I am a woman, and I am afraid

A week ago, All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) and DAP Damansara Utama assemblywoman Yeo Bee Yin launched a rape awareness campaign with the tagline “No Excuse For Rape”. It didn’t take long before the topic of marital rape came up, and to my dismay, there were people defending it in the name of Islam.

Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria said that women have “no right” to refuse sexual relations with their husband, quoting a hadith whereby the Prophet said even when husband and wife are riding on the back of a camel, if the husband asks her, she must give. Hizbut Tahrir Malaysia’s (HTM) spokesperson, Ustaz Abdul Hakim Othman, said that a woman’s body is to be used by her husband, and that when a man marries a woman, there is no need at all for him to get consent. Dr Norsaleha Mohd Salleh from Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA) said that a man forcing himself onto his wife should not be claimed as rape as long as his demands are within the limits of the Islamic penal code.

I think what bothers me most about everything that is being said here is that none of them mentioned the fact that rape, more often than not, is violent. When a man has to force himself onto a woman, in this case his wife, he usually cannot do so without threatening her or through coercion. The people who are defending marital rape in the name of Islam seem to confuse non-consensual intercourse in the context of marriage as “reluctant sex”. Reluctancy to have intercourse with one’s husband is something that can be discussed between the pair of spouses. What activists are concerned about is the threatening, pushing, shoving, pinning down, gagging and in worst cases, hitting and beating, of one’s wife in order to get what the man wants, in this case, sex. Marital rape is exactly the same as rape outside of marriage, except in this case, the pair are in matrimony. The emotional trauma that follows are just as damaging as the trauma that any other rape victim experiences, except this time, it could also potentially ruin the foundation of a family unit. Any kind of rape can fall under marital rape, and that includes anger rape, domination rape and also sadistic rape.

ISMAweb editor, Razali Zakaria, said that the issue of marital rape is brought up to tarnish the name of Islam and blames liberalism and secularism for it. As usual, Islamist hardliner groups will always blame external sources instead of looking at the problem from within our own community. No one is trying to tarnish the name of Islam, but when one defends such acts in the name of religion, it is no wonder people automatically put the religion in a bad light.

Is this what the Muslim women in Malaysia are being taught? That once the dowry has been paid, she loses all consent over her body? That she has no right to defend herself from harm, and now her sole purpose in life to be a submissive slave to her husband? That her body is disposable to her husband, anytime and anywhere? That the moment she agrees to enter a marriage, she becomes a property of her husband and no longer a human being?

If this is what is being taught, then I am afraid. I am afraid for my fellow women who don’t know the rights they have over their own body. I am afraid for the women who have been done wrong, and couldn't fight for justice. I am afraid for my little sister, who might potentially grow up to believe that her body is no longer hers to own when she gets married. I am afraid that boys will grow up to be men that use these manmade privileges and use it against their wives. I am afraid that people buy in to the notion that wives are property. I am a woman in Malaysia, and I am afraid.

In Islam, marriage is built upon the foundations of love and respect. If a man has enough integrity in him, he wouldn’t have to find himself forcing himself onto his wife. Husband and wife both have a role to play in a marriage. They should both carry out their duties willingly without having to be beaten into it. In whatever scenario, one should never resort to threats and violence. It is absolutely shallow to think that a wife’s only job in a marriage is to satisfy her husband sexually.

While Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria quoted a hadith in which a woman has to give in to her husband even on a back of a camel, I’d like to end with another hadith as well:

Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The most complete of the believers in faith, is the one with the best character. And the best of you are those who are best to their women.” (At-Tirmidhi)


This article was orginally published on MalayMailOnline