Honor killings, or a better description would be "honor murders" are a phenomenon largely confined to the Muslim world but not a single Islamic country is free of the custom. Honor murders have their root in a vulgar and ancient Arabic expression, "A man's honor lies between the legs of a woman." Muslim women who have had sexual relations outside of marriage, including rape, or to have raised suspicions regarding their conduct, i.e.- be only suspected of having had illicit relations with a man outside of marriage are often killed to regain the family "honor". But adultery, or loss of virginity or its suspected loss, is not the only justification, in the minds of Muslims, for brutal murder. Marrying without permission of the family, disobedience, leaving home without permission, or even a supposedly flirtatious look has provided motives for murder. And, in a few cases, women observed smoking cigarettes has lead to their deaths.
However, for whatever of the above reasons that the male members of a Muslim family feel that a female member has dishonored the family, the execution is generally carried out by a close male relative of the unfortunate woman; by a father, brother, or uncle. These murders reflect a mindset incomprehensible to more civilized societies, but are every day practice in Muslim countries, and beginning to appear in other countries with Muslim populations, including the United States and Canada. Statistical evidence is difficult to obtain, not from any desire of Islamic countries to hide the facts, only that "honor murders" are such an accepted custom of Muslim societies, that many officials of the different countries would be surprised at any interest in the matter. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that around 5,000 honor killings are done each year.
Muslim courts are especially lenient concerning honor murders. Jordan, one of the more enlightened countries of Islam, if this term can be used concerning any Muslim country, has even codified honor murders. Until quite recently repealed, Article 340 of the Jordanian Penal Code was clear on the matter. Quote: "He who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives committing adultery and kills, wounds or injures one or both of them, is exempt from any penalty." And, Jordan is one of the more "enlightened" Muslim countries. But still on the books are other articles that insure that a Jordanian man will be exempt from prosecution or at least be treated with leniency if conducting an honor murder. This generally would consist of a few months in prison.
Dr. Mu’men Hadidl, Director of Jordan’s National Institute of Forensic Medicine, has stated that even the conduction of a hymeneal examination is practically a death warrant for a woman there. That is, even the suspicion that an unmarried woman is not a virgin, as evidenced by an examination demanded by a male member of her family, in many cases will lead to her murder! Dr. Hadidl further stated that he has performed post- mortem examinations on several victims of honor killings that still possessed an intact hymen.
In Jordan, in 2003, an article was reported in the "Jordan Times" newspaper, and later was used in a segment of a broadcast by the BBC. Two sisters, 27 and 20 years of age
were hacked to death by their own brothers. Their crimes, in the eyes of their family: the older sister had left home to marry a man without her family’s permission, and a couple of years later, the younger sister had run away to join her. Some "well wisher" of the family revealed the sisters’ address, and the brothers entered the home with axes and hacked the women to death. It is not known if the family was too poor to have owned a gun for the executions, which would indeed have been rare in the Muslim world, or just that such a dishonor to the family deserved a more horrendous death. According to a Jordanian policeman at the scene, "One victim’s head was nearly cut clean off." But the family "honor" had been preserved.
In Egypt, the Ministry of the Interior reported that of the 775 cases of reported homicide in 1988, 49 of the murders, or 16% of them, were to "wipe out shame", a term used to describe, "honor" killings.
In addition to the murders which, at least in the eyes of Muslim families, are justified, many fake honor murders occur. These are instances where a man kills another man and claims that the man had relations with one of his female relatives. In this manner he keeps his own head, but at the expense of the unjustly accused woman, who has been sacrificed on the altar of "family honor".
In some cases, a family member of a Muslim woman is relieved of the duty of protecting the family honor and the pertinent country assumes this obligation. In some Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, public executions take on the festive manta of a bullfight in Madrid or a major league soccer game. Two exceptions are that there is no charge for admission and the snacks sold by vendors are different, but the atmosphere is much the same. The wild cheering of the crowd is then not for a brilliant "veronica" by a matador or a goal by a soccer star, but for the clean decapitation of a human head! Two separate incidents illustrate the Muslim mindset.
Several years ago, the International Monetary Fund contributed to the construction of a new sports stadium in Kabul, Afghanistan. Until the fall of the Taliban regime, it was used for public executions and amputations. When U.S. officials complained of this use of the stadium, the Justice Minister said that he would order that the executions and amputations be moved elsewhere.
The second illustration, illustrating Muslim attitudes towards honor murders, has to do with a public execution held in Saudi Arabia in July of 1977. An English journalist concealed a small camera and recorded the public execution of a Saudi Princess, Mishael 'bint Fahd 'bin Mohjammad, and her lover, Khalid Muhallah. She was a woman still married, but separated from her husband. She and her lover, also a Saudi, had initiated a liaison when both lived in England, and were sufficiently naïve to continue with the relationship once returned to Saudi Arabia. They were arrested, hurriedly tried for adultery and sentenced to death. Before a capacity crowd, the Princess was shot six times in the head and her lover was beheaded. The photographs taken by the English journalist became part of a documentary entitled "Death of a Princess", by Anthony Thomas. The
documentary did air briefly in England and caused strained relations between Great Britain and Saudi Arabia. When the program was to air on PBS, our State Department appealed to PBS not to use the documentary, and Exxon withdrew its sponsorship of PBS programming.
With the immigration of so many Muslims to Europe, most in the last twenty years, honor killings are no longer confined to Muslim countries. They have been reported in every European country, as well as Ecuador, Brazil, Canada and the U.S. In 2002, English authorities believe that twelve of their murders could be described as honor killings. One horrific murder was that of a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who made the mistake of befriending a young Christian boy. Her father stabbed her 17 times with a kitchen knife to maintain the family honor. The father was sentenced to life in prison by an English Court.
The present law enforcement statistics of several Western nations do not as yet reflect the number of honor murders but perhaps it is time to do so.