Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Are 'Honour Killings' Cultural or Religious?

According to the UN report, 'The State of World Population 2000' , perhaps as many as 5,000 women and girls a year are murdered by members of their own families, many of them for the "dishonour" of having been raped, often as not by a member of their own extended family.

Admittedly the grotesquely named practice of so-called 'honour killing' is not exclusively restricted to Muslims, but the cases that have come to light would suggest that it is most widely practised by people of that persuasion. Why this is so is not such a mystery, since the Qur'an and the Sunnah together form the Shari'a, which deals with every aspect of life, including international, constitutional, administrative, criminal, civil, family, and religion. Subsequently, Islamic scholars made legal rulings on the basis of the Shari'a, and these are called the Fiqh. Now the Fiqh recognises four classes of crimes, the most serious of which are called Houdoud.

Houdoud crimes are said to be so serious that they threaten the very existence of Islam per se, and they are to be punished in accordance with the penalties set forth in the Qur'an itself - which is, after all, the so-called inerrant words of 'god' - or the Sunnah - matters which were subsequently laid down by Muhammad, either by his word or deed. Houdoud crimes include adultery, defamation, theft, robbery, rebellion, drunkenness, and apostasy, and some are punishable by death - specifically adultery, which is classed alongside apostasy. As a general rule the death penalty is to be carried out by the sword, but for adultery the woman is to be stoned to death as this is slower and more painful for her - and a greater deterrent to other women.

However, Sharif Kanaana, professor of anthropology at Birzeit University has stated that 'honour killing' is:
A complicated issue that cuts deep into the history of Arab society. .. What the men of the family, clan, or tribe seek control of in a patrilineal society is reproductive power. Women for the tribe were considered a factory for making men. The honor(sic) killing is not a means to control sexual power or behavior(sic). What's behind it is the issue of fertility, or reproductive power.
Not only does the Professor make no reference to the Fiqh imposing the death penalty for sexual transgressions, were his explanation that culture rather than religion be blamed for this barbaric practice, a woman who produced only female children should also be killed by the tribe, since she would be a distinct liability by failing in her duty to be 'a factory for making men', especially as these same men readily murder their girl-children when they consider them a burden.

Although the organisation 'Human Rights Watch' declared in 2001 that...
Honor(sic) crimes are not specific to any religion, nor are they limited to any one region of the world. Human Rights Watch has worked on this issue in the Americas, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.
... the fact remains that the practice is predominantly one practised by Muslims qua Muslims. Furthermore, there is nothing to distinguish the cultural or the religious practices of these people, for both are born out of their collective ignorance and superstition. And irrespective of what anyone says to the contrary, there is no honour is 'honour killings', they are simply another means of men expressing their insecurities, misogyny and control over women - but that's what religion is all about anyway!


joanne said...

In Britain, out of 12-15 so-called 'honour' killings, one-third are committed by Hindus or Sikhs; according to secular women's rights organisations in Palestine and Lebanon there is a proportionate representation of 'honour' killings among Druze and Christians. It's not that I don't appreciate your point, I just want to clarify that the Muslim/'Honour' killing connection is not as clear as you put it.


The Merchant of Menace said...


It seems pretty clear to me and, in fact, you have even confirmed what I said in my original post, viz:-

QUOTE:"Admittedly the grotesquely named practice of so-called 'honour killing' is not exclusively restricted to Muslims, but the cases that have come to light would suggest that it is most widely practised by people of that persuasion."(emphasis added)UNQUOTE

Your figures show that 67% or two-thirds of these atrocities committed in the UK, as well as the majority of those perpetrated in Palestine and the Lebanon, ARE carried out by Muslims, therefore it is true to say that the vile practice IS most widely practised by people of THAT persuasion.

And one must not forget the practice of so-called 'honour suicides' - where the pusillanimous men who haven't got the courage to perform their cowardly murder of their women-folk,or simply wish to escape punishment for their vile acts, use psychological and physical pressure to force them to kill themselves. Again, predominantly practised amongst people of the Muslim faith - and frequently condoned by their imam - so anyone who denies that their religion is not an important factor behind it is simply deluding themselves or in denial.

BTW, the religious justification behind 'honour suicides' is given in Sura 4:15 of the Qur'an, which says:-

QUOTE:"And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them."UNQUOTE

Thus the common Turkish practice of psychological abuse and then locking the women in a room with nothing to eat but a pile of rat-poison is condoned by Allah himself.

For All Women Foundation said...

"Honor" killings are believed to have their origins in misinterpretations of pre-Islamic Arab tribal codes. They pre-date Islam by centuries and, in fact, are un-Islamic.

What gets confusing, however, is that, of the U.N.-estimated 5,000 "honor" killings per annum globally, the majority occur in Arab/Muslim countries and in Arab/Muslim immigrant communities elsewhere. So there is a correlation, but I believe "honor" killings to be more a result of culture than faith (i.e., from the misinterpretation of tribal codes).

Nonetheless, when I conducted a nationwide survey on this subject in Jordan, a little over 20% of my research subjects believe Islam tells them they must avenge affronts to family honor by killing. There is a definite need for some education in the mosques and in the schools to correct this deadly misinterpretation. Unfortunately, I don't see anyone taking it on. At least not yet.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

The Merchant of Menace said...


Thank you for acknowledging what the evidence shows, viz that the majority of 'honour killing' are perpetrated by Muslims.

However, I am a little surprised that only a little over 20% of your research subjects believed Islam tells them they must avenge affronts to family honour by killing. The majority of people I have interviewed maintained that the Qur'an allows Muslims to kill their girls and women if they transgress, though many quickly added that this exhortation was only valid during the hard times in which Muhammad lived and doesn't apply nowadays - despite the fact that they all subsequently maintained that the Qur'an was the inerrant word of 'Allah' himself as dictated by the 'angel Gabriel' directly to Muhammad.

However, I agree with you that there is a definite need for education over this matter, though I would not restrict it to mere interpretations of the Qur'an but would like to see a concerted effort made to expose the whole edifice of religion for the delusional psychosis that it undoubtedly is and to educate people so that they can free themselves from the complete and utter nonsense that is religion.

The fact of the matter is that all religion is based on delusional claims that in any other sphere would have the claimants readily diagnosed as insane.

Neverthless, religion has proved to be one of the most powerful means of political control ever devised by man - a fact not lost on those sufficiently unscrupulous to invent it and use it to gain power over the ignorant, the superstitious, the uncritical, the irrational and the fearful masses.

'Honour killings' have nothing to do with honour and religion has nothing to do with truth.

papalazarou said...

Frankly I'm less concerned with whether this is a cultural or a religious artefact or even a cultural artefact hidden by a religious covering - what concerns me most is the violence that the relevant bodies are doing to the language and the morality by calling it honour killing. This euphemistic pandering or linguistinc imprecision goes some way to reducing the impact that this should have on us all. How about calling it for what it is - internecine murder or familial murder? Murder is what it is - not just killing. There is no honour involved anywhere in the process. Let's stop pussyfooting around the subject in some misbegotten sense of multi-cultural sensitivity and call it as we see it.

BTW - putting ironic apostrophes around the term makes the usage no more acceptable

The Merchant of Menace said...


I agree with your sentiments entirely - there is no honour involved in these homicides and forced suicides. However, I would add that I use single quotes when referring to them simply because I do not wish to pander to those who distort our language by using an oxymoron in an attempt to minimise the enormity of the atrocities that they carry out.