Opinion, World

Honor Killings: A Stigma of Humanity

This is a complementary piece of our August 2017 Issue: Death

It was a pleasant day. The evening had been dreamy and relatively cooler after the first monsoon rain. Enjoying tea with cookies, I was scrolling up and down on my feed when news caught my eyes. I couldn’t just scroll it down; a Christian teenage girl from Israel had been killed by her father over a relationship with a Muslim guy. That was Tuesday, July 18th, 2017. One of many honor killings we had to wittness in recent years.

Exactly seven days after this incident, on July 25th, another teenage girl had her throat slit in a ‘suspected’ honor killing in London. Horrible!

In the era of globalization, where people are expected to be more civilized and tolerant; the ratio of honor killings is astonishingly growing by the time.

In the year 2000, the United Nations estimated that 5,000 women fell victims to honor killings each year. But Women’s advocacy groups, however, suspect that more than 20,000 women are killed worldwide each year owing to this malaise.

It should be noted here that these are the number of reported and registered cases; there are still plenty of cases that go into the book under the ‘suicide’ or ‘accidental deaths’ column.

Murder is not the only form of honor crime, rather other crimes such as acid attacks, abduction, mutilations, and beatings also happen in the name of so-called honor; just in 2010, the UK police recorded at least 2,823 such crimes.

What is Honour Killing?

The act of killing of one family member by another, who is believed to have brought dishonor upon their family, is perceived as ‘honour killing’.

Triggers of Honour Killing

Honor killings are predominantly carried out in honor-based societies, which define a person’s standing by integrity in the eyes of the community. Those with honor are generally viewed as good, while those without are shamed.

In these societies, women are believed to dishonor their families through immoral, often sexual, behavior. Because a woman is generally understood as a man’s property, their betrayal strips away their honor, and can be held punishable by death.

Other specific triggers are:

  • Refusal to an arranged marriage.
  • Seeking a divorce.
  • Allegations and rumors about a family member.
  • Homosexuality.
  • Being a rape victim.
  • Adultery.

Although it is rare, in some cultures, both men and women are targeted in the name of honor. However, men alone being killed for honor has no or extremely rare reporting in the history.

Origins of Honor Killing

Honor killings are known since in ancient Roman times. The male head of the family in a patrilineal society had power to murder sexually active daughters and adulterous wives.

Honor crimes were also known in medieval Europe where early Jewish law directed death by stoning for an adulterous wife and her partner.

Evidence of this horrendous practice is also found in the tradition of the Qing Dynasty in China, where men had the right to kill female relatives who allegedly strayed away from conventional notions of morality.

This idea was then adopted by the Ottoman Empire. The empire either exempted from the charges or gave reduced sentences to the men who were found guilty of killing.

That was the time when the shameful act became an honorable deed. Ottoman men were even known to publicly boast about the act as a way to increase their own honor.

Interestingly, this idea was borrowed from an almost identical 19th-century French penal code, which remained on the books until 1975.

Honour Killings Around the World

Despite all the advances in almost all walks of life, the male-dominance in the society has its consequences, as it is perhaps one of the chief factors behind honor killing. Today, honor killings are usually associated with countries in the south Asia, Middle East, and North Africa, but the horrific exercise still occurs in other parts of the world, including Europe, Latin America, and the US.

Following are statistics and data attained from different sources. It should be known that these figures are only reported once and believed to be severe underestimates.

  • There were 251 honor killings cases registered in India in 2015.
  • HRC Pakistan recorded 987 cases of honor killings in 2015.
  • Between 2011 and 2013, approximately 400 cases of rape and honor killings have been reported to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
  • The US Department of Justice estimated in its 2015 report that 23 to 27 honor killings occur in the country each year.
  • HRC UK database received 12 honor killings reports in 2014.
  • Jordan noted a 53 percent rise in such killings in 2016, with the figure of 26.

Honour Killings and Islam

The violence against women is a global problem. Its roots are deeper than the doctrines of any religion or the features of any culture.

Thus, no religion or culture alone can be held responsible for this horror. It is the established set of attitudes prevailing in a society, and above all; the patriarchy, that is responsible for these horrendous acts committed by mankind. Also, the more a society is unbalanced, the more it is likely to usurp the weaker of their basic rights.

In the current times, honor killings are being associated with Islam, because of an extremist mindset justifying its inhumane acts under the pretense of Islam.

Clarion Fund, an Islamophobic organization even released a documentary under the title Honour Diaries which labeled serious yet baseless allegations against Islam that the world’s fastest-growing religion supports honor killing and that these acts of violence are endemic to Muslim societies.

Unlike the popular rhetoric, Islam is not the cause of honor killing; it is part of the solution.

What does Sharia Law Say about Honor Killings?

Shariah law has a clear standing on honor killing, based on rulings made by the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) “A husband who kills his wife and/or her lover has committed homicide like any other case, even if the husband caught the two in the act.”

The basis of this comes from hadiths or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w). When he was asked what would happen if a husband found his wife with another man, the Prophet (s.a.w) responded that the husband could not kill him and that no one could be punished unless the husband brought four witnesses who had seen the act. [Musnad Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal (Maymaniyya print), 1:238-39.]

Quran’s Standing on Honor Killings

The Quran set down the practical procedure for husbands or wives who suspected infidelity as well as those who caught their spouse cheating but had no witnesses: the couple would appear before a judge, and the accusing spouse would swear to God five times that their accusation was true. If the accused spouse then swore five times to God that they were innocent, neither party was punished but the couple was divorced (Quran 24:6-7).

Honor killing is usually muddled with adultery punishment; however, both are completely different. First, the punishment for adultery is like an ordinary capital punishment and is executed by the state. No individual is allowed to take the matter into his own hands.

Furthermore, there are certain contextual conditions for this punishment and the punishment is for both man and the woman, as both are party to the crime. Also, if these contextual conditions do not exist, the state cannot punish the perpetrators. The general rule of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ applies there too. Thus, relating honor killing with Islam is unjustified and unfounded, because again; Islam is not the cause of honor killing; it is part of the solution.

About Syed Ahmed Raza

Ahmed is a 24-years-old young and energetic guy from Karachi, Pakistan. He’s a fledgling journalist but a seasoned blogger. He loves to read thrilling novels, and classical poetry. Arzan also loves to watch and play cricket. Reading, writing and listening to music — these are what shape his personality.

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