Sex with dead wives? Please give readers some facts

Please consider this post the strangest possible sequel to my recent posts on the need for journalists to be more precise when using terms such as “Islamist.”

In fact, I hesitate to even mention this Daily Mail story that is drawing — needless to say — all kinds of attention online. One of the GetReligionistas wondered if this report actually originated in The Onion. Alas, it did not.

However, I have a serious journalistic point to make about this grisly subject. Honest.

First, here’s the top of the story:

Egyptian husbands will soon be legally allowed to have sex with their dead wives — for up to six hours after their death.

The controversial new law is part of a raft of measures being introduced by the Islamist-dominated parliament.

It will also see the minimum age of marriage lowered to 14 and the ridding of women’s rights of getting education and employment. Egypt’s National Council for Women is campaigning against the changes, saying that “marginalising and undermining the status of women would negatively affect the country’s human development.”

The leader of the National Council of Women is later quoted as blaming this law on “alleged religious interpretations.” It doesn’t help matters that the law would extend the same privilege to wives after the deaths of their husbands.

The short story ends with a burst of outrage from a predictable source — mainstream Egyptian media.

TV anchor Jaber al-Qarmouty slammed the notion of letting a husband have sex with his wife after her death under the so-called “Farewell Intercourse” draft law. He said: ‘This is very serious. Could the panel that will draft the Egyptian constitution possibly discuss such issues? …

“This is unbelievable. It is a catastrophe to give the husband such a right! Has the Islamic trend reached that far? Is there really a draft law in this regard? Are there people thinking in this manner?”

OK, put yourself into the editor’s chair on this one.

Let’s ask a basic question: Is there any way in the world that you would publish this story without some kind of commentary from mainstream Muslim scholars on this question? Is there any way in the world that a story on this topic should be allowed to run without quotes from the supporters of the law in which they explain what it has to do with the Koran or any standing body of Sharia law?

In other words, the minute someone says that this law is being backed by alleged “Islamists,” doesn’t that mean that someone in the newsroom had to try to find out how this law is or is not linked to someone’s interpretation of Islamic laws? If journalists are going to try to pin this on one or more camps of “Islamists,” shouldn’t there be some explanation of the source of the law? Isn’t that a rather basic journalistic question?

Even a basic online search on this subject that includes the term “Sharia” yields next to nothing — other than the usual outraged commentary from the usual outraged sources.

Is this a story or not? If the bill was introduced by an Islamist group, then provide a legal text. If this is linked to Sharia, then will someone please quote the appropriate reference? The more awkward the subject, the more journalists have to be cautious and establish the basic facts.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    So….what are the facts here? Is this creepy/disgusting practice a part of Islamic custom/tradition/law, etc. … or not.

    I’m still confused and nauseated.

  • sari

    Many of the articles quote Zamzami Abdul Bari, a Moroccan cleric who has issued several fatwas allowing non-mainstream sexual practices. No references to the Quran.

  • Kate

    I too wonder where the ‘pro’ side is in this article. How can anyone report on this bit of legislation and not want to know (and report on) the supposed justification?

    I also have mixed feelings about leading with the post-mortem intercourse when there are so many more pressing issues raised in this package of legislation. Honestly, sex with dead spouses may be gross and sensationalistic to write about, but removing women’s rights of education and employment will have a real impact on living women. On the other hand, perhaps we are so jaded to these ups and downs in the region that it takes a sex angle to get anyone interested.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Sari – For example, I sent this article from a Middle-Eastern source in to GetReligion, which states:

    The controversy about a husband having sex with his dead wife came about after a Moroccan cleric spoke about the issue in May 2011. Zamzami Abdul Bari said that marriage remains valid even after death adding that a woman also too had the same right to engage in sex with her dead husband.

  • http://ecben.wordpress.com Will

    WHY was this alleged bill allegedly introduced? Is somebody upset over a wave of un-Islamic necrophilia prosecutions, or what? Or is it just a “those disgusting Moslems” fabrication from the usual alarmists?

    And what about that annual blister, marriage with deceased wife’s sister?

