"Son, daughter, and son-in-law all died in honor killings a decade apart."
That was the headline of a story in the Jerusalem Post a few days ago, May 24, 2021, to be exact. To summarize, the son, a 47-year-old filmmaker, is thought to have been murdered after arguing with his father over his unmarried status. Three years earlier, they had killed their daughter because she had posted a video on social media with a man to whom she was soon to be engaged. As for the son-in-law, the parents claimed at their trial that they had killed him a decade prior because he was abusive to them and their daughter. This case was unusual because there were two male victims. Unless the males are gay (as one may have been), males are usually the perpetrators and not the victims.
While 91 percent of worldwide honor killings (5,000 each year per the UN) happen within Muslim communities, Hindu (and Sikh) communities have them as well. Even though the outcome is the same, the causes of this type of homicide are different, arising from different cultures and other values.
The premeditated murder of a relative (usually a young woman) who has been accused of impugning her family's honor is known as an honor killing. It predominates inside communities where patriarchal authority structures, tribal opinions, and intolerant religions control specific rights. Subject to such conditions, control over marital life and reproduction is critical to the socioeconomic status of kinship groups, and the regulation of female behavior is essential to perceptions of honor. Studies by Phyllis Chesler, a worldwide expert in homicide, indicate at least two types of female honor killings. Other studies suggest another grouping that includes gay males. One kind of femicide has an average age of seventeen, while the second type has an average age of thirty-six. The age difference is a statistically significant one.
When it comes to such an environment, a woman who will not enter a prearranged marriage, seeks divorce, or even fails to avoid just the conjecture of immoral conduct is seen by her relatives as having dishonored them. Other families will shun male relatives in such an environment, and the siblings of the accused will have problems finding suitable candidates to marry. Killing the accused is supposedly the only way the family can restore its honor, regardless of whether she is or can be proven guilty of the alleged offense.
Hindu society has a caste system, membership of which is hereditary and virtually permanent and unchangeable. According to Hindu religious law and tradition, marrying or having sexual relations with a member of a different caste is strictly forbidden. Honor killings act as an enforcer of this.
Some honor killings involve allegations of adultery or apostasy within Islam, punishable by death under sharia. Going a step further, the Qur'an (18:66-81) contains a story that ostensibly supports honor killings in Islam if the accused has disgraced their parents. In the story, Moses follows a man around to learn wisdom from his actions.
Moses said to him, "May I follow you so that you can teach me some of the right guidance you have been taught?"
And so, they traveled on. Then, when they met a young boy and the man killed him. Moses said, "How could you kill an innocent person? He has not killed anyone! What a terrible thing to do!"
He (the man) replied, "The young boy had parents who were people of faith, and so, fearing he (the boy) would trouble them through wickedness and disbelief, we wished that their Lord should give them another child – purer and more compassionate – in his place."
In her 2010 study on honor killings, researcher Phyllis Chesler showed that usually, multiple people conscripted by the victim's family are involved in the killing. For the younger females. the victim is frequently tortured before death, such as gang rape, beating, stoning, or burning. The top two reasons for these murders are "too Western" and "sexual impropriety." The honor murders of older women are somewhat different but carried out for explanations where the authority of the husband or the clan was impugned. Like the younger girls, older women are tempted by Western ideas, have Western friends, and tire of the husband's subordination. These older married women, usually a mother, are often killed by her husband with help from either the husband's family of origin or the wife's family of origin. Torture is often employed in this conflict as well. The murders send a message – conform or die.
On more than one occasion, after an honor killing has taken place, people from the Muslim community will flood the newspapers and social media with statements that Islam had nothing to do with the murder. They claim that sensationalizing domestic violence is not only racist but a form of Islamophobia. In a sense, honor killings are a type of domestic terrorism meant to ensure the subjugation of Muslim women through wearing the veil, procreating, marrying, and socializing only within the faith.
In the West, this sounds like premeditated murder and would be accompanied by life in prison with no parole. In the Middle East, penalties for honor killings are lax. The Palestinian Authority gives pardons for honor murders. Syria gives two years in prison for this type of murder. In Iran, the maximum penalty for the crime described above is only ten years.
Just as the Qur'an supports honor killings, Christians should be aware that the Bible also endorsed them. There are several scriptures of which Deuteronomy 21: 18-21, Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 20:9, and Leviticus 21:9 are the most notable references. That last reference from Leviticus reads as such: "If a priest's daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire."