Recent footage of a Saudi Sheik claiming that rape can be prevented by burqas has gained widespread criticism and brought the spotlight back to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. According to Al Arabiya news, Saudi Sheik Abdulla Daoud made the controversial statement during an interview on al-Majd TV. While Daoud actually made the statements during the middle of last year, the news did not reach the Western press until today when a video was released on Al Arabiya news’ English website.
In the conversation with al-Majd TV, Daoud referenced babies that were being molested across Saudi Arabia. Though he did not cite any particular molestation cases, he did say that it is an issue being felt across the nation. According to him, many cases could be prevented if more toddlers wore burqas.
Many top Islamic officers have been extremely critical of Daoud following his statements. A former judge at the Saudi Board of Grievances, Sheikh Mohammad al-Jjzlana, said that Daoud statement makes Sharia law and Islam in general look bad.
Critics of Daoud have been quick to point out that there is nothing within the Islamic religion that requires babies to wear burqas. They have also called for less victim blaming and stronger punishment for criminals. They believe that even implying that rape can be prevented by burqas is a step back for women’s rights.
Many activists have taken the Daoud controversy as an opportunity to push for harsher and more consistent punishments for child abuse cases across Saudi Arabia. Under current law in the kingdom, a Saudi father cannot be legally executed for the murder of his wife or child.
In an effort to fight child abuse in Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom is in the process of setting up a 24-hour telephone hotline where domestic violence can be reported. While considered to be progress, many do not feel that it is enough.
The issue of child abuse is a particularly hot topic at the moment in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Preacher Fayhan Al Ghamdi was convicted of raping and murdering his daughter late last year. The case was particularly high profile because Al-Ghamdi was a religious television show presenter prior to his conviction.
Al-Ghamdi’s daughter Lama died in October 2012 after spending seven months in the hospital. The rape and beating had left her with a crushed skull as well as a broken arm and ribs. Social workers noted that she had been burned and raped on numerous occasions. Al-Ghamdi admitted during his trial that he had punished his daughter with a cane and cable.
Al-Ghamdi was initially sentenced in October 2013 to a prison term. He has now been released after less than five months in prison. He was required to pay “blood money” to the mother of his child. That blood money payment totaled approximately $51,000.
Under Sharia law, a cash payment is considered an appropriate means of compensating the victim’s family after a crime. The case has received particular scorn from Western critics who note that the standard blood money payment for the murder of a boy would be double that of a girl.
After several high profile rapes cases involving Egyptian women wearing burqas, critics are quick to point out that there are no facts to support Daoud’s idea. Many Islamic leaders have also come forward to remind the public that burqas are neither standard nor recommended for young girls.
By Nicci Mende