It was a crime that horrified the world. On May 27th, in the Pakistani city of Lahore, 25-year-old Farzana Parveen was bludgeoned to death in broad daylight with batons and bricks by her father, brothers and other family members, allegedly for marrying a man against their wishes. She was 3 months pregnant and on her way to contest an abduction case her family had filed against her husband. The father said that he did it to protect his family's honour which he felt had been insulted by his daughter's actions of marrying a man without their consent. A police officer quoted him as saying it had been an "honour killing". The fact that the murder happened in front of Lahore's High Court – a place where ordinarily people seek justice – made it even more poignant. Unsurprisingly therefore, the incident elicited condemnation from Western politicians and international media.
However, Farzana was not the only victim of this brutal killing, performed 'in the name of honour'. Rather, it unleashed a lynch-mob of the usual Islamophobic suspects from secular political and media circles against Islam. Their news reports and articles were awash with accusatory statements, charging the Shariah with fuelling and providing a cover and justification for such 'honour killings'. Use of emotive headlines such as "Stoned to Death" and claims that these acts are undertaken under the 'veneer' of Islamic law re-enforced the oft-repeated secular narrative that Islam, its view on honour, and its Shariah, were to blame in large part for such murders. Amongst these accusations were attempts to associate the cause of these killings with Islam's punishment for adultery of stoning to death. CBN news for example, when reporting on the death of Farzana, also published the findings from a 2013 PEW report, stating, "Eighty-nine percent of Muslims who say Sharia should be law of the land in Pakistan support stonings for adultery...". Journalists also blamed the Shariah laws on 'Diyaat' (or blood-money) for perpetrators often getting away scot-free with these crimes. This Islamic provision allows family members of victims of murder to accept financial compensation from those who killed their loved one in exchange for lifting the death penalty from the neck of the murderer.
The death of Farzana Parveen however, brought to mind another 'honour killing' of different sorts, though this one did not happen outside a court house in Pakistan, but inside one in Germany. It was the murder in 2009 of Marwa El-Sherbini, a young Muslim mother who was stabbed 18 times in a Dresden courtroom, in front of her 3 year old son, by a man she took to court for insulting her Islamic dress and calling her a terrorist. She was 4 months pregnant at the time. She therefore also died, 'in the name of honour', not though at the hands of a man who was seeking to defend his but due to an intense hatred against the Islamic way she expressed hers. This killing however elicited at best a limited response, and at worst a muted one from secular media, politicians, and feminists. This raises the pertinent question - if these secularists truly care about the sanctity of human life, then where was the outrage to a horrific, brutal murder that occurred in their own backyard?
This nauseating hypocrisy by which Western secular media and politicians react to violations of human life and dignity - focusing attention on certain crimes while selectively disregarding others - reflects anti-Islamic agendas at play here. This is manifest even in the coverage of this particular murder, which does not seek to simply condemn an horrific act but rather opportunistically exploit it to put Islam and its values on trial once again – most notably to attack the Shariah and its view on gender relations and judicial punishments. It's an agenda that seeks to convince Muslims that such 'honour killings' can only be avoided by discarding particular Islamic beliefs and accepting liberal values and relationships, which they argue have the moral high ground. However, they conveniently ignore the blatant fact that such practices have been allowed to flourish under the watch of secular and NOT Islamic systems in the Muslim world. Nor are they unique to Muslim-majority countries or communities. Rather they occur at high levels in many other nations, including in South America and India – the Eastern 'golden child' of democrats and secularists – where hundreds of these incidents take place each year, often due to couples marrying outside the Hindu caste system. This May for example, a number of 'honour killings' were reported in the country, including the murder of a college girl, a mother of two, and a couple, hacked to death by family members opposed to their marriage – all just in its Haryana district.
As Muslims however, we cannot ignore these crimes in our Muslim lands such as in Jordan, Palestine, Turkey, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a report last month that 869 women were killed in such 'honour killings' in 2013, while in 2011, they put the number at 943 women. The real numbers however are suspected to be much higher as many are not reported. In June 2008, a report by the Turkish Prime Ministry's Human Rights Directorate said that in Istanbul alone there was one honour killing each week and over 1000 during the previous five years.
'Honour killings' involve an individual taking the life of a relative because they perceive them to have brought dishonor to their family through their actions. They feel that they have the moral authority to undertake this act and through it they restore honour to their family, and save face with their community. Those actions viewed as bringing dishonor include refusing an arranged marriage, marrying without consent, engaging in extra-marital relationships, demanding a divorce, or behaving in a way viewed as unacceptable to the community. Often mere rumours, speculation, or suspicion of a wife or family member mixing with the opposite sex or engaging in other immoral actions or relationships are enough to trigger the attacks. Both men and women have been targets of these attacks but the majority of victims have been women.
However, such 'honour killings' do not originate from Islam that does not sanction such extrajudicial killings. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said,
عن ابن مسعود: أنَّ رسول الله قال: «لا يحلُ دم امرئ مسلم يشهد أنْ لا إله إلا الله وأني رسول الله، إلا بإحدى ثلاث : النفس بالنفس، والثيب الزاني، والتارك لدينه المفارق للجماعة»
"It is not permissible to shed the blood of a Muslim who bears witness that there is no God but Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah except in three cases: a life for a life (murder), zina of one of who is married (adultery), and the one who changes his religion and forsakes the jamaa'ah."
Additionally, the punishments mentioned in this hadith are enacted within the framework of a state that implements the Shariah laws comprehensively upon a society, and after a judicial process that investigates the matter with careful and thorough deliberation, for the taking of a life in Islam is not a light matter. Furthermore, in Islam, suspicion against the character and conduct of a chaste girl or woman is condemned, while the spread of rumours or slander against her is categorized as a serious crime, deserving of a harsh punishment.
'Honour killings' are the result of tribal attitudes and practices that view a woman and her chastity as the property of the family, associated with the belief therefore that she can be treated as they and customs dictate. They root from non-Islamic traditional views where mere allegations of particular behaviour or relationships, is enough to defile a family's reputation and sanction these attacks. Therefore, if anything, it is the clash between East and West in many countries today which is fuelling these crimes. Western liberal culture, imported through entertainment, advertising, and education, has encouraged free-mixing and relationships between the genders in our Muslim lands. These values and lifestyle has been propagated amongst communities that continue to embrace elements of eastern tribal attitudes towards women and honour due to living under man-made systems where the mind is used as the basis of judging what's right and wrong. In some countries, these tribal customs have actually been codified into law, exacerbating the problem. All this has generated a confused hotchpotch of contradictory values, beliefs and actions within societies, resulting at times in fatal consequences.
So Islam does not condone, nor does it cause these crimes. However, it is important to counter the various secular allegations that link specific Islamic beliefs and laws to these acts. Some prevalent claims will be refuted in Part 2 of this article.
Written for The Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir by
Dr. Nazreen Nawaz
Member of the Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir