The Mufti of Australia, Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali, has gained international attention this week by saying that women are generally at fault if they are raped. Speaking to a Muslim audience in Sydney, he explained that rape (specifically, zina, sexual activity forbidden under Islamic law -- a word mistranslated in published accounts of the Sheikh’s words as “adultery”) is “90 percent the woman’s responsibility. Why? Because a woman owns the weapon of seduction. It’s she who takes off her clothes, shortens them, flirts, puts on make-up and powder and takes to the streets, God protect us, dallying. It’s she who shortens, raises and lowers. Then, it’s a look, a smile, a conversation, a greeting, a talk, a date, a meeting, a crime, then Long Bay jail. Then you get a judge, who has no mercy, and he gives you 65 years.”
Al-Hilali invoked another Islamic scholar in support of his views: “But when it comes to this disaster, who started it? In his literature, writer al-Rafee says, if I came across a rape crime, I would discipline the man and order that the woman be jailed for life. Why would you do this, Rafee? He said because if she had not left the meat uncovered, the cat wouldn’t have snatched it. If you get a kilo of meat, and you don’t put it in the fridge or in the pot or in the kitchen but you leave it on a plate in the backyard, and then you have a fight with the neighbour because his cats eat the meat, you’re crazy. Isn’t this true? If you take uncovered meat and put it on the street, on the pavement, in a garden, in a park, or in the backyard, without a cover and the cats eat it, then whose fault will it be, the cats, or the uncovered meat’s? The uncovered meat is the disaster. If the meat was covered the cats wouldn’t roam around it. If the meat is inside the fridge, they won’t get it. If the woman is in her boudoir, in her house and if she’s wearing the veil and if she shows modesty, disasters don’t happen.”
In the uproar that followed, Muslim leaders in Australia and elsewhere distanced themselves from Al-Hilali. Ali Roude of the New South Wales Islamic Council declared that Al-Hilali had “failed both himself and the Muslim community…As a father, brother and son myself, I take offence at the portrayal of both men and women in the alleged published comments.”
Yet at the same time, Al-Hilali had defenders. Abduljalil Sajid of the Muslim Council of Britain said that al-Hilali’s remarks had been taken out of context, and affirmed that “loose women like prostitutes” encourage immorality in men. As for al-Hilali, Sajid said that “he is a great scholar and he has a great knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence….I respect his views. His intentions are noble in order to make morality and modesty part of our overall society.”
It was also somewhat surprising that Al-Hilali’s remarks generated any uproar at all. After all, the idea that a woman is responsible if she is raped did not originate with him, and this was not the first time it has been enunciated in the West. One notorious example occurred in September 2004 in Denmark, when the mufti Shahid Mehdi of the Islamic Cultural Center in Copenhagen said on the Danish television program Talk to Gode that women who venture outside without a hijab are “asking for rape.”
Australian Muslim moderate leader Tanveer Ahmed acknowledged that “in a large number of Muslim households, young men will be taught that white women are cheap and easy. It is extrapolated to a much bigger scale, for it symbolises for them a moral corruption endemic in free societies, the kind they believe has led to a breakdown in families. Their views have some overlap with social conservatives in general, who see human freedoms, especially with regard to sexuality, as having gone too far.”
Even more significantly, Ahmed conceded that “what Hilali says is consistent with a strict, conservative interpretation of Islam. This remains the fundamental difficulty with Islam's attempts to sit with modernity. As long as Muslims view their religion as sitting above history and culture -- with the Koran as the literal word of God, which in their view makes Islam undebatable -- there will always be Hilalis who can point to certain texts and argue for a social and legal structure consistent with 7th-century Arabia….This is a man who knows the Koran in intimate detail and his views are consistent with a strict reading of the Muslim holy book.”
They are also, unfortunately, consistent with the example of Muhammad, Islam’s prophet, as I show in my new book The Truth About Muhammad. The Qur’an tells men: “And all married women (are forbidden unto you) save those (captives) whom your right hands possess” (4:24) -- that is, slave girls who are considered the spoils of war. All too often in Western countries, particularly in Europe’s restive Muslim enclaves, young Muslim men have understood this as permitting the rape of non-Muslim women who venture out uncovered -- in accord with Shahid Mehdi’s statement.
What’s more, in traditional Islamic law rape cannot be established except by the testimony of four male witnesses who saw the act, as stipulated by Qur’an 24:4 and 24:13. Consequently, it is even today virtually impossible to prove rape in lands that follow the dictates of the Sharia. Unscrupulous men can commit rape with impunity: as long as they deny the charge and there are no witnesses, they get off scot-free, because the victim’s account is inadmissible. Even worse, if a woman accuses a man of rape, she may end up incriminating herself. If the required male witnesses can’t be found, the victim’s charge of rape becomes an admission of adultery. That accounts for the grim fact that as many as seventy-five percent of the women in prison in Pakistan are, in fact, behind bars for the crime of being a victim of rape.[i] Several high-profile cases in Nigeria recently have also revolved around rape accusations being turned around by Islamic authorities into charges of fornication, resulting in death sentences that were only modified after international pressure.[ii]
In light of all this, al-Hilali’s remarks should not be surprising -- but they should continue to be cause for concern. For they illustrate the fact that the clash of civilizations isn’t just taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places where the warriors of jihad are fighting today. It is taking place right at home, in Western countries where our deeply-held cultural values are being subjected to an increasingly forthright and assertive challenge. If we do not defend them now, it is those who agree with Sheikh al-Hilali who will determine the mores of the future.
[i] See Sisters in Islam, “Rape, Zina, and Incest,” April 6, 2000, http://www.muslimtents.com/sistersinislam/resources/sdefini.htm.
[ii] See Stephen Faris, “In Nigeria, A Mother Faces Execution,” www.africana.com, January 7, 2002.
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