One of the gravest charges levied against Islam, in terms of its alleged antipathy towards women, is the charge that it encourages a phenomenon known as honor killings. This un-Islamic practice consists of the murder of female family members who are seen as dishonoring their families through real or perceived acts, such as premarital sexual relations or unapproved dating.
This practice has absolutely no sanction in the Qur’an, the Prophetic practice, or in the evolved systems of Islamic law. In the case of fornication or adultery, the only way a charge can be levied against an individual, male or female, is through confession, which is discouraged, or by four people actually witnessing the male organ penetrating the female. Even if four people witnessed a naked man engaged with a naked woman, but could not actually testify that they witnessed penetration, their testimony would be rejected.
In a somewhat related issue, it should be noted that in three of the four Sunni schools of law, as is the case with all of the major Shiite schools, pregnancy is not a proof of fornication, as the possibility of rape exists in such a case. Therefore, if a single woman were to become pregnant, according to the overwhelming majority of Islamic jurists, there is no basis for punishing her. In the few well-publicized instances where a pregnant woman has been threatened with a punishment, the minority opinion of the Maliki School of law was unjustly evoked, as occurred in Nigeria, or criminal malfeasance occurred as is the case in Pakistan.
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. Hence, to kill a female guilty of one of these offenses is not some sort of Islamic punishment, it is cold-blooded murder, and no Islamic authority can argue otherwise.
The overwhelming majority of Muslim societies are free from such practices, although they do endure in some parts of the Middle East and South Asia. According to statistics released by the United Nations in 2000 there are approximately 5,000 deaths annually from “honor” killings. Even if one death occurred due to such barbarity, it would be one too many, as the Qur’an emphasizes that whoever takes an innocent life without sanction it is as if the murderer has slaughtered the entirety of humanity (5:35).
To use the existence of such killings to smear Islam shows the desperation and misplaced priorities of those levying such attacks. Most of those deaths are the pathetic acts of sick individuals, who are far removed from the letter, as we have briefly shown above, and the spirit of Islam. An example of such an individual is Muhammad Riaz, a British Muslim of South Asian descent who died as a result of a fire he set to burn to death his wife and four daughters, allegedly because his wife resisted his attempt to arrange marriages for his daughters. His wife and daughters did perish in that fire. To present Riaz, whose daughters had neither fornicated nor dated, as anything other than a sick individual is a sad attempt to defame Islam and it teachings.
To attack Islam from this angle is a case of misplaced priorities because it distracts attention from far graver abuses of women that demand immediate redress. For example, the State Department estimates that approximately 800,000 women and girls are trafficked as sexual slaves annually. The overwhelming majority of these females are taken from and sent to nominally Christian countries. In spite of that, it would be disingenuous to use such statistics as an indictment against Christianity or Christian sexual ethics. This existence of such a practice is an affront to humanity and requires our collective attention.
Other issues that involve attacks against the persons and dignity of women such as rape and pornography are epidemic and require the immediate attention of the international community.
Saying this is not to minimize the gravity of so-called honor killings to the extent that they do occur in Muslim societies. As Muslims, we are commanded to be committed to justice. That commitment entails that as a community we oppose in the strongest terms “honor” killings and take immediate action to end such a practice in our communities. 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 punishments possible for anyone accused of involvement in such killings.
4. Educate our Muslim communities about the un-Islamic nature of honor killings, and the pressures, nuances, challenges and complications facing young Muslims in the West.
5. Work to eliminate the double standards and hypocrisy that exist in our communities, generally, concerning attitudes and standards relating to the indiscretions of males as opposed to females.
In conclusion, Islam honors the female, and values femininity. It is up to every Muslim to translate theoretical teachings in that regard into a beautiful reality that helps to elevate the status of women in all societies.
1 In cases where the Maliki school is evoked, I describe that as unjustly because every effort should be made to ward off accusation of a crime in such cases. If the majority opinion does that then it should be the basis of the ruling.
2 In the Pakistani cases the Hanafi school of law, which is universally followed in Pakistan, discounts the existence of pregnancy as a basis for proof of fornication or adultery. Hence, any effort to punish a woman who comes up pregnant, especially due to rape, is a crime and a perversion of justice.
May Allah give us hidaya.
This piece fails to address the actual problem of honor killings and attempts to make light of them by making human trafficking seem more morally reprehensible.
All this is very good, but when they tried to pass laws to crack down on it in Jordan it was the local Imaams who rose up in protest. In Pakistan recently Musharaff tried to make it easier for a woman to press rape charges, itwas the imaams who rose up and said that if it was easy for a woman to charge a man with rape it would lead to "sexual immorality". I read one muslim speaking these words, I see hundreds saying the opposite, who am I to believe?
