Just over a week ago, Muhammad Parvez, and his 29-year old son, Waqas Parvez, were sentenced to life in prison by an Ontario court for the murder of Muhammad’s daughter and Waqas’ sister, Aqsa Parvez. Aqsa was a rebellious 16-year old, the youngest of 8 children. She objected to her father’s demand that she wear a traditional Muslim hijab, and wanted to get a job so she could have the money to lead a normal teenage life. After she ran away from home and then returned, she told her friends she feared for her life, because her father had sworn on the Koran that he would kill her if she ran away again. She was right. Three months later, after another battle royale over her disobedience in attending her first movie, Aqsa ran away again. Her brother picked her up from a school bus stop and took her home; half an hour later, she was dead.
In an interview with police, Aqsa’s mother, Anwar Jan Parvez, said her husband told her he killed his youngest child because “My community will say, ‘You have not been able to control your daughter.’ This is my insult. She is making me naked.” This evidence of what he called “a twisted and repugnant mindset” led Judge Bruce Durno to find it “profoundly disturbing that a 16-year-old could be murdered by a father and brother for the purpose of saving family pride, for saving them from what they perceived as family embarrassment.”
Nevertheless, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations refused to admit that this was a Muslim “honor killing,” saying it was just a case of domestic violence that can happen in any family.
Domestic violence happens everywhere, including the most secular of families. What Canadian CAIR and other defenders of Islam deliberately choose to ignore, though, is that a substantial body of Muslim scripture and tradition teaches people like Muhammad and Waqas Parvez that it is God’s will for them to impose this kind of punishment on disobedient daughters.
It is true that there is nothing in the Koran or the traditions of Muhammad that flatly states “Thou shalt kill thy unruly daughters.” There are even some passages in the traditions that can fairly be interpreted as encouraging lenience and mercy in cases of violations of the sexual code. The trouble is, the Koran and the traditions are a jumbled mess of conflicting commandments, and there is plenty of ammunition there to turn a case of wounded pride into homicide.
First, there is the extensive Muslim authority that females in general are subhuman; their testimony counts as half the testimony of a male [Koran 2:282], their inheritance rights are half those of males [Koran 4:176], and they need to be covered up and kept inside as much as possible to avoid tempting males into sin. Men can have multiple wives, but women cannot have multiple husbands. [Koran 4:3] God said in the Koran that “Men are in charge of women, because God hath made one to excel the other,” while ordering back-talking women to be scourged. Muhammad is reported to have added that: “Women are naturally, morally, and religiously defective.” You don’t see many alleged honor killings of males; daughters and sisters are the principal targets.
Then there are the laws commanding death for illicit sex. Sharia is a mass of contradictions on this point, but there is plenty of support for Muhammad’s saying that “For a fornicator, there is stoning.” Sometimes the punishments for men and women are equal, but sometimes they are not. In one notable case, Muhammad ordered an adulterous man to receive 100 lashes and exile for a year, while the woman was stoned to death.
Then there is the teaching on apostasy. Here Muhammad did not mince words: “If a Muslim discards his religion, kill him.” Even closer to the honor killing point is the Koran’s approving discussion of the murder of a boy by a God expert, in order to prevent the boy’s apostasy from corrupting his parents. [Koran 18:74-80] According to tradition, Muhammad himself opposed the killing of children, except where the killer knew that the child would grow up to be a non-believer. The evidence is pretty strong that the sum of Aqsa Parvez’s actions were tantamount to abandoning her religion; what’s a devout father to do?
A 12th century Muslim legal manual of Umdat al-Salik, certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Al-Azhar University, today’s most respected authority in Sunni Islam, carries the logic one step further. It notes that normally “retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right.” However, “not subject to retaliation” is “a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring.” The province of Ontario is thus being highly un-Islamic in imprisoning Muhammad and Waqas Parvez.
All these ingredients make it easy for Muslim God experts to justify honor killing as divinely ordained, as many of them do. Savitri Gooneskere has carefully documented the honor killing teachings of imams in Pakistan. A Gaza journalist was refreshingly candid:
Deep down, we know that when a woman has disgraced her family, nothing will restore honor except by killing her. This is understood in Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, the Gaza strip and the West Bank. So why are we Arabs telling the Western press that honor killing is cultural, that it is not really part of Islam? Our way of life is based on maintaining our honor. And make no mistake about it: a woman does tarnish her family’s honor by engaging in pre-marital sex, or by getting herself raped, when she seeks divorce and when she marries against her family’s wishes. And keeping our women pure is a big part of our honor. So there’s no point saying honor killing isn’t really part of our religion. Honor and Islam are inextricably bound; they are what give our life meaning. A strong religion demands we choose to maintain our honor.
So was the Islamist President of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Commenting on the discovery of the bodies of seven women found by a roadside last year, he explained that they had “loose morals” and were rightfully shot by male relatives in honor killings. “If a woman runs around and if a man runs around with her, both of them are killed,” he said, adding for good measure that “No one can tell us not to be Muslims. If anyone says I cannot be a Muslim, he is my enemy.”
Honor killing is not an isolated phenomenon. A United Nations study estimated the number of honor killings at 5,000 per year. Many arise from a daughter’s resistance to an arranged marriage, as occurred in Atlanta last year. When Ayaan Hirsi Ali went on a one-woman crusade to get the Dutch police simply to keep track of the number of honor killings in Holland, she was scorned for exaggerating the problem – until a pilot program in just 2 of the country’s 25 regions found 11 such killings from October 2004 to May 2005. After we “liberated” Iraq from the secular Baath Party regime and handed it to the Shiites, there were 47 documented honor killings in 2006 in Basra alone. Ayman Udas was killed by her brothers in Pakistan for bringing disgrace on the family by singing on television. A 4-year old Palestinian girl who had been raped by an adult was allowed to bleed to death, to preserve the family’s honor.
In Jordan, the Penal Code states flatly that “he who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives committing adultery and kills, wounds, or injures one of them, is exempted from any penalty.” A proposal to repeal this law failed when Jordan’s Islamic Action Front issued a fatwa saying that doing so would “destroy our Islamic, social and family values by stripping men of their humanity.” Syrian and Egyptian law also permit judges to reduce penalties in honor killings cases.
People like Muhammad and Waqas Parvez may or may not be able to cite any of these passages, much less traditions that lean the other way. That’s not the point. The point is that the God experts who do study these things and who have a stern paternalist view of the world spread the message, explicitly and implicitly, that a God-fearing father does not allow his daughter to run wild, and does whatever it takes to keep her in line. Putting the stamp of God’s approval on a dark impulse drives the Parvezes of the world over the edge. The ultimate answer is to wear down the credibility of the God experts themselves, so fewer and fewer people like the Parvezes care about what they say, leaving common sense and the common values of human society as their only guides.