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)

    Living beings commit crimes, mostly human's, irrespective of faith or believe. They get misguided by the same who misguided Adam & Eve. Now what .. blame your grand pa Adam for his faith. Calm down GOP's Florida is last stop for Newt.

    January 31, 2012 at 3:46 am |
  2. Sashland

    I protest this one-sided sham of an "article". No opposing views? No text references? No analysis of the fatwas that justify honor killings? No discussion with friends of the victims? Any honor killings for marrying outside the religion? Any honor killings for leaving the religion?

    yep, its all "cultural"...

    January 31, 2012 at 3:42 am |
  3. Proud786

    This particular case has absolutely no relation to Islam. Islam is a very peaceful religion and for those of you who are adding their 2 cents and attacking Islam, need to read the Quran. If you have not read the Quran, you have no right to speak against it, as it reflects ignorance and illiteracy on your behalf. Don't let the media fool you, they're governed by this country who portrays Islam as an evil religion...hypothetically speaking, let's assume Islam was a violent religion, why would it be the worlds fastest growing religion as of date?

    Media is very sneaky, by using terms like "Honor" killing and then placing "Islam" within the same sentence to gain attention of idiots. Lo and behold, thats exactly what has happened here. Don't forget all the news reports of Christians or Catholics killing their children or parents just to rack up on insurance policies...but you wont see their religion mentioned anywhere in the article. Wake up folks, it's all mind games!

    January 31, 2012 at 3:35 am |
    • Sashland

      Tell me the truth now, doesn't the koran say a parent can not be punished for killing their child? How well do you know the religion?

      January 31, 2012 at 3:46 am |
    • G

      Read the Quran....are you for real....how universal can a book be if it can only be understood if you read arabic??? I do not have to read arabic to understand the true nature of islam,,,,I just look at islamic dominated countries and the story is clear....it is not a religion of peace. Many former islamic clerics who have left islam are saying the same thing. There are many examples on the internet of former muslims exposing the true realities of this religion. Many examples of even western islamic clerics that give one message in English and then a completely more radical message in arabic. How can the prince of Saudi Arabia show up in an American University to open an Islamic center and make a speech stating that the west needs to be more intolerant of islam when they would kill me if I were to go to Saudi Arabia preaching about jesus or even walk around with a bible in my hand. How twisted is this logic....this is a perfect example much in denial we are.

      January 31, 2012 at 4:08 am |
    • Proud786

      Read the English translation. I myself do not understand Arabic, however I read the English translation of the Quran. You clearly cannot distinguish the difference between culture and religion. The prob is this, MEN from these middle eastern and south east Asian countries (where majority of the population is Islamic) are simply backwards...their mentality is that as men, they have the ultimate power over women. Therefore, when they "lose control" of their women, they use Islam as a weapon to justify their actions. As a result, this portrays Islam as an evil and male dominating religion. Nonetheless, media plays a key role in brain washing the minds of those sitting comfortably on their couch behind the TV screen, too lazy to conduct their own research and educate themselves on the teachings of Islam.

      January 31, 2012 at 4:25 am |
    • Mirosal

      So tell us, just how many women have a say in the teaching of Islam? CAN a woman preach the Qu'ran?

      January 31, 2012 at 4:30 am |
    • Proud786

      @sashland, here is some info I've been trying to post but CNN will not allow for some odd reason...so I'm providing the link in response to your question http://www.themodernreligion.com/family/children_rights.htm

      January 31, 2012 at 4:33 am |
  4. Kynt

    It's not often that the important distinction is made between culture and religion.

