Victim-blaming: Was she “asking for it”?

In response to Bikini vs. Burqa, I was asked the following question:

          “In the context of Islam, are women who do not choose to dress modestly “asking for it”?  Who gets the

           blame when a woman is sexually harassed or assaulted?”

Here’s my response:

I believe this question is referring to the wording of the translation of Qur-an 33.59:

“O Prophet, say to your wives and your daughters, and the women of the believers to draw part of their outer garments over themselves.  It is likelier that they will be recognized and not molested.”

I supposed this could be taken as implying- or at least allowing- that women who do not dress this way will be molested (or harassed) and that it’s their fault.

This is absolutely not the case, however.  I base that on my understanding of other verses in the Qur-an, the primary source of Islamic information, including moral and legal information.

(1)    Qur-an 53.36-38

“Hasn’t he been informed of what is in the scrolls of Moses

And of Abraham, the one who fulfilled (his covenant)?:

That no bearer of a burden shall bear the burden of another…”

No one can bear the blame for someone else’s actions.  That’s clear.  If someone does wrong, he or she alone is to blame.  It should be pointed out that Muslims believe this concept to also be in the lost books of Moses and Abraham, so we don’t believe that Allah has ever allowed a person to be blamed for another’s actions.

(2)   Qur-an 24.30

“Say to the believing men to lower their gazes and to guard their private parts…”

Islaam has a practical approach to sexual harassment and assault.

The same directive is addressed to the believing women, followed by instructions about modest dress.  In the explanation given by scholars, this refers to lowering their gaze from women, other people’s private parts (i.e. those which are supposed to be covered) and at obscene objects.  The term “lower the gaze” is explained in narrations reported from the Prophet as not following the first (unintentional) look with a second (intentional) look or stares.

So regardless of how a woman is dressed (and she is allowed to dress in a way considered “immodest” in Islamic values) a man is not supposed to look at her.  If he’s not supposed to be ‘ogling’ her, or ‘checking her out’, then of course he is not allowed to go further than that.


(3)   Qur-an 17.32

“And do not approach zinaa…”

The word zinaa means sexual intercourse with someone to whom you are not legally married.  So it includes fornication (sex outside of wedlock) and adultery (sex with someone married to someone else), among others.

Now, look carefully at the wording.  In the original Arabic, the wording is not “wa laa taznuu”, which would mean ‘and do not commit fornication, etc.’.  It is “wa laa taqrabu az-zinaa”, which means “and do not APPROACH fornication, etc.”  So, regarding your question, regardless of how a man feels about a woman (or about how she is “making” him feel) he is already not supposed to be looking at her, as discussed above.  Further, he is not to, in any way, do anything that brings him close to sex with her.  No catcalls.  No advances.  No smiles.  No come-ons.  No touching.  No introductions.  NOTHING.  If he does any of these things, never mind surpassing all of them to grope or sexually assault her, he is clearly in the wrong.

(4)   Qur-an 23.1,3

“The believers have surely succeeded…

who turn away from laghw,…”

I think this relates more to the issue of sexual harassment than sexual assault.  Laghw is translated as, among other things “futile and/or indecent speech”, depending on the translator and context.  So the kinds of things that men harass women with are forbidden, regardless of the context.  In fact, there is no context in which futile, indecent speech is allowed.  Therefore, considering that such speech is wrong, and considering that, as above, no one can be blamed for what another person does, if a man harasses a woman, it is his fault, not hers.

That’s a brief review of what I think the Qur-an contains on the subject.  Now, turning to the secondary source of Islamic law and morals, the guided lifestyle of the Prophet, these are things that the Prophet either:

(1)   did,

(2)   said,

(3)   commanded, or

(4)   allowed (by staying silent about in its presence)

This, the sunna, is not in the Qur-an, but has been compiled in books of narrations or ahadeeth (singular:  hadeeth).  Every hadeeth goes through a scientific process of scrutiny where the reputation of every individual narrator is graded, and the entire chain of narration is also graded for authenticity.  Here is an example:

Narrated Wa’il ibn Hujr:

When a woman went out in the time of the Prophet for prayer, a man attacked her and overpowered [raped] her. She shouted and he went off, and when a man came by, she said: “That [man] did such and such to me”. And when a company of the Emigrants came by, she said: “That man did such and such to me”. They went and seized the man whom they thought had had intercourse with her and brought him to her.

She said: “Yes, this is he”. Then they brought him to the Apostle of Allah.

When he [the Prophet] was about to pass sentence, the man who [actually] had assaulted her stood up and said: “Apostle of Allah, I am the man who did it to her”.

