Women Viewed as Sex Objects in Shari'a

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Women Viewed as Sex Objects in Shari'a

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Harassment and Abuse in Iran: Women Viewed as Sex Objects in Shari'a and
Customary Law

Majid Mohammadi
March 9th, 2009


The most urgent and pivotal policy of the followers of Islam in the recent
century has been to curtail the freedom and rights of women. They justify it by
calling it their campaign against moral corruption and promiscuity, and
preserving women's status and dignity. At times this goal was considered even
more important than establishing the Islamic government and gaining authority.
From their point of view, this moral corruption and promiscuity has its roots in
the western world, not in the Muslim nations. The freedom that women enjoy in
the West is often used as an example of moral corruption. They believe that in
the West women are turned into sex objects. They then conclude that the
salvation of society lies in returning women to their homes, covering the
different parts of their bodies, hiding their shape, and putting a limit on
their freedom in the public domain.

The followers of Islam consider women to be satanic, seductive, and the origin
of sin. When referring to women appearing in Western advertising and
movies—their public appearances in fancy clothes and makeup and their open
relationships with men—they first generalize those characteristics to all
liberated women in the west. Secondly, they look down on their freedom and
rights as signs of corruption, glamorization, fashion, and sexual perversion[1].
Lastly, they ignore the long hard road that these women have travelled in order
to earn political and social freedoms in Europe and North America because they
were granted by capitalists and imperialists.

Even if some women in western societies are, to an extent, regarded as sex
objects and used as such in a capitalist system, the fact remains that this
perception is the prevailing theme of Shari'a and the core belief of the
religious customary laws in the Islamic world. Those Iranian followers of Islam,
who entered the stage after criticizing the present condition in Islamic
countries as well as the West, failed not only to improve the situation after
gaining power, but worsened what was already quite appalling for women. By
ignoring the West's accomplishments, they only concentrated on its weaknesses
and piled those up on top of their own issues and injustices. As a result,
Iranian women today not only suffer by being subjected to Iran's customary laws
and Shari'a as an ideology, but are also burdened by the obstacles of western
women, without enjoying their rights.

Woman as a second class citizen
Shari'a[2], and the prevailing customary laws of most Muslim nations, regards a
woman as a second class citizen. In her role as a housekeeper, a caretaker for
children and the elderly, and a sex object, she is at the service of the man and
the family, with no recognized rights such as guardianship over her children.
She also lacks any entitlement to pursue her own sexual desires freely or any
entitlement to the fruits of her labor at home. The question is, which one of
these two legal and social cultures degrades women more as an object: the one
that grants children's guardianship to women, entitles them to an equal
inheritance, provides for an equal division of property between man and woman in
case of a divorce, considers violence and sexual assault against women a crime
and grants the same political and social participation to women without any
limitations, or the one that openly denies all of the above? The fact that
fourteen centuries ago Islam's Shari'a recognized some limited economic rights
for women (still as second class citizens and humans) does not justify today's
prevailing biased attitude of Muslims toward women's rights.

Legal and social discrimination against women, depriving them of the ability to
acquire suitable education and pursuing desirable political and social
occupations, subjecting them to physical abuse, and violating their rights and
liberty on a daily basis, are some of the customary practices in Iranian society
under the Shi'a government. All these attempts are directed against women's
presence in society. Lacking social organization on one hand, and the
confrontational attitude of Shari'a and the religious culture toward women on
the other, make the discrimination and the social and political limitations
women face, even more pronounced. The male dominant society of Iran is a result
of a tradition thousands of years old and owes its Shari'a ruling to its Shi'a
governing body. This society has put women in chains and cuffs and has subjected
them to the most severe and cruel social and political restraint. In this
culture, women have no dignity and are only regarded as objects. All the
beautiful sentences and praises used in this system regarding women are nothing
but superficial compliments and empty words to compensate for their sexual and
social slavery[3].

