On Unspoken Violence at Home… Why Does Dar Al Iftaa Ignore the Controversy Over “Marital Rape”?

By Enas Kamal

“I hated myself so much that I completely lost my sexual desire because of him. One time, I couldn’t stand it, and I had tears in my eyes, and I felt disgusted, and began to think about how I was going to bear this for the rest of my life.”

With sadness and hurt, Mona (a pseudonym), a young Egyptian woman in her twenties, tells of the forced sexual practise she was subjected to at the hands of her husband.

Marital rape is a term that has become common in Egyptian human rights dictionaries, especially during the last few years. It is the sexual practise between spouses or partners against the will of one of the partners.

It exposes women to various forms of sexual and physical violence, extortion, threats, and oppression, besides the psychological harm.

In a conversation with the “Sharika Walaken” website, Mona stated that she was married to an educated man who writes poetry and advocates for women’s issues and freedom. 

But in the sexual relationship, he was a different and strange person, which led to the tension in their marital relationship.

She added that he would ask me to have sex at inappropriate times. 

“On one occasion, he woke me from my sleep at dawn. I apologised to him and said that I was sleeping and had work in the morning. He got angry with me, but I did not give in to his desire at that time and went back to sleep.”

The same situation kept repeating but in different forms. 

For example, whenever she would be busy working long periods in the mornings and evenings, he would physically and verbally abuse her.

Sometimes, he would have regular intercourse with her and after he finishes, he would accuse her of being frigid and unresponsive to him, or that she was thinking of someone else during intercourse. 

He would even accuse her of cheating, and if she takes a shower after intercourse, he becomes violent and accuses her of being repulsed by him.

On many occasions, she gave in to him and agreed to have sex only “to avoid the verbal abuse and toxicity,” as she put it.

It was not an easy experience for her; the psychological and even physical impacts on her were grave.

She emphasized that she hated herself a lot, and completely lost her sexual desire because of him, until they got divorced.

 “I’m almost depleted sexually,” she added.

Recently, Mona had an emotional relationship with another person, but she didn’t have any sexual feelings towards him. “I was almost doing something imperceptible,” she says.

Where is women’s free desire and sexual consent?

Egyptian society still has much to learn about the essentiality of women’s free desire and consent to have sex, even between married couples.

It was only during the past few years that the term “marital rape” began to be used to define this crime and denote forced sex between intimate partners.

Meanwhile, the National Council for Women, in cooperation with the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, issued in 2015 the results of a survey of the economic cost of gender-based violence.

These results revealed that there are between 5 million and 600,000 women who suffer abuse, and 2 million and 400 thousand women who’ve suffered different types of injuries as a result of violence at the hands of their husbands or fiancés.

According to the Central Agency in 2016, the economic costs borne by women and families as a result of spousal violence amounted to 1.49 billion Egyptian pounds annually since women resort to changing their homes and lives to flee this violence—of these, 831,236 million Egyptian pounds are a direct cost, and 661,565 million Egyptian pounds are indirect costs.

In mid-April 2022, the United Nations stated in a report that “nearly one out of every two women in 57 countries in the world is deprived of the freedoms related to their bodies, and the report counted 43 countries that do not have legislation on marital rape.”

Dar Al Iftaa does not resolve the controversy over marital rape.

Although you may find in many search engines the phrase “Dar Al Iftaa resolves the controversy over marital rape”, it is no more than just headlines.

Dar Al Iftaa has yet to issue a single explicit and clear Fatwa that directly criminalises and forbids the crime of marital rape, ignoring human rights and press reports about sexual assaults against women by their husbands, and the reasons for their silence are unknown. When this topic was raised, Dar Al Iftaa simply settled for publishing a brief tweet that did not resolve the controversy, and did not do justice to women. 

On May 21, 2022, Dar Al Iftaa posted on its twitter account only one sentence: “The relationship between spouses is based on affection and mercy, and the spouses should respect each other’s state of mind,” and used the hashtag #لتسكنوا_إليها.

 Although this sentence does not criminalize marital rape or even allude to the subject, it still did not gain societal acceptance and it provoked a great reservation that spread on social media.

This patriarchal campaign against women’s right to have consensual sex with a partner may indicate that Dar Al-Ifta’s fear of clashing with society is one of the reasons for its hesitation to resolve this crime.

