Saturday, June 10, 2006

No Honor in Honor Killings

Honor killings are a time honored tradition that have taken place in all areas of the world from Europe and the Americas, to Africa and the Middle East and almost all places in between. While we have seen many places make strides to abolish this practice, it is still a problem happening across the world.

The countries most notorious for honor killings are Middle Eastern countries or “Muslim” countries such as Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine (although India is not an “Arab” or “Muslim” country it too ranks very high in international honor killing statistics). This however leads to the general impressions that honor killings are somehow related to the Islam which feeds into a general xenophobic mentality against Islam and Muslims; and this phenomenon is used by the racists and the religious dogmatist alike as yet another stick with which to beat Muslims, attempting to characterize these murders as condoned by Islam and Muslims.

“Who receiveth guidance, receiveth it for his own benefit: who goeth astray doth so to his own loss: No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another: nor would We visit with Our Wrath until We had sent an messenger” Surah Al-Isra 17:15

The above mentioned verse clearly demonstrates that in Islam a Muslims understand the basic principle of “No person bears the sins of another” because we know Allah is “Ar-Rahim” the most merciful. If there is no burden or sin to be endured by the family, then their can be no dishonor done to them; surely no dishonor worthy of the death penalty.

“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.” Surah 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

The custom of Honor Killings is purely a cultural tradition that predates Islam; Honor Killings are not even unique to Muslims societies, and are not even indicative of all Muslim countries. The extent of cultures following the 'honor ethic' is more geographical than ideological, comprising the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean regions.

This tradition or custom must stop, there is no reason any civilized person should continue to practice such acts, and moreover it goes against the most fundamental beliefs in Islam. I leave you with this Surah which was brought to my attention by a good friend:

“The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practise regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise.” Surah At Tawba 9:71

And with this final thought in the mode of socio-linguistics I tell you “Forgive” is mentioned 69 times in the Quran and 111 times in Sahih Bukhari while “Revenge” is mentioned just twice in the Quran and only 12 times in Sahih Bukhari.

Honour killings outside the world of Islam

In India, for example, many such murders are committed by Hindus and Sikhs. For some Hindus, an honor 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 agonizing deaths. Most cases in India occur in Punjab and Haryana (in which two provinces one out of every ten murders is an honor 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.

Honor 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. Honor killing was only abolished as a specific category in Italy in 1981, and murders in the name of honor 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 honor 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 honor at the present time.

Even within the Middle East, honor 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.