Filthy and rotten children

Mohammad Shafia doesn’t seem to have liked his three daughters very much. In fact he seems to have disliked them – indeed one could say he seems to have hated them.

An Afghan immigrant accused of murdering a wife and three teenage daughters in what prosecutors have called an “honour killing” told his alleged accomplices that the newly deceased women were “filthy and rotten children”, adding: “may God’s fury descend upon those girls”.

Not affectionate.

A court in Ontario yesterday heard a series of secret police tape recordings
of 58-year-old Mohammad Shafia attempting to justify the brutal murder of his
daughters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13. He described them as
“treacherous” and said they deserved to die for having betrayed Islam.

Shafia, a Muslim who lived in a polygamous household, is accused of drowning
the girls and their mother Rona, 50, the first of his two wives, in June


The motive for the alleged crime was Zainab’s recent marriage to a Pakistani.
Shafia did not approve of the relationship, and blamed Rona for it. He decided
to also kill Zahar and Geeti because they had picked up Western habits.

It’s all so out of proportion, you know? He didn’t approve of Zainab’s relationship – so because he disliked something she did, she had to die, and so did her sisters, and so did his first wife. To him it’s just a thing he dislikes, to her it’s her whole life, as theirs are to the other three – and he considers himself so important that it’s worth killing four people just because he dislikes something. Apart from anything else I can just never get my head around the vanity and self-centeredness. I can’t get my head around people who never manage to grasp that they are not somehow fundamentally more important and real and significant than other people; that their displeasure counts more than other people’s lives.




  1. says

    It gets worse – A relative has testified that Zainab was not even marrying for love – she had told the relative that getting married was the only way out, and that ”she was sacrificing herself for her sisters’ freedom”.

    The almost incomprehensible horror is that in 21st century Canada, a woman who is legally an adult can find no other alternative to her intolerable home other than giving herself to another man as an alternative to her father, and in the end pays for her rebellion with her life.

    And the father said to his son:

    “Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows, nothing is more dear to me than my honour. Let’s leave our destiny to God, and may God never make me, you or your mother honourless…There is nothing more valuable than our honour.”

    (I have heard people object to calling this sort of thing “honour killing” – some who think that it is an insult to associate such violence with “the religion of peace”, and some who, on the contrary, think that calling it that is an attempt to minimize the horror and evil of it. But based on these and other statements made, without shame regret or remorse, by a father who killed his own wife and daughters, there doesn’t seem to be much doubt about the motivations.)

  2. Hamilton Jacobi says

    The justification is usually that he didn’t do it for himself; he did it for Allah, or to protect Islam. But that is almost always a transparent rationalization.

    Even if the murderer is sincere in making such a claim, it is hard to imagine a situation where Clifford’s Ethics of Belief is more sorely needed.

    To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

  3. julian says

    He decided to also kill Zahar and Geeti because they had picked up Western habits.

    Oh, they had picked up Western habits? Full acquittal. This man was only preserving his culture from the imperialist tendrils of the West.

  4. markns says

    @ Theo Bromine,

    Yes,there is quite a debate raging here up here in Canada about whether the term “honour kiling” should be used. Some feel it somehow diminishes the terrible act of murder that these killings are. I think it should be continued to be used in a sadly ironic way. It highlights the idiocy of those who would kill their children for something so shallow, selfish and ridiculous. It heightens the level of disgust those of us who are not members of the islamic sky daddy cult feel towards the perpetrators.

    As an aside, this guy is all the proof I need that islam is completely incompatible with the values of western liberal democracies.

  5. Christopher Booth says

    julian @ #4:

    He decided to also kill Zahar and Geeti because they had picked up Western habits.

    Oh, they had picked up Western habits? Full acquittal. This man was only preserving his culture from the imperialist tendrils of the West.

    Yes; preserving his culture from the West in the West…where he was located by his own choice.

  6. gwen says

    It always amazes me when people move to a WESTERN country for a BETTER life for their family, and then get upset when the family absorbs some of the culture of the country which accepted them as immigrants. Boggles the mind.