 As for people’s reactions, they varied among the tweeters, some of them mocked it and called it “The Feminist Fatwa House”, while others demanded clarification of the meaning of the tweet, especially since the topic had recently become a very big debate and controversy in Egypt. 

For example, one of the tweeters said that Dar Al Iftaa should clarify the tweet because “the topic contains sedition and has become a trend, be decisive without vagueness.” Another said, “rights and duties are not subject to moods. Those who are unable to perform their marital duties better ask for divorce.”

These are examples that reveal the mentalities that control this society, which sees women and their bodies as its birthright.

 Some of the social media users also considered that Dar Al Iftaa’s tweet came in response to the Islamic preacher Abdullah Rushdi’s comment about the crime of marital rape. 

In response to a campaign launched in June 2022 by feminists under the name “Silence is not a sign of consent” he wrote, “those who are intellectually subsurvient to the West are still promoting the so-called crime of marital rape. The abstainer is cursed, and her husband has the right to discipline her.”

 As for what was published by some press websites and media channels regarding the opinion of the Islamic institutions on this matter, it was all interpretations and reasoning by Islamic Sheiks and Scholars. For example, Dr. Magdy Ashour, who’s the advisor to the Mufti of the Republic of Egypt, discussed the meaning of the term “marital rape” in a television interview.

He stressed that this term “means committing a sin, and the husband has no right to take his legitimate marital rights in a violent manner”, adding that “the prophets and their companions did not treat their wives violently.”

He also explained that “marital relationships take love, mercy and comfort, and not violence or marital rape, because violence is against the intended (meaning) of marriage and intimacy.”

During a telephone interview with one of the Egyptian media channels, Ahmed Karima, professor of Comparative Jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University, said that he “rejects the term marital rape and prefers to say coercion of the wife to have sexual intercourse instead, which is forbidden and prohibited in Islamic law, and the sexual and intimate relationship between the husband and his wife must be done with complete consent and emotional harmony.”

 On the other hand, Al-Azhar institution was more vocal than the Egyptian Dar Al-Ifta. On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in 2018, Al-Azhar issued a statement saying: “After all this, is it reasonable for us to stand silent in front of any form of violence against women? Whether this violence is physical, sexual or psychological, in its various forms, such as: intimate partner violence, which includes beating, psychological abuse, marital rape, and femicide. What rational mind accepts the justification of violence in any form? What, then, is the difference between us and beasts that know no language and are not distinguished by reason, just as Allah, Glory be to Him, distinguished mankind over his other creatures?”

Al-Azhar returned to renewing its vision about marital rape in another statement issued in June 2022, when the controversy raged over this issue, after what was raised by the Egyptian series “Lo’bat Newton” or “Newton’s Game.”

 Al-Azhar said in its statement that “there is no indication in the Hadith Charif that it is permissible to harm the wife; Physically or psychologically, or to neglect the harm done to her by the husband’s morals or bad behavior.”

Beginning to end, my marriage was a rape.

Aya Mohamed (a pseudonym) is a young Egyptian woman in her thirties who shared with us the harsh details of her marriage. She said in an exclusive interview with “Sharika Wa Laken”: “My marriage was rape from the night of the wedding, and for the next 5 years. I do not remember that I ever felt the desire to sleep with him.”

As a minor, under the age of 16, Aya found herself forced by her family to marry a man much older than her against her will. She knew nothing of marriage let alone sexual relations, and when she learned what it was she had no desire to engage in it with him, which subjected her to marital rape for 5 years.

She went through many stages to express her disapproval. She said, “At first, I was like a statue, frozen, unreacting, feeling and doing nothing.

 At the time, he had no objection going through with it, but later on when I started to avoid intercourse and come up with excuses, he started threatening me that he would marry another woman because I do not satisfy him. 

Then I went through the stage of trying to discuss the matter with him and explain my refusal to engage in intercourse, that’s when he would threaten me.”

Aya, a minor when she got married, had never heard of the term “marital rape.” All she knew was that she was being blackmailed for sex; if she agreed to have sex with him, he would treat her well, if she refused, he would punish her and treat her in the worst possible way, to the extent of depriving her of household expenses, refraining from talking to her and preventing her from leaving the house.

