If only the case of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim were unusual.

Last week Ibrahim, a pregnant Sudanese woman, was sentenced to 100 lashes and death by hanging for marrying a Christian man and refusing to renounce her own Christianity. Despite identifying as Christian, the convicting court declared her a Muslim because Ibrahim’s errant father was Muslim.

Sudanese women

A group of Sudanese women in Khartoum Photo by David Stanley via Flickr

In Sudan, as is true in many countries that implement aspects of Shariah law, Muslim women are not allowed to marry outside their “faith of birth.” Men on the other hand are allowed to marry Muslim, Christian or Jewish women. Why the double standard? Because sexism. Or according to some interpretations of patriarchal Shariah law…because religion.

Let’s assume that Ibrahim is in a committed relationship to her husband. Because she, a state-identified Muslim, married a Christian man, that marriage is null and void and she’s now been labeled an “adulterer.” Slapped with a scarlet “A” and “slut-shamed” in the process, she and her 20-month-old son sit in prison.

“Slut-shaming,” as the term has been popularly and academically defined, typically means making someone feel guilty for pushing or violating sexual or gender-based social norms.

Slut-shaming is often rife with double standards. Women who sleep around are villainized as “whores” while men who do the same are worshipped as “players.” Some Muslim women who remove their hijabs are accused of bringing shame to their families while their brothers run around shirtless on the beach. Slut-shaming pervades both religious and non-religious societies.

Amnesty International started a petition late last week calling for Ibrahim’s release. “‘Adultery’ is not a crime that should be punishable by the courts,” the petition says. I agree.

When most people think “adultery,” they think “extramarital affairs.” In a recent Pew Research study, 78 percent of people surveyed across 40 countries found extramarital affairs to be morally unacceptable. But in France the number was only 47 percent, showing how greatly attitudes concerning sexual behavior can vary (and suggesting to me that they probably shouldn’t be criminalized).

But back up a second, we’re not even talking about an extramarital affair here. We’re talking about a woman who says she’s a Christian who married a man who says he’s a Christian in a predominantly Muslim country. She’s convicted of apostasy and adultery. He’s not. Had he been “born Muslim” and she “born Christian,” the adultery charge would have never been on the table.

Religiously motivated or justified double standards against women are not unique to Muslim-majority societies. Kenya, a predominantly Christian country, legalized polygyny last month, allowing men to marry as many women as they like. Most media reported that “polygamy” had been legalized, which was misleading in its inclusivity. Polyandry, which involves women taking multiple male spouses, is still illegal in Kenya. #doublestandard.

Courts of law should not treat individuals differently based on their gender or sex. Marrying outside of your faith should not be considered “adultery.” And “adultery,” whatever it means to whatever society, should not be punishable by law. My thoughts of the day.

Given the Sudan news hook, I may have focused too heavily on Islam in this post. What examples can you think of where religion has been used to “slut-shame” women or men within other faith traditions?

15 Comments

  1. Religion truly poisons everything.

    Perhaps stories like this one in Sudan are finally going to be the tipping point where the whole world gets to see the fundamental insanity of religion and they start to back away from this barbaric nonsense.

    The Golden Rule of morality: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you”
    requires NO gods.

    Religion is when you need permission to abandon the Golden Rule
    and kill people different from you.
    Morality is impossible with a religious world view.

  2. The article explained that sexism is at the root of what is happening in Sudan, not religion, and that slut shaming, or sexism, is also found in secular societies and institutions. Indeed, there was a recent article detailing the sexist attitudes among atheist organizations and leaders. Go figure! I guess religion can’t be blamed for every little evil in the world after all.

    • Sexism is one of those problems – like earthquakes – which is not going to go away when religion is abandoned.

      But in the meantime it would be great to NOT have religion’s contribution to these problems. They are difficult enough without relying on imaginary forces and supernatural BS.

    • But it is so much more convenient and socially acceptable when you can justify sexism with alleged devout religious belief.

      Same goes with most prejudices. Making it religious adds a sheen of respectability and social sanction which would not be allowed in polite society elsewhere.

  3. “Muslim women are not allowed to marry outside their “faith of birth.” Men on the other hand are allowed to marry Muslim, Christian or Jewish women. Why the double standard? Because sexism.”

    Well… yes, no and maybe. Without specific reference to the bizarre situation in Sudan, the reasons for this rule can not always be adequately explained by the simple label of ‘sexism’. The traditional Muslim concept of family is nuclear with the male (father) at its head. In being the head, the male holds ultimate responsibility for providing, protecting etc. (even for a period after a separation), whilst the mother holds primary responsibility for child rearing. In being given this ultimate responsibility, men are also given ultimate authority – i.e. the buck stops with them. Though this should not be taken to mean that (successful) marriage is anything less than a complimentary partnership.