  7. says


    Yes,there is quite a debate raging here up here in Canada about whether the term “honour kiling” should be used.

    I’m also up here in Canada (Ottawa). Some Canadian Muslim women who are advocates for abused women and children have said that this sort of thing should be considered to simply be violence against women and girls, and argue that it takes away from the issue of violence against women if you bring religion into it by calling it an “honour killing”. Personally, I think that there is an extra degree of horrible evil for a man to be able to calmly declare that he has done nothing wrong by killing his wife and daughters – but that on the contrary, he has done right by his God.

  8. Richelle says

    I think here in Canada, this should simply be called “pre-meditated murder.” It speaks volumes that the daughters were contaminated by our Canadian culture and yet the son somehow managed to escape unscathed? In the Dr. Who-verse, I would suspect he had a perception filter at work…

    As for the two wives thing, he told the government that wife #1 was his cousin. Class act.

  9. roger says

    ‘It speaks volumes that the daughters were contaminated by our Canadian culture and yet the son somehow managed to escape unscathed? In the Dr. Who-verse, I would suspect he had a perception filter at work…’

    Of course, Richelle: one culture says that men and women have equal rights and the daughters accept it; the other says men are soperior just because they are men and the son accepts it.

  10. says

    ‘Honour killing’ is a bizarre term. because the honour, or loss thereof is not universally recognised, and particularly not in a western democracy like Canada.

    ‘Honour murder’ likewise gives a tick of approval to the ‘honour’ part, without specifying the Islamic context.

    So I would propose the term ‘Islamic murder’, because the idea of honour involved in it comes specifically out of Islam. Other religions may encourage this as well, and whatever they are should have their names linked to the wrod ‘murder’. If the cap fits, I say they should wear it, and in this case, Islam should get the blame.

  11. gillyc says

    I have read (sorry, can’t cite my sources – it was some research that someone linked to, on a Pharyngula comment thread IIRC) that in those parts of the world where ‘honour killing’ is common, it is just as common in Christian and Hindu communities. It’s probably just that those communities are smaller, with correspondingly fewer emigrants to the West, so we see it mostly in Muslims. (And would the media use the term ‘honour killing’ if the perpetrator wasn’t Muslim? I think not.)
    Not that I think Islam is good for women. But religion in general isn’t good for women.

  12. Mr.Kosta says

    I really hope that bastard gets thrown into jail and never sees the light of day again.

    It’s the very least he deserves.

  13. says

    There’s a lot at work here – Islam is a large part, in this case, but as pointed out above, it happens in christianity and hinduism, too.

    And elsewhere – a colleague of mine, married to a Boer, was murdered by him after she left the marriage and started seeing another man. Other South African colleagues said it’s fairly common for women who want a divorce to leave marriages in coffins.

    And then there’s men like the one in the UK, who got into financial trouble, and rather than admit it to his family, shot his wife and daughter, their horses and dogs, set the house on fire and then killed himself.

    It’s the patriarchal attitude some men simply can’t let go of, that their partners and children are not individuals in their own right, but simply appendages and possessions. That even in western society among those raised in a ‘western’ fashion these attitudes just won’t disappear is really scary.

  14. raymoscow says

    I like the term ‘religiously motivated murder’ instead of ‘honour killing’. Honour does not describe such people.

    I suppose ‘faith-based murder’ works, too.

  15. sailor1031 says

    ““Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows, nothing is more dear to me than my honour…..”

    Unfortunately there won’t be any gallows – not in Canada. He might not actually get to do all that much prison time. Canadian judges are notoriously lenient in criminal cases of all types, especially where a defendant can play the multi-cultural card.

    What do I mean by lenient? The daughter of a friend of mine was murdered by her husband in the culmination of a series of physical attacks. Found guilty, after having been free on bond for 18 months, he served a total of six months in jail. I’m willing to bet that had he been jailed awaiting trial he’d have walked because of time already served. The effect on my friend, brutal loss of his beloved daughter followed by such lack of justice, was devastating.

