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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. Ben37

    For most people the only acceptable honor killings applies only to gays. Everything else is just "killing".

    January 30, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Observer

      Ben37,

      Was your comment intended as humor or was it just ignorant?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  2. Andrew

    IS IS THE FASTEST GROWING RELIGION IN THE WESTERN WORLD. AMERICA AND WESTERN EUROPE IS INCLUDED. I MYSELF IS A CONVERT TO ISLAM. THERE IS NOTHING IN ISLAM THAT JUSTIFY HONOR KILLINGS AND THERE IS NOTHING IN ISLAM THAT SUPPORT HONOR KILLINGS. WITH THAT SAID, CNN CAN TRY ALL IT WANT TO PAINT A BAD PICTURE OF ISLAM. PEOPLE THREW OUT THE WORLD WILL CONTINUE TO EMBRACE ISLAM, AND PEOPLE THREW OUT THE WORLD WILL CONTINUE TO SEE THE RELIGION OF ISLAM AS A JUST AND PEACEFUL RELIGION.

    I HAVE A BETTER QUESTION OF CNN

    THE TIE BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, 'PEDOPHILIA'?

    January 30, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • DeeNYC

      Is writing in caps your way of blowing up these boards?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Katie

      You clearly didn't read the article because CNN is supporting the idea that honor killings/murders are not Islamic in basis.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Jimmmy hat

      I had to start a fire to heat my home tonight. I used the Koran

      January 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • White Horse

      BRAINWASHED – A BETTER NAME FOR A RECENT IGNORANT WESTENER WHO RECENTLY CONVERTED TO ISLAM.

      NEXT – CONVERT TO BE A GOOD HUMAN AND LEAVE ISLAM or any other religion by the way side.

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

    Islam Ducks Sick

    January 30, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  4. alexb

    I will not be surprised of this writer is reprimanded by CNN for insinuating the obvious.
    how was this able to bypass the dictator liberal editor in chief at cnn? πŸ™‚

    January 30, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  5. Dr Zoidberg

    the koran clearly states that a female is worth half a man

    January 30, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Persian Phoenix

      All people are created EQUAL regardless of false prophecy.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Abu Musa

      really? where? I've been a Muslim for 26 years now and lived in three different countries in Muslim communities and I have never heard of such nonsense. All of these lies against Islam are very obvious. Sincere truth-seeking Christians, Jews and Atheists are actually converting to Islam. All this hate and lies in fact is helping Islam grow.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  6. Name required

    "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."

    Oh yeah, it happens everywhere! Everywhere there are Muslims – Middle East, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and among [Muslim] immigrant communities in North America.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Steven

      Funny, you just missed the piece saying it did not happen in Indonesia, the world's most populous muslim country.

      Need some reading classes maybe ?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  7. Mark

    This is not cultural thing.. it is absolutely part of Islam religious. Islam is not just Quran (I wish it was) but a collection of rules by religious leader on even how to wash yourself. Honor killing is taught by these religious Islamic leaders and it is part of being associated with Islam. The oxford DUDE is only painting a different picture to sell you Islam. Don’t buy it

    January 30, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Katie

      Do you have a resource for this?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  8. Frank!

    We fought a war for these people??? Really?

    January 30, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  9. BobZemko

    How did the father expect his daughters to live in a Western country? What a stupid monster.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  10. jimbob22

    Islamist leaders are skilled at lying. Islam is the only religion that supports this type of thing.

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

      Killing in the name of honor or any other reason is wrong. However, go back and read you old testament fairytales. You find that stoning was quite common and carried over well into the 60's with lynchings of blacks in the name of religion.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  11. margo

    I'm no fan of Xtianity either, but Xtianity has an explicit injunction against murder and lying in the Bible. Islam, on the other hand explicityly discusses Kitman and Takiyyah in the Koran, clearly stating that lies are justified to protect the faith and the faithful. A[[arently. this runs deep in some of the most archaic cultural traditions. Goes a long way to explain how these 3 murderers believe they have done nothing wrong, despite all the evidence and through their blatant lies.

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

      Oh, well if their doing it...

      January 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  12. Swami Satchidanda

    Dont just blame Muslims, Hindu's in India also behave almost in a similar fashion. Hindus do honor killings in interior villages. Modern day Punjabis do that openly in Punjab [India].
    [Andhra Pradesh] Telugu's, [Tamil Nadu] Tamils punish their daughters as well. Hindu's may not "kill" as they would fear their neighbours may beat them to death if they get caught.
    So not only Islam...however in case of Islam you can be 99% sure ...in case of Hindu's it will be rare.

