Killing – The Ultimate Solution Against Bringing Shame?
On 16 July 2016, the murder of Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani social media star, brought great shock to everyone and stirred massive resistance throughout the country. Being another victim of ‘honour killing’ in Pakistan, her death made it clear that unless these killings were not taken critically, they would never end.
But what is honor killing and is there any way to end it? Sure there is. If we could understand the cause and reasons of these killings, we may be successful in putting an end to them too.
Honour killing is defined as the killing of a relative, especially a girl or woman, who is perceived to have brought dishonour to the family. This menace is not only found in Pakistan, but throughout the world. In the US, there are approximately 1200 women killed every year by their husbands or intimate partners. In the year 2000, the United Nations estimated that 5000 women were killed worldwide each year. This shows that this crime occurs in every nation and every society, regardless of religion, race or language.
In Pakistan, honour killing is locally known as karo-kari. This was metaphor for adulterer and adulteress respectively. Once a woman is labelled as an adulteress or kari, her family members consider it a compulsion and feel authorized to kill her, in order to restore honour back to their families. According to Pakistan Human Rights Commission, 869 women were murdered in 2013 in what were said to be honour killings.
The reasons for honour killings are diverse and extremely opposite to fundamental and basic human rights. From being killed for seeking a divorce or re-marriage, to being burned alive for refusing arranged marriage, these are all the reasons men of our society find valid to kill a girl. In some cases women are also killed due to inheritance problems, feud-settling, or to get rid of the wife in order to re-marry. Women having properties are also killed if they chose to marry outside the family as the male members of the family do not wish to lose property to outsiders. Hence, they choose their properties over the life of their own sister or daughter. These are just some of the reasons our society finds justifiable to commit honour killings.
However, the reason of continuity of this crime in our country, despite being so criticised, is ignorance. People who commit such crimes are ignorant of basic human rights and even of their own religion, Islam. Many people actually believe that Islam has legalised ‘honour killings’ and it is the only punishment that could be given to people who bring shame to our society. But is it the only solution?
The first thing that should be made clear is that Islam, in every aspect, is against ‘honour killing’ or any sort of killing without lawful reasons. Islam has not made any person authorized to kill any other person, no matter what justification is used, including restoring honour. No one person can himself or herself act as the accuser, judge and executioner and carry out murder as that would break the legal structure of any society. Islam is strongly against such practice and considers it nothing but murder. The following verses from the Quran show strong prohibition from murder:
“Whoever kills a believer intentionally, their reward will be Hell, to abide therein forever, and the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon them, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for them.” (Holy Quran, Chapter 4, Verse 93)
“On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone kills a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if they killed all people. And if any one saved a life, it would be as if they saved the life of all people.” (Holy Quran, Chapter 5, Verse 32)
Islam is a complete code of life and therefore has instituted a very specific system of implementing the law. No one can take the law in his or her own hand and decide to kill any accused person. Islam requires that a judge hear the case of both the accuser and the accused, and to listen to witnesses before making any judgment. This ensures that the law is practised properly and justice is established.
One must be wondering, if Islam is strongly against killings, why has it created such severe punishments for crimes such as fornication and adultery? It is true that Islam has strict punishments for some crimes such as 100 lashes for fornication (sexual relations between unmarried people), and death by stoning for adultery (married people who have sexual relations outside of marriage), but these punishments are there to make Muslims hate these crimes rather than to suffer (deterring rather than punitive). The idea is to prevent the crime from happening in the first place.
This is the reason why Islam stresses so much on witnesses before any judgment. Proving a case of fornication or adultery in court under Islam is extremely difficult as it requires either a confession by those who committed the crime, or the testimony of four witnesses who have seen the act of fornication by their own eyes. Otherwise no conviction and no punishment could occur.
Moreover, Islam also strongly recommends that Muslims who commit such crimes repent and regret their mistakes and not tell others about what they have done. Those who truly and sincerely repent before God, regret their sins and commit themselves to never repeating them again, their sins shall be forgiven and wiped away, according to Islamic beliefs.
“Those who invoke not, with Allah, any other god, nor kill lives which Allah has made sacred, except for just cause, nor commit fornication, and any person that does this meets punishment, and their penalty on the Day of Judgment will be doubled, and they will dwell therein in ignominy, unless they repent, believe and perform righteous deeds, for Allah will change the evil of such persons into good, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Holy Quran, Chapter 25, Verse 68)
This shows that Islam never approves of killing as the sole punishment for committing such crimes, rather it focuses on repenting and forgiveness. And those who take the law into their own hands and kill their wife/ daughter/ sister/ mother for any purpose, including regaining their honour, are nothing but criminals in the eyes of law and Islam.
However, we cannot only blame ignorance as the cause of these killings. Honour killing has deep roots in the culture and society of our country. These killings should be prosecuted as ordinary murders but in practice, the police and prosecutors often ignore them. Even our government has not yet been successful in eradicating such ‘honour killings’, despite an offer of help from United Nations to remove this curse from our country.
The government should encourage people to bring cases such as adultery and fornication to legal courts and ensure speedy and efficient investigations in order to dispense justice. Changing notions of honour and a better understanding of religion can help stop honour killings. Education can play a very important role in putting an end to this menace. The government should provide cheap if not free education in every district of Pakistan, at least up to matriculation level. These killings should be treated as other killings and should be condemned and stopped by every society. Rights of women, including divorce and remarriage, should be made aware to the public. And it should also be widely known that marriage is a right of a woman – either arranged or by choice, both are allowed in Islam. This in no way brings dishonour or shame to any family or society. To make people aware, media can play a very important and positive role. Those who commit ‘honour killings’ must be treated and punished as murderers in order to establish justice and in order to be seen as a deterrent for those who would even consider committing such crimes.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.