She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women's voices together, unaltered, unadulterated


Leave a comment

The BBC’s “Iraq’s Secret Sex Trade” doc Reveals Some Ugly Truths

 “Those who are silent when others are oppressed are guilty of oppression themselves.”

IMAM HUSSAIN (AS)

Last week, the BBC released a documentary called “Undercover with the Clerics – Iraq’s Secret Sex Trade”. The documentary highlighted that some clerics in Iraq are selling young girls for mutah, or temporary marriage, or as the documentary refers to them, pleasure marriages.

In harrowing detail, the film highlights that the cover of mutah is being used to sexually exploit women and rape young girls, in some cases, allowing men to rape children as young as 12. It is important that it is made absolutely clear that this is rape, as children are not able to give consent.

Given that the documentary is associated with cities that are home to some of Shia Islam’s holiest shrines (including Kāẓimiyyah and Karbala), the documentary has been accused of stoking sectarianism, promoting Islamophobia and presenting a biased view, particularly given that the timing of documentary is close to Arbaeen (the observance of 40 days after the day of Ashura).

After watching the film, although some aspects of the film were problematic, overall the documentary was well-balanced, providing the view of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (who unreservedly condemned these practices). This post looks at some of criticisms of the documentary, and why these criticisms are minor compared to the bigger, uglier truths depicted in this film.

If you love the Holy Prophet (SAW), and his Holy Household, then you must also love truth, and therefore, we need to recognise some of the facts that were presented in the BBC film, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. Our discomfort at seeing such crimes is secondary to the pain and suffering of vulnerable women, who are raped, sometimes by men old enough to be their fathers, on a daily basis.

This is happening and we cannot turn a blind eye. It is not the first time that the western media has covered the issue of the exploitation of short-term marriages. In 2006, NPR’s Anne Garrels’ interview highlighted the rising popularity of temporary marriage after the fall of Saddam.

One of the criticisms of the film relates to the use of the phrase “pleasure marriage” as being inaccurate and sensationalist. This is a fair criticism, since the word “mutah” is more accurately defined as temporary marriage. Mutah is a point of contention among Muslims, and is a controversial and poorly understood practice. It can be utilised appropriately but it is also open to abuse.

However, the film was talking about the abuse of temporary marriage for a very specific purpose, i.e. primarily for sex, and so in this case, “pleasure marriage” is a phrase that encompasses the purpose of the men pursuing a temporary marriage for a distinct and specific purpose: for no strings attached sex in exchange for a price. In other words: prostitution. There is no other purpose than the pursuit of pleasure for the man.

In addition, such pleasure marriages violate the rules of mutah where there must be a two-month waiting period after the marriage expires.

Let’s make it clear that this practice as shown in the film is an abuse of religion and certainly does not reflect the beliefs of the majority.

A second criticism is that the film asserts that places of Shia pilgrimage are “dens of prostitution”. We don’t get an idea of exactly how widespread these cases of abuse are across Karbala or Kāẓimiyyah, but the film does state that many places around the shrines facilitate mutah marriage.

This takes nothing away from the sanctity of the pilgrimage itself. It is obviously not the reason why millions of pilgrims flock to the holy sites, year after year.

The key point is that it is happening, whether we like it or not, whether we choose to accept it or not. It does not need to be widespread to recognise it as an injustice.

In addition, it is crucial to understand that this abuse is not happening in the shrines themselves, but rather in the cities that are associated these shrines. And while Karbala of course resonates with Shia Muslims especially, as the final resting place of Imam Husayn ibn Ali (AS), the city itself is a city like any other city in the world, with normal people, and unfortunately, sinners, like in every other place in the world.

We cannot deny the reality of these crimes simply because they are happening in Karbala, a revered and holy place for Shia Muslims. Karbala holds a special place in the hearts of those who love Imam Husayn (AS), as a place where people go to seek truth, spirituality and nearness to Allah, and to pay their respects to the King of Martyrs.

However, it is also a city of abject poverty, widows, and orphans who have suffered in the aftermath of the Iraq war. And with poverty, comes desperation. It’s a toxic environment of desperation and poverty that allows sexual predators to exploit vulnerable women.

This injustice happens everywhere in the world where you have poverty and war. The bombing of Iraq’s infrastructure and fifteen years of war left people (especially women without a support structure) no option, but to resort to any means possible to survive.

It is argued that the so-called clerics shown in the documentary are fakes and charlatans, and have no standing in the Shia world. While this may be true, it is important to consider this from the point of view of the victims shown in the film. Potentially, anybody can claim to study at a hawza, or at an Islamic University and declare themselves an expert on Shia theology.

We see this clearly in the world of social media. The so-called “Imam of Peace” is neither an Imam, and arguably, nor does he stand up for peace. According to independent journalist, CJ Werleman, he’s nothing but a fake. He has also been denounced globally by many Muslims.

