Just imagine the outcry from feminists if a white western woman was sentenced by a western democratic court to return to a marriage in which she was being beaten and raped on a regular basis. Vox, Slate and Salon would more than likely give front-page coverage to such a horrible case. Western feminists would probably be out marching the streets with placards and banners and media outlets would be awash with highly critical stories on this fundamental infringement of women’s rights. So, where is the outrage over the numerous shari’ah rulings that sentence battered and raped Muslim women in western nations to return to their abusive spouses? Are Muslim women’s rights less important, not quite as inalienable, and more mutable than western non-Muslim women’s rights? Surely if you subscribe to this idea then you are a bigot, no? Yes. Many western feminists employ an extremist strain of relativism in defense of their bigoted and pathological apathy toward the heinous suffering of Muslim women in these situations. They argue that we cannot judge the standards and ethics of those outside of our own culture by the standards and ethics of our own culture, and in some cases this is a solid brand of argumentation. For example, in Japanese culture, it is perfectly acceptable to sniff incessantly in public and hold your bowl or plate up to your mouth when eating. However, such trivial cultural differences, which should not be judged as rude from a non-Japanese context, in no way infringe upon the basic human rights of the members of that society. Conjugal rape and domestic violence, however, is another matter entirely.
In a recent case in England, a British Pakistani woman, “Lubna”, who had been beaten and raped by her husband and to whom the British courts had granted a restraining order and custody of her children, sought an Islamic divorce in the highly influential shari’ah courts. The shari’ah court in question not only encouraged her to reconcile with this lunatic, but they gave this man her home address, following which he abducted her children. In “Lubna’s” own words:
“When my ex-husband said he wanted a reconciliation, the judges said I should comply. I tried to tell them about the violence and abuse I had suffered throughout the marriage, but was advised to be quiet. My mother was also silenced.”
It is easy for many non-Muslims to be utterly confounded by “Lubna’s” decision to entertain the outdated opinions of the archaic and purely patriarchal Shari’ah court when actual courts had already ruled in her favour, yet one cannot begin to fathom the sheer weight of the religious, peer-group and familial expectations and pressures to which many Muslim women are routinely subjected. Such coercion frequently causes Muslim women to tragically acquiesce in the face of horrendous abuse. The immensity of these social and psychological pressures has effectively established an adjacent alternative to settled secular law, bypassing the democratic laws of the land and empowering theocratic jurisprudence to a degree that entirely obliterates the protections afforded to women in secular, liberal democracies.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, Shari’ah is:
“Islamic canonical law based on the teachings of the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet (Hadith and Sunna), prescribing both religious and secular duties and sometimes retributive penalties for lawbreaking.”
Notwithstanding the fact that Shari’ah varies slightly over time and space, it rests upon the primary *scriptural* pillars of the religion to which it owes its perceived legitimacy. It is within these primary scriptural pillars, the Qur’an and the hadith, that we find the roots of Islamic jurisprudence concerning conjugal rape, domestic violence and the ethos which underscores an imbalance between a husband’s rights in a marriage and his wife’s.
Qur’an (Primary Scriptural Pillar)
The Qur’an is the central scripture upon which rests the religion of Islam, which is an all-encompassing ideology, dictating the theological, ethical, political and legal aspects of life for members of the Ummah. It is within this text that we find the root cause of “Lubna’s” suffering.
Qur’an 4:34 (Sahih International):
‘Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.’
Qur’an 2:223 (Sahih International):
‘Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth [righteousness] for yourselves. And fear Allah and know that you will meet Him. And give good tidings to the believers.’
Qur’an 2:228 (Sahih International):
‘Divorced women remain in waiting for three periods, and it is not lawful for them to conceal what Allah has created in their wombs if they believe in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have more right to take them back in this [period] if they want reconciliation. And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable. But the men have a degree over them [in responsibility and authority]. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.’
These three verses relating specifically to marriage and divorce are the result of an extremely sexist ideology which was the norm in the time and region in which the Qur’an was first penned, and which, obviously, thoroughly infected the mind(s) of the author(s) of the Qur’an. Further examples of this now-inexcusable sexism abound in this medieval manifesto.
Here is where we encounter the primary problem in employing this primary scriptural pillar of Islam to modern women’s rights. This shameful sexism was, for the medieval inhabitants of Southern Arabia, the highest horizon to which they were capable of aspiring; but, needless to say, we now know much better than to treat women as chattels and beasts of burden, whom may be beaten for disobedience and stripped of their inalienable rights as materially, socially, politically and legally equal human beings.
Hadith (Secondary Scriptural Pillar)
The secondary scriptural pillar of Islam resides within the purported sayings of Muhammad and his contemporaries, collated within the hadith, which range upon a scale from least reliable to most reliable (sahih). Within both the less reliable and most reliable hadith there are numerous examples of religiously sanctioned domestic violence and conjugal rape, from Muhammad beating his child-bride Aisha (Sahih al-Muslim 4:2127), Aisha exhorting, “I have not seen any women suffering as much as the believing [Muslim] women”, to Muhammad’s fathers-in-law Umar and Abu Bakr striking Muhammad’s wives, Aisha and Hafsa for Muhammad’s amusement, to Muhammad advising an abused and battered woman, “whose face was as green as the veil she was wearing”, to return to her abusive husband and seek her abuser’s forgiveness by obeying and serving every one of his perverted and oppressive desires. Add to Muhammad’s poor character in this regard the Qur’an’s prescription for Muslims to zealously follow his example (Surah 33:21) and the problem of domestic violence and conjugal rape becomes, and in truth has always been, an inherent problem within the core doctrines of Islam.
“Lubna’s” plight and the plight of far too many Muslim women highlights the harms of a legal system that hinges upon the heinous ethics of medieval Southern Arabia. As my readers will no doubt be aware, I am certainly no Christian, but this situation does bring to mind a teaching from the Gospel of “Matthew”, which I have unapologetically employed in the past to indict the Christian religion:
‘Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.’ Matthew 7:17-20
Isn’t it time we cut down the rotten tree of Islamic theology and cast it into the flames of history? How many more women must suffer this obnoxiously sexist theology? And the biggest and most confounding question on my mind: Why do western liberal feminists abandon their Muslim sisters and assist their patriarchal oppressors by apathetically ignoring their pleas for help by way of an extremist ideological strain of relativism?
The time has come for western feminists to acknowledge their privilege and most importantly to stop denying Muslim women the experience of enjoying the very privileges that western feminists use as a basis for their bigoted indifference to the suffering of their sisters.
A quick note about the feature image: I chose a battered white woman’s face because this piece is for a western audience and western feminists, by and large, seem incapable of empathizing with Muslim women, so I thought it wise to use a face to which predominantly white, western feminists could relate, considering they appear to be largely influenced by privilege and in-group preference.
Recommended Read: Domestic Violence in the [Muslim] American Population