The word “Sitr” itself is related to the Arabic word for a curtain or a veil, and carries the meaning of drawing a blind over something that is not to be revealed. The doctrine of Sitr is related to the concept of “Aurah” or “dishonour / shame”.
In simple terms, when a person does something “shameful” or “dishonourable” within the Muslim community, it should be hushed up and only repeated offenders should be brought to (Islamic) justice. This is justified on the grounds that in the Hadith a duty is laid on Muslims to protect each other and each other’s honour.
Sitr developed in a primitive culture where the concept of a crime had not been fully developed into a formalised system. Muslims adhere to Sitr because of their religious belief. But times have surpassed this concept.
Modern legal systems replace such concepts as Sitr with that of justice, founded on the principle of innocence versus guilt rather than honour versus shame.
Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi
explained the doctrine of Sitr in this Al Jazeera TV
interview. Here is a summary of what Dr. Qaradawi said.
The interview was opened with a quote from Surat 24. After Muhammad ruled that a woman (Aisha) could not be convicted of sexual immorality without four male witnesses, the Prophet chastised the men who had raised the accusations against her. Here is the full passage from the Koran in the Hilali-Khan translation, emphases mine:
24:11-17 Verily! Those who brought forth the slander [against Aishah the wife of Mohammed] are a group among you. Consider it not a bad thing for you. Nay, it is good for you. Unto every man among them will be paid that which he had earned of the sin, and as for him among them who had the greater share therein, his will be a great torment. Why then, did not the believers, men and women, when you heard it (the slander) think good of their own people and say: “This (charge) is an obvious lie?” Why did they not produce four witnesses? Since they (the slanderers) have not produced witnesses! Then with Allah they are the liars. Had it not been for the Grace of Allah and His Mercy unto you in this world and in the Hereafter, a great torment would have touched you for that whereof you had spoken. When you were propagating it with your tongues, and uttering with your mouths that whereof you had no knowledge, you counted it a little thing, while with Allah it was very great. And why did you not, when you heard it, say? “It is not right for us to speak of this. Glory be to You (O Allah) this is a great lie.” Allah forbids you from it and warns you not to repeat the like of it forever, if you are believers.
Thus the implication is that if Muslims should hear anything “bad” against another Muslim, the natural reaction must be to dismiss it as a lie and not repeat – i.e. reveal – it.
“What is the importance of Muslims practising Sitr to protect other Muslims”, Qaradawi was asked, “And how is this related to Aurah, or shame?”
Dr. Qaradawi noted that Aurah is the common Arabic word for both the male and female genital organs. Just as the genitals are to be kept covered, there are actions and deeds that also need to remain protected and covered up. The Aurah are not limited to our physical bodies, but there are also social Aurah. People often do things of which they are embarrassed and ashamed, things they want to conceal from others. Each individual has his or her own weaknesses, things they do not want others to know. These are all Aurat (plural of Aurah) that are to be covered up [i.e. “aurah/aurat” are things that bring shame]. A man might hit someone in rage, for example, or engage in a sexual digression, or get drunk. He would be ashamed if others found out about his action. For this reason the Prophet said in an authentic Hadith, “The Muslim who protects another Muslim will himself be protected by Allah.” The Hadith says that Allah is both a Protector and a Lover of Modesty. That means that Allah not only protects the Believers, but also wants them to protect each other. If a man falls into a transgression [sin or crime], he is not to be publicly exposed. Exposure only comes if he blatantly and flagrantly continues in the wrongdoing; then he must be punished.
This is true for all Muslim relationships. A Muslim is not to broadcast the sins of his neighbour, and a Muslim wife is not to make known the faults of her husband. They are instead to give the transgressor time to repent and seek forgiveness from Allah.
Thus, according to Dr. Qaradawi, if someone assaulted another in a rage, got drunk, visited a prostitute, etc. then if his criminal/immoral act(s) became public knowledge, he would be shamed – hisaurah would have been revealed. Under the doctrine of Sitr, in order to preserve the person’s “honour”, the offence should be covered up.
