No such thing as marital rape says head of UK Shariah Council

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?

“Yes”

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.

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9 Responses to No such thing as marital rape says head of UK Shariah Council

  1. 'Uthmān says:

    If what he said is wrong, it might be a good idea to find out what other Islamic scholars have to say about it such as Haitham al-Haddad and Abu Eesa Niamatullah with whom Engage have co-operated in the past. In doing so, these views can be refuted from on the basis of orthodox Islamic scholarship which would strengthen the case against it. If it’s wrong, that is.

  2. Uthman: Do you really need a ‘scholar’ to tell you that forcing anyone to have sex with you – whether it is your wife/husband or not – is totally wrong and immoral?

    • Usayd says:

      Exactly, I can’t believe how ridiculous this is. Humanity trumps scholarship.

      And it is a fact that this happens a lot in marriages. Yes, dare I say it, Muslim marriages.

  3. 'Uthmān says:

    As-salaamu ‘alaykum Br. Inayat,

    Thanks for replying. On the face of it, such a thing does indeed sound horrific.

    But then again, so would statements such as “the testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man’s” and “women inherit half the amount that men do”. If I were to read these latter statements (without knowing what I know), I would think that they could not possibly be reasonably justified. However, when they are explained in their proper context, the statements actually make complete sense. This highlights to me that there are some things in Islam that NEED to be explained so that we can understand them even though they may sound horrific and completely unjustifiable at first.

    I’m not saying that’s definitely the case here but that it MIGHT be and that’s why I would prefer to consult an Islamic scholar who I trust first before writing him off completely in case there turns out to be a reasonable explanation for what this person said which he might not have articulated very well. Do you see where I’m coming from?

  4. 'Uthmān says:

    Sorry for the essay. Just to re-iterate, I’m not saying that what he said is right. I’m saying that I don’t know, but I’d rather not condemn him until I find out what other scholars who I deem to be trustworthy have to say about it because it could be one of those issues that has a reasonable explanation which can only be understood in context. I hope you see where I’m coming from, even if you disagree.

    • nus says:

      I like the way you put that. Everything has to be in context. Especially in the current hostile climate towards all things Muslim!

  5. 'Uthmān says:

    As-salaamu ‘alaykum Br. Inayat,

    I haven’t actually read the following article in full (yet) but I think it might be relevant: http://www.1stethical.com/2010/10/on-shariah-and-marital-rape-dr-sherman-jackson/

  6. AA Uthman: No – that article shed no light for me whatsoever on the comments made by Shaykh Abu Sayeed. Sex through coercion is morally reprehensible and is rightly regarded as a criminal act in the UK. I think it is a disgrace that the head of the Islamic Shariah Council does not think that marital rape should be viewed as a criminal act and it says much about the current appalling state of Islamic jurisprudence.

  7. A_Shah says:

    Absolutely ridiculous. Non-consensual sex is rape, and I for once don’t give a rats’ fart about what this so-called scholar has to say. When you force someone to have sex – the majority 99.999% dare I say are women – you are not only inflicting physical damage that may lead to vaginismus, but also emotional turmoil. How can anyone validate this with a clear conscience? It disgusts me.

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