Assalaamu alaikum, SC, this piece compares not the moral significance of honor killing and sex slavery, but the statistical prevalence of the acts. R.T., the establishment of justice in any area of life is always a struggle precisely because few of us see matters clearly in our own day. I passed a book just the other day in an antique store titled, "A Biblical Justification of Slavery". The Catholic Church is embroiled in debate over the beatification of monks and nuns who were executed in the 30s by a Church-backed fascist Franco regime. In every era there are gross injustices that the majority of ordinary people and of religious leaders excuse for any number of reasons, reasons that are never founded in the light and grace of their faith-- Christian, Muslim, whatever. It's one of the great tragedies of this world that the religious so often betray their prophets and their God. By the grace of God (alhamdulillah) people like Imam Shakir are standing against this horrifying practice that no faith tradition permits and no number of shamefully misguided religious "leaders" can make permissible. I'd also remind you that in the non-hierarchical structure of Islam, the term "imam" has little innate significance, it has no authority or sanction outside of the acclaim of the community, so these Jordanian imams you mention carry no weight just by the title they claim.
I would finally note, R.T., that in answer to the question, "Whom am I to believe?", the answer would be the teaching of the Qur'an and the hadith, both taken IN CONTEXT, and the elucidation of those by the established scholars and by those of the faith who have struggled with social justice issues. This applies equally in Christianity and Islam, the two religions I can speak about with any experience, but I'm sure also to Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.
R.T, when you ask who to believe, you believe whoever is backed up by the quran and sunnah, and whatever imams you saw rising up; they would have no proof from the quran and sunnah for their advocating honor killings. And there are many imams and islamic scholars from those parts of the world that also speak out against honor killings.
It is incorrect to say that the "imams" of Pakistan oppose the taking of justice when it comes to rape. This misconception is what the secular Pakistani govt and its media setup want the world to believe, that the traditional scholars of Pakistan are profoundly anti-women. Musharraf has his own agenda, and it would be wise for thinking people to seek out the truth from both sides of the debate, not simply swallow all that the propagandist Pakistani media wishes to convey. See this article from the most prominent "imam" or Mufti in Pakistan, to get an idea of what the other side is saying. The piece was published out of the Hartford Seminary's well-known academic journal The Muslim World. The article can be found at: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1478-1913.2006.00129.x?cookieSet=1
SC, I do not see how this article fails to address the issue of honor killings, or to make light of them. Mentioning the reality of sexual slavery was simply a secondary point, as Hana accurately reminds you. RT Bann, you imply that "Imams" support honor killings. As Khadija points out, many Imams in the Muslim world are against this foul practice, and many other practices that negatively affect women, and have no Islamic sanction. As for here in the United States, I do not know of a single Imam who defends this practice. As FK suggests, it is a gross generalization to assume or imply that all Imams are pre-modern, women-hating oppressors. It is interesting that in the most publicized rape case in Pakistan, that of Mukhtar Mai, it was the village Imam who announced in his Friday sermon that the gang rape had taken place and he urged the villagers to alertthe police. He then reported the incident to a journalist and it subsequently reached the attention of the entire world. It is easy to perpetuate biased stereotypes and to overlook evidence that argues against our entrenched assumptions and understandings. It is also conforting to imagine that we live in a world free of nuances. It is far more difficult to transcend all of that and work for greater understanding that can help us to create a safer and saner world for all of our children. I do thank you both for taking the time to respond and hope to hear from you in the future.
for me a very moving and needed reminder that I simply do not do enough to oppose injustice by my actions and inactions. I think of my four year old daughter - how beautiful and precious she is and know i've been culpable by my silence, indifference and indulgent desires when other of my fellow humanity suffer. How selfish and dishonest of me. So this piece has just made me go to www.antislavery.org/ and offer to help - i hope i can overcome my silence and selfish ego. thank you - truly thanks with peace
Honor killings are truly a sin on the ummah. It is such a crime against our own Muslim sisters. May Allah protect us from our own injustices. Ameen. Thank you for your article Imam Zaid
It really is a shame the amount of misunderstanding there is in this country and I'm sure in many others about the Islamic faith. People just believe what radicals say about it and don't bother to look into the religion at all because so many just link 9/11 and terrorism with Muslims. The unfortunate thing about this is that there are way more very nice Muslim people in the world than there are Muslim terrorists. Islam is in itself a peaceful religion, just as all religions are. They unfortunately get a bad name when crazy people commit terrible acts in the name of a certain religion.
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