He [the Prophet] said to her: “Go away, for Allah has forgiven you”. But he told the man some good words [Abu Dawud said: “meaning the man who was seized”], and of the man who had had intercourse with her, he said: “Stone him to death.”  Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 38, #4366

So it is clear that the victim was not to blame.

Now, do people always judge by the book of Allah and the example of His Prophet?  No.  Of course, the majority of the people in the world are not Muslim, so they are unaware.  As for the Muslims, not all of them are knowledgeable, and not all of them are sincere.  If a person is insincere, his or her knowledge does not benefit, and much less their ignorance.  If a person is ignorant, her or his sincerity does not benefit them, and much less so their insincerity.  Somewhere in the fray, among other things, women may not get their rights.  If that is so, it is not Islam, but those individual Muslims- or hypocrites posing as Muslims- who are to blame.

Now, in what way can a woman be to blame?  If she dresses immodestly, she is wrong for doing so, but the matter is between her and Allah.  To my knowledge there is no legal penalty for immodest dress, so it is not a matter between her and the authorities.  (A general goal of the sharee’ah is to stop the spread of indecency, so I imagine there are measures that can be taken in extreme cases, though.)  In any case, as we have shown, it does not in any way excuse sexual harassment or assault.  We must recognize, though, that while it cannot be said that she has encouraged harassment or assault, neither can it be said that she has discouraged it.  This is one of the benefits and purposes of modesty, to discourage the men who are not fearful of Allah.  It is a pre-cautionary measure mandated by Allah long ago, whose relevancy is still being proven today (see here).

(Everything I’ve written here is subject to the limits of my knowledge and understanding.  The truth of it is from Allah, and any inaccuracies are only from my self.)


Sociology of Deviance: not shaking Hands with Women

My final college class was a summer school course at the University of Texas-Austin.  It was a Sociology class about deviance.  One of our assignments was to observe deviant behavior and write a report.  I chose to focus on the fact that I do not shake hands with women and record their reactions to it, and analyze the meaning of it all.  I’ve edited this from the draft I turned in for typographical errors as well as to say things which the maximum word count did not let me explain.


Daniel Nehemiah Oliver

Sociology 366- Deviance

Professor Mark Stafford

I don’t shake hands with women.  It’s awkward to refuse an outstretched arm and open hand, but I’m a Muslim, so I say “I’m a Muslim.  I can’t shake hands with you but I have respect.”  I openly admit that this is my interpretation of Islam, but I also insist that it is backed by evidence.  To refuse to shake hands is deviant behavior.  Everybody does it.  To openly discriminate against women and act like it’s alright goes beyond deviance:  it offends the basic notions of our modern society.

To get observations of reactions to deviant behavior (and to test my own personal resolve),  I made arrangements to be hired by one of Austin’s IRS offices.  Throughout the hiring process, orientation and work, I declined to shake hands with any woman I encountered, with the same line.  I recorded my observations surreptitiously, mostly by memorizing them until I could transcribe them after the end of the workday.  Here is my summary of their reactions:

  1.  Indifference- 50%

Example:  After arriving for an interview at the IRS, I met the liaison who was paging me.  She reached out to shake hands, I delivered my line and she said “Fine that’s OK”.

  1.  Annoyed acceptance- 20%

Example:  I soon met the senior supervisor.  When she reached out to shake hands and I explained, she drew her face, looking visibly upset, then withdrew her hand.

  1. Active Rejection- 10%

Example:  A co-worker smiled in approval of my explanation, but then proceeded to step forward, reach out and grab my hand.  I let her do it because I did not want the experiment to proceed into physical aggression.

  1. Passive Rejection- 10%

Example:  I explained myself as above and the woman asked if we could do it “just once”.  It was as if the norm could not be broken in her mind;  no way a man can refuse to touch a woman, just because she’s a woman.   I used a lot of smiles but didn’t make any moves forward, so the subject was more or less dropped.

  1. Debate- 10%

Example:  One co-worker opened up a discussion with questions like:

“If you or I had gloves on, then could we shake hands?”

“What about hugs?”

“What if a woman is your relative?  You can’t shake hands with your own mother?”

The last reaction type, “Debate”, was the most revealing to me.  I already knew what not shaking hands with females meant to me, and that it was a deviant behavior.  But it was important to know what it meant to them.  Why was it deviant?  How did they feel that deviant behavior should be dealt with.

From the debates I learned that the main issue was equality.  To borrow from Goffman, equality is an identity norm, i.e.

