Islam: Rape and Its Four Witnesses

February 7, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A new friend I met was expressing her concern about the mistreatment of women in the Islamic world. One issue that resonated strongly with her was that of male rapists going scot-free, while raped women are often blamed for the rape and can even be punished under some Sharia courts.

Before getting to the Islamic roots of many of these illogical views on rape Islam has, we need to learn a bit about a rumour the Islamic prophet’s youngest child bride, Aisha, suffered from:

(This note isn’t intended to be a thorough analysis, but just some quick insights. This issue can take up volumes, I am sure.)

Details on a scandal involving Aisha is well-documented in Islamic texts of the Hadith and Sira (e.g. Sahih Muslim, Book 37, Number 6673; Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 48, Number 829).

The stories narrated are long, but to summarize, Aisha was accompanying a Muslim army, and she was one day erroneously left behind. A Muslim who lagged behind the army found her and she accompanied him back to the Muslim army.

Some Muslims spread accusations against her that she had had intercourse with the man. Aisha strongly denied this and was very hurt, but the rumours continued.

Eventually, Quranic revelations were revealed in which Aisha was declared innocent of the rumours being spread:

Quran 24: 13-16
Why did they not bring four witnesses of it? But as they have not brought witnesses they are liars before Allah. And were it not for Allah’s grace upon you and His mercy in this world and the hereafter, a grievous chastisement would certainly have touched you on account of the discourse which you entered into. When you received it with your tongues and spoke with your mouths what you had no knowledge of, and you deemed it an easy matter while with Allah it was grievous. And why did you not, when you heard it, say: It does not beseem us that we should talk of it; glory be to Thee! this is a great calumny?

سورة النور
لَوْلَا جَاءُوا عَلَيْهِ بِأَرْبَعَةِ شُهَدَاءَ ۚ فَإِذْ لَمْ يَأْتُوا بِالشُّهَدَاءِ فَأُولَٰئِكَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ هُمُ الْكَاذِبُونَ
وَلَوْلَا فَضْلُ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ وَرَحْمَتُهُ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ لَمَسَّكُمْ فِي مَا أَفَضْتُمْ فِيهِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ
إِذْ تَلَقَّوْنَهُ بِأَلْسِنَتِكُمْ وَتَقُولُونَ بِأَفْوَاهِكُمْ مَا لَيْسَ لَكُمْ بِهِ عِلْمٌ وَتَحْسَبُونَهُ هَيِّنًا وَهُوَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ عَظِيمٌ
وَلَوْلَا إِذْ سَمِعْتُمُوهُ قُلْتُمْ مَا يَكُونُ لَنَا أَنْ نَتَكَلَّمَ بِهَٰذَا سُبْحَانَكَ هَٰذَا بُهْتَانٌ عَظِيمٌ

Quran 24:4 states that those who fail to bring four witnesses would be flogged:

And those who accuse free women then do not bring four witnesses, flog them, (giving) eighty stripes, and do not admit any evidence from them ever; and these it is that are the transgressors.

سورة النور
وَالَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَأْتُوا بِأَرْبَعَةِ شُهَدَاءَ فَاجْلِدُوهُمْ ثَمَانِينَ جَلْدَةً وَلَا تَقْبَلُوا لَهُمْ شَهَادَةً أَبَدًا ۚ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ

From this, Islamic theologians stated that, in order to prove adultery or similar types of sexual misconduct, four male witnesses should be produced. The witness of a female is at most worth half that of a man’s, and limited to financial transactions (Quran 2:282).

As I understand it (and as I was raised to understand it), the rule of four witnesses was intended to protect Muslim women from being falsely labeled as having had forbidden intercourse (zina). That said, some Islamic clergy extended this rule to a bizarre situation: A woman claiming to have been raped will need to produce to the Sharia court four male witnesses to prove her case against the rapist. If she cannot produce four witnesses, her case turns into a chastity crime and is thus punished accordingly. Alternatively, she may be punished for making perceived false accusations. Also, at least one school of jurisprudence considers pregnancy sufficient evidence for sexual misconduct, so if a rape victim becomes pregnant and she cannot prove the rape, she can face lashing or death by stoning.

For example, Pakistan had been implementing the Hudood Ordinance for more than two decades, and it provided the requirements described above regarding rape victims. It was only relatively recently that a Women’s Protection Bill was passed that allows rape victims to charge their rapists under civil law. It was strongly opposed by religious Pakistani party members.

In Iran, Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi faced the death penalty for defending herself and her niece from being raped. As she defended herself with a knife, she stabbed one of the attempted rapists to his death. Without four male witnesses, she faced the death sentence. (She was released due to intense international and media attention.)

I also found a decent article on these issues on BBC: Debate rages over women and Sharia.

There’s also an impression, among a large number of Muslim followers, that if a woman is raped, it’s usually her fault; that her mere presence in the street without a veil, for example, has ‘tempted’ the poor man to rape her. A notorious example of this mentality among Western Muslims is a 7th century misogynistic Australian barbarian called Taj El-Din Al-Hilali, who said in a Friday sermon that if a woman gets raped, it is mostly the woman’s fault because she wasn’t in her home. He also said:

“If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it … whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem.”

Bigots come and go, but what’s disturbing in his case is that he is a leading Muslim figure in Australia, and that the Friday after his remarks were publicized, 5000 Muslims in Australia actually cheered in support of his remarks. Other Muslim leaders supported him, too (example).

I will need to make it clear and obvious that raping Muslim women is absolutely forbidden in Islam. However, there are some Muslims who go on raping rampages on non-Muslim women in Western countries, and they find justification for it, partly because “it’s the woman’s fault for going out without the veil”, and partly because of verses like Quran 4:24 and Quran 23:6, which permit a Muslim male to take non-Muslim women after a battle and keep them as war booty and as slaves (see my detailed note on this here). Those rapists tend not to look at the West favorably and consider themselves at war with it already, so they find their women legitimate for them. I have not heard of any scholar explicitly allow this though. There’s a very disturbing account of immigrant rape trends here.

To the readers who feel surprised: Never take one’s word for anything. Do your own research and ask other people for their points of view. I’m not perfect; it’s stupid people who think they’re always right.

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