Honor Killing: Deaths Should Be an Interfaith Call to Action - updated 11/13/12
Posted Nov 13, 2012

Honor Killing:  Deaths Should Be an Interfaith Call to Action

by Sheila Musaji

First published as Honor Killing: The Death of Aqsa Parvez Should Be an Interfaith Call to Action in 2007, and updated as an ongoing resource for cooperative action.

Earlier this year (2007) there was a National Declaration by Religious and Spiritual Leaders to Address Violence Against Women, which has been signed by more than 2,000 clergy and religious leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Baha’i traditions, among others.  The declaration stated:

We proclaim with one voice as national spiritual and religious leaders that violence against women exists in all communities, including our own, and is morally, spiritually and universally intolerable.

We acknowledge that our sacred texts, traditions and values have too often been misused to perpetuate and condone abuse.

We commit ourselves to working toward the day when all women will be safe and abuse will be no more.

We draw upon our healing texts and practices to help make our families and societies whole.

Our religious and spiritual traditions compel us to work for justice and the eradication of violence against women.

We call upon people of all religious and spiritual traditions to join us.

To date there are 2,264 individuals of all religious backgrounds who have signed on to this document, including myself.  When people of faith join with other community leaders to address domestic violence, we will see ancient roadblocks turn into resources that save lives and bring healing. Please join other people of faith in signing the Declaration

Perhaps if enough of us think about this issue and the issue of domestic or family violence in general we may be able to do something to stop this terrible epidemic.

Just this week, Aqsa Parvez was murdered by her father for not wearing hijab.  A young life cut short senselessly.  Although this certainly is a case of domestic violence, some are referring to this as an example of an “honor” killing.  The facts are not in yet as to whether or not this is the case.  And, as with all forms of domestic abuse, domestic violence and family violence, “honor” killings are not only a Muslim problem, and there is no “honor” involved.  There is no “honor” in violence or murder.  Muslim sites have been responding in shock to this case (e.g. Achelois, Muslim Matters) and many others.

It takes minimal research to find hundreds and even thousands of cases of conflict, abuse, family violence, and even murder between parents and teens in families that have been here for generations, who may or may not profess any particular religion, and who share common cultural values.  Even though some of these acts are carried out by members of religious communities and sometimes the violence is “justified” in religious terms or religion is claimed as the reason for the actions – the fact is that anyone making such a claim terribly misunderstands whatever religion they are claiming in defense of the indefensible.

Muslims have discussed this topic as much as everyone else (e.g. Islam the Modern Religion, and leading Muslim groups such as the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Social Services Association and the Islamic Society of Toronto are all urging “zero tolerance” for domestic abuse and violence against women. The Muslim Women’s League published a position paper on honor killings.  Jewish, Muslim, Christian writers have produced a handbook to give religious leaders tools to help victims of violence. 

And yet, the violence continues - somehow we are not getting through to the population in general.  We are not being good shepherds.

It has been noted that:  Religious teachings or scripture are sometimes misinterpreted, distorted, and misused to suggest that domestic violence is acceptable or even God’s will among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Although, some who are quick to see the mote in their brothers eye have categorized this crime as a Muslim crime, a symptom of what’s wrong with Muslims, or as “proof” that somehow the religion of Islam is to blame. 

This is not a Muslim problem because it crosses all religious lines, but it is a Muslim problem because it also exists in our community.  As the late Shareefa Alkhateeb pointed out“An authoritarian family structure predisposes many Muslims in America to be abused in some way and possibly to become the victims of violence. Generally, the greater a husband’s dominance in the family structure, the more likely wife and child abuse become. In the most abusive homes, the father believes and socializes his wife and children to believe that whatever he wants the family to do is the same as what Allah wants them to do. He, in effect, makes himself into something of a god.” 

The rate of domestic abuse in the Muslim community is about the same as in the general population—about 18 percent, according to a 2000 study performed by Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., a rate comparable to the national average. It tends, however, to be more hidden, says Dorria Fahmy, WAFA’s founder and executive director. 

Allah’s Apostle, said: “Every one of you (people) is a shepherd. And every one is responsible for whatever falls under his responsibility. A man is like a shepherd of his own family, and he is responsible for them.” This Hadith is reported by both Bukhari and Muslim.

We must be good shepherds.

The Republican reported that domestic violence deaths have reached record numbers in Massachusetts where there have been 38 deaths from domestic violence, and 12 suicides by perpetrators in 2007 alone. 

In a study of more than 8,000 homicides in large urban counties,  the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) said 16 percent involved murder inside the family, in four out of ten of them a spouse killed a spouse.  Offspring were killed by their parents at twice the rate that offspring killed their parents.  The study further noted that 20.9% of family murders were of parents killing their children.

