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. Ted Peters

    Latin cultures used to have a tradition of honor killings by a husband who caught his wife cheating. It's notting to do with religion. I doubt there's anything in the Koran about female genital mutilation. These practices are more cultural than religious. No divinity would want any of this carried out in His or Her name.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • northern light

      "No divinity would want any of this carried out in His or Her name."

      Genisis 6:7
      And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  2. jimzcarz

    More PC semantics just ask any women.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  3. Frank

    Mohammed never said that honor killings were necessary, however he also never condemned violence and killing in the same way that Jesus and Moses did. Desert peoples such as the Afghans and the Arabs have a bitterly cruel cultural heritgage when it comes to honor and belief, and Islam does little to restrain them.

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

      oh you mean like Luke 19:27 where Jesus said "But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me"?

      wow....jesus really condemns murder. BLAH BLAH BLAH

      January 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • mr tatters

      Umm Frank, hate to break it to you but Moses and Jesus would have been 'desert people' too. I mean Jesus was born in Bethlehem, why do us westerners always assume that Jesus is the lone white guy walking around present day Israel and Palestine?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  4. concjo

    At least they'll be in jail and not running at our troops with bombs strapped to their behinds...NUT_JOBS!

    January 30, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  5. mg

    They're just sick, perverted people. No other way to describe it.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  6. clearfog

    Now we have Honor Life Sentences. Allah Akbar.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  7. fred

    murders are called 'honor killings", murderers are called martyrs instead of murderers, children are taught hatred of infidels/non muslims, sunnis murder shia and shia murder sunnis and hatred and killing are taught to the children in grade school and there are posters who want o allow Iran to have nuclear weapons? are they nuts?

    January 30, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  8. woodrow

    If Islam isn't the source of this terrible practice, where does it come from? Why do they keep invoking the Islam religion into these horrible practices?

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

      Because it was Islam that rid the Arabs of the 7th century of these old barbaric ways. This was how the Arabs who had no history or any weight in any level turned into a world class civilization in a coupe of decades due to Islam transforming them.

      It wasn't until the Arabs left the true Islamic teachings and began mixing their old culture into religious practices that Arabs have gone back to the pre-Islamic ignorant phase.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • not really no

      They don't invoke Islam. Even the father said it was against Islam to kill his family members. And it started in the Old Testament. Check out Deuteronomy 22:21. That was well before the Qua'ran was written.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Muneef

      I agree with your post.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • obalice

      Not to be rude, but did you read the article? It stems from the culture of the community, not the religion. It just happens to be that these communities also practice Islam. Throughout history you'll see leaders justify murder under the name of religion... Joan of Arc is one example.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  9. JohnRJohnson

    I think "honor murders" are more about archaic traditions than Islam. Unfortunately, Islam as a religious influence on people's lives, has failed to moderate this horrific behavior among its followers. This, of course, is one of the central problems with Islam. It appears to be a blend of old, secular customs and extremely chauvinistic if not misogynistic religious beliefs. Women are marginalized, while men are able to blame women for their own moral turpitude. Muslim men see absolutely nothing wrong with this, because it is endemic in their cultures.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  10. thelogician

    surah 4:15 people. look it up.

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

      What? it doesn't say anything about honor killing..

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

      So? just a belief in a religion made by man.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • thelogician

      "As for those of your women who are guilty of lewdness, call to witness four of you against them. And if they testify (to the truth of the allegation) then confine them to the houses until death take them ..." Surah 4:15

      If this isn't Quranic justification for this crime, I'm not sure what is...

      January 31, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  11. mark

    How can they say Islam has nothing to do with this when all the countries list are extreme muslim countries, i wave the Bulloney flag it has everything to do with Islam....

    January 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Albo

      I am a Muslim woman from Europe. My ancestors converted to Islam during the Ottoman Empire's rule in the Balkan Peninsula. I can assure you that Islam has absolutely nothing to do with this barbaric behavior. Before we moved to the United States, where you are exposed to many more cultures and news, we had never even seen a burka and never imagined that there are people using Islam as a justification for violence. These people come from a culture where very few people are educated and they derive their beliefs from ancient, archaic tribal customs – this is where the violence derives from. I understand that a lot of people are quick to blame Islam, but honestly Islam doesn't promote anything more extreme than does the Bible or the Torah. The 3 main religions are almost identical.

