“HONOR KILLING”: A CRIME AGAINST ISLAM – IN ISLAM, THE RIGHT TO LIFE IS AN ABSOLUTE VALUE
by Syarif Hidayat
An honor killing or honour killing is the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought dishonor upon the family or community. Honor killings are directed mostly against women and girls, but have been extended to men.
The perceived dishonor is normally the result of one of the following behaviors, or the suspicion of such behaviors: dressing in a manner unacceptable to the family or community, wanting to terminate or prevent an arranged marriage or desiring to marry by own choice, especially if to a member of a social group deemed inappropriate, engaging in heterosexual acts outside marriage and engaging in homosexual acts.
There is a consensus over the fact that crimes of honor emanate from cultural and not religious roots and that they can be found worldwide, mainly in patriarchal societies or communities. However it’s also an established fact that they mostly take place within Muslim communities. The paradox is that crimes against women committed in the name of family honor are not sanctioned by Islam and many Islamic leaders have condemned this practice on the grounds that it has no religious basis.
Honor crimes should be contextualized within the larger problem of violence against women in general. Many European women suffer from domestic violence, from crimes that are committed within the conjugal home by the women’s spouse or companion. According to a report presented to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on September 16, 2004, domestic violence against women is escalating in Europe and the problem extends to all Council of Europe member states. The report states that domestic violence against women “knows no geographical boundaries, has no age limit, is not the preserve of any particular race, and occurs in every kind of family relationship and in every sort of social milieu.”
According to a report titled “So-called honor crimes” presented to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in March 2003, the so-called “honor crimes” occur and affect a whole spectrum of cultures, communities, religions and ethnicities in a wide range of countries around the world including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Peru, the United States of America, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Germany.
Also from the same report: Some 5,000 women fall victim to “honor killings” around the world every year.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that perhaps as many as 5,000 women and girls a year are killed by members of their own families. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the number of victims is about four times greater. As noted earlier it is impossible to accurately determine the number of honor killings. Because of shame and threats within the community, witnesses are not willing to speak up and the deaths are usually explained and registered as accidents or suicide. In many countries women are not even aware that a crime has occurred and they may sometimes think that the punishment is deserved.
In the modern age, the term “Honor Killing” was first used in 1978
In the modern age, the term was first used by a Dutch scholar of Turkish society, Ane Nauta in 1978. Nauta sought a term that could be used to distinguish honor killings from blood feuds.
Human Rights Watch defines “honor killings” as follows:
Honor killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonors” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.
Some women who bridge social divides, publicly engage other communities, or adopt some of the customs or the religion of an outside group may be attacked. In countries that receive immigration, some otherwise low-status immigrant men and boys have asserted their dominant patriarchal status by inflicting honor killings on women family members who have participated in public life, for example in feminist and integration politics.
Men can also be the victims of honor killings by members of the family of a woman with whom they are perceived to have an inappropriate relationship
Cultural implications can often be seen in public and private views of honor killings. In some cultures, honor killings are considered less serious than pre-meditated murders simply because they arise from long-standing cultural traditions and are thus deemed appropriate or justifiable. Additionally, according to a poll done by the BBC’s Asian network, 1 in 10 of the 500 Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Muslim surveyed, said they would condone any murder of someone who threatened their family’s honor. The poll demonstrated how the notion of honor killings and views of whether they are acceptable and justifiable crosses religion and is more contingent on the family’s social culture.
Islam is against the killing – In Islam, the right to life is an absolute value.
Tahira Shaid Khan, a professor of women’s issues at Aga Khan University, notes that there is nothing in Al Qur’an that permits or sanctions honor killings. The first and most basic right in the Qur’an that every Muslim is expected to follow is, in fact, the right to life. As written in the Qur’an.
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. “Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation (in legal punishment) of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind. And indeed, there came to them Our Messengers with clear proofs, evidence, and signs, even then after that many of them continued to exceed the limits (e.g. by doing oppression unjustly and exceeding beyond the limits set by Allâh by committing the major sins) in the land!” – Al Qur’an, Surah Al-Maidah, Verse 32.
Professor Khan instead blames it on attitudes (across different classes, ethnic and religious groups) that view women as property with no rights of their own as the motivation for honor killings. Khan also argues that this view results in violence against women and their being turned “into a commodity which can be exchanged, bought and sold.”
