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. ann west

    Really awful story. 😞

    January 30, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  2. Hasa Diga Eebowai

    Most of religious texts are useless hypocritical nonsense. Jesus had a few good messages, some good philosophy in buddhists texts.... that is about it.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  3. Bella

    Seriously, all these stupid anti-muslim comments need to stop. No one cares if you hate Islam. Your hate isnt going to magically make the religion disappear..infact you're only poinsoning yourself against others.
    Not ALL muslims are bad and those who think otherwise clearly need a better education.
    To everyone saying ISLAM IS EVIL...I bet you have never even read the Quran. You probably read stupid fake quotes online on fake quran web-sites and you think you know the religion. Feel stupid.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • daba daba doo towelface

      I've seen it, it's evil!!! Liar!!!!!!!!

      January 30, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Amused

      That is NOT TRUE! Both Islam and Christianity quite CLEARLY condone killing if the killing is perceived to be someone who is considered an"infidel" or a "follower of Satan". I'm afraid that you aren't fooling anyone...

      January 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  4. Thinking7

    CNN – Give it up. Stop trying to brainwash the people of America that Islam is a peaceful religion. Really. Who owns CNN anyway? Surely not someone from this country. It's sickening.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  5. Reality

    From someone who has lived through the terror and horror that is Islam:

    Islam gives women almost no rights and treats them like fodder for the male species as so bluntly noted by Aya-an Hi-rsi Ali in her autobiography, In-fidel:

    "Thus begins the extraordinary story of a woman born into a family of desert nomads, circu-mcised as a child, educated by radical imams in Kenya and Saudi Arabia, taught to believe that if she uncovered her hair, terrible tragedies would ensue. It's a story that, with a few different twists, really could have led to a wretched life and a lonely death, as her grandmother warned. But instead, Hi-rsi Ali escaped – and transformed herself into an internationally renowned spokeswoman for the rights of Muslim women."
    ref: Washington Post book review.

    some excerpts:

    "Some of the Saudi women in our neighborhood were regularly be-aten by their husbands. You could hear them at night. Their scre-ams resounded across the courtyards. "No! Please! By Allah!"

    "The Pakistanis were Muslims but they too had cas-tes. The Untou-chable girls, both Indian and Pakistani were darker skin. The others would not play with them because they were unt-ouchable. We thought that was funny because of course they were tou-chable: we to-uched them see? but also hor-rifying to think of yourself as un-touchable, des-picable to the human race."

    "Between October 2004 and May 2005, eleven Muslim girls were ki-lled by their families in just two regions (there are 20 regions in Holland). After that, people stopped telling me I was exa-ggerating."

    "The kind on thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia and among the Brotherhood of Kenya and Som-alia, is incompatible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves the feu-dal mind-set based on tr-ibal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-deception, hypro-cricy, and double standards. It relies on the technologial advances of the West while pretending to ignore their origin in Western thinking. This mind-set makes the transition to modernity very painful for all who practice Islam".

    January 30, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • ......

      For those who do not want to live through the horror of repeat reality garbage hit report abuse on all reality posts

      January 30, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  6. Steff

    Once again: the evil of religion.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  7. Ma Tam

    THESE PERSONS ARE NOT CANADIANS. They recently immigrated here and are not Canadian citizens. Their immigration application should not have been approved in the first place.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  8. John Smith

    This religion of peace brings destruction, war, and terrorism. Dogs are better treated than women. What can you expect from a primitive civilization that still lives in the stone age? Take all those people to their middle east country of origin and let them kill themselves, the rest of the world will live in peace!!!!

    January 30, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Europeans kill each other far more efficiently than the sand rats do.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • felixelgato

      Dad is a liar as well as a murderer. If he didn't wan't his daughters to get "Westernized" he should have stayed in the middle east. It was his mistake. Now he needs to kill himself and his stupid son.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  9. Robert

    Religion poisons everything. The Abrahmic religions: Islam and Christianity, are merely the worst.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • AtheistDude

      you forgot Judaism! it is the original source of all this BS

      January 30, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Cherry

      Oh please..thanks to you but be educated enough to understand.this is not about religions but this is about cultural values.like for chinese people,they dont want their children to marry if not chinese too either be their daughter or on,they have a pre arrange marriage.I have nothing against them but it is their culture but not because of religion.yes people read before you hurt other peoples religion,I am a baptist but I wont degrade other people because of their religion,if that is their culture then we cant jump to conclusion because they are islam or christian.people you are smart enough,please READ and UNDERSTAND.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  10. Abdurrahman

    Dear fellows.. Islam in no way, teaches us to kill our children.. Don't blame the actions of some muslims on Islam.. There is a big difference between the two..

    January 30, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • AtheistDude

      Ok Buddy!!! you see muslims have no credibility anymore. no one will believe this BS that Islam is a religion of peace! All religions suck but Islam goes a bit further

      January 30, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • leelanau

      And do you have a daughter, sir?

      January 30, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  11. niti

    Why does CNN try to justify Islam, lets face it is evil and bad!!

