By HUSSEIN DAKROUB Associated Press Writer
August 02,2007 | BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Lebanon's most senior Shi'i Muslim cleric issued a religious edict Thursday banning honor killings, calling the custom of murdering a female relative for sexual misconduct "a repulsive act."
The fatwa by Grand Ayatullah Muhammed Husayn Fadlallah was a rare condemnation of the practice by a prominent cleric. Fadlallah's office said he issued the statement in response to reports that honor killings were increasing.
"I view an honor crime as a repulsive act, condemned and prohibited by religion," Fadlallah, the most revered religious authority for Lebanon's 1.2 million Shi'a, said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.
In the poorer and more traditional sectors of Middle East society, women are often seen as bearers of the clan's honor and any sex out of wedlock -- or sometimes even just dating -- is seen as an indelible stain on the family's reputation that can only be cleansed with blood.
While such killings are illegal in Arab countries, perpetrators often go unpunished or receive light sentences.
"In so-called honor crimes, some men kill their daughters, sisters, wives or female relatives on the pretext that they committed acts that harm chastity and honor," said Fadlallah, warning that the practice was on the rise. "These crimes are committed without any religious evidence."
Honor crimes are rarely reported in Lebanon and there are no official figures. But Hani 'Abdullah, Fadlallah's spokesman, said the phenomenon "has reached a dangerous level," according to reports that Fadlallah's office had received.
He said honor crimes have been reported recently in Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon.
Religious condemnation of the practice is rare and the office of Lebanon's top Sunni cleric said he did not recall any such fatwa being issued in the past. Religious leaders in neighboring Jordan have also remained silent on the issue.
The practice has come under particular scrutiny in Jordan, where it is estimated that some 20 women are killed every year by their male relatives, prompting international rights organizations to appeal to the country's ruler, King 'Abdullah II.
The Jordanian government has urged judges to consider the killings as homicides and punishable by up to 15 years in prison, but many courts still hand down lenient sentences.
Attempts to introduce harsher sentences for honor killings have been blocked in Jordan's parliament by predominantly conservative Bedouin lawmakers.
The overwhelmingly Sunni populations of Jordan and the Palestinian territories are unlikely to heed to Fadlallah's fatwa, but the 69-year-old cleric does have followers among Shiites in Iraq.