Gender equity and violence against women are two issues rightfully attracting more attention in the mainstream press, but in the court of public opinion, Islam is seen as an instigator of women’s oppression. Studies show that gender equity is cited as a reason for the public’s mistrust of Islam. Mass media message and biased campaigns – such as the one Ms. Pamela Geller waged in Chicago in August – that link so-called honor killings to Islam miss the opportunity to address what is truly intolerable: Gender-based violence. Such violence refers to crimes committed against females and cuts across numerous faiths, cultures and societies.
According to the 2009 United Nations Human Development report, approximately 5,000 people – the vast majority of them girls and women – fall victim to so-called honor killings annually. So-called honor killings are murders, usually committed against female family members accused of impugning the family honor. These crimes are symptomatic of highly patriarchal systems, where women are held responsible for maintaining personal, family and community honor.
These murders occur in the Islamic World; but, they also take place in other countries, such as India and Pakistan, and victims can be Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Sikh. The killings are often treated as a family matter and become extra-judicial. Even in rare cases in which perpetrators are prosecuted, sentences are often disappointingly light.
When so-called honor killings are linked to Islam, they ignore non-Muslim victims and ascribe the issue to “Islam” when these crimes are a cultural phenomenon with a past that pre-dates Islam. So-called honor killings occurred in ancient civilizations, including Babylonia, Biblical Israel and Rome.
In fact, there is no justification for so-called honor killing in Islamic law or religion. Similarly, there is no scriptural reasoning for these crimes in Hindu or Sikh sacred texts.
John Esposito and Sheila Lalwani at the Huffington Post, 4 September 2010