What if the world is 100 Islamic

Essay: 100 lashes for the woman

If a woman and a man commit fornication, scourge each of them with a hundred lashes; have no pity on them in the face of the religion of God if you believe in God and Judgment Day. Quran 24: 2

In the past few weeks we have seen the application of Islamic law in a way that should put moderate Muslims on the barricades. Three incidents were reported in detail: A 20-year-old woman from Katif in Saudi Arabia reported that she had been abused and raped several times by several men. The judges, however, found the victim guilty. Her crime is called "associating": when she was molested, she was in the car with a man to whom she was neither related nor married, which is illegal in Saudi Arabia.

Last month, she was sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes with a bamboo stick. 200 lashes are enough to kill a large man. Women usually don't get more than 30 lashes at a time, which means that the "girl from Katif", as she is referred to in the media, has to fear her next encounter with Islamic law for seven weeks. She will never lead a normal life after her release from prison: It has already been reported that her brother tried to murder her because her "crime" stained the family's honor.

We also saw Islamic law in action in Sudan, where a 54-year-old British teacher named Gillian Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in prison before the government pardoned her. The woman was threatened with up to 40 lashes. At the beginning of a reading project in her class that included a teddy bear, Gibbons suggested that the children name the teddy bear. The class chose Mohammed; the teacher let the children have their way. That was considered blasphemy.

Finally, Taslima Nasreen, the 45-year-old Bangladeshi writer who bravely stands up for women's rights in the Muslim world. Forced to flee Bangladesh, she has so far lived in India. However, local Muslim groups there want her to be expelled and one of these groups has put 500,000 rupees on her head. In August, Nasreen was attacked by Muslim militants in Hyderabad, and in the past few weeks she has had to leave Calcutta and then Rajasthan. Taslima Nasreen's visa expires next year and she fears that she will no longer be allowed to live in India.

It is often said that Islam was "kidnapped" by a small group of radical fundamentalists. The vast majority of Muslims are moderate. But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices that rise above the terrible injustice of incidents like this? How many Muslims are ready to stand up and say, in the case of the Katif girl, that this form of law practiced is terrifying, brutal and bigoted - and that no matter who said it was right and how long ago it was it was said that something like this should no longer be allowed to happen?

Usually Muslim groups like the Organization of the Islamic Conference are quick to defend the image of Islam. The organization, which represents 57 Muslim states, sent four representatives to the chairman of my party in the Netherlands to ask him to remove me from parliament. I said in a newspaper interview in 2003 that some of the actions of the Prophet Mohammed were unscrupulous by Western standards. A few years later, Muslim representatives in Denmark protested against the Mohammed cartoons and demanded that their authors be prosecuted.

But although the incidents in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and India are causing greater damage to the reputation of the Islamic judiciary than a dozen cartoons of Muhammad, those organizations are now silent, queuing up to hear the hideous insult to Islam denounce Danish caricatures.

I wish there were more moderate Muslims. I would now like to welcome trend-setting from Tariq Ramadan, the famous Muslim theologian of moderation. But when it comes to real suffering, real cruelty in the name of Islam, the first thing we hear from all these organizations that are so concerned about the image of Islam is denial. Violence, we hear, is not in the Koran, Islam means peace, this is a case of kidnapping by extremists, a smear campaign and so on. But the evidence to the contrary is mounting.

Islamic law is a proud institution adhered to, at least in theory, by a billion people, and at the heart of the Islamic world it is state law. But take a look at the verse quoted above: Even more imperative than the commandment to scourge fornicators is that the believer should not show compassion. It is this commandment to place Allah above his conscience and compassion that makes the Muslim prisoner of an archaic and extreme state of mind.

If moderate Muslims believe that one should not feel sorry for the girl in Katif, what exactly is it that makes them moderate? Where the conscience and compassion of a "moderate" Muslim contradict the precepts of Allah, he should choose compassion. As long as that doesn't happen much more often, moderate Islam remains wishful thinking.

© Global Viewpoint. Translated from the English by Wieland Freund

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was a Dutch member of parliament. She seeks protection in the USA because she is no longer sure of her life in Europe