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. mort

    those countries where honor killings are common are the $hi+ countries of the world.

    January 31, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  2. Dan Jones

    One of the most disgraceful acts of the human race today is the tolerance of "slavery" in any nation by the UN. If a nation asked to be a part of the UN yet had slave markets where one particular race of people were bought and sold like animals the UN would condemn them and reject them. But in every Islamic country there is the wholesale oppression of women being practice in mass everyday. Girls are treated like property, mutilated in barbaric rituals, forced to accept men as superior, sold off to be used with almost complete disregard to their wills, and if they resist or choose to live as equals they are threatened, often beaten or abused, and sometimes murdered as an example to others who would dare tell the pathetic men around them that they are not gods. The very least we owe these women is the condemnation and rejection of their leaders until this oppression is ended. The UN should immediately revoke membership to any nation that does not support basic equal rights for women.

    January 31, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • james

      Correct Dan

      January 31, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • rockysfan

      Well said Dan. Only a pathetic coward would use "honor" as an excuse to murder people. I'm sure the husband, wife and son are in for a rude awakening when they die and are sent straight to h e ! !. And no virgins eithr!

      January 31, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  3. Veritas Vincit

    Honor killing in the Christian Bible: "But if ... evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones..." (Deuteronomy 22:20,21)

    January 31, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Dan Jones

      You are quoting the old testament under Mosaic Law. Something that has not been practiced in over 2000 years. Trying to say that Christianity supports honor killings is sick.

      January 31, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • sisi

      yeah sure, i believe that stopped hundreds of years ago.

      January 31, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • chefdugan

      Christians, Muslims, all part of a sick society that can't think for themselves. They are equally disgusting.

      January 31, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • james

      He is sick Dan

      January 31, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • JF


      Really? Why not throw out the Old Testament? Why does the Bible still include it? Could it be because the New Testament says:

      For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19


      "It is easier for Heaven and Earth to pass away than for the smallest part of the letter of the law to become invalid." (Luke 16:17


      Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place." (Matthew 5:17

      January 31, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • JF



      All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness..." (2 Timothy 3:16

      Why did they not remove the OT? Because the NT was written almost 2,000 years ago and none of the writings seemed abnormal at the time. Wake up. It's the 21st century already.

      January 31, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  4. muhammad

    Kill Women Who Are Not Virgins On Their Wedding Night

    But if this charge is true (that she wasn't a virgin on her wedding night), and evidence of the girls virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her fathers house and there her townsman shall stone her to death, because she committed a crime against Israel by her unchasteness in her father's house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21 NAB)

    January 31, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • james

      you Crazy muhammads you, kill and kill all you cant hold down with your murderous faith.

      January 31, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  5. muhammad

    Kill Nonbelievers

    They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

    Kill False Prophets

    If a man still prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall say to him, "You shall not live, because you have spoken a lie in the name of the Lord." When he prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall thrust him through. (Zechariah 13:3 NAB)

    Kill the Entire Town if One Person Worships Another God

    Suppose you hear in one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the street and burn it. Put the entire town to the torch as a burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt. Keep none of the plunder that has been set apart for destruction. Then the LORD will turn from his fierce anger and be merciful to you. He will have compassion on you and make you a great nation, just as he solemnly promised your ancestors. "The LORD your God will be merciful only if you obey him and keep all the commands I am giving you today, doing what is pleasing to him." (Deuteronomy 13:13-19 NLT

    January 31, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • chefdugan

      They are all pathetic, Christions, Muslims, Hindus. They can't seem to find the courage to think for themselves and have to rely on stupid bood, written by equally stupid people. They will never learn until the day they die and discover it was all a scam.

      January 31, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  6. muhammad

    Death for Hitting Dad

    Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:15 NAB)

    Death for Cursing Parents

    1) If one curses his father or mother, his lamp will go out at the coming of darkness. (Proverbs 20:20 NAB)

    2) All who curse their father or mother must be put to death. They are guilty of a capital offense. (Leviticus 20:9 NLT)

    Death for Adultery

    If a man commits adultery with another man's wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10 NLT)

    Death for Fornication

    A priest's daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9 NAB)

    Death to Followers of Other Religions

    Whoever sacrifices to any god, except the Lord alone, shall be doomed. (Exodus 22:19 NAB)

    Kill Nonbelievers

    They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

    January 31, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • james

      W A C K O Crazy ride off into the sunset on a donkey.

      January 31, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  7. muhammad

    There is a place in Turkey which is a land that is completely barren and dead because of all the salt there. It used to be part of the ocean, but has dried up due to continental change. My father used to pass through when he used to work there, but nobody was allowed to drive through it during the night or stay anywhere near it, because of the amount of jinn that lived there. A man, who had a truck did not make it across and had to sleep in it. So he parked his truck and slept underneath it. The next morning, he woke up and found his truck gone, and with the tire marks on the ground as it if had been dragged away and not driven. The place is an actual desert and it could not have been stolen,google or youtube "jinn"

    January 31, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  8. james

    execute the whole famn damily.

