Posted by: Frangipani | January 21, 2012

Honour killing; a surprising parallel?

A Kurdish friend was instructed by his father to kill his younger sister when she ran off to a nearby town with the man she loved, before her elder sister was married. “Here, take this gun, find and kill her.” She had done little wrong in my eyes, simply getting married a little early for her family’s liking. But the father felt shamed in the village. I struggled to understand how a society could teach a man that his honour is so important that he would have his own daughter killed.

But then it struck me: am I being too quick to condemn? In the Christian tradition in which I was brought up, God’s honour also required restoring. What was that about? In the Christian message, God’s name was honoured by the perfect sacrifice made by Jesus (Isa also being mentioned in the Koran as the only the prophet to be blameless and to never commit sin, Surah 19,19). Jesus was killed to restore God’s honour. If God needed a sacrifice to restore his honour, was it so shocking that a man could feel the need for a sacrifice to restore his honour? And a sacrifice of something that is very dear to him, as Jesus was dear to God? Jesus did not only physically die on the cross of course, but as the blameless one, was also (and even more painfully) separated spiritually from God when he carried all our sins.

I suggested to my friend that instead of having to kill a woman who had done something wrong in order to remove shame and restore a man’s honour, Christians believe that Jesus has taken her place. Jesus was blameless, and has taken away our shame, for all the things that we do wrong. God’s honour is a very important concept, so important that God had to provide a way of dealing with it. Our part is simply to accept that Jesus died on our behalf to restore God’s honour, to put away our shame and for our sins to be forgiven. We are then restored to a loving, heavenly Father. And, in turn, we are instructed to forgive others, and not to take things into our own hands. “Wow, that would have made my life a whole lot easier,” was my friend’s response.

The majority of people in western society are not practising Christians, but few would deny that Christian principles are behind many (by no means all!) western social standards and practices. Should it be such a surprise that societies who have not heard about the principle of forgiveness and restoration of God’s honour through the sacrifice of Jesus, have developed their own honour system for wrong doing to be punished and honour restored? It demonstrates the importance of  the honour concept. And perhaps goes some way to explain why those working to reduce the practice of honour killings find that the tradition runs very, very deep in some societies. Could it be, so to speak, in our DNA to need a mechanism to take away our shame and to restore ourselves before the community and before God? We condemn the practice, but perhaps we should not be so quick to condemn an instinct that could even be God given.

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