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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. Abu Musa

    Honor killing, new-born girl killing, sacrifice for idols, pagan idol worship, black magic, sorcery etc. are all Hindu rituals mainly. Islam came to destroy these kuffar-like horrible rituals. And now the freemasons/jews and other lying filthy kuffar accuse Islam for this? LOL! Hateful comments below only make the Muslims stronger and the kuffar weaker!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • MC

      I'm confused, isn't this entire thread a response to a fact based story in which a Muslim family performed honor killings? I don't see some sort of random accusation of Islam, I see a debate about certain Islamic people's interpretation of Muslim law. Am I missing something?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Montrose

      The truth hurts doesn't it. http://www.islam-watch.org/SyedKamranMirza/honor_killing.htm

      January 30, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Chuck

      D-E-P-O-R-T-A-T-I-O-N......hopefully a word used in relation to all Muslims soon when in reference to Canada and the USA....and European countries. Islam has destroyed the Middle East and we to get people this this putz I am replying to out of our non-Muslim built countries....no I am not a bigot as Chow stated...nor and I racist since I have no problem with blacks, Asians and other minorities...I have no problem with East Indians that are non-Muslim....I have a problem with a religion that is so messed up it makes me want to puke. The way they treat women, the way they treat life in general is messed up.....and the way they try and change Canada and other western countries is garbage. In Canada they try to change our anthem, are offended by our flag flying, our voting laws and dress codes in our military, RCMP and drivers license pictures....millions of people come to Canada for a fresh start or to escape war in their countries and are happy to become Canadian...it's only the Muslims that whine and try to change us....sick of them...time to say...NO MORE!!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  2. Alboree

    These phenomenon are purely cultural. There are millions of Muslims in the US. I f this were a religious deal we would be faced with daily episodes of honor killings. Yet these events are rare and when they do happen they make the headlines and stir this idiotic debate if there is a connection between Islam and honor killings.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  3. Rachel

    Religion is a goofy myth that continues to survive - and constrain the potential of humanity - way past it's natural lifetime. People of all "faiths" need to give themselves a shake, look in the mirror, and tell themselves to stop feeding this nonsense to their children. Imagine a world where we didn't fight over whose version of an illogical and childish myth is authentic. Evolve, people! You can do a world of good to your neighbours all over the planet by directing your energy at real issues.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • JPS

      YES!! I totally agree with Racel!! We need to evolve past this ancient form of control of the masses and see religion for what it is – antiquated and a total hindrance to our true potential. This is OUR planet. We need to reclaim it!!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  4. Kyle

    What a freaking joke! These people are sociopathic murderers, nothing more. They are just lucky enough to have an "honor" excuse, but regardless, they are sub-human sociopaths who deserve death

    January 30, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  5. Chuck

    I don't care if they kill each other off, but not in my country. It's bad enough they come here and want to change everything that is Canada, but to waste our tax dollars to deal with it ticks me off. It's bad enough they get money when they arrive for housing and living, but to waste it on court fees and then to house them further in jail ticks me off. Enough is enough....time to start deporting and lock the gates....NO MORE MUSLIMS ALLOWED!!!!!!! I don't like them and I don't want them!!!!!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Chow

      I'm not sure which is worse: murderers like the Shafias or bigots like Chuck. This people murdered not because of Islam but because their own sick interpretation of cultural norms. Chuck, go home and if you are home, crawl back under your rock; you are an embarassment.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Chuck

      Pound sand Chow....your such a moron. Tell me you are okay with this murder? Yes it was a murder in the name of Islam. I don't know where you are, but I am a Canadian in Canada and fought against Islamic extremists in Afghanistan so kiss my A$$. I saw everyday the great Muslim religion take care of people...the line ups of women beaten, children used as decoys for the Taliban...suicide attacks in the name of Allah. Sit on your couch and condemn me all you want, but when the Sharia law becomes a real issue in Canada and the US, because we let enough of them in you can see for yourself first hand how Islam is a horrible way to exist....real Islam, not this watered down PC crap they try and flower people with in Canada and the States...remember...Islamic people in the USA knew about 911 before it happened and did nothing to stop it....that's reality moron.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  6. JPS

    Google – “Honor Killing” is Absolutely Islamic by Syed Kamran Mirza –
    It quotes verse after verse after verse straight from the QURAN showing that this practice IS ISLAM approved actions.

    http://www.islam-watch.org/SyedKamranMirza/honor_killing.htm

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

      Show us 'proof' not coming from a hate site. We could equally prove all sorts of nasty things about Christianity by selective choosing and selective interpretation of Bible verses.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Veritas

      I hope you realize it is "hate speech" pure and simple to quote from the Quran when talking about Muslims. 🙂

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

      I see you're spamming this all over. What a hate-filled piece of slime you seem to be.

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

      No it is not hate speech. It is straight from the Qu'ran.

      I suppose it's not condoned to kill all of us "infidels" as well right..Want a qoute for that?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  7. toxictown

    While I think islam and all religions should be consigned to the dustbin of history there is probably as much hillbilly in this as islam. Religions just make it very convenient to couch your sociopathic tendencies in some sort of legitimacy.

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

      I can honestly say I have never met an Arabian or Pakistani hillbilly.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  8. SFC Mike

    It is not Islamic. It is pre-Islamic tribal/cultural tradition in the region.

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

      WRONG AGAIN – http://www.islam-watch.org/SyedKamranMirza/honor_killing.htm

      January 30, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Fiona

      One small correction..it's tribal traditions incorporated into modern culture, not religion. Religion is used as a get-out-of-jail-free card for these muders by some (thankfully, it doesn't work in The Great White North), but as the article states - it isn't part of Islam. Catholicism and Christianity, on the other hand, incorporate many primitive traditions and practices.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  9. Fiona

    "May the devil defecate on" Shafia's grave. Daily...for eternity.

