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Honor Killings in Islam

December 17, 2007

kr’s note: More than a month and half since the last post… Been traveling around the country for the past two months. January 2008 will hopefully mark the third coming of this blog.

New Islamic Directions
Islam and Honor Killings (Revised)
by Imam Zaid Shakir
13 December 2007

For
that reason, we ordained for the Children of Israel that whoever kills
a soul for other than murder or spreading corruption in the land, it is
as if he has killed the whole of humanity
… Qur’an 5:35
One of
the gravest charges levied against Islam, in terms of its alleged
antipathy towards women, is the claim that it encourages a phenomenon
known as honor killings. This un-Islamic practice consists of the
murder of female family members who are seen as dishonoring their
families through real or perceived acts of indiscretion, such as
premarital sexual relations or unapproved dating. This charge has been
intensified recently due to the tragic murder of a Pakistani Canadian
teenage girl, Aqsa Parvez.
The practice of honor killings has
absolutely no sanction in the Qur’an, the Prophetic practice, or in the
evolved systems of Islamic law. In the case of fornication or adultery,
the only way a charge can be levied against an individual, male or
female, is through confession, which is discouraged, or by four people
actually witnessing the male organ penetrating the female. Even if four
people witnessed a naked man engaged with a naked woman, but could not
actually testify that they witnessed penetration, their testimony would
be rejected.
In
a somewhat related issue, it should be noted that in three of the four
Sunni schools of law, as is the case with all of the major Shiite
schools, pregnancy is not a proof of fornication, as the possibility of
rape exists in such a case. Therefore, if a single woman were to become
pregnant, according to the overwhelming majority of Islamic jurists,
there is no basis for punishing her. In the few well-publicized
instances where a pregnant woman has been threatened with death, the
minority opinion of the Maliki School of law was unjustly evoked, as
occurred in Nigeria, or criminal malfeasance occurred as is the case in Pakistan
In
the case of dating, there is no Islamically-mandated punishment for a
male or a female seeing a member of the opposite sex against the wishes
of their families. Such situations should be handled with counseling,
compassion and a healthy dose of common sense. Muslim immigrants who
have migrated to the West should realize that they have placed their
children in an environment where there is a tremendous amount of
anti-Islamic peer pressure. This is especially true if they have placed
their children, as was the case of the young lady who was recently
murdered in Canada,
in public schools. Children who succumb to that pressure should not be
seen as “bad” kids, for by the standards of the society that has shaped
them, no matter how strong their home environment is, they are normal. 
To kill a female guilty of an offense such as dating or dressing like
her peers under such circumstances is nothing short of cold-blooded
murder, and no Islamic authority can argue otherwise.
The
overwhelming majority of Muslim societies are free from the practice of
honor killing, although it does endure in some parts of the Middle East and South Asia. According to statistics released by the United Nations
in 2000 there are approximately 5,000 deaths annually from “honor”
killings. Even if one killing occurred due to such barbarity, it would
be one too many, as the Qur’an emphasizes.
However,
to use the existence of such killings to smear Islam shows the
desperation and misplaced priorities of many of those levying such
attacks. Most of those deaths are the pathetic acts of sick
individuals, who are far removed from the letter, as we have shown
above, and the spirit of Islam. An example of such an individual is
Muhammad Riaz, a British Muslim of South Asian descent who died as a
result of a fire he set to burn to death his wife and four daughters,
allegedly because his wife resisted his attempt to arrange marriages
for his daughters. His wife and daughters did perish in that fire. To
present Riaz, whose daughters had neither fornicated nor dated, as
anything other than a sick individual is a sad attempt to defame Islam.

To attack Islam from this angle is a case of misplaced priorities
because it can distract attention from far graver abuses of women that
demand immediate redress. For example, the State Department estimates
that approximately 800,000 women and girls are trafficked as sexual
slaves annually. The overwhelming majority of these females are taken
from and sent to nominally Christian countries.
Over the last five years well over one thousand women have been kidnapped and then gruesomely murdered in Guatemala.
Their bodies usually turn up after a few days, mutilated and in some
instances with messages such as “death to bitches” written on them. To
date only three men have been incarcerated in connection with those
attacks. Would it proper for us to infer from that situation the
conclusion that the “Christians” of Guatemala, an overwhelmingly Christian nation, have no regard for the suffering of their women? Of course it would not.
At
the end of the day, attacks such as the one that resulted in the death
of Aqsa Parvez are acts of domestic violence resulting from rage that
emanates from a total neglect of Islamic teachings. Ms. Parvez lost her
life due to such violence and perhaps there are a few other instances
where Muslims women in Canada
or here in the United States, have been similarly victimized. However,
these instances should be kept in perspective. In the United States
there are approximately 1,200 women killed every year by their husbands
or intimate partners. There are other “Christian” nations where murders
of this type are even higher.
The United States, Guatemala,
and other countries we could mention where similar abuses occur are
Christian nations. However, it would be disingenuous to use such
statistics as an indictment against Christianity. These issues are an
affront to humanity and require our collective attention. Until we all
view the problem this way, we are in jeopardizing the health and
integrity of our society.
Saying this is not to minimize the
gravity of so-called honor killings to the extent that they do occur in
Muslim societies. As Muslims, we are commanded to be committed to
justice. That commitment entails that as a community we oppose in the
strongest terms “honor” killings and take immediate action to end such
a practice in our communities.
Practical steps include the following:
1. Emphasize that such killings have no sanction in the Qur’an, the Prophetic practice, or in Islamic law.
2. Declare anyone guilty of involvement
in honor killings to be a cold-blooded murderer.
3. Encourage judicial authorities to enact the harshest penalties possible for anyone accused of involvement in such killings.
4.
Educate our Muslim communities, especially in the West, about the
un-Islamic nature of honor killings, and the pressures, nuances,
challenges and complications facing young Muslims, male and female in
the West.
5. Work to eliminate the double standards, and to expose
the hypocrisy that exist in our communities, generally, concerning
attitudes and standards relating to the indiscretions of males as
opposed to females.
In conclusion, Islam honors the female, and
values femininity. It is up to every Muslim to translate teachings in
that regard into a beautiful reality that helps to elevate the status
of women in all societies. Honor killings, domestic violence in
general, murders of the type terrorizing women in Guatemala,
female sexual slavery and trafficking, pornography, especially its more
violent manifestations, are all crimes against humanity that we should
oppose in the strongest terms and work strenuously to eliminate. If our
women are not safe, psychically, emotionally, spiritually, or
psychologically we are all at risk, for without women men are
incomplete, and without men women are incomplete. Our Prophet, peace
and blessings of God upon him alluded to this complementariness when he
said, peace upon him, “Women are the complimenting halves of men.” Let
us all work harder to make our societies whole.

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One Comment
  1. A timely and insightful post

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