Uzma Mazhar © 2002
Incest and rape are not new in this day and age; these problems
have always existed and will continue to exist if not confronted face on. If you have ever worked with an incest, sexual abuse
or rape survivor you will never be able to forget the devastating impact it has on all aspects of their life, nor will you
be able to sit back and do nothing about this issue. These are serious crimes that corrode the fabric of family and society
and cannot go un-addressed, since these problems do exist in Muslim families it is about time that we address it openly and
take action to put an end to it.
To fully understand this issue we need to examine what Islām
teaches us about the value of human life.
Islām views human life as a sacred gift from God. The Qur’ān
repeatedly stresses the sanctity of life (hurmat al hayat). The life of every single individual regardless of gender, age,
nationality or religion is worthy of respect. In verses referring to the sanctity of life, the term used is ‘nafs’
(soul, life); and there is no distinction made in that soul being young or old, male or female, Muslim or non-muslim.
Sūrah al An'am 6.151:
"Do not take any human being's life,
(the life) which God has declared to be sacred - otherwise than in (the pursuit of) justice: this has He enjoined upon you
so that you might use your reason."
(Also check: Sūrah al Isra 17.33 & Sūrah al Ma'idah 5.32)
Qur’ānic teachings encompass every aspect of life; hence
it does not limit the definition of life to the physical body only, but includes the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects
as well. There are about 150 verses that define the term ‘nafs’ in various ways making it clear that the concept
of ‘life’ is not limited to mere physical existence.
Historically, Islam has addressed serious issues openly and
sought to correct actions that constitute harm or ‘zulm’ (ie: cruelty and abuse) to the dignity of humankind.
Human life and respect for it has been stressed unstintingly, regardless of age or gender. As a general rule, Islām forbids
all ‘zulm’, be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual:
Sūrah al An'am 6.120
”Abandon all harm (ithm), whether
committed openly or in secret.”
(Check Sūrah al A`raf 7:33)
Sūrah al 49:11-12 points out categorically that emotionally
abusive language and behavior is not acceptable.
"You who believe do not let one (set of) people make fun of another set.
Do not defame one another. Do not insult by using nicknames. And do not backbite or speak ill of one another."
In the last address to his community, the Prophet (saw) said:
"Your lives and properties are forbidden to one another till you meet your Lord on the Day of Resurrection… Regard the
life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust… Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you... You will neither inflict
nor suffer any inequity." The Prophet (saw) did not prohibit only the unlawful encroachment of one another’s life and
property, but also honor and respect.
Considering that human life is to be valued and cruelty is
forbidden, what is the Islamic perspective on incest and rape?
According to Islām, a woman has to be respected and protected
under all circumstances, whether she belongs to your own nation or to the nation of an enemy, whether she follows your religion
or belongs to some other religion or has no religion at all. A Muslim cannot outrage her under any circumstances. All promiscuous
relationships have been forbidden to him, irrespective of the status or position of the woman, whether the woman is a willing
or an unwilling partner to the act. The words of the Holy Qur’ān in this respect are: "Do not approach (the bounds of)
adultery" (17:32). Heavy punishment has been prescribed for this crime, and the order has not been qualified by any conditions.
Since the violation of chastity of a woman is forbidden in Islam, a Muslim who perpetrates this crime cannot escape punishment.
The Quran has, in various ways and in different contexts; impressed
on men that they must observe the limits set by God (Hudūd Allah) in respect to women and must not encroach upon their rights
in either marriage or divorce. In all situations it is the men who are reminded, corrected and reprimanded, over and over
again, to be generous to women and to be kind, compassionate, fair and just in their dealings with women. Even in divorce,
when the chances of anger and vindictiveness are high, it is stressed that men are to separate with grace, equity and generosity.
Forbidding cruelty against children and women is apparent from
rulings against female infanticide and rights of inheritance given even to an unborn child; and the kindness mandated even
when divorcing your wife. There are numerous ahādīth about the rights of children to respect and dignity. The same holds true
for respect and the unprecedented rights given to women.
Relevant verses from the Quran:
Sūrah an Nās 4.119
you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will...'
Sūrah an Nūr 24.33
'... And do not, in order to gain some
of the fleeting pleasures of this worldly life, coerce your slave women into whoredom if they are desirous of marriage, and
if anyone should coerce them, then, verily, after they have been compelled (to submit in their helplessness), God will be
much forgiving, a dispenser of grace (to them).
