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Islamic Society (27 Jan 2014 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Honour Killings in Muslim Societies: the Role of Patriarchal Hadith



By Adis Duderija, New Age Islam

27 January, 2014

In accordance with best (academic) practices I shall start this article with some necessary ‘self-positioning’. I am a practicing Muslim of Bosnian ethnicity and an academic on issues pertaining to contemporary interpretation of Islam with specific focus on gender issues. I am currently a Visiting Senior Lecturer at the University of Malaya. I am also a father to two children one of which is a 5 year old girl and the other a 3 year old boy. In what I write below should be understood as a plea for understanding and as an expression of genuine voice of concern both as a father and as a practicing Muslim.

A number of scholars such as F. Sabbah, F. Mernissi and Kh. Abou El Fadl to name but the most prominent few have discussed what the classical Islamic tradition considers to be an organic conceptual link between the categories of active and for the believing Muslim men potentially disastrous (both in salvific and this worldly fortunes) female sexuality and the concept of socio-moral chaos (Fitna) caused by the very presence (or even a smell) of a woman in the public sphere. According to this view of the nature of male and female sexuality, women, as a conceptual category, are identified with the “irreligious” realm of sexual passion, as repositories of all “lower” aspects of human nature, the very anti- thesis of “illuminated” sphere of male (religious) knowledge, in which the sole source of religious authority resides. In the words of El- Fadl women are seen as walking, breathing bundles of Fitna and womanhood is artificially constructed into the embodiment of seduction. Based on this active concept of female sexuality classical Islamic tradition has put in place a number of mechanisms to regulate this ‘omnisexual’ female sexual instinct by “external precautionary safeguards” such as seclusion and (complete) veiling of women, gender segregation, and women’s constant surveillance to ensure their modesty (Haya’). In turn, male honour is constructed exclusively in terms of (extreme) forms of sexual jealousy (Ghairah) and (extreme) conceptualizations of women’s modesty as for example based on the nine parts of desire Hadith (Asbagh bin Nubatah quotes Imam 'Ali as follows: "Almighty God has created the sexual desire in ten parts; then He gave nine parts to women and one to men. And if the Almighty God had not given the women equal parts of shyness/shame (`Awra عورة).. then each man would have nine women related to him.")  That is accepted by both classical Sunnism and Shi’ism on the basis of which gender segregation, public invisibility of women and their constant surveillance are upheld as the religious ideal.

Now, as I demonstrated elsewhere there is no Qur’anic basis for such a view of male or female sexuality, however, there is a voluminous Hadith based literature (again found in the studies I referred to as above and in many others) of variant authenticity/soundness criteria (if we take classical Ulum ul Hadith sciences as their ultimate measuring tool) which supports such a view. Indeed, that Hadith stipulate that women’s (and men’s) modesty (Haya’) is a branch of faith is well known fact. Importantly, one of the 5 essential higher objectives of Islamic law (Maqasid al Shari’a) as identified by Imam Al Ghazali (d.1111CE) and subsequently incorporated by others including the father of ‘Maqasid al Shari’a’ Imam Al-Shatibi identifies. This concept of honour (‘ird) is conceptually associated ,  among other things, especially in the contemporary period, primarily with women and their sexuality. In this context the author of the entry ‘ird (honour) in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd edition ) writes as follows:

At the present day, the meaning of the word ʿirḍ has become restricted, relating particularly to women: in Transjordania it is associated with the virtue of a woman or even with her beauty. In Egypt the ʿirḍ of a man depends in general on his wife’s reputation and that of all his female relatives. In Syria the reputation of every member of a tribe reflects on a man’s ʿirḍ. (Farès, Bichr. "ʿIrḍ." Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Brill Online, 2014. Reference. University of Melbourne. 29 January 2014 .0

