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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. GrowUp

    And here I thought this was the 21st Century. Silly me. We are still in the Stone Age apparently. Stop making excuses for this dangerous cult of whack jobs.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • iit

      They are wack jobs? So are many others who have lost their moral mind? So your point is?? All muslims are bad? If you say so, then maybe you need to do a litttttttttle more research on crimes in America. You would not be shocked because you already know that but can not apply the same principle to yourself.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:07 am |
  2. Atheist

    Islam murdering women, christains priests molesting children, jews going against thier own belief and killing ppl for a piece of land. they are all the same predetors but with different skins.
    when will the dark cloud of religions and thier greedy folowers leave us?

    there will come a time when ppl look back at us and get sick of what we are doing today. With all the technology and advancment we have proven ourselves to be worthy, we still slaugter each others over fallen ideas that WE created and didnt even work in thier own time.

    When will ppl wake up and realize that WE are the gods and there are no others???

    January 31, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Chris

      Decent people don't kill their family, or others for that matter, regardless of their religion. Religion is just an excuse for evil people to do what they were already going to do. At least the world also has decent people who do what is right rather than clinging to cheap excuses pulled from thousand-year-old books.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  3. MashaSobaka

    Do you right wingers even READ these articles? Or do you just see the word "Islam" and start spouting hate? My Lord, are you people thick!

    Anyone who knows the history of Islam knows that honor killings and other such barbaric customs have never been part of the faith and are the remnants of the tribal societies which Islam took over hundreds of years ago. But most people don't care to read up on history. Most people just like to scream. This is one of the many reasons why I do not like people.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • RossTrex

      You have got to be kidding right.... this is sarcasim..it has to be. To claim that Islam is peaceful is the most rediculous nonsense I can think of. Here is one for you: How many people have been murdered since the start of this week in the name of Islam? I am sure you do not know because you are not paying attention to reality. 234 people have been murdered by Islamic Terrorists. IN ONE WEEK! Get your head out of the sand! Masha

      January 31, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  4. Aisha W

    This is sick ! Islam never supported honor killing . I believe that it is more of a cultural thing in some countries than a religious , that part is true.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:49 am |
  5. Dan Jones

    It always amuses me how the "politically correct" tap dance all around Muslims terrified that they might somehow offend them if they just told the truth and called a "spade a spade". According to these apologizing tap dancers Islam doesn't support terrorism or any threat to Israel either. They point out that Koran openly states that Israel belongs to the Jews. Something smells fishy and I will stay with he adage that actions speak louder than words.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • Chris

      Islam does not support these things, but like Christianity (and even Buddhism) there are bad people who use twisted readings of dusty old books to support the things that they were going to do anyway. A person is not more likely to do these things because they are Muslim, but plenty of people who do this kind of thing cling to their religion for cheap justification.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  6. just sayin

    Christ = Love

    islam = death and hate

    January 31, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • sasa

      in short you are saying Go f** urself

      January 31, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • Aisha W

      Jesus was a Muslim 🙂

      January 31, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • 28mAmerican

      That is bs. Basically all expansionist religions are or have been the cause for mass death. Its actually the reason I don't practice religion any more.
      And in response to the story headline , Google for it. It happens all the time I can recall numerous stories , one that still comes up every time i see something like this, she was 16 her mother died so she was raised by her father who was never home. She was a socialite and enjoyed talking to people , singing etc. The morality police scooped her up and executed her before her father even knew she was detained. 16 years old. Call it what you will its the same thing.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  7. Danedjo

    And they wonder why we don't like them. Go figure.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • iit

      Yes I know why you do not like them. Because you assume you belong to a group of people ("we") as if everyone is ignorant like you. Also you seem to pay so much attention to your emotions that you stop processing facts. Maybe it is about time that you go turn your hatred into something positive.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • sasa

      they? Well I do ot see white ppl speaking out against crimes done by white ppl

      January 31, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  8. cgs

    I would love to see thousands of Muslims speaking out against. honor killings and terrorism.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • iit

      You would love to do what???? Do your religious leaders (if you have one) have to state the obvious, that is killing is a sin, just because someone from your religion killed another person? I assume the answer is no because if you become a fool and said yes, then I would have to hear your religious leaders all day and all night talk about how killing is a very very bad sin. I.D.I.O.T!

      January 31, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  9. locknut

    Has any imam or other Muslim authority issued a fatwa against honor killing? Just sayin'

    January 31, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • A Muslim woman who has rights

      Yes they have. Plenty of them. I'm Muslim & I've never killed anyone...neither has anyone in my family. Especially not for honor. Read the article...it says so.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • iit

      Yes and the fatwa stated as follows: "Honor killing and killing of innocent people in a state of war or peace are both an act of the devil". Now I would like you to use one of the left living brain cells that you have and guess who is the devil.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • RossTrex

      Oh so it is not an act of a Muslim.... Honor killing is an act of the Devil... Nice way to say that it is not the poor Muslim that killed them he or she did not do it.... it was the Devil.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  10. Digenis

    Iis about time to stop the pious multiculturalism and making excuses for Islam. It is a religion sprung from the depths of the Saudi destrt, its prophet an ignorant arab, preaching the mores of a nomadic, illiterate, and brutal desert society. It was spead by sword, brought unspoken misery to millions, and was mercifully stopped by Charles Martel in Poitiers. Stop makliong excvuses for islam, see it for what it is, and decide whether it fits in the western and european system. If you continue on this path, we will soon need another Charles Martel.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • GrowUp

      I agree. All cultures are not equal. Sorry to burst some utopia bubbles but that is reality.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  11. Head TAx

    WORSE than Ted Bundy !

