Scandals, and What They Convey About Us

Recently, the Muslim community has had some problems involving Nouman Ali Khan and Tariq Ramadan. (This is a major understatement.) NAK has been in questionable correspondence with certain women, and TR has flat-out been committing rape. I will refrain from discussing NAK excessively because he has seven children and an ex-wife and they do not deserve to have their reputations ruined because of a man. Here, I will be focusing on Tariq Ramadan.

Orbala shared several articles (including this, this, and this) regarding TR’s rape allegations. A couple of them are in French, which I happen to understand. According to this Twitter thread by Mona Eltahawy, French officials knew of Tariq Ramadan’s reprehensible conduct but failed to take action. Four women have accused TR of rape as of today. Four women.

Here comes the rallying cry from traditionalist men, once again: “Innocent until proven guilty is an Islamic principle.” As indeed it is. However, I do not need to see court proceedings to know that an individual is dangerous. I care about protecting my sisters far more than I care about upholding the politics of moralistic male panels. We need to discard this notion of “keeping these matters private.” Repeated violent assault, confirmed by multiple women, is not something to be kept private. We must release the details of the case so that the community is safe from predators like Tariq Ramadan.

Granted, Tariq Ramadan should not be corporally punished or executed until due process of law takes place. This is what the “innocent until proven guilty” principle prescribes. An individual cannot legally be punished until a court has formally established their guilt. However, does this mean that we should let these people roam free just because formal court process has not yet occurred? Absolutely not.

We need to abolish this nonsensical false dichotomy of “innocent until proven guilty” vs. “execute him now.” It is entirely possible to hold that Tariq Ramadan is dangerous, and to protect ourselves from him, without immediately executing him. This is essentially what happens, or theoretically should happen, in all civilized nations: When an individual has committed a heinous crime, they should be restrained and their movements should be monitored until due court process takes place. Once a court finds them guilty beyond reasonable doubt, they should be imprisoned/given the death penalty.

If you’re going to argue that Tariq Ramadan is not guilty, and that all of these women were lying, I’m not going to continue this conversation with you. You are sick. I canNOT believe how much our “religious” tradition has devolved. We are protecting tyrants disguised as scholars for the sake of “conserving the tradition.”

By all accounts and available evidence, Tariq Ramadan must be societally considered guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Multiple accusations have been leveraged and French officials have testified against him, reporting a history of violence and sexual coercion. The question should not be about whether he is “considered” guilty. Rather, the question should be about how best to protect the community from him until due process of law can be undertaken, and he can be formally indicted and sentenced.

Am I surprised by this scandal? I am, naturally, surprised by the fact that a human being with a conscience can preach Islam yet oppress so heinously. But at the same time I’m not surprised in the least. Is it any coincidence that multiple Muslim scholars in the past could speak of compassion and mercy, God’s grace, kindness to animals and fellow believers, yet condone rape, violence and blatant oppression in the same breath? (See this thread for reference.) Hypocrisy has infiltrated our religious tradition from all directions.

It is astounding that historically, decency and compassion were understood to be Islamic principles. Believers were ordered to treat each other with kindness. Oppression was (supposedly) forbidden. Women were (apparently) supposed to be treated appropriately. Within Islamic tradition, it was unthinkable that rape should be allowed…except in “certain cases.”

A concubine had no individual sexual agency, so supposedly, there was no question of consent where sex slaves were involved. There is a “scholarly difference of opinion” on this matter, but it is remarkable–to say the least–that such a debate even exists, considering that the Quran strictly forbids sexual slavery.

As for wives, “scholars” have historically differed on whether marital rape is permissible. Again, it is utterly incredible that such a debate exists at all, given that the Quran commands men to “leave [their wives] alone in bed”–i.e. to suspend sexual relations–when there is a marital breakdown (Q. 4:34). Thus, Quranically, men are categorically forbidden from engaging in any kind of forced sexual activity, and should have no expectation of sex when marital relations are breaking down. Yet somehow, as I demonstrated in an earlier Twitter thread, scholars managed to overturn this and transform it into its exact opposite: “permission” for rape. But this is a discussion for another day.

How did all of this warping of Quranic verses occur? As I explained earlier, believers in Islam must follow the Golden Rule: Treat others are you would want to be treated. This rule, however, was twisted until “exceptions” abounded: You must treat your wife kindly, “except” when she “disobeys” you. You must work hard to free slaves and not force them into anything, “unless” forcing yourself on them leads to “greater chances for da’wah.” (No, I’m not kidding here. I’ve literally seen Muslim men make the argument that sex with female captives was an opportunity for spreading Islam far and wide, thus it was justified. I have since decided not to engage with people who present such pathetic apologetics disguised as legitimate arguments. My mental health has greatly improved as a result.)

No Muslim scholar, to my knowledge, has ever made the argument that the rape of a free woman is permissible. This is because free women were considered to have their own will and individual agency; thus they were considered fully human. However, wives were considered, to all effects, the property of their husbands; thus they did not have agency and could be coerced as long as “no harm was done” (as if coercion is not by default harm). The definition of “harm” was greatly disputed, by the way, and people attributed all sorts of meanings to it, essentially making the term void.

In this way, wives were not considered fully human. They were property, thus the Golden Rule did not apply to them. Naturally, this is a perversion of the Quran:

“And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.” 30:21

It seems that I have digressed from the topic espoused at the beginning of this post. Nonetheless, my point still stands: The root of all oppression committed in the name of God is dehumanization. It is all too easy to deprive someone of their rights when you think of them as property, or as an object lacking any real agency. This is the height of zulm (grievous wrongdoing) and it is at the crux of every evil act.

Back to Tariq Ramadan. His acts of zulm must not go unpunished. We must deliver justice to the victims. And, as an acquaintance of mine, Michael Muhammad Knight (author of The Taqwacores), wrote on Facebook:

“Because people don’t seem to get it:

1) Yes, I value the presumption of innocence in criminal court.
2) Yes, I adhere to an ethics of believing survivors.
3) No, these are not mutually exclusive. No, I’m not contradicting myself.
4) This is because I am not a judge overseeing a criminal trial.
5) I recognize my membership in numerous communities – professional, religious, etc. – that are rape cultures.
6) As a faculty member in a university of 65,000 students, as a Muslim, as a man in American rape culture at large, my first responsibility is to believe and support survivors.
7) I can defend an ethics of believing survivors given the degree to which sexual violence is underreported, the statistical likelihood of false reporting, and the incredible burdens faced by survivors who report their experiences. There’s lots of material on this.
8) One more time: criminal court is criminal court. The world is the world. The amount of evidence needed for me to regard an individual as dangerous is not the same as the amount of evidence needed to lock him in prison.”

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