If the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse revelations shocked you, then you’re dangerously ignorant to reality. According to RAINN, an American is assaulted every 98 seconds, one out of every six women will deal with rape or attempted rape in her lifetime, and 90 per cent of rape victims are women.
I’m a Muslim, and a civil rights lawyer with a special interest in advocating for women’s rights. My advocacy is informed not just by the law, but by strategies detailed in Islamic teachings and Prophet Muhammad’s example to pre-empt sexual abuse. Yes, the cancer of sexual abuse against women that we see in Christian majority America is just as prevalent in Muslim majority Pakistan, but also in Hindu majority India and state atheist China. This proves that men worldwide are failing in our responsibility to end sexual abuse and gender based violence.
Let’s start by understanding two facts. First, a woman’s attire, alcohol intake, marital status, and education level do not contribute to sexual abuse – abusive men do. Second, sexual abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Every level of society – social norms, media, and Government – is complicit in promoting the rape culture that perpetuates sexual abuse.
Social norms demonise a woman for speaking out, victim-blaming her by asking what she was wearing, whether she gave signals inviting abuse, or asking why she didn’t speak up sooner.
The media also advances rape culture by disregarding women and their voices. Why didn’t the allegations against Weinstein gain clout when Rose McGowan screamed them from the top of her lungs years ago? Why has society advanced people like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Aisles, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, and even our Commander in Chief to the pinnacle of success, despite the decades long testimony of sexual abuse and rape from dozens of women?
How can we rely on government when 97 per cent of rapists never see a day in prison, judges punish rape of an unconscious college woman with a measly three months in jail, award rapists with equal custody of the child born from a woman they raped, and the US Department of Education rolls back rules that protect women in college from sexual assault?
The fact is that states are not moral actors – people are. But when people let bad behavior go unchallenged we inch closer to societal anarchy. In truth, any expectation that we can simply pass a law to stop sexual abuse is foolish.
Despite laws in France that criminalise sexual harassment, an astounding 100 per cent of French Parisian women on public transit report sexual harassment. France’s proposed response is legislation to ban cat-calling. Such legislation, if passed, will also fail because state laws only punish the actor once the act is completed, they don’t prevent the act in the first place. This scenario plays out repeatedly worldwide, whether we’re discussing “revenge porn”, gender based violence, or sexual harassment in the workplace.
This is where Islamic teachings and Prophet Muhammad’s example provide a solution that no state truly can. And while there are people who don’t believe that sexual abuse is even a problem, some on the left will disagree that accountability to a higher power is a solution.
This is a reasonable argument, in part, due to the hypocrisy of allegedly religious men like Congressman Tim Murphy, who condemns abortion and infidelity, yet was caught encouraging his mistress to have one, or former Indiana GOP chair Rick Halvorsen who was convicted of incest. Yes, Islam implores accountability to the creator, but rather than preach empty dogmatic theories, Islam instead prescribes a proven secular model.
In a recent internationally broadcast lecture given live before roughly 6,000 Muslim women, the Khalifa of Islam said, “Chapter four, verse two of the Holy Quran…clarifies that women were not created out of the body of a man or from his rib. Rather, the Quran testifies to the fact that men and women were created from a single soul and are of the same kind and species.”
Thus, the Quran 4:2 first establishes men and women as equal beings. Chapter 4:20 then forbids men from forcing a woman to act against her will, thereby ensuring women maintain autonomy and self-determination.
This verse also commands men to consort with women in kindness, forbidding men from so much as thinking ill of their wives. This preempts emotional and mental abuse. Chapter 4:35 furthermore prevents violence against women by forcing men to control themselves and never resort to physically harming women– preempting physical abuse.
The Quran further obliges men to provide for a woman’s every financial need, while holding that anything a woman earns is hers alone – preempting financial abuse. And when it comes to the Islamic concept of Hijab, it is men who are first commanded to never gawk at women, and instead guard their private parts and chastity, regardless of how women choose to dress – pre-empting sexual abuse.
Prophet Muhammad himself illustrated this point. In a famous incident, a woman described as strikingly beautiful approached the Prophet to seek his guidance on some religious matters. The Prophet’s companion, Al Fadl, began to stare at her because of her beauty. Noting this, the Prophet Muhammad did not scold the woman for her attire, but instead, he “reached his hand backwards, catching Al Fadl’s chin, and turned his face to the other side so that he would not gaze at her”.
Accordingly, the Prophet Muhammad by example demonstrated that the burden of modesty, respect, and combating abuse of women rests on men. Indeed, men must take the lead in stopping such sexual abuse. After all, while the Quran obliges women to dress modestly as a covenant with God, Islam prescribes no punishment whatsoever for women who choose to dress otherwise.
On the contrary, on numerous occasions Prophet Muhammad punished an accused rapist on the testimony of the rape survivor alone. In this environment of gender equity, women in Islam riseto the rank of legal scholars, warriors, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists while lovingly embracing identities as mothers and housewives.
Weinstein is a symptom of the greater disease of arrogance, unaccountability, societal apathy, and from men who knew of the abuse but did nothing. Islam and Prophet Muhammad provide a practical solution.
Sexual abuse of women will markedly decrease when men stop abusing women and when men stop thinking that just because they haven’t personally abused women, they have no further obligations. According to Islam, every man is accountable to stop abuse of women—by their word and by their acts. Many abusers like Weinstein walk our streets, terrorizing our neighbors. Together, we can employ a proven Islamic model that will stop this madness, and re-invoke gender equity today in America, and the world.