In recent weeks, there has been outrage over alarmingly large numbers of cases of rape in Nigeria. The crisis is so serious that it has been dubbed a pandemic. According to the Inspector General of Police, 717 cases of rape were reported between January and May 2020. Many more cases go unreported primarily because people do not trust the police and other government agencies.
The rape crisis has become so bad that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum threatened to declare a state of emergency. It has always been a matter of emergency; rapists have been on the prowl throughout the country.
More worrisome is the fact that in many instances the victims are children, babies as well as teenagers and students. Recently, Jigawa State Police Command arrested 11 men for raping a 12-year-old girl. University of Benin student was raped to death in a church. Within 72 hours, another young student, Baraka Bello, was also raped to death in Oyo State. Last year the rape of a 4-year-old girl in Ogba, Lagos was reported. Earlier, a 70-year-old man raped a 3 year old girl in Kano.
These are not isolated incidents as the police reported some 54 cases of child rape in Kano State alone at the same time. There was also the case of a 6-month old baby who suffered severe deformity after being raped by a 40-year-old man aided by his wife in the process, purportedly as a ‘cure’ for the couple’s inability to have children.
The level of perversity must run deep in a society where babies suffer such cruelty and no concrete steps are taken to forestall future occurrences. For children raped to death, what will be the society’s answer on the Day of Judgment when it will be asked, “For what sin was it (the female child) murdered?” as the Qur’an states (81:9). What will be our response when it is asked, what did you do to stop the evil tide of rape? A good start is to ruminate on what has been paraded as the causes of rape, and from there chart the way forward.
Several reasons have been advanced for the prevalence of rape. These were highlighted in a poll in 2010. People identified issues like indecent dressing, consumption of alcohol, drug abuse and ineffective enforcement agencies.
In discussing the causes, it is pertinent to ask whether the society or system has the tendency to mass produce rapists? What kind ideology pervades such a society? In much of human history there has been a segment of the population that has promoted sexual promiscuity. In the contemporary age, many people can be found among the so-called liberal secularist segment of society whose notions of liberty result in commodification of the human body especially of women. Contemporary dominant secular popular culture views women’s bodies as articles of conspicuous consumption, with naked and half-naked images widely dispersed for modeling, commercials, adverts and all sort of ostentatious displays.
‘Democratization’ of nudity on the electronic media especially TV and social media is thus an important factor in creating sexual perverts including rapists. “Sex sells” is a popular notion for many in the entertainment industry and social media. It was recently debated whether the image-sharing app, Instagram, is wired with an algorithm that is programmed to give preference to certain sexually suggestive images.
When a person is regularly exposed to scenes of rape, sexual activities, sex-filled innuendos and sex-saturated entertainment on sexually explosive platforms, he or she is subjected to a kind of subliminal seduction and conditioning that could make him/her see sex outside marriage as a badge of honor or at least have a carefree attitude to it.
In many cases, such a person, especially a child is at risk of growing into a sexual pervert of different kinds including a rapist. He may grow up to be a corporate rapist such as a bank manager who lures or forces young girls into sex for a job, a university lecturer who sees female students as ‘teaching allowance’ and by force or inducement make young ladies victims of his libido, a film producer who doles out roles in exchange for sex and sometimes shamelessly demonstrates wayward sexual activity on screen in films. This category of rapists is more sophisticated and subtle and perhaps represents the majority.
The other kind of rapists, the subhuman brutes who use raw, physical force and grabs news headlines, belongs to a seperate category. These categories are two sides of the same coin. Therefore, an ideology of sexual promiscuity which permits an explosion of sexual images is an ideology of rape, no matter the quantum of finesse some put on it in the name of modernity and liberalism. It is what one would call sexual hyper-liberalism. When it becomes something of a state ideology and is directly or indirectly permitted and/or promoted by state laws and policies, the result is sexual disaster due to over sexualization of human societies. Countries where sexual liberalism reigns supreme often top the list with the highest rape incidents.
