Muhammad Parvez and his son Waqas murdered Aqsa Parvez, Muhammad’s daughter and Waqas’s sister, on December 10, 2007, because she wasn’t behaving the way a good Muslim girl should. Last Wednesday, a Canadian court gave them both life sentences for this honor killing. But what is being done to stop the next Islamic honor killing in North America? Next to nothing.
The Koran commands women to “draw their veils over their bosoms” (24:31). While there are varying interpretations of this among Islamic authorities, Islamic traditions attributed to Muhammad amplify this to require that a woman should cover her head in public. Muhammad Parvez was determined to force Aqsa to do so, and to make sure she conformed to other Islamic norms as well. That she didn’t, enraged him: “This is my insult. My community will say you have not been able to control your daughter. This is my insult. She is making me naked.”
Aqsa ran away from home, telling friends that Muhammad Parvez had sworn on the Koran to murder her if she did so. But on that December day, Waqas brought Aqsa home from her school bus stop. Less than an hour later she was dead.
Muhammad Parvez clearly believed that by murdering his daughter he was doing the right thing from an Islamic standpoint. And he had abundant reason for getting that idea. A manual of Islamic law certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, says that someone who kills his child incurs no legal penalty under Islamic law. Syria in July 2009 scrapped a law limiting the length of sentences for honor killings, but “the new law says a man can still benefit from extenuating circumstances in crimes of passion or honour ‘provided he serves a prison term of no less than two years in the case of killing.’”
In Jordan in 2003, the Parliament voted down, specifically on Islamic grounds, a provision designed to stiffen penalties for honor killings. Al-Jazeera reported that “Islamists and conservatives said the laws violated religious traditions and would destroy families and values.”
This is why honor killings keep happening — because they are broadly tolerated, even encouraged, by Islamic teachings and attitudes. Yet no authorities are calling Islamic leaders to account for this. The life sentences given to Muhammad and Waqas Parvez give Muslim spokesmen in Canada and the United States a new opportunity to speak out. They have a new chance to acknowledge that Islam’s shame/honor culture and devaluation of women has created communities in which abuse of women is accepted as normal. They could call for a searching reevaluation of the meaning and continued relevance of material from the Koran and Sunnah that devalues and dehumanizes women, and call in no uncertain terms for Muslims to reject explicitly and definitively the literal meaning of such texts. They could call for sweeping reform and reexamination of the status of women in Islam. They could call upon every mosque in the West to institute classes teaching against honor killing and directly challenging the teachings and assumptions that give it justification.
For any of this to happen, Muslim leaders in the West would have to adopt an utterly unfamiliar and uncharacteristic stance: that of self-reflection and self-criticism, rather than excuse-making, finger-pointing, and evasion of responsibility. But with the mainstream media and law enforcement continuing to abet that evasion, this is unlikely in the extreme. Much more likely is that many, many more Muslim girls in the West will die miserably like Aqsa Parvez. No one is speaking up for them or defending them. Instead, the mainstream media is abetting the denial and obfuscation of the Islamic community by never calling them to account for their bland evasions of responsibility for honor killing.
Yet while honor killings have been known to happen in other cultures, according to Phyllis Chesler, a preeminent scholar of this phenomenon, over 90% of honor killings worldwide happen in an Islamic context. Until both Muslims and non-Muslims face up to that unpleasant fact and its implications, there will be many more girls like Aqsa Parvez.