The conceptual linking between women and the nature of their sexuality   is also evident in the connotations surrounding the word ‘Awra which among others signifies words such as femininity, woman, nakedness, blemish, defect. As we know in some classical Islamic schools of thought woman’s voice is considered Awra. We find similar disturbing evidence of conceptual linking between women and deficient rational faculties. For example , the medieval dictionary of the Arabic language written by Ibn Manzur who in his entry on ra’y  which he defines as “well considered opinion , mental perception and sound judgment” applies this  description to  some males only because he considers that women as a general category of humanity could not posses ra’y. Similar framing/conceptulisating  of genders in artificially  oppositional dichotomies is evident in much of the classical Islamic though. For example, Al-Ghazali relates that the fourth caliph ‘Ali and  the first Shi’i Imam as having said the following : “The worst characteristics of men constitute the best characteristics of women; namely, stinginess, pride and cowardice. For if a woman is stingy, she will preserve her own and her husband’s possessions; if she is proud, she will refrain from loose and improper words to everyone; and if she is cowardly, she will dread everything and will therefore not gout of her house and will avoid compromising situations for the fear of her husband”(Imam Al Ghazali, Marriage and Sexuality in Islam, translated by Madelaine Farah, Islamic book Trust, Kuala Lumpur,2012, p.78).

Those who have (hastily) argued that honour killings ( whose continued and high prevalence in Muslim majority communities has been established in the academic literature without a shadow of doubt )  have nothing to do with either the concept of male ‘honour’ described above  or the classical Islamic tradition’s socio-cultural values  since they exist  across cultural and religious divides and or are not present in all Muslim societies, have never examined systematically the question as to  what extent have the patriarchal Hadith ,such as the nine parts of desire ,  and many more which can be found in books of Aid  Qarni (“You Can Be The Happiest Woman in the World”)and similar others,  have played in affecting the moral compass of men  and women ( as often honour killings have a {tacit} approval of the victim’s male and female kin) that, potentially,  can be seen as  creating a socio-cultural and psychological atmosphere conducive to the perpetuation of these horrific crimes . These types of arguments against the usefulness of  the category of honour killings and insufficient consideration of the ‘religious element’ in the same  are also based on a number of other problematic assumptions that I cannot possibly address adequately here due to space concerns and concern the artificial creation of clear cut delineating of socio-cultural from religious values as well as a number of presuppositions regarding the nature of the Qur’an-Sunna discourse that I have addressed elsewhere.

 My basic argument (or plea for understanding) is that we need to seriously examine the question to what extent, directly or indirectly, have these patriarchal Hadith ( or more specifically the socio-cultural norms and practices they  have played a role in engendering) which have penetrated the socio-cultural values and moral outlook of segments of Muslim societies as evident in the very vocabularies of the languages of Muslim cultures (  i.e. conceptual links between woman=awra=fita=’ird that for example can be seen at play in  the word ‘fitmekusa’ which in Bosnian refers to a woman who chooses to live a non tradition life i.e. woman who has not internalized the kind of blind obedience to the male kind and has restricted herself to the private sphere of her home.) are to be implicated in motivations /justifications/rationalizations behind  honour killings in Muslim contexts. If these Hadith are considered to be reflective of the Islamic teachings , as they often are, than can the views of male and female sexuality  found in these Hadith and the  socio-cultural norms and practices they give rise to, as discussed above,  be seen as creating a socio-cultural and psychological atmosphere conducive to carrying out of honour killings?  While I do not have a categorical answer to this question, I do believe that we as committed Muslims must have this discussion.

One solution that I have proposed elsewhere with regards to the normative nature of sunna body of knowledge is to separate it conceptually and hermeneutically from the hadith bodies of knowledge (and there are good reasons why this can and should be done while still being faithful to our tradition)[1]  which would permit us to question their normative nature while maintain our commitment to the teachings and values in the Qur’an and Sunna.

