The Violence is Not Our Culture (VNC) Campaign and the Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) network recently launched a new publication on zina (illicit sex) laws and their tentative (re)introduction in some predominantly Muslim nations. “Control and Sexuality – The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts,” is an attempt by civil society organizations across various countries to address the historical and present-day cultural, legal and political motives that have led to the reemergence of these controversial laws.
The authors, Ziba Mir Hosseini and Vanja Hamzic, offer a “critique from within,” dissecting zina regulations using classical fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and analyzing the sociopolitical circumstances leading to its reemergence. The book is structured to be a reference tool for those particularly interested in country-specific case studies on the use of zina laws. Each of the countries selected (Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey) is meant to illustrate and substantiate the astonishing diversity of national contexts in which zina has reemerged. The country-specific case studies are further divided into the following subsections: (1) introductory remarks; (2) historical background; (3) domestic legal system; (4) state responsibility; (5) existing civil society activism for change; and (6) conclusion, thereby providing a requisite balance and evidence to the authors’ thesis on the criminalization of women’s sexuality.
While there are differences between Islamic legal schools* on the conditions necessary to ascertain hadd (crime) of zina, “there is consensus in fiqh on the definition and rulings.” Zina is the Islamic jurisprudential term denoting illicit sexual relations, particularly adultery and fornication outside marriage. Four “righteous” male witnesses must have seen the act of penetration and must concur in their accounts to establish zina. Punishment for zina is the same for men and woman: stoning to death for a case of adultery and 100 lashes for premarital sex. According to the authors, the latter has a Qur’anic basis, while the former is based on Sunnah (saying and practices of the Prophet Muhammad).
The book cites age-old patriarchal motive (including patriarchal readings and interpretations of the Qur’an and Sunnah) as prevalent reasons behind the reintroduction of zina legislation. The almost evangelical refocus on Islam as a political and spiritual force in the late 20th century (and more recently, post-9/11) has also unfortunately led to the revival of zina laws in the newly Islamized criminal justice systems in countries like Nigeria, Pakistan and Iran. The book cites a number of other reasons for the reemergence of zina laws, including “protracted socio-economic crises; covert ambitions of political, military and religious elites; post colonial and post nationalist anxieties and theopolitics, i.e., politics based on misuse of religion.”