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. Durka Durka

    "At the end of the day, murder is murder. There is no faith on Earth, no community on Earth that justifies this"

    From what I've read, Islam certainly does condone murder. I see all the murders in the name of religion everyday from Muslim terrorists. Now this guy killing his daughters is only slightly different, it's his tribal, backwards, ancient culture which condones murder in the name of cultural dignity. Women and children are not your possessions to own and control. Go back to Afghanistan if you want that.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  2. Jane

    Religion shmiligion. Islam IS the culture in those middle eastern countries whose people, like sheep, willingly allow it to be the basis of their government, allow the quran to dictate their everyday actions, and willingly accept their body parts being cut off, their bodies being stoned or whipped into shreds as punishment for crimes. What a bunch of crap to think you can separate the culture from this so-called religion. They are one and the same!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  3. Paradox

    Islam is the scourge of mankind. When is the western world going to wake up and realize it MUST be wiped off the face of the Earth. Political Correctness is Islams biggest benefactor.

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

      That's the same thing the Nazis were preaching about Jews. Hate is a two way street

      January 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  4. matrix09

    How could anybody think there is any kind of honor in killing your own family members?

    January 30, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  5. Stander

    So if we accept the position that this is not a problem caused by their religion, then what is it caused by? The likely answer is their culture. What is their culture dominated by?

    These women may not have been killed by order of the religion of Islam, but they were certainly killed so that the family would be regarded as "good" Muslims,

    If a perversion of a doctrine garners enough followers, it becomes a religion just like any other. Akin to Christianity from Judaism, Protestantism from Catholicism, Mormonism from Protestantism. Are we supposed to believe for one second that Islam has not morphed as well? There is a vile form of Islam that leads to many of the horrors of the Arabic world, and it has more followers than we'd care to imagine.

    We have stepped up for the most part in the U.S. to try and stamp out the vile forms of Christianity that serves to degrade women and minorities. It is long past time for the Arabic world to do the same. It's a continual process for us here, I wish they would get started on it there.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  6. Mc homed

    Honor Killings are prevalent in Tunisia, Libyia, Turkey, Egypt, Iran Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi, Yemen, Quwait
    hMMM...in the majority of the Islamic Countriies...Honor killings are happening in countries where Muslims have
    migrated to...No no can say it is not an Islamic idea. It should be decried by all who call themselves Muslim.
    It is time for this to stop. Outrage

    January 30, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Bev

      You're right.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  7. Brad

    The notion that Islam has nothing to do with honor murders is ridiculous. Islam creates an environment where a women is devalued (the testimony of 1 man is equal to that of 4 women); subject to the overall control (even to her clothing) of the men in her family; is considered less intelligent than a man (read the Koran and Hadiths); and subject to marriage to middle aged men while still a child (Aisha, married to the "Prophet" Mohammad at age 6; marriage consummated when she was just 9).

    January 30, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  8. gera

    Cultural issue rather than blaming islam? so Pakistan, Iraq,Afganistan Indonesia all the middle east share the same culture? give me a break, islam is what they all have in common.The core of islam is evil root of all this murders, but they don't know, they are blind.

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

    I dont know why anyone is surprised by this. All western religions were guilty of using their interpretation to control the population and do horrible things. Most of these people are still living in the dark ages, and their governments are just using religion to control them. IMO, ALL religion should be PG 13. Stop brainwashing kids with this crap.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  10. chemicalbank

    This is how over-grown infants react when they don't get their way. How they justify it is just rationalization.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  11. Wall Street

    You could tie statistically connect being Evangelical Christian and being a NASCAR fan. The two correlate culturally – not theologically. This is a culture thing, not a religion thing.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Remy

      You nailed it.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  12. TDiddy

    Why is there a question mark???? Islam is a joke....kill them all

    January 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  13. Ewout

    Not found in the Quran maybe, but it is found in a Sharia handbook, Umdat al-Salik (The Reliance of the Traveller), chapter O: "Justice". Here it states that:
    o1.1 Retaliation is obligatory [...] against anyone who kills a human beeing [...]
    01.2 The following are not subject to retaliation:
    (2) a Muslim for killing a non-Muslim (just including that for good measure)
    (4) a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring or their offspring's offspring

    January 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Mario


      January 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Ewout

      Really "Mario"?


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

    Just spent abotu 20 mintues writing a well thought out comment and now it won't post because I guess something set off the 'cnn naughty filter"
    Now there's no way to fix it because there's actually nothing wrong with anything I said (unless mohammed and Koran are considered bad words which wouldn't surprise me).

