Honor Thy Father

The story of a young Muslim woman who was "honor-killed" by her father because he believed she'd become too Americanized.

Editor's note: For this story, the writer obtained unreleased investigative records from a source. Also, the narrative is based on interviews and court documents.

Noor Almaleki typed a text message to a friend. "Dude," she wrote at 1:06 p.m. last Oct. 20, "my dad is here at the welfare office."

Noor, 20, hadn't seen her father, Faleh, since moving out of the family home in the northwest Phoenix suburb of Glendale, Ariz., months earlier.

Noor Almaleki was a 20-year-old 
college student who had dreams 
of becoming a fashion model.
Noor Almaleki was a 20-year-old college student who had dreams of becoming a fashion model.
Accused murderer Faleh Almaleki in a police mugshot taken after his arrest last October.
Accused murderer Faleh Almaleki in a police mugshot taken after his arrest last October.

His presence both startled and alarmed her. She knew he wouldn't rest until he'd regained complete control of her life.

Noor was the first of Faleh and Seham Almaleki's seven children. Her first name means "light of God." The Almalekis had moved to the United States from Iraq when she was 4.

She was thoroughly assimilated into American culture, but kept in touch with her Iraqi roots (she was fluent in Arabic) and considered herself a Muslim, the same religion as her parents.

But she had moved away from her parents in early 2009 (not for the first time) after another blowup over how she was living her life — tight jeans, makeup, boyfriends, modeling photos, and an attitude that screamed independence and self-determination.

The clashes escalated in 2008 after Noor, then 18, left her marriage to an older cousin in Iraq — her father had arranged it — and returned to the Phoenix area.

Noor sent her text message from inside an Arizona Department of Economic Security office in Peoria, a suburb adjacent to Glendale. Seated next to her was Amal Edan Khalaf, 43, her boyfriend's mother.

Khalaf was there to complete a change-of-address form for welfare benefits. She, too, is Iraqi by birth but moved to the States about a decade ago, and her proficiency in English was such that Noor came along to help translate. She had lived at Khalaf's residence since leaving her parents' home after the latest fracas.

It was bad enough that Noor was staying with the older woman, whom her parents had known for years and considered unfit as a mother and wife (she was separated from her husband at the time). Marwan Alebadi, Noor's 19-year-old boyfriend and Khalaf's son, also lived there, and the Almalekis — particularly Faleh — were enraged and shamed by the situation.

From their perspective, a man's daughters are his property, and they are supposed to live with him until he decides otherwise.

Women who stray from the fold — or are perceived to have strayed — are considered guilty of dishonoring their clans. To Faleh Almaleki, there was nothing worse.

The alleged wrongdoing often revolves around sexual "immorality," but not always. Riffat Hassan, a retired University of Louisville professor of religious studies and expert on the Koran, said, "Muslim culture has reduced many, if not most, women to the position of puppets on a string, to slavelike creatures whose only purpose in life is to cater to the needs and pleasures of men." The Almalekis were proud members of that "Muslim culture."

By moving in with Khalaf and Alebadi, Noor Almaleki had made it clear that she would not be her father's puppet, his slavelike" creature. She was determined to live how, and with whom, she wished.

Some cultures endorse ancient methods of "cleansing" a family's supposedly tarnished name — with the blood of its daughters, sisters, and wives.

In India, Hindu and Sikh brides are sometimes slain because their dowries are considered inadequate, the United Nations Children's Fund reports.

In Islamic Middle Eastern countries, there's a name for the homicides of women by male family members: "honor killings." These murders are as personal as they get, usually committed with knives, machetes, or bare hands.

Victims have been tied up and buried alive. According to news accounts, the father and grandfather of a 16-year-old Muslim girl in Turkey did just that a few months ago after someone reported seeing her talking with boys.

No one can say exactly how many honor killings occur, but anecdotal evidence from media accounts and government data suggests that hundreds of Muslim women and girls die this way every year.

According to a 2006 statement by a U.N. news agency, 47 women died in honor killings in 2006 in Basra, a seaport city of about four million people that is Faleh Almaleki's hometown.

Such killings are reported in Western nations as well: Five Muslim immigrants were accused of murdering female kin in the United States between January 2008 and October 20, 2009.

That was the day Faleh Almaleki, an unemployed 48-year-old trucker with no criminal record, took a grim step toward adding himself to that list of accused "honor" murderers.

Noor Almaleki sent a second text message after her father stepped into the DES office, this one to her best friend, Ushna Khan.

"Dude, I'm so scared. Shit," she wrote. "At the welfare place, and guess who walks in? My dad!!! I'm so shaky!"

"Holy shit, did he see you?" Ushna quickly responded.

"I don't think so," Noor typed. "His fat ass is right by the door so I can't even leave. I'm laughing like a crazy person. I hate when this happens to me. I knew I shouldn't have [woken] up."

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