How is ‘marital rape’ not rape?

Published: January 4, 2012

The subject of marital rape leaves many people uncertain; can the act really be termed marital 'rape' ?

“He abuses me but I cannot refuse him. My family told me that it was my religious duty to do as he demanded and if I refuse, the angels will curse me all night.”

These are the words of a young Pakistani woman who contracted a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) when her husband, who had been engaged in several extramarital affairs, forced himself on her.

When it comes to marital rape, women are often confused whether they have been raped or not. The scenario of a stranger raping a woman on the street is immediately identified as rape, where as forceful acts by a husband upon a wife are considered acceptable. This is partly due to the cultural belief that is rooted in women’s minds that ‘submitting’ to their husband is a sign of a dutiful wife.

Due to this attitude, women are unaware that it is their right to say no to sex if they want to. A victim of marital rape usually finds the responsibility of the abuse on her own head, mainly due to the abuser’s justifications.

The subject of marital rape leaves many people uncertain; can the act really be termed marital ‘rape’?

There are some individuals who believe that there is no such thing as rape within a marriage whereas some claim that there is nothing wrong with a man forcing himself on his wife.

Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, the president of the Islamic Sharia Council of Britain said:

“Clearly there cannot be any rape within the marriage. Maybe aggression, maybe indecent activity…because when they got married, the understanding was that sexual intercourse was part of the marriage, so there cannot be anything against sex in marriage. Of course, if it happened without her desire, that is no good, that is not desirable.”

“In Islamic sharia, rape is adultery by force. So long as the woman is his wife, it cannot be termed as rape. It is reprehensible, but we do not call it rape.”

Sahih Bukhari, the most authoritative Islamic text after the Holy Quran, quotes the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as saying,

“If a husband calls his wife to his bed (ie to have sexual relation) and she refuses and causes him to sleep in anger, the angels will curse her till morning.” (Bukhari v.4, b.54, no.460).

However, the above mentioned quotations contradict the overall, traditional Islamic view about marriage being a contract based on mutual love, respect and consideration. Both the husband and wife have a right to their own body and, whilst consideration for a person’s sexual needs is normal, forceful sexual acts are not a sign of love or respect but become a fatal blow to a solid marriage.

On the other hand, it is important to note that our religion does make it clear that harming one’s wife is forbidden. Men are commanded to be kind and loving to their wives and treat them honourably and therefore, rape, abuse and ill treatment, whether it is physical, verbal or psychological , is unacceptable in a marital relationship.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once remarked,

“The best among you is the one who is the best towards his wife” (Hadith – Muslim, #3466).

Unfortunately, Pakistani law does not recognise marital rape. The Hudood Ordinance, which was enacted in 1979, required  the woman to present four witnesses to corroborate accusations of rape, otherwise she would be convicted of having illegal sex.

The second law on this subject is the Women’s Protection Bill, approved in 2006, which passed the prosecution of rape cases from the Hudood Ordinance to Pakistan’s secular penal code. The bill enabled judges to try rape cases in criminals courts, rather than Islamic ones and ended the infamous need of male witnesses to support the rape accusation. However, it also eliminates the death sentence and reduces the penalty to five years imprisonment and a fine.

With cases of marital rape growing rapidly, some officials have expressed their concerns at the number of cases  going undetected. Doctors are also getting worried and have reported a large  number of patients who came to them after being assaulted and in dire need of  stitching for the severe damage done to their bodies.

Love is the foundation for a long lasting marriage. When a man unleashes this monstrosity on his wife and hurts her, it classifies as assault. One cannot claim to ‘love’ his wife when he forces himself on her, leaving her with vaginal tears and scars.

The truth is simple. When you force a woman to have sex with you – its rape. It does not matter whether the victim is married to you or not because no one deserves  such brutality.





Aneka Chohan

The author is a freelance journalist and human rights activist. She tweets as @anekachohan (

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

  • syed hussain

    There is contradiction in the statement of the writer. Why do you quote any authentic Hadith or islamic reference when you are not ready to accept that at the end of the article. You are confusing islam with culture. This is a cultural problem and its nothing to do with islam. If it a hadith that ” angel curse on such a woman who refuses her husband ” then there is nothing to argue. We have to accept the hadith whether we have a different opinion.
    ‘ You are a human activist, not any islamic scholar so please refrain yourself on commenting on hadith until and unless you know the context of that hadith or islamic reference. If a woman does not want to live with her husband then she may ask for Khulah, if for any reason she does not ask for khulah and is forced to live with her husband and have sex then it is a social problem and its nothing to do with religion, islam or ulemas.

