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Honor Killings Are Against Islam
Widespread and brutal crime is a gender issue
Smita Poudel (smita)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-09-17 12:55 (KST)   
Honor killings are perhaps the most severe of all suppressive acts against women. The term honor killing refers to the murder of a woman because she has committed adultery, been involved in a love affair, married against the approval of her family or has committed, or is suspected to have committed, some other sexual offense.

My endeavors to write about these merciless acts are the product of the pain I have felt for the eternal endurance of these women.

The most bitter truth is that the murderers are none other than members of the woman's family, usually brothers, fathers, cousins or other male relatives.

The murderers justify their crime with the belief that the woman's acts have brought shame and dishonor to the family, and that in order to cleanse that vice she must be killed. They take this as an undeniable fact.

The U.N. estimates that up to 5,000 honor killings take place every year. They happen across the world, in rural India and urban North America. Muslims, Sikhs and Christians are guilty of the act, but in the media it is Islam that is most frequently associated with this brutal and unpardonable crime.

I will show in this article that honor killings are not, as many people mistakenly believe, the product of Islam.

Like many people I used to think that honor killings were supported by Islam. Some years ago now I heard the story of a Muslim girl who fled from her family because her brothers were looking for her in order to kill her.

The reason?

She had had an affair with a foreign guy of some other religion. When her family found out about it, they chased her to kill her in order to cleanse their name of her "vice."

She took refuge in a European country and after many years wrote the story of her suffering. At that time I thought she was the victim of religious rules.

Many years passed before I thought about honor killings again, then on the Web site of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) I read about an 18-year-old girl alleged to be a victim of an honor killing.

There are thousands of such incidents. Sometimes women are murdered because they were simply talking to a man, other times because they are thought to have dishonored their families by being victims of rape.

According to Hillary Mayell writing for National Geographic News:

"In a widely reported case in March of 1999, a 16-year-old mentally retarded girl who was raped in the Northwest Frontier province of Pakistan was turned over to her tribe's judicial council. Even though the crime was reported to the police and the perpetrator was arrested, the Pathan tribesmen decided that she had brought shame to her tribe and she was killed in front of a tribal gathering."

Many sad examples of honor killings can be found on the Web site of the International Campaign Against Honour Killings.

Because the popular perception associates Islam with honor killings I decided to find out what Islam really has to say about it.

The first point that must be made is that tyranny over women is not confined to Islamic cultures and it predates Islam. For centuries women across the world have been treated as less than human. Domestic violence and the murder of women by their husbands and boyfriends are a very common problem in the West, just as they are in the East.

Honor killings come about because the women live in cultures where they and their sexuality are treated as family property. In many past and present cultures in the Islamic and non-Islamic world enormous value has been placed on female virginity and chastity. The cultural concept is still so strong in many places that one can say that the situation is almost hopeless.

Matthew Goldstein records that the Codes of Hammurabi and Assura, written in 1780 BC and 1075 BC respectively, are some of the earliest set of laws prescribing that a woman's virginity belongs to the family. In the code of Assura it says:

"If a virgin of her own accord give herself to a man, the man shall take oath, against his wife they shall not draw nigh. Threefold the price of a virgin the ravisher shall pay. The father shall do with his daughter what he pleases."

Goldstein also notes that honor killings were permitted in ancient Rome. He writes that female adultery was a felony and that the state "actively prosecuted" male family members who did not "take action" against the women in their family. Shockingly, the Roman statesman Cato said:

"If you catch your wife in adultery, you can kill her with impunity..."

These examples all predate Islam.

The Muslims who participate in honor killings try to justify the act as following Islam and the instruction of Allah, but they are wrong. Islamic law (Sharia) is against the act because the family should refer to the law rather than carrying out their own punishment.

Islamic law prescribes severe punishments for extramarital sex, by both men and women. The crime of zina (consensual extra-marital intercourse) is a Hadd (very serious) crime mentioned in the Koran. But the Koran specifically requires four eyewitnesses to prove the crime of zina. There is no evidence unless there are witnesses.

Islam does not give any family member the right to carry out a punishment for zina unless it has been proved legally, let alone commit an honor killing. Honor killing is not mentioned anywhere in the Koran.

"A judge can only impose the Hadd punishment when a person confesses to the crime or there are enough witnesses to the crime." (Web site)

The Koran gives Muslim women the full freedom to choose their own marriage partner, so honor killings for this act are not Islamic.

The damages to the reputation of Islam arises in the fact that despite having no justification to do so, the governments of some Muslim countries have either provided the legal basis for honor killings, or have stayed silent. They are going against Islam.

For example in Syria, article 548 of the penal code exempts men from penalty if they kill their wives or women after finding that they have been unfaithful.

However, the Syrians and their press are campaigning to amend the article. This will weaken the argument of those who say that Islamic people do not care about women's rights. The campaign against the article can be followed here.

Islamic scholars say that none of the religious laws can justify honor killing. Now the question that remains is what is the solid ground upon which the crime has been continued?

The people who are committing or allowing these crimes are tainting the name of Islam with unrelated cultural and social practices. It is better to say that they are not practicing Muslims at all.

Whatever justification these criminals give for honor killing they are simply evil men carrying out the global tradition of suppressing women. It is not a religious issue, it is a gender issue.
Further reading:
A Muslim's view on Honor Killing.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Smita Poudel

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