Pakistani Rape Laws: An Unholy Hybrid

Over the past weeks and months Pakistan has been embroiled in a debate over changes to the “Hudood Ordinances,” which, among other things, require a woman to provide four eyewitnesses to complain about rape—lacking the four witnesses, she may then be tried for perjury and/or adultery. The institution of the required four witnesses to prove adultery was implemented to promote justice for women who were falsely accused of adultery. But what once was a justice for women, has been turned into a complete and utter injustice. Happily, this week, Pakistan’s parliament passed legislation to amend this injustice.

However, I am ashamed and embarrassed to say that so-called “Islamists” have rejected this legislation. As a practicing Muslim woman, I reject calling these representatives “Islamists” or “pro-Islamic.” Instead, I will refer to them as “Tribalists,” since what they are trying to protect are tribal customs rather than Islamic law.

The new legislation pertaining to rape removes it from the sole jurisdiction of the Shariah system and adds it to the civil code while still remaining a part of the Shariah system. This would distance rape from adultery and place it in the same realm as murder and assault. This will allow women to seek justice without four witnesses and will allow forensic evidence to be used.

I would agree with the “women’s activists” (although, I reject placing “Islam” against “women’s activists,” since the Prophet [pbuh], himself, was one of the biggest proponents of women’s rights) that rape needs to be completely separated from adultery, in fact this is a position supported by “true” Islamic Law.

Yet, the Tribalists continue to protest these changes by threatening to resign and hold mass protests. One female Tribalist represented in the Parliament went so far as to say, “The Hudood Ordinance was devised by a highly qualified group of ulema (Islamic scholars), and is beyond question.” Unfortunately, this is how Tribalist view Islam: what scholars say is beyond question, despite the fact that even the Qur’an is not beyond question. Allah challenges people to find contradiction and falsity in the Qur’an (yet, of course, it is a fruitless search). The fact is that the “Hudood Ordinances” are an unholy hybrid of Islamic law and British common law. The classification of rape as a sex crime rather than a crime of aggression (as it is classified in Islamic law) was taken from British law and the requirement of four eyewitnesses was then tacked on as Islamic law requires for sex crimes (where considerations of right of privacy trump accusations of illicit sexuality).

Moreover, the Tribalists are now also objecting to another legislation that “aimed at ending the practice of women being married off as compensation in murder cases and forced marriage.” Again, the Tribalists are distancing themselves from Islam by objecting to this legislation which is in line with the Islamic prohibition of forced marriages.

I am disheartened that the reputation of Islam is being tarnished by these Tribalists. And I am angry that women are again being used as a pawn in a political battle between Tribalists and secularists. We must remember that in this debate, women, who have been victimized once by the crime of rape and again by a lack of justice, are suffering. May Allah give them strength, courage and justice. Amîn.

-Sarah Swick, Minaret of Freedom Institute






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