The Lonesome Death of Aqsa Parvez

The West continues to ignore the root cause of honor killings.

Justice was done last Wednesday when the Muhammad and Waqas Parvez, the father and brother of Aqsa Parvez, received life sentences for strangling her to death in their home in Mississauga, Ontario, on December 10, 2007, when she was sixteen years old. But denial as to how a father and brother could have been moved to murder what should have been a beloved daughter and sister remains all-pervasive. If Canada, the United States and Europe are not going to be the sites of many more Islamic honor killings, that has to change.

Muhammad and Waqas Parvez murdered Aqsa because she would not conform to Islamic behavior codes for women. The Qur’an commands women to “draw their veils over their bosoms” (24:31), and in a hadith, Aisha, the favorite wife of Islam’s prophet Muhammad recounts that he commanded that once a woman “reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands” (Sunan Abu Dawud 32.4092).

Muhammad Parvez was determined to enforce this command on Aqsa, as well as to force her into an arranged marriage, and she was just as determined to resist. Ultimately she ran away, telling friends that Muhammad Parvez had sworn on the Qur’an to murder her if she did so. But on December 10, 2007, Waqas Parvez showed up at Aqsa’s bus stop, and took the girl home.

Less than an hour later Muhammad Parvez called 911 to tell them he had killed his daughter. His calm after the killing, and his turning himself in, is common with Islamic honor murders and other killings and attempted killings: one notable example came in February 2009, after moderate Muslim leader Muzzammil Hassan beheaded his wife. He went to a police station, shook an officer’s hand, and then shocked the unsuspecting policeman by telling him: “I want to tell you that I just killed my wife and I’m here to turn myself in.” Similarly, when Mohammed Reza Taheri-Azar drove an SUV onto the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and attempted to run over and kill as many students as possible (he killed none but injured nine), he appeared serene and even happy after the attack.

This calm may emanate from a sense that the perpetrators have that they have performed an act pleasing to Allah, and will be rewarded for it. And that also may lead us to where Muhammad Parvez got the idea that Aqsa deserved death for her non-Muslim attitudes, and that it was his right, even his responsibility, to kill her. For the fact is little recognized but unmistakable: Islam provides a broad justification for honor killings, such that a man like Muhammad Parvez would most likely believe that in murdering his daughter, he is not committing a heinous crime, but serving his god in a way that that god would regard as a positive good.

A manual of Islamic law certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, says that “retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right.” However, “not subject to retaliation” is “a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring.” (‘Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2).

In other words, someone who kills his child incurs no legal penalty under Islamic law.

But not being subject to a penalty is one thing, and actually being tolerated is another. Indications of the latter come from Syria, which in July 2009 scrapped a law limiting the length of sentences for honor killings, but “the new law says a man can still benefit from extenuating circumstances in crimes of passion or honour ‘provided he serves a prison term of no less than two years in the case of killing.’“

That’s right: two years for murder. Such a light penalty sends a clear signal that honor killings, while still crimes, are understandable and even justifiable: killing a wife or daughter to preserve the honor of the family extenuates the crime of murder to such an extent that it moves cold-blooded killing to the level of minor credit card fraud or less.

In Jordan in 2003, the Parliament voted down, specifically on Islamic grounds, a provision designed to stiffen penalties for honor killings. Al-Jazeera reported that “Islamists and conservatives said the laws violated religious traditions and would destroy families and values.”

This is why honor killings keep happening – because they are broadly tolerated, even encouraged, by Islamic teachings and attitudes. Yet no authorities are calling Islamic leaders to account for this. The main thing that many analysts want you to know about the death of Aqsa Parvez and other honor killing victims is that they had nothing to do with Islam. Shahina Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Social Services Association, declared: “The strangulation death of Ms. Parvez was the result of domestic violence, a problem that cuts across Canadian society and is blind to colour or creed.” Sheikh Alaa El-Sayyed, imam of the Islamic Society of North America in Mississauga, Ontario, agreed: “The bottom line is, it’s a domestic violence issue.”

Muhammad Parvez himself didn’t see it that way after killing Aqsa. He grounded his act specifically in the mores of his Islamic community, and clearly believed that that community would regard his killing his daughter more lightly than they would her un-Islamic behavior: “This is my insult. My community will say you have not been able to control your daughter. This is my insult. She is making me naked.”

The life sentences given to Muhammad and Waqas Parvez give Muslim spokesmen in Canada and the United States a new opportunity. They have a new chance to acknowledge that Islam’s shame/honor culture and devaluation of women has created communities in which abuse of women is accepted as normal. They could call for a searching reevaluation of the meaning and continued relevance of material from the Qur’an and Sunnah that devalues and dehumanizes women, and call in no uncertain terms for Muslims to reject explicitly and definitively the literal meaning of such texts, now and for all time to come. They could call for sweeping reform and reexamination of the status of women in Islam. They could call upon every mosque in the West to institute classes teaching against honor killing and directly challenging the teachings and assumptions that give it justification.

For any of this to happen, Muslim leaders in the West would have to adopt an utterly unfamiliar and uncharacteristic stance: that of self-reflection and self-criticism, rather than excuse-making, finger-pointing, and evasion of responsibility. But with the mainstream media and law enforcement continuing to abet that evasion, this is unlikely in the extreme. Much more likely is that many, many more Muslim girls in the West will die miserably like Aqsa Parvez. No one is speaking up for them or defending them.

No one, that is, except my colleague in the Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America, Pamela Geller, who discovered late in 2008 that Aqsa was buried in an unmarked grave. She began an initiative to obtain a tombstone for Aqsa, but encountered resistance from Aqsa’s family and the Hamas-linked Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which owns the land in which Aqsa is buried. They refused to approve Geller’s headstone for Aqsa, which gave only her name, dates, and “Beloved, Remembered, Free” – although after all the public attention this initiative brought to the unmarked, they did ultimately provide a modest headstone themselves.

The whole affair showed yet again the tacit approval given to honor killing in all too many Islamic circles. But Geller was not inclined to acquiesce in the multicultural West’s hypocritical tolerance of this horrific practice, and succeeded in getting memorials for Aqsa in another town in Canada, as well as in American Independence Park in Jerusalem. Pamela Geller’s efforts in this epitomized what she be any free person’s reaction to honor killing – moral indignation, efforts to raise awareness of this practice among Westerners, and action to signal to the Muslim community that Westerners will no longer stand idly by as this practice spreads in the West.

For Aqsa’s sake, may there be many more such initiatives.