    “”They are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them…” – Holy Quran, Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:188

    In this context (family setup), the desire for the preservation and continuation of religious belief is seen as more likely when the head (male) is Muslim. Similarly the ongoing protection (including extensive financial rights) of a Muslim woman after divorce is also regarded as only being guaranteed when the husband is Muslim.

    Of course none of this excuses or even explains the situation in Sudan. The freedom to believe or not believe (including change religion) is a fundamental right in Islam. In this instance, neither the bizarre definition of adultery nor the punitive law relating to apostasy hold any Islamic justification.

    • BEAT YOUR WIFE. IT IS OKAY.

      The Quran in Sura 4:34 says: 4:34 . . .

      “If you fear highhandedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, THEN HIT THEM. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them. God is most high and great.”

      The depressing thing about this ENTIRE THREAD is that nobody here seems to grasp that the Holy Books exist to screw up every logical, peaceful, loving thing the human heart desires

      :-(.

      • Unfortunately no chance of brevity on a topic such as this…

        “Men are guardians over women because Allah has made some of them excel others, and because men spend on them of their wealth. So virtuous women are obedient, and guard the secrets of their husbands with Allah’s protection. And as for those on whose part you fear disobedience, admonish them and keep away from them in their beds and chastise them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Surely, Allah is High and Great.

        And if you fear a breach between them, then appoint an arbiter from his folk and an arbiter from her folk. If they (the arbiters) desire reconciliation, Allah will effect it between them. Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” – Holy Quran, Surah Al-Nisa 4:35-36

        Max, selectively reading the Quran is neither wise nor illuminating. Marriage in Islam is a contract between a husband and wife. Both are afforded rights and responsibilities. The wife’s rights include to be looked
        after, protected and provided for, and her responsibilities include guarding the honour of her husband, and respecting his authority as head of the family. Both are obliged to respect the familial roles they have been given. The consequence of marriage, according to God, is that it should bring about peace, love and tenderness between its participants:

        “And of His Signs is that He has created wives for you from among yourselves that you may find peace of mind in them, and He has put love and tenderness between you. In that, surely, are Signs for a people who reflect.” – Holy Quran, Surah Al-Rum 30:22

        The manner in which a husband should act towards his wife is also clear:

        “..and consort with them in kindness, and if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing wherein Allah has placed much good” – Holy Quran, Surah Al-Nisa 4:20

        The first thing to be said about 4:35-36 is that it does not relate to any minor infraction. The Arabic, Nashazat al-Mar-‘atu ala Zauji-ha, literally means: the woman rose against her husband; resisted him; deserted him. In other words it relates to a woman not supporting her husband in any primary sense required for the marriage to work. This could include any number of things which fall in the category of ‘deal breakers’.

        In such a situation, a sequence of steps is given to save the marriage. Firstly, admonishment – counselling her. If this is unsuccessful, the second step is separate beds. The second step is potentially as great if not greater a penalty for the husband. This serves as an incentive for the husband to make step 1 work, as well as showing the wife how serious the husband is.

        The third step is one you have highlighted as “HIT THEM” and my translation describes as ‘chastise’. The Arabic is iḍribuhunna (root – daraba), a word with multiple meanings.There are scholars who translate that word with one of the other meanings (e.g. to separate or codemn), and there are those who translate it as meaning to ‘strike’. Of those that translate it as ‘strike’, there is near unanimous consensus that this does not mean strike in the sense of physical abuse. The prophet Muhammad(sa) described it as “dharban ghayra mubarrih” which means ‘a light tap that leaves no mark’. Given that such an action (lightly tapping) would carry no physical compulsion for the wife to change behaviour, this is seen by many scholars as more of a description of emotion, whilst others see this as a symbolic gesture indicating the last resort to resolving the issue between the couple themselves, before others are involved.

        Al-Nisa 4:36 then describes the responsibility of the wider community in which the couple live. If either of them are observed by others to be breaking their covenant or not fulfilling their responsibilities in any way, then mediators from the respective families are involved in the resolution process.

        To read Al-Nisa 4:35 as meaning that husbands have a right to beat their wives is to mistranslate the Arabic. It is also to ignore authentic hadith. On using force with women Muhammad(sa) said:

        “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt (trouble) his neighbor. And I advise you to take care of the women, for they are created from a rib and the most crooked portion of the rib is its upper part; if you try to straighten it, it will break, and if you leave it, it will remain crooked, so I urge you to take care of the women.” – Bukhari 62:114

        “The most perfect man in his faith among the believers is the one whose behaviour is most excellent; and the best of you are those who are best to their wives.” – Tirmidhi 1:628

        And to read Al-Nisa 4:35 as meaning that husbands have a right to beat their wives is to also ignore Al-Rum 30:22 which explicitly declares God’s expectation that the relationship between husband and wife be characterised by love and tenderness. This would not be possible if the husband is abusive and would only lead to the wife exercising her right of divorce.

