Islamic Intolerance and the Shafia Honor Killings

The Shafia case is indeed a tragedy and I don't know anyone who supports honor killings.  Everyone condemns it.  Even the scholars are issuing fatwas against it.

Yes murder is wrong... did we need a fatwa against murder?  Just think about this for a second.  We really needed a group of religious scholars to tell us it is wrong to kill your own daughter because she had a boyfriend?

This of course all done in the name of honor.

However, what I find a little disingenuous about the vast majority of Muslims who are quick to condemn the Shafias is they don't see how their own general intolerance and obsession with honor is what leads to honor killings in the extreme cases.

Now many cultures and religions have some degree of intolerance and honor.  This is not really unique to Islam.  However, Muslim culture does tend to have very little in the way of tolerance for minor deviations in life.  I've been to weddings where the more religious folks have walked out because there is music playing or dancing occurring.  Similarly, while many Muslims might date or drink, they do so in secret often keeping huge aspects of life completely hidden from their community.

Now why is the problem so much worse in the Muslim community?  Mainly because most Muslims continue to view Islam as a community religion.  It is not simply a personal choice.  It is also a way to be governed and for a community to live.

Even if one doesn't go into the Hadiths which don't carry as much weight as the Koran, the Koran itself emphasizes this aspect.  For the most part, the Koran is actually a very reasonable book.  Any mention of violence is always preceded in the name of self-defence and not going too far.  While things like drinking alcohol are prohibited, there is no punishment for it mentioned in the Koran.  It is a sin against God that God will sort out in the end.

In general, a reasonable reading of the Koran will lead to that understanding.
There are sins against God (drinking, not wearing the hijab) which are not punishable on Earth.
There are sins against Man (theft, murder, lying...) which are punishable on Earth

However, this is one major exception.  That of Zina.  It is pretty explicitly stated in the Koran that if two people willingly engage in sexual relations before marriage, they are to be punished.

[24.1] (This is) a chapter which We have revealed and made obligatory and in which We have revealed clear communications that you may be mindful.
[24.2] (As for) the fornicatress and the fornicator, flog each of them, (giving) a hundred stripes, and let not pity for them detain you in the matter of obedience to Allah, if you believe in Allah and the last day, and let a party of believers witness their chastisement.
[24.3] The fornicator shall not marry any but a fornicatress or idolatress, and (as for) the fornicatress, none shall marry her but a fornicator or an idolater; and it is forbidden to the believers.
[24.4] And those who accuse free women then do not bring four witnesses, flog them, (giving) eighty stripes, and do not admit any evidence from them ever; and these it is that are the transgressors,
 There is very little in the way of interpretation in this section.  It's pretty clear and the start of the chapter emphasizes its importance as being obligatory.

This begs the question why is this one of the only areas (at least that I know of) where there is actual punishment prescribed for sins that don't involve a 'regular crime'.  Notice of course the evidence of bringing witnesses.  How often do you have people witnessing the act of sex?  Almost never, so it would be pretty hard to enforce this punishment.  Indeed, many suggest that in context, this verse in the Koran was meant to liberate women.  In previous time, women were accused for adultery and fornication and being punished.  To put an end to this, the Koran makes it virtually impossible to make this accusation by requiring 4 witnesses to the actual act.

Yet, that begs the question that if the Koran is the final word of God, why leave the punishment in there at all?

The only answer I can think of is that it is not a victimless crime.  If the act of zina is known publicly, it perpetuates the acceptability of the sin in the community.  Indeed, some of the Hadiths and past Islamic rulings tend to support this.

“All of my Ummah will be fine except for those who commit sins openly. Part of committing sins openly is when a man does something at night and Allah conceals it, but in the morning he says, ‘O So-and-so, last night I did such and such.’ His Lord had covered his sin all night, but in the morning he removed the cover of Allah.”(Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5721; Muslim, 2990)
If you take the Hadiths as a way to live, it is thus the right Islamic thing to do to keep things in secret and sneak around.  Which might seem a bit odd, but it covers the vast majority of Muslim culture.  It also why a lot of issues remain hidden in most Muslim communities.  There is for example a lot of drug use in many Muslim communities that remain hidden as issues are not dealt with.  On the other hand, there are plenty of versus and Hadiths that value dealing openly with issues.  I personally put much less emphasis on the Hadith itself.  They were simply historical records in specific contexts and it's stated nowhere that the prophet's Mohamed (PBUH) actions and judgments are to be eternally revered as eternally correct.  But I'm just following the rational train of though of that contributes to this problem.

It also leads to the general intolerance of sins in the community and also feeds this notion of honor.  This is especially true with respect to woman as there is clearly a punishment listed in the Koran even if it hard to apply in practice.  More extreme Muslims can easily use it to make the it the government's job to enforce Islamic social rules and thus keep the public space very Islamic.

