- from Stand By Your Man by Tammy Wynette & Billy Sherrill
In Islam, a Muslim man can have up to four wives, they are literally his property and they must be devoutly obedient to him. If a wife disobeys, the husband can beat her. Indeed, mere suspicion of disloyalty or ill conduct suffices. This sounds like a pretty good deal to me – religious authorization to beat your wife, with legal and civil impunity (in most parts of the Muslim world), for the slightest offense. What more could a man want? And if you had four wives to beat, would you have the time or energy for more?
Well, Muslim men, overachievers in family matters, came up with “honor killing.” If this is the first you’ve heard the term, you might think that honor killing is the icing on the beatings cake – the extra something a Muslim man could want. I too initially assumed it was a fallback punishment a husband must dutifully administer to an intractably errant wife, you know, in case the beatings didn’t work.
But I was wrong and I learned that we shouldn’t be hasty in judging apprehensive, sexually repressed, Muslim men and their zany traditions. For honor killing is much more than murdering a disobedient wife. It includes murdering daughters too. And if you think it is a perquisite bestowed on misogynic Muslim men beleaguered by unruly females, may shame and disgrace be upon you. Rather, it is a deep belief held by misogynic Muslim men that honor killings strengthen Islamic culture.
When a Muslim man marries, it is a cultural union that serves as a social contract where, according to the Chicago Tribune, “a marriage agreement is more about families joining forces than about two people finding love…” But Muslim women are the vessels of the family reputation. They are also the property of the husband who, accordingly, is entitled to decide their fate. When they impugn the family honor, cast shame on the exalted social contract, their fate must be death. In the Islamic world, this is unassailable logic.
Let’s say that after a few years of beatings, your wife files for divorce. Or let’s say that, despite the top-notch sex education and family planning Muslim countries are known for, your daughter gets pregnant. Now the whole world is going to know. Think of the shame you will have to bear. Well, Subhaanallah (Glory be to Allah), this is where you get to exercise the Honor Killing option. Kill your wife. Kill your daughter. Restore your honor and show the world that you are the man of the family.
Who am I to judge a man who kills his wife for flirting, removing her veil, wearing controversial clothing, or failing to serve a meal on time? And what are you going to do with a daughter who spurns an arranged marriage, talks with boys on her cell phone, smokes cigarettes, falls in love with a boy from another tribe, or is raped?
Yes, even being raped qualifies you for a good murdering. In fact, being raped is one of the best ways to bring shame on your family. That’s right, in this system of bizarre morality, it’s not the rapist who shames his family, it is the victim who shames hers. And this logic applies even if you are a minor or a mentally retarded minor. Not that an underage, retarded girl would worry about such things, but evidently there is a perverse extension of the Honor Killing rule whereby, if you’re not careful, you can bring shame to your tribe. One such girl, Lal Jamilla Mandokhel, a 16 year old from the Northwest Frontier province of Pakistan, was was repeatedly raped by a junior clerk from the local government department of agriculture. Following a complaint filed by her uncle, police apprehended the accused. The girl, however, was handed over to her tribe, whose judicial council quickly decided that she had brought shame to them. She was promptly killed in front of a tribal gathering.
Below are some excerpts from the trial. I wasn’t present and the proceedings weren’t documented, so I’m basing them on imagination. However, I’m pretty sure they are sufficiently close to what transpired and would constitute solid evidence at many Muslim inquisitions.
An exchange that took place towards the end of Lal Jamilla’s testimony:
Council legal representative: “Why did the man repeatedly rape you?”
Lal Jamilla: “I’m a female.”
Council legal representative: “Why didn’t you resist and fight the rapist off?”
Lal Jamilla: “I’m only 16 years old.”
Council legal representative: “Is it not true that you plied your sultry feminine wiles to manipulate and seduce the guileless clerk?”
Lal Jamilla: “I’m retarded.”
A discussion that took place during judicial deliberations after the closing arguments:
Council member #1: Well, there’s no question she has shamed her family. As is well known, her consent, or the lack thereof, in the lurid acts is irrelevant to the guardians of honor.
