A coalition of religious leaders in Pakistan has issued a fatwa against honor killings, calling them “un-Islamic” and “highly condemnable,” days after the public murder of a pregnant woman in Lahore.
“A daughter is a gift by Allah. And the feeling of being dishonored by your daughter is forbidden in Islam,” the edict, issued on Friday, read. “Killing one’s daughter and humiliating them is a sign of ignorance.”
Twenty-five year old Farzana Parveen was killed by around two dozen relatives, including her father and brothers, in front of Lahore High Court, where she had gone to testify that she had married her husband, Muhammad Iqbal, of her own free will. Her family did not agree with the marriage, and alleged she had been kidnapped.
None of the onlookers stepped in to help Parveen; some even took cell phone photos. She was three months pregnant at the time of the fatal beating. After the killing, Parveen’s father surrendered to the police, calling the murder an honor killing and stating that he did not regret his actions.
The All Pakistani Ulema Council, a coalition of Muslim religious leaders, will hold a summit on June 5 with leaders from all sects. Scholars and Islamic law experts will discuss how to tackle honor killings and other social issues.
Tahir Ashrafi, the head of the council, said, “Killings committed in the name of honor or dignity are brutal and cruel. Murderers will not only be guilty of murder but also spreading mischief on earth,” Public Radio International (PRI) reported.
Pakistani feminist Samina Rehman welcomed the fatwa, telling news agency AFP: “People don’t speak up because they fear that they would either be framed for blasphemy or declared un-Islamic.”
About 900 women died in honor killings in 2013 in Pakistan, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reported.
“HRCP is appalled by the manner of Farzana Parveen’s death just a few yards from the Lahore High Court on Tuesday. Her only crime was to marry of her own free will, a right that the law recognizes for all adult citizens but one where the state has failed to prevent abuse and violence,” HRCP said in a press release Wednesday.
Pakistani writer Bina Shah said in a blog post that people get away with such ‘executions’ because of “weak laws, contradictory legislation, and the overarching power of jirgas, or extra-judicial tribal court systems, which reserve the harshest punishments for women exercising their free will.”
Pakistan’s Protection of Women ordinance, enacted in 2006, outlawed rape, forced marriage, selling women into prostitution, or falsely accuse a woman of adultery or extramarital sex. A 2004 bill made honor killing a crime, but Shah said that law is contradicted by an Islamic law that allows the family of a victim to forgive the criminal — a loophole that has been exploited in the past.
Tahira Abdullah, a prominent Pakistani human rights activist, applauded the the fatwa, but lamented the country’s response to the crime.
“We will never see any reaction from the rural areas, you can forget that. But my expectations are now so lowered that any statement or demonstration is like manna from heaven,” Abdullah told the Guardian.
But the latest killing has sparked protests and a response from Pakistani civil society, including an op-ed in Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn, which noted: “Even in a country where violence against women is routine and ‘honor killings’ remain an appalling reality, the crime that occurred in Lahore on Tuesday was particularly horrific.”
The writer slammed on-lookers, including law enforcement officers, as “silent spectators” who turned their backs as Parveen screamed for help — asking: “Has society become so brutalized that all human compassion has vanished.”
Al Jazeera's Baba Umar contributed to this report