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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. Greg Forest

    If it has no correlation to Islam, why do the mullahs get to throw the second stone, after the husband? Why don't the mullahs prohibit it. Cultural true but of the nations listed, all are Islamic. Coincidence eh?

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

      I hope they tear this guy inside out with a splinter-filled, jagged broom handle.!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Stern

      Are you blind?? Did you even F'ing read the article?? It has many Islamic scholars and experts denouncing and say it is strongly prohibited in the Quran.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  2. jason

    Is there anything in bible that Justifies Bush and Cheney killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of American solders. The same logic applies to islam. Can the teaparty dogma of death to the uninsured have anything to do with the bible? Jesus did not say that

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

      The Bible is full of commands from God to kill. That's how God wanted the world to run originally.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • bigot

      "That's how God wanted the world to run originally."

      oh yeah? you know this how exactly? are you basing your assumptions on a book written over a long period of time by 30+ different MEN?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Observer

      bigot,

      Don't blame me. It's what the Bible says. I didn't say it was right.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  3. rick

    this is just horrible...they may have that honor killing where they come from , but here it is considered MURDER...and We here shoiuld not even listen to the excuse of Honor Killing...cause MURDER IS MURDER. Did they not bring their family over for the freedom we have here.....Women here are not second class citizens but first class in my book.....These idiots who use the excuse for Honor killings because their child does not accept their religion is pure B.S. or that the woman does not want to be controlled by these religious murderers...LETS GIVE THESE LOW LIFES THE DEATH SENTENCE and call it an HONOR KILLING FOR THOSE GIRLS LIVES THEY TOOK!

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

      If murder is murder then you would want to put your favorite president GW Bush on trial. He has lot of blood on his hands

      January 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • rick

      @jason...Please don't forget that your favorite president B.H.Obama also has the blood of many on his hands now too. Should he be tried for murder also, or do you live on a one-way street?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  4. Mc homed

    The murder of the Muslim girls by their family is horrific. Everyone should cry out. I am a Muslim and find this absolutely
    beyond description. I encourage all Muslims to call out behaviors that are criminal and against humanity. There is no reason for this. We Muslims need to come out of the stone age and act like humans, not animals. What are we thinking?
    If our Elders cannot speak out against such behavior, then we should hold them accountable. It is time for Muslims to
    join in society and stop our madness. We can easity see the fruits of our problematic actions in the East.
    Allah is Great. Human Behavior is suspect..

    January 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Greg Forest

      Bet you don't live in the Middle East. Make the elders accountable? Laughable concept.

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

      You are a credit to all the good Muslims everywhere. Keep it going.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  5. chemicalbank

    Honor murders are the tragic result of tantrums by emotional infants in patriarchal systems who feel their self-worth threatened when they are not treated like the gods they perceive themselves to be.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  6. Robin Bray

    But CNN puts the smear part of the question in a nice bold headline knowing full well that most people will nor read past that. Poor journalism at it's best.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  7. Tyler

    Islam ... The new National Socialism

    January 30, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  8. watch Muneef's head spin on this one

    Muneef bro u r at a snails pace buddy, too many comments for you to get caught up with..
    Giddy up!

    January 30, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  9. Richard

    This is an Afgan family living in Canada. These are not Canadians.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  10. Barry G.

    Please tell me that these horrible criminals are going to get long prison sentences!

    Please tell me that they're not going to get light sentences!

    January 30, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  11. Carol

    If this family had been punished after the first murder the next two would have not happened.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • What An Idiot

      First of all, there were four murders: the three girls and their stepmother/"aunt". Second of all, all four were killed at the same time. Get a clue.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  12. Joe

    Just like the Quran does not explicitly forbid images of Muhammad. There are "supplemental teachings" that some follow and some don't. The killing is cultural, in countries that happen to be Muslim.
    But ALL religions have man-invented rules in them. ALL of them.

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

      I hope they tear this guy inside out with a splinter-filled, jagged broom handle.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  13. Dr Zoidberg

    its not tribal, if it was tribal it would only involve a few tribes but honor killings happen anywhere there is islam. arabs and afghans arnt event he same kind of people let alone tribe.
    the common denominator is that the koran says women are just one step above cattle.
    im sure the muslims will keep saying its tribal to for damage control...........