Indeed, rooted in Shafia understanding is the idea that he is right to punish his daughters as he caught them with boys.  It's the principle of the matter that the Koran still leaves this a sin punishable on Earth instead of leaving it without a stated punishment like other sins against God.

Indeed, it is this Zina verse that I think provides the most solid foundation for oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia.  If we can punish sins against God on Earth just because they are made public, then we can extend this to all sorts of other social enforcing rules.  It doesn't require a lot of interpretation to go that far.

The Shafia case exposes a pretty dark side of Islam and the community aspect.  Now, indeed it is not the only interpretation of these kinds of versus.  Many Muslims think this verse was meant to put an end to the even more oppressive treatment of woman by making it impossible to actually convict someone of the crime.  However, this is not the interpretation of most Muslims.

Yet, at the core of the problem is still the idea that the Koran itself leaves Zina it as a punishable sin (albeit completely unenforceable) and the various hadiths tend to support the idea of enforcing social norms via government.  It is this  part of Islam that many extremists Muslims derive their authority from.  It is what leads to the actions of those like Shaifa.  It is sadly also what the vast majority of Muslims believe... even those many would classify as moderates.

It is also for this reason that Islamic culture is very hard to change.  As even moderates agree that the public space must be kept Islamic, this tends to force those who don't agree with it to live their lives in secret or leave the community in general.  You simply cannot be a Muslim and openly drink or date or have sex.  Even if that is part of the life you choose, you will never confront the community and wish to stay a part of it. So many leave the community and others simply live secret lives.

I'll liken this to why making changes in the 3rd world is very difficult.  The very people needed to make the changes tend to take the easy way out and simply immigrate to a better country.  They don't stay in their own country as professionals, taking leadership positions and building the country.  They simply leave it to the least capable people.  Similarly Muslims who live a less than perfect Islamic life simply either leave the community or hide in secret instead of fighting the hard fight.

Now there certainly are various Islamic cultures where various things are more tolerated.  West Indian Islamic culture is a bit more accepting of some things.  As are certain European Muslims.  Yet these are certainly not the dominant forms of Islam.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the idea of the idea of enforcing Islamic social norms in the public space.  But it's not hard to see how Islamic cultures tend to be oppressive and thus how the Shafias come into being and feel righteous about it.   Every Muslim family and community has to deal with such things, though certainly not at the level of murder.  They all deal with issues of honor, secret lives.... and that is hard to get away from.

Even Sikhism, which has rules just as strict as Islam and arguably has had its fair share of honor killings and what not does not display the same public space nature.  While drinking is prohibited in Sikhism, a Sikh choosing to drink alcohol would not generally be completely shunned from the entire community.  While a Muslim, even a relatively non-practicing one would never wish it known to the general community.

There is the idea in other religions that you can simply be 'less religious'.  In Islamic culture, the public perception of everyone must be that they are saints of the highest order as they must keep all their sins hidden.

It will be even more interesting for the next generation as they deal with the technological impact of the lack of privacy.  Things like Facebook for example are used to such an extent that the idea of keeping your sins hidden starts becoming a problem as Muslims expose their lives on it.

I personally welcome the opening up of Islamic culture.  I am personally of the view that
There shall be no compulsion in the religion.[Koran 2:256]
That any religious choice is between you and God.  That most of the attitude towards the Islamic public space is a legacy of the past tribal Arabian society.  That the Koran itself is a book of freedom, not of coercion. 

Far too many issues are swept under the rug under the guise of the public Islamic space.  Drug use is high.  Divorce rates are especially high.  Cheating is quite prevalent.  Everything kept in ignorance to preserve the image of the public Islamic space.  And of course how much of it is 'Islamic' and how much is culture in terms of the public space is very debatable.  But nonetheless, the issue is the same.  The idea of the 'Islamic public space' forces issues not be addressed.  It forces the idea of family honor above and beyond the successful raising of a family and children and individuals.

Worst of all, the best solution Muslim leaders come up with is something along the lines of 'Divorce is high because Muslims aren't true to their faith'.  That's not a solution to anything.  It doesn't address anything.

Imagine saying that about crime.  'Crime is high because people aren't very nice'.  Okay... that doesn't help anything.

Perhaps it is better that if a child is not ready ready for marriage, that they be left to be single.
Perhaps it is better that if an adult is not too religious, that they can pursue their own life and perhaps find their own way through life with the proper guidance and love from their family and friends.

Perhaps this is better than hiding problems and pretending to live in some idealized Islamic public space.
Again, this is not solely a problem with Islamic Cultures.  It is also a problem in other religions and culture.  It is simply that the idea of the Islamic public space is so restrictive that even minor deviance from the norm are shunned.  Hindus in the United States for example have a much lower rate of divorce than Muslims.

I attribute this to high education as well as a less restrictive public space.  There are outlets for Hindus who are not so religious.  They are free to have a glass of wine and not be shunned from their community.  They are generally freer to delay marriage till they are ready in life.  Dating or love marriages are more acceptable.


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