- It is absolutely haram (unlawful) for a man to harm his wife. The Prophet ﷺ prohibited harming others in general,1 and intensified that prohibition for harming other believers.2 If one is taught to hold ordinary people – with whom one shares no special relationship – in such sanctity, then what of the person one is linked to in the “weighty, serious bond” of marriage (Qur’an 4:21); who is one’s “garment” (2:187), and who lives under one’s ri’aaya, care and shepherdship, as mentioned in a prophetic tradition?3 Allah has described marriage as a relationship of kindness, mercy and love (30:21), and commands men to deal with their wives in an honorable way (4:19). Rape, abuse, ill treatment, and inflicting harm – be it physical, verbal or psychological – are completely unacceptable in such a relationship.
- It is true that the contract of marriage grants a husband the right to intimacy with his wife, and vice versa, however, this does not imply that one can seek to obtain this right violently or forcefully. Just as in any situation in which one has been deprived of one’s due rights, one must go through the proper channels to resolve the matter in a just and honorable way. At no time does it become permissible for someone to take it upon themselves to harm the other party in a misguided attempt to ‘take their right’. This would amount to a type of vigilantism or seeking of personal vengeance that has no place in Islamic tradition, in which we are taught to defer such disputes to those with religious and legal authority.
- People often defend such behavior by citing prophetic traditions that strongly discourage women from refusing their husbands if they approach them for intimacy. While these texts underscore the importance of a wife fulfilling her spouse’s sexual needs (a reminder the Prophet ﷺ gave to men in a number of statements as well,5) they cannot be used to justify force. One such text goes on to describe the husband as one who, after being refused, “goes to bed angry.”6 If it were truly acceptable for a man to force himself on his wife, why wasn’t such an act mentioned here as a viable alternative to his wife’s refusal?
- Some people also seek to confuse this issue by citing the verses in the Qur’an that outline a disciplinary method of dealing with a wife who is nushuz.7 8 These verses are probably among the most misunderstood, misused and misapplied of the Qur’an in our times, and must be understood in their proper exegetical context. Since an in-depth explanation of these verses is beyond the scope of this article, it will be sufficient to state that darb - which is often translated as ‘to strike lightly or tap’ – has been strictly defined by our scholars and has numerous restrictions and conditions.9 From among them is that it is done in a manner that would not cause humiliation or harm to the person, and that it is only done when it is a means of helping reconcile between the spouses, and is not a cause of resentment, enmity or hatred between them.10 It is impossible for such verses – whether looked at lexically, exegetically, or otherwise – to be used to excuse violent or forced sexual relations with one’s wife. Dr. Jamal Badawi succinctly rejects these types of false claims by stating,
“Any excess, cruelty, family violence, or abuse committed by any Muslim can never be traced, honestly, to any revelatory text (Qur’an or hadith). Such excesses and violations are to be blamed on the person(s) himself, as it shows that they are paying lip service to Islamic teachings and injunctions and failing to follow the true Sunnah of the Prophet.”11
The crime of rape is classified not as a subcategory of ‘zina’ (consensual adultery), but rather as a separate crime of violence under hiraba. This classification is logical, as the “taking” is of the victim’s property (the rape victim’s sexual autonomy) by force. In Islam, sexual autonomy and pleasure is a fundamental right for both women and men (Ghazâlî); taking by force someone’s right to control the sexual activity of one’s body is thus a form of hiraba.
Rape as hiraba is a violent crime that uses sexual intercourse as a weapon. The focus in a hiraba prosecution is the accused rapist and his intent and physical actions, and not second-guessing the consent of the rape victim. Hiraba does not require four witnesses to prove the offense, circumstantial evidence, medical data and expert testimony form the evidence used to prosecute such crimes.
This is even within Marriage.