Murders of pregnant women are rising across the country.  “A year-long examination by The Washington Post of death-record data in states across the country documents the killings of 1,367 pregnant women and new mothers since 1990.”

ABC did a news story “Mothers and Fathers Who Murder” because of the recent increase in such murders.

People have killed themselves because of some perversion of religion like the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide.  and like Jim Jones and the People’s Temple, or the Solar Temple Murderers have killed others to fulfill some “religious” nightmare.

Children of Thunder, three Mormon young people killed innocent people to defeat Satan?

Sikh and Hindu “honor” killings are still prevalent in India and in North America.  Jaswinder Kaur Sidhu, a young Sikh Canadian girl was murdered at the order of her own family in 2003.  A Christian Palestinian girl was murdered by her family in an honor killing   and in fact this problem is widespread in Palestinian society no matter the religious affiliation.  In January 2008 a Hindu man in Chicago set a fire that killed his pregnant daughter, his son-in-law and his 3-year-old grandson, because he disapproved of his daughter’s marriageSubhash Chander (Hindu) has been charged with killing his pregnant daughter, her husband and their 3-year-old son in a weekend arson fire in Chicago.  At least one report says they were killed because his daughter had married into a lower caste.

In Sioux City Iowa two young girls were allegedly murdered by their stepfather during what police say was a Satanic ritual.

Rabbi Shlomo Arar’s wife and daughter committed an honor crime when they kidnapped and beat a boy who was involved with the Rabbi’s daughter.  Rabbi Fred Neulander of the Congregation M’Kor Shalom Reform Temple in Cherry Hill, New Jersey was convicted of hiring two men to kill his wife.  Nachman Inshin, a Devout Jewish Haredi man in Israel was arrested for murdering his infant daughter Fruma because his wife refused to sleep with him.  He first recited a verse from the Book of Psalms, and then killed the baby.  Rabbi David Wax kidnapped a man and threatened to kill him unless he granted his wife a Jewish divorce.  In New York, Sam Friedlander, a religious Jew, killed his wife and children, then killed himself.  Seth Bader, an Orthodox Jew who was convicted of murdering his wife filed a lawsuit over inability to practice his religion in prison.  Arthur Rubin, an Orthodox Jew charged for murdering his wife in Staten Island.  Moshe Gedalia indicted for abusing and murdering his wife because she asked for a divorce.  Rod Colvin accused of strangling his wife in New York. His wife had already obtained a “get” — a Jewish religious divorce — from Rod before she was murdered.  James Butwin burned his wife and 3 children to death and killed himself in Arizona. The family was active at Temple Emanuel in Phoenix.  Butwin’s wife had filed for a divorce.

A Christian father starved his infant son to death because of a “vision” from God.  A Christian mother killed her baby to give her child to God.  Parents have killed their children because they thought they were gay, for stealing to buy drugs, over a video game, to avoid paying child support, because of worry over gambling debts, because they were autistic and hard to care for, over a fight with a spouseAndrea Yates, Deanna Laney , and Lawshaun Harris  (devout Christians) killed their children because “God told them to”.  Constance & Larry Slack (devout Christians – Jehovah’s Witnesses) beat their daughter to death for   being disobedient.  A pastors son killed his mom and shot his dad.

The list goes on an on and would take up volumes to list.  The truth is that family murder is ‘too awful to contemplate’, and yet we must contemplate this crisis and find ways to reach distressed families before any more lives are lost.  The idea found in some cultures that somehow if a families “honor” is damaged, they can restore that “honor” by taking some violent action against the individual or individuals perceived to have been the source of that loss of honor, is only one of many possible justifications for such reprehensible and evil acts.  There is no “honor involved” because such acts of violence are simply dishonorable.

It has been noted that: “Women who kill their children commonly cite God, the devil and other religious influences for their actions. Although the mothers are also often found to be severely mentally ill or psychotic, the recurring theme of religiosity begs the question: Is religion to blame?  Theologians, sociologists and psychiatrists generally say no. They say religiosity is a common theme among psychotics because hallucinations and delusions usually take familiar forms.  “Most of the people in nut houses are religious because most Americans are religious,” said Rodney Stark, a social sciences professor at Baylor University. “We know what causes schizophrenia and it isn’t going to church. It’s biochemical.”  

One article about the Aqsa Parvez case had the title “Girl’s death puts Islam in hot seat”—if that is true, then all the other deaths must also put Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, etc. all in the hot seat.  We have a serious problem in our society, and members of all faith communities need to work together to attempt to find solutions, and to educate our own faith communities in the actual teachings of our various belief systems.  Although individuals may attempt to justify their actions on the basis of some distortion of religious teachings, there is no justification for this behavior.
In attempting to see this as “their” problem and not “our” problem, and pointing the finger of blame elsewhere, we take away any chance of working effectively together to get at the root problems and stop this from ever happening again. 