  • Vikram

    @Jangloos: These things happen when there are problems in the relationship to begin with or a man fails to see that his wife is sick. Islam allows a man to beat his wife. Also a wife is not supposed to say no to sex in Islam. So comparing Pakistani couples with Western couples is like comparing apples with oranges.Recommend

  • Bilal Ahmed Khan

    @ Vikram:
    With respect to independence of views, I am wondering that apparently a person (from Hinduism) is mentioning that Islam allows men to beat their wives and wife is not supposed to refuse husband needs, in spite of the fact the historically women were considered property of men in Hinduism, and the tradition such as Satti and many more, were promoted. The same ideology which promoted even worse cases of differentiation between humans (Aariya and locals) by creating Brahimens, Vesh, Khistari and Shoodars.
    As far as Islam is concerned, mentioning “Islam allows a man to beat his wife” is a biased comment without mentioning full context ignoring all other teachings for treating women with love and care. Why don’t you stop bullying around because human rights especially women and minority rights are quite messed up in India, far ore than Pakistan and even in the current era events like ethnic killing by Hindu Majority is common.
    Moreover, converns about marital rape, there is nothing as martial rape promoted or taught in Islam. Islam balances duties of both husband and wife by telling wife that she shall not refuse her husband’s desires and by telling husbands to be very kind and loving to their wives. This is balance. Recommend

  • Bilal Ahmed Khan

    again without context understanding quoted by people who live to make people misunderstands islam. Please refer to:

    Moreover, the beating thing is mentioned when wife is found (definitely with proofs) for unfaithfulness and adultery. However, when a husband is engaged, the wife has the option to take separation as Khulla from the Qazi of the place. Pointing fingers at a religion without understanding its whole system and legislation (given by Sha’ria) is a common mistake. beating wife is allowed under what context and extent and what conditions and directions, ignoring all these and just mentioning things which apparently supports your argument is a very common move.. Recommend

  • dr.Shafaq

    U should be shameful towards yourself as you negated our Islamic Beliefs and disseminated “DIFFERENT PARTS OF HADITHS” as a contradiction. People like you are a squalid stigma to our society who uses SOME QURANIC VERSES to manipulate the minds of Muslims. We Muslims have a blind Belief on Allah and HIS RASOOL (SAW). The Hadiths of RASOOL(SAW) are the orders of Allah to us and we solely believe that Islam is a complete religion, Its every act has a covert benefit for Muslims.
    while talking about torture and sexual abuse. It is obviously prohibited in Islam. But we all have duties to fulfill. Like men, even if they don’t want to go to their offices every day, but they have to go as the entire family depends on them and when they feel this thing, they do it with a satisfaction that i am doing it for my own family. Likewise, if a husband wants sex with his wife, it is perfectly normal and women should realize that it is also her duty to fulfill the sexual needs of his husband in order to restrain him from extra marital affairs. IT IS SIMPLE AS THAT. So please all persons with liberal thoughts, stop propagating derogatory statements against Islam and fear the Lord, and most importantly, first go and read the history of Islam and its divination. Thanks. Recommend

  • Bilal Ahmed Khan

    Reasonable and adequate, however, don’t include emotional appeal like “Fear the Lord” etc. things are discussed here with a number of people with different faiths as you can find Christians, Hindus as well as Muslims (with Varying Ideologies here). So any thing quote shall be with reasons. Effort is completely appreciated. Recommend

  • Vikram

    @dr.Shafaq: ”
    Likewise, if a husband wants sex with his wife, it is perfectly normal and women should realize that it is also her duty to fulfill the sexual needs of his husband in order to restrain him from extra marital affairs.” I am curious what kind of doctor are you. You seem to be very reigious person, may be you can answery question. Is there a requirement of husband to fulfill the sexual needs of his wife in Islam. In case a husband fails to fulfill needs of his wife, can she get those needs met with extra martial affairs. It is nice to know that you go to office every day because of Islam.Recommend

