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Lost honour

July 16, 2012

Our obsession with honour and all that it entails intrigues me but I always wonder do we actually know what honour truly means. The colloquial meaning of honour is respect, admiration, fairness and integrity, yet, it is said that an estimated number of 5,000 women are killed throughout the year in the name of honour. In Pakistan alone, during the year 2011, approximately 1,000 women were killed in cases pertaining to honour killings. Although there was nothing admirable, respectful or fair about the killings that followed accusations of illicit relations and choosing one’s own spouse, however, the culprits behind their murder were somehow considered to be safeguarding the integrity of their customs, religion and culture.

The revolting video showing the execution of an Afghan woman who supposedly had illicit relations with a Taliban commander took the entire world by storm. The fate of the commander in question remains unknown, however, the woman was brutally shot at a point-blank range several times before she collapsed and died. The site of men, chanting slogans against her immorality like savage beasts is nothing short of grotesque.

The sordid judgement was passed within an hour sealing the fate of a woman accused of adultery — who even failed to receive one look of compassion from the audience witnessing her death.

Countless women across the globe are brutally murdered in a similar fashion for not following the religious decrees as construed, or rather misconstrued by so-called believers who consider themselves the custodians of their religions.

Crimes of passion are evidently not the only issues which cost women their lives. Something as petty as not covering one’s head can also be taken as a religious offence enough to issue a death penalty.

The question remains what motivates people to kill women in the name of honour? Religion quite evidently is considered one of the motivating factors; however, religious experts believe that honour killings have no place in any religion be it Islam, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity or Hinduism. In fact, they are an origination of misinterpreted religious decrees stemming from illiteracy and unawareness.

Following the brutal honour killings of four Afghan-Canadian women in early 2012, Taj Hargey, Director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford in England, whilst talking to CNN said that, “There is nothing in the Quran that justifies honour killings. There is nothing that says you should kill for the honour of the family.”

Hargey went on to add that the barbarism has much to do with cultural practises rather than religion and is more prevalent in South-Asian region. He is of the view that the whole concept of women besmirching the family’s honour is ludicrous and should not be sought as a refuge to justify manslaughter.

Pseudo-religious scholars play a vital role in enticing naïve minds to resort to violence in the name of religion and God. Their decrees range from depriving a woman of education to confining her to the four walls of the house to hitting her if she is found negligent of her role as a wife or daughter and even to killing her if she willingly seeks divorce.

Marrying out of choice and not covering one’s head might not be considered ethical by the general norms of many societies, however, certainly does not call for execution. Most of us know that honour cannot be tainted by talking to a man or seeking a divorce. However, our blind faith on these hear, speak and see ‘only evil’ people is so strong that it overtakes rationality.

Another fallacy requiring much correction is that honour killings are considered synonymous with Muslims and their religious practises. However, that is not entirely true.

According to a survey conducted in United Kingdom, almost two-thirds or 69 per cent of young British-Asians, aged between 16 and 34, consider that families should live in accordance with the societal norms and abide by the rules of ‘honour’ laid down by their respective cultures. Seventy per cent Muslims hailed the idea of living an ‘honourable’ life whereas 79 per cent of Sikhs had similar views.

Whether we talk about Sikh women who were killed by their own kinsfolk during the partition of 1947 so that they could be saved from the wrath of Muslim men or Saudi school girls who were left to die in a burning school in 2002 because they could not fetch their abayas in a rush to save their lives or Pashto singer Ghazala Javed who fought against all the odds for her passion to sing but was brutally murdered in 2012, it is evident that we have not progressed much from the societies that buried daughters alive at the time of their births.

I believe that all religions instruct their followers to respect and protect women under such circumstances. The women whose lives were cut short due to such medieval practises did not breach any moral or ethical boundaries. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the people who were responsible for their untimely deaths.

The absurd idea of saving one’s honour by squeezing the life out of a woman is not only despicable but is also a crime against humanity requiring severe sentence. Killing in the name of religion, or otherwise for honour is nothing but brutal murder.

Have we not infiltrated enough minds to manoeuvre their cognitive processes? Have we not played enough games with religion already? Have we not killed enough humans to satisfy the demons inside us? How many more dead bodies will make us realise that this senseless carnage will not land us a mansion in paradise?

The answers to the aforementioned questions are quite apparent and unfortunately most of us know them, however, remain to live in silence fearing for our own lives. It is important to understand that every honour crime tightens the noose around our own necks and brings us one step closer to the clutches of the death of a progressive society.

Everyone is entitled to live a full life and the only honourable thing to do is to recognise that right.


Faiza Mirza
The writer is a Reporter at Dawn.com