In 2009, Phyllis Chesler wrote an article Are Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence?  in which she falsely claimed that my statement in this article about domestic violence “dismissed the problem”.  Here is how Chesler worded this claim In 2007, after Aqsa Parvez was murdered by her father in Toronto for not wearing hijab (a head covering), Sheila Musaji wrote in the American Muslim, “Although this certainly is a case of domestic violence … ‘honor’ killings are not only a Muslim problem, and there is no ‘honor’ involved.”[9] Mohammed Elmasry, of the Canadian Islamic Congress, also dismissed the problem.

What I actually said was:  Although this certainly is a case of domestic violence, some are referring to this as an example of an “honor” killing.  The facts are not in yet as to whether or not this is the case.  And, as with all forms of domestic abuse, domestic violence and family violence, “honor” killings are not only a Muslim problem, and there is no “honor” involved.  There is no “honor” in violence or murder.  And, further in the article, I said The truth is that family murder is ‘too awful to contemplate’, and yet we must contemplate this crisis and find ways to reach distressed families before any more lives are lost.  The idea found in some cultures that somehow if a families “honor” is damaged, they can restore that “honor” by taking some violent action against the individual or individuals perceived to have been the source of that loss of honor, is only one of many possible justifications for such reprehensible and evil acts.  There is no “honor involved” because such acts of violence are simply dishonorable.

Her selective “quote” was repeated by Chuck Norris, and many other Islamophobes, exactly as she wrote it, and using it in the same way, to falsely claim that I was “dismissing the problem” or pretending that such crimes don’t exist in the Muslim community.  It would be impossible for any reasonable person to read this article and come away with that conclusion. 


Twenty Canadian Muslim Organizations Urge ‘Zero Tolerance’ for Domestic Violence after the tragic murder of Aqsa Parvez. 12/2007

Imam Zaid Shakir has practical suggestions for attempting to root out this barbaric practice from the Muslim community (7/2008):

Practical steps include the following:  1. Emphasize that such killings have no sanction in the Qur’an, the Prophetic practice, or in Islamic law.  2. Declare anyone guilty of involvement in honor killings to be a cold-blooded murderer.  3. Encourage judicial authorities to enact the harshest penalties possible for anyone accused of involvement in such killings. 4. Educate our Muslim communities, especially in the West, about the un-Islamic nature of honor killings, and the pressures, nuances, challenges and complications facing young Muslims, male and female in the West.
5. Work to eliminate the double standards, and to expose the hypocrisy that exist in our communities, generally, concerning attitudes and standards relating to the indiscretions of males as opposed to females.

The Islamic Society of North America ISNA has published a statement The Islamic Response to Domestic Violence 10/2009

Wajahat Ali has published an important article (2/2010) February 12-”Remembering Aasiya Zubair and Confronting Domestic Violence”

Last year the tragic beheading of Aasiya Zubair jolted a dormant Muslim American community to finally acknowledge and proactively confront the hidden scourge of domestic violence in its midst.

On 12 February 2009, Aasiya Zubair, a Muslim Pakistani American MBA student and co-founder of Bridges TV, was murdered by her estranged husband, Muhammad Hassan, after she officially filed for divorce and obtained a restraining order against him. Hassan’s previous two wives left him due to domestic abuse, and Asma Firfirey, the sister of the deceased, stated Aasiya had previously sustained physical injuries requiring nearly $3,000 of medical bills. Hassan, who was ostensibly and regrettably considered a community leader despite his history of abuse – a shameful oversight and failure of the Muslim leadership community – is now charged with the murder. Remarkably, he recently invoked the “battered” spouse defence combined with psychiatric elements claiming that it was in fact he who suffered verbal abuse and humiliation by his wife.

Hassan’s defence takes away from the very real statistics that show the sobering reality of domestic violence in America. Approximately 1.3 million women in America are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually and nearly 25% of women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Contrary to some spurious reporting and ignorant, reactionary stereotyping in the wake of Aasiya’s murder, abhorrent violence against women is neither culturally innate nor exclusive to Muslim, South Asian, or immigrant males. Sadly, domestic violence is universally endemic in “women of all races [who] are about equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate partner”.

Commendably, the Muslim American community refused to plead victimhood and make media-friendly, defensive rationalisations following Aasiya’s murder. Instead, they universally condemned the murder, acknowledged the existence of domestic violence as a silent but prevalent reality deliberately hidden due to shame, and decided to finally clean their own house.

