THE issue of honour killing has come to the fore yet again in human rights discourse. While the practice is not confined to any particular country or region, much attention has been focused on Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, Palestine, Syria, Egypt and Morocco, where the crime appears to be on the rise.
The spotlight on honour killing in Muslim countries has made many Muslims in the West acutely uncomfortable and generated a reaction of anger and defensiveness. Given the widespread negative stereotyping of Islam and Muslims, this reaction is understandable. However, it is very important to point out both to Muslims and non-Muslims who think that honour killing can be legitimised by reference to Islam, that there is absolutely no justification for it in our faith.
The Quran — the highest source of authority in Islam — puts so much value on the life of a human being that it likens the killing of one person to the killing of entire humanity. “…if anyone slays a human being — unless it be (in punishment) for murder or for spreading corruption on earth — it shall be as though he had slain all humankind; whereas if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all humankind.” (Surah 5: 32)
It is well known that most victims of honour killing are accused wrongly and murdered on little or no evidence. All too often, the horrendous crime is sought to be legitimised with reference to a value system which claims to be Islamic. The Quran which is extremely protective of the rights of disadvantaged human beings is particularly concerned about protecting the rights and lives of women who are accused of dishonourable acts, as the following verses show:
“And as for those who accuse chaste women (of adultery), and then are unable to produce four witnesses (in support of their accusation), flog them with 80 stripes; and ever after refuse to accept from them any testimony — since it is they, they that are truly depraved” (Surah 24: 5) “…And for those who accuse their own wives (of adultery), but have no witnesses except themselves, let each of these (accusers) call God four times to witness that he is indeed telling the truth, and the fifth time, that God’s curse be upon him if he is telling a lie. But (as for the wife, all) chastisement shall be averted from her by her calling God four times to witness that he is indeed telling a lie, and the fifth (time), that God’s curse be upon her if he is telling the truth” (Surah 24: 6-8)
The Quran makes it mandatory upon all believers that they respect the sanctity of life; that they stand up for justice and that they testify to the truth. It also makes it obligatory for the Muslim community to protect those who witness to the truth. Those who deny that honour killings are taking place, or that highlighting them is tantamount to Islam-bashing, need to be mindful of the Quranic verses such as the following:
“You who have attained faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over (the claims of) either of them. Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort (the truth), behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do.” (Surah 4: 135)
“Behold, God enjoins justice, and the doing of good and generosity towards (one’s) fellow-beings; and God forbids all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason, and is envy; (and) God exhorts you (repeatedly) so that you might bear (all this) in mind.” Surah 16: 90). “And cover not truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth when you know (what it is).” (Surah 2: 42) “…And let (not a) witness suffer harm. If you do (such harm) it would be wickedness in you.” (Surah 2: 282)