Pakistan's Muslim Leaders Are Taking a Stand After Stoning of a Pregnant Woman


The news: The execution of Farzana Parveen on May 27 saw an international outcry. 

The pregnant 25-year-old was slain on the steps of a courthouse in Lahore, Pakistan, stoned by her own family as a crowd looked on in broad daylight. She had come to defend her husband, whom her family disapproved of and accused of kidnapping her. But before a judge could hear her testimony, the male members of her family pelted her with bricks. "I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it," her father was quoted as saying.

Parveen is now one of 900 women estimated to die every year in an "honor killing" in Pakistan. The illegal practice, which often involves male relatives killing a woman for bringing shame to their family, is tied to some interpretations of Sharia law. But now, Pakistan's religious leaders are speaking out.

Responding to Parveen's killing, the All Pakistan Ulema Council, a coalition of Muslim leaders, called the act "highly condemnable," "un-Islamic" and issued a religious edict against all honor killings. "[A] daughter is a gift by Allah. And the feeling of being dishonored by your daughter is forbidden in Islam," the edict reads. "Killing one's daughter and humiliating them is a sign of ignorance."

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The background: Since 2004, honor killings have been technically illegal in Pakistan, though human rights activists argue that the law has had little effect. For one thing, family members can drop the case if the perpetrator pays "blood money" for forgiveness. And since many honor killings are done by family members, any legislation that doesn't address this practice has no teeth.

In fact, blood money is how Parveen married her husband, Mohammad Iqbal, in the first place. Last week, Iqbal admitted to murdering his first wife and paying off her family so that he could get remarried. "I wanted to send a proposal to Farzana, so I killed my wife," he told CNN.

These transactions represent a true commodification of women's lives. Instead of offering justice through a court of law, they sweep murders under the rug and reduce women to a monetary value. That dehumanizing approach, coupled with deep-rooted religious conservatism, is allowing the culture of honor killings to continue. Even Pakistani police seem to ascribe to this view: an investigative report — which, incidentally, exonerated police officers for not stopping the stoning — argued that Parveen was already betrothed to her cousin, and seemingly at fault for falling in love with someone else. "Getting married for a second time was both illegal and immoral," the officer in charge said.

And public opinion is also a problem. A 2011 Pew Research poll found that 4 in 10 Pakistanis believe that honor killings of women were justified. In comparison, 33% of respondents said honor killings of men were justified, though that crime is much less common:

Why this is important: With so many Pakistanis still in favor of honor killings, the Muslim leaders' edict is a big deal. It squarely calls honor killings "un-Islamic," and makes the point that mistreating women is not a religious tenet. "The act falls outside the ambit of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, the Quran and Sunnah [Islamic way of life]," Zahid Mehmood Qasim, the secretary general of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, told Al-Jazeera.

There is still a long way to go before the brutal practice of honor killings is stamped out, but this statement is a big step in eradicated an often-used excuse to justify gendered violence.