Muslims Need A New Sexual Ethic That Upholds Consent

Earlier this month, Tariq Ramadan, a very popular Muslim academic, was accused of rape. Most recently, a second woman accused him of rape and a third of sexual abuse.

This comes after Nouman Ali Khan, a popular preacher, was accused of inappropriate behaviour with female students. All of this is not news as the misconduct of several Muslim scholars, preachers and academics has been well observed.

Yet, their fans vehemently defended them.

Some expressed that the women who brought forth the allegations were seeking attention. Others cautioned Muslims against gossip and questioned the character of the women. There was also a comment that “she deserved it.”

This is misogyny at its finest. When coupled with religious teachings espoused by neo-traditionalist Muslim academics and preachers, it becomes toxic.

Such academics claim that consent is irrelevant. Additionally, they clamp down allegations severely, as they view them through the lens of slander, which is one of the five crimes whose punishment is prescribed in the Quran.

We need sex education that goes beyond washing after bodily discharges to talk about consent.

In Pakistan, many raped women have been imprisoned on charges of adultery. The case of Saudi Arabia is no different. Such punitive legislation has only added to a culture of victim blaming, which shames women into silence.

It is therefore, not surprising that grandmothers and mothers have hushed cases of abuse.

The women who brought forth these allegations against celebrity preachers would have been silenced had they gone to neo-traditional authorities for help. This is because of the teaching to not uncover the sins of a respectable person in the Muslim community.

No wonder another Muslim scholar, Habib Ali Jifry, has harrowingly expressed: “And when a woman speaks out to demand her rights, she is silenced. … the community looks at her like she is betraying them. … And so the victim becomes the criminal. … Why do you find it strange when a Muslim woman goes to get her rights from other organizations? You haven’t given her any protection. You haven’t given her dignity. You haven’t given her respect. … And the biggest crime is that you justify this, saying that it is the command of God?”

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Muslims need a new ethics of sex, one in which women are equal partners of men in sexual expression and not where they must submit as wards of men. This means overhauling Hadith texts that curse the woman for not submitting to the husband’s demand for intercourse.

We need sex education that goes beyond washing after bodily discharges to talk about consent. Indeed, if verses 2:187, 9:71 and 30:21 are about mutual protectorship, affection, cooperation and harmony, then consent is of paramount importance.

The Qur’an shows that the heavy penalty against slander was about protecting the vulnerable. Addressing the allegations against the Prophet’s wife Aisha and the sexual violation of Prophet Joseph, it takes sexual harassment of both men and women on an equal footing.

We have to recognize that concealing sins is about personal conduct and not when the rights of others are violated.

As such, we have to protect the vulnerable irrespective of gender. We have to recognize that concealing sins is about personal conduct and not when the rights of others are violated.

Additionally, we have to treat saints and sinners alike.

As civil rights activist Dick Gregory said: “If I’m a woman and I’m walking down the street naked, you still don’t have the right to rape me.”

Currently, as it stands, men wield positions of power in neo-traditionalist Muslim circles. In contrast, female victims have centuries of religious texts that subordinate them and a culture of victim blaming that shames them.

In essence, there is no level playing field. This is why Muslims must develop a new ethics of sex that upholds consent and empowers vulnerable youth through fact-based sex education. Above all, they must aid vulnerable women in every possible manner.

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Author: Junaid Jahangir