The Saudi court verdict was extremely harsh by Western standards: 90 lashes as punishment for being involved in gang-rape. While this archaic and even primitive sounding punishment may appear shocking to those outside the realm of strict Sa’ari Islamic religious law, what makes this court verdict even more amazing was that it was levied upon the victim of this crime; and simply because she had been riding in the car of a man with whom she was not married. In the extreme Wahaabi Islamic doctrines being practiced in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, women are often punished for what outsides might consider as very unjust “crimes”. These include being caught unveiled or immodestly dressed in public; or, in the case of this recent incident, being along with a man in a car to whom she was not married.
This “heinous” crime is reportedly said to have been the reason for the gang-rape in which four men, all reportedly married, took the hapless woman to a secluded spot, and there “had their way with her”. Though their punishment was more severe, between one and five years imprisonment and up to 1,000 lashes each, depending on their actual ‘participation’ in the crime, the hapless woman’s family, and that of her companion (who also received 90 token lashes for being with her at the time) felt that the perpetrators of the crime had not received adequate punishment. The punitive punishment theses men received, i.e., the actual lashes, must not have been life-threatening, or such a large amount of thrashing would surely kill them or injure them for life. The victim, who is married, did not appeal her own sentence, apparently accepting her fate within the format of Wahaabi religious law.
The above incident only points out the discrepancy of Islamic religious and legal codes in regards to the treatment of women, who are often regarded as mere chattal property in many Muslim countries, including Israel and the Palestinian Authority. A recent article by an American Muslim woman, Asra Q. Nomani, author of a book entitled Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam, points out how Muslim women in a liberal and democratic country like America are still being treated by their husbands. Ms. Nomani refers to several excerpts from the Qu’ran, including verse 4:34, which states that physical punishment is allowed to be levied against a disobedient wife as long as it is “within reason” and does not involve her face. The translated version goes something like this: “And (as to) those on whose (wives) on whom you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping-places, and beat them”. This is often the fate of women in Islamic society.
Jewish law does not have such tenets regarding punishment for disobedient wives, but all too often, incidents of beatings and other acts upon women by their husbands are seen in the news in Israel, even in ultra-orthodox religious circles. If we as a society frown upon such acts being committed by our Muslim neighbors, we should also speak out more against such behavior in our own ‘backyard’. With over 1,200 cases of domestic violence reported this year alone, we should be more mindful of the consequences of these incidents, even though there are no express laws allowing men to abuse their spouses.