America’s Honor Killings A Growing Reality

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Honor Killings are more common in America than we think

Woman covering his face with her hands and crying

This morning, I received a phone call from a police officer who wished to be unidentified to review a possible case of honor killing. A young Pakistani American girl is on the run from her parents for fear they will kill her for refusing an arranged marriage in Pakistan. Because this is an ongoing case, there are too many questions unanswered. Who is the girl? Why did she call the police? What does she want? Will the family hunt her down? All I have are sketchy details. The girl is barely twenty. The family migrated from Pakistan to America and is naturalized. The father owns a convenient store. The mother insists her daughter marry a foreign man in her home country. And the men are on her side.

“Meet the girl when she calls you again and see the family. You have to know what you’re dealing with,” I told the officer.

I’ve spent years working in intelligence and counter-terrorism cases. I don’t need to know anything more about this family and the girl to understand that honor killing is a real possibility. The United Nations reports 5,000 honor killings a year, a small percentage of which take place in America, though actual numbers are unknown because honor violence is still a new epidemic. Even without data, the threat is real.

For the past five years, there has been at least one case of honor killing each year in a different U.S. city. In 2008, teen sisters in Texas had allegedly been shot dead by their father because they had boyfriends. In Georgia, Sandeela Kanwal was strangled by her father because she wanted to leave an arranged marriage. The pizza-shop-owner father, Chaudry Rashid, told the police, “She [my daughter] wasn’t being true to her religion or to her husband.” She was 25 years old. A year later, twenty-year old Noor Almaleki was run over by her father in Arizona for falling in love with Marwan. In New York, Aasiya Hassan was beheaded by her husband for allegedly seeking a divorce. She was 37. And this past week, Amina Ajmal testified in a New York courtroom against her father for killing her boyfriend’s relatives in Pakistan. The cases involving girls from Pakistan is a chilling reminder of the New York Times front page photograph in May 2014 of a girl brutally beaten outside a courtroom in Lahore (my birth city) for marrying a man of her choice.

What do the honor killings in America have in common? In each case, the victim is accused by a male family member for adopting an “American” lifestyle—sporting sleeveless or wearing jeans, befriending boys, and choosing to be free from family traditions. On the phone with the police, I began to describe honor versus shame in Muslim societies.

“Many Muslim men view their honor through their women,” I explain. “Some Muslim families settled in America still carry this cultural baggage. While they live on American soil, they are loathe to accept American customs and values. They see it as a threat to their culture and creed.”

In this recent case, the run-away girl has already shamed her family for resisting their tradition. From her family’s perspective, the only way to reclaim the father’s honor is for the girl to come home.

“And what happens then?” the officer asked. “Will they kill her?”

While I can’t predict if the girl will be another victim of honor killing, I suspect she will be subjected to more shame and forced to obey her father or in this case, her mother. In traditional family structures, the girl is void of personal choice and freedom. She has no voice. And this is what disturbs me the most. In Islam, a girl has a right to choose her spouse. She has a right to fall in love. And she even has a right to file for divorce. Numerous examples in Islamic history prove women are free agents, not subservient actors. But honor killings discredit Islam and reflect a more powerful cultural value. The men who kill (or dictate in) the name of honor decide the roles of their women and their fate, even in America.

What can we do to stop honor crimes? Most experts insist that community leaders, school counselors and friends have a duty to report ongoing disputes with parents centered on cultural sensitivities. Certain clues could include arguments over insignificant issues such as friendship with American girls and boys outside of their cultural community and religion or wearing Western-style clothing considered immodest by conservative Muslim families. Once a girl begins to rebel, she is sliding down a slippery slope to freedom (as is her right in America) or a form of punishment (which includes death) by the family.

Bear in mind that not all arguments revolving around culture and religion result in honor killings. Growing up in Texas, I witnessed one young Pakistani American girl who allegedly disgraced her family who she became pregnant with her secret boyfriend. The family’s solution was an abortion and a hasty arranged marriage to a man from Pakistan as cover for her alleged crime and a quick way to move the girl out of her father’s home. In doing so, the father and the girl protected their honor. To this day, the girl’s short-lived affair is a family secret.

