Does Islam Justify Honor Killings?
by Supna Zaidi
Sandela Kanwal wanted a divorce
for unknown reasons. Maybe her husband in
What kind of an ideology causes a man to show no remorse for murdering his own daughter, but rants and raves at being served ham sandwiches while in prison? The media picked up the story quickly and asked, "Is Islam to blame?"
On CNN, Zuhdi Jasser, of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, tried to paint Rashad as a backward cultural aberration, stating:
It [the honor killing of
Sandela] has nothing to do with Islam. This is a tribal, medieval mentality
that is seen in tribes in
On Fox News, Irshad Manji, on
the other hand, stated that these killings are often done in the name of Allah
and compared them to honor killings in the last century in
The media and moderate Muslims like Jasser and Manji miss the point. The victim was not Islam but a 25-year-old girl. An honor killing is defined as the murder of a girl or woman who has allegedly committed an act that has shamed and embarrassed her family. For the family to show its community that it has reasserted control, the woman is killed. Thus, "harm to reputation" is a partial or complete defense to murder. No passage in the Koran discusses honor killings, but Muslim clerics justify them and secular Muslims either do not punish them or pass laws to mitigate punishment for them. With this, Muslims make honor killings a part of Islam.
Honor killings are justified
under Islam in some Muslim countries such as
Honor killings are justified as
a necessary part of culture in other Muslim countries such as
Leaving honor killings at the
doorstep of illiterate villagers, as Jasser does, ignores the problem on a
humane level in favor of intellectual debate. The more secular, educated elites
of Muslim countries may not be so backward as to commit such crimes themselves,
but they know it is happening and prefer to look the other way. The upper and
middle classes have a responsibility as civic and political leaders to defend
women through education, the law, and enforcement of meaningful punishments.
The "Qatif Girl" case in
Irshad Manji's analysis hit closer to the truth, but is incomplete. By bringing in Catholic honor killings a century ago, Manji throws in the "you too" defense — the "you" being the West — and implies that such murders will fall out of favor as societies modernize and become more secular.
Neither Jasser nor Manji addresses the issue of accountability. Chaudhry Rashad was not raised in a vacuum. If moderates reinforce the line that honor killings are "dripping" with Allah or are part of Eastern culture, those prone to such violent acts will continue on the same path. No Muslim will claim theological authority to enforce change from the mosque. Nor will Muslims be forced to act now if the implication from Manji is that culture takes centuries to evolve. But if everyone starts pointing the finger at Muslim society collectively and asks, "why do you let this happen?" maybe change will finally come.
Such reorientation away from divine "Islam" to fallible, human "Muslims" would move violence such as honor killings from the margins of society into the spotlight.
This will allow the current tangential debate of whether such killings are religious or cultural to finally end so we can focus on the girls who continue to be killed daily.
Supna Zaidi is assistant
director of Islamist Watch,
a project of the
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