Gender-based Violence as an Expression of Christian Persecution in Muslim Lands

Gender-based Violence as an Expression of Christian Persecution in Muslim Lands  : Part 1 – Lela Gilbert, Adjunct Fellow, US Hudson Institute


The following overview is a first step toward examining gender-based violence and its relation to Christian persecution in Muslim lands. This is a challenging subject because of several factors: the unavailability of statistical information, the silence of the victims, and the severity of the abuses, which are sometimes lethal. Quantified reports, by and large, do not exist. At the same time, locating and interviewing enough victims to formulate sizable case studies is daunting if not impossible. Rather than cite possibly dubious statistics from a range of small organizations, our report first exposes cases of general gender abuse in four specific Muslim countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt.

These Muslim states are more closely watched than most others, and a number of human rights organizations, along with government agencies such as the US Department of State, are actively observing them. The evidence such groups provide is trustworthy. Episodically, some cases are even reported in the international media. Meanwhile, burgeoning Christian persecution of a general nature is fairly welldocumented globally by watchdog groups, and information from reliable organizations like Open Doors, International Christian Concern and various Catholic outreaches is accessible online. Because Christians are perceived as undesirable minorities in Muslim countries, they are subject to extreme persecution, repression and violence. As we will see, all women are traditionally treated as second-class citizens under Islam. However, Christian females are in even worse straits than Muslims, because they are the weakest members of an “infidel,” outcast population. Whatever abuses Muslim women and girls may suffer – and their wounds are many – Christian females’ sufferings are exponentially more intense and life-threatening. By examining and comparing the treatment of Muslim women and girls under Islam alongside patterns of persecution and violence in Christian communities, we are able to gain a rudimentary understanding of how gender-based violence has become a savage weapon against Christians in Muslim lands. 2

Part One:

What is the general nature of gender relationships in Islamic societies? A broad look at the circumstances of women in Muslim states reveals several general cultural patterns: a profound absence of equality with men; honor-based family “protection” of women based mistrust regarding their sexuality; widespread domestic violence; rape and murder. In many regions of the Islamic world, female genital mutilation – which in varying degrees prevents females from experiencing sexual pleasure – is pervasively practiced. So are kidnappings and forced marriages of young women, including prepubescent girls, to much older men. In Muslim majority countries where state laws are based entirely on the Sharia (Islamic law) such as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, women’s lives are entirely dominated and controlled by men, including the state’s religious police. They are subjected to familyarranged polygamous marriages. They are required to cover themselves entirely in traditional clothing and veiling, often in black, and they are not permitted to interact with men unless accompanied by a male chaperone – preferably a family member. Whether nations and societies operate either formally (through official state enforcement) or informally (through cultural norms that lead either to community enforcement or mob rule) the Sharia, strictly interpreted, enshrines radical misogyny. For example, a brief look at some of Iran’s most basic laws regarding women is instructive.

The Women's Forum Against Fundamentalism in Iran (WFAFI) reports the following items in Iran’s legal system: In Article 18 of passport law, married women require their husband's permission to apply for a passport. Article 102 of Iran’s Constitution indicates: "Women who appear on streets and in public without the prescribed ‘Islamic Hijab’ will be condemned to 74 strokes of the lash.” Article 300 of the Penal code states that the "Deyeh" of a Muslim woman is half of the "Deyeh " of a Muslim man. Although some may interpret the law differently, by law the life of a woman has half the value of a man. Article 105 of the Civil Code declares: "In the relationship between a man and a woman, the man is responsible as head of the family." The Council of Guardians, has decreed, "A woman cannot leave her home without her husband's permission, even to attend her father's funeral". Article 1133 of the Civil Code states: A man can divorce his wife whenever he so chooses and does not have to give her advance notice.