    January 31, 2012 at 3:24 am |
    • G

      Kynt..what's your point...what distinction....how much more of this crap we need to hear before we wake up and understand the menace islam is to the world. 1) We keep being told that 911 is not about islam, 2) that killing of muslims who convert to other religions is not islam, 3) that death chants to America is not islam, 4) Airplane hijackings is not Islam, 5) of three marriages I know of where a non-muslim married a muslim, the non-muslim had to convert 6) the blatant hatred of Jewish people by muslims 7) Every non-muslim that I have met that has left Syria or Egypt all have the same story to tell as to the blatant discrimination they faced 8) I am sick and tired of hearing people say islam is a religion of peace when they can't even read arabic and see for themselves the hatred that is written in that book towards non-muslims. Of course not all muslims are bad people, many of them are stuck in that religion and do not accept the teachings of Mohammed,,,,but the "real" islam is a picture of Mohammed..and that picture views all non-muslims as infidels and if they do not convert to kill them. Read about what is happening in Europe, especially with muslims in Sweden.....and keep telling ME that its a religion of peace 9) look at what is happening in Africa because of islam. THE REASON MOST PEOPLE WANT TO ACCEPT THE LIE THAT ISLAM IS A RELIGION OF PEACE IS THAT WE ARE TOO COMFORTABLE IN OUR LIFESTYLES AND DO NOT WANT TO ACCEPT THIS REALITY. BUT SOONER OR LATER, WE WILL HAVE TO FACE IT HEAD ON THE SAME WAY WE HAD TO DEAL WITH NAZISM. RECALL THAT ISLAM WAS IN BED WITH NAZISM DURING WWII. PEOPLE FROM THE WEST ARE AN EMBARRASSMENT. WE HAVE SO MUCH INFORMATION AT OUR FINGER TIPS YET WE CHOOSE TO NOT ACCEPT THE TRUTH. i HAVE LOTS OF RESPECT FOR MUSLIMS AND NON-MUSLIMS LIVING IN ISLAMIC DOMINATED COUNTRIES WHO DO NOT ACCEPT THE TEACHINGS OF MOHAMMED AS THEY ARE SACRIFICING SOMETHING AND UNDERSTAND THE TRUE REALITIES OF ISLAM.....

      January 31, 2012 at 3:56 am |
    • Mirosal

      Would you like to see just how peaceful Islam is? Draw a funny picture of Mohammed, publish it, and see what happens. Jesus is poked fun at quite a bit by comedians, not a thing happens. Oh, but a cartoon of Mohammed... and you'd have to enter Witness Protection. How's that for peacful? That desert fool who suffered from heat exhaustion after being stupid enough to fast before walking for days on end married a NINE year old girl ... gee what a nice role model. He's as bad as that fraud Joseph Smith.

      January 31, 2012 at 4:04 am |
    • Proud786

      @G, why don't you educate yourself first by reading the English translation of the Quran prior to making such negative comments. You too are swallowed by the Media.

      January 31, 2012 at 4:13 am |
  5. saifulah

    islam is a peace religion haters get lost like cnn us u people we know u are against islam islam is de through religon am broud to be a muslim wach what u writting here

    January 31, 2012 at 3:04 am |
    • Capricorn

      Your response here proves what Islam is.

      January 31, 2012 at 3:34 am |
    • Mirosal

      and if we DON'T watch what we're writing here, then what?? hmmm??? well?? What's going to happen? Oh, and let us know when you finish that English as a 4th Language course, ok?

      January 31, 2012 at 3:39 am |
  6. Matt

    Islam doesn't? Ok. But moslems from Islamic countries certainly do. Don't forget that.

    January 31, 2012 at 3:02 am |
  7. 2Bob

    No Hassan there are no honor killings in Bangladesh. There they just throw acid into the face of the woman.

    January 31, 2012 at 2:33 am |
    • Hassan

      Yes you are right! There are a lots of reported issues on throwing acids on women face which have been done by their alleged lovers. But does this article discuss acid throwing Bob?

      January 31, 2012 at 2:47 am |
  8. jwail eyadat

    This is the kind of cultural issues which Islam prohibit in force.

    January 31, 2012 at 2:29 am |
  9. Nader

    Why do you involve islam in such incident, it's totally directional , kindly read the basic of islam to understand it before framing the issue as related to islam.
    Simply it's culture thing and has nothing to do with Islam believe.
    Will ever media and word of mouth stop throwing wrong assumption without dealing with actual cause? Every wrong doing from Muslim or non-Muslim has nothing to do with Islam.
    Just use your mind and think.