  • Bilal Ahmed Khan

    On behalf of dr.shafaq, Mr. Vikram I would love to answer you. But first, I am pretty sure that a person like you, has never bothered to follow or read the link i shared in reply of your previous post. However, the system of islamic teaching regarding the duties and rights of spouses on each other is pretty much beyond you coz all you want is just to continue argument rather than making any sense or logic in it.
    I am not going to go through the details of teachings as they are pretty much available on internet. I suggest you another option, why don’t you bother and find some exact facts about the position of women in Hinduism. So just get lost, and if somehow your ‘champ mind’ is ready for a logic, which it is not, you should have replied that post. buy some candies for yourself and watch movies.
    You belong to such a religion who promotes that a widow shall be burnt with the deceased husband and it was the goras who rightfully banned that religious stance. You belong to such a society where women are and were (at gross) treated as property to men, and due to sharing a mutual culture with hindus, muslims in South Asia adopted your ill habits. The traditions of depriving daughters from the inheritance of deceased as well as dowry, and many more are a few common examples. I can dissect your stupid ideology before you.Recommend

  • Xaheer Akhtar

    @Bilal Ahmed Khan:
    Bingoooooooooo. superb Bilal and for you vikram be able to defend your arguments in a rational way. Otherwise, all you have is an opinion, I am sharing a link for you vikram and it’s for all those atheist i.e Aneka Khan as well as for those who are still trying to figure out what Islam is, and for believers like Bilal and rest it is absolutely a treat to watch.
    (Subject) Dr Zakir Naik and Oxford Union Debate Address 1 of 7.flv ,

    Do watch all the seven parts. ThanksRecommend

  • Vikram

    @Xaheer Akhtar:
    You really think that scholar Bilal is debating in a rational way.. I think you should send that link to talibans and their religious leaders or Shias and Sunnis that are blowing each other. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan claim to be purely Islamic countires. Talibans eeven beat women to force Islamic dress code on women. Tlibans who study Islam for years have destoyed over 500 girls schools I want you to ask Dr Zakir, what Islam has done in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Islam is a way of life. looking at Pakistan and Afghanistan’s way of life……..Have a nice dayRecommend

  • Bilal Ahmed Khan

    You know there is a saying “Don’t raise your voice, improve your arguments”. Dear Vikram, unlike you i have not pointed out what Hindus are doing, or what atheists are doing but the thing which is there in Hinduism. Regardless of the sanctity of every religion being followed, the acts of followers must be not judged unless you have complete knowledge of the religion. In addition, you calling me a scholar, tell me that, and not replying me directly, that there can’t be some rational talk with you. The things which are concerned with Taliban (Afghan one) they are neither hypocritical nor tyrant. They just don’t have the resources to convey their opinion. And for the sake of your knowledge, if you leave mainstream media (based on US and Reuters) and listen to Chinese and Russian analysts, this south asian religion is in midst of an international game in which sorry to say India Iran, US and other countries are trying to get best of it. However, while pointing out sunni shia problems in muslim world just open your eyes, and look into the reported atrocities and ethnic killing done in India against minorities and lower caste people. The taliban thing you quoted above there is sufficient evidence available in media that Indian RAW is behind equipping TTP to use them against Pak Army, and there have been reported agents of RAW who were captured and debriefed. So get a life and grow up, you are supposed to have a mental age greater than 4 year child.
    However this is not the point being discussed here. The main thing is that beating women is unanimously prohibited in Islam (if you bother to put your bias aside), act of murder and physical torture is a bigger crime. and this thing is more common in India, where not only the religion allows to burn a widow with the dead husband but also, the teachings of achariya and other religious reformers sanction use of force and torture against women and weak. And when that islam (being way of life) was applied by Taliban in Afghanistan, your bloody government was one of the first who wanted to establish relationships but they kicked Indian out. The existence of almost 89 indian councilates across Western Border of Pakistan is a clear fact to understand that why the west side of Pakistan is in distress.
    I suggest you devote yourself for promoting women right in india along with rights of minorities and other.
    You would have done great job of serving humanity this way.Recommend

  • Jangloos

    why does everything ends up being a war of words between Indians & Pakistanis. When our people are going to open their eyes and see that both countries have failed their citizens in a pathetic manner. The topic of this blog was a social issue which have been changed into a political & religious issue, and by the way, this issue is far less important than the everyday survival for people especially in Pakistan or in India
    @Vikram: Married couples behave in somewhat similar manner throughout the world, as I have been living in Scandinavia for last 4 years and lived a married life in Pakistan also. Sex is a physical need which must be satisfied, with the consent and understanding of the partner. And also its a bit irrational to comment on any religion without having in-depth study, this goes for the writer of this blog also; controversies can be created/identified from many aspects of any religion in the world.Recommend

