An influential group of Pakistani clerics have issued a fatwa against “honor” killings, calling them “unethical and unjustifiable” following a series of attacks on women that have caused national outrage.
The fatwa by the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) on Monday came after last week’s killing of teenager Zeenat Bibi in the city of Lahore in Punjab Province.
Zeenat had married the man of her choice, defying her parents’ choice for her. She was reportedly burned alive by her own mother.
Hundreds of women lose their lives in such killings in Pakistan each year.
Honor killings are the murder of person by a family member due to the killer’s belief that the victim has dishonored the family, or has infringed on the principles of a community or a religion.
Most victims are women who are killed for reasons including refusing an arranged marriage and marrying against the family’s will.
Some 40 clerics in the SIC, which includes a group of Sunni organizations that wield high influence in the powerful province of Punjab, voted for the religious ruling.
The SIC’s Punjab general secretary Mufti Saeed Rizvi said God has decreed that women should be free to marry whomever they choose as long as both sides agree.
“So the killing in a normal or in a brutal way (burning alive, etc), as was done to the innocent Zeenat recently in Lahore, is absolutely a great sin,” Rizvi said.
He said Islam respects the rights of women, noting that the so-called honor killings are a result of “illiteracy” and have nothing to do with Islam. He also urged the government to act.
“All clerics have severely condemned it and declared it an unlawful, unconstitutional, undemocratic, unethical and unjustifiable act that must be stopped by the state at any cost,” Rizvi said.
The edict also urged the government to draft new laws to penalize those guilty of “honor” killings within a week, and to begin a campaign to create awareness on the issue.
On Friday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered an investigation into Zeenat’s killing, but another couple was killed for marrying against their family’s will on the same day.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said Pakistan’s government should urgently investigate and prosecute those responsible for the recent jump in reported “honor” killings in the country.
“The government needs to step up its prosecution of these horrific cases and send a message of zero tolerance,” the advocacy group said in a statement.
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said Pakistani law literally allows killers to get away with murdering the women in their families.
“The law should be protecting women from these vicious acts – not enshrining an escape clause for their killers,” he said.