On January 30th, Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya, and their son Hamed were convicted of first degree murder in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. In June 2009, they planned and carried out the murders of Zainab Shafia, Sahar Shafia, and Geeti Shafia, as well as Rona Amir Mohammed. Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti were Mohammad and Tooba’s daughters and Hamad’s sisters. Rona was Mohammad’s first wife. The three daughters were considered by their parents to be “shameful” because they had boyfriends and did not dress the way their parents wanted. Rona, a victim of domestic abuse, was killed because she supported the daughters’ behavior. Their crime, which is being called an honor killing, has no support within Islam.
While it is true that these types of crimes occur among Muslims, they are motivated by cultural, societal, and some cases tribal pressures and not faith. There are no justifications for these types of crimes in Islam. First of all, there is no mention in the Qur’an or the hadith of the concept of honor crimes and thus no concept of honor killing. Second, there are strict punishments for various acts in Islam; however, there are clear stipulations for how and when these punishments are to be carried out.
For example, in the case of sex between unmarried individuals, the punishment is 100 lashes. The act, however, must be witnessed by four people and described in the same manner in front of a judge or the person has to admit to the act. Either way, it must go through an Islamic court and there has to be overwhelming evidence that meets the high standards articulated in the Qur’an for a punishment to be considered. Moreover, if there is a punishment, the court carries it out not the family. The idea being that chaos will ensue if everyone takes matters into their own hands.
In the case of the deaths of the Shafia daughters and their stepmother, there is no justification for the parents’ and brother’s crime from an Islamic standpoint. It is not enough to simply disapprove of behavior to carry out any kind of punishment in Islam. In addition, even if there were four witnesses to sex outside of marriage, the punishment still would not be death and an Islamic court would decide on the verdict and carry out the punishments. In all the cases, the family is never supposed to use violence as a means to change a behavior.
As a Muslim woman, I find these types of stories very disturbing because they violate both the spirit and law of Islam. Women and men are protected in Islam from these kinds of crimes by making the burden of proof so difficult. Thus, when individuals use Islam explicitly or imply that a concept of honor exists in the faith that warrants this kind of violence, Muslims must work even harder to demonstrate how it is a complete deviation from the faith.
Did you hear about the Shafia story? What was your reaction? Do you think that Islam supports the idea of honor killings? Do these crimes occur only among Muslims? Please share your comments below.