“But what if the [marriage] relationship has gone bad”? Qaradawi was questioned, “Can ex-spouses bad-mouth each other after divorce, or neighbours criticize each other publicly after their friendship has come to an end?”
Qaradawi replied that:
“… the principle of Sitr still applied. The neighbour should remember the good times they had together, and the divorced spouse should do the same. The Quran reminds Muslims in Surat 2 to be generous to the wives they divorce [Quran 2:237].
Children should be taught from their youth that some things are to be kept private and not disclosed to others… When the young Joseph dreamed that even the moon and the stars bowed down to him, his father Jacob warned him not to tell the dream to his brothers because they might plot against him in jealousy [Quran 12:5] … some people were more than willing to spread the word if a friend or neighbour committed sexual immorality, got drunk, or did something else shameful. The principle of Sitr requires that such behaviour, whether committed by you or someone else, remains forever hidden behind the veil.”
Note that according to Qaradawi this “cover-up” applies to both criminal (assault) and immoral or sinful (adulterous / fornicative) behaviour. This should not surprise us, since Islam rarely distinguishes sins from crimes, treating both types of behaviour as ‘crimes’ under Sharia Law.
Muslim children, teaches Qaradawi, should be taught from an early age to adopt the practice of Sitr if doing so will preserve the “honour” of fellow Muslims.
At first sight this is a doctrine which has somewhat to recommend it. It is the opposite of the “kiss-and-tell” attitude prevalent in much of the West, which can be damaging to put it mildly.
However it has a much darker side.
Dr. Qaradawi has said: “The principle of Sitr requires that [all] such behaviour, whether committed by you or someone else, remains forever hidden behind the veil [of Sitr].”
Recall that one example of something to be covered-up was a criminal act – that of assault. How widely does this doctrine reach and to what level of criminality should Sitr be applied?
Let me bring forward my next pieces of information.
The Muslim-authored website “IslamWeb
” has this to say about itself:
Islamweb is a site designed to enrich the viewers’ knowledge and appreciation of Islam. Its aim is to provide the viewing community substantial knowledge about Islam, particularly the non-Muslim who may need clarification of common distortions of the media and misrepresentations of ill-informed followers. … Islamweb adopts balanced and moderate views, devoid of bias and extremism. It is designed to address the interests of a wide audience – casual viewers, new converts to Islam, and Muslims of long standing.
Thus Islamweb may be taken as a voice of moderate Islam to the whole world.
Amongst its many sections is a rather extensive selection of Fatwa
(religious rulings) on a wide range of subjects.
Of particular relevance to the doctrine of Sitr
are the fatwas available here
(as of Aug. 2013).
In the first case part of the question is this:
“My husband has sexually assaulted our daughter of 14 years old. She says he came in her bedroom, lied [sic] down behind her, undress her undergarment and put his private part from behind to front. She is not sure if it was entered or not.”
Thus we have a case of sexual assault and possible rape of a child.
What is Islamweb’s response?
“… However, you should conceal his sin and not disclose it to people, especially since he claims that he has repented and has become righteous, and that he even denies doing it….”
I am not quoting the full answer for brevity’s sake.
In the second fatwa part of the question is as follows:
“My husband’s maternal uncle tried to sexually abuse me (like trying to hug me, kiss on my cheek, trying to touch me in inappropriate places)… should I inform my husband?”
