The murder of a newlywed couple in Pakistan and a recent spate of similar deaths have called attention to the ongoing practice of “honor killings” in that country and around the world.
Sajjad Ahmed and Muafia Bibi were married on June 18 by a Pakistani court, despite opposition from Bibi’s family.
According to Pakistani police, her relatives invited them a week later to the rural village of Satrah, in Punjab province, where they drugged Ahmed and Bibi, tied them up, and killed them with knives. News outlets initially reported that the relatives had decapitated the couple, but later reports noted that their throats had been slit.
“The couple were not beheaded but were killed with the knives and had severe signs of torture on their heads,” the local police chief informed the Telegraph.
Residents said that local children were made to witness the killings in order to absorb the consequence of marrying someone out of love, which is forbidden among the country’s conservative Muslims.
Murders of this sort are usually carried out by relatives seeking to restore “honor” after a woman does something that they feel has brought shame to the family. Violations can involve marrying the wrong man, pursuing a divorce, and having sex or getting pregnant out of wedlock, though a woman might also be killed for being “too Western,” for being the victim of a sexual crime, or for being suspected of promiscuity.
Such killings are not limited to Pakistan. Although they frequently occur in Muslim countries and are supported by fundamentalist religious interpretations, they are also not based on Islam — they occur throughout the world regardless of religion.
“While honor killings may use the language of religion, they have been found in many parts of the world, from Italy to India to Iraq,” Deeyah Khan, a co-founder of the Honor Based Violence Awareness network (HBVA), told VICE News. “We can’t point at religion for an explanation, but instead look at how the rural way of life is organized around the family, and how marriage is used as part of that.”
Khan noted that cases have been reported among immigrant communities in the UK and across Europe.
“While most families adapt to living in an environment where attitudes to sexuality and women’s roles are much more flexible, some can exert extreme control to prevent what they see as ‘Westernization,’ which can include violence,” she explained.
Some 5,000 people are murdered around the world in honor killings each year, according to HBVA. This estimate is believed to be much lower than the actual number of killings, however, due to a lack of reporting and the unwillingness of people aware of such crimes to come forward. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates that nearly 900 Pakistani women were murdered in honor killings last year.
In May, a pregnant woman named Farzana Parveen was publically stoned to death in front of a courthouse in Lahore by nearly 20 of her relatives. She had married a man of her choosing and was on her way to contest an abduction case filed against her husband by her family. The murder was unique among honor killings for having occurred in a city in broad daylight.
The incident provoked outrage and prompted a coalition of Muslim leaders in Pakistan to issue a fatwa, or religious decree, declaring honor killings “un-Islamic.”
The “killing of girls in the name of honor or dignity is terrorism and viciousness — which has nothing to do with Islam,” the edict read. “A daughter is a gift by Allah. And the feeling of being dishonored by your daughter is forbidden in Islam.”
“All voices raised against these crimes are valued, and since religion is very meaningful to people it may give some people pause and allow activists to appeal to religious authority in their work,” Khan said. “But at a policy level, we need to provide effective protection for women at risk, punish the guilty, and generate a culture of individual rights in which women can have the freedom to make their own choices.”
An Islamist scholar was scheduled to present a talk called “Honor Killings Are Morally Justified” at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Australia this August — but the idea expressed in the title was determined to be too dangerous even for the festival after it drew public outcry and condemnation.
Uthman Badar — a member of the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which seeks to establish a global caliphate — criticized the decision to cancel his session as a reflection of anti-Muslim sentiment and a restriction of his right to free speech. He doesn’t condone honor killings, he has said, but he was prepared to argue that Westerners point to such violence to express their dislike of Islamic culture.
“I anticipated that secular liberal Islamophobes would come out of every dark corner, foaming at the mouth, furious at why a Muslim ‘extremist,’ from Hizb ut-Tahrir no less, was being allowed a platform at the Sydney Opera House to speak,” Badar said in a Facebook post. “What’s interesting is that I’m being attacked left, right and centre without having opened my mouth yet.”
Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928
Photo via Wikimedia Commons