Widney Brown, the advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said that the practice “goes across cultures and across religions.” Human rights advocates have compared “honor killing” to “crimes of passion” in Latin America (which are sometimes treated extremely leniently) and also to the killing of women for lack of dowry in India.
Representatives of Islamist pressure groups including Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Canadian Islamic Congress, various academics (e.g., Ajay Nair, Tom Keil), activists (e.g., Rana Husseini), and religious leaders (e.g., Abdulhai Patel of the Canadian Council of Imams) have insisted that honor killings either do not exist or have nothing to do with Islam; that they are cultural, tribal, pre-Islamic customs, and that, in any event, domestic violence exists everywhere.
Western Feminists who work with the victims of domestic violence in the western countries have seen so much violence against women that they are uncomfortable singling out one group of perpetrators, especially an immigrant or Muslim group. However, Western domestic femicide differs significantly from honor killing.
No Definite Connection with Religion at all
According to Dr. Shahrzad Mojab, a University of Toronto professor of women’s studies, followers of Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity have used their religions as a rationale to commit honor killings. However, Mojab stated that honor killings don’t have “any definite connection with religion at all.” She also pointed out that honor killings have been practiced before any major religion came into existence.
Here are the analysis, observation and comments about “Honor Killings” from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). The recent tragic murders of two young British Muslim women have once again focused media and public attention on the subject of honor killings. The MCB office has received a steady stream of media enquiries seeking clarification on the stance of Islam on this subject. We have made it very clear to reporters and would like to take this opportunity to re-state that honor killings are in no way, shape or form condoned by Islam. On the contrary, Islam categorically denounces vigilantism, rather encouraging mercy, justice and the rule of law.
The Merciful (Allah SWT) is kind to those who are merciful. If you show compassion to your fellow creatures in this world, then those in heaven shall be compassionate toward you. – The Prophet MuhammadPBUH, as narrated by Abd’Allah bin Amr.
That said, it would be naive of us to bury our heads in the sand and deny that this pre-Islamic custom continues amongst some Muslims and those of other faith communities (Scotland Yard have gone on record to say that there were an estimated 12 ‘honor killings’ in the UK last year stating that these were not restricted to Muslims, but also occurred in Sikh and Christian families). For our part, we must acknowledge that this is a problem, which is found within a very small section of the British Muslim community. We at the MCB hope to work with specialists in this area to try to address this problem and the underlying issues and, God Willing, in due course to reduce the incidence of honor killing.
Why then do such tragic events occur? Let us consider the example of the Muslim man recently given a life sentence for slitting his daughter’s throat in an “Honor Killing” after she began dating a Christian. This is a tragic story of irreconcilable cultural differences between a father who had a traditional ‘Muslim’ upbringing, values and background and a daughter who had adopted non-Islamic cultural life.
But a devout Muslim who understands their religion correctly would certainly never take another life. In reality, such tragedies have nothing to do with true faith. Her father’s sense of shame at his daughter’s actions led to him taking her life in the erroneous belief that this act would redeem the family name. The concept of respect or izzat is a very strong motivating factor amongst non-Caucasian races, regardless of their religious affiliation. Its origins appear to stem from tribal, clan or village origins. This is in sharp contradistinction to the teachings of our noble religion Islam, in which it is held that all individuals are personally responsible for their own actions. Her father’s un-Islamic action is liable for punishment under Islamic law.
This practice of ‘honor killing’ is a form of murder without trial, which is contrary to Islam. Islam upholds the sanctity of human life, as the Holy Qur’an declares that killing one innocent human being is akin to killing the entire human race (Qur’an 5:32, 6:151, 17:33). Like all other faith traditions, Islam considers all forms of life as sacred. There is certainly no justification for such a practice of “Honor Killing” in Islamic Law (Shariah). It is pertinent here to consider this issue in more detail.
