Question: What Does Islam Say About Rape?
In Islam, what is the law and the punishment for committing rape?
Answer: Rape is completely forbidden in Islam, and is a crime punishable by death.
In Islam, capital punishment is reserved for the most extreme crimes which harm individual victims or destablize society. Rape falls into both of these categories.
Islam takes very seriously the honor and protection of women. The Quran repeatedly reminds men to treat women with kindness and fairness. Rape is a horrible crime which causes a women humiliation and physical harm.
Some people seem to confuse Islamic law by equating rape to sex outside of marriage (adultery or fornication). However, throughout Islamic history there have been scholars who classified rape as a form of terrorism (hiraba). There have also been specific examples in Islamic history which can shed light on how early Muslims handled this crime and its punishment.
Examples from Early Islamic HistoryDuring the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, a rapist was punished based on only the testimony of the victim. Wa'il ibn Hujr reported that a womam publicly identified a man who had raped her. The people caught the man and brought him to the Prophet Muhammad. He told the woman to go, that she was not to be blamed, and ordered that the man be put to death.
In another case, a woman brought her infant to the mosque and publicly spoke about the rape that had resulted in her pregnancy. When confronted, the accused admitted the crime to the Caliph Umar who ordered his punishment. The woman was not punished.
Adultery or Terrorism?It is incorrect to say that rape is merely a subcategory of adultery or fornication. In the well-known Islamic legal book, "Fiqh-us-Sunnah," rape is included in a definition of hiraba (terrorism or crimes of violence): "A single person or group of people causing public disruption, killing, forcibly taking property or money, attacking or raping women, killing cattle, or disrupting agriculture." This distinction is important when discussing the evidence required to prove the crime.
Evidence RequiredObviously, it would be a horrible injustice for an innocent man to be falsely accused of a capital crime such as rape. To safeguard the rights of the accused, the crime must be proven with evidence in court. There have been various historical interpretations of Islamic law, but the most common legal practice is that the crime of rape may be proven by:
- Witness testimony - The testimony of four witnesses to the act itself is traditionally the requirement to prove adultery under Islamic law. Most Islamic scholars, however, recognize that adultery is voluntary while rape is coerced. Thus they have moved beyond requiring this evidence alone to prove sexual assault.
- Confession - The full and complete confession of the perpetrator is accepted as evidence under Islamic law.
- Physical evidence - Even in early Islamic history, many Islamic jurists accepted physical evidence to prove a woman's lack of consent. As forensic science becomes more adept at providing physical evidence of sexual assault, such evidence is more commonly accepted.
Marital RapeThe Quran clearly establishes that the relationship between husband and wife should be based on love and affection (2:187, 30:21 and others). Rape is incompatible with this ideal. Some jurists have argued that there is a standing "consent" given at the time of marriage, so they do not consider marital rape to be a punishable crime. Other scholars have argued that rape is a non-consensual and violent act, which can happen within a marriage as well. Ultimately, a husband has a duty in Islam to treat his spouse with dignity and respect.
Punishing the Victim?There is no Islamic precedence for punishing the victim of sexual assault, even if the assault is not proven. The only exception is if a woman is found to have deliberately and falsely accused an innocent person. In such a case, she may be prosecuted for slander.
Sadly, there have been cases where women have attempted to initiate a rape complaint, but ended up being prosecuted and punished for adultery. One such case happened in Somalia in 1998. These cases demonstrate a lack of compassion and a clear violation of Islamic law.
It should be noted that rape is a crime of violence, and is not "caused" by a woman's actions in any way. Women should always use caution, however, and be aware of their personal safety. Anyone who is forced to do something is not guilty of any sin, even in the case of someone being forced to denounce their faith in Allah. The Quran says: "Except him who is forced thereto and whose heart is at rest with Faith..." (An-Nahl:106). It was also reported that the Prophet Muhammad said, "Allah has pardoned my people for the acts they do by mistake, due to forgetfulness, and what they are coerced into doing." A Muslim woman who is the victim of rape will be rewarded by Allah for bearing her pain with patience, perserverance, and prayer.
Learn MoreThose who are interested in the historical understanding of rape in Islamic law may find a complete academic review written by Hina Azam from the University of Texas at Austin. Her work, "Competing Approaches to Rape in Islamic Law," will be published in the forthcoming "Feminism, Law and Religion" (Ashgate Publishing, 2013).