As a Muslim husband, I do not agree with Farhat Hashmi and her view on marital rape

Published: June 22, 2019
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In the video, Hashmi negates the notion of marital rape by insisting that it does not exist because it's a husband's right. PHOTO: SCREENSHOT

It was the summer of 2015. I was in Pakistan for a month and a half due to the demise of my father. My visit coincided with the month of Ramazan. During the holy month, my wife decided to attend Dars-e-Quran sessions conducted by a certain Islamic scholar, Tahira Yousuf. One night, my wife asked me to pick her up after the lecture. When I reached the centre, the lecture had just ended and I saw a large number of women from apparently affluent backgrounds coming out of the hall.

When my wife sat in the car, I asked her about the scholar.

“She is really good,” my wife replied.

Intrigued, I expressed my desire to listen to her on YouTube.

“She does not have any YouTube videos,” my wife answered.

I then asked her to record her lecture next time she goes so I could listen to her, to which my wife responded:

“She explicitly forbids recordings because she does not want her voice to be heard by na-mehrams.”

I was shocked beyond belief at this revelation and questioned my wife about her decision to go to such lectures. My logic was that a woman who believes that no man should listen to her voice (even indirectly) was thoroughly regressive as she is yielding all the rights which have been provided to her. Such a woman cannot work outside her home and will be absent from most public places. Once you give up your right to use public spaces, you are effectively agreeing to be a nobody. The problem to me was that the scholar in question, due to her position and her female following, could influence them to adopt a similar lifestyle.

My wife realised my perspective immediately and assured me that her sole reason for going was just to learn the Tafseer-e-Quran (exegesis of the Holy Quran) and she was vigilant enough to not be influenced. At the same time, she pointed out that she knew girls who were greatly impressed by Yousuf’s attire and her decision to completely shun any material contact with the opposite gender. My wife told me:

“She is extremely articulate and knows how to convince people, and many in the gathering are apparently getting impressed not only by her lectures about the Quran but also by her lifestyle choices.”

At that moment, the power of such female scholars hit me. If educated women were getting influenced by such conservative and reactionary scholars, then there was a problem. The fact that such scholars are themselves women, and apparently highly educated, gives their ideas a lot of acceptability amongst other women. Not only that, it also gives orthodox and sexist men substantial leverage as they can now cite female scholars to build their case against women’s rights and frame any such demands as being ‘un-Islamic’ and westernised. Such female scholars reinforce the existing sexist and patriarchal mindset prevalent in our society.

There is no clearer evidence of the aforementioned than the recently circulating video of Dr Farhat Hashmi, who is perhaps the most famous of such scholars. In the video, Hashmi first negates the very notion of marital rape by insisting that it does not exist because husbands have the right to have sex, even by force. She follows it up by suggesting that women should always allow their husbands to have sex with them if they demand it, no matter what the circumstances. Her contention is that religion has given men this right and even if the woman does not want to for whatever reason, she must oblige.

In the video, she also goes on to blame women for working outside their homes because it leads to “tiredness” and tensions, therefore resulting in an inability to satisfy their husbands.

The video has evoked a strong reaction on social media, where some are condemning the religious scholar while a much larger number of people (mostly men but including women also) are supporting her. Her credentials as a scholar and her appeal among the educated middle-class segment of women has made it difficult to criticise and challenge her.

This is problematic since her ideas are thoroughly regressive and promote patriarchy in a very dangerous way because she attempts to use religion to support and ‘validate’ her arguments. She forgets that marital rape is a stark reality and can be even more traumatic as it is committed by someone a woman supposedly trusts with her life. Physical intimacy between two individuals can be a beautiful experience, but for that to be the case, it must be consensual. Being a husband does not give a man the right to simply force his wife to have sex. Rape by definition means engaging in a sexual activity without the consent of the victim. Forcing your wife to have sex is rape and the fact that she is your wife does not change the criteria. It is for that very reason that marital rape is considered a criminal offence in many countries.

Similarly, sex with an underage wife is also rape as she is a minor and can’t can give legitimate consent. This becomes one of the strongest arguments against child marriage. In fact, in America, if an adult engages in any sexual activity with an underage person, they can be charged for having committed a crime, even if the sexual act took place through mutual consent. This is because the consent of an underage person is not considered legitimate consent.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, marital rape is not even considered a wrong in a normative way, let alone a criminal offence. The biggest problem in this regard is the patriarchal mindset which is sustained through religious justifications given by scholars like Hashmi. These scholars trivialise an entire issue and in fact frame it as being some sort of right the husband has, which makes it impossible for any serious debate to occur. Hence, Hashmi’s contention is that women who complain of marital rape are doing something wrong because according to her, they are questioning their husband’s right. This line of argumentation makes the issue even more complicated and problematic since it says that wives are at fault for even feeling violated or having any thoughts or feelings.

Furthermore, advising women that they should just blindly say yes to their husband irrespective of their own desires is an extremely disturbing notion because it assumes that women don’t have any autonomy. The argument, as framed by Hashmi, makes marital sex sound like a painful sacrifice made by the wife rather than a mutually, consented activity.

I don’t know about others, but as a married man, I would like my wife to only say yes when she also wants physical intimacy. It is my job to make it desirable for her by being romantic and considerate. If she is only saying yes out of some self-perceived religious compulsion, then physical intimacy loses its meaning for me. According to me, this should be the attitude of all husbands. Sadly, due to our male-centric mindset, which is sanctioned by religious scholars like Hashmi, many husbands are unlikely to develop such an attitude.

They will continue to consider it their right and many women will actually condition themselves to think like that as well.

raza.habib

Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.