Sociology figure Erving Goffman

everybody thinks everyone has to be equal.  But does everybody define equality equally?  Deep down, and not very deep, everyone knows that we are not equal*.  The problem is all the connotations that inequality has:  powerful/powerless, superiority/inferiority, deserving/undeserving, etc.  Shaking hands is something that everybody does with everybody else.  Regardless of age, health status, gender, sexuality, income level or any other factor, we all shake hands.  It doesn’t really mean that we are equal, it is more like our agreement to refuse to acknowledge our inequalities.  By shaking hands with you, I am ignoring all the things I notice about you, and you are ignoring all the things you notice about me.  That’s what makes it a norm.  We are not being equal, we are equalizing ourselves.

When someone breaks from that, when someone makes explicit the unspeakable, by acknowledging that there are differences, this is a deviance.  This is a violation of a socio-psycho-emotional atmosphere that we’ve all been trained to maintain at all costs.  It is an offense, a mockery, a crime.  To deviate, knowing what deviance is, is a further outrage, because it is not a mistake.  It is a calculated refutation of reality, a presentation of evidence that some realities are only thought to be real.  Some truths are only relative.  It says that everybody does not know that, you only think you do.  True deviance, as opposed to crime or vulgarity, is a check and balance on pre-conceived notions.  It regulates the level of institutionalization in a society, by making people think again about things that have been taken for granted for so long by so many that they haven’t been pondered over.  That, I finally understand, is why we bother to study deviance.  It is the reminder, however unwelcome, that there can be change, the insistence that there should be, and the example of how there could be.

After I’d collected enough observations, I quit.


Equals? Can they be? NEED they be?

*And is this really so wrong, to know and say that we are unequal?  Take the benign example of green and red.  Who will say that they are equal?  Green is not red.  Red is not green.  They are both colors, but they are not equal.  They are not identical, but does that stop them from being identified with each other?  If we said that they were equal, that would only mean that we are not identifying them properly.  Can the same not go with people?

Green is as different from red as red is different from green.  They are equal in their inequality, or difference, to each other.  They are equal, it seems to be implied, in their right to be different from each other.  Green is somehow a defiance, a refutation, of red.  It does not have to be red.  Red does not need to be green.

But this does not mean some sort of superiority or privilege for one of the colors.  Nor do differences and inequalities have to for people.  These associations are unnecessary, arbitrary, slanderous politicizations with no inherent presence.  Green can be better than red, if you’re painting a picture with grass.  Red can be better than green, if you know that it will make a car stop when you need it to.  And people are much the same.  We are different.  We are not equal.  This makes us useful to each other and to the world we share.  I don’t want who I am to be ignored.  I don’t want to be thought of as you, even though I love you.  Needs and circumstances make certain people better than others.  They become more useful, more effective, more necessary.  It is not treating all people the same that gives them their rights.  A person more completely receives her or his right when his or her strengths are encouraged and weaknesses are covered.

Hijab (head), niqab (face), and jilbab (body)

Sociology of Gender: the Hijab

The following is a final exam paper I wrote on the practice of hijab (Islamic veil).  I was in a Sociology class called “Sociology of Gender” taught by Dr. Elizabeth Bernstein at Barnard College.  It presents the results of a survey I conducted at Columbia University that shows that non-Muslims and Westerners fail to understand this and other practices because they focus on forcing their assumptions on the situation rather than considering what Islam really means.  I got a B+…


Daniel Nehemiah Oliver

Sociology of Gender Final Question 2

There is no god but ALLAH.  Muhammad (May the Peace and Blessings of ALLAH be upon him) is the Messenger of ALLAH.  Sincere belief in these statements makes one a Muslim.  They are the fundamental, guiding principles of Muslim life.  They, for instance, establish the Qur’an unquestionably as the word of ALLAH, brought to humanity by his Messenger.  Belief in ALLAH and His Messenger and the authority of the Qur’an figure importantly in the Muslim/Western

Dr. Homa Hoodfar

debate over veiling moreso than Hoodfar, in The Veil in their Minds and on their Heads*, realizes.  She rightly identifies the Qur’an as an influencing factor in Middle Eastern veiling practices, but her essay does not explore its implications.  Her argument is based mainly on historical and sociological sketches that illuminate truths about Middle Eastern society and Muslim culture, but by ignoring Islam as a faith, and failing to acknowledge Muslims as a distinct, diverse group, held together by and operating upon the dynamics of this faith, the discussion of veiling loses credibility and explanatory value.  This paper presents the findings of a study aimed at exploring and explaining this crucial and little understood aspect of veiling.

