In the wake of the heartrending rape story that has shaken Pakistan, the hashtag ‘#HangTheRapist’ has become one of the topmost trends on social media platforms in Pakistan. While the general sentiment is to carry out the sentence publicly for its preventive potential, there are also opinions on the contrary. Those who profess religious faith consider the hanging in public punishment to be Islam’s quick fix to rape crimes.
It is true that the act of sentencing in public is endorsed by Islam. There are also precedents that those guilty of rape (Zina bil Jabr) were sentenced to death by the Prophet (SA). Some religious scholars consider the crime of rape to come under the ambit of ‘Fasad fil Ard’ mentioned in the Quran, for which the punishment is death.
However, a deeper and more insightful understanding of the issue reveals that there can be no quick fixes. Publicly hanging the rapist will not eliminate sexual offences against women unless such punishment is part of a longer, wider and more comprehensive strategy that takes into account the deeper issues involved. Carried out in isolation, the punishment is not likely to change much, other than very superficially satiating the public demand for justice.
There is a general principle in Islam that laws of the Shariah (Hudud) are only there to safeguard the deeper and broader ethical aims of the Shariah (Maqasid al Shariah). These ‘Maqasid’ are pursued through comprehensive strategies promoting the spiritual, moral and social project of Islam. The laws do not exist in isolation, but within this comprehensive system, for the purpose of checking deviation from the ‘Maqasid’. Implemented in isolation, the laws cannot work, and may in fact be counterproductive to the ethical aims of Islam.
For a more comprehensive strategy to eliminate or at least drastically minimize sexual crimes, the following measures must be undertaken:
- The Islamic concept of ‘Haya’ must inspire a passionately driven, well thought out, multi pronged and effectively executed movement against pornography in Pakistan. Pornographic content, those who create it, deal in it and proliferate it must be tracked down relentlessly. There are adequate statistics and ample evidence pointing to a thriving pornographic trade in Pakistan. Who are the beneficiaries? The government must block all channels of access to such content. It must be remembered that culprits netted in past incidents of rape and child abuse have confessed being influenced by pornographic content. There is a direct and clearly established link between pornography and sex crime.
- Obscene and sexually provocative content in the mainstream media and the shameless objectification of women’s bodies must be checked through legislation and regulation.
- School syllabi must incorporate age appropriate content on bodily integrity, human rights, women’s rights, and sexual ethics in the light of Islamic teachings.
- Parents must educate their children – both sons and daughters – about safety, physical integrity, the concept of Haya in Islam, handling teenage hormonal changes, Hijab requirements for both genders as well as self defence. Boys must particularly be taught to be respectful of women and to understand the demands of the Deen from them as ‘Qawwam’ of the family/household.
- Youth groups especially boys-only networks operating in the Dark Web, or using the social media must be monitored by government agencies. Parents much keep a check on children’s online activities. Parents must acquire technical know-how to be able to check children’s online engagements. Parental control software/apps should also be explored for the purpose.
- While religious content emphasizing on women’s modesty in dress and demeanour is well highlighted, there is a lack of emphasis on content that underscores the need for men to exhibit modesty in the gaze, in speech and in conduct. When only obligations on women are emphasized and not men’s duties towards women, it promotes a culture of shaming women for ‘inviting’ attention and a ‘victim blaming’ approach in cases of harassment and even rape. The concept of manhood in Islam is that of ‘Qawwam’ which includes the duty to protect women – ALL women, regardless of their appearance, context, faith. Women deserve to feel safe in Muslim societies, in line with the Prophet PBUH’s prediction. This aspect must be emphasized by religious scholars rather than the lopsided emphasis on what women need to do to protect themselves.
- Psychological counseling and rehabilitation aimed at those challenged by anomalous sexual drive or inclination must be provided readily and the stigma attached to it be removed through public awareness campaigns.
- Similarly, psychological therapy for those who have faced harassment and abuse should be made easily accessible.
- Taking the idea further, even those held in prison for involvement in crime must be rehabilitated spiritually, morally and psychologically. Jail time should be an opportunity to mend shattered, destroyed lives and enable those guilty of less dangerous crimes to start over. Unfortunately in our society, imprisonment only hardens and emboldens criminals because of the kind of environment found in our jails.
- The fact that the two culprits involved in this recent rape case have been involved in similar crimes before and have served jail time before release has a lot to say about the abject state of law and order and the gaping loopholes in our justice system. The need for judicial reforms to serve speedy justice is immense.
- Corruption, irregularities and nepotism in the ranks of the police explains why so many criminals go scot free and why so many operate without fear of punishment. The need for massive police reforms and strict monitoring of those who are supposed to safeguard us is urgent and pressing.
- There are also a number of complex socio economic factors explaining the rising incidence of crimes in suburban localities. The sense of marginalization and lack of access to basic rights and facilities for a decent human existence exacerbates the frustrations that drive one to crime and violence. In the long run, the government and NGOs must ensure that communities in less privileged localities get access to basic rights like education and healthcare.
Only when all of these are taken up seriously and simultaneously will we begin our journey to create a healthier, safer Pakistan for our women and children. In a society based on the ethical foundations of Islam, the Hudood punishments for serious offences act as a powerful, spectacular deterrent against the proliferation of crime, while effectively guaranteeing the rule of law.
 Wail ibn Hujr reports of an incident when a woman was raped. Later, when some people came by, she identified and accused the man of raping her. They seized him and brought him to Allah’s Messenger (SA), who said to the woman, “Go away, for Allah has forgiven you,” but of the man who had raped her, he said that the death penalty must be carried out. (Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud)
 “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive to spread corruption through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.” (The Quran, 5:33)
 When a person came to the Prophet (SA) complaining about insecurity in the land, the Prophet (SA) reassured them that peace will eventually come by prophesying a number of things including “If you live long [enough], you will see a woman travel on camel-back from al-Ḥīra(Iraq) till she circles the Kabah while not fearing anyone but Allah.” (Sahih Bukhari, hadith 3400)
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