traditional Islamic law on adultery fair to women?
Is traditional Islamic law on adultery fair to women? Adultery, or a
mere suspicion of adultery, can often land many young Muslim women in
trouble with the law, especially what passes for law among the Taliban
and their types in some parts of the Muslim world. Why does an act
that cannot take place without two parties result in such dire
consequences for women alone?
The obvious answer is the relative ease with which guilt can be
established for women rather than men. For example, pregnancy is often
interpreted as proof of adultery, and rape is often taken as adultery.
This is because Islamic law in many parts of the Muslim world makes no
fundamental distinction between rape and adultery.
But even if the law established culpability equally to both sexes, one
must answer a very basic question about the resulting punishment. If
adultery is seen as a crime (and medieval punishments seen as
civilized), the provision of one hundred lashes to both the adulterer
and adulteress is ostensibly fair. But is it still fair when one
considers the privileged sexual opportunities for Muslim men?
A man may marry up to four wives, over and above the several
concubines with whom he may have sexual relations. Doesn’t that reduce
a man’s chances of committing adultery, which would technically be
defined as sex outside of marriage? A woman, on the other hand, has no
such options. She may express her sexuality only within the bounds of
her marriage to one husband. Therefore, even a single encounter with a
man not her lawful husband immediately brands her an adulteress. The
man may escape the charge of adultery by having several partners and
regarding them all as legal.
Such inequality of opportunity, which imposes the charge of adultery
on a woman much more easily, makes equal punishment utterly unfair.
Jurists and other modern exegetes of the Quran must recognize this
unjust situation, where terminology has simply been manipulated to
legalize men’s multiple unions and criminalize the same ones in the
case of women.
Islamic law does not take into account the inequality of opportunity
between men and women to express their sexuality. What is deemed
perfectly legitimate for men is criminalized for women, leaving them
vulnerable to sexual offences more often and far more easily. Laws
must therefore be based on secular principles that do not discriminate
between men and women.