Does Islam let men kill their wives or daughters to protect their family honor?
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Vigilante killing for any reason is murder and forbidden in Islam, no matter what reason or excuse the murderer might have.
وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا النَّفْسَ الَّتِي حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ وَصَّاكُم بِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ
Do not kill a soul that Allah has forbidden except by right of justice. This He has instructed you that you may reason.
Surah Al-An’am 6:151
So-called “honor killings” are cases of men who have killed their wives or daughters because they committed adultery or were involved in another scandalous behavior. They murder their family members due to cultural pressure and shame put upon their family name from society. These criminal actions are absolutely forbidden because it is not permissible in Islam for anyone to take the law into their own hands. The Prophet explicitly prohibited Muslims from punishing adultery themselves, for legal punishment requires due process from lawful authorities and adultery specifically necessitates four eye-witnesses before punishment can be applied.
Abu Huraira reported: Sa’d ibn Ubadah said, “O Messenger of Allah, if I find another man with my wife, should I leave him alone until I bring four witnesses?” The Messenger of Allah said yes. Sa’d said, “Never! By the one who sent you with the truth, if that happened to me I would quickly grab the sword!” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
اسْمَعُوا إِلَى مَا يَقُولُ سَيِّدُكُمْ إِنَّهُ لَغَيُورٌ وَأَنَا أَغْيَرُ مِنْهُ وَاللَّهُ أَغْيَرُ مِنِّي
Listen to what your leader is saying. Verily, he has a sense of honor and I have a greater sense of honor than him and Allah has a greater sense of honor than me.
Source: Sahih Muslim 1498, Grade: Sahih
In this tradition, the Prophet forbade a man from harming his wife even if he caught her being intimate with another man, despite his sense of honor being offended. Allah has a greater sense of honor than anyone, yet He has forbidden the believers from applying legal punishments without authority and due process.
In fact, the issue of honor killings has nothing to do with what is prescribed and taught by Islam, but rather it involves sensitive cultural dynamics that are not unique to Muslims. Jews, Christians, and Hindus have likewise murdered their family members out of a sense of honor.
According to journalist Nicole Pope:
Articles in Western publications often describe honor killings as an Islamic tradition. Summary executions of women carried out in the name of honor are often given a religious cover, but the practice predates the advent of Islam and is found in other cultures. Around the Mediterranean, honor killings are featured in countries like Greece, Spain, and Italy until a few decades ago. They have now largely disappeared but some cases are still reported in South America… Condemning Islam itself for honor killings ignores the fact that these crimes were committed long before the religion came along. The Quran is strict on adultery, but it does not condone vigilante justice.
Source: Pope, N. (2012). Honor killings in the twenty-first century. p. 119,122
Furthermore, domestic and family violence is a universal phenomenon in all cultures and religions. Men in Western cultures murder their wives or girlfriends after they have been caught being intimate with another man. Is this not similar to an honor killing? Rather, the difference is that the media often reports Western domestic violence as individual, random, and aberrant, but domestic violence committed by Muslims is portrayed as regular, religiously-sanctioned, and evidence of a misogynistic culture. Therefore, the reality of the situation is obscured in order to promote a self-serving narrative of the “civilized” West saving Muslim women from a “backwards” East. Nevertheless, it is the duty of Muslim scholars, leaders, and laypeople to do what they can to end the phenomena of honor killings.
Some anti-Muslim writers have claimed Islam justifies killing children and subsequently honor killings in the following report:
Ibn Abbas reported:
وَإِنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم لَمْ يَكُنْ يَقْتُلُ الصِّبْيَانَ فَلاَ تَقْتُلِ الصِّبْيَانَ إِلاَّ أَنْ تَكُونَ تَعْلَمُ مَا عَلِمَ الْخَضِرُ مِنَ الصَّبِيِّ الَّذِي قَتَلَ
The Messenger of Allah did not kill children, so you should not kill them unless you know what Al-Khidr knew about the child he killed.
Source: Sahih Muslim 1812, Grade: Sahih
They claim it is permissible to kill children because of the story in the Quran in which Al-Khidr killed a child. However, a key point of the story is that Al-Khidr did so only because Allah revealed to him that the boy would become a rebel. Since it is understood that Al-Khidr had knowledge of the unseen which did not belong even to Moses, Ibn Abbas is actually using the story as a proof against killing children.
An-Nawawi comments on this tradition, saying:
مَعْنَاهُ أَنَّ الصِّبْيَانَ لَا يَحِلُّ قَتْلُهُمْ وَلَا يَحِلُّ لَكَ أَنْ تَتَعَلَّقَ بِقِصَّةِ الْخَضِرِ وَقَتْلِهِ صَبِيًّا فَإِنَّ الْخَضِرَ مَا قَتَلَهُ إِلَّا بِأَمْرِ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى لَهُ عَلَى التَّعْيِينِ كَمَا قَالَ فِي آخِرِ الْقِصَّةِ وَمَا فَعَلْتُهُ عَنْ أَمْرِي فَإِنْ كُنْتَ أَنْتَ تَعْلَمُ مِنْ صَبِيٍّ ذَلِكَ فَاقْتُلْهُ وَمَعْلُومٌ أَنَّهُ لَا عِلْمَ لَهُ بِذَلِكَ فَلَا يَجُوزُ لَهُ الْقَتْلُ
The meaning is that it is not lawful to kill children and it is not lawful to use the story of Al-Khidr killing the boy. Indeed, Al-Khidr only killed the boy because Allah commanded him as this was specific to him, just as he said in the end of the story: I did not do it of my own accord (18:82). So if you know about the boy as he did then you may kill him, but it is well-known that no one can know that, so it is not permissible to kill children.
Source: Sharh Sahih Muslim
In conclusion, honor killings have no justification in Islam. They are criminal acts that are committed due to the pressures of culture and other irreligious reasons. Muslims should make every effort to stop this phenomena from continuing.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.