I’ve never understood why a rape required four male witnesses in Islamic law. It just seems like the kind of requirement that basically makes a rape very nearly unprosecutable, and to my mind, rapists tend to be the kind of people I really don’t want running around. Rape, in almost all its forms, is a crime rooted in power and control, and there are plenty of examples of rapists who have gone on to bigger and uglier things. But, according to Islam, four male witnesses are required to prove a rape has taken place. Where does this notion come from, and why?
As tragic as it is, witnesses are important in any crime. It certainly isn’t the only thing that can make a rapist pay for his crime these days, with our greater understanding of how to evaluate physical evidence, but a witness is definitely a big deal. But to insist on at least four people to have witnessed the crime means that what I would assume is the lion’s share of rape cases in the Western world would be thrown out. Rape is generally not an overly public crime. Meanwhile, the gender question is quickly laid to rest with an understanding of Islamic law, which holds as true that a woman’s testimony is worth (at most) half of a man’s. I don’t know if that means eight to ten women witnesses would qualify.
Taslima Nasreen explains the need for four male witnesses with quotations from the Quran and the Hadith in a post today on her blog called A foreigner is punished for being raped in Dubai. I’m sure the title alone is enough to give away what she is specifically talking about, the recent case of a Norwegian woman who was raped and sentenced to 16 months in prison for extramarital sex, though her rapist only got 13 months. Obviously, I find that disgusting, but I found the actual explanation quite interesting.
Aisha, the one whom the Prophet took as his bride when she was but a child, was accused of having extramarital sex by some fellow Muslims. And keep in mind, this isn’t just cheating, this is cheating on The Prophet. That would have been a pretty serious allegation. If it were true, then Aisha would have a hell of a comeuppance from the faithful; if it were false, then there were people actively engaged in attempting to defame her and shame The Prophet, which would probably have ended badly. The way Muhammad dealt with it was to basically say, “Naw, she didn’t do that. Allah told me so himself! And hey, how come you didn’t bring four guys to back up your story?”
This wasn’t about a rape, it was about whether or not Aisha had got all slutty behind Muhammad’s back. It definitely seems that the Quran was pretty clear about not putting up with people maliciously accusing people of promiscuity. To do so, and to be caught doing so, is to incur 80 lashes and to never be able to give testimony again. That in itself is a pretty bizarre punishment, in that a man could theoretically still be a witness to or victim of a crime, but now their testimony means nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset about that. A person is as good as their word, and this is someone showing exactly what that means. But the same ruling was imposed for rape, which leads our Norwegian victim to her current predicament. She didn’t have four witnesses, so the charge is changed to Adultery and she goes to jail.
It’s kinda creepy, really.
The good news is, I have decided on a project. I make no guarantees as to whether or not I will succeed with it, nor do I make any guarantees on the awesometasticness of the end product, but I believe I will attempt to write a book or a series of short stories in the film noire style based around religious laws like this and their investigation process. It will either be funny and irreverent or totally depressing. I’m hoping for the former.