By Rob L. Wagner
The tragic deaths of Aqsa Parvez and Amina and Sarah Said have raised the specter of honor killings within the Muslim communities in Ontario, Canada, and in Texas. The leading newspapers in Toronto, Dallas and Fort Worth have been circumspect in their coverage but it hasn’t stemmed the scorn heaped on Muslims from readers and television viewers who see these murders through the prism of religion and 9/11.
To many, these three very Westernized teenage girls were killed because their fathers believed they brought shame on the families. The Parvez and Said families have been unequivocal in their statements to the media that the slayings were not honor killings and had nothing to do with religion. Islam Said, brother of Amina, 18, and Sarah, 17, clearly has no sympathy for his father, Yaser, accused of killing his daughters. He told local media that, “I just hope he turns himself in because, you know, he messed up the whole family.”
These assertions have been dismissed as either denial or just plain lying to protect the perpetrators of these crimes. Curiously, the harshest critics of Islam know that the Qur’an and Sharia make no mention of honor killings and condemn murder.
It’s pointless to quote the Qur’an’s condemnation of murder or to point out the numerous passages in the Bible that condone killing women who dishonor men or God. Nor will I provide a history lesson on the patriarchal societies, Muslim and non-Muslim, that encourages these kinds of crimes. Rather, I will focus on the evidence at hand that clearly demonstrates the insidious nature of honor killings that crosses religious, cultural and gender boundaries.
It’s impossible to simplify the complex nature of honor killings by labeling it a religious or cultural disease. No one can make a case that honor killing is a religious issue because there is no justification for it in the Qur’an or Sharia and it occurs in all religions.
If honor killings were strictly a Muslim issue, how can it be explained that such murders are virtually unheard of in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, and in Saudi Arabia, the land of the two holy mosques and the most conservative Muslim country? In fact, the evidence is overwhelming that not only are Muslims responsible for only a portion of honor killings but the killings are committed on a global scale that includes Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and people of no faith.
The latest example of a non-Muslim honor killing occurred Dec. 29 in Oak Forest, Illinois, when Subhash Chander, an Indian, set a fire that killed his pregnant daughter, his son-in-law and his 3-year-old grandson because he disapproved of his daughter’s marriage. Chander was upset with his daughter and her husband because they had married without his consent and that Kumar was from a lower caste in India than Rani’s family.
Yet these murders received little attention outside the Chicago area and virtually none from critics attacking Muslims for perceived honor killings. These critics ignore the universal nature of honor killings. In September 2006, the BBC conducted a poll that found that honor killings crossed all religions. The poll of 500 Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims found that one in 10 believed that honor killings are justified. It’s also impossible to argue that it’s a geographical or cultural phenomenon because these murders transcend all cultures. And it’s not even a gender issue since many women are complicit in the planning and execution of the murders and that many victims are men. Amnesty International says that “females in the family – mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, and cousins – frequently support the attacks. It’s a community mentality.”
Islam Online reported in January 2007 that between 2000 and 2006 about 4,000 Pakistanis were slain in honor killings. An estimated 2,774 of the victims were women and 1,226 were men. Also consider that within one five-year period, more than 1,000 women were kidnapped and murdered in Guatemala. Their bodies were usually mutilated and in some cases “death to bitches” were written on them.
And in Juarez, Mexico, hundreds of women were kidnapped, murdered and buried. The killers remain free. In 2006 a Catholic Italian man shot his sister to death for having a child out of wedlock. Up until 1991, men in Brazil could be absolved of killing their wives over honor. In Yemen, a Jewish father killed his daughter after a rabbi complained that she had a child from an affair. And a Christian father beat his daughter to death in 2005 in Palestine because she wanted to marry a Muslim. Last year in Bashika, Mosul, a 17-year-old woman, a member of the Yezidi religion was stoned to death for having an Arab Muslim boyfriend.
UNICEF reports that more than 5,000 non-Muslim women are killed in so-called dowry deaths each year in India because their in-laws consider their dowries inadequate. Human Rights Watch considers dowry deaths the same as honor killings because of similar dynamics in which the victims are killed by male members of the family and because the crimes are excused or understood by the community.
Further evidence that Islam as either a religion or a culture is not responsible for many of these murders is that some governments approve of honor killings. Jordan and Syria, for example, are governments made up of secular laws. Jordan, in particular, has a mishmash of codes that include Islamic, tribal, European and some international laws.
The Qur’an, unlike in Saudi Arabia, does not serve as the constitution of these two countries. And neither use Sharia. Rather, legislation exists that provides minimal or no punishment to murders committed in the name of family honor. As a result, an estimated 200 to 300 honor killings are committed in Syria each year. About 25 honor slayings are committed annually in Jordan and about 60 a year in Turkey, another Muslim country that is governed by secular laws. If anger is to be directed to those responsible for encouraging honor killings it should be the governments that allow legislation to be passed that protects the killers.
Do Muslims as a rule condone honor killings? Of course not. Syria’s grand mufti, cleric Ahmad Hassoun, has condemned the crime as un-Islamic. Forty Pakistani religious scholars issued a joint fatwa in 2006 against honor killings, branding the practice as contrary to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. And last summer Lebanon’s Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah issued a fatwa banning honor killings, characterizing the practice as a “repulsive act.”
In 2000, members of the Jordanian royal family led 4,000 demonstrators in protest against Jordanian laws that allow men who kill in the name of honor to go free. And Queen Rania has been a tireless critic of Jordanian laws protecting honor killers and has waged a campaign to repeal those laws.
Given that honor killings are a global phenomenon and not isolated to Muslims, how do critics justify their anger toward only one group? They can’t, but it won’t stop them from letting the facts get in the way of their agenda.
We live in a society that labels and demonizes certain groups to justify their hatred. Americans, in particular, have a nasty habit throughout history of targeting specific groups – from the American Indian to Japanese-Americans to communists and now Muslims – to justify their fear and anger. There is no logic to it. It makes no sense. But it makes people feel as if they are helping their country by attacking perceived enemies.