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. Carol

    Fundamentalist Christians look the other way when one of their believers murders Doctors, and nurses here in America when they work at Abortion Clinics. They have a list of doctors who may be working in hospitals and have volunteered to help with an abortion if the life of a mother is threatened in delivery of the baby. We have Republican Contenders that are working to over throw Roe-vs-Wade. Who is going to stop this radical behavior of these people? Now we have Muslims who follow Cultural honor killings in countries they have moved to. Laws have to be made to control these fanatics.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  2. Herna

    How can experts say this has nothing to do with Islam? How is this any different than stoning a woman for adultery in countries governed by Sharia law? Sharia law is an integral part of Islam- whether "experts" acknowledge this or not.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • kash

      Dude... get you head out of your you-know-where.

      Cultural and tribal practises are NOT sharia law. These people come from a tribal country, Afghanistan and practised their gruesome culture in Canada.

      I cant believe we went to war for these people...

      January 30, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Muneef

      There is a lot of difference between adultory and young girls wanted to enjoy too much freedom...!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Muneef

      There is a lot of difference between adultory and young girls wanted to enjoy too much freedom...!

      Adding to that stoning is done only if married couple committed adultory and not for the unmarried one's...!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  3. Staring Horse with Tongue Sticking Out

    I am not in favor of honor killings.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  4. rob2tall

    Its too bad Canada does not exercise the death penalty!

    January 30, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Richard

      Canada is far too civilized. Only an American would want the death penalty.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Muneef

      Well think that countries will be lot cleaner if there were death penalties towards very serious crimes rather than spending a lot of money on hosting them in prisons...!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  5. Singh

    I don't know why such people even bother to leave their countries and be somewhere else? You come to some other country, you have to live by their laws, not the one's which dictate your country and the reason why you left the country at the first place. IMO, these idiots should be deported back and their immigration to Canada revoked and terminated for rest of their pathetic lives.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Against ESL

      No, in Canada the children are taught in school that we are a multicultural society, and anyone's culture is not expected to assimilate. It is a form of brainwashing which is very effective.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Muneef

      Easy it is...who ever sell out his fellow brothers to the invaders then are offered immigration channels to the west because of being under danger of retaliation....

      January 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Sameer

      Singh, you do not have to assimilate to western culture, remember you have freedom in west and around the world to follow what you want as long as you do illegal. Else this is a kind of force.

      January 30, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Sameer

      sorry i meant as long as you do not anything illegal

      January 30, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  6. Nookster

    Most civilized countries treat their pets better than Muslims treat their women.

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

      Haha. So you say you do it with pets and not with wives...?

      January 30, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  7. hippypoet

    die, die, all of you die!!!!!!!! muhahahahahahahahahahahaha! everybody wants some, you want some too!

    no don't kill me cindy! no cindy no!

    January 30, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  8. issam

    Read the Quran forward and backward. There is no such thing as honor killing. It is invitation of a tribal system that has nothing to do with Islam. In Arabia before Islam, men buried their new born daughters alive, for fear of dishonor or poverty. Islam banned such practice. It is mentioned in the Quran.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Richard

      Honor killings, and I don't this this term should be used, It is domestic violence, is cultural not religious.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • nx3pde

      Islam still lives in the Dark Ages.You can't expect nothing good from a religion that praises death instead of life, terrorism,suicide bombers,women oppression and obscurantism.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  9. TonyB

    idiots- they sully the good name of honorable canadians everywhere.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  10. Chris

    You guys really need to get this story right. They all had bruising to their heads which told police that they were incapacitated before being pushed into the Kingston locks. They weren't simply run off the road. They were pushed off a side road into a canal locks.
    Go to http://www.cbc.ca to see interrogation video and details of what happened.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  11. Andrew


    January 30, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Richp

      Strange, I have not come across any honor killings in any of the western cultures or even in the jewish religion. Guess all those murders must be coincidence. We've had a few in the lower 48 over the past couple of years. Probably more that we were not aware of til we started dealing with it in the sand box and the rock pile. I never heard of such a thing till my first deployment.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Nick

      Is there anything in Islam that demands you proof-read or turn off the caps lock?

      January 30, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • northern light


      Fiirst off you shoulf not text in capital letters...unless you intend to seen as shouting.

      From the Koran
      2:257 Allah is the Protecting Guardian of those who believe. He bringeth them out of darkness into light. As for those who disbelieve, their patrons are false deities. They bring them out of light into darkness. Such are rightful owners of the Fire. They will abide therein.

      3:19 Lo! religion with Allah (is) the Surrender (to His Will and Guidance). Those who (formerly) received the Scripture differed only after knowledge came unto them, through transgression among themselves. Whoso disbelieveth the revelations of Allah (will find that) lo! Allah is swift at reckoning.