2 From time to time courageous Iranian women rebel against burdensome male controls. Bloomberg News reported in September 2012, An Iranian cleric said he was beaten by a woman in the northern province of Semnan after giving her a warning for being “badly covered,” the state- 3 run Mehr news agency reported. Hojatoleslam Ali Beheshti said he encountered the woman in the street while on his way to the mosque in the town of Shahmirzad, and asked her to cover herself up, to which she replied “you, cover your eyes,” according to Mehr. The cleric repeated his warning, which he said prompted her to insult and push him. “I fell on my back on the floor,” Beheshti said in the report. “I don’t know what happened after that, all I could feel was the kicks of this woman who was insulting me and attacking me.”

3 Generally, Iran’s women are more westernized and outspoken against their repression than, for instance, Egyptian, Pakistani or Iraqi women. In all Sharia-ruled states, however, attempting to make changes in draconian Islamist legal systems can be dangerous and even deadly. UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, said in a report to the UN General Assembly "In two dozen interviews … human rights defenders reported being arrested and held incommunicado in solitary confinement for periods ranging from several weeks to 36 months, without charge or access to legal counsel," Shaheed said. “Most of them also reported that they were subjected to severe physical torture during interrogations, which were aimed at coercing confessions or soliciting information about other human rights defenders and human rights organizations…”

4 Saudi Arabia’s refusal to allow women to drive automobiles has been widely reported. But that is only one well-publicized example of the systematic discrimination against women in the KSA. “Domestic violence and rape are widespread problems, and women have no redress for such crimes. Women cannot travel or be admitted to a hospital without their husbands’ permission. Buses are segregated, and women must sit in the rear. Those women not wearing an abaya (a black garment covering the entire body) and covering their faces and hair are harassed by the Mutawwa'in (religious police) and can suffer corporal punishment.”

5 In other Muslim regions, even without official state enforcement of Sharia, women’s lives are also cheap. Palestinian-Israeli writer Khaled Abu Toameh reports, “In Pakistan, a 14-year-old girl is shot by Muslim extremists for daring to call for education for women. “In Tunisia, a young woman who was raped by three policemen is about to go on trial for committing an "indecent act." Her crime: she was sitting with her fiancé in a car when the policemen surprised them and brutally raped her.  “Syrian refugee girls who fled the fighting in their country are being forced into marriages by Muslim men, who are exploiting the plight of their families to fulfill sexual fantasies. “In the West Bank city of Hebron, a Muslim woman who decided to run in the local election is being ridiculed and threatened by fundamentalists who insist that she should be only staying at home cooking and looking after her husband and children. “In the Gaza Strip, women continue to suffer from severe restrictions imposed by Hamas and other fundamentalist groups.”

6 A November 2012 Huffington Post story reported: “A 13-year-old girl who said she had been raped was stoned to death in Somalia after being accused of adultery by Islamic militants, a human rights group said. Dozens of men stoned Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow to death Oct. 27 in a stadium packed with 1,000 spectators in the southern port city of Kismayo, Amnesty International and Somali media reported, citing witnesses. The Islamic militia in charge of Kismayo had accused her of adultery after she reported that three men had raped her, the rights group said.

7 Honor killings are rampant. Even in non-Muslim countries there are increasing reports of incidents typified by a father who is enraged by the westernization of one of his daughters and murders her. Although in the US these cases are subject to American law, in some parts of Europe, including Great Britain, there are reports of Sharia courts quietly being given jurisdiction over Islamic enclaves and permitting such atrocities. 8 Nina Shea writes of honor killing, “Lest anyone doubt the reality of this global phenomenon, some recent accounts are worth reviewing. Overwhelmingly directed at Muslim women by male relatives and often linked to forced-marriage practices, these murders are ‘widely reported in regions throughout the Middle East and South Asia,’ especially in places that apply sharia, according to Amnesty International. But, as the group is also careful to point out, honor-killing incidents are now being reported in the United States. In the U.K. last December, police recorded at least 2,823 honor attacks for the previous year, with 39 of the 55 police forces reporting. Among the twelve forces that kept records in 2009, there was a 47 percent increase in the number of attacks, according to the BBC. 

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