“Islam gave women rights thousands of years before the West! Islam protects and cherishes women!”
These are some declarations you hear from Muslims when you bring up the issue of rape and rape culture within the Muslim community. Whether it is spouted in ignorance, naiveté, idealism or plain denial is another question. While those statements are true on the face of it, they are not representative of the truth today, especially as many Muslim men have time and again, denied Muslim women of the rights granted to them by the religion.
What Islam is, is quite different from what Muslims are today.
Under the sharia, rape is a crime that may be punishable by death penalty. There is no tolerance in the religion for those who rape or ape culture. Theoretically. In reality however, this may be far from what is obtainable in today’s societies and among Muslims.
The fact that Muslim women are obligated to cover their bodies and use a veil to cover their hair, neck and bosom is the first excuse for rape apologists who conveniently forget that Muslim men are also instructed to lower their gazes.
Another lazy assumption is that the hijab is a magic protection and precaution against assault and rape. Within two minutes of speaking to any Muslim woman who observes the hijab, you’ll find this to be grossly untrue and inaccurate. There are hijabis and niqabis who have been victims of sexual violence and assault.
Rape culture is so prevalent in our society that there’s really nothing you can do to protect yourself. It is a bigger problem in Muslim communities because Muslims generally pretend that it is not a problem and that all you need do to avoid being a victim is to cover up, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.
To be clear, the hijab is obligatory upon Muslim women but not for the benefit of men, or to make them less desirable to men.
Whether we like to admit it or not, rape culture is prevalent in the Muslim community too, not because Islam allows it, because it clearly does not, but because a lot of Muslims hold certain opinions and espouse certain views that are consistent with victim blaming and support rape culture.
There is no space in Islam for rapists, rape apologists and rape culture; however, among Muslims, rape culture is thriving.
So many misconceptions contribute to the downplaying of the severity of sexual crimes even among the Muslim community. One of such is that only ‘immodest’ women get raped; another is that rape survivors allow the assault happen to them; another is that good girls who observe hijab or niqab don’t get raped; another is that if women didn’t go anywhere without their mahram- male guardian, they would never get raped.
None of these fallacies represent the true stance of Islam on rape and rape is no less serious a crime when a nonhijabi is the victim.
The truth is that a man whose soul is dark enough to commit rape has no moral fiber and no moral compass and the presence of hijab or niqab would not change his evil intentions. The presence of a mahram- male guardian also doesn’t guarantee that a woman is safe from sexual assault because in many cases, their abuser is their mahram!
Another way rape culture is allowed to gain ground is that unscrupulous elements twist the scripture to justify it. Sayings like ‘cover your brothers’ sins or ‘do not expose the sins of another’ are used to cover up cases of rape and abuse and shield perpetrators. This in turn makes victims cowered and they do not pursue justice. Meanwhile the truth is that covering your fellow Muslim’s sin is not applicable in cases of rape and abuse.
The ruling on rape in Islam
Rape is viewed in two ways in Islamic legal systems. The first is when a man rapes a woman without use of weapon. Such a case is treated as either fornication or adultery depending on marital status of the rapist. If he is unmarried, he is flogged 100 lashes and he may be banished from the community. If he is married, he is to be stoned to death.
There is no sin and no punishment on the lady. There are some schools of thought which say the culprit must pay mahr- money or asset paid to a bride by the groom- to her.
The consensus of Muslim jurists agree on this punishment for rape, it is binding in the Sharia legal system and it is connected to the basic principles that address similar cases in Islamic Law.
The second is if the rapist used a weapon of any kind. In this case, he will be treated as muhaarib- a terrorist/bandit/abductor.
Chapter 5:33 of the Quran says of muhaarib “…they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land…” and this is the kind of punishment to be meted out to such unscrupulous elements.
Death, crucification, amputation or exile are the prescribed punishment for armed rapists in Islam. Which of these four that will be meted out is dependent on the circumstances and the discretion is of the judge.
Again in such cases, there is no sin on the woman, and no punishment for her.
Islamic scholars are against rapists marrying their victims and pregnancies arising from rape may be terminated before 40 days of gestation because it may be harmful mentally and psychologically to the victim to carry such pregnancy to term, or to marry the man who abused her.
This makes it clear that Islam views rape as an abhorrent act which the rapist and the rapist alone is punished for.
However, not only are Muslims different from Islam, they are not immune to influences of culture and socialization. Rape culture is thriving and prevalent in our societies- which Muslims are a part of. So Muslim women are affected by rape culture just like any other category of women.
While the Muslim community pretends that her women are safe from rape culture because they’re pious and chaste, the women experience the shocking and damaging consequences of rape culture in their day to day life.
Rape culture is why it is assumed that even though you observe the hijab, you’re definitely open to any sexual activity and you can be propositioned by a stranger, sometimes aggressively.
It is why you can be verbally abused as you walk by with men shouting obscenities like ‘Alhaja short time.’
It is why your neighbor can break into your house when they know you’re home alone, rip off your clothes- including your hijab and force themselves on you because they want to see what you are always covering and hiding under your loose clothing.
Rape culture is why your Arabic teacher would grope you and rub his penis against you even though this is very clearly prohibited in the religion. The shame around sexual assault as a result of rape culture is the reason you can’t speak out about it, it’s why he goes unpunished and can continue to prey on others.
Rape culture is the reason rape survivors are stigmatized against within the Muslim community when Islam clearly states that there is no blame on the woman who falls victim to rape.
It’s the reason a ‘prominent’ Muslim man would rape a Muslim girl until her vagina was torn open and the Imam of their community would lead a smear campaign against her family; accusing her of prostitution and defending the man. It’s the reason a woman loses all credibility because she was accused of being a prostitute since slut-shaming and victim-blaming are two of the pillars upholding rape culture.
Muslim women are also overly sexualized as a result of rape culture; they are often seen as objects to satisfy fetishes or conquests whose walls have to be broken down. So sexualized that even her voice is considered a part of seduction and hearing her speak can be translated into an invitation for sexual activity. It’s why some men believe that every part of a woman’s body is a sexual trigger and she must cover it up like a mummy if she doesn’t want them to touch her.
In some cases, conversely, Muslim women are seen as nonsexual beings, even by Muslim men who may be their partners. Female sexual pleasure which is important in Islam is repressed because of slut shaming and the notion that ‘good girls’ do not enjoy sex.
Religious obligation being fulfilled by Muslim women are not seen as a manifestation of their faith but as something done to please a man. It is assumed that a woman who wears a hijab is doing it for the sake of her husband or her father.
Rape culture affects all women, and Muslim women are no exception. In fact, it is worse for them because their concerns are not taken seriously and all attempts to speak up are swept away under the rug of ‘dress modestly’ and ‘wear a hijab,’ which is a religious reminder, but is really no solution to the scourge of sexual violence. Instead, it is only yet another manifestation of rape culture and male entitlement to the female body where a woman is expected to dress a certain way and that dressing otherwise is ‘asking for it’.
Until the Muslim community comes together as one to stand up and speak against all forms of abuse and tackle the root issues, rape culture will continue to be prevalent in our society and Muslim women will continue to suffer, often in silence.
The YNaija #RapeCulture Special Series will run from September 15th to September 30th. Visit YNaija.com/Specials to catch up on all essays and excerpts from our Instagram interviews.