Council member #2: No kidding! Old man Mandokhel won’t live this one down any time soon. Those guys over in Parachinar will be ribbing him about it for weeks.
Council member #3: Wait a minute. Are you saying he’s not Pashtun?
Council member #2: Na-uzo-billah, yah.
Tribal judge: Well that settles it. She has shamed the Pashtun tribe. They’ll be ribbing us about it too. Put her to death before a big tribal gathering.
Skeptical, and admittedly judgmental at times, I’ve had to struggle quite a bit in my attempts to appreciate the Muslim male perspective. For example, why does the penalty have to be death? Granted, punishments such as time-outs or stern reprimands would be ineffectual, especially if repeated beatings didn’t nip the dishonor in the bud. But what about a good public flogging or even a dismemberment? Luckily, I stumbled on to the following gem:
"A man is a piece of gold and a woman is a piece of silk. If you drop a piece of gold into the mud you can polish it clean. If you drop a piece of silk into mud it is stained forever."
So, what do you do with those pesky shame stains? If you can’t clean it, kill it. Isn’t that what Muhammad always said?
Muslim men brutally kill thousands of wives and daughters every year. When reading about them, it helps to understand Muslim traditions, as quirky as they may seem, and their cultural and religious context. Otherwise, one could be found guilty of, USTUGH-FER-ALLAH, stereotyping.
The recent honor killing in Buffalo, New York is illustrative. Earlier this month, Muzzammil “Mo” Hassan, the CEO of Bridges TV, a Buffalo based Islamic television network he founded in 2004 to help portray Muslims in a more positive light, beheaded his 37 year old wife, Aasiya. This happened just days after she had filed for divorce. It also happened while she was on the phone with her older sister, Asma Firfirey, who lives in South Africa. Prior to the call, Mo and Aasiya had been arguing. During the conversation, Asma heard Aasiya telling Mo to calm down. This was followed by the sounds of Mo cutting off her sister’s head.
Before you condemn Mo and Muslim lore for the beheading, keep in mind that telling your Muslim husband to calm down is asking for trouble under the best of circumstances. Obviously, doing so right after you’ve told him you want a divorce could be a fatal mistake. And note that it could have been much worse. Mo was a moderate Muslim. Only Allah knows what he would have done had he been a fundamentalist. Finally, you should only judge the act in comparison with the cultural and religious customs of other ethnic groups, perhaps your own. This was succinctly explained by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, a producer and host for Bridges TV who worked alongside the Hassans, when he stated
"I will only say to those who leap to the conclusion that this kind of thing is intrinsic to Islam, ask yourselves if you think that drunkenness is intrinsic to Irish Catholics, or cheating in business is to Jews?"
I had trouble understanding why a rabbi would make such a comment about a Muslim honor killing, but his statement made me do a little soul-searching. I discovered that, as a beer-drinking, Irish Catholic, I shouldn’t be so quick to throw stones. For all I know, this was a simple case of Muslim domestic violence. Context is everything. I’m no ethnic coward. Mo’s counter stereotyping message will live on, after all, in my heart.
It should be noted that neither the Koran nor Islamic law explicitly sanctions honor killing. It should also be noted that while there are about 5000 honor killings reported annually, there are over 1 billion Muslims. Let’s say ½ of them are male and that ¼ of these are married. Then only one out of every 25,000 Muslim men is an honor killer. If you are a Muslim female, that’s like cheating death.
On the other hand, honor killing is the result of the shame/honor system Islam has created and is deeply rooted in Islamic culture. Furthermore, the above victim-to-honor killer ratio is based on reported honor killings, which some believe is a distortion of reality. According to Ajay Nair, associate dean of multicultural affairs at Columbia University, honor killings are not a problem. They are anomalies. He points out “What is a problem, I think, is domestic violence, and that cuts across all communities.” Thus, in Ajay’s view, most of the 5000 killings reported aren’t honor killings. Rather, they are domestic violence gone awry.