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

    ISLAM IS THE FASTEST GROWING RELIGION IN THE WESTERN WORLD. AMERICA AND WESTERN EUROPE ARE INCLUDED. I MYSELF AM 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

    WHAT IS THE TIE BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, 'PEDOPHILIA'?

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

      T-H-R-O-U-G-H OUT

      January 30, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • JPS

      Then explain this to the REST OF US –
      http://www.islam-watch.org/SyedKamranMirza/honor_killing.htm
      There are HUNDREDS of pages just like this one saying that it is INDEED condoned by ISLAM commanded by the prophet.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • changing topics

      This article is not about the catholic church or pedophilia. CNN has done a number of articles on that particular topic. This article is about honor killings in the Islam world. Unfortunately, in not just Islam but in the Middle Eastern culture in general, there is a double standard when it comes to how men and women are treated. Where it's ok for a man to go sleep around with a bunch of women, a woman can pay with her life for that type of behavior. I'm saying this is as a Christian Middle Eastern male,

      January 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Chuck

      "Threw out" really? That's your opinion? People threw out the world????? Moron. I can see why you turned Muslim. To stupid to know it's throughout the world. I want to know this....would you be willing to go live in one of the garbage dump middle eastern countries that is governed by Muslim leadership? I doubt it, The reality is that most people that leave these garbage dump countries to come here are because the Muslim leadership is corrupt and ruthless. So much for the great state of Islam...and then they bring their problems here and want us to adapt and change to them when they should adapt and change to us...they are coming here and we are not going there...pure garbage....Muslims get out and stay out YOU ARE NOT WANTED!!!!!!!!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • JCK

      CNN does not have to paint a bad picture of Islam. Islam does just fine painting the picture without help.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Rediculigious

      Andrew, just to be clear, the fatwas put out by imams to murder authors and reporters is based in Islamic teachings according to these imams. Now on to "honor murders" condoned by a culture steeped in religious fanaticism. And yes the catholic church is a snakes nest of perverted pedaphiles. But that does not relieve another religion of there wrong. By the way, where was the American Muslim communities outrage after 911?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  11. scoobypoo

    Let's hear from the imams in the middle east. You can bet their stance is still set in the middle ages.

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

    they are just a bunch of middle-age idiots, impregnated and soaked with first degree religion, an agglomerated leftover from jewish and roman catholic detritus; with the aggravating factor that not only an illiterate camel country boy heard voices any time he would get drunken in the desert and a bunch of festive friends did collect his garbled idiocies; furthermore, with no central structure, any local lunatic can appropriate for his own benefit any interpretation of this dates alcohol soaked bubbles : an idiotic religion, like all others by the way, for idiots.

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

      Actually I would say more like STONE AGE than middle-age. I mean seriously people, its time for this one to be thrown out as a religion and deemed a CULT.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  13. David

    One of his daughters married a black man. Now you know why they got run off the road

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

      Why?

      January 30, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Persian Phoenix

      You are absolutley right! Most despise blacks because they see that race as less than zero. I got the Salt and Pepper talk by my mother trying to justify to a 21 year old why blacks and whites do not mix by pouring salt and pepper on the table, mixing it with her finger and then tell me "See my point?" I married him anyway, have two beautiful daughters and just celebrated our 25th anniversary. That was my biggest F U to my family...well, that and cutting them off completely in order to live my life in peace and on my own terms.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  14. Desi from USA

    I think it is cultural, and is/was prevalent in many other religions/regions. Being a Hindu, I can attest to such killings in the state of Haryana in India recently ("Khap ordering death to young couples because they belonged to different castes). Though such incidents are few and far between in most places now a days in developed'developing cultures.
    My understanding is, being the youngest of all major religions, Islam will take some more time to adjust to modernity, though you would think it should have been otherwise. Older religions went through this phase centuries ago. Islam is still struggling.......

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

      so it takes 1400 years to adjust to the modern world and realize that killing is wrong........

      more excuses.

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

      So they've been doing this since when?? Every since the cult started right??

      January 30, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Chuck

      In the West people get stoned with Mary Jane....in the East Mary Jane gets stoned...what a bunch of BS

      January 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  15. Heartless

    The Muslims need to continue "honor killing" so they can kill each other off, like the African Americans do. Notice how I did not use the "N" word?

    January 30, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  16. Steve C

    Oh, Canada 🙁

    January 30, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  17. jason

    Here in America we are cool to OIL killings, Honor killings is something we scorn about. We have the bihggest socialist effort for it its called the US armed forces. If muslims can do honor killings at par with our OIL killings we might be cool to that too.

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

      In America we have a particular name for some of our children. We call them this name when we suspect they will mature at a slower pace and to a lesser final degree than other, more intelligent, children. We give these children a laptop and allow them to write idiotic comments on the internet spouting something about oil. We call these children Jason.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  18. Voice of Reason

    Who the hell cares if Islam justifies honor killings? The point is that the religious fanatics are the ones promoting this anyways, so by any account, it still has everything to the religion. Islam is, always has, and will continue to be stuck in the dark ages for years to come

    January 30, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  19. TDiddy

    I wish someone would Honor kill Fareed Zakaria!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Ted

      U are a fool

      January 30, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  20. citizen

    I guess the "experts" had better check with the victims of Islam.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Haha, nice

      January 30, 2012 at 5:17 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.