  • ER

    yep, it’s true & there’s sunnah to back up the ruling

  • http://twitter.com/daydreamlab Adam Bradley

    I first read about this issue on Poynter blog post, which is more or less pleading for “credible information about this legislation, if indeed it exists.” They also note that some of the first papers to run stories on this law have since added weasel-words to the top of those articles.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    ER:

    You can’t just say that and not provide a URL.

    That’s the point. Back your claim with a quote.

  • http://twitter.com/daydreamlab Adam Bradley

    TMATT: The Christian Science Monitor piece mentioned by Poynter mentions a Moroccan cleric who argued in favor of this idea, “But that guy is far, far out on the nutty fringe.”

    I’m guessing someone at the Daily Mail heard a rumor and, this being the Daily Mail, decided it was just too great a story to waste time on fact-checking. Then the story got sucked through the Huffington Post‘s aggregation turbine into the American news market with no human intervention.

  • Julia

    Adam:

    It’s the same process as a lot of the news coming out of “the Vatican”.

  • Martha

    Yep, nothing like a good sex’n'religion angle to grab interest!

    I too would like to see some comment from actual Muslim clerics or scholars on this. Could it possibly be anything to do with an obscure query in moral theology along the lines of “My spouse and I were engaged in mutual payment of the marital debt when due to the strenuous activity of the moment and his or her poor health, he or she expired. Unfortunately I did not notice this until after the accomplishment of the act, so to speak. Am I guilty of committing necrophilia?” and this is a way of saying “No, if it’s accidental and with your spouse, you haven’t committed a sin” without making this a necrophile’s charter?

    (I can imagine equally bizarre requests in Catholic moral theology, and I’d hate to see some of the hypotheticals splashed all over the newsprint without any explanation like this one).

    Or maybe, like everyone says, this guy is just an oddball waaay out on the fringes.

  • carl jacobs

    The more awkward the subject, the more journalists have to be cautious and establish the basic facts.

    Especially since this doesn’t pass the “Wouldn’t we have heard something about this before now?” test. I frankly don’t believe this is true. But there are sure a lot of people who want it to be true. And that is an interesting angle. Why are so many people willing to believe what should make them incredulous? Somebody should do a story on that .. you know .. after the hysteria goes away, and people find out this was a rumor gone viral.

    carl

  • Jerry

    I just read a short interesting media roundup at http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/323758

    Al Arabiya report that Egyptian columnist Amro Abdul Samea in an opinion piece in Al-Ahram discussed the new law proposal.

    The British Daily Mail online, and Al Arabiya both cover the story and report that Egypt’s National Council for Women is campaigning against these laws stating that Dr Mervat al-Talawi, head of the NCW, has listed her concerns in a letter to the Egyptian People’s Assembly Speaker Dr Saad al-Katatni.

    The Huffington Post who covered the news story are now reporting there are claims that the story is false. Andrew Sullivan in The Daily Beast says “There is no evidence that such a bill exists or was under discussion in parliament at any point”. Dan Murphy, staff writer for The Christian Science Monitor mentions the facts around this story are backed up by ‘zero evidence’.

    Terry, you’re comment shown below indicates that you might have been taken in by the rumor:

    Is there any way in the world that a story on this topic should be allowed to run without quotes from the supporters of the law in which they explain what it has to do with the Koran or any standing body of Sharia law?

    Because it appears that there is no law being proposed and thus no supporters. Perhaps that sentence should have been written in the conditional tense which took into account what you also wrote:

    The more awkward the subject, the more journalists have to be cautious and establish the basic facts.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JERRY:

    I was saying that the story should not have been RUN AT ALL, without confirmation from clerics offering commentary on it.

    Now, if it turns out that there isn’t a LAW AT ALL being proposed, then I would have been fooled by the multiple sources citing the reaction of progressive Egyptian voices TO IT.

    I will gladly evaluate the claims that the Daily Mail and others were taken in by fraud.

    It doesn’t change my opinion that the Daily Mail never should have run the story in THE FIRST PLACE without some kind of authoritative connection to Sharia, etc.

    In other words, Jerry, refusing to run it without quotes from supporters of the law certainly would have confirmed that it is a fake. Yes?

    I think you need to read my actual post, again.

