Sermon shouldn't keep blaming attire for rape

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ADUN SPEAKS Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (Jais) last Friday (Feb 6, 2015) delivered a sermon titled “ Aurat: Antara Kebebasan dan Maruah Diri ” (Aurat: Between freedom and self dignity).

In the sermon, Jais said Muslim women should cover up their ‘aurat’ to prevent “being harassed physically or mentally... so as to prevent false accusations (fitnah),  evil gazes (pandangan yang jahat) and bad incidents from taking place (perkara yang buruk berlaku)... Negative incidents such as rape, illicit sex, and incest (rogol, zina, sumbang mahram) can be avoided.”

Sadly, the sermon by Jais is misinformed, irresponsible, disrespectful and smacks of male bias. This “tutup aurat” message does nothing to help female victims of sexual assault and abuse – but instead shifts the blame and responsibility for preventing sexual crimes onto the victims, instead of the perpetrators!

In reality, rape involves more complicated dynamics than failure to ‘tutup aurat.’ Many clinical and psychological studies (from Groth, Holmstrom & Burgess in 1977 to Barbaree & Marshall in 1991) have show that power and anger are the most common motivations for rape.

Other studies (from Clarke & Lewis in 1977 to Darke in 1990) have linked the behaviours of rapists with the intention to humiliate victims – physically, mentally and verbally. In other words, rape is the result of unequal power relationships between perpetrators and victims.

It’s a bully who picks on the weak

Instead of seeing rape as the result of ‘being tempted by a woman’, a more accurate interpretation would be a bully who picks a weak or vulnerable victim. This explains the horrifying statistic in 2010 that 50 percent of rape victims in Malaysia are under 16 years old!

Also, there is plenty of evidence to contradict the claim by Jais that ‘tutup aurat’ will prevent rape, sexual abuse and assault. In the case of Noor Suzaily Mukhtar who was raped and killed on a bus in 2000, she was wearing a long skirt and tudung

Noor Suzaily Mukhtar is just one of many victims – including infants and children – who were ‘dressed decently’ at the time of the assault.  

The fact is, ‘tutup aurat to prevent rape’ is a message that fails to address the main cause – which is blatant disrespect for women and girls of all ages and backgrounds in Malaysia. Excuses like ‘she deserved it’ only encourage sexual offenders and opportunists to get away, blame-free.

Instead of perpetuating this behaviour, all boys and men should be taught to respect the right of others’ bodies and never force themselves on any female, whether young or old – and whether ‘tutup aurat’ or not.

In fact, Jais and all religious authorities in Malaysia should address this issue in future sermons, and sternly warn everyone not to break the law or commit acts of sexual violence.  

Comparison to unlocked house in poor taste

Speaking of disrespect for women, the comparison by Jais of ‘women who do not cover up’ to ‘houses that are left unlocked’ is in poor taste.

Although the excuse of Jais is that this is a ‘simple analogy’, the fact is that a woman is not a house, an object, or a piece of meat to be used by anyone. A woman is a human being – and entitled to basic human rights, not to be harmed under any circumstances.

This ‘simple analogy’ of Jais  reduces a woman’s worth to that of an object, and treats her as a passive piece of property that can be robbed, taken away and occupied by force. This ‘simple analogy’ is a feudal mentality that has no place in Malaysia today – and it must change.

Last but not least, JAIS’s emphasis on women’s aurat and victim-blaming shows that Malaysia’s religious leadership lacks gender sensitivity and understanding of women’s issues. To counter this, there must be concrete efforts to increase women’s representation in all sectors – especially in religious leadership.

CHONG ENG is the state assemblyperson for Padang Lalang, Penang, and is also a state executive councillor.

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