When the subject of marriage and “wifely duties” came up around the kitchen table clustered by tea-drinking chit-chatting aunties of a generation ago, there were a number of asserted opinions that certainly shocked these American ears.
One of the things that really surprised me was the general consensus that a wife has to (for lack of a better term) “put out” whenever her husband wants it. Nodding heads seconded the opinion, agreeing that it was a part of marriage and if he didn’t get it at home, he’d get it elsewhere.
I was horrified. But then I remembered that this was an older generation and their opinions were not that far off from early American/Western society. Some societies have progressed, and some are clearly taking longer.
But where was this general opinion coming from? Sure, culture played a part but what about faith? In reading the Quran, the proprietary attitude reserved for women in too many instances certainly doesn’t leave any room for negotiation within the faith. And yes, while there are a number of instances where the Quran grants greater protection and rights to women than they were given in a pre-Islamic era, it certainly isn’t enough that we somehow happily accept what little we were given. If the rights were revolutionary in that time, they’re antiquated in our time.
A combination of common sense and forward thinking in the newer generation of Muslims finds these outdated expectations ridiculous; most of us know better by now, but surprisingly many still fall within the mental bear clamp that comes with unquestioned faith.
Add to this the fact that all too many clerics assert that rape is impossible in a marriage, and we begin seeing why even in our generation the trending belief continues to thrive. While I know a handful of Muslim scholars and clerics who would disagree, unfortunately they’re a slim margin compared to the many beard-stroking sharia law invoking type.
According to Sheikh Sayeed, president of the Islamic Sharia Council in Britain,
“‘Clearly there cannot be any rape within the marriage. Maybe aggression, maybe indecent activity… Because when they got married, the understanding was that sexual intercourse was part of the marriage, so there cannot be anything against sex in marriage. Of course, if it happened without her desire, that is no good, that is not desirable.’ Later he told this newspaper: ]In Islamic sharia, rape is adultery by force. So long as the woman is his wife, it cannot be termed as rape. It is reprehensible, but we do not call it rape.’
This type of backwards thinking allows the atrocities committed in the name of honor and faith – such as women in the Middle East being forced to marry their rapist so that technically it wouldn’t be rape anymore.
This type of thinking proliferated within the community is what keeps abused women in silence, who otherwise not only don’t transgress their community but also don’t transgress the ‘teachings’ of their imam. Very few of them would have or do study the Quran in any context to be able to question what they’re being told.
But to respond to Sheikh Sayeed, yes sex is a part of marriage but marriage itself doesn’t turn a woman (or a man) into a commodity to be used as pleased by the other partner. Marriage itself is premised more in emotional relationships than physical ones, with physical ones being secondary. A man must continue to cultivate the emotional relationship rather than view his wife as a tool of convenience and satisfaction.
And even if this outdated thinking genuinely is in agreement with Islamic law, then let me remind Sheikh Sayeed and others like him that you’re not living in an Islamic nation. In the UK, rape within marriage was made illegal in 1991. In the United States, rape is considered a sexual act that occurs without consent.
U.S. law also doesn’t recognize cultural context as an excuse for rape. There was a case that took place in California around the 1960’s or 1970’s, the name escapes me, where a college student from Eastern Europe/Western Asia kidnapped a student despite her protests, took her home, and raped her. His defense lay in cultural context, arguing that where he’s from this was a standard practice for acquiring a bride. The judge didn’t buy it and a wonderful precedent against cultural context was established.
Ultimately all signifiers, such law and common decency, point to the fact that rape is possible within marriage.
Sheikh Sayeed types and their thinking isn’t limited to the UK or the Middle East alone. The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America had released a similar statement where concurred with Sheikh Sayeed’s opinion, arguing
For a wife to abandon the bed of her husband without excuse is haram [forbidden]. It is one of the major sins and the angels curse her until the morning as we have been informed by the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). She is considered nashiz (rebellious) under these circumstances. As for the issue of forcing a wife to have sex, if she refuses, this would not be called rape, even though it goes against natural instincts and destroys love and mercy, and there is a great sin upon the wife who refuses; and Allah Almighty is more exalted and more knowledgeable.
The only thing that we can do as a Western society is completely disregard these groups as long as they’re spearheaded by such flawed leadership. Don’t give them credibility. Don’t invite them to speak. Don’t give them the time of day. Disregard them completely and instead support reformist Muslims so that they may actively counter and challenge proponents of dogmatic Sharia law.
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