Killing for Honor

2016 Ramadan GraphicThe U.S. Department of Justice says honor killing is a growing problem that is hidden in statistics. According to a Fox News report honor killing and violence are among the most secretive crimes in society. “Cases of honor killings and/or violence in the U.S. are often unreported because of the shame it can cause to the victim and the victim’s family,” reports Farhana Qazi, a former U.S. government analyst and senior fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism.

Honor Violence Measurement Methods is a study released in 2015 commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice. The study identified four types of honor violence: forced marriage, honor-based domestic violence, honor killing and female genital mutilation.

The report estimates that 23 to 27 honor killing occur each year in the United States. In comparison, the report estimates 13 honor killings each year in the Netherlands and 10 to 12 honor killings in the United Kingdom. The number of honor killing worldwide is estimated to be approximately 5,000 per year.

The concept of executing someone because they have dishonored their family is difficult for Westerners to understand. In his book Honor and Shame, Roland Muller discusses three basic emotional responses to Adam and Eve’s original sin in the Garden of Eden: guilt, shame, and fear.

After they had sinned, they felt guilt, because they had broken God’s command. They felt shame – they knew they were naked, and so they covered themselves. And they felt fear – they hid themselves from God.

Cultures and worldviews have been shaped by one or more of these emotional responses. Some cultures primarily operate with one clear worldview; others may be a mixture of all three. Most Western culture is primarily based on a guilt/innocence – we clearly understand the concepts of right and wrong. Guilt/innocence based cultures are typically individualistic. We believe individuals are responsible for themselves and their behavior.

Islam was based on a honor/shame basis. In fact, the honor/shame basis of Islam originated with Bedouin honor codes. Unlike the individual responsibility of those from a Western mindset, shame/honor based cultures are attached to groups – families, tribes, nations, etc. Shameful deeds affect the entire group and as such they are hidden, and if they cannot be hidden, then the shameful deed demands revenge. In this culture the importance of the group outweighs the importance of an individual. If a person shames the family, and the family is unable to hide the shameful deed, the mindset says that the family must avenge. Islam is conformity to the point of submission.

Understanding this difference in worldview certainly does not excuse honor killings, but it does help Westerners to understand why a Muslim family will often protect the murderer. Because Islam is rooted in this shame based paradigm, actions such as lying to protect the honor of the family or tribe is considered permissible. Few things are actually considered right or wrong; rather they are acceptable or unacceptable based on the family honor.

Understanding the basis of the shame/honor worldview helps us as Christians to share the gospel and pray for them. As Western Christians pray for the salvation of the Muslim people, we can rejoice in the fullness of the Gospel of the Kingdom which reconciles us to God – no more guilt; no more fear; and no more shame!

Prayer Point:

Pray that Christians will understand how to share their faith with people from different worldviews and cultures in a way that does not compromise the truth of the gospel, but yet still communicates the finished work of the cross.

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