      3:162 Is one who followeth the pleasure of Allah as one who hath earned condemnation from Allah, whose habitation is the Fire, a hapless journey's end?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Sixoh

      Well Andrew, I hate to break it to you, but as long as people run ANYthing, it won't be peaceful. Including religions. I am a Christian who knows a loving God, and would never do anything in the name of God. Unfortunately, bad people do bad things, and blame God for it.
      They would be more truthful to say, "The devil made me do it", because that's who they are listening to.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • nx3pde

      If you converted to islam it's either because your psychiatrist made the wrong diagnosis or you forgot to take your pills.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  12. Muneef

    Well before Islam in the Arabian Peninsular it was a Cultural habit that girls upon birth are buried alive in fear of honor issues... It was only when Islam came this cultural custom was forbidden and all girls were saved from early death...

    This present honor killings of males and females as well is not part of Islam but rather of cultural customs...so can say Islam is free from such accusation since as it seems those females were not brought up in Islamic family environment and that's why family lost control over them since father and son as well were not practicing Muslims...!

    January 30, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  13. Nick-o

    Uh oh, he's missing his turban. Off with his head, too!

    January 30, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • NYCchick

      turban? Since when do Muslims wear a turban?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  14. Student from Canada

    "'At the end of the day, murder is murder. There is no faith on Earth, no community on Earth that justifies this," he said."
    How can this person claim to be an expert on Islam, when it is clearly written in the Qur'an that the punishment for adultery, apostasy or other offensives against Islam is DEATH. This religion possesses good morals in PARTS, but the WHOLE is certainly evil.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  15. Fredflintstone

    Stonings, honor killings, floggings and even the mutilation of female genitalia are sporadically employed in the Muslim world to keep women in their place.

    According to a recent fatwa on the Muslim Matters website, "a Muslim woman should keep her home as the focus of her attention and activities, and make it the base of her affairs." Women are allowed to leave the house under certain conditions, such as medical emergency and religious observance. Islam also permits them to get a job "if there is no mahrum man providing for them", but it should be limited to certain occupations that only involve other women, such as catering, teaching, fashion, beautician or a variety of domestic positions.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Stern

      You are a complete dumba**! You are quoting a few self serving priests who twist everything the way they want to. If you read the Quran, it is written explicitly that there is no bigger crime than killing your own children.

      That is like me saying Christian leader Warren Jeffs says men should be pedophiles and the religion orders every man to be a pedophile. Just because Warren Jeffs was a demented and sick pedophile who used religion for his own personal use does not mean Christianity says anything like that.

      Islam was the religion that was brought to save girls from being burried when they were born, which is what Arabs used to do before Islam came. Islam strongly ordered Muslims to raise their daughters, educate them and then help them get married. The parents will be given the highest place in heaven, if they do this successfully.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  16. Ma Tam

    Ma Tam

    THESE CONVICTED FELONS ARE NOT CANADIANS! They recently immigrated under false pretenses and are Afghani citizens. Their immigration application should not have been approved in the first place. So please CNN, DO NOT USE the world "Canadian Family" for non-Canadians. These sick belief and culture do not have a place in our society.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  17. William

    If you want to conduct "honor killings" go back to Afghanistan or one of the other stone-aged countries that adheres to Sharia law. Otherwise shut up, respect the laws of Canada and evolve. I am sick and tired of all religions imposing their will on secular society. Religion is the opiate of the masses.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  18. Ma Tam

    THESE CONVICTED FELONS ARE NOT CANADIANS! They recently immigrated under false pretenses and are Afghani citizens. Their immigration application should not have been approved in the first place. So please CNN, DO NOT USE the world "Canadian Family" for non-Canadians. These sick belief and culture do not have a place in our society.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • mr tatters

      Ma Tam I would love to know where you are getting this information that they immigrated under false pretences and should have been denied entry into Canada in the first place. Like you, I am also Canadian and have been following this story since it happened but I have never heard anything like that. Lets not forget that we hold multiculturalism in pretty high regard up here. The fact is they were just like any other family on the outside, but crazy is crazy no matter who you are or where your from. People do terrible, evil things all over the world, but until they do they deserve the same rights and freedoms as you and I.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  19. Herbert

    In our desire to be inclusive and nonpartisan, let's not get stupid. Of course there is a link between honor killings and Islam (as some adherents practice it).

    January 30, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  20. larry5

    Islam says to the outside world what ever suits their purpose. They handbook promotes lies and deception and keeping the infidels at bay.

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

      Just the same as Xtianity.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • kash

      Larry, are you just plain retard?? How many times in this article is it mentioned that this is a tribal andcultural practise, NOT religious. Get your head out of your you-know-where

      January 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.