Another important thing to do is to once and for all break this conceptual linking of woman=Fitna=Awra=’ird  and unreasonable and, at times ,alarmingly disturbing  conceptualizations of Ghairah and Haya’ and  recognize that these conceptual links  were incorporated into Hadith literature and medieval Muslim societies though the customs (‘urf) of the tribalistic 7th century Hijaz that were unproblematically assimilated into classical Islamic law and ethics. To do this we need a novel Qur’an-Sunna hermeneutic that is receptive to many conceptual ( as well as other) assumptions  that I have discussed elsewhere that were guiding classical Islamic scholarship when interpreting the same, especially as they relate to nature of men and women and in particular their respective sexualities and develop alternative  conceptualizations of ‘honour’ , female ‘modesty’ and male sexual jealousy which are divorced from  medieval ‘urf-based considerations. I am also inclined to say that the very concept of honour should be done away with altogether and replaced with the Qur’anic concept of Karama (dignity). [1]


URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-society/adis-duderija,-new-age-islam/honour-killings-in-muslim-societies--the-role-of-patriarchal-hadith/d/35451



  • apologies for some many comments. but i did not do justice to one of the observer's comments. we all know that hadith play an important role in not only interpreting the Qur'an but also in providing a platform for cultural values of Muslim societies, hence investigating their role is important , especially if they address certain issues which could be associated with the kind of mentality that show some  affinities /justifications/rationalisations behind  honour crimes.  i made this point before.
    By adis - 2/3/2014 2:10:41 AM

  • the article is the one here- you are reading on this forum-  ebsite http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-society/honour-killings-in-muslim-societies--the-role-of-patriarchal-hadith/d/35451

    i changed the title  when i uploaded into onto my academia  but it is the same article. It is not meant  really for academic audience but i might  work on it for that purpose in the near future. you might find my other works of interest  on my academia webpage,esepcially the ones focusing on women since they deal with the concepts of women fitna=awra here: https://malaya.academia.edu/AdisDuderija

    By adis - 2/3/2014 1:59:03 AM

  • Please could you email us the article Honour Killings in Muslim Societies: the Role of Patriarchal Hadith and 'Urf based assumptions

    by Adis Duderija (University of Malaya, Malaysia)

    as this is requested by one of our Lectures at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

    By sunjeev basdeo - 2/3/2014 1:53:29 AM

  • observer, it does not matter if the male  is muslim or not. we are talking about  Muslim people who are perpetrators of these crimes either in a muslim majority or minority contexts and whose socio-cultural values which for reasons i outlined in my paper cannnot be somewho  'clinically' and unproblematically simply divorced from 'religious' ones ( as evident in women=fitna=awra='ird logic which finds ample  support in the patriarhcal hadith literature as well as classical Islamic law, esepecially Muslim family law). i also clearly stated that I do not have a categorical answer and am interested in creating a discussion by problamatising traditional concepts of 'ird, ghayrat and haya and their POTENTIAL role in honur killings . hence the article is exploritative and  not prescriptive in nature.  
    By adis - 2/3/2014 1:52:15 AM

  • here is a part of  abstract of  scientific study on  honour killings which mentions 'misunderstandings' of Qur'an and sunna as one factor.

    In Pakistani society, half of the total population of 180 million is comprised of women who have the same fundamental rights as men under articles 25, 27, 35 and 37 in the Constitution of Pakistan and under articles 1, 2, 7, 16, 21(2) and 25(2) of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These fundamental rights of women are violated at large in Pakistani society due to lack of education, ignorance about Islamic teachings, feudal and tribal cultural traditions, male dominated patriarchal attitudes, poverty, unemployment and misinterpretations regarding precise teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

    By adis - 2/3/2014 1:44:19 AM

  • Adis,

    See for yourself whether what I said is an appropriate summary of what you have yourself said.


    Adis said :the main point of the article is whether the hadith about nature of male and female sexuality which are based on certain ( and in my view often extreme /unreasonable) understandings of concepts of male honour and  female modesty  can be considered as playing a role in creating a psychological and /or socio-cultural atmosphere conducive to honour killings.

    Observer: Adis academic interest is limited to establishing that the hadiths are responsible for creating an environment conducive to honour killing. 

    Earlier, you dismissed my post which attempted to show through a verse of the Quran that even if a Muslim Girl were to elope and marry a Mushrik, the marriage should be accepted. The ultimate in an injury to honor is when someone’s girl elopes with a mushrik. There cannot be greater ‘dishonor’. So if such notions of dishonor are dealt with clear Quranic verses on the subject, what chance does in correct interpretation of hadiths have in perpetuating the dishonorable practice of honor killings? However, you considered this irrelevant as far as the article is concerned from which I conclude that you are not looking for a solution.