With all due respect to Ajay, the actual number is probably much larger. In many parts of the Muslim world they are legal or considered excusable or understandable and go unreported. And as a practical matter, who’s going to report them. If your father just beheaded your mother for listening to a radio, what do you think he would do to you if you were to call a cop? Said Widney Brown, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, "In many cases, the women are buried in unmarked graves and all records of their existence are wiped out." If Brown is right, the true number could be enormous.
In grappling with such unreliable statistics, it is often useful to apply indirect methods – as a sort of sanity check. So our statisticians examined dowry deaths in India. These are deaths of young women resulting from inadequate dowries. They are caused by in-laws who murder the bride or drive her to suicide by harassment and torture. India also claims 5000 annually. But as a social democracy and, therefore, a scrupulous recordkeeper, one cannot question the accuracy of India’s number. Thus, it stands to reason that Muslim men must kill a lot more females than 5000. Allah wouldn’t allow Muslims to be outdone by a bunch of Hindus. Think of the shame that would bring.
While there is nothing in the Koran that sanctions honor killing, my guess is that there’s nothing in there about mercy or swift justice either. According to a 2004 United Nations report,
“Women and young girls are set ablaze, strangled, shot at, clubbed, stabbed, tortured, axed, or stoned to death… Their bodies are found mutilated with their throat slit, or they are chopped into pieces and thrown in a ditch."
Inflicting such cruelty, often prolonged cruelty, can take a lot of time and effort – not to mention the burden of constant vigilence required to defend family honor or of meticulous murder planning when shame visits. Evidently realizing that they shouldn’t be expected to do all the work, Muslim husbands and fathers came up with a few nifty variations to honor killing rules. It’s now common to have a son, usually the youngest son, commit the murder. This variation is popular in areas where honor killing is illegal. In the event that the murderer is caught, a son will do less time than the father. A teenage boy would typically serve only three months to a year. So Malak Suleiman, who was six months pregnant and determined to be guilty of immoral behavior, was killed by her brother. He ran her over three times with his pick-up truck. Not only did the busy father saved valuable time, he eliminated the risk of prison for himself and his son got to prove his manhood.
Another variation is to allow other family members, family friends or even hired help carry out the murders. This variation is great for extremely busy Muslim men or for situations when justice must be administered when the husband or father is unavailable. For example, Banaz Mahod, a 20-year-old Iraqi Kurd, fled to London, England from a disastrous arranged marriage to a Kurdish man when she was 17. She “claimed” her husband had raped and beat her. Later, she fell in love with another man, an Iranian Kurd. But her family felt that he was not a good enough Muslim. Fortunately, an uncle saw a picture of her kissing the Iranian in public. Incensed by the act, he launched into action, holding a family meeting to sentence the couple to death and recruiting a gang of young family members and friends to carry it out. The gang beat, raped and tortured Banaz in an ordeal that lasted 2 ½ hours before strangling her to death with a bootlace. Then they stuffed her naked body into a suitcase and drove to Birmingham, where they buried it in a backyard garden.
By delagating the killing to a gang, the uncle saved about 7 hours of valuable time. This assumes a burial time of 30 minutes and 4 hours for the 100 mile London-Birmingham drive and back, in addition to the 2 ½ hours of raping and torturing. Saving time is always important, but let’s not forget performance. Sometimes it pays to get help if you want to make sure the job is done right. One day in Gujar Khan, Pakistan, Zahida Perveen’s husband came home from the mosque and wrongly accused her of having an affair with a brother-in-law. Not wanting to take the chance that his suspicions were unfounded, he attacked her with a razor and a knife, gouging out both eyes and cutting off her nose and ears. But Zahida, who was three months pregnant with his (the husband’s) child, lived. Oops! Having a few friends and family members to help administer the extra justice needed to kill her would have prevented the mistake.
