Anver Emon on Honour Killings

Anver M. Emon of the UofT Faculty blog shares an editorial he published in the National Post recently on the case of Aqsa Pervez.

As a professor of Islamic law, I teach my students about its history, doctrines and modes of analysis. We shift back and forth from common law reasoning to Islamic doctrines. We analyze the differences between the values of the Islamic system and our own value commitments.

Although he does a great job of explaining that there is no basis for these practices in Islamic law, he fails to identify that the tradition this draws from is a cultural one that predates Islam.

An Ancient Code

Honor killingsLaura Jamison explains this pheonomenon in Legalized Murder, in Amnesty International Magazine. She quotes Norma Khouri, a Christian Arab and author of Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan:

The tradition underlying honor killing defines a woman’s chastity as her family’s property. It “comes from our ancient tribal days, from the Hammurabi and Assyrian tribes of 1200 B.C.,” Khouri explains. (In Pakistan, it is said to be a Baloch and Pashtun tribal custom). “This practice predates Islam and Christianity. Christian women are being killed this way, too.”

When honour killings, as they are often termed, occur in more pluralistic societies, their occurance is often higher in rural non-Muslim Arab communities than Muslim communities around the world.

Bassam Al-Qadhi, journalist and activist, states that religion is not a factor in the killings,

The idea is a societal one, and isn’t linked to particular sects. It doesn’t have a religious basis, but rather a social inheritance.


Legalization of Honour Killings

Jordan, perhaps the best country to illustrate this, has a significant problem with honour killings because it is de facto justified by law. Gendercide watch explains,

According to Article 340 of the criminal code, “A husband or a close blood relative who kills a woman caught in a situation highly suspicious of adultery will be totally exempt from sentence.” Article 98, meanwhile, guarantees a lighter sentence for male killers of female relatives who have committed an “act which is illicit in the eyes of the perpetrator.” Julian Borger notes that “in practice, once a murder has been judged an ‘honour killing,’ the usual sentence is from three months to one year.”

Similar provisions are found in the Syrian code,

Article 548 of the Syrian law code, for example, stipulates lenient penalties for a man convicted of killing his sister, wife or daughter if they are found having sexual intercourse with a man other than their husband. Article 242, meanwhile, sets down similarly light punishments for a man convicted of killing a female relative on the mere suspicion of infidelity.

But the incidents are just as prevalent, often moreso, among some rural Christian Arabs.

The Guardian reports a rise in honour killings among Palestinians in recent years. Chris McGreal relates the story of a 22-year old Christian Palestinian murdered by her father for her affair.

[The] father wept as he assured his daughter there would be no more beatings, no more threats to her life and that she was free to marry the man she loved, even if he was a Muslim. All he asked was that Faten return home.

honor killingOther Arab communities also struggle with the issue.

The TimesOnline reports a case of a 17-year old Druze girl stoned to death for dating a Muslim boy.

Earlier last year, a Yazidi woman was stoned to death in Kurdish Iraq for dating a Sunni Muslim man.

The entire shocking episode was filmed on a phone.

Warning: Video below contains graphic images.

Per capita, these incidents are more problematic among non-Muslims of rural Arab culture than they are among Muslim in general (given their proportionately smaller populations).

There are even rarely publicized incidents of honour killings in traditional Catholic ImageEuropean families.

Karen Tintori has through her geneological research discovered that her Sicillian grandmother in America was murdered as well after eloping with her barber, but the incident was completely covered up.

But nobody is suggesting this is attributable to their faith, nor should they.

Religious Stance

Haider Ala Hamoudi, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh said on his blog,

First, where the “Islam is evil” crowd goes awry is in the failure to grasp the absence of a strong link between the practice of honor killing to Islamic doctrine. Neither foundational text, meaning Quran and hadith, nor classical exegeses, nor even prominent scholars throughout the Muslim world say very much, if anything, in favor of the practice of honor killing. The few Islamic defenses of honor killings when posted on blogs, or stated by perpetrators in interviews on Arab television or in newspapers, hardly are coherent, let alone sound. It’s wrong to point to the absolute absence of a link, most disturbingly, Jordan’s Islamist party has, even while arguing that honor killings broadly should not be tolerated, argued vociferously and repeatedly against the repeal of a law, Article 340 of the Jordanian Criminal Code…

The New Islamic Directions blog explains the Islamic position on dating,

In the case of dating, there is no Islamically-mandated punishment for a male or a female seeing a member of the opposite sex against the wishes of their families. Such situations should be handled with counseling, compassion and a healthy dose of common sense.

They continue, even elaborating on the absurdity of trying to tie these incidents in with any specific faith,

At the end of the day, attacks such as the one that resulted in the death of Aqsa Parvez are acts of domestic violence resulting from rage that emanates from a total neglect of Islamic teachings. Ms. Parvez lost her life due to such violence and perhaps there are a few other instances where Muslims women in Canada or here in the United States, have been similarly victimized. However, these instances should be kept in perspective. In the United States there are approximately 1,200 women killed every year by their husbands or intimate partners. There are other “Christian” nations where murders of this type are even higher.

However, Ellen R. Sheeley, author of Reclaiming Honor in Jordan, says,

Some of us know “honor” killings pre-date Islam by centuries and, in fact, are un-Islamic…

When I recently conducted a nationwide survey on “honor” killings in Jordan, over 20% of my representative sample of respondents told me they believe Islam tells them they must avenge affronts to family honor by killing. So there is a dire need for mosque education if we want to prevent even a fraction of these people from acting on this belief.

But condemnations are not limited to authorities in the West. Ahmen Badr al-Din Hassoun, Grand Mufti of Syria, states,

He who kills on claims of honour is a killer, and should be punished. Islamic jurisprudence doesn’t allow people to live by their own laws.

