In Muslim Culture, Honor Killings Not Out of Date

Kristin Butler | Contributing Writer | Friday, May 22, 2009

In Muslim Culture, Honor Killings Not Out of Date

May 22, 2009

Pakistani vocalist Ayman Udas had just had her first major television appearance. The beautiful and talented singer had risen to fame over songs sung in her native Pashto language, songs that speak of love, courage, and death. But it seemed that the disapproval of her conservative Islamic family was growing at the rate of her popularity in Peshawar’s artistic society. The young mother of two had divorced and recently remarried, creating a stir in her family. But it was her television appearance that led to Udas’s death at the hands of her own brothers, men who killed their sister in the name of “honor.”

The artist had remarried only ten days before her brothers entered her flat on April 27, 2009, while her husband was away. They fired three bullets into her body and fled. The Times of India reported that the family “felt it was sinful for women to be performing on television.” Both brothers have yet to be caught.

James Emery, a journalist who has researched honor killings extensively, writes that “In the feudal, patriarchal societies of the Middle East, honor is based on what men feel is important, and reputation is everything.” Emery says that several thousand women are victims of honor killings each year. But he adds that “numerous murders are ruled an accident, suicide, or family dispute, if they're reported at all.”

The United Nations estimates that over 5,000 women a year are killed for “honor.” These killings happen all over the world – throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe and even North America.

Dishonoring the Family

On New Years Day 2008, two teenage girls in Dallas, Texas, were found shot to death in a taxicab. Police believe that Amina and Sarah Said were murdered by their father, in what the girls’ aunt claims was an honor killing. Yaser Said, a Muslim from Egypt, and the father of both girls, had threatened to harm Amina when he found out that she was dating a non-Muslim. Said had also issued similar threats over the girls’ lifestyle and friendships. In an article in The Dallas Morning News, an unidentified senior at Amina’s high school recalled her father’s infamous threats. "I remember her telling me that her dad told her he would take her back to Egypt and have her killed," she said. "He said it's okay to do that over there if you dishonor your family."

Human Rights Watch defines honor killing as “acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family.” The organizations says that “A woman can be targeted by [individuals within] her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that "dishonors" her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.”

Silent Killings

While the rise of honor killings in the United States has made national headlines, many thousands of silent murders continue to take place throughout the Muslim world. And they aren’t always over arranged marriages, divorces, or sexual assaults. Honor killings over religious conversions are also becoming an issue, as well as honor killings over Muslims dating non-Muslims.

On May 4, 2008, Adeel Masih, a young Pakistani Christian, was found dead in Hafizabad, Pakistan. While originally deemed a suicide, Masih’s family and human rights lawyers believe that his death was an honor killing, citing threats that the young man had received from the family of a Muslim woman he had a relationship with. The family threatened to kill Masih, saying that they “would not allow a Christian man to disgrace Islam this way,” according to the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement in Lahore, Pakistan.

Compass Direct News reports that “Marriage between Christian men and Muslim women is forbidden according to a strict interpretation of Sharia (Islamic Law), and even social contacts such as these can incite violent reactions in Pakistan.” Masih disappeared on May 1, 2008, while on his way to visit Irfan, the Muslim woman he had had a relationship with for the past year. His body was later found in a canal in Hafizabad. Marks on his hands and feet indicated that he had been bound, while an autopsy report showed that he had sustained scalp and brain injuries.

Aneeqa Maria, a case worker for CLAAS, says that the family of the Muslim woman tried to delay investigations. “The police said, ‘We will first inquire whether Adeel has committed suicide,’ because the culprits told the police about the fact that their daughter wanted to embrace Christianity because of Adeel.”

But in Masih’s case, justice may yet be served. Irfan’s father and uncle are expected to face charges of murder, kidnapping, obstructing justice, and conspiracy in a local criminal court.

Voices of the Victims

Residents of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, in the grip of Taliban control, have faced extremist Muslim brutality for years, and may only now be on the verge of casting it off. In Swat Valley’s capital of Mingora, not far from where Pakistani singer Ayman Udas grew up, the body of a Pakistani dancer was found in January. Bullets had mangled her frame. Radio Free Europe reported that a note discovered near the body warned local residents that “un-Islamic voices” would no longer be tolerated.

But it may take more than brutal honor killings to silence the voices of the victims. On her MySpace page, Amina Said’s words live on, "I don't want to ... become a memory," she wrote.

In her final song performed on television, Ayman Udas seemed to envisage her fate, "I died but still live among the living,” she sang “because I live on in the dreams of my lover.”

Kristin Butler has visited with Christian communities throughout South Asia and the Middle East. She is a contributing writer at and covers religious freedom and human rights issues at For further articles, visit her blog at, or email [email protected].