As more horrific statistics of rape and brutality against the vulnerable in our country come to the fore it is obvious we face an undeclared war. It is not enough to voice solidarity with the recruiting agencies of disgust, repugnance, hashtags, placards, marches or colour-coded outfits, but a closer examination of how we’ve got here, as well as the implementation of the very least to rid this evil from the water and soil that nurtures our roots.
‘No context and no degree of suffering and humiliation justifies rape or other forms of abuse. In every context – the drunken party; the possibility for impunity that comes with the power of the police officer, the priest, the boss, the professor or the rich man; the corrosive desperation of poverty - there are men who don't rape and men who oppose rape. There is always a choice.’ [From Delhi to Bredasdorp - Richard Pithouse]
Islam has a clear stance on this issue. Rape is haraam. The punishment for rape in Islam is severe and misinformation about victims having to provide four witnesses to pronounce sentencing against the rapist needs repelling. Likewise within some cultures women are forced to marry their rapists. While Islam does allow for flexibility with regards cultural norms, these cease when those norms contradict or subvert the sacredness of its core belief system. As such, marriage is a union of togetherness based on mutual love and congruence. Compelling a rape victim (as done in some cultures) to be married to her attacker is the antithesis to the purpose of marriage in Islam, hence reprehensible.
An Islamic court has the option to sentence a rapist to one of four punishments: ‘…killed, or crucified, or their hands and their feet be cut off from opposite sides, or be exiled from the land… Al Qur’an 5:33.’
This inverted approach, the sentence as a deterrent before discussion on what causes this breakdown, need obviously be exercised within the parameters of a functioning Shariah system, and not allocated as isolated vigilante justice parading as ‘shariah law’.
Insofar as ridding this evil from our own communities we need only analyse the mission of salaam – the Islamic greeting. ‘Do you know what salaam is‘ Imam ibn Uyaynah asks? ‘By uttering the word ‘Peace’ the greeter declares to whom he/she greets that they are safe from the mischief or evil of their hands and tongue.’ Ibn Arabi goes further in Ahkaamul Quran: The word Salaam is one of the good names of Almighty Allah, hence Asalaamu Alaykum means that Allah is now guard, guardian and caretaker over you. Completely translated the greeting Asalaamu alaykum means: May you remain safe from every pain, sorrow and distress. [Ma’ariful Qur’an Vol 2 4:85-87].
If the very inception of contact between two people is this declaration, how does one justify harming, let alone abusing another? ‘Nearest to Allah is the one who initiates the salaam’ our beloved Nabi (pbuh) reminded us. Translated into this context it means that to offer the protection a salaam encapsulates we take it upon ourselves to harness runaway thoughts, misguided anger and an unwarranted temper. It means that if there be need to expel pent sexual frustration or control over the weak we develop the fear of One who holds the key to Justice.
As the motivations of sexual violence are multi-faceted and contested, ranging from socioeconomic to subjugating war tactics, the sex industry to even evolutionary pressures we cannot ignore prevalent attitudes and practices worldwide that condone and normalize sexual violence especially via the media. Among these sexual objectification tops the list.
One may argue that the rape and sodomising of 9-month-old baby Tshepang in South Africa in October 2001 was linked to Aids myths not the objectification of women as one may argue that 17 yr old Anene Booysens murderers’ had vicious personal and socio economic impetus (leading back to apartheid) to attack her, and the Serbians enslavement of Muslim women at rape camps was genocidal and not objectification of women. If by and large we keep arguing and analyzing the causes and not implementing the prevention methodologies laid out by religious texts we may as well be fighting a progressively degenerate battle.
Religiosity to a great extent has been removed from our national debates. We are of course a free society. If however Quranic or Biblical or whatever religious texts are not followed, we wade deeper into a murky pool of unknown ‘human values’. This is problematic because not all humans are wired the same way. A man’s yes, may mean a woman’s no. While the fear of hell may not be the ideal way to instill values of mutual respect and a humane code of conduct, its converse is appealing to the grateful awe and love we owe Allah.
On that note the study and deep reflection of what it means to be a human on earth; what our purpose is here; what code of conduct is to be exercised toward members of the opposite sex and toward our children; choosing our company and role models correctly; all tie in with the essentially African concept of uBuntu and the Islamic principle of self-autonomy. The understanding of why we’re made ‘answerable’ via the two recording angels for all our deeds from the age of puberty leads to the dynamic concept of personal responsibility and trashes the shifting of blame. Relegating these discussions to [fluffy] discourses at masajid we attend once a week or in the pile of what Molvi’s have been trying to preach relentlessly is our problem. Instead we’ve decided that the Molvi’s are the problem because they do not deliver the word in a captivating enough manner! Actions have consequences. If Allah’s laws are ignored or misconstrued to suit personal gain there are consequences.
Lastly, there should be no false allegiances to perpetrators of such despicable crimes. They must be named and shamed. This is our communal responsibility. As we are reminded in the teachings of our beloved Nabi (pbuh): Stop evil with your hands if you can, if not then by speaking up, if not then within your heart. And just within your conscience is the lowest degree of Ieman.