"Sexual violence in conflict needs to be treated as the war crime that it is; it can no longer be treated as an unfortunate collateral damage of war."
-- UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms. Zainab Hawa Bangura
Rape is a most heinous crime with absolutely zero justification in Islam. Period. An August 13, 2015, the New York Times article, "ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape," by Rukmini Callimachi about 21 religious Yazidi minority women that were raped by members of the terrorist cult, ISIS, has people talking. The author heavyhandedly ascribes these horrific crimes to having basis in theology since ISIS claims these actions to be based in their religion. No matter what justification rapists and murderers apply to their wickedness - it does not change the reality that sexual violence is a common thread in conflict worldwide dating back centuries. By focusing on some sort of warped analysis of justifying the crime - we are giving voice to the monsters who perpetrate it while at the same time, taking away the voice of the victims. More than anything, the 21 anonymous victims in the New York Times article served to magnify the voices of their rapists and have people buzzing about theology, blaming Islamic doctrine for inspiring the unimaginable.
Where is the buzz about steps that are being taken to stop the sexual violence against Yazidi minority women? Where is the buzz about the fact that sexual violence in conflict continues to be accepted as "collateral damage" in all forms of conflict all over the world? When will the focus be on the victims and their inalienable right to be protected from sexual assault wherever they live no matter what political instability is happening in their region of the world? When will the stigma be removed from victims and placed onto their perpetrators?
I'll get to the part where I prove that Islam does not teach or condone atrocities against humanity as all of us Muslim authors apologetically do from time to time when these stories pop up - but first - I want to look at sexual violence in conflict as a whole - statistically and realistically.
• Between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped during the three months of genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
UN agencies estimate that:
• More than 60,000 women were raped during the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002).
• More than 40,000 women were raped in Liberia (1989-2003).
• Up to 60,000 women were raped in the former Yugoslavia (1992-1995).
• At least 200,000 women were raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1998.
The United States military is not immune to the sexual assault problem that plagues conflict (and non-conflict) zones. According to Military Times citing 2014 data released by the Defense Department and the Rand Corp.,
Preliminary findings of an extensive survey of 170,000 troops... revealed that 20,000 service members said they had experienced at least one incident of unwanted sexual contact in the past year, representing nearly five percent of all active-duty women and one percent of active-duty men.
The Rand Corp. also indicated: "Nearly half the assaults reported by women and 35 percent reported by men were "penetrative sexual assaults" -- crimes that include rape and penetration with an object."
I'm not even going to begin to dissect numbers regarding sexual assaults by military personnel against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion or bring up the sore spot of sexual torture at Abu Ghraib. There is obviously a serious plague in our day and time surrounding the willful, head-in-the-sand insolence we espouse regarding the hundreds of thousands of sexual assault victims that pay the brunt of the price for the war industry and its fallout conflicts (i.e. ISIS) globally.
Back to ISIS claiming Islam condones rape.
I defer to my scholarly friend, Abu Amina Elias, and his blog, Faith in Allah, where he addressed this issue head on in his piece, "There is no theology of rape in Islam."
Islam has forbidden rape and sexual abuse since the time of the Prophet until today. Allegations by anti-Muslim activists are only buttressed by the appalling criminal behavior of terrorist groups acting in the name of Islam who use rape as a weapon of war. Rape by itself an atrocity, but it is made even worse, tantamount to idolatry, when it is falsely justified in the name of Allah and His Messenger.
The Prophet set the precedent that rape should not be tolerated in Muslim society. A man in his time was caught after he raped a woman and he was given the legal punishment for adultery, the maximum of which is the death penalty.
Abu Alqama reported: A woman went out to pray during the time of the Prophet and she was met by a man who attacked her and raped her. She said, "This man has molested me!" The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: He is condemned to death. Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 1454, Grade: Sahih
The righteous Caliphs who succeeded the Prophet continued this policy of legal punishment for the crime of rape. The victim of rape would not be punished regardless of the circumstances.
Elias provides further citations in this article of the true criminal nature of sexual assault within the context of Islamic theology as well as calling out the cherry-picking, non-contextual arguments of anti-Muslim activists and Muslim extremists and their reliance on an ignorant audience to justify their crimes. He provides further testimony in his video piece, "Concubines, Rape and Sexual Slavery in Islam."
Muslim writers, activists and followers at large are happy to discuss the teachings of Islam by those who come to the discussion in good faith and with the goal of seeking truth. But the greater context of the topics at hand as in this case, sexual crimes in conflict, should be addressed as a whole in how they affect victims in the world at large - not in a way that pigeonholes an entire faith and their 1.6 billion followers into a demented and twisted version of our faith. And to the armchair anti-Muslims who spread vitriol online by parroting the terrorists themselves or cherry-picking Islamic doctrine that they know absolutely nothing about, I remind you that many scholars and followers of Islam are happy to talk to you about the truth whenever you are ready to release the grip of your own biases.
As for the voiceless victims of sexual crimes worldwide, the United Nations Security Council has worked on raising awareness and creating resolutions to protect victims such as Security Council resolution 1889 (2009) (reaffirming resolution 1325) which "condemned continuing sexual violence against women in conflict situations, and urged UN Member States and civil society to consider the need for protection and empowerment of women and girls, including those associated with armed groups, in post-conflict programming."
According to the UN website, in 2008, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched UNiTE to End Violence against Women - "a campaign to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls in all parts of the world, in times of war and peace. The campaign brings together a host of UN agencies and joins forces with individuals, civil society and governments to put an end to violence against women in all its forms."
The RINJ Foundation addresses impunity and identification of perpetrators of rape in armed conflicts and war. The RINJ Foundation's rape cases from Syria and Iraq "prove a pattern of genocide and will lead to a conviction of genocide against the Islamic State, in the International Criminal Court, a permanent international tribunal to prosecute individuals for war-time rape, genocide, crimes against humanity, and aggression." Visit RINJ Foundation here and help make a difference.
We must stop stigmatizing victims and must make their rights and safety the main priority. Let's collectively condemn extremists that distort religion to justify war crimes such as rape; and, let's collectively condemn the exploitation of victims of sexual crimes to forward anti-Muslim or anti-religious rhetoric, thereby providing a sick and twisted platform for the war criminals themselves.