No religion or honour in 'honour' killings
Muslim leader denounces slayings, usually of women, by members of their own families, saying there is 'nothing Islamic' about taking a life
By Tobi Cohen
Canwest News Service
June 17, 2010
It's a phenomenon many parents in Canada can't even begin to comprehend: The killing of one's own child — usually a daughter — because her behaviour is believed to have brought shame to the family.
It is the fate of some rape victims, as well as women accused of infidelity or premarital sex in some countries, including Pakistan.
But in the West, it's increasingly popping up in courtrooms as first-generation immigrants struggle to balance the strict old-world ways of their parents with a desire to fit in in a more liberal society.
On Wednesday, the father and brother of a slain Mississauga, Ont., teen were sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to the December 2007 murder of Aqsa Parvez, a 16-year-old girl of Pakistani descent who wanted to wear western clothes, get a part-time job like her Canadian peers and stop wearing the hijab.
Days ago, an Afghan mother was arrested in Montreal, accused of stabbing her 19-year-old daughter after she stayed out all night in a case that's now being probed as a possible honour crime.
And then there's the case last year of Muhammad Shafia, his second wife, Tooba Muhammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed Shafia, accused of killing Shafia's first wife and three daughters, who were found in a vehicle submerged in a canal in Kingston last year.
Dr. Amin Muhammad, a psychiatrist at Memorial University in St. John's, N.L., who is working on a report for the federal government about honour killings in Canada, said there have been 13 such cases in the country since 2002.
“We are seeing an upward trend,” he said. “More cases are coming to the forefront in the legal system.”
He said honour killings are not condoned in the Koran, Islam's holy book. And he suggested the idea is being used in Canada as a defence for murder by people hoping to take advantage of Canada's cultural sensitivity in order to receive a more lenient sentence.
While many recent cases in western society involve Muslims, Muhammad said honour killings have also been committed in the name of Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity.
Just as most Canadians shudder in disbelief at these stories, so too do the majority of Muslims.
Imam Zijad Delic of the Canadian Islamic Congress said there is “nothing Islamic” in taking a human life.
He calls it a personal issue more than a cultural one and suggested perpetrators of socalled honour crimes are not unlike the white, Canadianborn and bred mother who suddenly kills her children, in that both are ultimately unable to deal with the challenges of domestic life.
Although new Muslim immigrants struggling to integrate into Canadian society are often reluctant to talk openly about the problems they may be experiencing at home with their children, he said, the issues are being addressed in mosques and community centres.
“Last Friday, my sermon in Toronto was about Canadian-Muslim family dynamics, and I had about 600 people listening,” he said. “They will not go into a public forum to talk about it, but they would come to workshops and listen.”
Delic said young people often approach him for guidance when facing a cultural conflict with their parents and that just as earlier Greek and Italian immigrants eventually found a balance between traditional and liberal values, so too will Muslims.
“We are going through the process of integration, and I'm quite positive that we are, at this point of time, reasonably integrated,” he said.
“You cannot judge Canadian-Muslim communities on the basis of what happened to Aqsa Parvez.”
According to the United Nations Population Fund, an estimated 5,000 women and girls are murdered every year in socalled honour killings around the world.
A 2008 report co-written by Dr. Muhammad suggests honour killings date back to ancient societies. According to the report, Incan law allowed husbands to starve their wives as punishment for adultery, while the Aztecs permitted stoning or strangulation as punishment for such crimes.
As it's known in Pakistan, where it remains fairly common, karo-kari was only recently outlawed, though “perpetrators are rarely brought to justice,” said the report, which found a number of countries even allow for a partial or full defence against criminal charges on the basis of honour killing.
According to the report, there are also a number of cases of fake honour killings in which stories of infidelity may be fabricated in order to get rid of somebody for financial or other reasons.