  16. Carlie says

    I don’t like having any special term associated with it other than “premeditated”. Any other language sets it off as somehow different, regardless of what you think of the reasons. There is nothing different. It’s murder for the same reason that some other murders are committed: someone doesn’t do what the other person wants, and they think they have the right to teach them and everyone else a lesson. It gives them too much credit to give them any other name, even a pejorative one.

  17. Aureola Nominee, FCD says

    In Catholic Italy, a conviction for “honour killing” carried much lighter penalties than one for murder. This provision (Art. 587 of the Italian Criminal Code) was only deleted with Law no. 442 of August 5, 1981. For comparison, divorce became legal in 1970, and abortion in 1978.

    So much for “honour killing” arising only from Islam…

  18. says


    Any other language sets it off as somehow different, regardless of what you think of the reasons. There is nothing different.

    It *is* different. In this case, the murderer thinks that he did the right thing, and is apparently at peace with himself. This would be analogous to the Christian fundie parents who end up beating their kids to death in pursuit of proper correction and discipline, or even the Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses who withhold lifesaving medical treatments from their children (perhaps a difference of degree, but no difference of kind).

    Just calling it “premeditated” murder misses that important consideration. For example, gang executions are often premeditated, but (assuming they are not all psychopaths), the murderers know that they have done something wrong – they just hope (and often pray) that they won’t get caught.

  19. Carlie says

    In this case, the murderer thinks that he did the right thing, and is apparently at peace with himself.

    So do a lot of other murderers. My goal is that by calling it regular murder, by not distinguishing it, the murderers will gain some amount of understanding that they are not special. That there was nothing honorable about what they did. That in the eyes of the law and the rest of the world, they are exactly like a common murderer.

  20. Sunny says

    Such a simple rule system:

    Draw a cartoon: Kill
    Make a movie: Kill
    Write a book: Kill
    Disobey your male keeper: Kill

  21. says

    My point is that calling it an “honour killing” in no way excuses the behaviour, it puts it in a worse light. Use of the term does not mean that there is anything honourable about the behaviour, just that the motivation of the killer was to protect his honour – similar to a jilted lover who kills his ex, saying “if I can’t have her, no one can”.

    Actually, I very much like Ophelia’s phrase “patriarchal murder”, since it says exactly what it means (and avoids the complexity of explicitly tying it to religion, while still attacking the patriarchal underpinnings of most of them). I think I will use that from now on, if I may.

  22. says

    They don’t call it an ‘honour murder’, but an ‘honour killing’, killing being less serious than murder. That I would say is because most cultures deem it necessary at times (eg war, control of vermin animals, slaughter of livestock, capital punishment etc.) ‘Honour’ is thrown in presumably to sanitise it and legitimise it even further.

    But if the murder arises out of the doctrine of a religion, that religion should be awarded credit for it IMHO. Islam is not the only religion involved in this, but appears to be so in most cases featured in the media, in turn I would guess because many Islamic murders take place in western countries.

    For starters, there is as far as I am aware not only Islamic murder, but Hindu murder, and Christian murder; possibly Judaic murder as well. If you want a more general term, religious murder would fit, but in each case it would be best to be as specific as possible.

    Sailor @ 18: Yet another example of the courts being about the law, not justice. The two concepts are by no means identical.

  23. happiestsadist says

    I’m with Bruce Gorton at #20, it is a hate crime, and should be legally treated as such. (Also Canadian, currently in TO.)

    In my hometown of Fredericton, there was another “honour killing” a few years back, where IIRC a student was murdered by the husband she was arranged to be married to.

  24. says

    How about “patriarchal murder”?

    Or “purder” for short. Which, neatly, would sound like a term that Persians invented to describe the separation of women from men.

  25. Didaktylos says

    There should be a special collective punishment for this kind of murder – he and his sons should be forcibly vasectomised.

  26. sailor1031 says

    Ian @29:

    Rather than not being identical the two concepts, at least in Canada, seem to be antithetical.
    BTW in the case I described, the autopsy showed that there were still cigarette burns on the victim’s body and this went into evidence……six months! go figure! He’d have gotten more for car theft.