A sudden grassroots effort emerged within two days of her death – mobilised primarily by websites such as Facebook – that campaigned for a “pledge to end domestic violence”. A nationwide, unified effort entitled Imams Speak Out: Domestic Violence Will Not Be Tolerated in Our Communities, directly called on imams and religious leaders to use their Friday sermon to decisively denounce abuse against women in Muslim communities. The call was heard and answered loudly. Shaikh Hamza Yusuf, one of the most influential and popular Muslim American clerics, used the Qur’an, sharia and life of the Prophet Muhammad to categorically condemn such behaviour as un-Islamic and forbidden. Moreover, he admonished domestic abusers who rationalise such criminal acts by perversely misusing their religion to justify their violence.

Meanwhile, a Facebook group, In Memory of Aasiya Zubair: A Pledge to End Domestic Violence, was created as a unified, multicultural, globalised effort to combat domestic violence.

Immediately following the tragedy, a few Muslim Americans started the Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence website, where they issued a global pledge “to never to engage in, support, or remain silent about the physical, psychological, and emotional abuse of Muslim and non-Muslim women and children”. To commemorate the anniversary of Aasiya’s death, they have released a “call to action” asking religious imams to reserve their Friday 12 February sermon to speak out against domestic abuse.

Also, the tragedy highlighted the resources and remarkable work of existing anti-domestic violence organisations and shelters that were sadly not fully utilised by many mosques and Muslim community centres during Aasiya’s life.

For example, Peaceful Families Project, which has existed since 2000, collaborated with the Muslim Women’s League last year to compile an online directory of “domestic violence programmes for Muslim communities”. They are now spearheading a video campaign called Take A Stand Against Domestic Violence, featuring pledges from Muslims all over the world.

An organised, global initiative, International Wear a Purple Hijab Day is asking Muslim women to wear a purple headscarf to remember Aasiya Zubair on 13 February and unite as a community to speak out against domestic abuse. Project Sakinah: Stop Family Violence Now is being developed by Dar al Islam, a New Mexico non-profit organisation, to stimulate awareness and decisive action within Muslim communities.

Furthermore, several domestic violence shelters, non-profit organisations, and Muslim community centres are hosting speeches and panels this weekend to commemorate Aasiya’s memory. Specifically, Domestic Harmony Foundation and Turning Point for Women and Families is hosting a joint panel to clear misconceptions of Islam’s treatment of women and to condemn the domestic violence and murder of Aasiya.

Although the journey remains long and arduous, it is bittersweet yet ultimately encouraging that the anniversary of Aasiya Zubair’s death inspires many Muslim Americans, who were previously either apathetic or ignorant, to draw upon their faith and religious traditions to end domestic violence in honour of her memory.

The Global Muslim Women’s Shura Council IN 2010 issued a statement that: We, members of the Global Muslim Women’s Shura Council, declare gender equality to be an intrinsic part of the Islamic faith. As Muslims, we affirm our conviction that the Muslim woman is worthy of respect and dignity, that as a legal individual, spiritual being, social person, responsible agent, free citizen, and servant of God, she holds fundamentally equal rights to exercise her abilities and talents in all areas of human activity. Furthermore, we insist that these rights are embedded within the Qur’an and six objectives of Shari’a—the protection and promotion of religion (al-din), life (al-nafs), mind (al-‘aql), family (al-nasl), wealth (al-mal), and dignity (al-‘ird). As the Shura Council, we embrace our collective and individual responsibility to work towards building a unified change movement of Muslim women – driven by compassion and justice – that will enable Muslim women to realize their full potential as individuals and in relationship to family, community, nation, and globe. 

They have begun a number of educational programs, and initiated a JIHAD AGAINST VIOLENCE.  A great deal more information is available on their site.  Here are some of the key points about this effort

Violence is a human phenomenon that exists across diverse cultures and faith communities.  It remains an ever-present reality in the lives of millions of Muslims, preventing entire societies from flouishing in religious, cultural, political, and economic spheres.  Throughout the world, violence destroys the ability of Muslim women to thrive within their families, communities, and nations.  Violent extremism and domestic violence, in particular, continue to devastate individual lives, families and societies.  This is a clear injustice to those who suffer such indignities, as well as a violation of the teachings of Islam, whose mantle is wrongly used to justify such violence.

“Jihad Against Violence: Muslim Women’s Struggle for Peace” is the first statement of the global Muslim women’s Shura Council, an all women’s advisory council that promotes women’s rights within an Islamic framework.  A combined study and condemnation of violent extremism and domestic violence, “Jihad against Violence” addresses two critical is