  • Bilal Ahmed Khan

    Ya it happens so and feel regret for it. The problem is when people try to interpret social problems originating from religion, irrationally without the due consideration that if they do so, then their belief is gonna put in test also. I believe in the conclusion that precisely talking about pakistan, these issues arise out of illiteracy rather than any religious teaching. If it originated from religion, there would have been no case of marital rape (i dont agree with the term it may be called martial coercion or domestic coercion but not RAPE) in Europe and America. This tug of war in religions and on forums and blogs only start when a person from other faith, tries to prove that he/she is more knowledgeable, in addition to complete bias and negligence of the social, political and economic distress being the main cause of these issues. Then comes the taunt of Taliban which every defense analyst know had nothing to do with the image they are propagated with. If it were so, Yvonne Ridley should have other opinion. Moreover, in this world of corporate media where media serves as a major mind control devise (which has been thoroughly tested in Afghanistan and Iraq issue resulting in death of millions of innocent people), media uses the information as a weapon to make wrong impression of the groups standing in their way (as media is being used a strategic tool to accomplish global political, energy and corporate strategy). Such hypocrites are the main problem, they come, make taunts without rational and comparative approach and taunt religion with considering that what their faith tells them,
    The issues for India and Pakistan are not what being written in the article, but are more complex and have deep affects. However, these can only be concluded if such close minded irrational people are not in the main stream. The very first duty every human carries is to respect and honor not only his own beliefs but beliefs of others, as in not doing so, he/she may trigger violence. Rational approach is the second thing which even animals use, i wonder why not humansRecommend

  • Vikram

    @Xaheer Akhtar: “Women, Money and Land are the three core issues (Fitna’s) of our Ummat, Hope you will understand now. Can you please explain how Muslim women are issue of “Fitna”?Recommend

  • Vikram

    @Bilal Ahmed Khan: says “The taliban thing you quoted above there is sufficient evidence available in media that Indian RAW is behind equipping TTP to use them against Pak Army, and there have been reported agents of RAW who were captured and debriefed.” Thanks for sharing this important information. Did you get information from Dawn news, Tribune or Dailytimes? If so let me see. It is very ssd talibans (Muslims) who study Islam intensively are getting help from non-Muslims to kill soldeirs of Pakistan’s Muslim army. I hope some one will research and see if PPP, LeT and anti-shia organizations are also being funded by India government. About the subject of the blog I have concluded one can do any thing to his wife and justify that with some verse(s) or hadith(s).. Recommend

  • Vikram

    @Jangloos: “And also its a bit irrational to comment on any religion without having in-depth study”. Do you think if a woman says no, the man is going to say”OK dear let me go and do some in depth study about what Islam says about this”. How can people understand and follow a religion where you have to do in depth studies on everything?.Recommend

  • Nobody

    For starters, I’m sick and tired of guys thinking they understand the sexual urges/needs and libido of a woman. As a young healthy woman I can contest, sex is as much a “need” for us as it is for you so please stop playing the biology card. Furthermore, we don’t love hearing ‘no’ from our partner either, BUT, married or not, forcing yourself on ANYONE is rape. Plain and simple. And there is no justification that I’ve found for it anywhere in Islam (or elsewhere among the civilized population).

    Going off topic and I know I’m barely scratching the surface here, but in a lot of conservative settings (such as Pakistan), sex isn’t even talked about between husband/wife and that’s extremely important in order for both to know and understand what the other wants. I know what I’ve said is oversimplifying a very complex issue, but nonetheless, the lack of sexual education, informing people of their rights (PROPER rights not mullah approved woman hating rights) in a marriage and not discussing your sex needs/wants/preferences with your partner can often be a cocktail for a bad, and often unfair, unhealthy and/or violent sex life. But unfortunately there is much to be done to properly address this often ignored/dismissed issue in Pakistan.

