Muslim women have been the unfair victims of many brutal cultural practices. Honor killings are seen as the most gruesome of these. Islam has clear laws regulating sexual conduct and killing a girl in such a manner is against the fundamental principles of Islam.
The practice of honor killings is, obviously, rooted in the erroneous notion that the honor of a family revolves around the sexual conduct of women. This leads many Muslim men to murder their young daughters or sisters in cold blood. This inhuman practice, a modern version of the pre-Islamic practice of burying female babies alive, is present in some Muslim countries.
While some Arab countries, Iran and Afghanistan are involved in honor killings, the largest number of victims is reported to be from Pakistan and Jordan. No statistics about such killings among the Muslim communities in India are available. However, a number of fire incidents where young women have burned to death could be linked to either the honor of the family or insufficient dowries.
A woman can be targeted by her family for a variety of reasons, including infidelity, premarital sex or seeking a divorce from even an abusive husband. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonors” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.
A raped woman is killed by her relatives because she is a source of shame to her family and the only “manly” way to regain the family honor is by shedding her blood.
Refusing to enter into an arranged marriage is also an excuse to kill a girl. In 2008 three teenage girls were buried alive by their tribe in a remote village in Pakistan as punishment for damaging the honor of their families after they refused to enter forced marriages. Over the course of six years, more than 4,000 women have died as victims of honor killings in Pakistan from 1999 to 2004. In a recent media report from the subcontinent, a 50-year-old Muslim woman was forced to walk naked on the streets after it was suspected one of her sons had had an affair with a neighbor.
It is ironic that many Muslim communities have developed a sense of honor that is far removed from the fundamental teachings of the Holy Qur’an. The most honorable in the eyes of Allah is the most righteous irrespective of sex or tribe.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Al-Hujurat: 13)
Women have no specific criminal laws in Islam. Sex outside marriage is unlawful and its punishment, which does not distinguish between man and woman, has also been clearly specified.
But those obsessed with their spurious honor have scant respect for the Holy Book. When an unmarried man, a son or a brother, commits a sexual violation, his relatives condone it in violation of religious law and defends him against criticism.
On the other hand, if the offender is an unmarried or married daughter or sister, the relatives kill her. The punishment for a sexual offense committed by an unmarried woman or man, according to Islamic law, is usually only a specific number of lashes. In any case, whether the suspect is married or unmarried, there are specific legal procedures to be followed.
Another major legal issue involved in the honor killing is that the girl’s relatives believe that their honor is compromised just because a girl talked or met with another man. It is not an act that deserves execution according to Islamic teachings (Shariah).
It has also been noted that a potentially erring woman’s relatives are persuaded to kill her after only hearing some rumors. According to Islamic law, no person should be punished without concrete evidence, particularly when slanderous allegations against women are involved. A man or woman is viewed as innocent unless the case is proven beyond doubt by four witnesses as stated in the Holy Qur’an: “Why did not the believers — men and women — when you heard of the affair — put the best construction on it in their own minds and say, ‘This (charge) is an obvious lie?’ Why did they not bring four witnesses to prove it? When they have not brought the witnesses, such men, in the sight of Allah, (stand forth) themselves as liars!” (Al-Noor: 12 and 13).
A believer should not be influenced by the principles of false tribal honor of the days before the Prophet (peace be upon him). On the other hand, Muslims should follow the Holy Qur’an, which says: “Do they then seek the judgement of (the Days of) Ignorance? And who is better in judgment than Allah for a people who have firm Faith.” (Al-Maidah: 50)