Marriage in Islam and the Exploitation of Women

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Hasan talking a still with his wives and children in England. Polygamous marriages in the West are more frequent than what we may think. (Photo: Channel 4 UK)

Many women, especially in countries where sharia is the law of the land, are forced into marriages against their own will; a woman has no say as to who her husband will be since he is preselected by a male within her family. Such marriages, according to human rights activist and former Muslim Sandra Solomon, are nothing else than “institutionalized ” or legitimized abuse of children, as with the North Sudanese Noura Hussein who in 2015 was forced to marry at the age of fifteen. After fleeing and hiding from her spouse for three years, she was returned to him by her own family. The husband, with the help of his brother and two other men, then raped her. When Hussein’s husband tried to rape her a second time, she fatally stabbed him in self-defense, for which she was sentenced to death. The decision was eventually overturned in favor of five years’ imprisonment and financial compensation, customarily known as Diya or “blood money”, to the tune of about $8,400.

As I detail at length in my book Islam: Religion of Peace? — The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up, marriage in Islam, which is not exclusively monogamous, is founded on the reciprocal natural interest between the parties. While the husband has a duty to provide nafaka (maintenance) to his wife as long as the marriage lasts, she has a duty to obey and respect him, which is often materialized in yielding to her husband’s sexual desires. If she fails in her “duty to obey and respect” him, then he has the right to correct and punish his wife. Physical correction is to be used “after using words and withholding conjugal relations has failed to restore marital harmony.” Harmony in this sense would seem to be, from our Western comprehension, submission of a wife to her husband’s carnal gratification: “Men are in charge of women by what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in absence what Allah would have them guard. But those from whom you fear arrogance – advise them; forsake them in bed; and, strike them. But if they obey you, seek no means against them.” (Sura 4, 34) What is sad is that in most cases when physically beaten by their husbands, the women believe they have done something wrong .

While the raping of a woman is a crime in all countries, sharia courts in Islamic states, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Libya allow a rapist to escape punishment by marrying his victim. In other instances, the victim who asks for justice is often prosecuted with the crime of zina (adultery). This is because since the sharia does not allow forensic evidence to be used, such as DNA; rape can only be proven if the rapist admits to the crime or if there are four male witnesses who corroborate the woman’s testimony. If the rape is not proven, as it often appears to be the case, the woman’s complaint then becomes a confession of adultery, for which she can be flogged or stoned. The male aggressor remains unpunished, since he never admitted to a sexual act.

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Woman in Saudi Arabia being punished for adultery. (Photo: Flickr)

In some Islamic countries, such as North Sudan where the legal age of marriage is ten, marital rape is not against the law. This is why the aforementioned Noura Hussein was sentenced to death. In Western nations, as well as those Muslim ones that do not operate under the sharia, Hussein’s husband would have been arrested and tried in court for the crime of forced sexual assault. Yet, in other Islamic states rape can go unpunished because it was permitted by Allah in the Quran: “The believers must (eventually) win through, those who humble themselves in their prayers…they guard their private parts [abstaining from sexual relations], except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right hands possess, for (in their case) they are free from blame.” (Sura 23, 1–6)

Since a male is believed to possess a superior intellect, meaning females cannot decipher for themselves, it is only logical that they need to be under the custody of their husbands. Under this rationale, with respect to marriage, a man can have up to four wives but not vice versa:And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those [which] your right hand possesses [slaves]. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice].” (Sura 4, 3)

A Westerner may say: “What has this to with us? This only exists in Muslim countries.” Whether a surprise or not, this is already being observed and protected in certain parts of the United States and Western Europe where the sharia operates in the shadow of the official legal system. Imams, for example, who administer sharia law with impunity many times do not recognize a female’s capacity to exercised her right to divorce even if she is being abused by her spouse. In Germany, for example, to the website Einwanderungskritik, a district court has cited sharia law to validate a Syrian immigrant’s marriage to a 14-year-old girl. An act that would land a native German man in prison for child molestation is being sanctioned by the court as a valid “marriage,” simply because it as recognized as such by Islamic law. We have a duty to defend the unfortunate since, at least for the time being, we have political clout. While politicians (and churchmen) may ignore such horrors in order to maintain their political and economic power, remaining silent when we could at least make our voices heard would be complying with such injustices.