Interview By Merav Michaeli 21.10.10
Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish is the spiritual leader of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel and serves as chairman of the Adam Center for Dialogue of Civilizations.
What exactly is family honor?
"Every family has honor, that's clear. People have honor. But there's a difference between this honor they talk about and taking the law into your own hands - whether Sharia [Islamic] law or civil law. There's no honor, no morality and no religion in that. Murder was never acceptable in Sharia. Perhaps it was accepted in narrow tribal thought, but in terms of religion, absolutely not."
What are the Sharia laws relating to honor?
"Does [a woman] violate family honor by marrying someone of her own choice? No, that's incorrect. But if she went out with someone and did unacceptable things outside of marriage, her husband has a right to divorce her. But there's no right to murder her!
"If she went out with someone else and slept with him, according to Islam that's prostitution. Prostitution means having sexual relations outside of marriage or without marriage. If someone is unmarried, Sharia says she should remain at home until she gets married and she'll be forgiven. If the man who went out with her and slept with her wants to marry her, you have to let him marry her. But one doesn't murder!"
Then why are so many murdered, relatively speaking?
"First of all, it's not only among us; you know it happens everywhere. It's a matter of emotion: The man was hurt by something, so without thinking about anything, unfortunately, he thinks about using force. And in my opinion, we have to make an effort here to convince people - to speak to people in mosques, clubs and even coffee houses - that this is not the solution to this issue."
Who should speak to them?
"I, for example, should talk to them. Every person who gives sermons in a mosque should talk [about it] in the mosque. Last week I spoke very harshly: Who allowed you to murder? Who allowed you to punish? We have to warn against taking the law into one's own hands or punishing women by murder because of a certain rumor. Believe me, sometimes it's because of a certain rumor."
Is there enough awareness of the need to talk about it among imams and teachers?
"I doubt there's sufficient awareness. Indeed, there isn't sufficient awareness. That's why I have often spoken to the president. We have to set up something known as dar al fatwa, a 'house of religious rulings,' in Israel, which would be the only place with the right to decide on these matters.
"A Sharia court doesn't look for such things in Israel. But when there's a dar al fatwa, you seek it out in such matters, you ask what to do. Maybe that would solve the problem, because the dar al fatwa would be in contact with every household, every clan, every trial.
"The people are very much in need of what is called a fatwa [religious ruling]. I, for example, am asked questions every day! So why not direct them to a dar al fatwa, where there would be authoritative people sitting there to do the work? And if they had salaries, they could also go out to all the mosques, the cities, the schools to talk about it.
"Today, each sheikh does his own work. And after work, they're so tired. If we dedicated a house like this, with some authoritative people, I'm sure this matter wouldn't remain as it is."
On whom does it depend? Who can establish it?
"It can be established, but it has to be recognized. People have to work in it - not many people, but there would be a few salaries. I spoke about it with the president in the presence of the head of the Sharia court, his honor Qadi Ahmed Natour. He wants such a thing; it would help the court."
Which president did you talk to about this?
"Three presidents. [Shimon] Peres, [Moshe] Katsav and [Ezer] Weizman. They all said yes, it's proper, right and necessary. I also went to Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, and [Interior] Minister Eli Yishai was there. And I mentioned this and the rabbi said yes, there should be such a thing. I told Yishai, 'I spoke to the president, try to do something.' To this day I'm waiting for an answer."
A resident of Lod said after yesterday's murder that "In our religion, if someone injures family honor, nobody can stop the murder, not even the police."
"That's not true. Our religion does not allow the murder of any person, even if he did what the murderer thought he did. But I don't know what the police can do to convince them.
"In Israel, there have been cases where an Arab sat happily at home until he saw a policeman, and then he began to think. It's the opposite of what happens in other countries, where if you see a policeman you feel safe. Here it's completely different.
"You need someone who knows the people, who sits with them day and night, until 8 or 9 P.M. [Such a person] can do a lot of things. He can tell every person who claims that religion says something that it's not true."
Can only women injure family honor?
"Men can also injure family honor. With the same acts. With another woman, outside of marriage. It's called haram, forbidden. It is resolved according to the law or Sharia.
"In countries that follow Sharia, this is how they punish him: If he harmed a woman, did her a great injustice - in other words, raped her - he receives a death sentence. That's right. But that is carried out by a court in a Muslim country."
There is also a death penalty for adultery. So maybe people who are less expert in Sharia know in general that there's a death sentence, and therefore carry it out themselves.
"But there's a difference. Rape isn't an injury to family honor; the family doesn't feel its honor has been damaged. They feel that the daughter or wife is a victim! She's not a criminal, she's a victim! But when it's not rape, but consensual - the two of them went on a date - in our view, they are both criminals. We punish both of them."
Hasn't the time come to stop viewing it as an injury to family honor if a boy and girl go out without being married?
"No, that's forbidden and will remain forbidden until Judgment Day. That's haram. The same for both the boy and the girl. A relationship has to have a purpose. Just for fun? That's like animals. We want this relationship to lead to marriage. But fun, to go out and have a good time, that's not right, neither in Judaism nor in Islam."
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