And, again in part, Islamweb’s response:
“…you did well by forgiving him [the Uncle], so you should not inform your husband about the matter as it is an obligation to conceal the sins of a Muslim according to the view of some scholars. The prominent scholar Sheikh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen may Allah have mercy upon him said while explaining Riyaadh As-Saaliheen: “It is an obligation upon a Muslim to conceal the faults of another Muslim and he should not spread it unless there is a necessity.” Even if we presume that this is not an obligation, it is not wise to inform your husband about the issue to make him have hard feelings towards his uncle over a matter about which he had already sought your forgiveness and he might have repented from it. As-San’aani may Allah have mercy upon him said in the book Subul As-Salaam: “If it is known that he has repented and gave up his sin, it is forbidden to disclose what he had done and it is an obligation to conceal his sin; this applies to the person who is not known to be corrupt or persistent in exceeding the limits of Sharee’ah.”
The third fatwa’s question is scarcely comprehensible, but the gist is that a girl-child was sexually abused when aged about 8-10 years old by her Uncle. Again the fatwa ruling says (in part): “she[the girl] should not inform anybody about this, neither her parents nor anyone else.”
Let me state at once the Islamweb is quite categorical that these cases are “great…obnoxious” sins. But they don’t call them criminal acts as such. Whether this is because such things are not criminal in Islam, or whether it is due to the Islamic conflation of crime and sin is not relevant here. What is of relevance is that in two cases the cover-up of a serious crime (child sexual abuse) is advocated and in the other the cover-up of an immoral act. Further note that Islamweb refers to two “prominent scholar”s to support Sitr in these cases and, let me remind you, Islamweb is amoderate Muslim site – we are not talking about a bunch of “extremists”, but rather those Muslims whom we think of as “good law-abiding folk”.
fatwa “A 14 yr old girl has accused her father of sexual abuse since the age of 9 and also of rape” and that the man admitted it to her mother, his wife. The girl took the case to court (May 2011). What was Islamweb’s response?
“… it is not permissible to accuse the father of rape without evidence… the statement of this girl or the statement of her mother in itself does not Islamically prove anything against the father … she should not have claimed that she was raped by her father and she should not have taken him to the [non-Muslim] court.”
Again, let me be fair to Islamweb. They also state that if the girl was “telling the truth” – i.e. had four Mussalmen witnesses to the rape(s) – then she would be entitled to seek protection from him, even from a non-Muslim court.
Thus from these fatwa we can deduce that Muslims should cover-up not just immorality but also criminality on the part of fellow Muslims even where the sin/crime is against other Muslims. Given that at least one fatwa refers to rape, then this cover-up must extend to even the most serious crimes of all.
There are a whole number of similar fatwas on these and similar issues here
that all say that the sin and/or crime of the perpetrators should be covered up.
Sitr in Sharia law.
The Umdat as-Salik
(generally known in English as “The reliance of the traveller”) is a Sunni book of Sharia that was written in the 14th
century. The book was translated by the American Muslim scholar Nuh Ha Mim Keller
in 1991 and became the first translation of a standard Islamic legal reference in a European language to be certified by Al-Azhar
University Cairo. Thus it has the “imprimatur” of the world’s leading Sunni university.
Section @R2 has this to say on slander (emphases mine):
Slander (ghiba) means to mention anything concerning a person that he would dislike, whether about his body, religion, everyday life, self, disposition, property, son, father, wife, servant, turban, garment, gait, movements, smiling, dissoluteness, frowning, cheerfulness, or anything else connected with him. “Mention” means by word, writing [thus this definition of slander includes libel, – i.e. slander = defamation], sign, or indicating him with one’s eye, hand, head, and so forth. Body refers to saying such things as that someone is blind, lame, bleary-eyed, bald, short, tall, dark or pale. Religion includes saying that he is corrupt, a thief, cannot be trusted, is a tyrant, does not care about the prayer, does not watch to avoid filth, does not honour his father, does not spend zakat on what it should be spent on, or does not avoid slandering others. Everyday life includes saying that his manners are poor; he does not care about others; does not think he owes anyone anything; that he talks, eats, or sleeps too much; or sleeps or sits when he should not. Father refers to saying such things as that his father is corrupt, his father is an Indian, Nabatean, African, cobbler, draper, carpenter, blacksmith, or weaver (n: if mentioned derogatorily). Disposition includes saying that he has bad character, is arrogant, a show-off, overhasty, domineering, incapable, faint-hearted, irresponsible, gloomy, dissolute, and so forth. Clothing means saying such things as that his sleeves are too loose, his garment hangs too low, is dirty, or the like. Other remarks can be judged by the above examples. The determining factor is; mentioning about a person what he would not like.