During the time of the Prophet (saw) punishment was inflicted
on the rapist on the solitary evidence of the woman who was raped by him. Wa'il ibn Hujr reports of an incident when a woman
was raped. Later, when some people came by, she identified and accused the man of raping her. They seized him and brought
him to Allah's messenger, who said to the woman, "Go away, for Allāh has forgiven you," but of the man who had raped her,
he said, "Stone him to death." (Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud)
During the time when Umar (raa) was the Khalifah, a woman accused
his son Abu Shahmah of raping her; she brought the infant borne of this incident with her to the mosque and publicly spoke
about what had happened. Umar (raa) asked his son who acknowledged committing the crime and was duly punished right there
and then. There was no punishment given to the woman. (Rauf)
Islamic legal scholars interpret rape as a crime in the category
of Hiraba. In ‘Fiqh-us-Sunnah’, hiraba is described as: ‘a single person or group of people causing public
disruption, killing, forcibly taking property or money, attacking or raping women (hatk al ‘arad), killing cattle, or
The famous jurist, Ibn Hazm, had the widest definition of hiraba,
defining a hiraba offender as: ‘One who puts people in fear on the road, whether or not with a weapon, at night or day,
in urban areas or in open spaces, in the palace of a caliph or a mosque, with or without accomplices, in the desert or in
the village, in a large or small city, with one or more people… making people fear that they’ll be killed, or
have money taken, or be raped (hatk al ‘arad)… whether the attackers are one or many."
Al-Dasuqi held that if a person forced a woman to have sex,
his actions would be deemed as committing hiraba. In addition, the Maliki judge Ibn ‘Arabi, relates a story in which
a group was attacked and a woman in their party was raped. Responding to the argument that the crime did not constitute hiraba
because no money was taken and no weapons used, Ibn ‘Arabi replied indignantly that "hiraba with the private parts"
is much worse than hiraba involving the taking of money, and that anyone would rather be subjected to the latter than the
The crime of rape is classified not as a subcategory of ‘zina’
(consensual adultery), but rather as a separate crime of violence under hiraba. This classification is logical, as the "taking"
is of the victim’s property (the rape victim’s sexual autonomy) by force. In Islam, sexual autonomy and pleasure
is a fundamental right for both women and men (Ghazālī); taking by force someone’s right to control the sexual activity
of one’s body is thus a form of hiraba.
Rape as hiraba is a violent crime that uses sexual intercourse
as a weapon. The focus in a hiraba prosecution is the accused rapist and his intent and physical actions, and not second-guessing
the consent of the rape victim. Hiraba does not require four witnesses to prove the offense, circumstantial evidence, medical
data and expert testimony form the evidence used to prosecute such crimes.
Islamic legal responses to rape are not limited to a criminal
prosecution for hiraba. Islamic jurisprudence also provides an avenue for civil redress for a rape survivor in its law of
"jirah" (wounds). Islamic law designates ownership rights to each part of one’s body, and a right to corresponding compensation
for any harm done unlawfully to any of those parts. Islamic law calls this the ‘law of jirah’ (wounds). Harm to
a sexual organ, therefore, entitles the person harmed to appropriate financial compensation under classical Islamic jirah
jurisprudence. Each school of Islamic law has held that where a woman is harmed through sexual intercourse (some include marital
intercourse), she is entitled to financial compensation for the harm. Further, where this intercourse was without the consent
of the woman, the perpetrator must pay the woman both the basic compensation for the harm, as well as an additional amount
based on the ‘diyya’ (financial compensation for murder, akin to a wrongful death payment).
Islamic law, with its radical introduction of a woman’s
right to own property as a fundamental right, employs a gender-egalitarian attitude in this area of jurisprudence. In fact,
there is a hadith specifically directed to transforming the early Muslim population out of this patriarchal attitude of male
financial compensation for female sexual activity. During the time of Prophet Muhammad, a young man committed zina with his
employer’s wife. The father of the young man gave one hundred goats and a maid as compensation to the employer, who
accepted it. When the case was reported to the Prophet, he ordered the return of the goats and the maid to the young man’s
father and prosecuted the adulterer for zina (Abu Daud 1990, 3: Bk. 33, No. 4430; Bukhāri 1985, 8:Bk. 81, Nos. 815, 821, 826).
Early Islam thus established that there should be no tolerance
of the attitude that a woman’s sexual activity is something to be bartered, pawned, gossiped about, or owned by the
men in her life. Personal responsibility of every human being for their own actions is a fundamental principle in Islamic
The Quran is very clear that the basis of a
marital relationship is love and affection between the spouses, not power or control. Rape is unacceptable in such a relationship.
Sūrah al Baqarah 2.223
'Your wives are your tilth; go then
unto your tilth as you may desire, but first provide something for your souls*, and remain conscious of God, and know that
your are destined to meet Him...'
* Note in Muhammad Asad's translation: 'a spiritual relationship between man and woman
is postulated as the indispensable basis of sexual relations.'
Sūrah ar Rum 30.21
"And among His wonders is this: He creates
for you mates out of your own kind, so that your might incline towards then, and He engenders love and tenderness between
you: in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who think!