    January 31, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  12. CHILDS GAME

    Islam is the continuation of the Bible and Ten Commandments. All of you Judeo-Christians have the same beliefs and same commandments. However you don't follow. Its the same message. The value family is critical. If adultery is committed that equals death. If someone commits murder= death. The value of present life is not equal to the hereafter ie. if you get punished in this life you get no punishment in the hereafter. This is purification not vengence. I hope that makes sense. West- everything is about more money, more women, more status. In Islam its -value family, honor, and God. No honor- not worth living.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • Danedjo

      CHILDSGAME – In Islam its -value family, honor, and God. No honor- not worth living.

      Yes he really valued his family he killed his own children what kind of value is that? he is nothing but a coward and he will now die in prison like the animal he is.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • Digenis

      if this ios the case, why dont you all muslims stay in your miserable deserts with your goats and camels, instead of flocking to european cities?You can slaughter your daughtetrs there and keep both your honor, and the camel dung.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • RossTrex

      Yes Islam honors value family, honor and God.....

      Well Muslim families: (if they are Sunni Muslim Families then Sunni Muslims honor them) (if they are Shia Muslim Families then Shia Mulsims honor them). Kafir families are not "honored" by Muslims.

      Muslims clearly honor Allah and all other beliefs and other religions they do not "honor". Muslims kill Jews and Christians because they believe in a man named Mohammed who contradicted the Torah and the New Testament. They kill and have enslaved all other religions because they believe a man named Mohammed that told them they have the right to do it.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • just sayin

      Islam is the worship of a false idol. This goes against the Bible which came first, not muslimism which is a sin. Enjoy where you're going.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • Mark Wurden

      Then the father should have killed himself, shouldn't he, for being such a miserable failure as a father figure.

      Also, what you state has NOTHING to do with Islam, but everything to do with culture, which was exactly the point of the article. The Quran says nothing about family honor, or the punishments that should be meted out for breaking it-this is all cultural.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:46 am |
  13. curt

    dirt muslims

    January 31, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • CHILDS GAME

      What if I said dirt Jews. Or dirt Christians. Please stop being a bigot.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • curt

      Are they going to pay for that Nissan they tried to commit insurance fraud with?

      January 31, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • curt

      If you said dirt Christians and dirt Jews... Well I tend to agree.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • iit

      Dirt Muslims is not a complete sentence, dear. Here is a complete sentence for ya: Comparing the one girlfriend/boyfriend that eventually became your spouse to all the bad ones you had makes them all bad because they all have the same gender. I recommend a product for you. It is called read more complete sentences so you can write better.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  14. CHILDS GAME

    John. As a Muslim all of us take an oath that there is one God, merciful, compassionate, and all powerful. Our purpose of life is to promote good and prevent evil. Islam is total submission to God's Will not lust, materialism, etc. The society and the individual are valued. Every sin can be forgiven except association- Assigning partners to God, ie he has a son. This is not new its like the Ten Commandments, the bible, and old testament.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  15. JAG0419

    I'm getting really frustrated here. No Christian comparison.

    Where in Christianity does a son kill his sisters at the request of his parents because there are bad or dirty? Nowwhere. It's gross.

    Christianity has women issues too. But nothing like fundamentalist Islam.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • MashaSobaka

      Go read "Under the Banner of Heaven" and then try to tell me that there's no Christian comparison, you moron.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  16. gupsphoo

    Can you ever imagine killing your daughter just because she wore bikini, dated someone she liked, or posting on the Internet without your consent?

    I can't, because I'm not a Muslim.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • Margot707

      Go read the article again and maybe you'll learn that honor killings are not part of the Muslim religion.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:07 am |
  17. mike tilling

    Moslems should stand back and question this blind faith and infallibility of their supposed rule book dictated by their concept of god to a human being; especially when it leads to such immoral behaviour as murder.
    Perhaps there is a god perhaps there is not a god but the concept of the divine power is far beyond human intellect to be a certainty, and especially in the format of Islam, Christianity or any other human imagined religion.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Mark Wurden

      This isn't in their rule book-the Quran says nothing about this.

      Do anybody here actually read the article? It points out that honor killings are non-existant in Indonesia-which has the world's largest Muslim population. If this had anything to do with Islam, you'd see it there, wouldn't you? No, this is about Middle Eastern culture....just as the article says. It isn't just Muslims that have trouble separating religion and culture...you just have to look at all the replies here and see that Christians aren't very good at it either.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  18. fsmgroupie

    biblical advise -- Psalm 137:9 Happy shall he be , that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
    Looks like Shafia was trying to be a christian.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  19. wakeup333

    Islam absolutely condones honor murders. Reliance of the Traveler is the Sunni Sharia law guide, approved by Egypt's al Azhar University. It says Muslims will face NO punishment for "a Muslim killing a non-Muslim" or "a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring's offspring." (1.2, page 584).

    January 31, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  20. John

    Quran- 4:15 “If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, take the evidence of four (reliable) witness from amongst you against them; if they testify, confine them to houses until death do claim them. Or God ordain for them some (other) way.”

    Quran-24:2 “The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication—flog each of them with hundred stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by God, if ye believe in God and the last day.”

    Quran-17:32 “ Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils).

    Quran-33:33 “stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display.”

    From the Hadiths:

    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.”

    January 30, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • RossTrex

      What a touching story of the man that brought the final revelation... NOT!

      January 31, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • sasa

      Tool John

      You are pickign things out of context. Yes BOTH man and woman face punishments here... those lines you mentioned were not complete

      January 31, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • Mohammad

      John, be advised that your 'out of context' bullying is not going to disprove that Bible (which has several versions, coz none is genuine) is the Mother of all honor killing in human society. Bible brought this concept in this world. We don't need to cite verses because there is no point.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:01 am |
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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.