Are Honor Killings in Canada a “Muslim” Issue?

The killers of 16-year-old Aqsa Pervez were convicted last week. Mohammad Pervez and Waqas Ahmed, Aqsa’s father and brother, were sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 18 years by a jury in Ontario, Canada.

Aqsa was killed after being picked up by her brother from her school bus stop. DNA material belonging to her brother was found under her fingernails, and her father confessed to the murder.

According to accounts published in Canadian newspapers, Mohammad Pervez killed his daughter because she did not subscribe to his conservative values. She wanted to get a part-time job and did not want to have an arranged marriage. According to a statement made by Aqsa’s mother, Mohammad Pervez told her that he had killed his youngest child because “the community will say that you have not been able to control your daughter” and “this is my insult, she has made me naked”.

Days before Aqsa Pervez’s killers were sentenced, another Canadian Muslim girl, Bahar Ebrahimi, was stabbed by her mother when she went out with friends and did not return until the next morning. The mother, Johra Kaleki, has been charged with attempted murder, assault and possession of a weapon. Ebrahimi’s father called it a “tragic accident.” Kaleki is undergoing psychiatric evaluation to see if she’s mentally competent for trial. The couple’s other children, three younger daughters aged 10, 14 and 16, have been taken away from the family home and placed with youth services. In the meantime Bahar is in hospital, recovering from her wounds.

The sentencing of Aqsa Pervez’s father and brother and the stabbing of Bahar Ebrahimi in Quebec have instigated much debate in Canada over the nature of the crimes. As expected, conservative forces on the lookout for cases that can be used to further demonize immigrant and Muslim communities have given the tragedies a place in their Islamophobic narrative. Going beyond the expected, however, commentators have also raised questions about how and why crimes such as these should be treated differently from murders stemming from domestic violence.

As one commenter noted, Canada sees several hundred women victimized and even killed by their spouses every year. Another, a Muslim woman, noted that sensationalized treatment of these crimes and deflects attention from the far more prevalent, routine incidents of family violence that affect immigrant communities.

We need to put in perspective the construction of ‘honor killings’ as an issue particular to Muslim communities. Western Muslim scholars have repeatedly denounced honor killings as un-Islamic and a ‘cultural’ problem that does not relate to religious doctrine. While this is apt, few of these scholars are willing to address the issue of how mosque and community subcultures contribute to ideas of male entitlement and female submission. The religious sanction given to the male to be the head of the household, which is often underlined in mosque sermons in Canada, is one instance where constructs of an ideal Islamic family structure can promote the idea that women must be controlled.

In an abusive household, it is easy to see how faith can become entangled with a controlling ego and produces the disastrous consequences seen in the Aqsa Pervez case. While there is no sanction in Islam for killing an innocent girl, the existence of the complexities mentioned makes this form of violence different from routine incidents of domestic violence against Canadian women of all faiths and cultures.

It’s crucial to consider the connection between honor killings and the control of women and terror prosecutions and the demonization of Muslim men on the other. The post-9/11 generation of Muslim children growing up in the West is facing the construction of the Muslim identity in response to terrorist stereotypes.

For Muslim girls, this has meant an increasing push to be employed in the defense of their faith at the occasional expense of the overhaul of discriminatory gender treatment in their communities. A girl’s adopting the hijab as a visible sign of Muslim identity is lauded by her community as a rejection of Western values. On the flip side, girls such as Bahar Ebrahimi who do not wear the hijab or want to flout moral codes can become the subject of censure. Worse, they can be viewed as lesser Muslims compared to their veiled counterparts because of their failure to follow community norms.

On the same day as the sentencing of Aqsa Pervez’s killers, in a courtroom in the same Canadian town of Brampton, a jury was also sent off to deliberate the fate of Steven Chand and Asad Ansari both accused of planning terror plots as part of a terror cell known as the Toronto 18. The juxtaposition of terror and honor crimes will be a burden borne by the Canadian Muslim community for some time.

In both cases, Canadian Muslim leaders must realize that simply presenting doctrinal arguments that say Islam does not support terrorism or honor crimes is a limp argument. Unless moral codes that indirectly allow for the control of women or paint deviation from community norms as a rejection of Islam are addressed, it will be difficult to escape the monolithic portrayals that continue to demonize an entire community for the crimes of a few.

This is an excerpt of a story that originally appeared on Dawn.com.

ABOVE: A Libyan Muslim girl at the 2007 Canadian Islamic Culture Expo. Photo from Flickr user Shazron under Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. BethinCanada says:

    Wow, what an insightful article. Thank you.
    I think Zakaria is right that the Muslim communities must stop making the “Islam does not equal terror” argument and take responsibility for the moral codes that allow for and even encourage the unequal treatment, not to mention the violence against women in their communities. This is Canada, and if you move here and raise your children in this culture, you have to expect and you should encourage them to learn from this culture and become successful members of it. To expect your children to live in a cultural bubble your community has created will only make you and your children unhappy, and frankly, bad citizens in my view. I’ve had friends who have had to hide most of their lives from their parents because of the guilt and fear of consequences they would face for acting outside of their parents’ culture; it only made them sad, drove a wedge between them and their parents, and held them back from living life to the fullest.
    Canada is the freest country in the world, so why not allow your children to take full advantage of freedoms you may not have been able to enjoy in your home country?
    On a different note, although through non-Muslim eyes I do consider it an inequality that the so-called “modest” dress women are expected to don in Muslim cultures is much more physically and likely psychologically restrictive for women than men, I don’t support Quebec’s move to try to ban coverings. Afterall, give an inch, and soon enough some backwards politician will try to tell all Canadian women how to dress. This is a cultural and moral issue, not a legal issue.
    Canadian law has done right by the unfortunate women who were victims of these crimes. To try to legislate cultural morality starts on too slippery a slope.