Fortunately, there are times you don’t even need to ask for help. Muslim men will often volunteer spontaneously, and in large numbers. Last year, a 17-year old Iraqi girl named Du'a Khalil Al-Aswad fell in love with a boy from a different religious sect, thereby dishonoring the men in her own sect. The act readily qualified her for an honor killing. But before her father could respond (i.e., kill her), the dishonored men, sprang into action. They dragged her from her home - while security guards watched - to a nearby public area where they brutally beat and stoned her to death. Police reported that the crowd might have contained as many as 2,000 onlookers with several tens of manly Muslim men and boys participating in the killing. Many of the onlookers and participants were friends, neighbors and relatives of Du'a Khalil, excited by rumor of her shame.
A cell phone video of this particular honor killing is posted at the LEILLA Magazine web site for those who would like to see one in action. There are numerous others, more than can be described here, and at least as atrocious. We tried to include the best ones in our review Top Ten Honor Killings.
Technically not an honor killing, honor suicides are a derivative. If a woman knows she is going to be killed (family members often notify the woman in advance), she can avoid the messy business by killing herself. This takes the fun out of it for the men, but restores family honor nevertheless. Indeed, honor suicide is an area in which mothers often pitch in to help the family. An illustrative case happened to a New Jersey Muslim family a few years ago. Upon discovering that her daughter had been raped by her son, the mother bought the girl razor blades so she could kill herself and encouraged her to do so, no doubt, in a motherly way.
The honor suicide phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by terrorists. Intimately familiar with the honor killings code, they wasted no time inventing a clever suicide bomber recruitment technique. First, get a terrorist man to rape a Muslim girl, thereby shaming her family. Second, get a terrorist woman to talk the girl into committing suicide. This part is easy – one only needs to describe some of the ways her father, brother and/or in-laws will murder her. Third, tell her all is not lost; you know of a suicide method in which she can redeem herself by killing infidels and that it’s quick and painless to boot. Fourth, at this point, just have her strap on the vest. Samira Jassim, who fondly called herself "the Mother of Believers,” started a cottage industry out of it. Before she was arrested, she had recruited 80 female suicide bombers (i.e., 80 rapes), 28 of whom went on to redeem themselves.
Nefarious Muslim men pathologically compelled to control the freedom and sexuality of females will be heartened, possibly aroused, by currrent Honor Killing trends. It has spread to Europe, the U.S., Canada and many other non-Muslim areas. Muslim men continue to equate manhood with exercising absolute control over women and, thanks to the internet, cell phones and other “windows to lust,” there is a veritable explosion in the number of honor crimes and, therefore, potential honor victims. Even Muslim women who have emigrated from Muslim countries remain vulnerable. According to Nazir Afzal of the Crown Prosecution Service in England,
“… I can tell you that the greatest fear they have is not Islamophobia or being attacked by racists or being arrested on suspicion of terrorism. It is from within their own family."
Law enforcement, the mainstream media, social workers, government officials and, most conspicuous, Western feminists are afraid to confront the realities of honor killing and its Islamic underpinnings. The source of their fear is the possibility of being perceived as Islamophobes. If you can’t get Western feminists to take a stand against female murder, you are in pretty bad shape. That these enlightened groups fail to act in any meaningful ways says as much about them as it does honor killers. It also ensures additional honor killings – victims of political correctness.
In Muslim countries, Islamic clerics can always be counted on to fan the fires of honor killing growth. For example, in 2003, the Jordanian Parliament voted down a law to stiffen honor killing penalties. Al-Jazeera reported,
“Islamists and conservatives said the laws violated religious traditions and would destroy families and values.”
In other words, a deterrent to killing family females would destroy the family - another gem of Muslim wisdom and logic. Never have the dark ages looked so bright.
Well, I hope that this article has been helpful in answering some of the questions you may have had regarding Honor Killing - why it’s important to Muslim culture, why females are the victims, why lesser penalties than murder won’t do, who gets to be the murderer, why honor killings are seldom reported or prosecuted, etc. Yet after the 100’s of reports, journal articles, and news stories I read in researching the topic, there is still one last question that keeps nagging me. How morally bankrupt and depraved must the behavior of a Muslim family be if its reputation can be improved by murdering some of its females?