Violence and depravity have always been in our midst, and always will. One of the jobs of religion is to explain why evil exists and what to do to about it. Christianity has explained that man was created for union with God, was tempted, and used his free will to reject God. In that brief summation, we see the reason for our creation, the reason for our free will, and what happens when we abuse it.
Furthermore, Christ warned of the grave harms attached to harming children. This was because of the innocence of children, which demands they be safeguarded, but also because when children are scandalised, it creates a situation in which the long-term effects may snowball -- harming even more persons.
Unfortunately, when a religion institutionalises the wrong view of children, the harms ripple out and undermine the entire society. Such is the backdrop to these recent stories, which may be related. The first is from Saudi Arabia:
Public anger has gripped Saudi Arabia after a prominent preacher who raped and beat to death his 5-year-old daughter was sentenced to a few months in jail and a $50,000 fine – known as 'blood money' – to compensate the victim's relatives.
According to Islamic law, the 'blood money' can be paid in lieu of the death penalty. The preacher's fine was reportedly half the usual amount because the victim was a girl.
Saudi preacher Fayhan Ghamdi, a frequent guest on Muslim TV networks, confessed to using cables and a cane to inflict the injuries, AFP reported, quoting activists from the group ‘Women to Drive.’
In December 2011, Lama was admitted to hospital with multiple injuries, including a crushed skull, broken ribs and left arm, and extensive bruising and burns, according to the activist group. Hospital worker Randa Kaleeb said that the girl's back was broken, and that she had been raped "everywhere."
The details are horrific, but admittedly the actual assault could have taken place anywhere. What is unique to the story is the fact that the father is a Muslim preacher -- but then it's not unknown for the representatives of other religions to do awful things with children (witness the unfolding scandal within the Catholic Church).
There is the added recognition that under Islamic law her life was worth half of a boy's life, and that a convicted abuser can pay his way out of a punishment, which leaves a seriously depraved individual free to harm others -- perhaps even to live with his wife and continue preaching.
Everything that unfolded in this case has the sanction of the most fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law, and thus we have to accept that there are elements in that religious view that vary widely from Western jurisprudence or Christian justice. To the contrary, we must remember that whatever took place concerning the priest scandal, every bit of it -- from the indecent behaviour to the cover-up -- was unChristian and morally unacceptable.
But what of child-rape in Islam? The next story adds another dimension that cannot be ignored:
A Saudi cleric has called for all female babies to be fully covered by wearing the face veil, commonly known as the burka, citing reports of little girls being sexually molested.
In a TV interview on the Islamic al-Majd TV, which seems to date back to mid-last year, Sheikh Abdullah Daoud, stressed that wearing the veil will protect baby girls. The Sheikh tried to back his assertion with claims of sexual molestation against babies in the kingdom, quoting unnamed medical and security sources.
It is gratifying to see that his suggestion is decried by fellow Muslims, but we have to remember that he is not isolated in his beliefs. It also places blame on the little girls being visible (!) rather than stressing that men are supposed to protect the innocent, not take advantage of them.
But then, a few years ago we were astonished when an Australian Muslim suggested that all unveiled women were asking for trouble:
A senior Muslim cleric in Australia has sparked a furore by comparing women who do not wear a headscarf to "uncovered meat", implying that they invited sexual assault.
Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali delivered his comments in a religious address on adultery to around 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, but they only came to the attention of the wider public when they were published in the Australian paper today.
Sheik Hilali was quoted as saying: "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside ... without cover, and the cats come to eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat's? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab [the headdress worn by some Muslim women], no problem would have occurred."
Sheik Hilali said in a statement he was shocked by reaction to his sermon.
Each of these men appear to be fringe in his views, but they are harkening to an undeniable set of beliefs held by countless others over the centuries who claim to be good Muslims:
- Baby girls can be married, and endure intimate relations as soon as they can bear the weight of a man;*
- Muhammed, the perfect Muslim, was married to a child and consummated the nuptials when she was nine;
- Child marriages are widespread throughout the Muslim world;
- The value of a female hinges on her sexual purity;
- The value of a female is half that of a man;
- Women who don't adopt Islamic covering are asking to be raped;
- Religious families perpetuate degrading views of women, as illustrated by this stunning legal decision after proving statutory rape:
Earlier the court heard how Rashid had ‘little experience of women’ due to his education at an Islamic school in the UK, which cannot be named for legal reasons.
After his arrest, he told a psychologist that he did not know having sex with a 13-year-old was against the law. The court heard he found it was illegal only when he was informed by a family member.
In other interviews with psychologists, Rashid claimed he had been taught in his school that ‘women are no more worthy than a lollipop that has been dropped on the ground’.
In the case alluded to above, the Muslim man lived in Britain, but was always sheltered and formed by Islamic institutions, which led to the judge's suspension of his punishment -- based on his ignorance. He was not culpable because of his Islamic beliefs, which see sexual relations with girls, um, differently.
Lollipops? Uncovered meat? All of these items may be based on misunderstandings, but there's an unfortunate consistency that is founded on the objectification and commodification of women and girls, based on shari'a law, which enshrines both their inequality with men and a foundationally misogynistic relationship between the sexes.
If indeed there is something structural in Islam that allows for this ongoing degradation of women, we cannot let it go unchallenged. Just as scandal committed in the name of other religions is highlighted and discussed, Muslims must answer for these events, and we must discover if they are based on Islamic law or contrary to it. Women deserve better.
* According to Sahih Bukhari:
The ulema [Islam’s interpreters] have agreed that it is permissible for fathers to marry off their small daughters, even if they are in the cradle. But it is not permissible for their husbands to have sex with them unless they are capable of being placed beneath and bearing the weight of the men. And their capability in this regard varies based on their nature and capacity. Aisha was 6 when she married the prophet, but he had sex with her when she was 9 [i.e., when she was deemed capable].
It behooves those who call for setting a minimum age for marriage to fear Allah and not contradict his Sharia, or try to legislate things Allah did not permit. For laws are Allah’s province; and legislation is his exclusive right, to be shared by none other. And among these are the rules governing marriage.