While it may be true that Sayyid Raad (shown in the film) may be nothing more than a pimp, from the point of view of women on the ground (and the men seeking such marriages), he is someone who claims to be qualified to perform the rites and rituals associated with temporary marriage. Women approach these kinds of clerics for help and charity, and some are advised to engage in temporary marriage as a solution.

The film could have made it clearer that the clerics were mutah brokers, although at least one of the men featured in the documentary was dressed in traditional religious garb. The film could have done a better job of getting commentary from more authoritative sources, although it was made clear that these men are abusing the religion. In no way were the men associated with the entire religion.

Of course, prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, and it happens everywhere, but the key difference is that in Iraq, the men are falsely claiming abuse to have been made halal and religiously sanctioned. The film included a statement from “Ali” (who regularly uses pleasure marriages for sex): “This is not about religion, it is about money.”

In the majority of these cases, religion has been used as a tool for sexual grooming. Initially, the women are made feel that entering into a temporary marriage is a legitimate (and “halal”) way to alleviate poverty. It is only when they enter this dark world of exploitation that they find themselves trapped with no way out. It’s the shame that keeps them quiet; their groomers use the tactic of fear to keep them from telling anyone.

The documentary provides balance in three ways:

  • It makes clear that these so-called clerics are violating both Islamic and Iraq’s legal laws. In reality, the age of consent (or marriageable age) in Iraq is 15.
  • The clerics are offered a right of reply via telephone. The unabashed lying shown on camera makes it clear that these frauds have no moral standards and certainly no Islamic credentials.
  • Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani is approached and the respected scholar makes it clear to condemn this practice. It isn’t covered up, nor does the Ayatollah make excuses for these crimes.

I do not see the film as an attack on Shi’ism, nor is it anything to do with the holy pilgrimage itself. The power of Arbaeen, and the call of the prominent personalities is so great, that nothing will stop this movement. It is certainly true that the BBC could do more to cover Arbaeen, but I do not understand why we would expect the BBC to promote Shia beliefs. That said, in 2004, the BBC covered the pilgrimage to Karbala that many Muslims from the West undertake during Arbaeen, in their documentary ‘2004 Karbala: City of Martyrs’. In addition, this film isn’t about Shi’ism itself; it is about the topic of exploitative criminal behaviour by a minority.

It is quite possible to be nuanced enough to understand that sexual exploitation in Iraq is a reality, while also recognising that the BBC could do more to cover Arbaeen, which is one of the world’s largest peaceful gatherings. That being said, these critiques of the documentary do not reduce the authenticity of the narrative.

It is clear that so-called clerics (or perhaps more accurately, mutah brokers) are enabling bad men who take advantage of short-term marriages for their own sexual perversions.

There will be many who will use this documentary to make an attack on Shia beliefs, but that should not prevent anyone from exposing the practices shown on camera. Because this isn’t about Shi’ism, and it certainly isn’t about Islamophobia. It is about the victims, and this is happening everywhere.

Ultimately, as Ayatollah Sistani said in the film, it’s happening (and notably, the Grand Ayatollah did not deny this as a reality) because the police are not doing their jobs, and this is because women are not empowered enough to speak out. How can anything be done unless we recognise that this is happening? We need to stop putting our heads in the sand and wake up to reality.

We have seen this all over the world through the MeToo movement. By no means are sexual crimes or exploitation restricted to religious groups or the Shia community. It is happening in Hollywood. It is happening in mosques. It is happening in churches. It is happening in Hajj. And yes, it has happened historically at the BBC. This is not about particular groups of people. Sexual exploitation is about power.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves that just because someone wears religious garb or prays five times a day or “acts religious”, that such things are not possible.

Last year, female pilgrims spoke out about sexual harassment at hajj, which started the #MosqueMeToo hash tag on Twitter. Women used the platform to talk about their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault while they were at pilgrimage in Mecca. It is still taboo to talk about sexual harassment within the Muslim community, but things are slowly changing.

Just last week, GBBO’s Nadiya Hussain bravely revealed that she had been sexually abused as a child. Nothing will change unless women have a voice to talk about their own experiences.

This documentary is one part of the beginning of that journey, and the target of people’s outrage should not be the BBC. Rather, the focus should be on the criminals shown in the film who have the audacity to try to legitimise such heinous crimes in the holiest cities in the world in the name of Shi’ism.

Don’t be outraged that the truth has been revealed; be outraged that it is happening in the first place.

The writer of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


Leave a comment

Dehumanising sex and stereotyping Women

It’s odd how a piece in the Metro makes me think of Qutb and of his views of American women in the 1940’s. 