Once again we see that it is defamatory or “shaming” to say things that “a person would not like” whether or not they are true.
@R2.3As for tale-bearing (namima), it consists of quoting someone’s words to another in a way that worsens relations between them.
@R2.4: The Evidence that Slander and Tale-Bearing are Unlawful. The above define slander and tale-bearing. As for the ruling on them, it is that they are unlawful, by the consensus (def:b7) of Muslims. There is much explicit and intersubstantiative evidence that they are unlawful from the Koran, sunna, and consensus of the Muslim Community.
@R2.5 Allah Most High says: -1- “Do not slander one another” (Koran 49.12). -2- “Woe to whomever disparages others behind their back or to their face” (Koran 104:1) -3- “… slanderer, going about with tales” (Koran 68.11)
@R2.6 The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: -1- “The talebearer will not enter paradise.” -2- “Do you know what slander is?” They answered, “Allah and His messenger know best.” He said, “It is to mention of your brother that which he would dislike.” Someone asked, “what if he is as I say?” And he replied, “If he is as you say, you have slandered him, and if not, you have calumniated him.” -3- The Muslim is the brother of the Muslim. He does not betray him, lie to him, or hang back from coming to his aid. All of the Muslim is inviolable to his fellow Muslim: his reputation, his property, his blood. Godfearingness is here [N: pointing to his heart]. It is sufficiently wicked for someone to belittle his fellow Muslim.”
This is worthy of note. In this hadith Mohammed is saying that telling an uncomfortable truth about a Muslim is slander (defamation) and that only if it is untrue is it “calumny” – a more severe form of slander in Mohammed’s view.
@R2.7: Mimicking Another’s Idiosyncrasies. We have mentioned above that slander [defamation] is saying anything about a person that he would dislike, whether aloud, in writing, by a sign, or a gesture. Anything by which one conveys a Muslim’s (A: or non-Muslim’s) shortcomings to another is slander, and unlawful. It includes doing imitations of someone, such as by walking with a limp, with a stoop, or similar posture, intending to mimic the person with such a deficiency. Anything of this sort is unquestionably unlawful.
@R2.8: Slander in Published Works. Slander also includes the author of a book mentioning a specific person in his work by saying, “So-and-so says such and such,” which is unlawful if he thereby intends to demean him. But if he wants to clarify the person’s mistake so that others will not follow him, or expose the weakness of his scholarship so others will not be deceived and accept what he says, it is not slander, but rather advice that is obligatory, and is rewarded by Allah for the person who intends it as such. Nor is it slander for a writer or other person to say, “There are those [or “a certain group”] who say such and such, which is a mistake, error, ignorance, and folly,” and so forth, which is not slander because slander entails mentioning a particular person or a group of specific individuals.
Section R2.8 is quite interesting in that the implication is that those who have made errors due to mistakes or poor scholarship can have their mistakes pointed out and that it is not defamatory to say “There are those [or “a certain group”] who say such and such, which is a mistake, error, ignorance, and folly,” etc. since slander entails mention of a particular person or specific individuals. However, claiming errors on the part of “of Allah, of His book, of His religion, and of His Prophet” – i.e. Islam in general would not fall under this exemption, since all of the former are considered perfect and thus error free.
