It was a trial that captured headlines across Canada—the so-called “honor killing” of three teenage sisters and their father’s first wife in a quadruple murder staged to look like an accident.
On January 27, the girls’ brother, Hamed, 21, and their parents, Mohammad Shafia, 58, and Tooba Yahya, 42, were each found guilty on four counts of first-degree murder. All received the maximum sentence of life in prison.
On police wiretaps captured in the days following the murders, a remorseless Mohammad Shafia referred to his slain daughters as treacherous whores who had “betrayed Islam.” The family is originally from Afghanistan, and sweeping statements about their cultural and religious background have put Canada’s Muslims on the defensive.
Imams across Canada and the US responded by issuing a fatwa declaring honor killing, domestic violence, and misogyny as “un-Islamic.” Nevertheless, the murders have prompted a fresh wave of anti-Islamic sentiment, and the usual assortment of crackpots have seized this tantalizing opportunity to vilify Islam.
Pseudo-scholar Robert Spencer recently discussed the case on Sun TV with English-Canadian talk show host and fascist sympathizer, Michael Coren. The 13-minute segment appears at the end of this article.
Spencer’s Five Big Lies about honor killings are refuted in this article, in order of appearance.
1. A Bogus Statistic
Spencer began with the baseless assertion that, “91% of honor killings worldwide take place among Muslims.” What is the source of Spencer’s statistic?
He makes the same claim on his website, Jihad Watch, and links to an article on the Middle East Forum as the source. This is an anti-Muslim propaganda site founded by Daniel Pipes, and the article referenced is authored by Phyllis Chesler, who is yet another rabid Islamophobe. Chesler cites an ill-defined “study” as the ultimate source of this statistic:
This study analyzes 172 incidents and 230 honor-killing victims. The information was obtained from the English-language media around the world with one exception. There were 100 victims murdered for honor in the West, including 33 in North America and 67 in Europe. There were 130 additional victims in the Muslim world. Most of the perpetrators were Muslims, as were their victims, and most of the victims were women.
The “methodology” she describes is filled with weasel words, and it’s unclear who actually conducted the study or for what purpose. Culling 172 incidents from self-selected articles in the English-language media does not constitute a valid sample.
In the very same article, Chesler concedes, “Definitive or reliable worldwide estimates of honor killing incidence do not exist.” Then how has she managed to glean a precise statistic of 91%?
We have already covered this alleged “epidemic” of honor killings extensively in a previous article, Honor Killings: The Epidemic that Isn’t, where Chesler’s “logic” was exposed as absurd:
Taking her study at face value, do you think 33 honor killings constitutes an epidemic? Stinging insects kill more than 40 people each year in the US, which is more than the number of honor killings Chesler reported over the course of her study for all of North America. Chesler says, “to combat the epidemic [emphasis mine] of honor killings requires understanding what makes these murders unique.”
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations, have all said that honor killings cut across cultural and religious lines. No credible organization cites a statistic that supports Robert Spencer’s assertion, which Phyllis Chesler seems to have pulled out of her hat.
2. Misinterpretation and Misuse of The Reliance of the Traveller
Coren asked Spencer if it’s true that there is Qur’anic and Sharia support for honor killings, and Spencer said, “Absolutely, Michael,” and, “Islamic Law stipulates there’s no penalty for a parent who kills a child.” As we have already established in a previous article, this is a blatant lie:
In a pathetic attempt to prove Islam sanctions honor killings, the loons have dredged up “Reliance of the Traveller,” a classical manual for the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence written over 600 years ago. A convoluted interpretation of select passages has gone viral, and is now routinely cited on the pages of hate sites and in comments on numerous articles related to honor killing.
Geller quotes a section of The Traveller on her website that says certain crimes, including the killing of one’s offspring, are not subject to retaliation, implying Muslim parents have a free pass to murder their children under Islamic Law, which is a bold faced LIE. Retaliation is a form of reciprocal justice, lex talionis, commonly known as “an eye for an eye.”
A crime that is not subject to retaliation can still be punished by other means. Restrictions on reciprocal justice in the Qur’an were meant to reduce blood feuds and the cycle of vengeance. The concept of retaliation is also found in Jewish and Christian scriptures, and like honor killing, traces back to the ancient Code of Hammurabi.
Even if The Traveller sanctioned honor killing (which it doesn’t), it would be the interpretation of one Islamic cleric who lived centuries ago, and not a formal part of Islamic Law. Sharia is drawn primarily from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and neither sanctions honor killing.
Honor killing is a form of murder where the victim is denied a fair trial, which is contrary to Islamic law. Islam forbids acts of murder and vigilantism, and likens the killing of one human being to the killing of the entire human race (Qur’an 5:32, 6:151, 17:33).
Is Sharia exceptionally harsh or extremely lenient, even in the case of a serious crime like murder? Apparently it’s whatever suits Spencer’s agenda at the moment. In any case, a “renowned scholar” should certainly understand the ancient concept of reciprocal justice.
Is Spencer ignorant or deliberately deceptive?
3. The Case of Syria and Jordan
Spencer cites “relatively moderate” Muslim-majority Jordan and Syria in an effort to provide real-world examples of Sharia-sanctioned honor killing. His examples fall short in two major ways.
First, although a single honor killing is one too many, these murders are not epidemic. Jordan has around 15-20 honor killings each year, and Syria has about 200. Both of these Muslim-majority countries have low overall homicide rates, in contrast to many countries in the non-Muslim world, most notably in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Central and Southern Africa.