Palestinian Christians in headscarves

To this end, I selected a survey sample that could represent these unheard and ignored voices.  I picked 3 types of respondents, whom I coded as “Muslims”, “Muslimahs” and “Hijabis”.  The Muslims were two male Muslims, one born Muslim (Muslim B) and one revert to islam (Muslim R).  (Those who accept Islam from another faith are called reverts rather than converts, due to a belief that all things are born in, and some later corrupted from, fitrah, a natural state of submission to ALLAH.)  The Muslimahs were two Muslim women who do not veil;  one born Muslim (Muslimah B) and one revert (Muslimah R).  The Hijabis were two Muslim women who do veil, also known as wearing hijab;  one born Muslim (Hijabi B) and one revert (Hijabi R).  All six of these were affiliated with Columbia University or Barnard College either as undergraduates, graduate students, or staff.  Their ages ranged from 18-29, and their backgrounds and living experiences represent the diversity of the world’s Muslims to as great a degree as possible given the sample size.

Islam is the basis of a worldwide community united by belief in the Lordship of ALLAH and the messengership of Muhammad.  This community is diverse in every way that a community can be:  linguistically, culturally, economically,Hijab (head), niqab (face), and jilbab (body) geographically, economically, theologically, and so on.  Veiling and most other practices are not uniform.  These differences, however, are usually not based on belief, but on interpretation of belief.  Take the Qur’an, for example.  There are no versions.  The only variation lies in the rendering of Arabic terms different translators may choose.  So, in the original Árabic, every Muslim reads the same thing, but inevitably many individualized readings result.  Consider the following:

(With the Name of Allah, the Universally Merciful, the Discriminately Merciful)

And say to the believing women to lower their gaze, and protect their private parts, and not to show their ornaments except what is apparent, and two draw their veils over their bosoms and not to show their adornments except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands’ fathers, or their sons, or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women or what their right hands possess, or to their male servants who have no vigor, or children who are not yet aware of women’s private parts…

– Qur’an, Chapter 24 an-Nuur/“The Light”: 31


O Prophet, say to your wives, and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their outer garments over themselves.  As such it is likelier that they will be recognized and not molested.  ALLAH Is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.

– Qur’an, Chapter 33 al-Ahzab/“The Confederates”: 59

It must first be said that this paper is not gaging the accuracy of this translation from the original text.  In addition, the purpose of this paper is not to explain or interpret these verses.  These verses have been presented simply as evidence that the Qur’an contains mandates concerning the practicing of veiling or hijab.  (The word hijab means “screen or veil”, rather than, for example, for example, “headscarf” or “cloak”.  There are many words for Muslim womens’ outer garments, not all of which are found in Islamic literature.)  To Muslims, again, the words of the Qur’an are no less than the words of the One, True God.

All but one respondent, Muslimah B, agreed that hijab is legislated by the Qur’an.  In the words of Muslimah R, “It was prescribed in the Qur’an for women to cover themselves”.  Hijabi B simply answers “ALLAH Commanded it”.  These statements begin to answer one of the questions central to this study and the lager debate over veiling:  why do Muslim women veil themselves?

Hoodfar unduly emphasizes Arabian and Mediterranean traditions dating back to antiquity, but only presents the fact of veil-wearing:  its first recorded references, its changing role in societies over time, etc.  However, the reason for veiling is largely untouched in her essay.  Westerners and feminists have for some time defined their reasons for other women’s veiling customs:  patriarchy, notions of the harem, and extreme repression and domination by men.  This colonial method of assumption is prone to great misunderstandings because these “studies” of Muslims have mostly been unaccompanied by what makes them Muslim:  Islam.  This ignorance seemed apparent to Hoodfar at times, though she did fully address it or elude it.  It was not lost on Hijabi B, quoted here at length, who summarizes wonderfully how Muslims feel about the views of Westerners and academics whose conclusions about Muslims are formed without consideration of Islam.

Did you ever think to ask me?

“Responses to common misconceptions (even by [Columbia] professors teaching about Islam”  Hijab was not a left-over practice from pre-Islamic culture, it doesn’t mean our parents force us to marry our cousins, it’s not just a political statement, it doesn’t limit intellectual development…  it’s not a symbol of male domination, it doesn’t have to be black, it doesn’t make our heads that much warmer in the summer”

She finishes with a telling reflection:  “It can be some of those things, but often is not.”

Other respondents described hijab as:

– “the ultimate necessity for any woman (Muslim R)

– “unfair” (Hijabi R)

– “a chore” (Hijabi R)

– “a wonderful way to protect the modesty of a woman” (Muslimah R)

These are all things that wearing hijab or veiling can be, according to the respondents.  But in the end, they are largely the effects of hijab, not its causes.  For example it is doubtful that that Hijabi R, who feels that hijab is unfair, wears it because it’s unfair.

