There seems to be much confusion about cases and matters pertaining to allegations of sexual crimes and the Muslim community’s treatment of the accused and the accuser. The following is a response to a specific inquiry about such matters that Darul Qasim has received. This article is intended to offer general guidelines to the Muslim community according to our understanding of Muslim law. The position taken in this article is consistent with the beliefs and values held by the leadership at Darul Qasim.
Muslim jurists have always held the position that Islamic law aims to protect human beings from all forms of injustice in this world as well as the next. Islamic law would not be understood completely if the Hereafter was not included in the determination of its legal maxims and precepts. However, since the purpose of this article is to explain a Muslim’s role in this society (in the U.S.A), we will restrict the discussion to injustice in this world.
All Muslims have a moral obligation to command good and forbid evil. This is highlighted in the Qur’an and Sunnah repeatedly. This obligation is both for individuals as well as for society at large. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “Each one of you are shepherds and each one of you is responsible for your (own) flock.” referring to each individual’s obligation towards the general well-being of those to whom they are responsible and those for whom they are responsible. He also said: “Islam (Deen) is good counsel… for Allah, for His messenger, for leaders and for the general public”, referring to the public and social obligation of every Muslim. This includes giving good counsel even to leaders. He also described society as a ship with two decks and explained that if passengers on the lower deck decided not to bother those on the upper deck when in need of water and bore a hole in the ship, the passengers on the upper deck must stop them, lest they all drown.
The list of references mandating behavior of Muslims as responsible citizens is insurmountable. The overall emphasis in these texts explicitly demands that if a (Muslim) person was a witness to an evil act, he would be responsible to try and prevent the act from happening if he is able to do so or to facilitate justice. The mode of prevention cannot be left to the individual witness, as this may lead to chaos and vigilantism which is an act of evil. Hence, Islamic law mandates that Muslims follow a method recommended by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. This method involves three levels. The first is to prevent the act from happening with one’s own hand. The second is to speak out by one’s tongue and the third is to dislike it with one’s heart (meaning believe it is wrong and pray for its eradication). Muslim jurists have used this prescription to offer a just and reasonable legal process to implement this moral obligation.
In a Muslim country where Islamic law is administered (or could be administered in theory) through the state, Muslim citizens should simply defer to the legal process that is immediately available to them through that state’s judicial system. As sexual crimes undermine the basic social values of society, Islamic law would administer very strict punishments in public if the accused is found guilty of a major sexual crime and sin. The crime is punishable in this world by the state. However, the accused still has the duty and prerogative to seek forgiveness directly from God so as not to be punished in the Hereafter. The state’s punishment does not necessarily expiate the sin of the act. The combination of the citizens’ initiative to inform the state of such acts and the state’s execution of the judicial process absolves the whole Muslim community from its moral and legal obligation in such matters.
In a non-Muslim country, Muslims have a moral obligation to follow the Prophet’s prescription to enjoin good and forbid evil even if they are unable to administer the legal prescription for justice. In the example of sexual crimes, they would fulfill this moral obligation by either speaking out against any such crimes, or at the very least, by believing that they are abominable. This moral obligation also exists for sins that may not be crimes according the law of the land such as adults consenting to committing adultery. Using physical means to fulfill this moral obligation is limited to what is allowed by the law of the land. This means that if the state does not allow citizens to take any physical action (such as a violent reaction), then a Muslim may not be allowed to do so either – in the name of Islam.
Fulfilling the legal component of the Islamic obligation is still necessary for the Muslim community and individual Muslims living in a non-Muslim country. This means that if the law of the land requires a citizen to report sexual crimes to any state authority, Muslims must do so. However, if the state does not require them to report or take any action, then Muslims, like their non-Muslim counterparts, have the discretionary prerogative that the law of the land offers them – even though the Muslim must believe that the crime or sin is abominable. Deferring to the law of the land then becomes necessary for Muslims in order to fulfill the legal component of their Islamic obligation.
We must appreciate that in a non-Muslim country recourse to Islamic law is not required, nor should it be sought outside of the law of the land. Likewise, as is the law of the land in this country, Islamic law also holds the accused innocent until proven guilty — as it holds the accused responsible if he or she is found guilty. Justice then is served in either case. Muslims must not do anything that may obstruct the course of justice. This includes blaming the alleged victim and pressuring him or her to not exercise their legal prerogatives.
As Muslim jurists have highlighted, Islam mandates Muslims to take all necessary precautions to ensure no harm comes to citizens. This means taking preventive measures and the policing of evil becomes necessary. Based on this precept, Darul Qasim recommends that Muslim institutions and organizations adopt policies and procedures relating to sexual harassment as best practices and precautionary steps to prevent potential harm in these institutions and organizations.
In conclusion, Muslims and Islam categorically condemn sexual crimes, both in the moral sense and the legal sense. In the moral sense, if Muslims are either witnesses or have concrete knowledge of such crimes, they must speak out against them. Muslims have a moral obligation to believe that sexual crimes and sins and behavior that leads towards them are reprehensible. In the legal sense, Muslims must find and employ a process that delivers justice to the victims of sexual crimes. Wherever any act is regarded as a sexual crime, Muslims must follow the judicial process of the land in which they reside.
1 Darul Qasim is an institute of higher Islamic learning in the Sunni tradition, based in Glendale Heights, Illinois.
* Statements of the Prophet ﷺ have been paraphrased for ease and are not literal translations.