    January 31, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  9. Carlton

    The pure confusion and ignorance of reglion and religious people! As a spiritual person it is plain and simple, thou shalt not kill!

    January 31, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  10. jp

    Every immigrant culture's transition to the freedom values of the USA faces the same conflicts and challenges as this Afghan "family" – esp. regarding women's freedom. Resorting to murder as your solution to these conflicts is something i have never heard of before. Absolutely horrifying unimaginable and sick.

    January 31, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  11. muhammad

    a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance ,how many do you see here.

    January 31, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • james

      just you

      January 31, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  12. usagainstyou

    We can go around in circles talking to muslims about whether or not their fake religion approves of the way they treat women but the truth is they all do it, either more secretly or in more visible ways such as honour killings. More and more the free parts of the world are seeing the results of laxed immigration laws and what happens when we open our borders to everyone. Westerners beware this is the evil that is spreading, be vigilant and be aware. We need to band together to put an end to it.

    January 31, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  13. doughnuts

    If you want to se how Islam regards women, then read this article: http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/31/world/asia/afghanistan-strangulation/index.html

    You see, she had a daughter rather than a son, so he strangled her.

    January 31, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  14. Iqraa

    If people would actually read the Qur'an and the Hadith and study what they say, they'd see that honor killings are an integral part of Islam. If you can't (or most likely, won't) read, then google "Acts 17 Apologetics". Spare 5 min and watch a video. Religion of Peace- yeah right. If they're so peaceful why are they killing by decapitation Buddhists in Southern Thailand? or Copts in Egypt? Do your research folks and stop making excuses for Islam because you're too afraid to not be political correct.

    January 31, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  15. Joearab

    Just to clarify, I'm an Arab and a Muslim and honor killings are not a part of Islam but are part of some cultures.
    Infact, they are not even common in most parts of Arabia. I'm not sure why western media is trying to put
    culture and Islam in the same basket!!! But I guess most Americans want to believe everything they hear.

    January 31, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Draconis

      Because the culture is based on Islam.

      January 31, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • gobnait

      You state that honor killings are not a part of Islam but a part of some cultures. From where does this practice arise if virtually ALL who commit honor killings are Muslim? I believe it's time to awaken to the reality of these horrors: Somewhere within the Islamic faith, there is a teaching that spurs some of the faith to such brutality. Instead of wasting energy denying the facts, it might behoove Muslims to ponder its origins.

      January 31, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  16. Reporter8675309

    This is ridiculous. Of course it is an Islamic tradition. Yes, there is no law for killing in the name of one's own honor, but killing is justified in defending the honor of the Quron, Muhammad and Islam all together. Why did he kill his daughters, because they had become too Westernized and were going against the teachings of Islam. That is why they were killed. It's the same reasoning why Terrorists kill Westerners and anyone that insults the Quron or Islam. Killings are justified against the enemies of Islam; and anyone (In the eyes of Muslims) who disgraces Islam is an enemy to be killed.

    Here's a hint for your honor killings. Don't move and raise your family in a Westernized environment. Stay is an Islamic country if you don't want corruption in your Muslim children. If a parent feels the need to do an honor killing then it is their own fault the child needs to die and should just kill themselves instead.

    A child's failure is the fault of the parent!

    January 31, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Joearab

      Are you Muslim?

      January 31, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  17. lance corporal

    sure it's culture, and part of that culture is islam and it's hate, let's keep in mind tho while it is more prevalent in islamic areas it also happens in the other abrahamic religions and it's no different than the gay hate killings we have occasionally in the USA, maybe it's time to get past the notion that there is a personified god somewhere who is so petty and ....weird..... that he would CARE how you have s e x........... that is juvenile and stoooopid........ I mean c'mon picture it... god in heaven looking down and PEEKING in on little johnnie... uh oh what's he doing with his peee peee..... OR uh oh look at little sarah, she's in her teens and is wearing make up and wants boys to like her.....yeah that's tragic...... get over your childish se x hang ups and drop these silly religions run by perverse wackos

    January 31, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  18. michael

    bunch of frigin animals, although most animals dont kill thier own, they just kill for food.

    January 31, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  19. Reality

    Only for the newbies:

    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 31, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • bernie

      blah blah blah shut up mr. "i know everything cause i read it and not because of life experience". I hate to burst your bubble but you don't realize you're retarded

      January 31, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Reality

      And from the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi---------–

      The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:
      ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

      Are you ready?

      Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

      The First Five of the 77 Branches:

      "1. Belief in Allah"

      aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

      "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

      Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

      "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

      A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

      "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

      Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

      Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

      Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

      "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)
      Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

      Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

      Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

      Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

      January 31, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  20. P.J.

    Just so you all know. The family did not use "honour killing" as a defense. They said they didn't do it. The prosecution's contention was that "honour killing" went to motive.
    And yes, that's how we spell honour in Canada.

    January 31, 2012 at 8:35 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.