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

      You are a f'ing liar and a hater. Which verse and which chapter?? Interestingly, you have a Jewish name so I am not surprised why you are such a hater and a bigot spreading hatred against a religion.

      If you knew anything about Islam and were not a hater, you would be quoting the verses where it is written to treat daughters equals of son and raise them the same way.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Dr Zoidberg

      if daughers are = to sons why does the koran say they mathematically worth half a man....?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • rick

      you are nothing but some low life parasite...just like the family that killed these girls......Canada...nor the USA condones that kind of murdering foolishly...seems these (p)......ricks dont know the value of life. Lets hope someone does an honor killing on them in Prison...now that would be Honorable to get these pigs off this earth!

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

      You hater, try and understand the context of it. In those days, men used to look after women and provide for them. That is the whole context of the inheritance being half for women since it is assumed her husband would take care of all of her needs. That is why men are given twice the inheritance because they need to provide for the kids and wife.

      You are a bigot and hater! You know nothing about something you are spreading so much hatred for.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  14. Ted Ward

    Stop playing semantics games. Honor "murder" or honor "killing" , it's all wrong, wrong, wrong. Period.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  15. Chester

    As a Canadian I have been watching this trial quite closely. Fortunately what really helped in determining their guilty verdict was the shear arogance and studity of the father. After the murder the wire taps revealed alot, plus the google search about murder. He also purchased the car they killed them in 5 days before the murder.

    Whats unfortunate is the family is quite wealthy they lived in a million dollar house and had a 7 figure networth. They got into our country by going through the foreign investor immigration program which essentially says if you got enough money to invest in our country heres your citizenship. Im proud this country stood up against these "Honour Killings" so many people claim they dont exist but it is evident they do.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  16. expakistani

    A Muslim can't say that the religion has anything to do with it. But by saying that the culture is the problem they are really saying one and the same. Sharia is the culture. You must change the entire legal framework of these societies to change the culture and that requires reforming Islam. Who wants to tackle that topic?

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

      Exactly how many of these countries, with honor killing problem, have Sharia law? Most of these countries have so called democracy and no rule of the law. Saudi Arabia has Sharia law and barbaric law system, have you heard about honor killings in Saudi Arabia? It's very easy to blame others or use religon to justify you stupid acts or crimes.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  17. Stern

    If you read the Quran, it is written explicitly that there is no bigger crime than killing your own children.

    Just because a few retard priests try to impose their own personal twisted interpretation does not mean they speak for the religion. One needs to go back to reading what exactly the religion says. That is like someone 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 4:57 pm |
    • Greg Forest

      Stern, Sorry my friend but from where I am sitting I see no Islamic nations anywhere in the world that are governed by anything by fundamentalists. Please, if you would, name me an Islamic nation where all religions are treated equally and there is freedom of thought and speech. Just as in Christianity's sacred texts, Islam has a long list of death penalty offenses – most very outdated and standing in the way of progress. If people from Islamic nations want the respect of rest of the world, they will have to earn it and denounce such practices as antiquated and evil. It took Christianity about 1500 years to get to The Enlightenment. Mohammed is 600 years behind Jesus so you guys are about due to wake up too.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  18. Barry G.

    I wonder whether these individuals would be brought to justice, if this didn't occur in a civilized nation, like Canada.

    Would anyone have been brought to justice in say, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, or some African country?

    Thank God for civilized and just countries, like Canada and other Western nations.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  19. NODAT1

    Funny that the top Muslim religious leader are not not speaking out about this, after all if my so called religion of peace was being used to do this horrible act that is condoned in the very same book that the guilty is said to be quoting I would speak out/ point out that that person is misguided or something to the that effect but what do we here from their religious leaders nothing. Are they afraid of their own people, afraid of themselves being targeted or were they informed about the honer killing and did nothing to stop them?

    January 30, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Greg Forest

      Muslim leaders denouncing honor killings? Cup your ear. Crickets chirping.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  20. Commonsense

    Funny how a Jew wrote this article

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

      How would you have written it?

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

      So what?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:46 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.