Honor killings are not connected to Islam.
Honor killings took the spotlight in western media when a girl named Fadime was murdered by her father for wanting to marry someone her father did not approve of. The family had moved from Turkey to Sweden when Fadime was seven. However, the cultural value of honor was still important to the family. Fadime fell in love with a Swedish man and planned to marry him even though she knew her father disapproved. On January 21st, 2001, while Fadime secretly visited her sister and mother, her father burst through the door and shot Fadime in the head. Her father defended his actions by saying he had to protect his family’s honor (Hildebrandt, 2002). Though the murder of Fadime came as a surprise to the Swedish government, the practice of “honor” killings is not a new phenomenon. Honor killings have supported the patriarchal system for thousands of years but has only just been recognized as a global feminist issue due to immigration and globalization bringing the practice to other cultures. Many women like Fadime around the world live under the oppressive expectation of representing honor to their family.
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Because of the high prevalence of honor crimes in the Islamic countries, many point to the Quran as the source or justification for honor crimes and violence against women. It is true that adultery is severely disliked in the Quran. In 24:2 the text instructs, “those who commit adultery, men or women, give each of them 100 lashes” (Lamrabet, 2016). The text assigns equal punishment for both men and women who commit adultery when it is customary in honor killings for the woman only to be blamed. In 4:15 “Those who commit sexual unlawful intercourse of your women- bring against them four witnesses from among you. And if they testify, confine the guilty women to houses until death takes them or Allah ordains for them another way.” The Quran also provides a safeguard for women who are innocent of adultery. The Quran states, “those who accuse chaste women and do not produce four witnesses- lash them with eighty lashes and do not accept from them testimony ever after” (Idriss, 2011). If done correctly, an innocent woman would not have to suffer any punishment.
However, this protocol is not followed.
A recent report in Jordan revealed that majority of honor-killing victims, when brought in, were found to be virgins during their autopsies (Hani, 2009). This is not surprising but tragic nonetheless because it suggests that these women were falsely accused. Testimony, as suggested in the Quran, may have been helpful in saving these women’s lives. However, that advice was clearly not taken to heart.
Ambiguities in Translation of the Quran
One of the difficulties in interpreting the Quran is the fact that every translation is slightly different. Depending on the translation it is possible to see violence against women being acceptable. For instance in 4:34 one translation by Abdel Haleem reads, “as to those women whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them, refuse to share their bed, then hit them lightly if useful.” Here physical punishment is allowed as a third form of punishment after admonishment and refusal to share their bed. In another translation by Abdullah Yusuf, “hit them” is replaced with “beat them.” Of course, “beat” carries a heavier connotation than “hit.” Based on this interpretation, the Quran might suggest a more harsh punishment than was originally intended. Ahmed’s translation of 4:34 does not include any physical violence at all, rather it says to “leave them alone.” There is certainly ambiguity around this word “idribu” that appears in 4:34 because of its multiple meanings. In English, it translates to hit/beat/smack which are physical actions. However, a more passive meaning of the word may be “striking out, condemning, or showing displeasure” (Idriss, 2011).
A close reading of the Quran quickly disproves claims linking honor killings to Islam. Nowhere in the Quran's discussion of the proper treatment of women is honor mentioned, and the justification for violence against women is always a last resort (Mufti, 2012). It is well known that the Prophet Muhammad disliked violence and treated his wives with respect which is clear in 4:128, when he advises “If a woman fears cruelty, desertion or rebellion on her husband’s part there is no sin on both of them if they make terms of peace between them.”
This raises the question of how Muslims can condone the practice of honor killings when there is no justification for it in the Quran.