The “unpardonable” sin of honor killing: A Fatwā

By Zainab Hashmi

This post is part of the Digital Islamic Law Lab (DILL) series, in which a Harvard student analyzes a primary source of Islamic law, previously workshopped in the DIL Lab.

Source Summary

Fatwā issued by Sunnī Ittehad Council of Pakistan on June 11, 2016.[1]

This post comments on an official religious pronouncement (fatwā) issued by the Sunnī Ittehad Council (SIC) of Pakistan. The fatwā is a unanimous decision by forty Muslim muftīs, in Pakistan, declaring honor killing of women as “un-Islamic” or heresy (kuffur) and an “unpardonable sin” (gunah-e-qabir). The decree explicitly states that burning a woman alive, in the name of honor, for marrying a person of their choosing, is heresy and against the commands of Islam. The fatwā quotes a Qur’ānic verse, verse number 232 of Sūrah al-Baqarah: [translated from the Urdu translation of the verse – as used in the fatwā – into English] “Oh woman’s family, do not say no to women for wanting to marry the husband [of their choice] if the two of them have consented to the marriage.” The fatwā states that Islam is the true guardian of rights of women and that it is imperative upon the leaders of an Islamic nation/government (hukumat) to ensure protection of women’s rights. For that purpose, the government should pass and implement laws that make burning and killing of women an unpardonable crime. The oppression and torture unleashed upon women has no relation to Islam. The fatwā then refers to an example (sunna) of the Prophet Muhammad, as narrated in Sahih-Bukhari: The Prophet (s.a.w.) terminated the marriage contract (nikkah) of a woman who complained to him (s.a.w.) that she did not like the man her father had married her off to. The fatwā condemns the act of burning alive or killing one’s child for marrying someone of their choice and then “appeals” to the parents to focus on the ethical education and upbringing of their children in line with the teachings of Islam; and that the upcoming month of Ramadan will be devoted to raise awareness about women’s rights. Finally, the fatwā states that those who burn women and girls alive should be hanged to death.

The particular newspaper reporting on this fatwā includes the names of the following clerics who signed the fatwā (the total number of clerics who joined in issuing the fatwā were forty but the article only names twenty-four):

Mufti Muhammad Haseeb Qadri Allama Muhammad Abid Alavi
Dr. Mufti Muhammad Kareem Khan Mufti Izhar Ahmad Chishti
Allama Naeem Javed Nori Mufti Muhammad Ameer Abdullah Khan
Mufti Muhammad Akbar Rizvi Mufti Ameer Ali Sabri
Mufti Muhammad Ramzan Jaami Mufti Fayaz Ahmad Vitto
Allama Hamid Sarfraz Qadri Mufti Muhammad Ameer Aslam
Molana Mufti Muhammad Bukhsh Rizvi Molana Muhammad Saleem Hamdi
Molana Muhammad Akbar Naqshbandi Mufti Amanullah Shakir
Mufti Muhammad Hussain Siddiqui Allama Zafar Iqbal Jilali
Molana Gulam Usman Ghani Molana Sajjad Ahmad
Molana Gulam Sarwar Haideri Molana Mufti Muhammad Musa Tahir
Mufti Mushtaq Ahmad Nori Mufti Farooq Al-Qadri

Source: The Fatwā on Honor Killings.


  1. Fatwā issued by Sunnī Ittehad Council

In 2016, 18-year old Zeenat Bibi was the victim of an honor killing in Pakistan.[2]  Zeenat had eloped – an act that, according to her family, shamed and “dishonored” the family.  After being tricked into returning home, she was doused with petrol and set on fire by her own mother.  In response to this incident, the Sunnī Ittehad Council (SIC) issued a sharply worded fatwā (the “SIC Fatwā”), unequivocally declaring honor killings an unlawful, un-Islamic, and unpardonable crime.[3]  SIC is an alliance of Islamic political and religious parties in Pakistan representing Barelvi Muslims[4] – a major sub-sect of the Sunnī Ḥanafī school of jurisprudence with over 200 million followers in South Asia.[5]

2. The Killing of Women in the Name of Honor

Honor killing is a term used to refer to the killing (usually by male patrilineal kin) of women whose perceived behavior is thought to have brought shame to the family.[6]  While the practice is widespread across religions and geographical regions,[7] honor killings are portrayed as supported exclusively by Islam.[8]  In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, more than one thousand women perceived as having compromised the “honor” of their families are reported to be killed each year.[9]  Most suspects in honor killing cases are never prosecuted.

