In July of 2020, a 30 year-old woman named Ahlam was beaten up and killed by her father in Jordan in what has come to be known as an ‘honour killing.’ Fast forward two years later, news broke in Egypt that a 21 year-old woman named Naiyera was murdered in cold blood outside of her university after refusing a marriage proposal. Only a day later, another Jordanian woman named Iman was murdered by her harasser, also in her university campus, after he sent her a threatening text which read, “Tomorrow, I will come to talk to you, and if you reject me, I will kill you, just like the Egyptian killed the girl today.” Whilst the latter two heinous crimes may not be considered an honour killing, all three brutal murders, as well as several others in parts of the Middle East and South Asia, are results of the same root problem: the ancestral dehumanisation and discrimination of women.
Social norms and ways of thinking in certain communities across the region were defined decades ago by a tribal and bedouin lifestyle. Being part of this society often dictates strict rules on what is allowed and forbidden, what is socially accepted and what is frowned upon. And time and time again, with instances like these two victims and several more, it has been proven that the prime victims of these outdated societal expectations are women. Historically, the fluid lifestyle which caused the ancestors of these tribes and families to have to roam around the Arabian Peninsula on camels and horses and live in tents, meant that there needed to be strict rules to protect the safety and sanctity of their women. However, the adaptation of these rules has grown far out of proportion. For example, in these communities, if a woman were to ‘fault’ in the eyes of her family, they believe that her father and brother have the right to take away her life as an act of ‘washing away the fault,’ and thus, ‘honouring’ their family. Such rules remained over time, and in modern day society, they become embedded in the law in some countries, known as ‘qanoon aasha’iri,’ translated into tribal or clan law.
In some countries, criminal law does not rule on the perpetrator of an honour killing in the same way as any other murder. Instead, the sentence is lessened and thus, there becomes no real fear of persecution.
These honour killings are not a prevalent practice in the Middle East today and are only supported and practiced by a small minority of the population, mainly in rural areas and amongst the underprivileged. This segment of society is still very much influenced by ancient tribal norms, and they tend to be more conservative and resistant to modernisation and the evolution of social norms. An often vast misconception, is the correlation between conservatism and religion. In fact, it is also widely perceived that such norms and laws emerge from Islam, which is another false presumption. Honour killings are practiced and supported by both Muslim and Christian tribal communities, as it is seen as more of a social and cultural matter rather than a religious one.
After the death of Ahlam, Naiyera and Iman as well as several other innocent women, a revolutionary outcry was born. These tragedies have led to an awakening in several communities of the detrimental consequences associated with honour killings. Whilst several people across the region do not find any honour in killing, there is still several work to be done if we are to implement any real change in modern society.