Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Why Islam Is Responsible For Honour Killings

In the past month alone, there have been dozens of cases from around the world of so-called "honour killings", where men, often explicitly in the name of Islam, have murdered or attempted to murder female relatives over matters of religious and cultural honour.

Today, the Jerusalem Post reports that a Gaza man is being held on suspicion that he bludgeoned his daughter to death with an iron chain because he discovered she owned a mobile phone.

Also reported today, a Maghrebi Muslim in Spain stabbed his daughter 20 times because he allegedly believed that she had a non-Muslim boyfriend.

On the 21st of the month, it was reported that a German man of Afghan origin stabbed his daughter "in the name of the Koran".

Also this month, an Afghan family is believed to have plotted an honour killing in Canada.

In Jordan recently, there has been a spree of honour killings.

In Saudi Arabia, two sisters were shot dead by their own brother.

And so on, and so on.

What does this have to do with Islam, you may ask? Isn't honour killing a cultural practice rather than an Islamic one?

There is no doubt that honour killing is not limited exclusively to Muslims. However, it is practised widely in Muslim societies today - even in the West. And as we can see from some of the articles above, many of the perpetrators imbue their acts with religious significance.

Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveler) is a classic manual of Islamic law from the Middle Ages. In 1991, it was authorised by Al-Azhar University, the highest spiriual authority in Sunni Islam, as conforming "to the
practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community”. And this manual says specifically that Muslim fathers who kill their children incur no penalty under Islamic law: "Retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right...The following are not subject to retaliation:...a father or mother (or their fathers of mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring's offspring..." Why would that be?

In 2003, the Jordanian Parliament rejected a new law which was designed to introduce harsher penalties for honour killings. And according to Al Jazeera, they did so on Islamic grounds: "Islamists and conservatives said the laws violated religious traditions and would destroy families and values."

There is no denying the fact that the actual theological justification for honour killing in Islam is very slim. The general culture of shame and honour prevalent in the Arab world and perpetuated by Islam is a bigger driving force. However, the Islamic component is certainly there, and is almost certainly generating more cases of honour killing in Muslim communities than there would otherwise be. Until moderate Muslim communities begin to address these Islamic elements (which they are currently not doing), honour killing in the name of Islam will continue.

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