Honor killing is a phenomenon that is widely known in the UK associated with Middle Eastern and South Asian communities. In fact, about 11,000 “honor-based” crimes were recorded by British police between 2010-2014. The issue was brought to the cultural fore early this year when the drama Murdered By My Father was released by BBC Three, of all channels, which tells the story of a young woman who is killed by her father for bringing shame upon her family by engaging in a secret relationship with a young man with whom she was not arranged to be married, which is also apparently based on a real-life account.
Last month a Pakistani celebrity named Qandeel Baloch was murdered by her brother, apparently for “dishonoring her family name”. She was apparently known for posting raunchy photos, videos and comments on social media and facing constant backlash from the highly socially conservative community in Pakistan. And how was her death treated by the people of Pakistan? With celebration, of course. Many people in Pakistan seemed to view her death as a righteous death, for she had supposedly dishonored her family with her raunchy celebrity persona.
So what does any of this have to do with Islam, you might wonder?
Generally it is believed that honor-based violence is prohibited by Islamic law. The following Quranic verse is usually cited:
“And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell to abide therein; and the Wrath and the Curse of Allah are upon him, and a great punishment is prepared for him” – Surah An-Nis 4:93
However, there is also parable found in the Quran concerning Moses (or Musa as he is known to Muslims), who is regarded as one of the most important and prominent prophets besides Muhammad himself, and a man named Khidr (or al-Khidr), who is described as a servant of Allah.
“Then they found one of Our slaves, unto whom We had bestowed mercy from Us, and whom We had taught knowledge from Us.
Musa (Moses) said to him (Khidr) ‘May I follow you so that you teach me something of that knowledge (guidance and true path) which you have been taught (by Allah)?’
He (Khidr) said: “Verily! You will not be able to have patience with me!
And how can you have patience about a thing which you know not?”
Musa (Moses) said: ‘If Allah will, you will find me patient, and I will not disobey you in aught.’
He (Khidr) said: ‘Then, if you follow me, ask me not about anything till I myself mention it to you.’
So they both proceeded, till, when they embarked the ship, he (Khidr) scuttled it. Musa (Moses) said: ‘Have you scuttled it in order to drown its people? Verily, you have committed a thing ‘Imra’ (a Munkar – evil, bad, dreadful thing).’
He (Khidr) said: “Did I not tell you, that you would not be able to have patience with me?”
Musa (Moses) said: “Call me not to account for what I forgot, and be not hard upon me for my affair (with you).”
Then they both proceeded, till they met a boy, he (Khidr) killed him. Musa (Moses) said: ‘Have you killed an innocent person who had killed none? Verily, you have committed a thing “Nukra” (a great Munkar – prohibited, evil, dreadful thing)!’
(Khidr) said: ‘Did I not tell you that you can have no patience with me?’
Musa (Moses) said: ‘If I ask you anything after this, keep me not in your company, you have received an excuse from me.’
Then they both proceeded, till, when they came to the people of a town, they asked them for food, but they refused to entertain them. Then they found therein a wall about to collapse and he (Khidr) set it up straight. [Musa (Moses)] said: If you had wished, surely, you could have taken wages for it!”
(Khidr) said: “This is the parting between me and you, I will tell you the interpretation of (those) things over which you were unable to hold patience.
As for the ship, it belonged to Masakin (poor people) working in the sea. So I wished to make a defective damage in it, as there was a king after them who seized every ship by force.
And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared lest he should oppress them by rebellion and disbelief.
So we intended that their Lord should change him for them for one better in righteousness and near to mercy.” – Surah Al-Kahf 18:65-81
In the parable, Khidr explains to Moses that he kills a child because he was rebellious and transgressive, or feared to be rebellious and transgressive. While this verse is by no means an explicit commandment telling Muslims to kill people who bring shame upon their families, I think parables like this can be used to justify similar actions. Let’s remember: this the word of Allah we’re talking about, or rather a servant of his. It’s like how in Islamic countries, child marriage is justified on the grounds that Muhammad, whose example Muslims are expected to follow, married a 6-year old girl and consummated the marriage when she was 9-years old.
There are also Hadiths where vigilantism against sinners is condoned or even commanded:
“Whenever I tell you a narration from Allah’s Apostle, by Allah, I would rather fall down from the sky than ascribe a false statement to him, but if I tell you something between me and you (not a Hadith) then it was indeed a trick (i.e., I may say things just to cheat my enemy). No doubt I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “During the last days there will appear some young foolish people who will say the best words but their faith will not go beyond their throats (i.e. they will have no faith) and will go out from (leave) their religion as an arrow goes out of the game. So, where-ever you find them, kill them, for who-ever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection.” – Bukhari Volume 9 Book 84 Number 64
“A blind man had a slave-mother who used to abuse the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and disparage him. He forbade her but she did not stop. He rebuked her but she did not give up her habit. One night she began to slander the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and abuse him. So he took a dagger, placed it on her belly, pressed it, and killed her. A child who came between her legs was smeared with the blood that was there. When the morning came, the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) was informed about it. He assembled the people and said: I adjure by Allah the man who has done this action and I adjure him by my right to him that he should stand up. Jumping over the necks of the people and trembling the man stood up. He sat before the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and said: Apostle of Allah! I am her master; she used to abuse you and disparage you. I forbade her, but she did not stop, and I rebuked her, but she did not abandon her habit. I have two sons like pearls from her, and she was my companion. Last night she began to abuse and disparage you. So I took a dagger, put it on her belly and pressed it till I killed her. Thereupon the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Oh be witness, no retaliation is payable for her blood.” – Abu Dawud, Book 36 Number 4348
“A Jewess used to abuse the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and disparage him. A man strangled her till she died. The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) declared that no recompense was payable for her blood” – Abu Dawud, Book 36 Number 4349
There is also a Hadith where “legal” punishment carried out against relatives is deemed permissible.
“It was narrated from `Ubadah bin Samit that the Messenger of Allah said: Carry out the legal punishments on relatives and strangers, and do not let the fear of blame stop you from carrying out the command of Allah (SWT)” – Ibn Majah 3:20:2540
Not to mention, there’s a Hadith condemning women who arrange their own marriages as adulteresses – adultery, by the way, is traditionally punished in the Islamic world by stoning if you’re a woman – and thus a woman arranging her own marriage is forbidden.
“It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that: the Messenger of Allah said: No woman should arrange the marriage of another woman, and no woman should arrange her own marriage. The adulteress is the one who arranges her own marriage.” – Ibn Maja 3:9:1882
It is naive to assume that honor-based violence isn’t derived from the teachings of Islam, when in fact such a thing is approved by the Hadiths, which would also mean they are approved by Sharia law -itself based on the Hadiths as well as the word of the Quran.
It’s also worth noting that Jordan, Syria and Palestine have relaxed laws on honor-based violence, and Pakistan is only recently introducing a law fully banning honor killing in light of Qandeel Baloch’s murder. And is it any coincidence that 91% percent of honor killings worldwide have been recorded as being committed by Muslims?
I doubt that honor killing is a phenomenon exclusively associated with Islam, as I am aware that honor-based killings have also been committed by Hindus in India – not to mention the Khap Panchayats dispensing their own brand of “justice”. However, I am convinced that, in the Muslim world, honor-based violence is something that can be justified based on the Hadiths, which means that Islam might make up a signification portion of the “cultural reasons” one might attribute as the cause of honor killings. At any rate, it is inescapable that honor killing in the Muslim world is in some way tied to Islam.