Sadia Azmat on the face of it appears a million miles and years away from Qutb but she pretty much rehashes the same ideas but in a different order to Sayyid Qutb  in his observations of American society, particularly cultural attitudes and behaviours around women sex and sexuality in public. For Azmat  is endeavoring to be the  American woman that Qutb creates in his work, America and by extension the west being a place with ‘liberated’ sexuality where there are no prohibitions like religion and no consequences. 

“Both views, those of Qutb, and of Azmat only work on the level of dehumanising sex generally and perpetuating stereotypes of women that are used globally to diminish and dismiss the concerns and experiences of women, the reality of women’s lives. “

This grass is greener on the other side of the fence is a dangerous approach as primarily it dehumanises western sexuality from being to do with people – which all sex is, everywhere. Sex becomes nothing more than acts performed like commodities to be obtained as signifiers of how liberated or how privileged the person is.  American women are to Qutb biological, primitive and primal and Azmat describes herself in similar language having primal urges, preferring semen to a sandwich and states that the conservative aspect of Azmats particular corner of the Muslim community has forced her to take on these tropes that are ascribed to the western female, the  ‘other’  bad women, liberated women, that she has held up to her as the antithesis of the good Muslim woman. 

Both views, those of Qutb, and of Azmat only work on the level of dehumanising sex generally and perpetuating stereotypes of women that are used globally to diminish and dismiss the concerns and experiences of women, the reality of women’s lives. There are only constrained modest women who do the right thing and who will be mockingly thought of as missing out and sexually repressed in comparison to ‘liberated’ women who have sex whenever with whoever (the liberation only ever goes as far as sex) who will in turn be denigrated. Regardless of what you do as a woman it is never right as both constructs  serve to keep women constantly in a state of anxiety in their attempt to interpret and enact these ideals in their lives as Azmat says,’ I actually haven’t had very many sexual partners and have lost out on a whole host of experiences as a result. I don’t want to be that person looking back on my life, boasting that at least I never committed haram. Our mistakes make us who we are – human.’ 

It is the last sentence which chilled me the most, indeed it is our mistakes that make us human, but for women particularly the myth of western sexual culture, the horny sexualised female animal has led to untold misery and abuse of women on a global scale. Azmat cashes in on this, Pornhub has terabytes filled with hijab porn and a hijabi Muslim woman will certainly get an audience when they are talking explicitly about their sex life or talking dirty, depending on how you look at it.

Qutb wrote in the 1940 of a society in many ways different from today, but in many ways not for women. The commodification of women either as religious relics in hijab, representing modesty and goodness liberated by Islam or oppressed by religion in need of liberating or the secular westernised woman sexually voracious – liberated in stilettos and coifed coloured hair – reduced to nothing other than a feeling. Also oppressed and in need of liberating. Ultimately there hasn’t been that much movement away from these stereotypes by either camp.

What would really be liberating is the discussion outside from these camps. That’s stand-up I would would really like to see.

By Mrs Rumiyya

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


2 Comments

The truth about Muslims and sex slavery: according to the Quran rather than ISIS or Islamophobes.

By Mariam Sheikh Hakim

@MariamKSHakim 

Woman reciting Qur'an

Woman reciting Qur’an

 

Like many myths about Islam, the Quran and Muslims, I’ve always heard the worst from Islamophobic extremists and Islamist extremists alike. They tend to share pretty much the same language, online content and perpetuate the same awful narratives about Muslims and their supposed religious practices.

As time wears on I’m starting to see these similarities are unavoidable – particularly online where it is rife. For example this video of a female Muslim ‘scholar’ saying that men can have sex with female prisoners of war to ‘humiliate’ them has  been shared widely on right-wing news sites and social media. It’s been spread in the wake of the recent sexual assault allegations in Cologne and reports of ISIS fighters raping and selling sex slaves. It’s mainly been promoted by Donald Trump supporting anti-Muslim bigots, far-right extremists and people who’ll easily believe anything bad about Muslims.

Those sharing the video usually make unfounded claims that the ‘North African/Arab’ men accused of the Cologne assaults were motivated by a ‘Muslim background’. The video has been used as proof of a culturally ingrained mind-set that all Muslims apparently possess, as well as claims that the Quran supposedly endorses raping women, in particular female slaves.

It’s worth noting the video has also been shared by Muslims who have strongly refuted and ostracised the scholar, reacting with disgust over this extreme view that sexual violence and rape is somehow permissible.

And they are right,, rape and sexual violence is not permitted in Islamic texts. It is of course something that causes harm to other humans, which is not Halal (permissible) and in early Muslim communities rape was a crime punishable by death.

However, seeing as this myth isn’t about to go away with a few online condemnations, what scripture is being cited by extremists and has it been distorted? After all there are billions of Muslims across the globe that aren’t going round capturing women to use as sex slaves.

The main reference cited is Chapter 23:1-6 in the Quran.

“And successful are the believers who guard their chastity … except from their wives or those that their right hands possess.”

