Today I read the sort of story that gives me a great deal of pause. As a student of biblical law and its comparison with other forms of law, it is helpful to avoid confusing biblical law with an often-compared standard of law, the Islamic standard of sharia law. The story I read today talks a bit about shariah law, and that in a rather unflattering way. While there are some aspects of Muslim law that are similar to the Bible (take their stand on interest rates, for example ), there are some aspects of law that are wildly different between biblical law and shariah law, and the protection of vulnerable young people is one of the most glaring of those differences, and one that hits particularly close to home for me.
A basic summary of the story, which can be found in greater detail here , is that a UW Senior, age 22 or so, found an apparently provocatively dressed 12 year old (!) streetwalker on the streets of Seattle, took her home and hooked up with her, or at least that’s what he says. There are all kinds of wrong things about this story, and the fact that the young man is a volunteer with a leading Islamic advocacy group does add a bit of a religious angle to the case, one which only complicates its status as an explosive story. One aspect of Muslim religious legal interpretation (at least how it is generally intereted nowadays by Muslim clerics) is that the responsibility of rape prevention lies on the woman (or girl). If a woman gets raped, it was her fault for dressing provocatively and provoking it, or for “seducing the guy” as is the endless claim by abusers everywhere. In the Muslim religion, a man has no responsibility for controlling himself, but can blame his environment (and his victim) for his offenses.
Anyone who knows anything about my life or about Muslim punishments is going to know I do not feel comfortable stoning a fellow like that (which is the penalty for the crimes he has admitted to already), given my own personal life and vulnerabilities. Still, a young woman, regardless of her age, who is not yet a mature adult is not responsible for how men respond to her. There are plenty of young women who dress and act provocatively for the attention of men (I tend to assume that most of them have no interet in attracting my attention, though), and many more who are simply beautiful or pretty and who attract attention even without a great deal of conscious effort on their part. It is the responsibility of a (presumably mature) adult man to control himself, though. I try to avoid a great deal of provocation myself, when I can help it. Whatever a young lady does (whether intentionally or not), my response to it and reaction to it is my responsibility alone to answer for it. I’m an adult, and when I’m dealing with others, how I think and act with others is under my control (or if not, it should be).
There are other larger problems, though. A girl who is twelve years old and dressing provocatively already has enough problems in her world without being exploited by an older guy. Truth be told, girls a good deal older than twelve often have more pressing matters in their lives than dealing with unwanted and unwelcome advances as well (like working on their education and character development), but that is another story. If the young lady in question was a streetwalker, it is nearly certain that she had already had experience with abuse only to choose to runaway to a lifestyle that would only give her more abuse. Life isn’t particularly fair, and those who have been abused often tend to live their lives as if they are wearing one of those crude childish signs on their back that says “kick me,” only to find that others are all too willing to do so. Even those who feel sympathetic and wish to help may not know how to do so wisely and well.
One problem I have with the story, and one of the aspects of it that makes me feel particularly uncomfortable, is that the story seeks to deeply humiliate the man in question. It ought not to be denied or minimized what a horrible crime it is to rape a child (certainly, I would never wish to do so), and that those who are guilty of such crimes deserve punishment. More importantly, though, there is a young woman who needs to be cared for, who has probably been taken advantage of in her life far too much, and who has been really hurt. Our focus and our attention is all too often on those who are guilty of horrible crimes and trying to exact some measure of justice, however belatedly and however partially. Very seldom are we motivated to do something about showing grace and lovingkindness to those who are wounded and broken, who deserve to be shown love and respect and to be helped along the way to becoming whole as best as they can. It is not an easy process to bind up the wounds of the wounded, to help others regain some sort of faith and trust in an often cruel and capricious humanity, but the only way life will ever get better is if we spend at least as much effort on helping and serving others as we do condemning the many and obvious sins that are all around us, and sometimes even within us.