3. Fatwā Interpretive Methodology

The SIC Fatwā severely condemned the killing of women on the pretext of defending what is seen as family honor, particularly in the case of marriage disputes.[10]  The decree invokes a Qur’ānic verse (2:232)[11] and an authoritative ḥadīth (narrated in Sahih Bukhari)[12] – an example of an incident from the Prophet’s time – to support its condemnation of the practice and to prioritize acceptance of a woman’s choice in marriage. The fatwā called on the government to draft new legislation to punish those guilty of honor killings within a week and to launch an awareness campaign – in a ground-breaking development on October 6, 2016, the Pakistani Parliament unanimously approved an anti-honor killing law but the practice continues unabated.[13]

4. Reflections

Given the prevailing system of fatwā issuances in various regions of the Muslim world, it is prudent to consider the utility of the current legal status of fatwās.  The SIC Fatwā is not legally binding but may be construed as “morally binding.”[14]  Religious pronouncements such as the SIC Fatwā and the national narrative surrounding a recent high-profile honor killing case[15] highlight the clashing interpretations of women’s rights and family honor in Islamic societies.  Ignorance about Islamic teachings and the realities of violence against women has serious costs.  Instead of pursuing prosecution for blood money or retaliatory punishment (qiṣāṣ), the victim’s next of kin are instead pressurized to pardon the accused defendant (the qiṣāṣ waiver).  However, allowing a woman’s next of kin to forgive her accused killer(s) has perpetuated the abusive practice.[16]  Notably, the exact language of the SIC Fatwā did not explicitly declare honor killings immune from the qiṣāṣ waiver, though referred to the killing as “unpardonable.”[17]  In light of established homicide and qiṣāṣ principles, as well as judicial precedent, this is perhaps prudent. Nonetheless, a regurgitation of the SIC Fatwā (or renewed religious pronouncements in collaboration with other Islamic scholars) in the national narrative has the potential to profoundly shape and impact law enforcement, prosecution, and trial outcomes of honor killing cases in Pakistan, consistent with Islamic law and principles.


[1] Sunnī Ittehad Council, غیرت کے نام پر خواتین کو قتل کرنا غیر اسلامی اور گناہ کبیرہ ہے [Killing In The Name Of Honor Is Un-Islamic And An Unpardonable Sin], Dunya News (Karachi), June 13, 2016,,

[2] Jon Boone, Pakistani Woman Burned Daughter Alive Over Marriage Dispute, Guardian (June 8, 2016),

[3] Sunnī Ittehad Council, غیرت کے نام پر خواتین کو قتل کرنا غیر اسلامی اور گناہ کبیرہ ہے [Killing In The Name Of Honor Is Un-Islamic And An Unpardonable Sin], Dunya News (Karachi) (June 13, 2016),, [].

[4] Revolvy, Sunnī Ittehad Council,; see Aarish U. Khan, Sunni Ittehad Council: The Strengths and Limitations of Barelvi Activism against Terrorism (2011),

[5] Oxford Reference, Barelvi, Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (2003),

[6] Allan Christelow, Honor: Crimes of: Sub-Saharan Africa: Northern Nigeria, Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures, Brill Reference Online (accessed  Oct. 4, 2019)

[7] See Phyllis Chesler, Honor Killing Is Not Just A Muslim Problem, Tablet (Apr. 15, 2018),

[8] See Jonathan Brown, Islam Is Not the Cause of Honor Killings. It’s Part Of The Solution, Yaqeen Institute (Oct. 25, 2016),

[9] See HBO, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, HBO Documentary-Synopsis (2015),; Punjab Police, Honour Killing Reported Cases (2011-2018),

[10] Supra note 2.

[11] Qur’ān.

[12] Sahih-al-Bukhari, Book of Wedlock, Marriage (Nikaah),

[13] See Saroop Ijaz, ‘Honor’ Killings Continue in Pakistan Despite New Law, Human Rights Watch (Sept. 25, 2016),

[14] See Paola Loriggio, Shafia Murders: Imams Issue Fatwa Against Honour Killings, Domestic Violence, Huffington Post (Feb. 4, 2012),

[15] State versus Muhammad Waseem et al., Sessions Case No. 45/S of 2016/2019. Date of Decision: 27.09.2019

[16] But see supra note 5 (“[A]s a conservative Muslim region where honor killing seldom takes place, the northern states of Nigeria offer an important comparative case to help in assessing the roots of ‘honors killing’ in other predominantly Muslim societies.”).

[17] See supra note 2.

(Suggested Bluebook citation: Zainab Hashmi, The “unpardonable” sin of honor killing: A Fatwā, Islamic Law Blog (May 11, 2021),

(Suggested Chicago citation: Zainab Hashmi, “The ‘unpardonable’ sin of honor killing: A Fatwā,” Islamic Law Blog, May 11, 2021,

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