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The History of Honor Killings in Asia and the Middle East

In several countries across Asia and the Middle East, women are subjected to “honor killings.” What is this practice and how did it come to be?

Women are sometimes targeted for familial killings in various countries across Asia and the Middle East. Often, the victim has acted in a way which offends the family, and the perpetrators are not judged harshly by their societies. However, outside cultures think that punishment by death for acts such as extramarital affairs or requests for divorce seem unthinkable. In these highly patriarchal cultures however, these are shameful acts worthy of death because the women’s reputation affects her entire family.

Intrafamilial violence is not new to these cultures. Dr. Sahrif Kanaana from Birzeit Univeristy argues that these acts are not repressive of a woman’s sexuality:

“What the men of the family, clan, or tribe seek control of in a patrilineal society is reproductive power.  Women for the tribe were considered a factory for making men. The honor killing is not a means to control sexual power or behavior. What’s behind it is the issue of fertility, or reproductive power.”

Honor Killings in Hinduism

The tradition of honor killings is a separate phenomena from religion, although the two often are conflated. In the Hindu context, while sex is an integral part of their religion, it is considered dishonorable to have relations with an individual outside a particular socioeconopmic group or caste.

Honor Killings in Islam

Pre-Arabic cultures of the Arabian peninsula had a highly patriarchal culture. A woman’s value was determined by her ability to reproduce, and her value was allotted top her birth family. With the development and spread of Islam, an interesting fact remained: the Qur’an specifically forbids extra judicial killings. This supports the school of thought that dictates honor killings as a cultural rather than a traditional practice.



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