Even when a society implements the hudud or Islamic punitive measures for sexual offences but is unable or fails to shield itself from sexual hyper-liberalism or proliferation of accepting nudity and pornography as a norm, such a society is also at risk of being inflicted with sexual disasters like the rape pandemic, not merely isolated cases of rape.
Unfortunately, some simplistic religious preachers blame indecent dress of women for rape. According to a recent poll, 47% of Nigerians say indecent dressing is a major cause of rape. While this is understandable, it would be simplistic without putting indecent dressing in context and linking it to an appropriate context such as the overall ideology of hyper-sexual liberalism. Indecent dressing is normally a product of sexual liberalism. A person who dresses indecently or flouts his or her nudity as a product of sexual liberalism, would easily fire the libido of other persons who are also certified products of or are simply under the influence of, sexual liberalism. Understanding this point in broader sense partly helps to explain why a rapist could assault a well-dressed person or an innocent child.
Sexual liberalism is a major cause of the rape pandemic, though not the only cause. When sexual hyper-liberalism in one form or another combined with widespread poverty, superstitious beliefs, corruption, prevalence of drug abuse, alcohol consumption, ill-equipped law enforcement officers and a lethargic judicial system where cases take up to 10 years to process, prove fertile ground for rape pandemic and other forms of sexual violence. Is it any wonder then that the results of a survey conducted and published by NOIPolls showed that one in three girls in Nigeria could have experienced some form of sexual assault by the time they attain the age of 25?
An effective solution is to tackle the root cause of the problem. A holistic Islamic approach is to strike at sexual liberalism and the system that sustains it as an ideology. No solution is complete without understanding the sociology of the environment where rape takes place and the psychology of rapists. Therefore, in the preceding section, an attempt was made to discuss sexual liberalism (which is all the same whether in its pre-modern or modern form, though it is more sophisticated today). In dealing with the situation, we need to take heed of the Qur’anic injunction: do not approach zina—Islamically illicit sex (17:31). The solution is not to approach it. In other words, do not engage in activities that could make you commit zina whether consensual or non-consensual, such as rape. Sexual liberalism creates avenues “to approach zina”.
Any society that wants to curb the rape pandemic should put in place mechanisms to end sexual permissiveness, such as by way of spreading sexual images online and offline. The Qur’an underscores the fact that caretakers of home and society may engage in actions that could lure or force people, particularly girls to zina: “You shall not force your girls to commit prostitution, seeking the materials of this world” (al-Quran, 24:33). This is a preventive approach. A society that wishes to heed the divine admonition will cultivate a culture of self-discipline including by way of extensive education and orientation for example on divinely prescribed norms on social relations including ethics of man-woman relations.
Sexual liberalism has blackmailed many Muslim societies into believing that these rules of engagement are archaic. Having seen the consequences of this, the duty of everyone in the Ummah living in a society in which sexual liberalism is prevalent is to work towards ridding it of this pandemic. Creating a home where members are raised to protect themselves from anything that can condition their minds to zina is a step in that direction.
For children, this would mean being on watch on the type of things they access online and the kind of company they keep including things and persons of suspicious sexual character. They should also be taught about modest clothing and to have self-restraint in dealing with (possible) sources of seduction (as per the Qur’an 5:5 & 24:30-31). This is not only preventive but also precautionary.
The punitive aspect relates to the punishment prescribed by Sharia for breaching the divinely- prescribed boundaries of sexual civility in countries where Islamic law is implemented. Such measures have several utilities including serving as deterrence to would-be offenders. When the above measures (preventive, precautionary and punitive) are put in place, other measures to address causes such as poverty, poor attitude of law enforcement agencies, corruption etc. will help in shielding the society from the rape pandemic.
Without this, politicians’ cries over rape in response to public outrage would really be crocodile tears. Not even an ocean of crocodile tears can put out the wildfire of rape recklessly kindled by explosive hyper-sexual permissiveness afflicting societies. Similarly, if the public outrage is not directed and converted to short, medium and long-term actions and educational programs to achieve the above results, such outrage will be mere empty noise.
(Dr Taajudeen Thani is based in Kampala, Uganda)