  2. I’m wondering if you realize that you spelled Aqsa Parvez’s name wrong. How is it that you can write a article about her and not even get her name correct?

    I agree that communities must be held accountable when they participate in not challening gender based violence. I’ worried that you have not recognized that the state has a large role in challenging violence against women. The death of Aqsa Parvez alike to other domestic murders are preventable and precdictable. Where was the school board, the shelters, the counselours? Where were the support systems that were suppose to change this?

    • Get a life safiya and rise above spelling mistakes.. It seems like you are mad at the author but have nothing better to get back at her and so are using stupid things like spelling mistakes and insated of condemning the murderers, blaming the institution. Atleast the institutions made sure that justice was done…For a moment , just turn around and imagine you were the Aqsa and you were killed by your father. Would you appreciate your father for killing you and put the entire blame on the institutions? And suppose you were in Pakistan or Afganistan, could you even blame the authoritites and institutions.You live in the west and so have the luxury to put the blame on the authorities.
      Its people like you, who live in absolute denial and put the entire blame on someone else if something wrong happens within the muslim society. It time for introspection. As Rafia has rightly said just saying that Islam doesnt sanction violence is not enough. Why is that horrible crimes like “honor killings” are more common among our muslim community? Why is it not common among the the westerners? what is your explanation for it ?

  3. Rachana says:

    This comment I would partly like to address to Safia’s comment. The rest is general commentary on the above issue.

    Based on what do you accuse the Board of Ed and the school staff of not doing their job or atleast under performing it? I must ask….has it ever occured to you that there are many many many students in a school. How do you expect the school to suspect the conservative mind set of this girl’s family and father? Based on what do you suggest they figure all those things about her family out and foresee the murder of this girl?

    Fine, okay you want to reprimand the Board and School staff… Again I am itching to ask…you have so kindly shared your words of critcism for the Board, but not a single word about the father, brother, or the acts and beliefs that they shamefully have engaged in. Is this not unfair?

    Thirdly, Safia…you are reprimanding the author for the mistake of misspelling the girl’s name (btw..you forgot to give us readers and the author the correct spelling)..i wonder why you have not said a thing about all the other insightful things she wrote.

    I suggest to you with the best intentions from the bottom of my heart. Change the way you are thinking. You pounced on the author (atleast that is how your comment sounded…correct me if I am wrong and you had no intention of pouncing on the author). You did so wrongly. She wrote an article that speaks for justice and the correct approach to these problems, that have been passed off as belief by the Muslim community. If you do not agree that what she has said is correct, say so…but dont pounce on her for a simple spelling mistake…and dont punce on the author9 who helped this dead girl more than you have by writing this article) by trying to seem as if you are trying to stand up for the murdered girl by scolding the school board and staff and the author’s mispelling.

    Thanks.

    Sincerly,
    Rachana (btw I am also 16, and the death of this innocent girl makes me very sad…not only because she was murdered, but because she was murdered by her own father and brother, because of their ego and hunger for power…which has obviously been encouraged of nutured by their belief system…(dont get me wrong…I am talking abt only these men’s belief system..not that of the entire Muslim community) which most certainly does need to change actively…instead of just verbally distancing itself from these inccidents, and then next minute turning around and preaching female subordination and passing it of as belief and random “crap” about how these things are in Islam to care for the Woman from the eye’s of the man…or to respect them.

    PS- Excuse my spelling and grammer mistakes…they are typos :)

  4. What happened is atrocious.

    Yes, Islam is against such honor killings and they are murder per the Quran. BUT, all monothestic religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity believe men are the dominant party in society and family and in the bible, they are considered "property/chattel;" an ideal Muslims adopted once Western "values" came their way during the crusades (basic history). Working with batterers who have severely harmed their children/wife, etc. most will start quoting the bible quite quickly to defend their actions – his wife – his property – – most Muslims, at least, are not quoting the Quran for backup, but their culture.

    We as a society must recognize women are the other 1/2 of humanity and should be afforded the same rights as any man (actually, this is what Islam does teach). Tragically, as in other religions, males – being in power – often pick and choose which religious edicts to follow in the socio/polictial/economic/gender system and then allow their culture to over-ride everything else…prime example: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, and this family.

  5. there are christian abusers that use the Christan bible as an excuse to abuse family members.
    From fundamentalists to the FLDS.
    They don't represent the over all christian community nor do their behaviors mean that Christianity is a violent religion.

  6. babe.wore.red says:

    While I don't think Islam is a particularly violent religion, I do believe that nearly all religions give rise to tribalism and segregation. I grew up in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Ontario and I heard a half a dozen stories a year about my classmates who were terrified that their ultra-traditional family would find out that she'd removed her veil at school/stayed out late/was on birth control/etc, etc etc, one girl in my graduating class was even murdered by her father because she chose to not wear a hijab.
    Frankly, I have a hard time swallowing the "religion has nothing to do with it" pill, religion is the enabler here, people will use it to justify their cruelty.

  7. “As expected, conservative forces on the lookout for cases that can be used to further demonize immigrant and Muslim communities have given the tragedies a place in their Islamophobic narrative.”

    You must have never heard liberal Bill Maher go on a rant about islam. I find it shameful to use this story somehow as a hit on conservatives and religious or islamic critics. What the author did here was label anyone with a negative word on islam an islamaphobe before they even opened their mouth. No intelligent conversations here, keep walking.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michel Monette, Ms. Magazine. Ms. Magazine said: Father admits to his daugter's murder; She did not subscribe to his conservative values: Canadian killings, Muslim issue http://ht.ly/22vBh [...]

  2. [...] June 23, 2010 by Rafia Zakaria · 2 Comments [...]

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