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Review of "Honor Killing: A Professional's Guide to Sexual Relations and Ghayra Violence from the Islamic Sources" by Daniel Akbari and Paul Tetreault

Comprehensive. Sourced. Well researched. Logically arranged.

These are a few of the words that come to mind after reading this book.

Every time the news media reports a story of a potential honor crime, groups such as the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) are quick to say such activity has no basis in Islam. No longer will they be able to state such rubbish. Akbari and Tetreault have done a great service to expose this lie.

I thought I knew a good deal about Islam, and indeed I do. But this book has served to fill a void in the knowledge and understanding I had of the phenomenon of what is called ‘honor killing.’ I have both taught and written about honor violence as it relates to understanding women’s issues in Islam, a subject about which I am passionate. But until I read this book, my understanding of the connection of such violence to Islam was tenuous at best. No longer. I now understand fully and will be able to articulate such a connection to anyone who doubts or asks.

This book is very timely. As Islam spreads its tentacles into lands previously unoccupied by Muslims, it carries with it behaviors and customs that seem foreign to the host culture, including honor violence. As the authors note in a footnote near the end of the book, “Wherever Islam has put its foot, from Norway to Nigeria and from Morocco to Indonesia, the practice of ghayra violence has been implemented.” It is of utmost importance the host culture not only understand the ideological roots of ghayra (it is not simply a cultural phenomena shared by many cultures) but also be able to recognize when a female may be in danger of becoming a victim of ghayra violence and provide a mechanism of escape from it.

Akbari and Tetreault note the term ‘honor killing’ is really a misnomer that does not accurately describe the phenomena. The proper term is “ghayra violence” which can include killing as the last step in a logical process to be followed. Ghayra violence is distinct from other forms of honor killing found in other cultures because, as the authors note, Islam not only condones such violence but actually commands it as a basic duty of following the religion, and carefully scripts the perpetrators actions.

Ghayra violence is founded on the concept of ‘enjoining good and forbidding evil,’ a phrase repeated throughout the Koran. Ghayra is derived from sharia, the legal code of Islam which itself is derived from both the Koran and the hadith, traditions attributed to Muhammad. Sharia dictates specific steps that must be taken when a member of the Islamic community has engaged in certain forbidden behavior, triggering the need to ‘enjoin the good and forbid evil.’ The forbidden behavior almost always involves violating sharia’s regulations in terms of dress or behavior that could lead a woman to tempt a man sexually by the forbidden behavior. Something as simple as an unmarried Muslim woman talking to an unrelated male, or not wearing a full burka thereby exposing her feminine form to males, can be grounds for ghayra. “Forbidding evil” is the step-by-step, progressive process by which such behavior is identified and corrected. If less severe early steps of the process fail to bring about the intended correction and the forbidden behavior continues, the final step in the process can, and often does, involve the death of the offending female, completely sanctioned in sharia.

This is not just a book that explains where such “ghayra” honor violence finds its justification in Islam. It is also a very practical book. The final chapters are devoted to helping law enforcement, social workers, school staff, and anyone else who may come into contact with potential victims. A worksheet to help identify victims of ghayra violence is included, as well as practical steps one can take to prevent such violence against potential victims.

I’m not going to give away any more; you have to get the book and read it for yourself! I will guarantee if you read this book, you will have a very clear understanding of the roots of honor violence in Islam and will be able to respond to misinformation about such violence having no connection to Islam.