@R2.9: Slander by Allusion and Innuendo. When the person being spoken to understands whom one is referring to, it is slander and unlawful to say, for example, “A certain person did such and such,” or “A certain scholar,” “Someone with pretensions to knowledge,” “A certain Mufti a certain person regarded as good,” “Someone who claims to be an ascetic,” “One of those who passed by us today,” or “One of the people we saw.” This includes the slander of some would-be scholars and devotees, who make slanderous innuendoes that are as clearly understood as if they were plainly stated. When one of them is asked, for example, how So-and-so is, he replies, “May Allah improve us,” “May Allah forgive us,” “May Allah improve him,” “We ask Allah’s forbearance,” “Praise be to Allah who has not afflicted us with visiting oppressors,” “We take refuge in Allah from evil,” “May Allah forgive us for lack of modesty,” “May Allah relent towards us,” and the like, from which the listener understands the person’s shortcomings. All of this is slander and is unlawful, just as when one says, “So-and-so is afflicted with what we all are,” or “There’s no way he can manage this,” or “We all do it.”
@R2.10 The above are but examples. Otherwise, as previously mentioned, the criterion for slander is that one gives the person being addressed to understand another’s faults.
This particular section ends where is began: with a statement to the effect that in Islam (and thus in the Muslim mind-set) anything shaming is defaming, truth and falsehood do not necessarily enter into the equation and indeed even a factual matter that is shaming falls under the definition of “slander” and should be covered up – i.e. Sitr applies.
@R2.11: Listening to Slander. Just as slander is unlawful for the one who says it, it is also unlawful for the person hearing it to listen and acquiesce to. It is obligatory whenever one hears someone begin to slander another to tell him to stop if this does not entail manifest harm to one. If it does, then one is obliged to condemn it in one’s heart and to leave the company if able. When the person who hears it is able to condemn it in words or change the subject, then he must. It is a sin for him not to. But if the hearer tells the slanderer to be silent while desiring him in his heart to continue, this, as Ghazali notes. is hypocrisy that does not lift the sin from him, for one must dislike it in one’s heart.
R2:11 implies that one should not listen to a report of “slander” – i.e. something “shaming” about a Muslim, again note that truth and falsehood do not enter into whether or not the “tale-bearer” should be heeded.
R2:12-15 are not really relevant to the elucidation of Sitr, dealing as they do with the intentions and attitudes of those who hear it, although this quote from Imam Ghazali bears mention: “If one learns of a Muslim’s mistake by undeniable proof, one should advise him about it in private and not let the Devil delude one into slandering him.” i.e. you should cover up the crime or sin.
Later in the text the Umdat refers to “permissible slander” as follows:
@R2.16: Permissible Slander. Slander, though unlawful, is sometimes permissible for a lawful purpose, the legitimating factor being that there is some aim countenanced by Sacred Law that is unattainable by other means. This may be for one of six reasons.
@R2.17: Redressing Grievances.
@R2.18: Eliminating Wrongdoing.
@R2.19: Asking for a Legal Opinion.
@R2.20: Warning Muslims of Evil (here meaning something “un-Islamic” or something that will have “bad” consequences of some sort.
@R2.21: Someone Unconcerned with Concealing their Disobedience. A fifth reason that permits slander is when the person is making no effort to conceal his corruption … such as someone who openly drinks wine…
@R2.22: Identification (of a person).
These are the six categories of “permitted slander”. I have restricted myself to quoting the section heads on the grounds that those who wish to follow up can thereby easily reference the section and also that a modicum of thought will show that without these exemptions Muslim society would be utterly dis-functional and lawless since no cases could be brought to trial etc.
But note the fifth exemption: Someone Unconcerned with Concealing their Disobedience. Implicit, then, is that if someone does not flaunt their “disobedience” to Sharia law/Islam, then their shameful behaviour should be covered up – at least as much as possible.