As I write this, I can only hope that the girl on the run finds a way out of her predicament. If she fears death, then she has other options. She can stay in a women’s shelter. She can move to another city under the witness protection program. She can get a job and study again. Most importantly, she can be safe and start a new life.

Thank God for America.

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  • About the autor
    Farhana Qazi

    Farhana Qazi is a fellow at The Center for Global Policy and an award-winning speaker on conflicts in the Muslim world. She is the author of a human-interest story titled "Secrets of the Kashmir Valley: My Journey Through the Conflict Between India and Pakistan." To learn more, visit her at

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    • Fares Fares

      eh? so when a Christian or Atheist kills his wife/sister/daughter its just “domestic abuse”, but when a person who is supposedly muslim does it then its a “OH NO HONOUR KILLING !!!! TM”

      your right about these kind of murders being terrible but how about putting it into perspective, how other countries (USA, UK) violence against women per year MASSIVELY outnumbers honour killings.
      I would have thought a website named Islamicmonthly would know better than to jump on the usual “all muslim must hate women” bandwagon…

      • Farhana Qazi

        Seems like you misread the story. While it is true that domestic violence is a serious crime in the West, it is not called an honor killing because honor is not the sole motivator. But when innocent Muslim girls/women are killed, the father/brother/men often cite “dishonor” as the leading cause for their rage.

        • Jekyll

          Beautiful advice for those who hate Islam anyway. Maybe we should let our girls do whatever they want, have sex with whomever, abortions, clubs drinking, everything…your not Asra Nomani. The real sad part of this is that honor killing is a big subject in which many girls do get hurt on constant bases, but unfortunately your lackadaisical lukewarm article does nothing to highlight, assuage or remedy the issue.

          Yeah thank god for America, where Muslim women are routinely allowed freedom from patriarchal, misogynistic, hypocritical, “culture bagged”, Muslim men.

          • pam jones indo

            Why is it ok for muslim men to have sex with females, animals, and each other (and not be married) but it is evil for females to have a sex life before or outside marriage?? Now, honey, that is called a double standard. You MUSLIM MEN DO NOT OWN WOMEN!! So shut up from saying, “our women”!!!

            • Jekyll

              No, no fella, you got Muslims mixed with Danes…

            • pam jones indo

              No, It is you sorry muslim men who have sex with animals, females, children, babies, and each other!!! No mistake on my part!!! About 2 years ago, they caught a muslim male, raping a Pit Bull dog in Connecticut, USA. It was the Ayatollah Khomeini who wrote the “Little Green Book” giving rules and regulations for all of these perversions!!!

            • Jekyll
      • Green Consciousness

        Why it is labeled separately and viewed separately is that in honor killing the whole family participates and it is socially acceptable in Muslim cultures. This is different than ordinary murder and needs to be understood as different in order to fight it and protect victims. In the shelters honor targets will often receive calls from the mother like this: “come home sweetheart mother loves you I am sick I need you ” and then the mother takes part in the killing. DV workers

    • Rashad Mohammed


    • anon

      An average of three women are murdered every day in the US by current or former boyfriends/husbands. Often it is jealousy because the woman left him or has gone on to have another partner… yet these aren’t called ‘honor killings’ unless the woman has a Muslim name? You’re talking about one a year – what about those other women – more than one thousand each year?

