If honour killing is alien to Islam, then why are the penalties, if any, for men who kill women in honour-killings, so lenient in Muslim countries? And why are honour killings more prevalent in the Muslim world and amongst Muslim communities than in the West? According to Phyllis Chesler’s “Worldwide Trends in Honor Killings” in Middle East Quarterly (Spring 2010), 91 percent of honour killings are committed by Muslims worldwide.
Against the backdrop of the Shafia honour-killing trial in Kingston, Montreal’s Concordia University graduate Sikander Ziad Hashmi, an imam with the Islamic Society of Kingston, tells us “there is no such thing as ‘honour killing’ in Islam.” Last week, Hashmi challenged readers of Canada’s National Post Full Commentonline to find one classical Islamic religious text that endorses the murder of a family member to preserve honour. PointdeBascule in Montreal answers the imam’s request by producing not one, but TWO Islamic texts stating that a father who kills his child must NOT be subject to punishment (“retaliation”).
The first text is “Umdat al-Saliq” or “Reliance of the Traveller”, a manual of Islamic law certified in 1991 as a reliable guide to Sunni Islam by Cairo’s renowned al-Azhar University, the most prestigious and authoritative institute of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence in the world. This manual, composed in the 14th century,states that punishment or “retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right” EXCEPT when “a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers)” kills their “offspring, or offspring’s offspring” (section o1.1-2). In other words, a parent who murders his/her child for the sake of honour, is not penalized under Islamic law or Shariah.
The Umdat al-Saliq was also endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood-linked International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in the United States. In the opening pages, the IIIT writes “there is no doubt that this translation is a valuable and important work, whether as a textbook for teaching Islamic jurisprudence to English speakers, or as a legal reference for use by scholars, educated laymen, and students in this language.” The Umdat al-Saliq is by no means an irrelevant or outdated document, and its rulings, including those on the subject of retaliation for murder, are legally binding and not subject for debate.
Another text that supports the immunity for parents who kill their children was written by the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-1989), an authority of Shiite Islam who led the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979. In his book “Resaleh Towzih Al-Massael” or “A Clarification of Questions” published in 1961, Khomeini specifies under “conditions of retaliation” (section 2.3 of Appendix II) that there is no penalty for a father who kills his child, the father will simply not be punished under Islamic law. A killer is punished if: “The slayer is not the father of the slain, nor the parental grandfather (apparently)”.
Both aforementioned Sunni and Shiite texts support the practice of honour killing in Islam, contrary to Hashmi’s claim, and serve as authentic and authoritative sources of Islamic law to this day. The Shafia killings did not occur in a vacuum, despite Hashmi’s attempts to convince us otherwise. Furthermore, Hashmi is not alone in his attempt to assure us that honour killings have nothing to do with Islam. Another imam, Samy Metwally of the Ottawa Mosque and a graduate of al-Azhar University, also attempts to distance Islam from the horror of the Shafia honour killings. He says “what’s called honour killing is not part of Islamic teaching or tradition, and in fact there is no honour in this killing at all.”
If honour killing is alien to Islam, then why are the penalties, if any, for men who kill women in honour-killings, so lenient in Muslim countries? And why are honour killings more prevalent in the Muslim world and amongst Muslim communities than in the West? According to Phyllis Chesler’s “Worldwide Trends in Honor Killings” in Middle East Quarterly (Spring 2010), 91 percent of honour killings are committed by Muslims worldwide. Nothing to do with Islam? Why was Dutch filmmaker and journalist Theo Van Gogh stabbed to death in broad daylight? Why did Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris have to change her identity and go into hiding in her own country at the FBI’s recommendation? Why do Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and Swedish artist Lars Vilks live under constant police protection? I suppose none of this has anything to do with Islam as well.
Janet Bagnall, an editorial writer and columnist with The Montreal Gazette, also treats honour killings as if they were unique and isolated events. In her recent article “Waking up to honour-based violence right here in Canada”, Bagnall is extremely careful not to mention the word Islam. She refers to honour-based violence as “a relatively new addition to Canada’s deadly toll of family violence” or as “differing from other kinds of family violence in that it is planned and carried out collectively by the family” or as “a complex, difficult-to-eradicate phenomenon”. Yet nowhere in her article does she mention how widespread honour-violence or honour-killing is throughout the Muslim world.
Nor does she acknowledge that honour-killing is on the rise in Canada due to immigration from Islamic countries, along with an upsurge in the terrifying and barbaric act of female circumcision or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Both practices are severe human rights violations foreign to our Constitution. And both practices are rising at alarming levels not only in the Muslim world, but amongst Muslim communities in the West as well. Last year alone, nearly 3 000 honour attacks were carried out in Britain (UK’s Telegraph), a country with large-scale immigration from Islamic countries.
Unless we recognize the problem for what it really is and change the Criminal Code to specifically address honour killings in Canada, they will continue to exist merely as “a complex, difficult-to-eradicate phenomenon” and increase at rates similar to those of the UK. Moreover, Islamic authorities of the highest levels, namely those who issue religious edicts or fatwas (clerics, scholars and judges) must work together and unequivocally condemn the practice of honour killings once and for all.