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

      Mark, your observation may be justified by your conclusion. But that still does not mean the cause of it is Islam. If people are not following Islam properly in these countries, why do you insist on blaming it on Islam. Look at the US and tell me if Americans are practicing Christianity correctly. I can count a 100 things without even thinking.

      Americans society today is far from living a Christian life.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • obalice

      Look to history, Mark. Actually, just look to the Catholic church. They don't do it now, but I do believe Joan of Arc was burned alive in the name of religion. This book might be a good read for you...http://www.amazon.com/Holy-Horrors-Illustrated-History-Religious/dp/0879755784

      January 30, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  12. jake90

    snore... I know Christians who do the same thing.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  13. Andrew



    January 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • jake90

      I have known several Muslims that would say that you are wrong.

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

      That's because we can actually REPORT IT, moron........ They treat women like dogs or cattle. How many cattle have told the police they were abused.... Use your brain.

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

      More domestic violence? You obviously know nothing of the Islamic world.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Mike Mc

      How can people throw out the world? It's too heavy...

      January 30, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • JohnRJohnson

      I think it is disingenuous for any Muslim not to acknowledge that there has been a long tradition in Islamic cultures to blame women for the moral turpitude of men. This is why women in these cultures must cover themselves and, in some cultures, are not even permitted to go out in public unless a male relative chaperones them. Islam, as a religious belief system, could address these inequities, but it has actually nurtured them. Today, the line between the teachings of the Qur'an and the pre-Islamic customs practiced in most Muslim countries is virtually non-existent.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Sean

      Where did you get CNN's attempt to say that its Islams fault?... What I got out of that artical was Islam had nothing to do with it and it was a cultural thing.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Buck

      Number one: why are you yelling? Number two: Where did you get your figures to support your claim?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • ColoradoMike


      January 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • cekuhnen

      So you say in Iraq, Afghanistan etc is less violence in the name of religion compared to Germany, Italy, Poland, France.

      Do you have any proof or are just upset that you face reality?

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

      wow concjo, calling people morons in a mature debate really makes me want to have the same opinion as you.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  14. myopinion23

    This case is sad and is totally outrageous. It looks like the parents could not control their teenage daughters and thus had them murdered. This has nothing to do with the religion of Islam and has everything to do with culture. They seem to have the religion of Islam's humbleness on one hand but culturally they are literally in the dark ages. It seems that with honor killing these parents are nothing but ruthless murderers.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  15. Raevyn

    honour killings = oxymoron

    January 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  16. Jacob M

    Yup, Islam promotes honor killings...

    ... just as Christianity promotes the lynching and murder of others due to differences in shades of skin.

    It's about culture, people – not religion. I'm not "for" religion, but let's discuss facts, not farcical statements.

    In some regions, Islamic people condone honor killings. It doesn't happen in all – or even most (by any stretch) – Islamic societies. Ergo, it's not part of Islam.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • mr tatters

      Thank you fro being part of the 1, maybe 2 percent of people here who aren't talking completely out of their ass

      January 30, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  17. BK

    Unfortunately, Islam is alwys attakced when something like this happens. There is a fine line between culture and religion. These honor killings were a result of cultural thinking and not religious. If you ever visit any of these regions, you will know.

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

      It is propably of cultural nature however people who apply it reference rather Islam than their culture to justify it.

      Something went really wrong in the Arabic Culture, when Europe opened itself and embraced the divide between church and power. Sadly the former very liberal and free Arabic culture decided to go the other way.

      What a pity ...

      January 30, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  18. daba daba doo towelface

    Muhammed never existed.

