Our religion says not to kill,” and then after another moment: “But our tradition says to kill.”
Abu Moghaseb, 2007
In a my previous post, Cultural Matters, Bridging Worlds, I wrote, “There are all sorts of ways that culture can play a dynamic role in keeping the tradition alive. Culture is important, it is dynamic… There are many cultures that are disappearing under globalization, but at the same time new ones forming out of hybrid identities and close encounters of the humankind.” This is the upside of tradition. But as with anything there is a shadow to the preservation of traditions. Some traditions are more about power and control. Some traditions are counterproductive to a society. Some traditions contradict the very moral and ethical basis that the society claims to stand on. Clearly, I am not a cultural relativist. I believe there is truth (even if we can only have a limited understanding of it) and that there are such things as right and wrong. I find some tradtitions repugnant and unacceptable. For me, this is especially the case when it condones, reinforces, or encourages violence against a society’s most vulnerable members. I believe one of our duties is to protect those who cannot defend themselves. However, I find that in Muslim communities we are falling short of this.
Years ago I attended a talk by a Jordanian activist who worked towards ending honor killings. She shows statistics that demostrated that few conservative Muslim scholars and lawmakers were willing to impose the mandatory hudud sentence for murder when comes to murdering women. Crimes against women go unpunished. Especially when it comes to “honor killings.” Husbands, brothers, fathers, and even uncles brutally murder their loved ones, all to wash away the shame of a scandal, or even suspicion of unchaste behavior. There have been a few cases reported in the West. Many Muslims in the West try to distance themselves by explaining it is a cultural thing. But as an American Muslim convert, this act was inconceivable. For me it was unthinkable that this could be accepted by any Muslim (Aren’t we supposed to believe in justice and mercy?). I still have a hard time knowing that there are men who are able to kill female family members with impunity.
I was reminded about our sad state affairs in an email discussion group. The New York Times recently published a story, Dishonorable Affiar, which really saddened me. I don’t know how anyone can read this story without crying:
Zahra was most likely still sleeping when her older brother, Fayyez, entered the apartment a short time later, using a stolen key and carrying a dagger. His sister lay on the carpeted floor, on the thin, foam mattress she shared with her husband, so Fayyez must have had to kneel next to Zahra as he raised the dagger and stabbed her five times in the head and back: brutal, tearing thrusts that shattered the base of her skull and nearly severed her spinal column. Leaving the door open, Fayyez walked downstairs and out to the local police station. There, he reportedly turned himself in, telling the officers on duty that he had killed his sister in order to remove the dishonor she had brought on the family by losing her virginity out of wedlock nearly 10 months earlier.
Zahra died from her wounds at the hospital the following morning, one of about 300 girls and women who die each year in Syria in so-called honor killings, according to estimates by women’s rights advocates there. In Syria and other Arab countries, many men are brought up to believe in an idea of personal honor that regards defending the chastity of their sisters, their daughters and other women in the family as a primary social obligation.
Yet the notion that Islam condones honor killing is a misconception, according to some lawyers and a few prominent Islamic scholars. Daad Mousa, a Syrian women’s rights advocate and lawyer, told me that though beliefs about cleansing a man’s honor derive from Bedouin tradition, the three Syrian laws used to pardon men who commit honor crimes can be traced back not to Islamic law but to the law codes, based on the Napoleonic code, that were imposed in the Levant during the French mandate. “Article 192 states that if a man commits a crime with an ‘honorable motive,’ he will go free,” Mousa said. “In Western countries this law usually applies in cases where doctors kill their patients accidentally, intending to save them, but here the idea of ‘honorable motive’ is often expanded to include men who are seen as acting in defense of their honor.
“Article 242 refers to crimes of passion,” Mousa continued. “But it’s Article 548 that we’re really up against. Article 548 states precisely that if a man witnesses a female relative in an immoral act and kills her, he will go free.” Judges frequently interpret these laws so loosely that a premeditated killing — like the one Fayyez is accused of — is often judged a “crime of passion”; “witnessing” a female relative’s behavior is sometimes defined as hearing neighborhood gossip about it; and for a woman, merely speaking to a man may be ruled an “immoral act.”
Right now, I’m kind of speechless. I’d rather the stories speak for themselves:Jordan Honor Killing Turns out Daughter was a Virgin
Who killed the Juha sisters? Jordan Charges six over “honor” killings
The Horror of Honor Killings in Turkey.
Just a sidebar note: Muslims are not the only people who do honor killings, as this article indicates. Violence against women is a worldwide phenomena. I address the Muslim world because I am part of that community and if I don’t speak against this particular evil act, then I am complicit in my silence. I think we should all remember the many nameless victims and pray that they receive justice. We should pressure our lawmakers and scholars to condemn these actions.