Rights of Muslim rape victims spark debate in Malaysia

Rights of Muslim rape victims spark debate in Malaysia

A MAJOR debate has broken out in Malaysia about Muslim women's rights involving rape.

The dispute began after the Democratic Action Party (DAP) launched a campaign last week to raise awareness about rape and to end the culture of victim blaming.

The campaign triggered strong reactions, with some Muslims saying on Facebook and Twitter that marital rape does not exist in Islam.

MP Zairil Khir Johari, from the DAP, said the comments reflect the growing voice of conservatism in Malaysia.

"The fact that a lot more extreme views are getting airtime reflects the rising influence in the public sphere of these conservative voices. That's not good news as Malaysia used to be the bedrock of moderation in the Islamic world," Mr Zairil told The Straits Times.

Hard-line Islamist group Hizbut Tahrir Malaysia (HTM) struck back, saying women are required to provide witnesses to prove rape under Islamic law as the religion does not permit DNA evidence.

The group said the rape victim needs to provide either two male witnesses, or one male and two female witnesses. This is because women are susceptible to exaggerating claims, it said.

"The danger is that if the woman wants to betray other people, she commits adultery with a man, but when she regrets it, she reports to the police saying she was raped," HTM spokesman Ustaz Abdul Hakim Othman told a forum over the weekend.

He added that Islam does not accept DNA evidence for rape cases because semen can accidentally enter a woman's vagina. "DNA is not proof of rape. Other evidence like wounds in the vagina that show penetration is still not proof that it's rape."

HTM is part of a larger network under the global Hizbut Tahrir umbrella. The group's ultimate goal is to unite all Muslim countries and establish a Muslim caliphate. Australia and Denmark are currently debating whether to ban the group.

Joining the debate, Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria also said the concept of marital rape does not exist in Islam, though he noted that religious scholars say it is sinful for a Muslim man to force his wife to have sex when she is ill or menstruating.

"Even the Prophet says even when they're riding on the back of the camel, when the husband asks her, she must give.

"So there's no such thing as rape in marriage. This is made by European people, why should we follow?" he told Malay Mail Online on Sunday.

Muslim women's rights group Sisters in Islam disagrees. It said yesterday that Islam does not allow a husband to force his wife to have sex as both men and women have equal rights in a marriage, citing verses in the Quran to back its claim.

Ms Maria Chin Abdullah, chairman of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0), pointed out that Section 375A of the Penal Code only criminalises the act of a husband hurting his wife, or instilling fear of death or hurt, to have sexual intercourse with her.

"Unfortunately in Malaysia, our laws do not recognise rape."

DAP representative Yeo Bee Yin said rape is a major problem in Malaysia. "On average, there are 3,000 rape cases reported every year and only two out of every 10 cases are reported.

"In other words, every 35 minutes, there is one girl or woman being raped somewhere in Malaysia."

This article was first published on April 28, 2015.
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