    SO anyway, This only took me 2 minutes to write.

    blow me!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Dan Halen


      January 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm |


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

    muslims claim its cultural but honor killings happen wherever you find muslims. arabs and afghans dont have the same culture
    just the same insane religion...malaysians dont have the same culture as afghans just the same insane religion.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  16. Mark

    Just spent abotu 20 mintues writing a well thought out comment and now it won't post because I guess something set off the 'cnn naughty filter"
    Now there's no way to fix it because there's actually nothing wrong with anything I said (unless mohammed and Koran are considered bad words which wouldn't surprise me).

    SO anyway, This only took me 2 minutes to write.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Raevyn


      January 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Dr Zoidberg

      ya i notice on some threads if you go against a certain article the hackers will contstantly remove every post you make. it will be there for a few seconds. and if someone else makes a post against the article or for the aticle it will be there a few seconds and dissapear.. only the posts the hackers want remain

      January 30, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Mark

      YES Dr Zoidberg. I've seen that happen quite regularily and it's always on certain stories so that's how you know it's hacking. For instance sotries about anonymous or stories about Islam. Massive amounts of comments just vanish. CNN doesn't seem to care at all. Their more then happy being b|tches and letting all their viewers hard work go to waste.
      I've been a victim of the word filter here about 10 times and EVERY SINGLE F)CKING TIME IT WAS FOR NO REASON!!!!! And when it's for no reason there's no fawking way to fix it so you're screwed. You just wasted your time!.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • David Hoffman

      Agree that disappearing posts is a problem.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  17. Andrew


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

      The Tie between Andrew, "R e T A r D!"

      January 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • NY Manor

      Muneef-stop screaming will ya?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  18. rick

    and once again the haters start in on the Jews.....Screw the Muslim Religion...its all about hate, anger and killings and making their women take a back seat. Muslims can be Monsters in my book......oh by the way Im not Jewish either. I tried to read the Quran once and found it totally full of B.S.....

    January 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  19. Shing

    I can't believe people really buy into this offensive garbage. This madeness isn't ISLAM anymore than the KKK represent "Christians," as they claim or David Koresh who was "OF GOD! Really people, it's like the RED SCARE of the Cold War Era all over again. This time however, Islam is being persecuted. It's ridiculous when people who aren't versed in English or Arabic trying to interpret the Koran. And this is coming from a Missionary Baptist.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • James PDX

      What do you consider "interpreting"? I've read English versions of the Quran and Muhammad's writings. They were once Christians. Muhammad decided he wanted some changes to the religion, so he claimed God talked to him and then backed it up with violence. From that was born Islam, based on Muhammad's teaching that women were inferior to men and should be subjugated, and that non-Muslims are inferior to Muslims and should be subjugated or killed. Most of the good parts of their religion are meant only to apply to members of their religion. Those who leave the religion are subject to execution, often by their own government. It's a terrible religion, as most are, only worst than even the others. I, for one, have had enough of it.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • David Hoffman

      How many Jewish families committed honor murders in Canada during the last decade? How many followers of Bahai committed honor murders in Canada during the last decade? Buddhists? Taoists? None that I have heard of. Islam and its Muslim followers have got to figure out how to change the way the religion is used to justify unnecessary violence. I know it is like trying to turn a fully loaded large cargo ship. Big things take time to change direction. This Canadian mess may compel Canadian Muslims to create better community resources that get the no unnecessary violence message to be understood..

      January 30, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • joe

      Muslims are being persecuted??? There the only ones killing everybody including their own families and people....facts are facts....

      January 30, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  20. Barry G.

    Do those who subscribe to the strictest form of Islam (Shariah) condemn these hanous crimes?

    January 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Barry G.

      I'm sorry, that was supposed to be heinous crimes.

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

      I sincerely doubt any of them really condemn this. They might say it to the press, but in their communities I'm betting they are furious at this verdict.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • James PDX

      If you say so, your heinous.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • David Hoffman

      Interesting point. Muslims are also supposed to be careful not to get non believers to want to look into Muslim affairs. These knuckleheads could not carry out a make it look like a natural death murder and they could not keep quiet after they did it. You may get away with a sloppy killing in Afghanistan, because the local government supports honor murders, but you better be a much better assassin if you are committing murder where they do not condone honor murders. Somebody should have watched Da Vinci's Inquest, CSI, Numbers, Mythbusters and Law and Order a lot more, before contemplating this crime.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
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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.