Domestic violence: The shame of “honor killings” in the Muslim world

Domestic violence: The shame of “honor killings” in the Muslim world January 23, 2006
See you in hell

Muqadas screamed in horror as her stepfather, Nazir Ahmed, put his hand to her mouth and cut her throat with a machete. Her screams awakened her mother, and from the corner of the room, Mrs. Bibi looked on helplessly as her husband mercilessly slaughtered her other three daughters: Bano, 8, Sumaira, 7, and Humaira, 4. He only paused to brandish the knife at this horrified wife, warning her not to intervene or raise alarm.

“I was shivering with fear. I did not know how to save my daughters,” Bibi, sobbing, later said. “I begged my husband to spare my daughters, but he said, ‘If you make a noise, I will kill you.’ The whole night the bodies of my daughters lay in front of me.” Ahmed, who was arrested the next morning, was totally unrepentant: “I told the police that I am an honorable father, and I slaughtered my dishonored daughter and the three other girls.” When asked why he killed the three young girls, he replied: “I thought the younger girls would do what their eldest sister had done, so they should be eliminated.”

What did their eldest sister do that she be slaughtered like an animal? She was accused of adultery by her husband, from whom she fled because he had allegedly abused her and forced her to work in a brick-making factory. Mr. Ahmed did have one regret: “I wish that I get a chance to eliminate the boy she ran away with and set his home on fire.” Police have said they do not know the identity or whereabouts of Muqadas’ alleged lover.

I wish I could say that the above story came from a Hollywood film. Sadly, however, the above story is the true account of a so-called “honor killing” in Gago Mandi, a village in eastern Punjab province in Pakistan, as reported by the Associated Press on December 29, 2005. The Chicago Tribune reported a similar account of an honor killing in London: Heshu Yones, a 16-year old West London girl, had her throat slit by her father because she “had sullied the family name…by dating without his permission.”

The story is always the same: a woman is accused of fornication or adultery and then mercilessly slaughtered by a male member of the family in order to defend the “family’s honor.” From where did this come? Where in the Qur’an does it sanction the murder of a woman on the mere accusation of adultery? What sort of barbarity is this?

Yes, the Qur’an does prohibit fornication and adultery: “And do not commit adultery, for behold, it is an abomination and an evil way” (17:32). But the prohibition is general, for both male and female. Moreover, the act is equally abominable when a man commits it as when a woman does. How could it be that, today, the “family honor is stained” if a woman allegedly commits adultery, but there is no worry about the family’s honor when its male members “sow their wild oats”?

How could someone like Nazir Ahmed be unrepentant about killing his own flesh and blood when the very next verse in chapter 17 says: “And do not take any human being’s life – [the life] which God has willed to be sacred – otherwise than in [the pursuit] of justice…” (17:33). By no stretch of the imagination could one call “defending the family’s honor” an act of “justice.”

It is estimated that 5,000 women worldwide are massacred every year to “defend the family honor.” What is happening here? How could this occur in the 21st Century? What’s next? Burying infant girls alive? Is the Muslim world going to return to this: “for, whenever any of them is given the glad tiding of [the birth of] a girl, his face darkens, and he is filled with suppressed anger, avoiding all people because of the [alleged] evil of the glad tiding which he has received, [and debating within himself]: Shall he keep this [child] despite the contempt [which he feels for it] – or shall he bury it in the dust? Oh, evil indeed is whatever they decide!” (16:58-59)? I mean with women being killed for honor, all that is left is to start worshipping statues of wood and stone once again!

It is the return of the Jahiliyyah, or pre-Islamic ignorance, into the fabric of Muslim societies. I have heard people try to explain it away by saying, “This is their culture.” This makes my blood boil in anger. The Qur’an had answered this justification centuries ago: “But when they are told, ‘Follow what God has bestowed from on high,’ some answer, ‘Nay, we shall follow [only] that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing.’ Why, even if their forefathers did not use their reason at all, and were devoid of all guidance?” (2:170)

It is a repugnant stain that has absolutely no justification in Islam whatsoever. It is a cancer that must be torn away from the body of the Muslim world, and it can only be done from within the Muslim world itself. There has to be a major process of re-education, to teach these people how Islam condemned such practices over 14 centuries ago. With such clear verses in the Qur’an such as 16:58-59, one would think such a process would be easy. Unfortunately, however, old habits die hard. But this is one habit that has to die again – and this time for good.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at

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