Regarding cause, interestingly, none of the stereotypical, Western/academic-assigned causes for veiling were quoted by the respondents.  Some were actually refuted, as in Hijabi B’s above quote.  Family pressure was mentioned once, but only as a discouragement against veiling.  All respondents were geographically and socially distant from the Middle East, negating it by default as a cultural explanation of the veiling practice.

To the Muslims of this survey, veiling has a meaning, and a power, that is lost on the minds of Western academia.  Just is in Hoodfar’s essay’s explanation of the veil carrying a sense of power, Hijabi R said that hijab was a way to “fight in the way of ALLAH’s Cause”.  To Muslimah R it was a statement of faith.  Muslimah B felt it “shows one’s inner strength”.  To these women, whether or not they chose to wear it, the hijab was a force, and a statement, as well as a shield and display of modesty.

Why has Western academia, with it sustained contact with Muslim population groups, failed to recognize the value of the practice of veiling?  It is not just because of the colonial/propagandist motivations that do too much to frame western discourse on Muslims.  The seemingly blind misunderstanding is one symptom of a larger problem:  willful ignorance of Islam and refusal to acknowledge faith.  One does not have to be a Muslim to study the practice of veiling, but how can studies of veiling ignore Islam when the practitioners list ALLAH, Islam and the Qur’an as the cause?  Western/non-Muslim perceptions, and to an extent Hoodfar’s essay, fail- refuse, in fact- to capture the reality of veiling as an extension of their refusal to acknowledge Islam.  Sympathizing Western feminists thus perpetuate the paternalism and repression that they suffer by re-inflicting it on Muslim women.  If Western men have historically treated women like objects, then that is all the less reason for them to do the same thing to Muslim women.  The feminist protest is against being treated like a docile, disenfranchised second class, yet feminism, out of ironic sympathy, approaches hundreds of millions across the globe as exactly that.  How can feminists insist on their voices being heard, when they drown the voices of Muslim women?  How can they, perhaps even more ironically, oppose being treated like sexual objects, while fighting for their right to look like one and belittling the women who refuse to?

Veiled Hindu women at a temple

This guise of objectivity is itself a veil, masking an academic and cultural arrogance that causes the scientific standards of Western academia to falter and the societies which it informs to suffer.  Some studies show American Muslims to live at a higher standard-of-living and education level than American non-Muslims.  The statistics of homicide and sexual violence in Western societies soar high above those of Muslim populations.  The tendency to criticize and patronize should be replaced with one to recognize.

The West, especially and perhaps because of its academics and feminists, succumbs to the subjectivity it is so wary of internally because it refuses to subjectively evaluate the meaning, or even acknowledge the statement that there is not deity besides ALLAH and Muhammad is His messenger.

* 1997. “The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads: The Persistence of Colonial Images of Muslim Women”, Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital, David Lloyd and Lisa Lowe (eds). Duke University Press, (reprint).

stockholm syndrome 3: slave-girls

Slave-girls’ sexual rights

Referring back to Qur-an 23.5-7, Muslim men are permitted to have sex with “those whom their right hands possess” which is a reference to captives of war after there is no exchange of prisoners between the two sides.  Well, again, there is no linguistic basis in the Arabic or any worthwhile translation behind the use of force.  There is no linguistic or logical way to deduct rape from this or any of the statements regarding war-captives in an Islamic state.  So if it is asked how a man would have sex with a war-captive without raping her, my answer, and mine alone, would be with consent, as the use of force is not sanctioned in the Qur-an or any authenticated Prophetic narration.

Whether or not war-captives’ sexual rights as I have outlined them are found to be objectionable by some or many, it is clear that rape has no place in them.


If you’re American and you’re facebooking on the 4th of July; you’re a loser. 

vintage americism

...strive 'til we stride!

If you’re African-American and you’re celebrating the 4th of July; you’re ignorant, because your slavery and humanity was ignored on this day, in the country you broke your back to build.

If you’re Native American and you’re celebrating; you’re a fool, because all that happened for you was other people’s fight for the right to steal your land.

If you’re a European American and you’re celebrating; you’ve likely been bamboozled, for only landowning white men were made full citizens by the war that was to follow this day.

If you’re a woman and you’re celebrating; you’ve disgraced yourself, for after all your contributions, you wouldn’t have an equal say until centuries after this day.

If you’re new here and you’re celebrating today; you are welcome, but perhaps you should have fought and died in your country for what we have here.

As for me, my nationality is a matter of circumstance.  i am free, and so i celebrate, on this day and every other, for i am free from slavery to those who are themselves enslaved, to slavery to the Lord of slaves, who Has Forbidden His Self from oppression, whose Mercy has overcome His Wrath…