    January 30, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • BJ

      Perhaps you shouldn't make such a broad, uninformed, claim since you can't even produce a coherent sentence.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • William Demuth

      So 2.2 BILLION people are bad?

      They are no different than the other cults. Mainly a population of cattle that swear to nonesense to fit into a social structure.

      We make WAY to many excuses for the Christians and the Jews, and place far to much blame on the Muslims.

      In truth, the differences between Islam and Evangelical Christianity are less than the differences between Evangelical beliefs and Mormon beliefs.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Have you ever read the old testament?

      January 30, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Sam

      All muslims know this "honor killing" not related to the religion in anyway,and condem it.

      So if CNN published how muslims condem this..that means CNN defending islam??
      and if it wasnt published..u will jump "see..see muslims dont condem means they approve"...u silly idiot.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  12. William Demuth

    Lets not accept excuses.

    The desert cults, all have this Bronze Age insanity in them.

    Until we have the courage to reject them part and parcel, this abominations will continue.

    Religion breeds murder and mayhem, which is inflicted on those who diverge from the teachings of madmen and liars.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Engineer

      I"m sorry, but are you suggesting that Christianity and Judaism have a history of "honor killing" as well? Where's your evidence for that? Are you also suggesting that Buddhism, Hunduism, and Atheism have no history of violence. Tell that to the vicitims of Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, and Joseph Stalin. The truth is that people can find any excuse to kill others they find inconvenient (religious or not). What's most disturbing about these honor killings is that it is people closest to them who are committing the murders. That has got to be the absolute darkest side of human nature.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  13. Sam

    "There is no faith on Earth, no community on Earth that justifies murder" nazir Afzal, are you mandated by Koran to lie to non-muslim world or CNN paid you to tell the lie? I have read Koran and anybody who wants to know it can read it on koran.org. Islam do, I repeat authorizes rather mandate all muslims to do so.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:27 pm |

    islam is my life

    January 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  15. VampireJack

    Yawn – there is violence in the Old Testament.
    Yup – but those are stories of things that did happen – they weren't "instructions" unlike the Quran, which claims to be a book of all ages.
    The New Testament (you know, the actual Christian bit of the bible) came along to abrogate what came before it.
    I'm sure our Muslim friends know all about abrogation.

    Plus, most of the horrific acts of Christians which are always mentioned (Crusades, Witch Trials etc) where HUNDREDS OF YEARS AGO.

    Muslim atrocities have not ended – and are seemingly on the rise.
    But wait, I forgot, Muslims are ALL peace loving and only want to get along with everyone else.
    Even though the evidence seems to point otherwise. Weird or what?
    We in the West keep saying that Islam is a religion of peace – funny that the message hasn't got through to the followers of Mohammed. They must have a different Quran – you know, the one that says FIND THE NON BELIEVERS AND BAKE THEM NICE CAKES which I believe is known as the Verse Of The Tickle Stick.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • JF

      The New Testament (you know, the actual Christian bit of the bible) came along to abrogate what came before it.


      And there are plenty of bad things that can be found in the New Testament as well. Stop trying to make your ancient book of tales seem less crazy than the other guy's. They are both bad.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  16. Sarfaraz

    In 18th century, Christians in Europe had used trick of accusing women of being engaged into witch craft, and thus killing them.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • VampireJack

      Yup – in the 18th century.

      We moved on and became more civilized.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Stormfront

      @Sarfaraz: Not just women. Anyone who disagreed with the Church. The problem is, the Church got more involved with political power than with spiritual growth, which is where the issue with the protestant reformation comes into play. Now, the church of Rome had already broken off from the Orthodox, which does not permit the sort of evil the church of rome committed on the masses. Fact of the matter is, the church of Rome doesn't have that power anymore. Islam, however, still does, as do the Jews.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Orthodoxy? That is nothing more than a cudgel used by the rich and powerful to exploit the weak and punish descent.

      Is a Protestant preacher who defrauds little old ladies different in any way than the Pope?

      Perhaps only in the size of his hat.

      They are both parasites that feed on the vulnerable.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Patriarchae

      VampireJack, considering that half of Americans (and probably a massive majority of Christians) still believe in the absolute absurdity of creationism in spite of extraordinary evidence against it, and considering that they still indoctrinate their defenseless children with that crap (which should rightfully be called child abuse), I daresay that Christianity has not become as "civilized" as you'd like to think. If Christianity didn't have to abide by the laws of western civilizations, you can bet it would be just as violent, if not more so, as Islam is today.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Stormfront

      I said the Orthodox Church, William. As in the Eastern/Greek, Antiochian Orthodox. I don't know how rich they are, but I do know people that go to the Orthodox as well as various protestant and Roman churches. I'd say I'd trust one of the Orthodox before the others.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  17. josie5844