    January 31, 2012 at 2:24 am |
    • Thinkbrain

      The Modern Face of Honor Killing: Factors, Legal Issues, and Policy Recommendations

      January 31, 2012 at 2:33 am |
    • Nader

      @thinkbrain, good research thanks. Should close the issue once and for all, we need to stop being self-centered and accept the truth.

      January 31, 2012 at 3:09 am |
  10. Jamie

    When will the media stop calling these 'honor' killings and instead label them for what they are – 'ego' killings. Men who kill women because the women somehow embarrass them or cause them to lose face in front of the friends are doing so to protect their egos ... it has absolutely NOTHING to do with honor. Calling it thus gives it a legitimacy it does not deserve.

    January 31, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • Reader

      Excellent point!

      January 31, 2012 at 2:08 am |
  11. nik

    Timo – Just how many people you will have to say do not understand Islam? This is just one news and if the media stays open, i bet there will be millions of news like this everyday, there are millions of Muslims who are ready to kill their sisters, daughters, just because they have the courage to defy them. The millions of these murders don't come to notice because of closed society of Muslims. West is biased in the sense that it tries to be politically correct, otherwise, there shouldn't be any place for muslims who force their sisters, daughters to marry someone they didn't even see. the problem with muslims is, they don't even acknowledge that this is happening and if it comes to news, they pass it off as one incident. UNless you recognize this evil, how can you correct it, on top of it, you try to defend. If Islam has to gain any respect, it has to change, the people of Islam have to change, and in a major way, otherwise, the political correct people are going to fade away and you will be left to deal with some real harsh realities of time. This is in no way intended to hurt anyone, my intention is for a better life for 25% of women on this earth who belong to Islam and are repressed and tortured because of interpretation of Islam that is understood by more than half the followers of this religion. Unless you see it, you cannot change it, acknowledge and grow out of this practice, not sure how possible it is...

    January 31, 2012 at 2:00 am |
    • Russ

      I've worked with many Islamic people, I've worked with many Hindu people, and I've traveled for some years in the Islamic world getting to know many families. Those that I have known are generally very respectable people who love their children and their families. They abhor the violence and hatred of extremists. Their culture is different, sure, but that doesn't necessarily make them bad or evil. Is what this man did any different then the mormon killings from a few years ago? The danger here is not Islam, or Mormonism, its extremism. ANY religion can have adherents who use literal interpretations of scriptures written ~1500 years ago when life was valued much less than it is today to justify butchery.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:11 am |
  12. GrowUp

    I love it when you criticize radical Islamists the PC crowd immediately jumps to the evils of Christianity and other religions as some sort of excuse for radical Islamists Yeah–so what is your point? We should ignore the fact that radical Islamists are dangerous because other people are dangerous too and have been in the past? That is NOT a justification for radical Islam. Ever hear of "two wrongs don't make a right"?

    January 31, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • akokakoyan

      @gowup, what is ur point here? trying to understand.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:25 am |
  13. Hassan

    In this article it is mentioned that honor killing exist in Bangladesh. I am from Bangladesh and I strongly condemned this false claim. This is unacceptable from a source like CNN to publish an article which contains unauthentic information.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:40 am |
    • Thinker

      The Modern Face of Honor Killing: Factors, Legal Issues, and Policy Recommendations

      January 31, 2012 at 2:21 am |
    • Muhammad

      Just because the incidents are not in the news as much does not mean there are "no honor killings in Bangladesh". Just google "honor killings Bangladesh" and you will also see pages of results with also human rights commission reports to the UN that says honor killings take place in Bangladesh. People like you get offended without knowing the facts and in process shift focus from the real issue.

      January 31, 2012 at 3:06 am |
    • Hassan

      @Muhammad: Have you googled honor killing in USA? But have this article listed USA?

