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Does Islam Justify Honor Killings?

Debate rages over whether religion or culture is behind such brutal murders.

by
Supna Zaidi

Bio

September 27, 2008 - 12:10 am
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Sandela Kanwal wanted a divorce for unknown reasons. Maybe her husband in Chicago was a wife-beater. Maybe she just didn’t like him. We don’t know. For months, she had been trying to get her father to end her unhappy marriage and in July 2008 Sandela tried again. This time, Chaudhry Rashad strangled his daughter to death. When the police arrived, he stated that he did nothing wrong and later demanded that he be provided halal food while in jail.

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 Pakistan and India, and often is not even seen in Islamic communities. It’s basically part of the ignorance of the tribal community.

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 Italy, which were carried out by Catholics. She notes that these killings are often done with the name of “Allah dripping from their lips.”

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 Saudi Arabia. For example, tenth-grade textbooks teach Saudi children that it is permissible to kill adulterers. In April 2008, a girl was killed by her father for talking to a boy on Facebook, an online social networking website. A leading Saudi cleric, Sheikh Ali al-Maliki, was outraged that girls had access to such websites where they could post pictures of themselves and otherwise “behave badly,” but showed no concern over the girl actually killed.

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