Domestic Violence or Honor Killing? Does Islam Condone Honor Killing?

As published in the Huffington Post

A mother of two young girls is shot eight times and killed in broad daylight by her husband in a suburbs of Dallas, Texas. He lay in wait for her as she was heading for the apartment where she had moved to get away from him. Before she separated from him, he had allegedly threatened her with a gun and a knife. About an hour after killing his wife, the husband called 911 and told the police where he was and what he had done.

This incident happened this week. The victim’s name is Hanan Seid. She was 26. Her two daughters are 3 and thirteen months old. As tragic and horrible as it was, it was not uncommon. Except that the victim and her husband, the killer, were both Muslims from Ethiopia.

News reports have highlighted this, and many people have jumped to the conclusion that religion explains the murder, either because they assume it was an “honor killing” or because they think that Islam tolerates domestic violence.

No one should make this assumption. When I described what happened, was there anything that struck you as particularly Muslim about it? Did you even think of Islam? Highly unlikely. But a lot of people are very willing to fit negative stereotypes to the facts once they learn that the husband and wife were both Muslims from another country.

As far as honor killings go, there are simply no indications that this was one. First, it is important to note that Islam does not condone honor killings. A small number of social groups within predominantly Muslim parts of the world do, but this has to do with their societies primitive beliefs, not Islam. Honor killings are no more a part of Islam than narco-terrorism is a part of Catholicism, even though it flourishes in predominantly-Catholic countries in Central and South America.

Second, this has no hallmarks of an honor killing. The whole idea of an honor killing is that someone has done something to bring dishonor on a family. In a divorce situation, it is possible that, if the marriage was arranged and money or property was exchanged between families, a divorce could be seen to bring dishonor on the men who arranged the marriage.

Here, there is no evidence that the marriage was arranged. More importantly, the husband would not be the one dishonored and would not be the one to conduct the honor killing. More fundamentally, neither Islam nor societies that condone honor killings allow husbands to kill their wives for separating from them.

As far as Islam possibly condoning domestic violence, there are a small number of Islamic scholars who interpret certain scripture as permitting a man to “strike” or physically discipline his wife. But no real Muslim believes that Islam permits a husband to murder his wife in the way that happened here.

Did Ms. Seid’s family fail to protect her because Muslims do not take domestic violence seriously? Highly unlikely. We don’t know anything indicating that her family did not take the threats against her seriously. And we do know that the threats were taken seriously enough that she had separated from her husband and moved into her own apartment. Hindsight is 20-20, but it is hard to say how this tragedy realistically could have been prevented, given that the husband was willing to stalk and kill his wife and was not even worried about being caught.

In an interview with John Helms, a Dallas based Criminal Defense Lawyer commented “As a criminal defense lawyer, I know that domestic violence is usually about dominance and control. It happens in every society and among every religion. If we give in to negative stereotypes about others to try to explain it, we ignore how serious a problem it is within our own cultural, ethnic, racial, and religious groups.”