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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam What is This? A guide to a wide variety of general questions asked by those looking to learn more about Muslim culture and the Islamic world.

Society, Politics, and Economy >
Is honor killing sanctioned by Islam?

Honor killings are murders, usually committed by male family members against female family members who are accused of “immoral” behavior (violating social norms, modesty and sexual codes) that is seen as breaking the “honor codes” of a family or community. As the products of strong patriarchal value systems, these codes reflect deeply rooted social and cultural concepts of honor and shame, and women are seen as fully responsible for maintaining family and community honor. The complicity of other females in the family, who often support the attacks, strengthens the community mentality that women are property and that violence against them is a family matter, not a judicial issue.

According to the 2009 United Nations Human Development Report, five thousand people, mostly women and girls, die annually as a result of honor killings. Honor killings have occurred across cultures and across religions in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, Great Britain, Greece, Haiti, India, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and Uganda.

Honor killing occurred in ancient civilizations like Babylonia, biblical Israel, and Rome, and later, for example, as a result of the Napoleonic Penal Code. Many of those guilty of honor killings attempt to justify their actions religiously, but none of the world's religions, including Islam, approves such murders. Rather than religion, the primary causes of honor killings are patriarchal tribal, clan, and cultural practices or codes of behavior in male-dominated societies or communities. The cultural roots of honor crimes can be seen across Asia, where they occur among Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh communities, or in Lebanon and some other Middle East countries, where they are found among Christians as well as Muslims.

Honor killing is not in the Quran or in the Prophetic traditions (hadith), nor is it sanctioned by Islamic religion and law. Many Muslim scholars, commentators, and organizations condemn honor killings as an un-Islamic cultural practice. Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, one of the most prominent Shii spiritual leaders, issued a fatwa banning honor killing, describing it as “a repulsive act, condemned and prohibited by religion.” Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Egypt's Grand Mufti, has also spoken out forcefully against honor killings. However, the threat of this barbaric act continues in many countries and communities where local Muslim religious leaders, peoples, and politicians support or allow such practices. As a result those who commit such crimes often escape punishment or receive reduced, very light sentences.

While honor killings receive a great deal of attention, human rights activists point to the similar dynamic behind the deaths in India of thousands of brides whose dowries are considered insufficient or who marry outside their caste. As with crimes of passion, which are treated leniently in Latin America and some Western countries, when male family members kill women it is considered understandable and excusable.

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