The Equality of Women and Men before Allah SWT
Islam considers a woman to be equal to a man as a human being and as his partner in this life. Women have been created with a soul of the same nature as man’s. Allah (SWT) says in the Holy Qur’an:
“O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam), and from him (Adam) He created his wife (Eve), and from them both He created many men and women and fear Allah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely, Allah is Ever and All-Watcher over you.” (Al-Nisa 4:1)
And in the words of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW): “Assuredly, women are the twin halves of men.” (Sahih reported by Abu-Dawud (RA)
Islam recognizes and celebrates the inherent dignity bestowed by God (Allah SWT) upon all human beings regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or religion. The Qur’an is explicit in its emphasis on the equality of women and men before God:
“And their Lord has accepted of them and answered them, “Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, whether male or female, you are members, one of another…” (3:195; see also 33:35)
Individual accountability before God is stressed throughout the Qur’an, beginning with the story of Adam and Eve: as a result of their transgression (committed together and simultaneously) they were banished from Paradise and made to toil on Earth. God chose to forgive them both and so their sin is not inherited by subsequent generations. Similarly, as exemplified in the following verse:
“Whoever chooses to follow the right path follows it but for his own good; and whoever goes astray, goes but astray to his own hurt; and no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden.” (17:15)
It is clear that one individual, no matter how guilty, cannot transfer that guilt to another. So for a woman who does engage in illicit sexual activity (Zina), she and she alone bears the consequences as determined by God.
The problem of “honor killings” is not a problem of morality or of ensuring that women maintain their own personal virtue; rather, it is a problem of domination, power and hatred of women who, in these instances, are viewed as nothing more than servants to the family, both physically and symbolically.
And the sad consequences of this domination are that thousands of girls and women across the globe (although mostly centered in the Middle East) are murdered by male family members each year in the name of family honor. Honor killings are executed for instances of rape, infidelity, flirting or any other instance perceived as disgracing the family’s honor, and the woman is then killed by a male relative to restore the family’s name in the community. Many women are killed based on suspicions of a family member and are not given the chance to defend themselves. The allegation alone is enough to defile a man’s or family’s honor and is therefore enough to justify the killing of the woman. The men who commit the murder typically go unpunished or receive reduced sentences.
Honor killing is actually a pre-Islamic, tribal custom
Honor killings have been reported in Afghanistan, Albania, Belgium, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the United Kingdom, Egypt, France, Gaza Strip, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Switzerland, Syria, United States, and the West Bank.
Honor killings tend to be prevalent in countries with a majority Muslim population, but many Islamic leaders and scholars condemn the practice and deny that it is based on religious doctrine. Honor killing is actually a pre-Islamic, tribal custom stemming from the patriarchal and patrilineal society’s interest in keeping strict control over familial power structures.
Because these crimes often go unreported, it is difficult to determine the actual number of victims in honor killings. The United Nations Population Fund estimates as many as 5000 females being killed each year.
Islam is clear on its prohibition of sexual relationships outside of marriage. This prohibition does not distinguish between men and women, even though, in some countries, women are uniformly singled out for punishment of sexual crimes while the men, even rapists, may be treated with impunity. In order for a case to even be brought before a Muslim court, several strict criteria must be met. The most important is that any accusation of illicit sexual behavior must have been seen by four witnesses; and they must have been witness to the act of sexual intercourse itself. Other forms of intimacy do not constitute zina and therefore are not subject to any legal consequences even though they are not appropriate and are considered sinful.
On the other hand, a woman falsely accused of zina has in her support the Qur’an, which spells out harsh consequences for those accusers who are unable to support their allegations with four witnesses. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing of God be upon him) was known for his clemency, even if the accusations met the criteria, for he recognized the seriousness of the matter. In addition, there is no evidence whatsoever that he condoned any form of retribution that singled out women and he was swift to ensure that those accused of any crime received due process to guarantee justice. It is important to know that all innocent lives are equal in Islam.
There is no difference between the rich and the poor, the man and the woman, the free and the slave. All are equal in the eyes of God:
“…if any one slew a person -unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land -it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people…(The Qur’an 5:32)”
From the above Noble Verses, we see that if you kill one innocent soul (whether it was a Muslim soul or not), then it is like committing a crime against all people. We also see that God Almighty considers the innocent soul as a “sacred” soul.
The Distortion of Islam
Unfortunately, the legal safeguards to protect women and men from indiscriminate and unlawful enforcement of presumed Islamic injunctions have been forgotten Indeed, the legal system and law enforcement agencies including police officers and prison guards, have been implicated in the perpetuation of the problem by their willful lenience towards men who have carried out an assault in the name of “honor” and by their abuse and denigration of women who stand accused.