      • Theresa

        @anon you are right about men killing women over here for who knows what in the USA & guess what? They get either jail time or the death sentence like they should. Honor killing should & is dealt with in the same way in the USA because it is murder! America & other free countries are horrified & will not tolerate family members who murder their own daughters or any female or male for their socalled “honor”.There is no honor in murdering your daughter. Those that do these things deserve the death penalty.
        I personally met a Christian family who hid a young Muslim girl in the Oakland hills in California from her parents because she would not submit to an arranged marriage. They were hunting her down like an animal & were out to kill her. She changed her name & escaped to Canada..Honor killing is a custom from hell.Men think they own women ——no freedom for women—-no free choice=slavery

    • Bubba Doright

      While one freely chooses to be in a relationship they can submit to the authority of another based on the role that they have within the relationship. Freedom should probably imply the right to extract oneself from that relationship as a free human. All traditional religions made it difficult for women to free themselves from unwanted relationships giving men too much power as men typically assumed a role of the authority. It is interesting that early Christians could divorce. The advice was that they should not remarry because they had already formed a marriage. Islam is seriously behind even first century Christian thinking.

    • justisinus

      Muslims miss the point of the article, every time an issue concerning Islam or Muslims is highlighted the first thing muslim posters do is make comparisons to issues similar in theory.
      It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Christians Jews Hindus Buddist don’t have honor killings, Muslims have been killing wan girls all over the muslim world, now it’s hapening in US Canada and other western countries.

      Honor killings is the issue don’t sway from the subject and stop comparing woman who get killed by their boyfriends or husbands in western countries they are not honor Killings.

      Killings your daughter or sister of niece is savagery its in humane uncivilized.

    • Jodie

      ‘Numerous examples in Islamic history prove women are free agents, not subservient actors.’ Really? Are you sure? How many examples? Two? I’ll bet if you asked all the women who have been stoned to death or had their clits cut off in some tent with a broken piece of glass they would not agree with this statement made by a woman who freely enjoys all the freedoms we women who live anywhere BUT in an Islamic country enjoy. Sounds like more Islamic BS to me – the ‘we’re the Religion of Peace while we bomb the snot out of you’ crowd.

    • Green Consciousness

      and remember the case of the Palestinian girl where the FBI had a bug in the house that recorded both parents murdering their daughter because she dated.

    • Sam Houston

      Americans have had their Honor stained by moslems. Let the mercy killings begin.

      • Farhana Qazi

        The Constitution should be respected by all Americans, including Muslim Americans. The right to practice faith in America is one of the greatest freedoms. No better place to be Muslim than here in the USA. Bless America.

        • Sam Houston

          True but sharia law is the antithesis of the Constitution of the United States. It has no place here. Unless a moslem can separate themselves entirely from the political aspect of the theocracy of islam and sharia, they should return back to their country of origin.

          • Dana W

            A number of these quotes are fake,

            • Sam Houston

              None are fakes. The Founders being reefer heads, admiring islam is a fake.

            • Dana W

              Yes they are, shame on you.

            • Sam Houston

              You are such a moron. Care to back up your claims, minus Leftist sights like Snopes, Politico, Huff-n-Blow, and Mother Jones?

            • Dana W

              In other words only sites acceptable to the Baptist church and the Republican party. You are a Hoot

              Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because
              if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more
              than that of blindfolded fear.

              -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

    • pam jones indo

      Everyone read the article, “The Other side of Jihad” by Dr. Phyllis Chesler, one of the leading experts in the world on honor killings and gender apartheid. The article can easily be googled, and it publicizes her ground breaking work on the subject of honor killing from 2010. There is much rich information in her article. The article disclosed these facts: 96% of all honor killings in Europe, were committed by muslims; in North America, 84% of all honor killings were committed by muslims; and world-wide, 91% of all honor killings, were committed by muslims!!!!!!!!

      • Farhana Qazi

        Great piece. thanks for posting.

    • Mohammed Baybars Mehdi

      Your article says that, since 2013, 869 women suffered “honour killings” in Pakistan. Compare this to the United States, where three women a day are killed by their male partners or husbands. By my count, since 2013 about 1,095 women were killed by men who think they have been dishonoured by their female partners.

      Maybe the women wanted to leave the marriage, or had found a new partner, but clearly the men felt betrayed and dishonoured by their partners and killed them. The media are quick to target women murders in Muslim-dominated countries, but maybe the media should also look at the facts in the U.S. (and Canada) as well.

      Judy Haiven, Department of Management Professor, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, N.S.