    Anthropologists have noticed that harsh environments tend to produce harsh cultures and religions. In deserts, especially, deeply tribal, authoritarian, repressive and patriarchal societies are the norm. in the family, the eldest male is king, his word is law. All others are essentially his property to deal with according to his whim. This cultural reality is older and stronger than Islam. To say that Islam does not support honor murder, while true, is also evasive, since honor murders have obviously not been condemned loudly enough by Islamic clergy to overcome ancient tradition and make them a thing of the past. Mohammed Shafia thought he could bring his medieval Afghan tribalism with him to Canada and practice it on the women in his family. Now he knows he was wrong (although in his heart I'm sure he still thinks he's righteous and correct). Unfortunately, for his daughters and first wife, it's too late. And let's be careful not to get too self-righteous here. Several centuries ago, we North Americans and Europeans were burning women at the stake, and arranged marriages were the norm in wealthy society well into Victorian times.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • nope a dope

      prayer works

      January 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    January 30, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • Jeff

      Prove it.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Try prayer yourself

      January 30, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Nope


      Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School and other scientists tested the effect of having three Christian groups pray for particular patients, starting the night before surgery and continuing for two weeks. The volunteers prayed for "a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications" for specific patients, for whom they were given the first name and first initial of the last name.

      The patients, meanwhile, were split into three groups of about 600 apiece: those who knew they were being prayed for, those who were prayed for but only knew it was a possibility, and those who weren't prayed for but were told it was a possibility.

      The researchers didn't ask patients or their families and friends to alter any plans they had for prayer, saying such a step would have been unethical and impractical. The study looked for any complications within 30 days of the surgery. Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery. But 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Jeff

      @Nope you just proved her point: prayer changes things: It worsens surgical outcomes.
      God is indeed glorious

      January 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • nope a dope

      prayer is effective

      January 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Nope

      Nope, it makes things worse, you've been proven wrong.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • BJ

      I'm sorry, but you believe in magic. God will never show you evidence of his existence, but you will, undoubtedly, claim coincidences are his doing.

      Use your brain to come to a rational conclusion. You believe in magic. Magic isn't real.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Amused

      The only "thing" prayer changes is YOUR perception! Nothing in reality changes...

      January 30, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • AtheistDude

      take your medication! you are acting out!

      January 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  19. Skorpio

    The Koran is worse than Hitler's book "Mein Kampf". It has more violence, discrimination, hatred, vengeance and antisemitism. Both books justify violence and hatred and all depends on who interprets the meanings. The great majority of Islamic clerics are responsible for the atrocities committed on behalf of the Koran as well as the Nazis and their followers on behalf of Hitler. Muslim clerics should also be responsible as accomplices of these honor killings.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • josie5844

      Have you read the Old Testament lately?

      January 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Patriarchae

      So does the Old Testament. I hate Islam as much as Christianity, but it always makes me angry to see Christians pretend that their religion is the most peaceful and pure thing in existence. It isn't. The only difference between Islam and Christianity is that Christianity is forced to (mostly) obey the law of civilized, western governments, whereas Islam, existing primarily in third world nations, does not, allowing violence to flourish.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • VampireJack

      Ironically enough MEIN KAMPF is the best selling book in the Middle-East aside from the quran and hadiths.
      It's known as Mein Jihad.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Abdurrahman

      Before saying any word against God, Quran- The Holy Book.. Read and know the truth about it.. QURAN is the word of God.. Speaking anything against it is speaking against God.. Just watch what you speak.. Less did you know that Quran is the only book which is easily fully memorized , children to old despite the fact that it is in arabic.. That is a miracle.. Research on it.. Your view for it will definately change.. Islam only teaches love.. Love for God..

      January 30, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Somaia

      Ignorant people link this crime to the Koraan and Islam. Why is it if there is a crime commited by a christian or any other faith, you do not attack the religion. STOP promoting ISLAMIC PHBIA. As an American Muslim I condem any vilonce in any form.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • bigot

      "Read and know the truth about it.. QURAN is the word of God.. Speaking anything against it is speaking against God.. "

      Lol you speculate, and terribly might I add, that your god actually exists. The Quran is nothing but a book of stories, much like the bible, that was written by several MEN over a very long period of time. Fact is, you and the 2.2 Billion Muslims in the world do not know anything remotely close to the "truth". You merely speculate, and honestly, it is quite ignant. #youignant.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • bigot

      "Why is it if there is a crime commited by a christian or any other faith, you do not attack the religion."

      I don't know what you are talking about, but there are many people on this blog that will condemn any religion when crimes are committed. You obviously haven't been here very long. No religion is off limits when they infringe on the rights of others.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  20. Walter Sieruk

    The people who act as apologolists for the Islam who claim that "Honor murders are not part of Islam, lie. As Brigitte Gabriel wrote in her took THE MUST BE STOPPED "The shocking reality is that most Muslim men...have no objection to honor killing and the degradation of women in their countries."

    January 30, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Sarfaraz

      In 18th century, Christians in Europe had used trick of accusing women of being engaged into witch craft, and thus killing them, due to Jealousy that male felt against women, who would either not marry him or is interested in other male.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:10 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.