Honour killing outside the world of Islam


Many of the countries most notorious for honour killing are Arab or Muslim countries; Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine. This feeds a general impression that honour killing is somehow related to Islam, which feeds into a general xenophobia against Muslims; and the phenomenon is used by racists and xenophobes as yet another stick with which to beat Muslims, attempting to characterise these murders as a 'pious act', approved by Islam.

There is, however, no single text in the Quran that justifies these crimes. By contrast, in the Bible, Numbers 26:6-8 show God approving Phineas's public murder of a couple who marry outside tribal boundaries. Most Muslims reject honour killing as a brutal distortion of Islam; discussions of this in terms of the spiritual texts of Islam can be found at the Muslim Women's League, by Dr Mohammed Fadel and at alt.muslim, amongst many others. Many Muslim scholars and clerics have condemned such crimes as a vile and backward distortion of their faith.

Like all other religions, Islam strictly prohibits murder and killing without legal justification. Allah, Most High, says, “Whoso slayeth a believer of set purpose, his reward is Hell for ever. Allah is wroth against him and He hath cursed him and prepared for him an awful doom.” (An-Nisa’: 93) The so-called “honor killing” is based on ignorance and disregard of morals and laws, which cannot be abolished except by disciplinary punishments. Sheikh `Atiyyah Saqr former head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee

Moreover, the custom predates the Islamic faith, and is by no means unique to Muslim cultures; also, there is little evidence of honour crime occurring in other Muslim countries such as Indonesia. The extent of cultures following the 'honour ethic' is more geographical than ideological, comprising the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean regions.

In India, for example, many such murders are committed by Hindus and Sikhs. For some Hindus, an honour killing may be motivated by a woman marrying across caste boundaries. In 2003, a young couple who fell in love at University and contracted a secret marriage. Her family disapproved of the match due to his low status in the caste system. They were both forced to drink poison with scores of witnesses to their agonising deaths. Most cases in India occur in Punjab and Haryana (in which two provinces one out of every ten murders is an honour killing) and parts of western Uttar Pradesh. Many of these murders are ordered by an informal judicial system of caste panchayat, which is a self-proclaimed body consisting of village elders, from which women are excluded. Mangal Singh, a Sikh interviewed in Amritsar, claimed that the 17 women and children killed within his family were willing 'martyrs' in the name of family pride.

Honour killing also happens in Christian communities in the Mediterranean and other regions. The culture of Ancient Rome allowed the father to kill his children if he deemed necessary. Honour killing was only abolished as a specific category in Italy in 1981, and murders in the name of honour still occur in the country. In 2006, Bruna Morito was shot six times in the face by her brother for bearing a child outside marriage. In Brazil, men could be acquitted for murdering their wives up until 1991, and there have been 800 recorded such murders in a single year. Even in 1991, a lower court ignored the ruling of the Supreme Court and acquitted Joao Lopes for the double homicide of his wife and her lover. In fact, the opposition of the woman as the vessel of familial honour and the man as its protector was widespread throughout the southern European region, although it is not clear how many murders are committed in the name of honour at the present time.

Even within the Middle East, honour killing is not restricted to Muslims. In Yemen, a Jewish father killed his daughter after a rebuke from the rabbi for her extra-marital pregnancy, and in Palestine, in 2005, Faten Habash was beaten to death with an iron bar, wielded by her Christian father because she wanted to marry her Muslim boyfriend.

While there is no Quranic justification for honour killing, it is unfortunately true that many of the perpetrators believe themselves justified by their faith. All religions are influenced by the patriarchal culture under which they were created and so codify some of the oppressive practises of their time. All religions are interpreted by reactionary elements who wish to defend and retain patriarchal dominance. It is in the name of Christianity that reactionary elements in some American states and European countries restrict abortion rights; it was in the name of Islam that reactionary elements in Jordan and Pakistan blocked legal amendments which would have closed loopholes that allow honour killers to escape with token punishment. As Nilofar Bakhtiar, adviser to Pakistan's prime minister on Women's' Development says, men find it "very convenient to say that what they don't want to do is against Islam and what they want to do is in the name of Islam."


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