The meaning of the word ‘Ulama’ is ‘people of knowledge’. Muslims are brought up to rightly respect scholarship and those who dedicate their lives in search of knowledge. In practice, however, many of those whom we still call ‘ulama’ are, in my view, grounded in a very narrow idea of ‘knowledge’ and are living in quite another world thereby becoming easy targets of atheists such as Richard Dawkins who do not miss the opportunity to make the religious look like fools.
In an interview published last week on The Somosa website, the head of the UK Islamic Shariah Council, Shaykh Abu Sayeed, was asked about his views on marital rape. Abu Sayeed’s response was:
“No,” he replied. “Clearly there cannot be any ‘rape’ within the marriage. Maybe ‘aggression’, maybe ‘indecent activity’.”
He said it was “not Islamic” to classify non-consensual marital sex as rape and prosecute offenders, adding that “to make it exactly as the Western culture demands is as if we are compromising Islamic religion with secular non-Islamic values.”
The Islamic Sharia Council handles very few cases of alleged marital rape – Sheikh Sayeed said there had only been two or three such cases since the Council was founded in 1982. It is therefore unlikely that the Council’s views on this issue, or those of Sheikh Sayeed himself, directly impact upon a significant number of marital rape victims.
Sheikh Sayeed made his opposition to non-consensual marital sex absolutely clear – “of course it is bad, one should not jump on his wife as and when he desires” – but he said that it was wrong to prosecute it as rape:
“It is not an aggression, it is not an assault, it is not some kind of jumping on somebody’s individual right. 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. But that man can be disciplined and can be reprimanded.”
Rather than pursuing miscreants through the criminal justice system, Sheikh Sayeed felt the sharia court was better placed to handle such cases by policing offenders by “Islamic means”. He explained the Council’s approach:
“If such a man comes to us, to ask him not to repeat the same, ask forgiveness from his wife, ask forgiveness from Allah as well, and make a new contract that he would never do it, otherwise his wife will have the liberty to finish the marriage unilaterally. This sort of relief is available.”
By contrast, he said the prosecution of marital rape was due to misguided Western values: “Why it is happening in this society is because they have got this idea of so-called equality, equal rights. And they are misusing these equal rights in every single aspect of human conduct. That’s why. It is one aggression against another, and that is bigger aggression against minor one.
I asked Sheikh Sayeed what he considered to be the “bigger aggression”.
“To call it rape. Rape is a criminal offence in this country; man will end up in prison for three, five years or more.”
So the non-consensual sex is the minor aggression, and calling it rape is the major aggression?
Why is calling it rape a major aggression?
“Because within the marriage contract it is inherent there that man will have sexual intercourse with his wife. Of course, if he does something against her wish or in a bad time etc, then he is not fulfilling the etiquettes, not that he is breaching any code of sharia – he is not coming to that point. He may be disciplined, and he may be made to ask forgiveness. That should be enough.”
Shaykh Abu Sayeed’s comments are woefully misguided and will also be a gift to the likes of the Daily Mail and others who love to incite mischief by portraying the Islamic Shariah Council as being in the vanguard of slyly ‘Islamising’ the UK.
The UK Islamic Shariah Council’s remit only covers civil disputes. Rape – whether within marriage or outside it – is clearly a criminal matter and outside their remit. Abu Sayeed should more properly be advising those women (and men) who say they have been raped to go to the police so that they can properly investigate and take action if necessary.
Update: The Independent has today published a story about Shaykh Abu Sayeed’s remarks.