    Jai Sri Raaam

    January 30, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • White Horse

      Swami, (1) You are a MUSLIM, so stop insulting the Hindus by using the name Swami.
      (2)You are confusing the issue by stating this as a rule among Indians. Can you QUOTE a VERSE from the 'Bhagvat Gita' of the Hindus or the 'Guru Granth' of the Sikhs where it states as it is SO CLEARLY stated in the muslim QURAN, SURAH 4:15 "(4:15) As for those of your women who are guilty of immoral conduct, call upon four from amongst you to bear witness against them. And if four men do bear witness, confine those women to their houses until either death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them."

      January 30, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Swami Satchidanda

      wow looks like you are a katua. You googled the Satanic verses with numbers! Haha, we Hindu's have some liberty and we can curse our own religion ...I was talking about people in different parts of India ....Hinduism is a way of life and not a strict religion.
      However the followers are the worst examples of mankind.
      whatever I said above in my first posting are all correct. Those things are still happening in India.
      I dont want to show my Slok knowledge as anyone can google Geetamritum and paste it.
      I am actually the one, the truth, I am the universe and I contain all. I am not angry with you as you are part of the same universe so you belong to me as well so does your mother and father. So killing another human being is traumatizing...
      and there is no god.
      – Swamy Satchidananda

      January 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • White Horse

      KATUA/MUSLIM, re-read my earlier response and then answer my question. CHUTIAS like you are dime a dozen.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  13. aln0110

    No, no no. There's a tie between being an ignorant hillbilly (from wherever) and honor killings. And please don't ever make me defend a religion again.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  14. Rob Lanken

    Islam is as Islam does. If Islam is not to blame for this sort of horror, then why is it that the vast majority of similiar murders occur in Islamic countries. The culture, reinforced by Sharia "law" makes this almost inevitable. Islam's utter intolerance is made manifest.

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

      Many such murders happen among hindus as well so it's not only muslims. In the same vein, there's pretty much no honor killings at all in Indonesia, which is the most populous muslim country in the world.

      It's a tribal issue. Tribes in some areas of the world do it, others don't. It's not religious.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  15. John Hardin

    Nothing "justifies" honor murders; there can be no justification for them.

    Islamic law and culture certainly condone honor killings. If they did not, then why are more than 90% of the honor murders worldwide committed by Muslims? If they did not, then why does Shari'a law specify no punishment be meted out for a parent who kills their child, or a grandparent who kills their grandchild?

    A manual of Islamic law certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, says that "retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right." However, "not subject to retaliation" is "a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring's offspring." ('Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2). In other words, someone who kills his child incurs no legal penalty under Islamic law.

    Yet we are to believe that honor murders "have no place and no support in Islam"?

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

      Can you give facts proving that >90% of the honor killings happen in the muslim world ? I bet you can't.

      How do you explain that the world's most populous country, Indonesia, doesn't have honor killings ? This simple fact proves that this is not a religious issue but a cultural issue related to tribal practices.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • SHAMROCK

      ANY RELIGION THAT CONDONS MURDER . IS NOT OF GOD.IF THAT INCLUDES ISLAM SO BE IT.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • John Hardin

      @Steven: (The website isn't letting me reply directly to your post for some reason)

      "Can you give facts proving that >90% of the honor killings happen in the muslim world ? I bet you can't."

      I didn't say "in the muslim world", I said "by Muslims". Quoting from this article: http://www.meforum.org/2646/worldwide-trends-in-honor-killings

      "Although Sikhs and Hindus do sometimes commit such murders, honor killings, both worldwide and in the West, are mainly Muslim-on-Muslim crimes. In this study, worldwide, 91 percent of perpetrators were Muslims."

      January 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Steven

      John: Do you realize where this article comes from ? Go look at the main page of this website :http://www.meforum.org . It is a blatantly anti-muslim website, talk about crediblity.

      If you take an impartial study ( http://www.unifem.org/attachments/gender_issues/violence_against_women/vaw-prevalence-matrix-2011.pdf ) you'll see that violence against women is prevalent at similar rates in Christian-majority african countries as well.

      Again, it's a cultural issue, christian population with similar tribal behavior do the same thing, at similar rates.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • John Hardin

      Steven:

      "It is a blatantly anti-muslim website, talk about crediblity."

