Any lawyer will tell you that there is great latitude for debating the law in any legal system. The Islamic legal system in no exception. However, certain interpretations of the law are an embarrassing absurdity, and the case of the woman known only as “the Girl of Qatif” is made all the more disgraceful in that the interpretation is made by the self-appointed guardians of the shariah.
The Girl of Qatif was the victim of a gang rape. The Saudi courts convicted the men who brutalized her, but also sentenced her to 90 lashes on the grounds that she had been alone with a strange man. Neither the Qur’an nor the sunnah (the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) admit of penalizing someone for adultery merely for being in the presence of a stranger of the opposite sex, so her attorney quite properly filed an appeal. On appeal her sentence was more than doubled and her attorney lost his license on the spurious grounds of malpractice!
For non-Muslims to fully appreciate what a total perversion of Islamic justice is involved here, they need to know about an earlier case of a woman persecuted for being alone with a strange man. That woman was the Prophet’s beloved wife Aisha (may God be pleased with her).
Accompanying the Prophet on an expedition, she left the litter on which she was being carried to answer the call of nature. She was delayed in her return by her search for a lost necklace. She finally arrived back at camp to discover that the travelers had left without her. (She was a small woman and the litter-carriers did not notice that she was not inside.) As is appropriate for a lost person, she stayed where she was until someone would notice her absence and return for her. She fell asleep and was discovered by a soldier trailing behind, who let her ride his camel while he led the animal on to catch up with the rest of the army. The poor girl found herself the object of vicious gossip as to what must have happened when she was alone with the soldier. She later said of their slander, “whoever was meant for destruction, fell into destruction,” but the weight of the accusations fell hard on her and she suffered a prolonged illness and spent two nights and a day in weeping, as she reported, “until I thought my liver would burst.” Even some of the Prophet’s closest companions spoke to him about divorcing her, but others, like the brave Saudi lawyer, spoke out against letting indiscretion be taken for faithlessness.
Finally, the Prophet approached Aisha directly, saying, “O Aisha! I have been informed such-and-such about you; if you are innocent, then Allah will soon reveal your innocence, and if you have committed a sin, then repent to Allah and ask Him to forgive you, for when a person confesses his sin and asks Allah for forgiveness, Allah accepts his repentance.” Even her own parents would not speak in her defense. Like our brave little girl from Qatif, Aisha refused to be intimidated. She said, “I know, by Allah, that you have listened to what people are saying and that has been planted in your minds and you have taken it as a truth. Now, if I told you that I am innocent and Allah knows that I am innocent, you would not believe me and if I confessed to you falsely that I am guilty, and Allah knows that I am innocent you would believe me. By Allah, I don’t compare my situation with you except to the situation of Joseph’s father (i.e., Jacob) who said, ‘So (for me) patience is most fitting against that which you assert and it is Allah (Alone) whose help can be sought.’”
When her innocence was ultimately vindicated, her parents urged Aisha to go to the Messenger of God, but the girl’s bold response was, “By Allah I will not go to him and will not thank (any) except Allah.” The text of the Qur’an itself condones Aisha’s bravery and patient constancy, asking, “Why did not Believers men and women when you heard of the affair put the best construction on it in their own minds and say ‘This (charge) is an obvious lie?’ Why did they not bring four witnesses to prove it? When they have not brought the witnesses such men in the sight of God (stand forth) themselves as liars! Were it not for the grace and mercy of God on you in this world and the Hereafter a grievous penalty would have seized you in that you rushed glibly into this affair. Behold you received it on your tongues and said out of your mouths things of which you had no knowledge; and you thought it to be a light matter while it was most serious in the sight of God. And why did you not when you heard it say ‘It is not right of us to speak of this: Glory to God! This is a most serious slander!’ God admonishes you that you may never repeat such (conduct) if you are (true) Believers.” (24:12-17).
We implore the Saudis to side with Aisha and the Qur’an, and with the Girl of Qatif and her attorney, against the gossips and the perverters of Islamic law.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute