‘Honor killings’ - What do we do now?

On Sunday January 28th, a jury in Kingston, Canada returned a guilty verdict against Mohammed Shafia, a 58 year old Afghani immigrant, his wife and their 21 year old son in the murder of Shafia’s three daughters and first wife. Shafia was married to both women at the time of the murder.
In the hours of wiretap recordings that served as the prosecution’s main evidence, Shafia ranted about his deceased daughters’ behavior, pointedly referring to them as “whores.” Among other behaviors that upset Shafia, one daughter had secretly married a man the family disapproved of, while another wore clothes that the family considered improper. The prosecution claimed that Shafia’s son rammed the car Shafia’s daughters and first wife were in, toppling the car into an Ontario canal. All three have been sentenced now to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 25 years.

As Muslims attempt to avert their eyes from another embarrassing “honor killing” episode in the West, a few standard reactions can be expected. Many will defensively cry media bias: “The media just loves to show Muslims in a bad light. Now it will be open season on us!” Others will call on the religion-culture dichotomy: “This in no way represents Islam. What you have here is someone confusing his culture’s understanding of family honor with Islam. What we need is for people to practice Islam, and leave their culture behind!” A few others may simply run, afraid they might be tempted to ask the question, “What is it about my religion that brings out this behavior from time to time?” A silent minority quietly sympathizes: “I don’t know man, I might’ve done the same thing if my daughters were doing that. God protect us!”

The general reaction remains of course one of utter condemnation. “He’s going to jail right where he belongs, and we must make sure this does not happen again!” Without insinuating that “honor killings” are anywhere near rampant, the question begs itself: How, in our communities in the Western world, can we take active steps to reduce the risk of a repeat incident?

The first step remains, as always, a zero-tolerance policy of vociferous condemnation. Peer pressure remains the most powerful persuasive tool, and every individual in our community must be aware, through our accumulated communal reactions to events such as these, that violence will engender no sympathy. The second step may perhaps court more controversy. We must acknowledge the frustration underlying stories such as that of Mohammed Shafia’s calculated murder of his daughters.

Acknowledgment is always a tricky game because the line between acknowledgment and acceptance is difficult for some to articulate. But until we acknowledge that certain “Western” behaviors, such as revealing clothing, do frustrate family members, and that feeling such frustration is not in itself improper, we will not alter the subsequent reaction to such frustration.

Being personally distressed by the personal life of one’s child is not confined to overbearing fathers, but is inherent in the parenting function. Mohammed Shafia and other such criminals should not be condemned for the frustration underlying their heinous deeds. Revealing clothing, girlfriends, boyfriends, and secret marriages have frustrated fathers since the beginning of time, and will continue to frustrate fathers until the final trumpet blows. Encouraging family members to simply ignore or happily accept the personal decisions of loved ones would be futile advice. Rather, what we must teach and encourage in our communities is one of the prime lessons of Islam: how to react with dignity when we feel like we have failed.

“Brother, if you find that your daughter is wearing skirts and dancing with boys, leave her be.” In the emotional aftermath of horrific stories of ghayrah gone bad, such a hands-off approach feels safer, but is untenable. Turning a blind eye is a sign of bad parenting in fact, and we must teach parents effective methods of encouraging positive behaviors. But what “honor killings” have taught us is that we must also now pro-actively teach methods of dealing with perceived failures as parents. The Prophet (s) did not reach or persuade all his listeners, and neither will parents. It bothered the Prophet (s) to know that his counsel was rejected, and it will bother parents. What we must teach parents is a prophetic response to such rejection of counsel.

Your son, despite all your efforts, still smokes weed. Now what do you do? Your daughter, despite your good advice, is going to marry Raul, and she doesn’t care that he is not Muslim. Now what do you do?
Come to my home, and I will pray for her with you. When you’re feeling especially frustrated, I might even join you in a rant and rave.

But – if you lay a hand on her, I’m calling the police.
Abrar Qadir is a student at Georgetown University Law Center. Originally from California, Abrar attended the University of California, Berkeley before moving East.

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