        • @RASHID, M,

          As always, Thank You for your for your expository analysis on the meanings in the Q’uran and especially of “iḍribuhunna”. I appreciate your explanations even though they fill me with even more dread.
          As usual, expounding the ‘proper contexts’ always makes these verses worse – not better.*

          Muslims who want to beat their wives will not look for the nuances as you have done – they will just beat them – and to their minds it is encouraged by God. If wife-beating is rare in Islam, I wouldn’t know. The wife beaters in America are overwhelmingly Christian.

          *You said:
          “The wife’s rights include to be looked after, protected and provided for, and her responsibilities include guarding the honour of her husband, and RESPECTING HIS AUTHORITY as head of the family.”

          This is spectacularly immoral – especially as ordained by a god.
          You do understand that, right? Absolute power corrupts absolutely. You are describing a master slave relationship. It is sadomasochistic.

          And this is my problem:
          Every time you defend an immoral passage, you apply and reinforce the immorality at the root of the religion.

          • “Muslims who want to beat their wives will not look for the nuances as you have done – they will just beat them – and to their minds it is encouraged by God.”

            I agree only in part. If a Muslim man (or any other man) has anger or other issues and decides they want to beat their wife, then that’s what they’ll do regardless. I don’t personally know of any Muslim who feels encouraged by God to beat their wife. I don’t think Muslims read Al-Nisa 4:35 and then have some sort of ‘Aha!’ moment which leads them to act in a way that they otherwise wouldn’t. I think the reality is that the behaviour of men is primarily influenced by their upbringing – how fathers, uncles, brothers etc. treat women, and also the cultural norms in which they live.

            “*You said: “The wife’s rights include to be looked after, protected and provided for, and her responsibilities include guarding the honour of her husband, and RESPECTING HIS AUTHORITY as head of the family.” This is spectacularly immoral – especially as ordained by a god. You do understand that, right? Absolute power corrupts absolutely. You are describing a master slave relationship. It is sadomasochistic.”

            No its not. And it’s not ‘absolute power’ at all. As I said earlier, the contract between husband and wife provides rights and responsibilities for both. But it is the husband who bears ultimate responsibility for the welfare of the family. Practically what this means is that it is incumbent on the husband to provide for all of his family, while the wife is not obliged to do so. For the husband, with this ultimate responsibility comes ultimate (not absolute) authority. In other words any final decisions made by him are to be respected by his wife since he bears ultimate responsibility for the consequences.

            In reality Muslim marriages do not operate any differently to non Muslim marriages. The same process of cooperation, ‘give and take’, and spousal influence operates between the husband and wife. Any Muslim man who took their ultimate right of authority to mean a right to be domineering or oppressive would, firstly be in contradiction of the Quranic teaching on how to treat wives. And secondly, self evidently, such a marriage would neither be happy nor successful.

          • @Rashid, M.

            “it is incumbent on the husband to provide for all of his family, while the wife is not obliged to do so.”

            This is immoral. It is unfair to the man. Why should such a burden be on him alone? Did these partners not begin a family together? These partners should be equals. The wife ‘not obliged to provide’ as you know, really means ‘is discouraged’ from working. Knowing this, young women are often discouraged from getting an education and from making their own decisions.

            “The man bears ultimate responsibility for the consequences.”
            Why? This is clearly unfair. It is not a fair balance for ultimate responsibility to land on the husband or the wife.
            Furthermore, morality is not even on offer. You have made it clear that obedience to the Q’uran is more important than the morality. Obligations are not shared between partners nor is ultimate responsibility.

            Very often people say; “you have taken this verse out of context” and so they try to elaborate.

            But what you have demonstrated, at least to me, is that digging deeper into Holy Books does not make the foundation firmer, but it becomes quicksand.

    • @RASHID, M,

      “”They are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them…” (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:188)

      It is a shame the occasionally beautiful passages in the Q’uran and the Bible are buried in mostly authoritarian, silly and uncivilized nonsense.

  4. This young writer has no right to speak of adultery ‘should not be criminalised’.
    Completely separate to the main story of a woman who was married and never committed extra marital anything in the first instance – this was a crime against humanity. And so is extra marital sex ‘adultery’. It is the worst crime in humanity against a so-called or once loved one that believed, trusted, committed and remained faithful to their Marriage Vows. If this young writer wants to speak up against decriminalising actual adultery, it is clear he has not ever experienced and been in his middle age, left broke and with two children to care for and an entire Family’s future left torn apart because of the ego need for sex. Young boy – don’t get involved in what you know nothing about. Experience it when you’re 45 and then you can speak up about the most serious of crimes next to murder, rape, childhood abuse (including lifelong emotional and psychological harm from parental adultery) and adultery. I pat you on the head like a good little boy for speaking up on behalf of a victimised innocent woman the same as a 24 year faithful wife who was a victimised and innocent woman and her two innocent children left abandoned.

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