A few days ago Deutsche Welle started a story on women in Islam by introducing us to one generator of fatwas in Saudi Arabia:
Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid [above] is not really that old. Nevertheless, despite being born to Palestinian refugees living in Syria in 1960, and having lived in Saudi Arabia since he was a child, the opinions issued by this religious scholar read like documents from a time long, long ago.
He publishes his opinions on ‘IslamQA.info’, the most popular Salafist website in the Arab speaking world. There, for instance, a young man asks him for the answer to a seemingly difficult question: What is the status of the many ‘slaves’ that live in his home of Saudi Arabia? Can one have sexual intercourse with them? Even if one is married? The questioner himself does not define a ‘slave’ – he assumes that this is common knowledge. In Saudi Arabia the term refers to the many Southeast Asian housemaids that work in the country.
The religious expert knows the answer: ‘Islam allows a man to have sexual intercourse with a slave, no matter whether the man is married or single.’ As justification, the scholar recites Koran passages, the biography of the prophet Mohammed and the opinions of leading sheikhs. ‘The scholars,’ he summarizes, ‘are unanimous in this assessment, and no one is permitted to view this act as forbidden, or to forbid it. Whoever does so, is a sinner, and is acting against the consensus of the scholars.’
You’d be hard pressed to find a richer, more thorough case study in why obedience to a putative god is such a horrendous way of addressing moral questions. It makes about as much sense as asking “what would Stalin (or Hitler or Pol Pot) say” about whether or not we can kill all the undesirables. They would say yes, of course, because that’s who they were and how they saw things.
It’s much the same with asking God or Mohammed or even gentle Jesus; they’re all part of the same system, the One Man In Charge system, so they come up with the thoughts that fit that system. It’s a terrible, rotten system, so it produces terrible, rotten morality in people who think it’s perfection. It produces command morality, and the commands are mostly horrific.
Let’s start with the first sentence:
Islam allows a man to have sexual intercourse with a slave, no matter whether the man is married or single.
Or were we supposed to think he and the questioner were talking about consensual sex, friendly sex, sex between equals? Well no, how could we, since the question is about sex with slaves? If the men who ask this question see Southeast Asian housemaids as slaves, and call them that, then how can sex with them be consensual? Slavery by definition deprives the slave of the ability and the right to refuse.
So this “scholar” takes slavery for granted, and affirms that Islam allows a man to rape a slave. Slavery is so halal that there’s no need even to ask about it, and how convenient: as long as you have this foreign woman in the house to scrub the toilets and sweep the floors, you can also use her as a fuck toy. “You” of course are a man, because who answers questions from women?
Then there’s the second sentence, that says the scholars are unanimous, and no one is permitted to view this act as forbidden, or to forbid it. So slavery is fine, and raping slaves is fine, and saying otherwise is forbidden. Could there be a tidier inversion of morality? “Yes, Mr Man, you are allowed to rape your subhuman foreign slave, and no one is allowed to remind you that the ‘slave’ is a person too and so you should not rape her.” In the third sentence al-Munajjid says it’s a sin to say raping a slave is forbidden. The morally bad thing to do is to say rape is a bad thing to do – the rape itself is “permitted.”
It all boils down to what is “permitted” and what is “forbidden,” according to what one guy said many centuries ago. Consideration, fellow feeling, kindness, concern for others – all that is left aside in favour of “scholarly” parsing of a set of rules.
Annie Kelly and Hazel Thompson reported in the Guardian in October that:
In the Gulf, the International Trade Union Confederation says that 2.4 million domestic workers are facing conditions of slavery. Yet moving abroad to find work as a domestic worker is a calculated risk that millions of women such as Marilyn take every year … There are 1.5 million domestic workers in Saudi Arabia alone, and recruitment agencies fly in 40,000 women a month to keep up with demand.
That’s a lot of “permitted” fuck toys.