Similar condemnations have been issued from Christian and Druze community leaders.

Proposed solutions

The author on New Islamic Directions proposes,

Practical steps include the following:

1. Emphasize that such killings have no sanction in the Qur’an, the Prophetic practice, or in Islamic law.

2. Declare anyone guilty of involvement in honor killings to be a cold-blooded murderer.

3. Encourage judicial authorities to enact the harshest penalties possible for anyone accused of involvement in such killings.

4. Educate our Muslim communities, especially in the West, about the un-Islamic nature of honor killings, and the pressures, nuances, challenges and complications facing young Muslims, male and female in the West.

5. Work to eliminate the double standards, and to expose the hypocrisy that exist in our communities, generally, concerning attitudes and standards relating to the indiscretions of males as opposed to females.

Hassoun in Syria also suggests also criminalizing the act even further, as well as imposing harsher punishments for offenders to deter them.

He proposes this because religious sanctions by all religions in the region have been ineffectual to date. Those inclined to commit these crimes do not rely or depend on formal religious justifications.


Yes, honour killings are a problem, especially in places where it is legalized.

But to suggest that faith, any faith, plays a significant role in encouraging it is misleading and erroneous, and fails to identify any legitimate solutions.

Those that mistakenly believe that it has justifications in their faiths are usually uninformed. Faith leaders can do more, both within their communities and globally, to clarify their beliefs.

But stakeholders involved have identified the solution in secular legislation supportive of the practice which should be modified to further criminalize and discourage the practice of honour killings.

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6 Comments on "Anver Emon on Honour Killings"

  1. Where to even start on this post.

    For one, domestic violence in the US has nothing to do with honor killings. Honor killings are directly related to one’s beliefs, while spouse killings in the “Christian” US are not crimes connected with belief AT ALL. Thus, any comparison is ridiculous.

    Second, there is no proof for this statement “But the incidents are just as prevalent, often moreso, among Christian Arabs.”

    Third, there is no proof offered for this statement: “Per capita, these incidents are more problematic amongs Christian Arabs than they are among Muslim Arabs.”

    This post fails miserably. It is a very weak attempt to minimize a belief-based problem by pointing at other cultures and faiths.

  2. Interesting post.

    Thought you might want to know that Khouri was actually exposed as a fake.


  3. Jack Ryan:
    1) Honour killings are directly related to domestic (family) beliefs in certain parts of the world. They are not related to religious beliefs of any particular religion. Yes, they are markedly different from domestic abuse in the U.S., but the cultural context is also markedly different.
    2), 3) Jordan is often identified as the country with the highest per capita rate of incidents. When even a few of these come from the small religious minority communities, it is disproportionate to the majority faith.
    (statistics are highly disputed in this issue, or we would be more than willing to provide a rudimentary calculation to demonstrate).

    The post attempts (and succeeds in our opinion) in demonstrating that the belief that this problem is based upon is more cultural and historical in nature than religious. If we don’t know what belief a “belief-based problem” is premised upon, we’re not likely to come to the correct conclusions or adequate solutions.

    Basil: Thank you for the links. Khouri was quoted in the piece we selected, and her the accuracy of her quote does not appear to be in question by the film or site you presented. Although the case appears interesting, it does not have an overall effect on the content of the post.

  4. Khoury’s book has been thoroughly discredited. It is not even on the market any more.

    I agree with you that dishonor killings are un-Islamic. They are believed to have their origins in misinterpretations of pre-Islamic Arab tribal codes. They have more to do with culture than with faith.

    But your comments about their rates being higher among Christians are just inaccurate. Dishonor killings do sometimes happen within the Christian community, but most of ten when there is an interfaith relationship involved (Arab/Christian). That can be a trigger for a dishonor killing.

    I’ve worked on this problem in Jordan for years. I would know.

    Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
    “Reclaiming Honor in Jordan”

  5. Hi Ellen,
    Thank you very much for weighing in.

    We anticipated that per capita assertions would lead to some confusion. Estimates cite 25 incidents per year in Jordan. If only 2 of these are among Christians, as they often are, this is disproportionately high relative to the 7% of the population that they comprise. The situation is similar among Palestinians, where they are currently about 5% of the population. Honour killings are estimated there to be about 15-18 per annum, meaning anything above a single incident is a higher per capita rate for Palestinian Christians. Druze would probably be an exception to this, with 6% of the population but 200-300 incidents per year.

    In any case, any of these incidents are higher than the per capita rate for the entire Muslim world (est. 1.1-1.3 billion) given the significantly larger population globally, and the majority of the Muslim world such as sub-Saharan African and SE Asia where the practice is non-existant.

    The trigger you cite is common for all groups in inter-faith relationships.

    Another factor is urban/rural, and there is a higher prevalence among rural communities irrespective of faith (we will add “rural” above for clarification).

    If you are willing to provide an alternative quote to Khouri’s of basically the same substance (to maintain the flow of the article without too much editing), we would be more than willing to replace it and link to your book instead. We get several thousand hits on average per post, and would love to help share your experiences. Contact the admin for more details.

  6. This is a great post!

    I think in many ways this topic is a litmus test for the ignorant and uninformed.

    The process of stereotyping requires broad generalizations that ignore the many nuances and subtleties in a group. The topic of honor killings is a perfect example of how people who know very little about the regions in question easily ascribe it to what little they do know, namely, the dominant faith.

    Most critics would not even know what the Hammurabi Code was, for example, or that the practice was observed in the region for thousands of years, even among Christians and Jews, well before the theological transformation of the area. To them it’s irrelevant, because it’s more imperative to reinforce whatever preconceived notions they hold in the interest of maintaining their shallow paradigm of the world around them.

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