      January 31, 2012 at 3:10 am |
  14. joe

    WHAT? A story about an ceazy irrational Muslim?
    No way.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:38 am |
  15. dHawkin(G)s

    Where was that honor in the first place? Two wives, one illegal, hating eachother, and a history of bad parenting. No honor was there and none was recovered or magically invoked by the act. This is what happens if a society ignores the boundaries of culture and time, and allows islamic medievals to house next to diversified contemporaries.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:30 am |
  16. GrowUp

    @iit. You are correct that there are other whack jobs like fundamentalist Christians who would deny people equal rights because "God" tells them to. Don't be so sensitive snd naive. People who kill for honor in the name of a "God" are indeed whack jobs snd dangerous. Similarly, people eho claim "God" tells them who is good and who is bad are dangerous whack jobs Your political correctness blinds you to the obvious and causes you to engage in illogical mental gymnastics. The people who did this are members of a dangerous cult known as religious fanaticism. Get it now honey?

    January 31, 2012 at 1:17 am |
    • bspurloc

      r they equal to the priests who declared the mayans and incas to be heretics? burned their scriptures destroyed their prayer buildings hung and tortured their religious leaders..... oh wait those I just mentioned are even worse... the christian priests did this because god told them too....

      January 31, 2012 at 1:32 am |
    • MSL58

      @bspurloc: True, but the Catholic priests did that 500 years ago, So I guess your point would be that Islam is about 500 years behond cultured civilaztion. If so, then your point would be totally correct.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:39 am |
  17. AdmrlAckbar

    Tie between non-ranked posts and CNN stories about religion and politics and web traffic Ca$h?

    January 31, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  18. Frabricted

    Another form of propaganda to label and demonize Muslims in mainstream media. Stories mentioned in Article lacks legitimacy and seems like a hollywood style movie script.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:10 am |
    • GrowUp

      Yeah. The poor Muslims. So misunderstood, so peaceful, so loving, so compassionate, so respectful of others and yet so victimized.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • bspurloc

      it feeds the christian taliban movement in the USA.... u know the ones that keep mentioning peace luv like their own religion is all peace and love... like their ancestors who made them christians werent threatened with death to not convert.....
      the ones that cry 'u r attacking my religion' those ones that are still spreading the white mans religion. the ones who converted all the mayans against their will via peace and luv aka torture and death to create the massive mexican christian front....them

      January 31, 2012 at 1:35 am |
    • blah blah

      It's people like you who are to blame for misinformation. In the face of the truth you would say "oh it's all a lie to make some poor group of people appear to be something they're not" yet you offer no contrary evidence. Does repeating statements like that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? B/C I can think of no other explanation why people like you want the world to believe islam is peaceful when any world history book will show you it's not. It will also show you christianity is not. It's a fact: honor killings happen in the name of islam. Get over it, if the truth hurts your poor sense of self then crawl under a rock....and read a dictionary while you're at it since you spelled your own screen name wrong. FABRICATED defines you well.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • shyla

      so was 9/11 a propaganda peice on the peacful muslims......................

      January 31, 2012 at 3:59 am |

    Maybe "honor" murders are not sanctioned by Islam...but by far Islamic countries seem to practice it far more than any other(s).

    There still seems to be a close connection between the two.


    January 31, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • bspurloc

      u mean cuz they have capital punishment? those evil doer countries? including the USA.... we stand with all the evil doer countries FEEDING on killing people eye for an eye.... woah ooops shhhhh point finger at the others shhhh shhh shhh not here.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:37 am |
  20. Timo

    For all the people who are attacking Muslims......a very simple thing you can do: go and read a translated Quran before prejudging...try at least to get an idea...be objective....i guess it wont take from your time....I am a Muslim and i read the bible because i want to be sure about what i know before i discuss religion with Christians but to be honest no one of the Christians i talked to was able to clearly explain the trinity...which means they actually dont understand the bible and hence their religion and they speak with a total ignorance about Islam.....dont let the media fool you...please be objective....and if this guy here killed his daughters, this does not mean this is an islamic education consequence...that`s totally wrong, he could move with his family to a muslim country and raise his kids in an islamic environment if he does not want them to be influenced by western culture. So it is his mistake and he should be punished and islam has no relation with that...

    January 31, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • Very True

      I agree, well said. I suppose it can be tough for society to view it from that perspective sometimes.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:26 am |
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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.