    By Observer - 2/3/2014 12:43:40 AM

  • observer, if my interest in honour killings was merely 'academic' ( and i specifically in my self-positioning section at the start  outlined reasons as to why this has also a personal in addition to humanitarian dimension to it) than i would not have invested time and effort into publishing it here on newageislam.com which is a non academic forum. from an academic perspective i will gain 'nothing' from writing this article as the article is not published in a peer reviewed academic journal. you are not in  a position to know what my motives and vice versa. so please refrain from speculating on my motives as this indeed is a sin that you are committing and it is also unethical. 
    By adis - 2/3/2014 12:11:04 AM

  • waqas and observer,  I will give you a benefit of the doubt that you are indeed attempting to understand my arguments as objectively as possible rather than on some pre-conceived ideas that you might have about me,my motivations,  my academic work or academia in general. o
     indeed my gut feeling is that 'observer' might  know me even personally but is unwilling to identify HIMself. 
    On which grounds is  my work to be considered  'revisionist'? I have argued and provided evidence from which in the cannon of the Islamictradition 
     in any case I specifically said that the article is a plea for understanding and that i do not have a categorical answer to the question i posed and that one main reason i am writing it is to initiate a serious debate on it. 
    don't you understand  the link between woman=awra=fitna='ird  ? if so,  i think it is reasonable to explore how such concepts of women and honour might play a role in honour killings.  if you disagree with me  that is fine but please do tell me what are we to do with these disturbing aspects of our Islamic tradition ? just pretend they are not there and swipe them under the carpet ?  be specific in your proposals and ideas so that I can engage you. also identify yourself as i did  so that we know your background

    By adis - 2/2/2014 9:12:16 PM

  • Well said Waqa. Adis academic interest is limited to establishing that the hadiths are responsible for creating an environment conducive to honour killing. He is not looking for any solution to solve the problem of honour killings. 

    By Observer - 2/2/2014 1:30:16 AM

  • This whole article doesn't make any sense, logically speaking.
    What has honour killing got to do with hadiths?
    One of the 5 basic principles of the Shariah is to remove harm. One of the worst crimes that can be committed by a Muslim, which the Prophet called an act of kufr, is to kill another person. Only the court of law has a right to sentence a person to death in only three cases.

    This type of revisionism is a flawed attempt to be shocking. Its a problem with academia that one need to keep on getting controversial and bring in new ideas in order to get somewhere in the academic circles.

    By waqas - 2/2/2014 1:08:53 AM

  • Rational asks, "what do you say to Iftikhar Ahmad?" -

    Living in Western countries must be difficult for  conservative Muslims, especially if one has school age children. Although it may be possible to have unisex schools with Muslim teachers, I do not know how well such schools will prepare their students for British work-a-day world.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 1/30/2014 1:06:29 AM

  • mr Ghulam Mohiyuddin. what do you say to Iftikhar Ahmad. Is it not Islamic?
    who forced Muslims to go to morally corrupt western countries?
    Isn't Iftikhar Ahmad speaking the language of the Quran? why so many people abhor the west where they want to go at any cost? why they put their Iman and aamals on stakes? why they don't stay in Islamic heavens?
    as per
    Iftikhar Ahmad i must be committing an unpardonable crimr by sending my daughter to a school run by Christians where she gets exposed to Hindus and Christians.
    mr Iftikhar Ahmad is no isolated or fringe example of this Islamic thinking based on Islamic beliefs and morality. 