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

      That's as ignorant as saying Alexander the great never existed.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Crabs

      Jesus didn't exist either. Not in the way he's portrayed today. We are terrible historians.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  19. Higgs Boson

    all of your religions are simply stories attempting to explain where we came from, what we are to do, and what will become of us...thousands of dieties have been worshipped and believed in by people throughout human history...religious fundamentalists all think their deity is the only true deity...they believe themselves special enough and lucky enough to have been born in a geographical location and a time period in history to have hit the deity jackpot...well, you fundamentalists are not that special or lucky and you did not hit the deity jackpot...your so-called "revealed" religions are simply man-made stories, as all of them are

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

      So all of the religions are man-made? And what is your proof?

      January 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • jay

      Read "Age of Reason" by none other than the great Thoma Paine.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • concjo

      Yes, it makes much more sense that we were all arrived out of a big explosion and started as single cell organisms, then grew into fish, apes and then humans.... Sounds like either way, you're taking a leap of faith and I put my trust in god, not a theory from man.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  20. Sean

    If these men were reading the Quran, they would clearly read that killing their daughters for "shaming" them will end them in hell for eternity.

    It's clear these men don't know what Islam is, and are acting purely out of cultural drive, which is the same culture Islam came to destroy and replace 1400 years ago and succeeded for so long.

    It seems that the moment these men left Islamic teacher, they went back to their old barbaric ways.

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

      Where in Quran can I read this. Is there a surah you can refer me to.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Sean

      You want ME to do the homework for you so you can just go on online forums and argue about a subject you know nothing about?? You want to argue about a subject and educate people about it when you your self refuse to educate your self about it? This my friend, is how progress is hindered.

      But since I already know that you will not read it, I will tell you what you will find IF you change your mind about reading it.

      The Quran clearly states the punishment for "shaming" their families. It states that any adulterer who has 4 witnesses against him/her should be lashed 100 times.

      If someone accuses a woman of adultery but could not bring 4 witnesses, then that person will get 80 lashes.

      If a man accuses his wife of adultery or "shaming" him, then all she has to do is to take an oath on the Quran that she is innocent of what he says and God will deal with her after she dies, and vice verse. There is NO punishment for anyone who's spouse accuses them of adultery without bringing 4 witnesses.

      (24:2) The woman and the man guilty of fornication, flog each one of them with a hundred stripes *2 – and let not any pity for them restrain you in regard to a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day, *3 and let, some of the believers witness the punishment inflicted on them.

      (24:4) As for those persons who charge chaste women with false accusations but do not produce four witnesses, flog them with eighty stripes and never accept their evidence afterwards, for they themselves are transgressors,

      (24:5) except those who repent and reform themselves; Allah is Forgiving and Merciful *6 .
      Allah is the most merciful of all.

      24:6) As for those who accuse their own wives but have no witness except themselves, the evidence of one of them is that he shall swear four times by Allah and declare that he is true (in his charge).

      (24:7) Then the fifth time he shall declare that Allah's curse be upon him if he be false (in his charge).

      (24:8) (As for the woman), it shall avert the punishment from her if she swears four times by Allah that the man is false (in his charge)

      (24:9) and the fifth time she invokes Allah's wrath upon herself, if he be true (in his charge). *7

      (24:10) If Allah had not shown you His grace and mercy and if Allah had not been most Forgiving and All-Wise, (you would have been in a great fix because of accusing your wives).

      (24:13) Why did the slanderers not bring four witnesses (to prove their charge)? Now that they have not brought witnesses, they themselves are liars in the sight of Allah. *14

      (24:14) Were it not for Allah's grace and mercy towards you in this world and in the Hereafter, a painful scourge would have visited you because of the things in which you were involved.

      (24:15) (Just think how erroneous you were,) when you passed this lie on from one tongue to the other and uttered with your mouths that of which you had no knowledge. You took it as a trifling matter whereas it was a grave offence in the sight of Allah.

      (24:16) Why did you not, as soon as you heard of it, say, "It is not proper for us to utter such a thing ? Glory be to Allah ! This is a great slander."

      (24:17) Allah admonishes you that in future you should never repeat a thing like this, if you are true Believers.

      (24:18) Allah makes His Revelations clear to you, and He is All-Knowing, All-Wise. *15

      January 30, 2012 at 5:42 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.