  • Maureen

    Well, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, but apparently there is a hadith for this, and I quote:

    It’s from a book called “Kanz al Umal” (The Treasure of the Workers), in the chapter of “The issues of women”, authored by Ali Ibn Husam Aldin, commonly known as Al-Mutaki Al-Hindi. He based his book on the hadiths and sayings listed in “Al-Jami Al-Saghir,” written by Jalal ul-Din Al-Suyuti.

    Narrated by Ibn Abbas:

    ‘I (Muhammad) put on her my shirt that she may wear the clothes of heaven, and I SLEPT with her in her coffin (grave) that I may lessen the pressure of the grave. She was the best of Allah’s creatures to me after Abu Talib’… The prophet was referring to Fatima , the mother of Ali.

    “The Arabic word used here for slept is “Id’tajat,” and literally means “lay down” with her. It is often used to mean, “Lay down to have sex.” Muhammad is understood as saying that because he slept with her she has become like a wife to him so she will be considered like a “mother of the believers.” This will supposedly prevent her from being tormented in the grave, since Muslims believe that as people wait for the Judgment Day they will be tormented in the grave. “Reduce the pressure” here means that the torment won’t be as much because she is now a “mother of the believers” after Muhammad slept with her and “consummated” the union.”

  • Maureen

    The Fatima in question is Muhammad’s uncle’s wife, who raised Muhammad after his own parents died.

    Cautionary disclaimers: Different sets of ahadith are accepted by different sets of Muslims, because some are judged more historically/doctrinally reliable than others by different sets of Muslims. The same events are told differently in different ahadith. A lot of weirder ones, even if considered reliable by most groups, are not exactly advertised to Muslims who aren’t doing a lot of religious study. Most Muslims aren’t really all that interested, either. So not every Muslim will know every hadith in existence or whether to trust it; and I sure as heck don’t, not being Muslim or terribly interested.

  • JF_Hickey

    I agree with the “tmatt” that we should doubt the credibility of a story which has no attribution to any primary sources. This kind of “journalism” has become more common in recent years. (Unfortunately “tmatt” himself embodies an aspect of this problem in using a nickname instead of his actual name, which makes citing him as a source rather circuitous.)

    But the post has evoked some interesting, if wrongheaded, thinking. “Maureen” has made a real attempt to cite to an authoritative source. But “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” as Pope wrote. Maureen implies authority for the supposed “fact” that “Muhammad slept with her and ‘consummated’ the union.” And the supposed basis for that deduction is that “slept with her” is often used to mean, “lay down to have sex.” Well, “slept with her” is also often used in English to mean “lay down to have sex,” but that doesn’t mean it can’t just mean “slept.”

    Maureen and the rest of us are way out of our depth here. It would certainly be perverted to have sex with a corpse, but we needlessly slander Mohammed if we conclude that he did. It is part of human experience that when a person (or even a beloved animal) dies in your presence, you still want to hold them close. After my father had died, I at one point kissed his forehead, and it was by doing that I fully realized that he as a person wasn’t there in his body anymore. This is part of how people come to terms with the mystery of death. Is it impossible to imagine that Mohammmed, who had stepped beyond convention in such important ways, could have embraced the body of a beloved friend as a way of dealing with the mystery of death? Do we really need to assume the most perverted interpretation of such an idea?

    I don’t mean to attack Maureen personally, and I appreciate her willingness to do some scholarship here. I just am concerned about the conclusions some might take away from her post.

  • Mustafa

    Maureen, I am quite sure that the Prophet s.a.w.s. never had a wife named Fatima and a son named Ali; but he did have a daughter named Fatima (who died after he died) and a son-in-law named Ali.

  • Mustafa

    Sorry, haven’t read your other post. But still, the text you quote sounds really, really, really strange. Anyways, I did find this piece of news about a Sudanese who was executed in Saudi fo raping a corpse…

  • http://none john

    I call B***S*** (for the moment), not on the “proposal”, but on the basis in Islam. I will believe it when someone quotes the exact words from the Koran, so I can do my own research to verify.

    BTW, I’m Roman Catholic, have read a piece of the Koran regarding the Virgin Mary, and it turns out The Moslems also believe in her virginity. I keep an open mind.


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