    By rational mohammed yunus - 1/29/2014 11:55:25 PM

  • iftikhar,

    you are overlooking the fact that honour killings happen at about 10 000 cases per year in Muslim majority societies.  indeed , as i demonstrated in my article conceptual linking of woman=awra=fita='ird is in my view an important factor to be considered in dealing with the issue oif hoinour crimes.  i use to teahc in a Muslims schol in Australia. the issue of both honour killings and women=awra=fitna='ird  is not problematised in Muslims school as far as i know at all whereas these schools should be at the forfront of contemning this practise. as i demonstrated in my article the concept of 'ird, ghayrat and hayaa as reflected in some hadith and 'urf based assumptions reflected in classical Islamic law are very problematic and must be abandoned.  falling pregnant out of wedlock pails in comparison with honour killings in every  way imaginable.

    By adis - 1/29/2014 7:28:18 PM

  • Honour killing and female infanticide come from Pagan-Hindu-Judeo-Christian traditions. Hindus idolise women as Goddesses on one hand, while downgrading them on the sly at the same time. There is nothing in the Holy Quran and the Hadiths that may encourage people to kill their daughters. Infact, Islam came to abolish the dark ages of Pagan- Hindu –Judeo- Christian traditions. Islam is a matter of choice and there is no compulsion at all. It is a misconception that forced marriage and honour killing are part of Muslim culture. Forced marriage, honour killing and genital mutilation are rare practices among migrant communities. Muslim migrants are worried about institutional racism, binge drinking, drug addiction, incivility, gun and knife crimes, high rate of abortions and teen age pregnancies. An average of 20 English girls under the age of 16 falls pregnant every day. Muslim parents do not want their children to be integrated into such barbarity. Muslim women feel torn between two cultures, thanks to the British education system with non-Muslim monolingual teachers. It makes their lives very confusing.


     The tragedy of forced marriage and honour killing could have been avoided if the poor girls were educated in a single sex state funded Muslim schools by female Muslim teachers. Educational attainment rises quite significantly if boys and girls are educated separately. The tragedies are an eye opener for all those Muslim parents who send their children to state schools where they are exposed to non-Muslim teachers who have no respect for Islamic faith and Muslim community and do not understand the needs and demands of the Muslim children. Muslim schools are crucial for Muslim children because western education makes a man/woman stupid. The hypocrisy of the Western society is clearly seen whereas an Australian Judge failed to jail nine males who admitted gang-raping a 10-year old aborigine girl in 2005, saying the victim probably agreed to have sex with them and a UNICEF Photo of the year shows, a bridegroom, 40, with his 11-year old bride in Afghanistan. In my opinion, a UNICEF photo of the year must show a nine year British girl having a baby and another photo showing a gang of teenage girls with anti-social behaviour and vomiting out side a pub, thanks to binge drinking.  Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. Muslim schools are the solutions and not a problem. They help to strengthen community cohesion, not undermine it. Muslim schools stand as shining beacons of light, serving as one of the most crucial factors which protect Muslim children from the onslaught of Eurocentricism, homosexuality, racism and secular values and traditions.  They need to be well versed in Standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. At the same time they need to be well versed in Arabic, Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with their cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry. Muslim schools are not only faith schools but also bilingual schools. Infact, bilingualism is an asset and not a problem as perceived by the British education system. There is a positive co-relation between language and culture. English language is associated with western culture.


     The silent majority of Muslim parents would like to send their children to Muslim schools but there are not enough schools to go by. The only alternative left is either British Government should introduce voucher system for parents to choose the school of their choice or designate all those state schools as Muslim community schools where Muslim pupils are in majority. There are hundreds of state schools where Muslims are in majority. Such schools may be handed over to Muslim educational Trusts or charities for their management. They are in a better position to educate Muslim children in accordance with their needs and demands. This demand is in accordance with the law of the land because there are state schools already managed by private companies. Muslim community is not asking for a favour. It is their legal right.



    By Iftikhar Ahmad - 1/29/2014 11:22:04 AM

  • banish the very thought of  hats off! accepting either that he is an apostate or an Islamophobe. He clearly was never a Muslim so he can't be an apostate and he is not a permanent islamoophobe as he is clearly  against all religions. But probably he is a more against Islam than other religions. Which would make sense in the present day world. So you can call him an occasional or more than occasional islamophobe.

    By banish the very thought - 1/29/2014 5:56:22 AM

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