MONTREAL – A Shafia family imam is denouncing what he calls “unforgivable” crimes that no religion, including Islam, could ever excuse.
The Muslim leader, Ali Falih Altaie, says people in his congregation are shocked that parents could kill their own children.
“It’s unforgivable, actually, and unacceptable by any religion,” Altaie said Monday in an interview.
“Only people who have lost their brain do that… It’s unbelievable.”
Altaie’s remarks came one day after a husband and wife, and their son, were each convicted of first-degree murder in the killings of four family members.
The imam had wed 19-year-old Zainab Shafia to her boyfriend, Ammar Wahid, in May 2009. The union was never registered, however, because of a disagreement between the families, he said.
Just a few weeks later, Altaie was presiding over a family funeral. Zainab, along with her younger sisters Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, and their father’s first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, 50, were found submerged on the Rideau Canal on June 30, 2009.
Although he didn’t know the family well, Altaie said he was so overcome with grief during the funeral that he broke into tears.
“I was sad … I couldn’t handle myself well,” he said of the ceremony, attended by more than 200 people.
“Maybe if they (Zainab Shafia and Walid) were married, this might not have happened, this whole story. But we never know what is (in) the future.”
The women’s bodies were found June 30, 2009, in a car submerged in a canal in Kingston, Ont. The teenage girls’ father Mohammad Shafia, mother Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and brother Hamed Mohammad Shafia were convicted in their deaths.
The murders have been described as so-called honour killings — a tag that concerns Altaie.
He fears the Shafia trial may have led people to believe that honour killings are common in the Muslim community, something he says is far from the truth.
“It’s not in the dictionary of the religion — or any religion,” he said, noting the father, Mohammad Shafia, had only been in Canada for a couple of years before the killings.
“His brain was back there in the Middle East or somewhere else he came from. Usually, in this society we don’t have people thinking things like that.”
The Conservative government reiterated its condemnation of honour killings during Monday’s question period. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson called them “barbaric” and “unacceptable,” before pledging to protect women and other vulnerable people from violence.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version incorrectly spelled Ammar Wahid’s name as ‘Walid’