Professor of anthropology, Sharif Kanaana, says that honor 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 killing is not a means to control sexual power or behavior. What's behind it is the issue of fertility, or reproductive power.”
In the news today is a story about an Afghan woman who was killed because she gave birth to a girl, and not a boy. “An Afghan woman has been strangled to death, apparently by her husband, who was upset that she gave birth to a second daughter rather than the son he had hoped for.” Such stories of abuse and murder continue, “It was the latest in a series of grisly examples of subjugation of women that have made headlines in Afghanistan in the past few months – including a 15-year-old tortured and forced into prostitution by in-laws; and a female rape victim who was imprisoned for adultery.”
My thoughts turned to what the holy book of Islam, the Koran, says about honor killing. I could not find a passage in the Koran that addresses this topic. One verse was suggested as what can only be considered a half-hearted attempt to speak to this horrendous act. Tahira Shaid Khan, a professor of women’s issues at Aga Khan University, notes that there is nothing in the Koran that permits or sanctions honor killings. The first and most basic right in the Koran that every Muslim is expected to follow is, in fact, the right to life. As written in the Koran, “that if anyone slays a human being – unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth – it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.” (5:32)
Mrs. Al Skudsi bin Hookah, roving reporter and foreign correspondent for The Gaza Gajeera, wrote this in a column Jan 20, 2003, vehemently defending honor killing. “I am very unhappy. Our way of life is under attack. And we are not fighting back. Deep down, we know that when a woman has disgraced her family, nothing will restore honor except by killing her. This is understood in Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, the Gaza strip and the West Bank. So why are we Arabs telling the Western press that honor killing is cultural, that it is not really part of Islam? Our way of life is based on maintaining our honor. And make no mistake about it: a woman does tarnish her family's honor by engaging in pre-marital sex, or by getting herself raped, when she seeks divorce and when she marries against her family's wishes.
Why are we pussyfooting? Are we ashamed of what we do? Why are some of us trying to play it down? Like the people who say it's the same as battering women in America. Come on, now. Sometimes, when we correct a wife's behavior by a well-deserved beating, we can maybe go a little too far. But that's different. Or there's this guy, Mohammed Haz Yahya at the Hebrew University (wouldn't you know it), who makes believe killing to protect our honor is like the western world's crime of passion. Come on now.
It's not just religious leaders who know it's the right thing to do. Many of the most progressive political leaders are the ones who defend the practice. To maintain the integrity of our society and our traditions, we must maintain our honor by any and every means. And keeping our women pure is a big part of our honor. So there's no point saying honor killing isn't really part of our religion. Our religion isn't just what's in the Koran. Honor killings fit into the cultural context of today's Islamic teachings. Honor and Islam are inextricably bound; they are what give our life meaning. A strong religion demands we choose to maintain our honor.”
This is a troubling issue that is gradually creeping into the legal establishments of Canada and the United States. I will address this in next week’s article.