Women as sex objects
The lives of Iranian women are filled with difficulties that go beyond the
boundaries of their homes and streets. These obstacles, more than any other
challenge, point to their treatment as sex objects in the societies governed by
Shi'a and male-dominated customary laws. The most noticeable difficulty of
Iranian women is the sexual aggression and harassment they face. By examining
these violations we can determine how the perception of a woman being a sex
object in Iran compares to other societies. In this article we will look at four
aspects of this mistreatment: taunting, sexual abuse, sexual violence, and rape.
These behaviors are widespread and the government takes no effective measures to
curtail them and, in general, advocates them.

The only policy that has been followed relentlessly by the government during the
Islamic Republic is the imposition of limitations on women through mandatory
hijab[4], gender segregation in public places and service centers, and
deprivation of the opportunity to pursue certain occupations, political, and
social activities. Since aggression and attacks against women in public places
strengthen these policies, the government, in fact, presents no confrontation
and even encourages these violations legally and socially. The principle of
"amr-e-be ma'rouf and nah-ye-az monkar" (doing that which is allowed and
abstaining from doing that which is forbidden) is combined with taunting and
sexual harassment when it comes to women. There are many women who have faced
execution for defending themselves or their daughters against rape; while the
perpetrators escaped justice. The Islamic Republic implicitly welcomes actions
such as attacks and sexual harassment, and even rape, to run women out of
society and into the confinement of their homes.

Women are so accustomed to verbal abuse that they consider it as a permanent
fixture of their social life. Some even blame themselves or other women and
believe that they are deserving of such mistreatment. Young boys find sexual
taunting or verbal abuse quite acceptable and use it as a means to get closer to
girls. This behavior is not limited to cases in which girls dress
inappropriately by cultural standards, so it is not just a hint exchanged
between two sexes. Verbal abuse, and the silence of law and culture regarding
it, reveals the existence of some sort of "oral masochism" among some women in
Iran. As long as Iranian women consider taunting as a tool men use to interact
with them, we will continue to witness the presence of sexual verbal sadism in
our society. Women who are used to being taunted and have accepted it as a
reality, and men who seek a justification for Islamic hijab, are both convinced
that women bear the responsibility for enticing and tempting men to taunt them
by the way they dress, apply makeup, and expose parts of their body, face, and
hands. Of course Iranian women know by experience that wearing hijab and even
chador[5] cannot sway these sexual advances.

Hardly any Iranian woman appears in public passageways, public transportation
and marketplaces without being taunted. The limitations imposed on sexual and
intimate relationships between women and men or girls and boys, have transformed
men and boys into sexual predators in the alleys and streets of Iran. It is
assumed that these men and boys who taunt, insult, and sexually harass women are
victims of the evil seduction of women and are not committing a crime. Sexual
harassment against women is not considered a crime in the Islamic Republic's
laws and is not punishable under other domains of the law. While this regime
sponsors new strategies every year to impose further limitations on women, it
never embarks on a plan to prevent taunting and sexual harassment.

Sexual abuse is customary in the work place and educational centers. Many female
employees and students have stories to tell about this. But the media in Iran
has no place to reflect these complaints. The men who monopolize the key
positions and hold authority in the country, abuse women by utilizing the reward
and punishment tools that are at their disposal. There is no program or
educational material to prevent this sexual abuse. We know that in countries
like America the entire faculty of educational centers must participate in
special trainings to learn how to conduct themselves and to refrain from sexual
interaction with students. However, since the subject of sex is a taboo in
Shari'a and the religious culture of Iran, it is impossible to conduct such

Another form of sexual abuse happens at home by close family members, and there
is no organization or institution to prevent or deal with it and assist the
victims of these violations. No one talks about the sexual abuse of young girls
and no educational method is available to teach them how to prevent it. Shari'a
and the customary law must remain silent about the subject of sex in the hope
that it will be totally forgotten (which it usually isn't). Even the research
institutes do not get involved in this area for fear of looking suspicious.