    Back to the topic, the existence of marital rape is surprisingly (and terrifyingly) common in places such as Pakistan and it still shocks me that even the so called educated population is even mildly accepting of this, or can manage to find some twisted justification for it. From any point of view, religious or not, any ethical human being should understand forcing sex on anyone is rape and a terrible form of violence/abuse that degrades the act of sex itself. No sense in dancing around it trying to find a justified excuse (ex. my wife doesn’t have sex with me enough so biology compelled me to force myself on her). It’s not so simple; human behavior has changed quite a bit since our earliest ‘form’ came around (far before any religion).

    Wow, I’ve written quite a bit more than I planned!

    To the women out there, know your rights, don’t accept anything less! To the good men accepting the existence of and condemning marital rape, comforting to know you’re out there! To the men/women using twisted logic and misinterpreted religious verses to somehow justify marital rape or deny its existence altogether, shame on you; you’re an unfortunate stain on the human race. Recommend

  • Mens Rights

    Men should be allowed polygamy and even that should not be looked down in society… BITC-Y
    feminists want to make hue and cry over rape in marriage and also deny men their right to marry… then we should all copy the western perverts and become serial monogamists….Recommend

  • Saad

    Shoddy, confused, poorly articulated, poorly researched and analysed and failing to understand the many issues involved. it made a poor read. I had hoped for some justice to be done to the unquestionably pertinent issue of marital rape but the writer has fallen far short of the mark.

    And before any one points their guns towards the Sharia i’d like to plead caution and ask them to pause and to understand what the Sharia ordains. The 4 witnesses requirement is to prove Zina liable to Hudd and as such imposes a very strict standard so that there are not false accusations of illicit sexual intercourse. This is the maximum sentence for Zina which carries a penalty of 100 lashes if fornication, and death by stoning in the case of adultery. The Sharia deliberately imposes the stringest evidenciay requirement for this offence. Ofcourse there is a lesser standard for proving zina and that is zina liable to Tazir. The penalty and evidenciary requirements for this can be set by the state in a manner they deem just and appropriate. Do not confuse Zia ul haq’s governments’ inexcusable inability to understand and to interpret Sharia in drafting the Hudood laws as a true representation of Sharia. Rape isn’t Zina in Sharia, it is contained therein as an unlawful taking and aggravated robbery.

    Please, educate yourselves a little on the subject before ranting away.Recommend

  • Saad

    Islam is very mindful of the fact that sex is a basic instict of an individual and prolonged deprivation will lead him to go down a darker route. he will look for sex outside marriage and adultery, fornication, pedophilia, homosexuality etc will take its place. Now i don’t want to sound homophobic but if any of you folks have heard the term bachebaazi, you’d agree that no reasonable proponent of homosexuality would even consider advocating that. it is for this reason that women are obliged to make themselves available to their husbands and to fulfill their needs. This not only eliminates many evils from society, it also helps achieve a balance and cohesion in a family. Sex is the pinnacle of intimacy and between two consenting adults in a wedlock, it can only be conducive to a healthy relationship. Islam only serves to promote this balance by promoting the idea of consent. Women are urged to be consenting and men are similarly urged to consider a womans willingness or lack thereof. Nowhere does Islam allow a man to force himself upon his wife. Recommend

  • Vikram

    @Saad: says
    “he will look for sex outside marriage and adultery, fornication, pedophilia, homosexuality etc will take its place”.You mean women are responsible for adultery, pedophilia, homsexuality in men. Your forgot one thing. You did not blame women for making Pakistan number one in porn watching. You think all the rape and sexual abuse in Pakistan is because of women too. Recommend

  • Zafir

    Martial Rape according to me, is not the prime reason of objection that can be raise from the woman, Instead, there are other reasons of objections that woman may pose to affirmation to having intercourse with her husband. So without knowing the true story, author should not say that there is any serious problem of martial rape being faced by woman. No woman could resist, atleast I never heard any such case to have sexual intercourse. there are always secondary reasons that avoid her, and because of such reasons she abhor to have intercourse. SO there is need to highlight such reasons.Recommend

  • Light.

    The twisted mind that can come up with this BS. How is it rape after marriage? That is why you are married. Or else you can easily go around and pick up a hooker every night and not have to worry about women screaming at you. You have to realize this is society. You can’t do that to a Hadith and say it contradicts Islamic teaching. That is Christian mentality which most of the country is falling into. Similarly killing is bad, but you do it when you need to. So then can you also say we can’t go to war because we are not allowed to kill, it goes against Islamic teaching. Your brain needs some work. Stop being so politically correct. Recommend