Chapter R3.0: TALEBEARING (NAMIMA) [means “gossiping negatively about someone else”]
@R3.1(Nawawi:) Having summarily mentioned that tale-bearing (namima) is unlawful, with the evidence for this and a description of its nature, we now want to add a fuller explanation of it.Imam Abu Hamid Ghazali says, “Tale-bearing is a term that is usually applied only to someone who conveys to a person what another has said about him, such as by saying, ‘So-and-so says such and such about you,’ In fact, tale-bearing is not limited to that, but rather consists of revealing anything whose disclosure is resented, whether resented by the person who originally said it, the person to whom it is disclosed, or by a third party. It makes no difference whether the disclosure is in word, writing, a sign, nodding, or other; whether it concerns word or deed; or whether it concerns something bad or otherwise. The reality of tale-bearing lies in divulging a secret, in revealing something confidential whose disclosure is resented. A person should not speak of anything he notices about people besides that which benefits a Muslim to relate or prevents disobedience. Anyone approached with a story, who is told, ‘So-and-so says such and such about you,’ must do six things:
-1- disbelieve it, for talebearers are corrupt, and their information unacceptable;
-2- tell the talebearer to stop, admonish him about it, and condemn the shamefulness of what he has done;
-3- hate him for the sake of Allah Most High, for he is detestable in Allah’s sight, and hating for the sake of Allah Most High is obligatory;
-4- not think badly of the person whom the words are supposedly from, for Allah Most High says, ‘Such much of surmise’ (Koran 49.12);
-5- not let what has been said prompt him to spy or investigate whether it is true, for Allah Most High says, ‘Do not spy’ (Koran 49.12);
-6- and not to do himself what he has forbidden the talebearer to do, by relating it to others.” (Ibid., 471-72)
“Tale-bearers” are not to be believed, but rather are to be considered corrupt and hated “for the sake of Allah” (according to the doctrine of al-Wara wal-Bara
). Again note that truth and falsehood are not relevant: “The reality of tale-bearing lies in divulging a secret, in revealing something confidential, word or deed, whose disclosure is resented”
(Actually this is surprisingly reminiscent of much “hate speech” legislation – see here
under “Free speech in the UK” and/or summary sections.) See also Umdat P.45.
My final quote from the Umdat is this:
*2*Chapter R5.0: INFORMING ON ANOTHER. @R5.1 The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Let none of my Companions inform me of anything another of them has said, for I wish to come out to you without disquiet in my heart.”
Here we have the cover-up stated quite baldly: Mohammed doesn’t want to hear anything “disquieting” (upsetting, insulting etc.) about his fellow Muslims (companions) in case it disturbs his sense of tranquillity.
Let me also note that @A2.4 states that the Muslim has a duty to teach his children to avoid slander, @I1.27 relates to fasting during which slander should be avoided. These are innocuous enough – except that we have to know that “slander” means anything shaming, which is less benign. @G2.5 again notes that “if he notices something bad, it is unlawful to mention it, as this is slander (ghiba, def:r2.2)”. P50.2 condemns to hell those who attacked the reputations of others.
Whilst a superficial reading might lead to the conclusion that the Umdat is concerned with preventing the telling and retelling of falsehood, the fact that slander is defined as mentioning “anything concerning a person that he would dislike” belies this understanding of slander, indicating rather that in the Islamic view anything shaming is defaming. This would clearly include much that was a falsehood of course, but the underlying concern is honour-shame not truth-falsehood. Thus the “default position” of the Umdat is that the sinful deeds of a Muslim should be covered up (sitr) except in certain specific circumstances.
Sitr in non-Muslim Countries
How does this doctrine of the cover-up extrapolate for sins and/or crimes committed by Muslims against non-Muslims in a predominantly non-Muslim society? (The case of sins and/or crimes against non-Muslims in a Muslim majority Country is a separate issue and revolves around the concept of Dhimmitude under Sharia law.)
Does this mean, for instance, that Muslims should not cooperate with Law enforcement agencies if such cooperation would result in the revealing of a crime (which brings “shame”) committed by Muslims – and perhaps especially so if the victims are non-Muslims (who are regarded as lesser mortals in Islam)?
