The recent violent rape and mutilation of a 17 year old girl in the ‘sleepy’ town of Bredasdorp in the Cape Province of South Africa sparked country wide outrage and anger. While this incident has placed South Africa squarely in the international limelight as being the ‘Rape Capital’ of the world with an estimated 683 000 incidents of rape annually, it has to be stated that Rape is an international phenomena that takes place both in developed and developing countries, in countries traditionally classified as ‘civilised’ and ‘first world’ as well as those known as ‘uncivilised’ and ‘third world’. While we can go down the route of making this issue a ‘numbers game’ and declaring the country with the lowest incidence of rape to be most civilised, the fact of the matter is that even one rape is one too much. Rape is reflective of a deep-seated, systemic dysfunctionality of a society wherein women are treated with total disrespect having no value.
On the scale of ‘ill treatment and disrespect shown to women’ rape may well weigh the heaviest, given its gruesome nature and violation of a woman’s honour there are many other acts of physical, verbal and psychological abuse, mostly domestic perpetrated against women even in the most civilised countries and societies, symptomatic of a serious underlying psychological problem in the manner and way women are treated.
In America, the so called bastion of freedom and liberties of the modern world and the protagonist of modern day feminism:
• 22 million women in the United States have been raped in their lifetime. (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010)
• More women are injured due to domestic violence than those injured in car accidents and muggings combined (‘Hope Alliance report’)
• One woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 15 seconds (UN Study on the Status of Women)
• 25% of American women will suffer domestic violence in their lifetimes (Survey of Women’s health)
• Cost of domestic violence by partners exceeds $5.8 billion of which $4.1 billion are for direct medical and mental health costs. More than 8 million days of paid work lost collectively by victims of domestic violence which is equivalent to the loss of 32 000 full-time jobs (Cost of Intimate Partner violence against women in the United States, – Centres for Disease Control & Prevention, Atlanta)
If such is the incidence of physical abuse one can well imagine the level of verbal and psychological abuse and general disrespect that women face. The manifestation of abuse is nothing other than a reflection of the psyche of society moulded, shaped and churned out by the mass media machinery where women are used to sell anything from a tooth pick to a truck tyre! Hence women are seen as nothing other than commodities and sex objects whose only function is to serve the visual and physical gratification of men. A woman is judged more on her physical appearance than her mental and intellectual capacity. The multimillion dollar fashion and cosmetic industry, which generates almost $600 billion a year, is sufficient proof of this.
The current situation that women the world over find themselves in, although camouflaged by all the glitz and glamour, is not very different to the situation that women found themselves in during the period of Jaahiliya (Ignorance) of pre Islamic Arabia. Arabia was a male-dominated society. Women had no status or rights of any kind other than as sex objects and commodities that could be bought, sold and even disposed of. The number of women a man could marry was not fixed. When a man died, his son ‘inherited’ all his wives except his own mother. A savage custom of the society was to bury their female infants alive. Modern day abortion being no different other than being more sophisticated. Even if a man did not wish to bury his daughter alive, he still had to uphold this ‘honourable’ tradition, being unable to resist social pressures. Drunkenness and gambling were common vices. It was during such times that women were sold off in lieu of debts or offered as guarantees. One point worthy of mention is that in spite of women being treated in the manner mentioned above it was still considered an act of cowardice for a man to violently attack or show aggression to a woman.
It was at this time and to such a community of drunken, male dominated and war mongering people that Allah Ta’ala chose to send His Final Prophet (May Peace be upon him) with the final revelation – Al Quraan.
In a period of 23 years the Noble Messenger of Allah made such an effort and prepared these ‘backward’ desert dwellers to become the beacons of light that would radiate out of the sand dunes of the deserts of Arabia to illuminate the minds, hearts and souls of humanity who were then grovelling in the oceans of darkness.
Together with removing Idol worship, forging human brotherhood between the black and the white, the slave and the master, uplifting the oppressed and downtrodden, giving hope to the weak, inculcating sober habits and perfecting good character he also redefined the position of women in society and restored to them their equality, honour, dignity, humanity and position in society. No more was a woman a mere commodity with no rights but rather she was recognised as an individual with full rights to ownership, education, inheritance, respect, honour and marriage. Perhaps the highest accolade given to a woman was that Islam recognised her sacrifice during child bearing and birth (Qur’an-Surah 46, Verse 15) and therefore made her deserving of most respect from her children even above the father (Hadith-Bukhari & Muslim) and also categorically stating that ‘Your Heaven lies under the feet of your mother’ (Hadith-Ahmad, Nasai)
This venerated position of women was imprinted on the psyche of every male of the society. This was achieved through equating the service and happiness of parents to great and meritorious acts like striving in the Path of Allah and Hijrah (migration) for the sake of Allah. Such was the zeal with which the once male dominated society treated and served their women that a companion once carried his mother on his back to allow for her to fulfil the rights of the Haj (Pilgrimage) and yet thereafter acknowledging that he had not fulfilled the right of her one ‘turning’ towards him as an infant out of concern for his well being.
The Noble Messenger of Allah(peace be upon him) also said, ‘Among the Muslims the most perfect, as regards his faith, is the one whose character is excellent, and the best among you are those who treat their women well’ (Hadith-Tirmidhi). In another narration it is mentioned ‘I command you to take good care of the women’ (Hadith-Bukhari) and also, ‘Do not beat Allah’s female servants (i.e women)’ (Hadith-Abu Da’ud, Ibn Majah). The Noble Messenger of Allah(peace be upon him) also said ‘How does anyone of you beat his wife as he beats his camel and then embraces her?’ (Hadith-Al-Bukhari)
Based on the above some scholars like Ata bin Rabah (May Allah’s mercy be with him) stated, the fact that the Noble Messenger of Allah(pbuh) never resorted to the permission of beating and said, ‘He who beats his wife is not a good person’ (Hazimi, al-Itibar)
From the above we learn that Islam encourages the kind treatment of women and forbids in both word and spirit, their abuse in any form, be it physical, verbal, emotional and psychological. It therefore stands to reason that rape is something that Islam condemns in the strongest terms and, in fact a rapist in an Islamic country would be sentenced to death by the Islamic courts
It was this type of thought that permeated the psyche of Muslim societies from the time of the Noble Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him)until this day and any behaviour to the contrary by Muslims today is nothing other than their deviation from the principles advocated by Islam and the lifestyle of the Noble Messenger of Allah(pbuh).
Issues like honour killings and spousal abuse in Muslim societies which are often highlighted in the media and for which Islam is criticised are practices that have their place in culture and have no basis in the Qur’aan and Sunnah.
Shariah always has an ‘inner’ as well as an ‘outer’ mechanism that are used to achieve its objectives. In the issue discussed, if the psyche of the society could be described as the ‘inner’ mechanism to allow for women to be respected and honoured then it must be said as an ‘outer’ mechanism Islam advocates the institution of Hijab so that women are judged for what they are truly worth and not merely objects for men’s gratification. As much as the media always makes an issue of and maligns the treatment of women in Islam it is interesting to note that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world (Guiness book of records) and in the west, in particular, most reverts are women who have no hesitation in donning the hijab. In fact, they do so with much pride.
In Islam rape and all other forms of women abuse are reviled. In fact The Noble Messenger of Allah (pbuh) discouraged and penalised adultery, fornication and rape.
Wa’il ibn Hujr reports of an incident when a woman was raped. When he the rapist was later positively identified the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him ) said “Stone him to death.” (Hadith-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud).
May Almighty Allah Ta’ala grant us the wisdom, courage and moral strength to uphold the rights and dignity of our women in society …ameen.