“The Tone-Up” amplifies the voices of Muslim women who have something exclusive about Muslim women to talk or rant about. In this instalment, Fadilah Ali addresses the dynamics of rape apologism in Muslim spaces.
Recently, a religious teacher tried to trivialise the crime of rape, comparing it to a greater sin like shirk and asking people why they condemn “in strong terms, cases of rape” when they don’t reserve the same energy for condemning shirk. In nearly every report of sexual violence against women, the reactions are as diverse as they are interesting. Most people who react to such incidents are genuinely bitter, feel sorry for the victim and hope that she can recover from the trauma and that the criminals are brought to book. However, there are several others who don’t think so. First, we have ‘Camp Not All Men’ who are not as interested in eradicating sexual crimes and holding the perpetrators accountable as they are interested in defending and making cases for the men who have not (yet) committed such crimes. They are more concerned about being perceived as one of the good guys than they are concerned about holding the bad guys accountable.
Then of course, there’s what I like to call ‘Camp All Lives Matter.’ who assert that “men get raped too,” This group brings up incidents of sexual violence against men only when the same crime is inflicted on women, thereby detracting from the victim’s trauma and indirectly terming it invalid. No doubt, men get sexually assaulted and there is no question that it is wrong. No one should be assaulted, and the perpetrators regardless of gender must be brought to book. However, it is hypocrisy to insist that sexual violence against men and women are on the same level.
What this article will discuss is the specific strand of responses from people belonging to a group I like to call ‘Camp What Was She Wearing.’ And it is sad to say that even within Muslim circles, this misplaced question somehow finds its way out of the mouths of supposed believers in the Mercy and Justice of Allah. This camp rationalizes that the female victim should not cry out or file for justice because she seemed to be ‘asking for it’ through her clothing. Furthermore, the mantra that ‘men are moved by what they see’ is falsely employed here which further proves, according to this group, the fact that male rapists are not to be blamed for the crime because women are to blame for men’s attraction to them.
While this argument is tremendously flawed, it does make one worry about the thought process of these group of people who are capable of coming up with the most condescending analogies to justify their ideas, such as the flies and the candy.
As far back as when I was in primary school, the analogy of the unwrapped candy with flies hovering above it versus the wrapped candy protected from flies was very mainstream; a calculated attempt to shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim. Nowadays, when a Muslim woman condemns sexual and domestic violence, she risks being accused of attempting to bring liberal ideas into Islam; she risks being called a feminazi; she risks being told that she’s a kafir, and she risks being told that she is going to hell. I have come to realise that the word ‘feminist’ has become a slur plastered upon a Muslim woman to try to evade the issue at hand and to prove how feminism is not compatible with Islam. When a woman asserts that her dressing is not an invitation to assault and/or harassment, she is immediately clamped down on, and told that Islam offers a balanced model for a thriving society and that her fears are unfounded.
Of course, I completely believe that Islam offers a balanced model, which is why in the Qur’an, men are first instructed to control their wandering eyes before the commandment of hijab. But Muslim communities have forgotten that, and have decided to dwell on women’s dress alone and how it justifies whatever assaults they face.
Revisiting the case of the religious teacher who tried to trivialise the crime of rape by comparing it to shirk, it is important to state that in Islam, there are crimes against Allah, and there are crimes against humanity. Shirk is the highest sin, yes, and for whoever dies upon shirk, only Allah decides if He forgives it or not. Rape is a crime against Allah and humanity, and it belongs to the category of crimes known as hiraba. Though commonly translated as highway robbery, hiraba means any crime that constitutes the spread of evil on earth and disrupts the peace of society. Therefore, highway robbery is hiraba, mass murder is hiraba, and rape is hiraba. The penalty for hiraba is stipulated in the Qur’an and this includes execution, amputation of limbs, crucifixion, or exile, depending on the severity of the crime and the discretion of the judge.
To dismantle this false comparison between rape and shirk, I will refer us to the seerah of the Prophet (PBUH), who once received guests from the Christian town of Najran and entertained them in the mosque. He allowed them to stay in the mosque, and conduct their religious prayers in the mosque. Also worthy of mention is the fact that one of the closest allies of the Prophet (PBUH) was his own uncle Abu Talib who remained on shirk till he died. All of this was to show that we as humans are not in any position to act in questionable ways thinking we have the backing of God. This would be like the little boy who joins his mother in scolding his brother, thinking that he is correct, only to end up being scolded for not staying in his place.
But yes, the Prophet (PBUH) did sentence a rapist to death in his lifetime (Sunan Abu Dawud 4379). This incident occurred in Madinah, where women were completely covered and the general state of piety was at an all-time high. But most notable is the fact that the Prophet (PBUH) never blamed the woman for what befell her. Instead, he consoled her with comforting words, told her she was not to blame, gave her justice and let her go home. There is nothing in common between rape and shirk. It is true that generally there is no forgiveness for the person who knowingly dies on shirk, but Allah will not forgive a crime against another human until the victim decides to forgive.
While I would want to afford the originator of that false analogy the benefit of the doubt, I will also acknowledge the damage that his post will inadvertently pose to rape victims seeing their trauma being blatantly trivialized. I will also not fail to emphasize how such a ridiculous comparison is likely to fuel a certain Islamophobic narrative that Muslims think rapists deserve milder treatment than people who associate others with Allah in worship. As already said, a mushrik can repent and have all his past sins cleared, but a rapist will not have the crime written off by repentance alone.
At the heart of rape-apologism is the narrative that hijab protects women from predatory men. I wish it were that simple. I wish that the countless reports about rape victims in full hijab and niqab weren’t true. I wish there were no reports of sexual abuse against old women who have lost their youth; that the narrative about infants and school-age children being raped simply didn’t exist. I wish covering up was the magic wand to stopping men from these crimes. But as they say, if wishes were horses, beggars would own a stable full of them. The way out is not by pretending that we are a utopic community. It is not by clamping down on victims and blaming them for what befell them. And it is certainly not by defending abusers and failing to hold them accountable.
Muslim women don’t wear hijab to help men stay chaste and modest. We wear hijab because the Creator who knows us more than we know ourselves and knows what’s better for us commanded it. Period!
The hijab, just like salah, fasting and zakah, is an act of worship. I do not wear hijab because men will respect me only if they can’t see my hips. I do not wear it because I am too pious and/or an embodiment of what society thinks a Muslim woman should be. I do not wear it to protect men from themselves. I wear it because it is a commandment of Allah.
Unfortunately, like every other aspect of the lives of women, wearing the hijab has been hijacked and manipulated into a tool of oppression for the benefit of men. In speeches and sermons, women have been told that though men are commanded to lower their gaze, they are at fault if they have men staring at them, and must therefore uphold hijab to stall the wandering eyes of men. It is quite ludicrous to assert that Allah would place on a woman the burden of responsibility for another human’s actions. On the contrary, it has been stated in the Qur’an that no one bears the burden of another (Q53V38).
The only formidable way out is to shed our egos and return to the true spirit of Islam, which we, as a Muslim community, so vehemently profess adherence to. In so doing, we can find solutions to these issues.