- In the US there was a brouhaha involving CAIR in 2011 over a poster opposing cooperation with the FBI. Whilst this proved to be something of a canard (the poster wasn’t originated by CAIR), CAIR has a less than lily-white record all it’s own. CAIR’s claim of supporting law enforcement is “ludicrous,” said Steven Pomerantz, the FBI’s assistant director for counter-terrorism in the 1990s. The group has “a consistent, long history of being antagonistic toward law enforcement.” See here and here.
- In the UK there are the ongoing prosecutions of many Muslim child-sex grooming gangs. Their victims were predominantly white, vulnerable pre- and early teenage girls (a few non-white victims were reported, including some “Asian” girls – Sikhs, not Muslim). And there has been little to suggest any awareness on the perpetrators’ part that they were guilty of wrong-doing, indeed some are on the Court record trying to blame the victims for the crimes and otherwise trying to preserve their “honour” from the shame of exposure. (I must add that their attempts failed miserably in the wider community.)
- Again in the UK there have been a significant number of thwarted terror attacks. In no case of which I am aware have the terrorists been caught due to tip-offs from other Muslims. A recent (Aug.2013) internet search shows that such things do happen in the US and Canada, but not, as far as I am able to tell, the UK. (I stand to be corrected on this of course.)
- The presence of hate-preachers in mosques goes largely unreported. In the UK, for example, it required undercover journalism (see here, here and here) to expose it. But this is a world-wide problem. Every Country with a Muslim minority has it’s tales of hate-preachers to tell. Those that are exposed are a minority and those that are prosecuted a much smaller one.
- In Nigeria when Boko Haraam was attacking only Christians and Churches the country’s Muslim leaders were largely silent on the issue. Once Boko Haraam started to attack those whom it felt “weren’t Muslim enough” however the condemnations from said Muslim leaders came thick and fast.
- In Sept. 2013 the Muslim Women’s network UK published a report called “The Sexual Exploitation of Asian Girls and Young Women”. PLEASE READ. The report self-confessedly stated that “…the investigation mainly focused on case studies of Muslim children and young women,..” (p.21). Over it’s 35 case studies it found that “Blackmail connected with shame and dishonour appeared to be a key and unique method of control for victims of Asian and Muslim backgrounds [because] they did not want to risk their families finding out” (p.27) and “they feared repercussions linked to honour based violence”- HBV (p.74). “There appears to be little or no understanding among families and communities about sexual exploitation and there is a tendency to blame the female victims rather than the male offenders. Girls were being regarded as “temptresses” and assumptions were made about their lifestyles.Denial about sexual exploitation was also raised as a major concern. There is a tendency to prioritise protecting the “honour” of the community over the safeguarding of vulnerable girls [and] silence in the name of avoiding shame and preserving honour, is allowing men to continue operating with impunity, therefore fueling sexual violence against girls and women further.”(p.28) Throughout the report the mantra of shame and (dis)honour repeats. p.87 even mentions “the ‘cover up’ culture” – Sitr defined! p.88 notes; “those considered ‘bad’ [Muslims] were usually the ones who did not wear the headscarf and therefore were not thought of as victims but as ‘bringing it on to themselves’.” (I included this since it speaks so strongly of misogyny, honour/shame and Sitr within UK “Asian” – here Muslim – communities.)
None of the six pieces of information above are in any way conclusive – and in a spirit of fairness it could be argued that the UK is partly a “special case” in 3 and perhaps 4 above – but the attitude of those UK Muslims involved in child-sex grooming and the lack of concern over this within UK Muslim communities; attitudes to terrorism and terrorists and in the case of the latter the wilful blindness of friends and relations; CAIR’s reticence towards law-enforcement in the US and the willingness of the some sections of the Muslim community in non-Muslim Countries to “overlook” (i.e. protect) hate-preachers and terrorists – all are in keeping with the doctrine of Sitr.
Excursus: Sitr – