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Nancy Graham Holm

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Honor Crimes Are Cultural, Don't Blame Them On Muhammad

Posted: 02/ 7/2012 12:30 pm

Ever since a Canadian court convicted three Afghani immigrants on Jan. 29 of first degree murder -- labeling the crime an honor killing -- the internet has been predictably buzzing with Islamophobic comments. Islam bashing is popular and the result of ignorance, bigotry or a little of both.

The toxic root of honor-motivated violence is centuries old, pre-dating Islam during the historical period that Muslims call Jahiliyyah: a state of ignorance without guidance from God. The Qur'an provided guidance for an ethical and orderly life and there is nothing in it that calls for or justifies individual acts of revenge. In addition, academic scholars agree that the Qur'an in the 7th century was an "incredibly progressive document" for its time, giving women rights and economic freedoms not seen in Christianity or Judaism until the early 20th century. It was Mohammed who denounced the practice of female infanticide, implemented by burying baby girls alive in the desert. It was Mohammed that gave women social status and provisions in the law that permitted divorce and inheritance.

Throughout the following centuries, economic and sociological circumstances compromised many of Mohammed's ideas about gender equality, just as wars in Europe and western expansion in North America compromised many Christian principles. The "wild west" was an honor-shame society in which revenge was common. Dueling -- the practice of shooting someone who insulted you -- persisted in Europe throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, despite denunciations by both the church and governments.

In honor-and-shame cultures, a man is expected to be responsible for the behavior of other members of his family. Male honor resides in the sexual probity of women because in patrilineal societies men must control reproductive power and fertility. In the absence of gender equality, women become property and serve no purpose other than to be a boy baby factory. Within this context, women are irrevocably shamed, regardless of their innocence because the honor-shame code concerns neither innocence nor guilt. In a study by psychiatry professor, Amin Muhammad and resident, Sujay Patel: a man brutally killed his wife and daughter after finding out that his brother had previously molested them. In the so-called Imrana case, a Muslim woman raped by her father-in-law was ordered to leave her husband because she had become haram (unclean) for him. "It does not matter," a Deobundi cleric stated, "if it was consensual or forced."

Deoband, 90 miles north of Delhi, is the birthplace of the ultra puritanical Deobandi cult, exporting the most fundamentalist, puritan and oppressive version of Islam that exists anywhere in the world today. It controls many mosques in the UK and is spreading its influence in North America. The assassins of Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl were followers of Deobandi teachings. Muslim feminist, Asra Nomani was a colleague and best friends with Daniel Pearl. She says Western Muslims must condemn all extremist branches of Islam and vigorously campaign to extinguish them: "We must tell them that it is not women who bring shame. It is their message of intolerance that is shaming us!"

The prosecution in the Shafia case argued that it was Afghan tribal traditional honor that led the Afghan-Canadian businessman to cleanse the shame he felt from his rebellious daughters: Zainab (19), Sahar, (17) and Geeti (13). Their crime was a wish to live like modern western women and they shamed him by dating, wearing western style clothing, and skipping school. Rona Amir (50), Shafia's first wife in a polygamous marriage, was also murdered because she wanted a divorce. On Jan. 29, Shafia and his wife, Tooba Yahya and son, Hamad were found guilty of four counts each of first-degree murder. The judge said that the verdict sent a clear message about "Canadian values."

Samira Kanji, president of the Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto calls the murders a breach of religious ethics but takes issue about Canadian values. "Valuing life is not
uniquely Canadian or uniquely Western," she said. "I think it's a universal value."
Abdullahi An-Na'im, professor of law, reformist and human rights activist agrees: "These are my African Muslim values. To say human rights are Western is to deny their universality." In his own defense, Mohammed Shafia took the stand and swearing on the Qur'an to tell the truth, invoked the holy book to say that Islam does not condone killing people to preserve a family's honor. Maybe it was merely a defense strategy, but on this point he told the truth.

Honor-shame crimes in Western societies will eventually disappear, not through law
but moral disapproval. As Muslims with progressive values slowly but surely take ascendancy over Deobandi and Wahabi puritan fundamentalism, honor-shame sub-cultures will disappear and with it, the sanctioned abuse of women.