Sūrah al Baqarah 2.187
"... They are as a garment for you,
and you are as a garment for them."
Sūrah al Nisa 4.19
"... And consort with your wives in a
goodly manner, for if you dislike them, it may well be that you dislike something which God might yet make a source of abundant
"Is there recognition of marital rape in Islam?
In the context
of jirah, it would appear so: where there is any physical harm or disease caused to a spouse, there may be a claim for jirah
compensation. The law of jirah provides for compensation for physical harm between spouses, and supports Islamic legislation
against domestic abuse. Even in these discussions of appropriate jirah compensation, the question of the injured party’s
consent plays a central role. Some Islamic jurists considered consent to be presumed by virtue of the marital relationship,
while others maintain that where harm occurs, it is an assault, regardless of the consent, and therefore compensation is due.
In our modern era, one might take these precedents and their premium focus on consent and apply the Islamic principle of sexual
autonomy to conclude that any sex without consent is harmful, as a dishonoring of the unwilling party’s sexual autonomy.
Thus, modern Islamic jurists and legislators, taking a gender-egalitarian perspective, might conclude that Islamic law does
recognize marital rape, and assign the appropriate injunctions and compensation for this personally devastating harm." (Qureshi)
An often misquoted and abused hadith that is used to tyrannize
women is that women cannot and should not say no to their husband when he approaches them Women are advised not to turn away
from their husbands except if they have their period or any other reasonable excuse. So much so that she is to break her voluntary
fast if her husband approaches her. And if they do angels will curse them. However, this hadith is not quoted with the complementary
one that advises men of the same consideration.
In the same manner men are advised that meeting the needs of
their wives takes precedence over voluntary worship. Narrated Abdullah bin Amr bin Al-As: "Prophet Muhammad (saw) said, “O
Abdullah! I have been informed that you fast all the day and stand in prayer all night?” I said, ‘Yes, O Allah's
Apostle!’ He said, “Do not do that! Observe the fast sometimes and also leave them at other times, stand up for
the prayer at night and also sleep at night. Your body has a right over you and your wife has a right over you.” (Bukhāri)
To a certain degree these ahādīth are used to confuse and distract
from the issue, since rape does not have anything to do with permission or lack of permission. In a marriage abusive or forced
sexual activity cannot be justified by abusing this hadith. Rape is defined as unwanted, violent and forced sex, whether this
occurs in a marital context or outside it. The definition of rape does not change because of the relationship.
It is important to not confuse the issue of mutual rights that
a couple has on each other with the misguided, distorted and misogynist assumption that women become a husband's property.
Islam does not allow for or tolerate ownership of human beings. Human dignity does not allow that any one person has the right
to own, mind/body/soul, another human being... and Islam demands that all human beings respect the humanity of everyone.
Incest & Child Abuse
The Quran clearly outlines those
with whom marriage is not permitted, we can extrapolate from it that any sexual relation with these would be unacceptable.
Sūrah an Nisa 4:23:
Prohibited for you (in marriage) are
your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, the sisters of your fathers, the sisters of your mothers, the daughters of your
brother, the daughters of your sister, your nursing mothers, the girls who nursed from the same woman as you, the mothers
of your wives, the daughters of your wives with whom you have consummated the marriage - if the marriage has not been consummated,
you may marry the daughter. Also prohibited for you are the women who were married to your genetic sons. Also, you shall not
be married to two sisters at the same time - but do not break up existing marriages. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
This includes your foster parents, siblings and children.
Al Hasan reports: ‘If somebody commits illegal intercourse
with his sister, his punishment is the same as for any other person who commits such a crime’. (Bukhāri Vol. 8 pp 526)
Thus, these same laws mentioned above in cases of rape would
be equally applicable, and incest can be prosecuted as a crime within the bounds of Islamic law.
According to Islam, all aspects of life, ie: the physical,
mental, emotional and spiritual, are sacred and must be respected. No gender or relationship has been given the power or right
to hurt or harm the other. Domestic violence, rape and incest are all violent and criminal abuses that are outside the bounds
of what is permitted in Islam and there is absolutely no justification for it whatsoever.
-Ghazālī; “Ihya Ulum ud Din”
Riffat; “Religious Human Rights in Global Perspective: Religious Perspectives” John Witte, Jr. and Johan D. van
der Vyver Eds. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1996
-Maudoodi, Abu al Ala; “Human Rights in Islam” The Islamic
Foundation UK 1976, 1993
-Qureshi, Asifa LLM; “Her Honor: An Islamic Critique of the Rape Laws of Pakistan from a
-Rahman, Afzal ur; "Role of Muslim Women in Society" Seerah Foundation, London, 1986
Muhammad Abdul; “Umar al Faruq” Al Saadawi Publications, 1998
Abridged version of article published in the September issue
of 'Islāmic Reflections 2002'