Muslims today must unequivocally reject this distortion of Islam that is used to violate the most basic Islamic rights of human decency, integrity and justice. Unwillingness on the part of the Muslim community to address these issues in a forthright and unapologetic manner is borne out of an inherent distrust of perceived “Western” attempts to taint the image of Islam in the interest of global politics. This is no excuse for us to turn a blind eye to injustices committed against Muslims and others, especially when the perpetrators are members of the same faith.
Confronting the problem of “honor killings” and other crimes that disproportionately affect women requires a change in attitude that pervades all levels of society where such attacks occur. Muslim leaders can provide an important example to their followers by taking an unequivocal stand against behavior that is in direct violation of Islam. Attempts must be made to change the socio-cultural beliefs that underpin honor killings. Concomitant attention must be paid to meeting basic socioeconomic needs and solving problems stemming from deprivation, unemployment and poor education that are often at the root of disturbing social trends that seek out the most disenfranchised to serve as scapegoats.
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: For God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (Qur’an 4:135)
We must combat the woeful disrespect for human life in a variety of ways. We have to change some cultural and societal perceptions of the place and value of women in our society according to the Islamic value system. We must commit ourselves to a multi-faceted approach to changing the minds, and hearts of those who limit women’s potential or their worth and status in our society. Islamic true values must be upheld at all cost. The practice of honor killing must be condemned and the true teaching of Islam must be upheld. (Source: The Muslim Council of Britain).
Honor Killings in the Bible
Many Christians are often fond of accusing Muslims of committing several honor killings in the name of Islam; they then use this line of argument as a reason to discredit Islam in their eyes. In this article we shall once again turn the table on the Christian showing that honor killings can be found in the Bible, and that the Bible is for honor killings! Hence by their own criteria, Christians will have to abandon their own book.
Let us now see the honor killings in the Bible:
Lev 21:9 And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.
So note, if the priest’s daughter commits a bad sexual act, she is to be burned because of her fathers reputation, because it is against his honor. What will the Christian say now? This is one example of honor killing in the Bible, in fact the act is ordered by the Bible itself.
“And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 21:17)”
“For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him. (Leviticus 20:9)”
So here the children are put to death for insulting their parents, this is another example of honor killings, the children are put to death for dis-honoring their very own parents and the punishment is death.
So we have seen 3 examples of honor killings in the Bible, so since Christians always have a problem with honor killings and say Islam is wrong because of some Muslims who commit this act, then the Bible is also wrong for allowing honor killings which also makes their own God wrong, and if God is wrong then he cant be God because God is always correct. Either way the Christian is in a bad dilemma.
What Must Be Done
‘Honor’ killing is a global phenomenon. To combat the epidemic of honor killings requires understanding what makes these murders unique. They differ from plain and psychopathic homicides, serial killings, crimes of passion, revenge killings, and domestic violence. Their motivation is different and based on codes of morality and behavior that typify some cultures, often reinforced by fundamentalist religious dictates. In 2000, the United Nations estimated that there are 5,000 honor killings every year. In 2002 and again in 2004, the U.N. brought a resolution to end honor killings and other honor-related crimes.
How can this problem be addressed? Law enforcement agencies and religious authorities must all be included in education, prevention, and prosecution efforts in the matter of honor killings.
In addition, shelters for battered girls and women should be established and multilingual staff appropriately trained in the facts about honor killings. For example, young Muslim girls are frequently lured back home by their mothers. When a shelter resident receives such a phone call, the staff must immediately go on high alert. The equivalent of a federal witness protection program for the intended targets of honor killings should be created; England has already established such a program. Extended safe surrogate family networks must be created to replace existing family networks; the intended victims themselves, with enormous assistance, may become each other’s “sisters.”
The government in each country should adopt appropriate legislative, legal and financial measures in order to prevent and punish honor killings and to assist the victims. However, much more importantly, what is needed is a change in consciousness and it can only be achieved through education on the one hand and economic development on the other. (HSH)
1. MCB Direct position statement on Honor Killings http://www.mcb.org.uk
2. Muslim Women’s League, USA Position Paper on Honor Killings
5. “Honor Killings in the Bible” written by Sami Zaatari
Acknowledgement: I would like to express my gratitude to my friend Ghinwa M. Al-hamdan who help me much in gathering many facts and information about “honor killing” for this article.