Second, Syria and Jordan have mixed legal systems largely based on French Law, derived from the Napoleonic Code. In Syria, Articles 192, 242, and 548 have historically been invoked to reduce sentences in honor killing cases, and all are derived from the Napoleonic Code, not Sharia.
Syria’s Grand Mufti, Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun, has unequivocally condemned honor killing. Hassoun specifically condemned Article 548, which has since been amended as part of Syria’s ongoing effort to abolish honor killings.
In Jordan, Articles 340 and 98 have historically been invoked to reduce sentences in honor killing cases, and they also derive from the Napoleonic Code, not Sharia.
While Spencer was correct when he said some religious and cultural conservatives in Jordan have resisted legal reform, Queen Rania and King Abudllah II have been outspoken advocates. In a report released last November, the United Nations praised Jordan for amending Article 340 so that it no longer exonerates the perpetrators of honor killings.
Spencer’s examples fall short because neither Jordan nor Syria has a high rate of homicides of any kind, and the legal loopholes in question are primarily a legacy of French colonialism, not Sharia. However, Coren asks no questions of substance, so it’s on to the next lie.
4. Khidr in Chapter 18 of the Qur’an
Spencer tries to “prove” honor killings are supported in the Qur’an, citing the well known story of Khidr in the 18th chapter as a justification. From Jihad Watch:
Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 18, “The Cave,” verses 60-82
Verses 60-82 of Sura 18 contain one of the strangest, most arresting stories in the entire Qur’an: that of the journey of Moses and Khidr, one of the great road-trip stories of all time…
In Islamic tradition this man is identified as Al-Khadir or Al-Khidr, or, more commonly, Khidr, “the Green Man.” Some identify him as one of the prophets, others as a wali, a Muslim saint….
…Khidr murders a young man in an apparently random act, and Moses criticizes him again (v. 74)…
…Khidr killed the young man because he would grieve his pious parents with his “rebellion and ingratitude” (v. 80), and Allah will give them a better son (v. 81)….
…Another point emerges in Islamic tradition: don’t kill children, unless you know they’re going to grow up to be unbelievers. “The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) used not to kill the children, so thou shouldst not kill them unless you could know what Khadir had known about the child he killed, or you could distinguish between a child who would grow up to he a believer (and a child who would grow up to be a non-believer), so that you killed the (prospective) non-believer and left the (prospective) believer aside.” The assumption thus enunciated may help explain the persistence of the phenomenon of honor-killing in Islamic countries and even among Muslims in the West…
Notice the child was not related to Khidr, and there was no honor motive. This “apparently random act” doesn’t fit the profile of a so-called “honor killing.”
The story is meant to convey the message that believers should have faith in God’s wisdom. Events may seem harsh and inexplicable, but when the veil is lifted and the broader truth is exposed, the believer will see that what has happened is ultimately for the best.
Spencer provided no examples of any Muslim citing the story of Khidr as a justification for honor killing, nor did he mention any scholars who have adopted his interpretation. In fact, the story of Khidr has historically been associated with charity and good works in the Islamic world.
As for the Hadith Spencer quoted (Sahih Muslim Book 019, Number 4457), Muslims are instructed not to kill children, “…unless you could know what Khadir had known.“ Khidr was granted eternal life and bestowed with direct knowledge of God’s will, which no ordinary Muslim can claim. It is simply not possible to know whether a child will grow up to be a believer, so it makes no sense to use this as a justification for murder.
In fact, it is widely known that Islam has always condemned infanticide, a common practice in pre-Islamic Arabia. The Qur’an forbids the killing of children, expressly in 6:151 and 60:12, and implicitly in 2:49, 7:127, 7:141, 14:6, 28:4, and 40:25. Why would a “renowned scholar” of Islam be unaware of the many verses in the Qur’an that directly contradict his claims?
Is Spencer ignorant or deliberately deceptive?
5. Islam and the Judeo-Christian Tradition
Spencer also claims that the Judeo-Christian tradition sends the “opposite message” with respect to killing children, specifically citing Genesis 22:1-13 as an example. In this Old Testament story, the Prophet Abraham was poised to sacrifice his son Isaac to the Lord, but just as he placed a knife to the boy’s neck, God sent an angel to intercede, and Isaac was spared.
The same story exists in the Qur’an and carries the same moral message. The major difference is that Isaac is replaced by Abraham’s other son, Ishmael. A “renowned scholar” of Islam should surely be aware of the corresponding story in the Qur’an (The Rank Makers 37:100-109).
In fact, numerous verses in the Bible recount the killing of children, and stipulate harsh punishments, including the death penalty. The following is not a comprehensive list:
17 Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.
Leviticus Chapters 20 and 21 also stipulate harsh punishments for dishonoring parents and committing adultery:
9 If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.
10 If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.
9 If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire.
Deuteronommy (13:6-10) says if your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” … You must stone him or her to death. Death by stoning is also the punishment stipulated for a “stubborn and rebellious” son in 21:18-21.
In Judges (11:30-40), Jephthah killed his young daughter (and only child) by burning her alive to fulfill his vow to God, in exchange for a victory in battle.
In 2 Kings (2:23-25), when youngsters made fun of the Prophet Elisha’s bald head, he called down a curse “in the name of the Lord,”and two bears came out of the woods and tore 42 of the youths to pieces.
As a Catholic and self-proclaimed religious scholar, it seems reasonable to assume Spencer has read the Bible, so what explains this glaring double standard?
Is Spencer ignorant or deliberately deceptive?
The bottom line is that honor killings are not Islamic. Spencer’s lies, no matter how often they’re repeated, can’t change that fundamental truth.