Sexual aggression includes rape, oral, anal, and vaginal intercourse; forced
intercourse, inappropriate touching, forced kissing and sexual torture. Forced
intercourse—having sex with a non-consenting spouse–is not defined or referenced
in Iranian laws. Since, based on Shi'a law, a woman is considered her husband's
property, the principle of obedience dictates that she submit to him if he so
desires[6]. In the context of Islamic jurisprudence of Shi'a, women are the
subjects and the means of sexual satisfaction for men and should not have any
personal sexual desires. One of the most widespread sexual abuses by men which
are supported by the Shi'a clergies is forcing their young daughters between the
ages of 13 and 18 to get married. Most clergies believe that the age of marriage
for girls is 9, which was raised by the Expediency Council to 13 with some
provisions to make marriage under 13 still possible[7]. A girl who is 13 or
younger, who knows nothing about sex and has not chosen her husband, is bound to
be treated as a sex object and suffer sexual abuse.

Just as they do with the issue of taunting, the followers of Shari'a attribute
the underlying motive for any persecution, sexual abuse, and even rape of a
woman, to her presence in the public arena, her behavior, and her attire. From
their point of view, if a man assaults or sexually abuses a woman who is not his
wife, the blame falls on the woman. Women can stop any seduction by covering
themselves up properly. By this logic it is the jeweler who is at fault for the
theft of his beautiful and expensive jewelry displayed in public, not the
overindulgent thief. On the other hand, if a man sexually abuses his own wife,
this is part of their marriage contract and what was agreed upon. When a woman
is defined as a man's field, he can cultivate that field in any way he desires
and the concept of abuse or misuse doesn't even come into the picture.

The solution – Gender segregation
Even in cases where taunting, assault, and sexual abuse is not endorsed by
Shari'a, the followers of Shari'a do not believe that the solution is in
establishing a sound and humane relationship between men and women in an open
and lawful society through clean language and the control of men over their body
parts in public places; neither do they believe in punishing the violators.
Instead, they believe it must be done by eliminating women from public view or
at least segregating them and covering them and their body parts. They further
argue that hijab is necessary due to the inherent weakness of men and the
seductive nature of a woman's body and hair[8]. This rationalization is used to
justify many sexual crimes against women and, under this logic, very few
violators can be brought to justice in the courts of law. The Islamic Republic
resorts to gender segregation and sweeps the matter under the rug in order to
solve its social problems. This regime, early on, took gender segregation from
public restrooms and toilets and spread it to every aspect of public life in

Assault and sexual abuse is the ugliest outcome of looking at women as sex
objects. But it does not end there, it pours into all aspects of social,
political, and family life, and into the society's legal and cultural system.
Discriminatory laws, male-dominated traditions, culture and outlook based on the
hatred of women and female characteristics, violence, and cruel punishments, are
so much part of Iran's society that there is no need to search for other
theoretical reasons to make the case for women being viewed as sex objects.


[1] Morteza Motahari, The order of women's rights in Islam, Ghom, Sadra, 1989
(1368), pg 323

[2] Body of Islamic Religious Laws

[3] Morteza Motahari, The order of women's rights in Islam, Ghom, Sadra, 1989
(1368), pg 152: "The noble Koran reminds us that a woman is a blessing for man,
and brings tranquility and peace to his heart."

[4] Islamic dress code for women under which they are required to cover
everything but their face, hands, and feet.

[5] A long cloak worn over top of the clothing and held together at the front.

[6] Khomeini's Commentary Dissertation, item 2412: A woman married permanently
to a man cannot leave home without his permission and must surrender herself to
him for every pleasure that he wishes, and must not deny him intimacy without a
religious excuse (such as menstruation).

[7] Single article approved by the Expediency Council in 2002 (1381) – "Article
1041 of the amendment to the civil law of 11/5/1991 (1370/8/14) and its notes is
modified as follows: Marriage of a girl before attaining the age of 13 and a boy
before attaining the age of 15 is contingent upon the permission of their
guardians, with the child's interest in mind determined by a competent court."

[8] Morteza Motahari, Hijab, Ghom, Sadra, 1989 (1368), pg 87: "Koran has
assigned a duty to women to cover their body from non-related men and refrain
from displaying themselves and acting ravishingly in public. They should not in
any way, form, and shape and for any reason cause the sexual arousal of other
men. The human soul is easily excited…there is no end to a man's desire to
possess beautiful women, to a woman's desire to attract men and win their hearts
and to a heart's appetite for lust."

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