Islamic texts take a firm stance against rape, and carry a strong and deterring punishment for rapists. The Quran and Hadith consistently describe men and women as protectors of each other, stating that both men and women are equally capable of attaining moral individuality. Stigmatization of rape is purely cultural and has no roots in Islam. Rape victims should not be ostracized for a crime committed against them; instead, rape victims should be given proper physical, mental, and emotional support for rehabilitation.
“The things that my [Rabb] hath indeed forbidden are: Shameful deeds, whether open or secret; sins and trespasses against truth or reason; assigning of partners to God, for which [God] hath given no authority; And saying things about God of which ye have no knowledge” (7:33)
“If any of you does not have the means to marry believing women, then marry a believer from those whom your right hands held in trust. God knows all about your faith; each one of you is part of the same human family. Marry them with their guardian’s consent and give them their rightful bridal-gifts. Make them married women, not adulterous fornicatirs or lovers” (4:25)
“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! God is Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their chests, and not to reveal their adornment.” (24:31)
In many Muslim societies, women are often held responsible for violence enacted on them against their will. Rape continues to remain a taboo subject, and in some cases women will face discrimination instead of the recognition and vital assistance they need after experiencing such extreme abuse. Some rape victims are murdered by relatives in honor killings because the violation of a woman’s chastity is viewed as an attack to their family’s reputation.
In a number of countries a rapist can go free under the penal code if he proposes to marry the victim, even if she is a child.5 As a result, rape victims remain silent and refrain from seeking help because they are afraid of repercussions, lack of justice, or community ostracization. At the same time, there are other women who take their own lives, in what is known as “honor suicides,” due to mounting family pressure and fear.
Unfortunately, Boko Haram and Daesh have kidnapped and raped women and girls, warping the Qur’an to justify their actions. Contrary to extremists’ claims, the Qur’an does not allow men to rape women and girls, even during war. In fact, the Qur’an actually stands firmly against taking female prisoners as concubines in verse 4:25. Furthermore, the Qur’an prefers freeing all prisoners of war, including female prisoners, as soon as possible (See Sex Trafficking Issue).
Though rape victims have little to no legal protections, countries such as Morocco have created laws that define sexual assault and rape as crimes. Moreover, Algeria previously signed the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1996. Many scholars and religious leaders have also cited the need to create a cultural change framing rape as an unacceptable act that merits punishment against the perpetrators rather than the victims. Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, senior lecturer and scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto states: “A raped woman is a victim that must be treated with honor and kindness. She is not required to produce four witnesses to prove the crime done against her, nor is she punished for the crime done against her.”
Women should not be punished or ostracized for being victims of rape. Instead, they should be supported, provided services for rehabilitation and empowered to seek legal aid against their rapists without fear. Men and women must be educated on consent and should support each other against the culture of rape stigmatization.
Raja Rantisi Hamayel, Raheel Raza, Deeyah Khan
Past approaches to empowering Muslim women typically employ a distinctly Western framework for understanding the problem, relying exclusively on measurements of economic status, educational level, health care or political participation. WISE approaches change from a holistic perspective that addresses the many interrelated factors that contribute to gender-based inequality and disempowerment.