On the Daniel Jou “virginity test” controversy

A picture of a Muslim woman wearing a white headscarf and a light brown face veil showing only her eyes; she appears to be South Asian. She is standing amid a flowerbed and there are a number of white and yellow flowers in front of her.

The other day I watched a YouTube video by a sister called Aisha Murray, who wears the niqaab, lives in Scotland and has made videos for BBC social media as well as her own YouTube channel, talking about a statement on Twitter by a “well-known Muslim” which was so derogatory towards Muslim women that she wondered if he used the same mouth to say the shahada. She would not say who the author was or what he said, but the name Daniel “Haqiqatjou” was mentioned in the comments, and a brief perusal of his timeline on Monday afternoon revealed a long tweet posted last Monday (4th Sept) in defence of hymen-based virginity tests which are commonly inflicted on Muslim women in some parts of the world despite their well-known unreliability. The tweet was in response to calls by UN agencies to ban such tests, because in his view they “want to facilitate female sexual emancipation” and therefore:

For that reason, it is pressuring governments and religious scholars across the world to systematically alter traditional laws and norms which operate to verify that women are virgins at the time of marriage. It is argued that these qualify as unacceptable “gender discrimination” and “violence against women.”

Such laws and norms include virginity tests and the expectation of bleeding on the wedding night.

He concedes:

As a matter of Islamic law, the simple fact that a woman lacks a hymen does NOT prove she is not a virgin. 

Nevertheless, it does raise questions, especially if there are other red flags (e.g., she has close male friends, she casually mixes with non-mahram men, she displays herself immodestly in public, etc.).

The fact is that it simply does not; as it is quite possible for the hymen to break for any number of other reasons, the absence of an intact hymen proves absolutely nothing, regardless of whatever impression is given by her behaviour. If the bride is the age women normally are now when they marry — 18 at the earliest, quite often the early 20s in the case of those who are educated and raised in the West, or even elsewhere — there has been more than enough time for these things to happen unless the woman has had a very sedentary lifestyle. These men often demand that a woman is fit as well as pure; those workouts in the ladies-only gym could be what makes her “damaged goods” in their opinion. So while a correlation might exist, we cannot judge any individual on the basis of it. (If the bride is very young, it is quite possible that an absent hymen is the result of sexual abuse, not consensual premarital sex.)

He also names a few examples of behaviour that might well give rise to rumours about her private behaviour, when in fact spreading such rumours is a major sin. We are not allowed to suggest such things about anyone because of indiscreet behaviour, even if it is sinful behaviour. Such matters also include being seen alone with a man who is not a mahram or close family member, of riding alone in a car with him, or a teacher showing favouritism to a particular student. No woman should be required to submit to an intrusive test to allay rumours, because it is a crime to spread the rumours in the first place and because failing the test proves nothing.

He seems to be waving away the objection that the tests are not justified in Islamic law by pleading that they answer cultural values in many societies. However, in Islam, we follow Allah and His Messenger, and we change our cultural practices to fall into line with the Qur’an and Sunnah. This is “Islam 101” so to speak. There are lots of cultural practices which aren’t in line with Islam which are hangovers from the religion or culture people followed before Islam, among them the casteism found among Muslims of the Indian subcontinent and the female genital mutilation found in parts of Africa among Muslim populations and others. Muslims in many parts of the Middle East are descended from people who were formerly Christian and the belief among common people that the hymen correlates with virginity or lack thereof (which the Bible in fact does say; in the Old Testament it clearly states that a girl who does not bleed on her wedding night is to be taken out and stoned to death) may have remained from the time when people followed Christianity or indeed Judaism. Another source of such beliefs and practices is colonialism; colonial powers introduced laws in many Muslim countries which are at least partly Biblically based but in no way justified by Islamic sources but are now perceived as ‘traditional’ and therefore Islamic; these include a law in Iraq which specifies a prison sentence of just months if a man kills his wife after surprising her committing adultery (in fact, Imam Malik ruled in the Muwatta that a man who does this be delivered to his wife’s family with a rope around his neck) and one in Morocco that a girl who is raped should be married to her attacker (another un-Islamic Biblical law) rather than the attacker be locked up or shot.

The sole situation where this type of virginity test is used in Islam is where a woman has been convicted through the testimony of four upright male witnesses of fornication; the standard of evidence is extremely stringent, as the witnesses must have witnessed penetration (“the pen in the inkwell” to use one scholarly euphemism), not just the couple in an embrace on a bed, but if four women swear that the woman is a virgin, she is not punished. Thus, an intact hymen is proof enough of innocence as to counter-indicate the hadd punishment, but not proof enough of guilt to justify any action at all. One fatwa on the subject holds that the test is legitimate if there is an ‘accusation’ the woman must answer, but the accusation must be based on firm evidence and not mere public indiscretion or baseless rumours, because it is a sin and a crime to spread such rumours or make accusations without the necessary proof.

Finally, it is also unlawful for anyone to show their private parts to anyone else of the same sex or the other except for their spouse without very good reason, such as receiving medical care or if a disabled person needs to be washed or changed. An unreliable test to counter baseless suspicion which it is unlawful to incite in the first place is not a good reason.

It might be argued that his tweet is really an attack on the UN and its desire to change the law in Muslim countries to facilitate “sexual emancipation” rather than a defence of virginity testing per se. However, an earlier tweet parodying what he calls “simp fiqh” suggests that women have taken to riding “bucking broncos and dirt bikes over rough surfaces” and thus do not have hymens anymore; as we all know that there are actually few women who do either of these things, his implication seems to be that they are promiscuous. However, the countries where this practice goes on are mostly countries which do not implement the Shari’ah but rather a secular law which is influenced by colonial law, a bit of Islamic law here and there (particularly in the area of family law) and a lot of customary law. Muslim countries should not need the UN to tell them to follow what their own religion says and abandon a baseless, unscientific, irrational and anti-Islamic practice. Sadly it’s a case of the broken clock telling the right time twice a day.

I don’t follow Daniel Jou and I try to avoid other members of this new juvenile, misogynistic da’wah scene; they seem to mainly appeal to the younger generation, which is sad and worrying regarding their future and the family relationships they might form in their lives. Besides the constant slurs on so-called feminists and “simp imams” and his illogical and anti-Islamic defence of the baseless virginity check, his attack on the reputation of Muslim women in general, his suggestion that they are immoral, is entirely unbecoming of a Muslim who is ostensibly trying to lead people to Islam and for a Muslim to say such things about a large number of Muslims is a criminal act in Islam and merits punishment. I hope his friends and some scholars will warn him of the dangerous territory he is getting into, as he is unlikely to respect ordinary Muslims who do not share his worldview. In the meantime, every parent and teacher should be telling the young to avoid this man and his writings and lectures like the plague. Let’s face it, if you heard a man casting aspersions on your sister’s sexual behaviour and obsess about her hymen on Twitter over several days, you would not knowingly let him clean your car, let alone teach you your religion.

Image source: pikisuperstar on Freepik.

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