Abid Hussain is a 56 year old cleric who runs a mosque in Manchester, UK. When his sixteen-year old daughter, Rabiyah, refused to marry the boy he chose for her- a cousin living in Pakistan – he beat and attempted to strangle her in the family home just above the mosque. Hussain made it clear that should Rabiyah refuse the marriage, he would kill her. Rabiyah’s brothers, Nawab and Bahaud, assisted their father in brutalizing Rabiyah.
There is no question that Abid Hussain committed unthinkable brutality against his daughter, and there is no doubt that his actions were criminal. What we also know, however, is that what happened to Rabiyah is a clear case of honor-based violence. Honor-based violence punishes a member of the family, usually a female, for actions perceived to bring “shame” or “dishonor” to the family. These “offenses” can include wearing short sleeves, talking to a member of the opposite sex, refusing an arranged marriage, becoming pregnant outside of marriage, or even being raped. While honor-based violence is not condoned by Islam, it is unfortunately prevalent in many Muslim communities.
Over 5,000 girls and women lose their lives in honor killings every year. Honor killings are the final step in a pattern of abuse that begins with threats and often beatings like the one Rabiyah experienced.
Despite the clear danger Rabiyah Hussain’s father still poses to her safety, Judge Michael Leeming spared him an immediate and serious jail sentence. In a ruling that troubles us deeply, Judge Leeming postponed sentences for Rabiyah’s father and two brothers, referring to her father as a man of “obvious standing,” (as a cleric in the local community), and referring to the brutalization of Rabiyah as an attempt to “coerce” her in to the father’s beliefs.
In taking such a lighthanded approach, Judge Leeming effectively let an attempted murderer, Abid Hussain, and his two accomplices (Rabiyah’s brothers Nawab and Bahaud) off with a warning, on what seem like cultural grounds. What will happen to Rabiyah in the coming days, weeks, and months? Would the judge have treated a case involving non-Muslims differently – and, if so, do the lives of Muslim women and girls matter less in the eyes of this British judge?
Honor-based violence is a problem we in the United States still have yet to address effectively. Earlier this year, the honor beating and near murder of Aiya Al-Tamimi did receive modest media coverage. However, Aiya’s mother, who tied Aiya down, beat her and cut her throat – was also spared a jail sentence. We wrote about Aiya’s case here, and the threat moral relativism poses to the lives of Muslim girls and women. (See television commentary by Dr. Jasser on Aiya’s case here, here, here and here.)
Noor Al-Maleki was murdered by her father in Phoenix, Arizona in 2009. Noor’s father, Faleh Al-Maleki, subjected his daughter to long-term torment, ultimately running her over with his Jeep Cherokee for her “western” behavior. Noor had lived in fear of her father for years, even running away from home. Her father, however, was charged with second degree murder rather than first degree (premeditated) murder. At the sentencing, judge Roland Steinle took the opportunity to claim, at great length, that Noor was not murdered for honor – despite Faleh Al-Maleki’s repeated admission that “honor” was absolutely his motivation. (See Dr. Jasser’s comments on this case here.)
The murder of Muslim girls and women is no more understandable or acceptable because of any tribal code of “honor.” Warnings, pleas to assimilate, and passive hope that at some point, Muslim girls and women will be freed from the misogyny of “honor” are not enough. We must work to effectively identify signs of honor-based violence and prevent their brutal and horrifying outcomes.
MEMINI: a memorial site to remember the victims of honor-based violence.