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. NTI

    >Oh, you think that the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia/Serbia wasn't sanctioned by religion? Think again. You think Germany's horror >had no religious overtones?

    Yes, they are not. I am talking about sanctioning and not overtones.


    January 30, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  2. john

    Islamic texts do not support these type of killings ( that is true)

    However Islamic texts do support violence for a number of other reasons and it is clear both in the Koran, in other Islamic teachings and simply by looking at the Islamic world itself, that women are not exactly equal, first class citizens in the Muslim world.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  3. Levi

    Mental illness not religion is the problem the world over.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  4. john

    it is not fair to immediately blame a religion because of a crime like this, because it is indeed cultural and not religious.

    You can't blame Jesus or even the doctrine of Christianity for the actions of nominal Christians. Many Christians have done things directly opposed to Christian doctrine all the while believing they were in good conscience being Christian.

    However, Islam is a more violent religion at its core. While i admire its simplicity, it began with violence and the Koran justifies violence in a way that Jesus does not.

    There are so many examples of Islamic violence in the world today that it is clear that while Islam is not the main cause of honour killings,,, it certainly doesnt help.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Extremely well put; indeed, point perfectly made!
      Too bad so many commenters think with their heart instead of their heads.
      Kinda reminds me of the movie, "Not Without My Daughter". An eye-opening expose of Islam as it is pricticed in Iran.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  5. b4bigbang

    Hey joe, does islam sanction wife-beating? No? There was a commenter a few pages back (couple of hours ago) who DID have Quaranic references to horrible Old Testament type punishments, eg, the public stoning of an adulteress.....

    January 30, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  6. Global

    A classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 1368 AD).
    Edited and Translated by Sheik Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Al-Azhar certified:

    "o1.2 The following are not subject to retaliation:
    (1) ...
    (2) a Muslim for killing a non-Muslim
    (3) a Jewish or Christian subject of the Islamic state for killing an apostate from Islam (O: because a subject of the state is under its protection, while killing an apostate from Islam is without consequences)
    (4) a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring's offspring ..."

    January 30, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  7. HHHA

    A$$wipe should have honor whacked himself. After all it was HIS fault that his daughters were violating his "code". He obviously taught them poorly if they acted in a way he didn't like. If he did his job as a father they would have acted as he wised all the time. So he dishonored himself! Take responsibility!

    January 30, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  8. Global

    Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Jihad wa'l-siyar, book 019, number 4457:

    "This tradition has been narrated by the game authority (Yazid b. Hurmus) through a different chain of transmitters with the following difference in the elucidation of one of the points raised by Najda in his letter to Ibn Abas: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) used not to kill the children, so thou shouldst not kill them unless you could know what Khadir had known about the child he killed, or you could distinguish between a child who would grow up to he a believer (and a child who would grow up to be a non-believer), so that you killed the (prospective) non-believer and left the (prospective) believer aside."

    January 30, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  9. john

    i don't like how the media is always rushing to defend islam while they bash christianity and don't defend it when it is attacked..


    While i have a HUGE problem with the Islamic religion, i can certainly agree that one should not confuse culture and religion and blame all cultural ills on the later. European imperialism and racism often existed alongside Christianity. Christianity was spread throughout the Americas, Africa and Asia by racist and imperialist nation states and forced conversions often happened. At the same time however, there were ancient non white Christian communities in Africa and Asia that predated European Christianity. ( Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Armenia, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Ethiopia, India) and they obviously didnt share those views. Some Christians including clergy were the main voices of opposition against nominally Christian but not necessarily practicing slave traders and merchants. Slavery was imposed by people who were nominally Christian for example but also ended because of the efforts of devout Christians. Similarily, Nazi Germany contained a majority that was nominally Christian, but one of the most vocal opponents of Naziism were church going Germans. Many nominal Catholics were in the nazi leadership but the most Catholic church going areas of southern Germany strongly rejected the nazi party in election after election.

    January 30, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  10. Ed

    What human being can kill its own children? Where is the unconditional love that mother and father should have? How brain washed these people are? We are wasting our time trying to civilize these people.

    January 30, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  11. Vermilionskin

    I was a Muslim before and I'm a free thinker and dislike all religions equally. However, and to be fair "honor" killing is NEVER mentioned in the Quran or any Islamic reference whatsoever. It is 100% Cultural, in fact there a are a lot of other matters that are cultural and not from Islam such as the Niqab: It is not mentioned in teh Quran that women must cover their faces or wear black. Stoning to death: it is mentioned in the Quran BUT there must be at least 4 witnesses that witness the adultery from different angles, making the stoning more symbolic as it is rather impossible to have the condition fulfilled. I'm not defending Islam I'm only stating facts as I studied both the Quran and the Old testament (both have similarities in terms of harsh sentences).

    January 30, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • Joe

      Stoning is not mentioned in the Quran. In fact, that is the punishment under Mosaic law. The punishment in the Quran for adultery iare lashes (and half that for fornicators – you cannot half stone someone to death), but God (Allah) always ends the verses by advising that that "it is better to forgive."

      January 30, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  12. NTI

    Hey everyone,

    Don't trust what anyone (including the deceiving 'experts') tells you about Islam. Go learn about Islam for yourself. The best way to learn about Islam and what it means to non-Muslims you need learn about Sharia. There is a great book, well written, well researched and easy to read book on Sharia – "Sharia for Non-Muslims". The cool thing is that they made this book available free of cost as an online pdf!!! Here is the link – :


    January 30, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Vermilionskin

      I respect your comment, however, if anyone wants to know what Islam is all about they need to read the Quran in English and not al Sharia Law! Sharia Laws are manipulated and influenced culturally and politically.
      They should go to the source, and I'm quite sure that majority of those who say negative comments about Islam have NEVER actually read the Quran and their information are based on assumption. They might hate Islam even more after reading the Quran and it doesn't matter, it is very important to understand what you hate, criticize, fear or respect.