There are three main points to understand here:

  1. The reference is about sexual relations, which are forbidden with any woman unless she is a spouse or ‘those their right hands possess’. To be clear, this means a concubine or a slave, but intercourse has to be consensual. Rape is forbidden as it is violent and harmful (obviously) and Islamic texts legislated for the proper and honourable treatment of slaves.It was compulsory for a slave to be well looked after and the slave owner was fully responsible for their well-being.
  2. This is not an entitlement being discussed. Concubinage and interpersonal relations with various bondmaids/slaves was already occurring at the time the Quran came about and subsequent passages list restrictions as a starting point to help progress the end of slavery. In any case marriage was encouraged (Chapter 24:32) with slaves.
  3. Moreover, even consensual sexual relations with a slave were not permissible if it caused harm and abuse elsewhere (e.g. a wife) as all parties involved could be affected.

But why were consensual sexual relations even allowed with slaves? The main source of this is based on the Biblical story of Abraham and Sarah who had a female slave (also described as a ‘bondwoman’ ‘bondmaid’ or ‘concubine’) called Hagar. Through mutual consent Abraham and Hagar had a child together called Ishmael.

Some Islamophobes have a hard time remembering this Biblical narrative, and when confronted with this fact, they start to make strange excuses. https://twitter.com/MariamKSHakim/status/699364956672827393

Given how far society has evolved from slavery, the idea of sexual relations is still an uncomfortable concept for many including myself. Yet this reference to 7th century relations is still a far cry from the ‘all Muslims want to rape sex slaves’ myth that is being perpetuated nowadays. In fact, slavery has never been encouraged by Islamic texts; rather it was something inherited from pre-Islamic cultures (pre-600s) that needed to be voluntarily and gradually weeded out of society. Conveniently something the extremists ignore.

In the Quran, slavery is regarded as something that required restraining and eliminating. Manumission, or the act of a slave owner freeing a slave, was highly encouraged (Chapter 24:33). So is giving this freed slave a portion of your own wealth (Chapter 24:33 & 16:71). The Quran also encourages Muslims (female or male) to marry their righteous slaves; a form of manumission and freedom from stigma (Chapter 24:32). The Quran and later texts list a plethora of avenues to free slaves, as it was seen as a highly virtuous act. In fact, it’s difficult to find references on how to make slaves out of people, rather the focus is always on ending slavery.

Furthermore, passages about slavery don’t apply any longer for a modern age given that slavery was widely abolished in the late 19th century (British empire) and has been officially banned internationally since 1948. Slavery is now illegal and is internationally treated as unethical. There is widespread consensus across all nations on this, including Muslims ones.

There is no desire amongst ordinary Muslims to drag humanity backwards into slavery. Just because something was permissible and regulated under a 7th century society, doesn’t mean it is a necessity for a 21st century one – especially when there was a clear agenda in early Islamic texts to eventually eradicate slavery.

Let’s not forget the Islamic abolitionist movements where Quran interpreters advocated slavery was in opposition to Islamic principles of justice and equality. These movements fought hard for progress and most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are happy to keep moving with the times.

Human trafficking and modern sex slavery is, after all, not just a ‘Muslim’ issue, it’s even happening right under our noses in the UK by all sorts of perpetrators. Therefore let’s spromote those devout Muslims like Zainab Bangura who work hard to empower victims of ISIS sexual violence and slavery, as well as those women seeking justice for having been forced into sex slavery elsewhere in the world.

On that note I leave you with a self-referential passage from the Quran about those seeking to place false interpretations on to its wording and context, be they Muslim or not:

(Chapter 3: verse 7)
“Almighty God has sent down to you the Quran, in it are verses that are precise … and others unspecific. As for those in whose hearts is deviation from truth, they will follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation suitable to them.”

The majority of sane, law-abiding, everyday Muslims do not seek to impose themselves on others by force or aggression. They don’t even need me to explain passages in the Quran as they’re not interested in keeping a female slave to rape or ‘humiliate’.

Religious illiteracy has recently been cited as a root cause of extremism and rightly so. Islamophobic extremists as well as Islamist extremists (like ISIS) that promote and validate sexual violence through ‘unspecific passages’ in the Quran – or without context –  do so to justify their own violent mind sets.

These people will and should get called out for it, by non-Muslims and Muslims alike. They have perverted the Quran, which is a falsehood and a smear on the religion of billions across the globe. Islamic texts do not promote rape and do not encourage slavery. We must therefore all be united in spreading light on the matter through proper understanding, not further ignorance and bigotry. This ignorance only plays into the hands of extremists, who have a vested interest in burying the truth of the Quran and pushing their own agendas instead.

 

Mariam Hakim is a communications professional who regularly writes about faith, gender and parenting issues. 

Image courtesy of Hafiz Issadeen; ‘Reciting’ posted on Flickr

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website. A shorter version of this article first appeared on the Independent Voices website.