  27. says

    My point of view on terminology is based in the pragmatics of service delivery to vulnerable women. First thing, we need a specific term because protecting a woman/girl from a violent collective is a different task from protecting a woman/girl from a violent individual. Western responses to violence against women are mainly derived from a paradigm of intimate partner violence, and they may not be adequate. Subsuming HBV (‘honour’-based violence) into a general VAW category may be less stigmatising to communities, but also subsumes the specific protection needs of potential victims.

    Second, the terminology of the community is also the terminology of the victim. If a woman is seeking help for HBV she will herself describe it in terms of ‘honour’. She may not recognise that ‘patriarchal violence’ is intended to describe her situation and thus fail to identify the help available to her.

    Third, recognition of HBV amongst the police and other services is very low, and the quality of official responses is still undermined through a lack of awareness and knowledge. We can’t afford to jettison the recognition value of the existing term HBV and go back to square one in raising awareness.

    Another comment on the content of this thread, on a similar pragmatic basis, is that over-associating HBV with Islam is not helpful to victims. If the police fail to respond appropriately to a Sikh, Christian or Hindu or any other woman because they associate HBV with Muslims only then this endangers her safety; it may also lead to poorer responses to women who may be Muslim but who don’t fit the stereotype.

  28. says

    Sorry, I hate the term. These aren’t honour killings, they’re ownership killings. It’s not about the honour of individuals or families. It’s about men trying to assert ownership or confer chattel status upon wives and sisters and daughters. The idea that this has anything to do with Islam is, I’m sure, extremely offensive both to the millions of Muslims who don’t act this way, not to mention the victims of such abuse who come from other backgrounds. To call them honour killings just perpetuates the idea that there’s some question of honour that must be satisfied. I’d be happy if they were to charge people who do this with a hate crime against women in addition to murder, but women are not a protected class under the criminal code.

  29. Lyanna says

    Galloise Blonde–any thoughts on the potential legitimizing effect of calling these killings “honour”-related? I see the points you’ve made, and recognize that you know what you’re talking about. But the flipside to specifically demarcating these murders as different from other murders is that…they get to be seen as LESS SERIOUS than other murders. They get to be seen as aggravated property damage, or crime passionel, or in some way “understandable” and not as bad. I can’t see how one can use the term “honour killings” or “honour-based violence” without adopting and legitimizing the rationale of the murderer.

    Perhaps the term’s utility to the victims outweighs the legitimizing effect? I don’t know, I’m just pondering.

  30. says

    Lyanna – Changing the term from ‘honour’ to some other option would not have a great deal of impact outside the Anglophone world, because the various terms related to HBV in the communities where it occurs are namus, sharaf, aib, ‘ird, töre and izzat – amongst others. I don’t think ‘honour’ has been seen as legitimising in the UK and Europe for many years now, and I can’t think of a case of a murderer getting a reduced sentence on the basis of ‘honour’ within this region since Abdallah Yunes in 2003 – which caused an outcry from BAMER women’s organisations.

    I’d say that the speculative group of perpetrators who could potentially feel vindicated because their native justifications for a crime have been translated into the English word ‘honour’ is much less significant than the number of vulnerable women and girls who can be reached through using a term which is in common use, and which they can understand.

  31. says

    From what I have seen, the use of the term “honour killing” shows the action in a worse light to the judge and jury. (At least that’s my view from looking at the culture around me, ~180km away from where the incident took place, and a similar distance in the other direction from where the trial is being held.) It is a way of assigning blame to the religion and culture for the mindset that leads to such abhorrent actions. Some of the most vocal opposition to the term in this case comes from moderate Muslim women who very much want to separate their version of Islam from the one that leads to this sort of violence. I maintain that with respect to religions that enable HBV, it’s a difference of degree, not of kind. And while I like the accuracy of Ophelia’s “patriarchal murder”, I have to concede Galloise Blonde’s point that the term Honour Based Violence is more easily understood by the victims, and does a nice job of not being specific to any particular religion.

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