      January 30, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  13. barack o'soros

    no, of course not....that would be the amish that do that....or the quakers, or buddhists...but not islam....noooooo, no way, never....and if my gandma had balls she'd be my grandfather.


    January 30, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  14. M

    Yes it does, there is a verse in Quran that condones honor killings. This is just a deplorable form of reporting and fact checking.

    January 30, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • joe

      what verse you idiot?

      January 30, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  15. Jim

    Not all Muslims are murderers , but all the murdereres happen to be Muslims. Does Islam have a predillection for ignorant barbaric subjects? I think so.

    January 30, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • tarek

      of course you think so if you read trash like this

      January 30, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • z

      That's not entirely true. Murderers come from all religions. If you look into history, you will find all sorts of cases where people have have cited religious reasons for murdering others. No religion has any predilection for creating barbaric people.

      January 30, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  16. NTI

    Are honor killings and domestic violence the same??


    The media and the 'experts' are working overtime to confuse people. Don't trust them to give you the truth. Read for yourself and use your own brain!

    Copy paste this link and pass this on! Knowledge is power!!!

    January 30, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
  17. guest

    Western women,

    please do not marry Muslim men. It is pathetic!

    January 30, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • Ali

      Now Guest, are you blonde? I am looking for #4 here in America. Already have 14 children and want to have beautiful child bearing blonde cutie pie to fulfill my desires. Me & you will make beautiful children – American Muslim children. We take over school and soon become majority. Let me know soon. I need citizenship too because the welfare check will stop coming.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  18. Tina J.

    The only thing that will save Islam is a Reformation.

    January 30, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • guest

      Islam is based on a false prophet. Jesus Christ is the only path to GOD.

      January 30, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Anon

      Both are an equal farce AKA telephone game.

      January 30, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  19. la

    Islam is a deadly virus.

    January 30, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Tare

      And like all good viruses it can hide it's true nature, hence the Islam "experts".

      January 30, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • ddsatlonerock

      It is just plain sick???

      January 30, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • z

      What he did is absolutely sick, but it does not define a religion or culture.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • alex

      Well put! But i would call it cancer . Ignorant Muslims are spreading and liberal muslims are scared for their lives . I just wish that the good muslims would become one voice and speak up and do something, that is if you can reason with them, us "kafars" will never get through them........as far as the incident happening in a western country, hey, set rules like
      learn the history , rules and language before they are welcomed to the country.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  20. JFritz

    For all the "Muslim countries are barbaric" folks: Christian Germany made lampshades out of people and fed them to ovens not very long ago. Animist Africans do the unspeakable to each other. Serbia? Less than a quarter of a century ago "ethnic cleansing" reigned there. Asians have their share of brutality and gee, Thailand and its traffic in little girls sure is civilized, isn't it? Aren't they Buddhists there? Stop the bigoted nonsense! People are idiots, by and large. Eventually we may climb up from the slime, but then again, we may destroy ourselves first.

    January 30, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • NTI

      True they are all horrible and need to be condemned, but none of the things you mentioned are sanctioned by their religions.

      January 30, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • guest

      Amen, they were horrific and now in many Muslim lands, they are glorified.

      January 30, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • JFritz

      Oh, you think that the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia/Serbia wasn't sanctioned by religion? Think again. You think Germany's horror had no religious overtones? Think again. People are people, and many of them use any excuse they can to dominate others.

      January 30, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • joe

      and this IS NOT sanctioned by Islam either. You who love to blame Islam for everything, ought to read a book or two and educate yourselves. Start by reading the article... it happens not only withing the Muslim community, but among the Hindus, Sikhs and yes, even Christians in those countries. In this country, thousands are murdered every year an no one mentions the person's religion, but one Muslim farts in Canada and it's all about Islam.

      January 30, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • NTI

      >one Muslim farts in Canada and it's all about Islam.

      One Muslim farting is not a problem but thousands of them are farting and it is stinking out here!

      January 30, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • NTI

      >Oh, you think that the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia/Serbia wasn't sanctioned by religion? Think again. You think Germany's horror >had no religious overtones?

      Yes, they are not. I'm talking about sanctioning and not overtones.


      January 30, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • RossTrex

      There is no getting through to Muslims because Mohammed made sure his followers:
      Never question his authority
      Never question his motives
      Never question his Narrative
      Never question his behavior
      Never question his beliefs

      This can be quantified it the idea that Muslims believe (because Mohammed told them) that Abraham living 2018 years prior to the birth of Jesusand ~2700 years prior to Mohammed. Took a 750 mile trip with his family his flocks and servants through the Saudi Arabian desert to build a black temple (the Kabaa). Then Abraham left the temple behind leaving no evidence (except the contrived "evidence" of his footprints) and his epic journey back to Israel was not worthy of record in the Torah. The Torah records that Abraham was buried in Israel so he (according) to Mohammed took a 1500 mile round trip through scorching deserts and only Mohammed with his divine inspiration knew it... Funny how that narrative allowed Mohammed to get his followers to kill and be killed to give Mohammed what he wanted... Mecca.

      Muslims actually believe this nonsense... Even the evidence of Mohammeds own father's name Abdallah does not show them that his father worshiped the moon god allah at the blak temple built by his pagan ancestors. If Muslims cannot see the most simple of things..... it is impossible for them to see reality.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:29 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.