On the 27th May 2014, Farzana Parveen, a 25 year old woman, was attacked by several members of her family outside a court in Lahore and killed in broad daylight. The attackers included her father and her brothers and the murdered woman was accompanied by Mohammed Iqbal, the man she had married against her family’s wishes. They were to arrive at the court for a hearing regarding a case registered by her family.
The are several instances of such ‘Honour Killings’ in Pakistan. However, this case drew a great degree of attention and comment from media here in the West, speaking against the backward nature of the practice and the lack of women’s rights in Pakistan, specifically, and the Muslim world, generally.
A few weeks later, a related topic caused much furore on social media and the blogosphere. There is an annual speaking event at the Sydney Opera House entitled ‘The Festival of Dangerous Ideas’. As the name suggests, the event intends to host controversial topics and provide a ‘safe place’ for the airing of ideas which are anathema to general societal discourse. Previous topics have sought to justify the use torture and the events in which murder would be legitimate. For the 2014 event, an Islamic speaker, Uthman Badar, was scheduled to deliver a talk under the title ‘Honour Killings are Morally Justified’. As soon as the announcement was made (the event isn’t to be held until August 2014), the internet went wild at the suggestion and the burden of complaint forced the organisers to crumble and cancel the talk. This article intends to outline the surrounding discourse in this arena and the apportioning of societal blame for such ills.
Firstly, to the specific case at hand. Mr Iqbal, the husband of the deceased, admitted that he had murdered his first wife to marry the victim in this episode. Further, as has been discussed in Pakistani media at length (for example Mubasher Luqman’s ‘Khara Such’), Mrs Parveen was already married to her maternal cousin. In the existence of such marriage, her liaisons would amount to adultery and not a valid marriage. Regardless of this, there are issues surrounding this arena of discourse in an Islamic society which are absent from the emotion driven discussions which follow such tragic events.
The Islamic standard of marriage requires, amongst other things, the approval of a Wali, a guardian for the bride. Pakistan, which claims to have a Constitution in line with Islam, fails to uphold this standard if it doesn’t establish this requirement. In fact, it allows people to marry without this stipulation where cases of this nature arise. Why is this so? Why is Pakistan concerned with conforming to illicit standard of modernity in contravention of the Islamic requirement? This is a common theme across all such cases in the country. This means that, from an Islamic perspective, these marriages are null and void. So what does this imply about the nature of a physical relationship between a man and a woman, without a valid nikah? It is haram and against Islam. What does the Pakistani legal system or the various governments do about this? Nothing.
Further, what is Islam’s idea of relations between men and women outside of marriage? I think the answer is too self evident to require a response. Once again, something which is considered strictly haram. What options does a family have at the discovery of such relations between men and women? They often trump up fallacious charges of kidnap or rape, to bend the law to address this serious shortcoming in Pakistani law. Who’s failing is this? When you, as a society, fail to provide a system which is in line with the ideological stances of the people, such system must take a huge portion of the blame for the resultant travesties and crimes. In the vacuum created by this failure to uphold Islam’s laws, ethos or injunctions, it is sad but not surprising that people will often take the law into their own hands. Consider the case of Mumtaz Hussain Qadri shooting the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer. If Pakistan had a robust system, which upheld the laws about the sanctity of the Prophet SAW, in a fair and just manner, people would be less likely to take the matters into their own grasp. Move beyond the intelligentsia and wannabe liberal elites and ask a majority of the population of Pakistan: do you think what Qadri did was correct? The answer, from my empirical observation, will be a resounding yes.
It is important for me to clarify some aspects, for the avoidance of confusion. I do not intend to exonerate or excuse the behaviour of those who see it as their right to take someone’s life in such situations. It is a criminal act and societies cannot thrive with chaos. ‘Honour Killing’ or the murder of Taseer are exactly what the label suggests: Murder. They deserve condemnation. However, harmony can only be established in a society when the laws protect the ideological dispositions of it’s populace. Understanding the motives behind a crime are more vitally important than the statistic of the crime itself. The levers which push people to act in such irrational manners must be nullified by accurate and detailed regulation, which allow people to attain inner harmony. In a country such as Pakistan, with a 97 percent Muslim populace, the system must be that of Islam: both in governance and in legislation. This is the first step to eradicating some of these ills which affect the Pakistani psyche and, with it, the population’s behaviour. No sane individual will argue that any rational or ‘normal’ human being would be willing to so much as see a scratch on their very own child. There must be extenuating circumstances which push people to this sort of extreme behaviour. Islam further stipulates that a marriage cannot be contracted without the clear consent of both parties. This isn’t a case of forced marriage but an upholding of Islam.
Finally, a short look at the idea of honour killings (notice the lack of capital letters) being picked up by the western media. This outrage is selective and should allow for a rational critique. The hypocrisy is inherent within the statistics: a third of women killed in the USA, the world’s leader in preaching morals and ethics, are victims of a past or current male partner. However, no outrage is reserved for addressing these ‘Honour Killings’. Why? Because such narratives are used to make the other, the foreigners and them Muslims, look like medieval age dwellers with a backward mindset. It is prudent to be aware of the dangers of such propositions and the reasoning for why such positions are advanced by the West and their stooges within Pakistan. A bit of collar gazing would be imminently advised.
Killing for honour is an absolutely normal part of human life and touted as a position of pride. Do the army of Pakistan, USA, Britain or any other nation not fight and kill for honour? Is it not considered one of the highest attainments of respect within such societies? Do the armies not take an oath to protect and serve their nation, no matter what this may end up entailing? Here, in the UK, the army are regularly hailed as heroes, despite the horrible collective war crime of the Iraq War. The explanation forwarded is that the armies are merely carrying out the orders as directed by the government. They risk their lives for such orders yet are deemed worthy of the highest praise and honours. Does Pakistan not consider it an honour that the Pakistani soldiers fight for their country? Whether the wars maybe right or wrong? Do we criticise individual soldiers for being a mercenary group for an American war in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Despite the army’s reputation taking a battering in Pakistan, individual soldiers still retain the utmost respect from the general public. These missions and wars are not their fault. It is often an insincere political and military leadership which makes these ludicrous decisions.
It is simple to deduce that there are only selective forms of honour killing which attract such outrage. An individual, acting out of helplessness and the failure of law to uphold their societal beliefs, is a criminal. An organised assault, by a representative group of the same society, on a much larger scale with much more dreadful consequences (look at the plight of IDPs), is hailed as heroic. The hypocrisy is eye watering.
Until the establishment of an Islamic system within Pakistan, and other Muslim societies, such tragedies are a reflection of the juxtaposition between belief and legislation. It doesn’t excuse the crime but it does show how both the criminal and the victim are, in fact, victims of the disease at the heart of the society.