September 16, 2009 Special Dispatch No. 2521

Saudi Columnist Attacks Custom of Honor Killing in Saudi Society

September 16, 2009
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 2521

Recently, in Saudi Arabia, two sisters were murdered by their brother after they were picked up by the Saudi religious police on suspicion of hanging around with boys. [1] The incident inflamed the Saudi press, particularly because the brother killed them immediately after their father arrived to collect them from the police station. In her column in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, liberal Saudi columnist Maliha Al-Shahhab wrote that Saudi society was backsliding, and that honor killing was just like the custom of burying girls alive that prevailed during the Jahiliyya [2] - which, she said, was one of the customs that Islam came to eradicate.

Following is a translation of her column, which was titled "[The Custom] of Burying Girls Alive is Still With Us": [3]

"Early last month, a catastrophe shocked [our] society. The publication of the news in the papers caused a deluge [of reactions] from writers. As for me, I was not just shocked; I simply could not comprehend it, and it took me some time to understand what had taken place.

"Two girls in the dawn of their youth, aged 15 and 16... [and] not yet emerged from the cocoon of innocence, were suspected [of hanging around with boys] and were apprehended [by the religious police]. The officials who arrested them were from this society, and knew better than anyone how a family reacts to being informed of such an incident involving one of its daughters, and also what a girl would be exposed to on the part of her family and society after being arrested. But these [officials] had no pity for the girls, [despite] the air of girlhood wafting from them, and they phoned their father."

"I imagine [the two girls] Rim and Nouf waiting for their father, their young hearts full of joy at being rescued, despite the fear that filled them... Once their father had picked them up... they hadn't taken their first step... [before] they were welcomed by shots of death, burying them alive. What were their souls praying for at that moment? A brother murdered his two sisters!

"Who planted in a young boy the notion of purging the [family] honor? Who programmed him to be a ticking bomb set to detonate at a specific time - without equipping him with the tools of insight that would give him some self-control? Who is responsible for this crime, for this senseless [act of] burying [them] alive, for the contempt for the lives and fate of others?

"These painful questions must be answered, in order to stop this frightening backsliding of a society that thinks itself part of human civilization... It would be proper for us to prepare ourselves to take part in the development of humanity by [contributing] all the values of which we boast to the nations.

"We thought that we belonged [to human civilization] - but suddenly we discovered that not only are we outside it, but that... we are going backwards, to the Jahiliyya, and adopting its concepts - concepts that Islam came to ban."


[1] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), August 7, 2009.

[2] The pre-Islamic era, or era of ignorance, in the Arabian Peninsula.

[3] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, August 7, 2009.

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