diverse countries with different languages and traditions?

    The fact is that honor killing comes from Sahih Muslim and Al-Bukhari (the most prominent Hadiths) under the book of Nukah and the section of jealousy ...

    صحیح البخاري – كِتَاب النِّكَاحِ – بَاب الْغَیْرَةِ

    لَوْ رَأَیْتُ رَجُلًا مَعَ امْرَأَتِي لَضَرَبْتُھُ بِالسَّیْفِ غَیْرَ مُصْفَحٍ فَقَالَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى للهَُّ عَلَیْھِ وَسَلَّمَ أَتَعْجَبُونَ مِنْ غَیْرَةِ سَعْدٍ لَأَنَا أَغْیَرُ مِنْھُ وَللهَُّ أَغْیَرُ مِنِّي 4922
    حَدَّثَنَا عُمَرُ بْنُ حَفْصٍ حَدَّثَنَا أَبِي حَدَّثَنَا

    In Al-Bukhari says that Saad Ibn Abada told us "If I saw a man with my wife then I will kill him with my sword" and the prophet told them "Are you surprised that Saad is that jealous, because I am more jealous than Saad"

    Here is a word used in Arabic called الدیوث "Al Dayyouth"

    الدیوث: وھو الذي لا یغار علی

    Al Dayyouth means a man who do not feel jealousy on his family/house "Cuckold" "a word applied to an adulterer"

    According to Mohammed there are 3 kind of people that will NOT enter Al-jina/Allah will NOT look at them

    1. Ingrate to his parents الْعَاقُّ لِوَالِدَیْهِ

    2. boyish girl (tom boy)وَالْمَرْأَةُ

    3. Al Dayyouth الدیوث

    So we see that Al Dayyouth will not enter to Al Jana and not to mention that other people will make fun of this man because he is disgraced

    January 30, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Truelight

      Thank you ...this is the truth ... Academic reply!
      Only if people read about his satanic cult to know what is it!!!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Muneef

      Is it true that the eating of Pigs Meat kills the jealousy in men? Is it true that who ever consumes the same wouldn't mind acting like a pimp for his mother,wife,sisters ?

      No wonder we Muslims have much more jealousy than others consuming the same...!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Pat

      You are so right! There is an effort to show around the world that ISLAM is a cultured and peaceful religion. Actually that is so untrue. The true followers of Islam are people like bin laden and many other terrorists! Islam was spread with the sword around the world and one of the most voilent religions which actually has no place in this modern and free world.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  13. b4bigbang

    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."

    J Gonzales, please turn yourself in to the nearest state mental hospital.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  14. Lucas

    You say crazies comes in all forms of religions, but they get their inspirations the scriptures of their religions. I haven't read the Koran, but I have read the bible and the book of Mormon. You wring out those books and you get nothing but blood out of them.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  15. ForceOfReason

    The magnitude of denial is striking. The perpetrator of this horrible crime gave his justification: "God's curse on them for generations. ... They betrayed Islam." Yet, political correctness requires us to even deny the perpetrators admission. Islamic "sacred" law as certified by Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam does explicitly state that 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).
    Islam gives women half the rights of men, a sister has half the rights of brother, and women are considered deficient in intelligence. Muhammad stated that women are awrah, an object of shame. "I was shown the Hell-fire and that the majority of its dwellers are women." (SaHeeH Bukhari).
    Here is some more of Muhammad's "wisdom" ( Sahi Muslim No. 4206):
    A woman came to the prophet and asked for purification by seeking punishment. He told her to go away and seek God’s forgiveness. She persisted four times and admitted she was pregnant. He told her to wait until she had given birth. Then he said that the Muslim community should wait until she had weaned her child. When the day arrived for the child to take solid food, Muhammad handed the child over to the community. And when he had given command over her and she was put in a hole up to her breast, he ordered the people to stone her. Khalid b. al-Walid came forward with a stone which he threw at her head, and when the blood spurted on her face he cursed her.”
    Islam is not "hijacked" by misunderstanders of the true teachings..quite the opposite: we can be grateful that the majority of Muslims is not taking their religion literal.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Truelight

      Thanks for this genuine and academic illustration.
      Only if people read what they are talking about .... To know the truth....

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

      You're right, but the same could be said about the Bible as well. There are many things in the Bible that shouldn't be taken literally.

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

      to kidkoala: yes, there are things in the Bible that are repulsive. But if you compare the biographies of Jesus and Muhammad, study the New Testament and the impact of the European Enlightment on Christian teachings, you will undertstand why honor killings are not a Christian problem.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  16. Danny Leighter

    This isn't religious at all, if anything is to be blamed it's culture- even then on a very minuscule scale. My Afghani wife's father didn't kill her when I dated her, or better yet when I married her.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  17. Tom

    LOL, so Honor killing happen all over the place, yet, all named countries are mostly Muslim. It could be cultural, but somehow, I think the culture is shaped this way by religion, and it's intrinsic disregard for women rights.

    To all mainstream Muslim: Preach women rights in mosques, and than, maybe in 100-200 years, honour killings will be part of history.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  18. Chartreuxe

    These are lack-of-honour murders.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  19. BEM684

    "Leading Muslim thinkers wholeheartedly endorsed the Canadian judge's verdict, insisting that "honor murders" had no place and no support in Islam." I'm sure these "leading muslim thinkers" are either from the West or from the more westernized countries in the Middle East. The "leading muslim thinkers" in Africa and the anti-western Middle East endorse this kind of thing.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • kidkoala

      You're may be correct about that. However, it does bring up the culture issue brought forth in the article – basically where you grew up.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Phaors

      What they are doing is denying that these are 'honor killings' and blaming it on culture.
      As usual, they are playing word games to deny that their religion has anything to do with this.
      Go to the CBC website. Read the story, then the comments below.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  20. NTI

    Protecting the honor of other Muslims, family name, and Islam are all part of the Islamic landscape. That is one of the reasons that Muslims throughout history cannot admit to atrocities they have committed. They have a sense of pride that prompts them to lash out at others rather than condemn themselves.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:25 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.