      You'd have done better to point out that there's no easy-to-find reference in that article to the underlying actual data and methodology of analysis so that the results can be independently checked. As it is you're attacking the messenger rather than the message – can you say "Ad Hominem"?

      January 31, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • John Hardin

      Steven:

      I note that you're not responding to the fact that Shari'a does not specify there should be any punishment for the commission of an Honor Murder.

      January 31, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • John Hardin

      Steven:

      That UN study omits the following countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Yemen, the Palestinian Territories and all of the Gulf States. How can you make any statement about relative rates of Honor Murders among Muslims vs. non-Muslims using that study when all of these majority-Muslim countries are not included? And why were they omitted?

      January 31, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • John Hardin

      That UN study omits the following countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Yemen, the Palestinian Territories and all of the Gulf States. How can you make any statement about relative rates of Honor Murders among Muslims vs. non-Muslims using that study when all of these majority-Muslim countries are not included? And why were they omitted?

      January 31, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • John Hardin

      (Sorry for the double post)

      January 31, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  16. JimAR

    Send them all home. Problem solved.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Swami Satchidanda

      And if the crime happens in Kabul where are you going to send them?
      And who the f..are you to decide home for an individual? Where is your home?
      Just because they are Muslims that does not means they belong "not" in USA....and
      this case is from Canada. So I would say they can send them to USA? Idi0t....people like u instigate hatred

      January 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Rickie

      Yuppers!!!! Couldn't agree more with you!!!!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Rickie

      Swami, I agree with JimAr, I am from Canada now these losers who said it was an "honor" killing will be spending my hard earn tax dollar eating 3 meals a day and getting clothing. Hmmmmm how in the hell does that make sense? Apparently they are quite wealthy I say when their term is up charge them for every meal and load of laundry and boarding and see what they are left with. And they are only talking about deportation after their sentence is complete...WHY? why aren't they being deported now and lose their Canadian citizenship...they suck!!!!!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • White Horse

      SEND THEM TO A PLACE WHERE SHARIA LAW IS PRACTICED ..... MIDDLE EAST!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Swami Satchidanda

      I agree with Rickee, especially for the father/son/wife in this case. But making a statement that send them home, I was talking about all those womens across the world all those innocent childs whom these "men" kill.

      This is our planet and we should not be confined to our own countries welfare. Atleast if you are the romantic kind you will love all, and will care for all. Just think about Angelina J...as an example the way she tries to help out.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • sue

      @JimAR...... You are soooooooooo stupid!!!!!!!!!!!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  17. Mina

    It may be that Islam does not dictate honor murders. However, the Koran does give legal authority to the local authority in a muslim community – giving their edicts the force of koranic law. And the local authority in many communities are the people who advocate this kind of behavior. So, yes, Islam DOES support this kind of tihng.

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

      No, actually it doesn't. If a leader calls himself "Islamic", then they have to follow the rules set in the Quran. Honor killings are not one of those rules, therefor Islam does not promote this type of behavior. Just because a certain culture is "ok" with honor killings does not make it a religious issue. It happens in different cultures around the world and in different religions. Not justifiable, but its a sad reality.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Swami Satchidanda

      For example Mina was born in Tennesse and have no idea about what happens in India. If you keep reading regional news papers of India you will know what kind of barbaric traditions are still in Practice in India for the same crimes that these girls committed.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  18. daba daba doo towelface

    Mohammed never existed.

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

      Well, neither did Jesus. So what?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  19. White Horse

    SATANIC VERSUS:
    One does wonder after reading this from the holy book of the muslims – the Quran; Surah 4.15
    Translation: "(4:15) As for those of your women who are guilty of immoral conduct, call upon four from amongst you to bear witness against them. And if four men do bear witness, confine those women to their houses until either death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them."

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

      Oh yeah, make sure to only remember that verse, make sure not to take into account the other verses saying women must be protected at all costs and those talking about forgiveness.

      Oh no ! Make sure to only reference the verses that go the way you want and ignore the others. That my friend is intelectual dishonesty.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  20. Pix

    "...the practice is cultural, not religious..." Really? What culture, in which what religion predominates? And in that religion, is the basic idea of extreme punishment for religious-related transgressions often death? Is this really any coincidence?

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

      Not a coincidence. The culture is defined by the law and Sharia law treats women with cruelty. The man has every right to treat women as possessions. There are very few honor murders of men in this culture.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Mark

      Well said. This NOT cultural and all points to religion. The Oxford Guy ia trying to sell Islam.. DON"T BUY IT// he is expert on nothing

      January 30, 2012 at 5:13 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.