Sunday, March 18, 2012

thoughts on amina filali

As some of you may know, Amina Filali was a 16-year-old Moroccan girl who recently committed suicide with rat poison. She was raped at 15 but, through a combination of social, family and legal pressure, ended up marrying her rapist. (According to Article 475 of the Moroccan legal code, a rapist can be exonerated if they marry their victim). Her suicide was her response to more pain, abuse and misogyny than anyone should be expected to bear.

Huffington Post: Amina Filali, Morocco Rape Victim, Commits Suicide After Forced Marriage To Rapist
AP: Morocco suicide victim fell prey to society, laws

I don't in any way want to be an apologist for the kind of abuse Amina suffered. As human beings we should all want to see an end to such abuse in the world. And as Muslims concerned about the level of women's rights in Muslim countries, we should be appalled. At the same time, the following should be said.

1. Islam has nothing to do with this. The concept of family honor which is wrapped up in female sexuality/chastity/virginity is cultural and not Islamic. In Islam, ordinary chastity is enjoined on both men and women, but there is no religious basis for judging a female fornicator more harshly than a male fornicator. And of the many women Muhammad (saaws) chose to marry, only one had been a virgin at the time. If Muslims really believed in following the example of the prophet, there wouldn't be such a great stigma associated with marrying non-virgin women.

2. On the other hand, what happened to Amina Filali does seem to come straight out of the Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 22
[28] "If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, [29] then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her; he may not put her away all his days.

3. In fact, a little earlier in the same chapter is a description of the very public role female virginity played in the Biblical marriage process which deeply resonates with the cultural values behind things like honor killing:
[13] "If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and then spurns her, [14] and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings an evil name upon her, saying, `I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her the tokens of virginity,' [15] then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the tokens of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate; [16] and the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, `I gave my daughter to this man to wife, and he spurns her; [17] and lo, he has made shameful charges against her, saying, "I did not find in your daughter the tokens of virginity." And yet these are the tokens of my daughter's virginity.'

And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. [18] Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him; [19] and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver, and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought an evil name upon a virgin of Israel; and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.

[20] But if the thing is true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the young woman, [21] then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has wrought folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father's house; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.

4. Muslim societies aren't frozen in time and we can see them changing. For example in the wake of Amina Filali's suicide, indigenous activists are calling for change.

Al Jazeera: Moroccans call for end to rape-marriage laws

5. As further evidence of the fact that this complex of ideas about family honor, rape and marriage is not Islamic, tragically there are similar rape-marriage laws in a large number of Christian majority countries as well (specifically most Latin American countries).

According to a 1997 New York Times piece Justice in Peru: Victim Gets Rapist for a Husband
In Peru the penal code exonerates a rapist if he offers to marry the victim and she accepts. The law, which was written in 1924, was modified in 1991 to absolve co-defendants in a rape case if one of them marries the victim.


Fourteen other Latin American countries exonerate a rapist if he offers to marry the victim and she accepts, said Gaby Ore-Aguilar, staff attorney with the international program of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. The law in Costa Rica, one of the 14, exonerates a rapist if he expresses an intention to marry the victim, even if she does not accept.

6. Misogyny is ultimtately deeper than religious polemics and should be treated that way if things are really going to get better for women.

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