 As for the stage of avoidance and rejection, she was then subjected to beatings and threats. Aya added, “Many times he would force me to sleep in a separate, bug infested room, on the floor, without blankets, it was similar to a warehouse. 

He justified it by saying that women who did not comply with the wishes of their husbands did not deserve to sleep in the same room with him.”

With no clear Fatwa on this debate, some men resort to religious arguments to justify their crimes against their wives, and so Aya reached a dead end, beginning with rape and ending with divorce. 

She tries to recall some memories which she doesn’t want to remember: “I didn’t like him, I couldn’t stand him, I didn’t like sex with him. 

My relationship with him was very bad and my relationship with my body was very distorted. I couldn’t even stand myself.”

 Civil society efforts to combat marital rape

Although Egypt has ratified the United Nations Convention to Prevent All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), it has stated reservations over 4 articles: Article 2, the second paragraph of Article 9, Article 16 and the second paragraph of Article 29.

All reservations revolve around the necessity that “these articles do not contradict the principles of Islamic Sharia,” especially Article 16, which refers to marriage related issues and the relationship between spouses. 

So far, not a single piece of legislation has been passed in Egypt criminalizing marital rape. The law is still lacking with regard to the renewal of rape clauses, to include different forms of it. 

Intisar Al-Saeed, a lawyer and chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Cairo Foundation for Development and Law, an institution concerned with providing legal and psychological support for women, told “Sharika Walaken” that “the law does not recognize the crime of marital rape, and what’s mentioned is only what is called, according to Islamic law, “indecent assault.”

That is, if a man tries to take his wife from behind against her will, he will be sentenced between 3 to 7 years.

 According to Al-Saeed, the Foundation published testimonies from women who went through marital rape as part of the international “16 Days of Activisim Against Gender-Based Violence” campaign. 

It was evident from their descriptions that it is difficult for women to tell their stories, and that they sometimes don’t even know that what is happening to them is sexual violence.

Some legal experts who oppose this crime asserted that according to the law, a wife can divorce her husband on the grounds of harm. However, Al-Saeed responds that “This would require the existence of witnesses, which will be difficult in the case of marital rape.”

 While the Foundation has prepared a unified draft law on violence against women, one of its clauses includes a clear definition of the crime of marital rape and a proposed punishment for it, based on enforced laws in other countries. 

In November 2020, and also within the framework of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, the “Barzaki” campaign was launched under the auspices of the “Bint El-Nil” Foundation and “Banat Offline Radio”. 

The campaign produced a legal research paper on legal patriarchal deficiencies, which do not allow for any explicit articles on this crime. 

The campaign aimed at shedding light on marital rape in international law, and defining the crime and the mechanisms of protection and legal assistance, in the event that a complaint is submitted by survivors. 

Meanwhile, Asma Dabees, Executive Director of “Bint El Nile,” confirmed that they provided legal support to women who were subjected to marital rape through the campaign, and filed “fault –based divorce” cases for them.

 She pointed out that “the targeted group was married minors, because they didn’t know anything about marital rape.” She pointed out that “the legislators deal with this crime with paternalism and from a religious perspective. They believe that it is shameful for the wife to talk about her marital secrets.” She added that people attack those who talk about it in public, as happened with the wife of Tamim Younis, who was attacked on social media.

According to Dabees, the campaign was subjected to harassment on social media by people opposing its purpose. She explained that “opponents of the campaign considered that there is no such thing as marital rape and that it is part of Sharia, and that we as feminists are exaggerating.” According to Asma, the “Bint El-Nile” campaign and its work were described as “moral degradation”.

 But this, as she put it, “is faced by all women’s groups and associations working on women’s issues and rights. The attacks from a patriarchal society ruled by religion and Sharia don’t stop.” She explained that “this male reaction to such campaigns, and their fierce opposition to all women’s rights, is because our work makes them feel that their authority is eroding.”

The great control that religion and law have on the lives of Egyptian men and women may indicate difficulty of accessing justice for women who have been subjected to marital rape, perhaps even if a law criminalizing it, was passed.

 The law in our Arab countries is not above Sharia and the patriarchy of the dominant religious ideas, which denies women ownership of their bodies.

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