Most of the time, the women who are killed to “preserve a family’s honor” have done what many, if not most, Americans would consider very benign things. Usually, these occurrences involve a woman marrying a man which the family did not choose, or if a woman is accused of sexual relations before marriage, particularly if she becomes pregnant. The fact that a woman’s own mother, brother, father, or uncle could murder her in cold blood is disturbing enough, but the ways in which these killings are carried out is something out of a horror movie. Many times, in order to make a statement to other young women who may be considering “going wayward,” these killings are done right out in public, often in the street.
It has happened to thousands of young women; she is dragged into the street in her night-clothes by the hair, and then her own family proceeds to stone her to death, stab her, shoot her, strangle her, and the most recent method of tying her up and burning her alive. In one incident, it was reported that a family invited all their friends and extended family for a dinner, then had a ceremony of drowning their 17-year-old daughter in the family swimming pool. Her crime? She’d become engaged to a man she loved, not the man her parents had arranged for her to marry.
How can this be legal? For decades, the Pakistani law says that killings to preserve honor are legal as long as the decedent’s family members forgive those who killed her. Naturally, a wife in Pakistan has been raised to be subordinate to her husband, so even if she didn’t agree, she “forgives” him to the police. Now, it has become commonplace for women to perform the killings.
However, as most societies experience cultural shifts, the younger generation of Pakistan’s citizens are deciding this is not in line with the teachings of Islam, the country’s primary religion, according to Religion News Service. In Lahore, a group of Pakistani clerics has issued a “fatwa,” or religious ruling, opining that “honor killing” over perceived damage to a family’s honor is against the teachings of Islam, and anyone who carries out such a murder is a heretic, or one who goes against the teachings of Islam. The Sunni council of more than 100 clerics issued a statement decrying the practice.
“It seems were are moving towards an age of barbarism. Burning women alive for marrying by their choice is against the teachings of Islam. Considering any killing in the name of honor to be justified is heresy.”
This council holds significant weight in the eyes of many Muslim people in the territory of Punjab, where about half of the country resides. As of last week, the number of people killed in this fashion this year is 233. Last year, 500 perished at the hands of their family.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has denounced the practice, but in a country that looks more to their religious leaders than their government, no changes have been made. This council of clerics, however, sends a strong warning that is likely to cause serious turmoil between the young regime and old regime, which is reportedly very unhappy with the clerics’ statement against honor killings.
A middle-aged woman, hiding most of her face behind a white scarf, said that the ruling is very wrong.
“Young women have an obligation to their family to be honorable, to do nothing to cause shame. They must not do anything to dishonor their parents. The problem is that now we send girls to school with the boys and they fall in love. This is wrong. I will not send my girls to school where the boys are. We decide who they marry, or their punishment is deserved.”
Near an area where a 16-year-old girl was burned to death a month ago, little girls played together in the street. When asked about “being in love with a boy” most of them giggled shyly. But an older girl, age 11, looked down at the ground. When asked her thoughts, she looked stricken and shook her head.
“A girl was killed right near here for being in love with a boy she met on these streets. She was strangled and burned to death. I was scared.”
[Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images]