Does “honour killing” have a religious background?

It is a common Western misunderstanding that honour killing or honour murder is a Muslim phenomenon. This delusion very likely has its roots the massive immigration of Muslims to Western Europe during the last fifty years. In the Middle East the murder of women because of “honour” as all too widespread and unfortunately this atrocious habit was taken along to the West with the immigration of the Middle Easterners.

The philosophy behind honour killings – or should we call it shame killing – is that a feudalistic community operates with two separate concepts of honour: the honour of women and the honour of men.

The honour of women, in Turkish called namus (decency, chastity) and in Arabic عرض ,is preserved by a conduct that does not cast doubt on their chastity. If this happens, they lose their namus and her husband or father loses his honour, in Turkish called şeref which is the same as the Arabicشرف . In this case the man who is regarded as the one responsible for the honour of the family has to prove his honourableness and that of his family by washing away the shame brought upon them. This is normally done by shedding the blood of the woman who is regarded as a source of shame.

In Islam there has been some discussion about what to do with women who commit adultery. In the Quran we find the following commands:

“As for those of you women who are guilty of lewdness (الفاحشة ), call to witness four of you against them. And if they testify then confine them to the houses until death take them ( الموت يتوفّاهنّ ) or Allah appoints for them a way.” Sura 4; 15.

It seems that this text does not warrant a death penalty passed by any family council in the absence of the perpetrator. Evidently official legal action with at least four witnesses was required.[i] provides us with this information:

“Chapter 24 of Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an, explicitly instructs believers to whip those found guilty of adultery. A leading Muslim scholar, Maulana Muhammad Ali noted that ‘stoning to death was never contemplated by Islam as a punishment for adultery.‘ Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Dr. Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, said that the ‘official text of the Qur’an only sanctions a punishment of so many lashes for such an offence not stoning to death…[the] punishment of stoning was introduced later by Omar, the second Calif for reasons best known to him.6Many Muslim scholars and judges agree that the Qur’an does not refer to executions by stoning.'”[ii]

It therefore seems that honour killing is not a religious but a sociological phenomenon peculiar to feudalistic communities. Consequently it is not surprising that this menace is also found among professing Christians who are living in or have their roots in patriarchal or feudalistic communities.

The following is a quotation from an article on the web site Stop honour killings!:

“So-called honour killings are also part of Italy’s legal history, where the idea was an admitted defense until 1981.

Prior to its reversal, an article existed in the Italian Criminal Code that provided a reduced penalty of imprisonment of only three to seven years for a man who killed his wife, sister or daughter to vindicate his or his family’s honour.

Such crimes were once a fairly widely accepted feature of highly traditional communities in southern Italy – and even sparked an Oscar-winning 1961 comedy called Divorce, Italian Style, starring Marcello Mastroianni.

The Mafia, clinging to the past, has much more recently killed women who ‘strayed’ sexually or had children without being married.”[iii]

The latest example on honour killing done by confessing Christians is a case from Turkey. Here is the story as told by UPI:

“ISTANBUL, Turkey, April 17 (UPI) — A criminal court in Turkey handed a sentence of life in prison Tuesday to a man convicted in the execution-style slaying of his sister and brother-in-law.

The young couple were found shot to death in their car 10 days after they married against the wishes of the bride’s family, Today’s Zaman reported.

Sonay Ogmen, 26, and Zekeriya Vural, 29, each died from a single bullet to the forehead.

Police determined the couple had been killed by someone they knew sitting in the back seat of their car.

“I shot both of them,” the bride’s brother, Gonay Ogmen, told police after he was arrested. “We didn’t want that groom.”

The groom’s uncle, Cemal Vural, said the bride’s family opposed the marriage because she was Christian and Zekeriya Vural was Muslim.”[iv]


[i] Marmaduke Pickthall, trans., The Glorious Qur’ân, Istanbul: Çağrı Yayınları, 1999, 80.

[ii] “Punishment for non-marital sex in Islam,” Religious Tolerance, accessed April 20, 2012,

[iii] Joanna, “Mafia still think they ‘own’ women,” Stop honour killings! accessed April. 22, 2012,

[iv] “Turkish newlyweds slain over religious difference,” UPI, accessed April 22, 2012,


About Antiochene

Writer and translatorliving in Antioch on the Orontes (Antakya, Turkey) and Copenhagen.
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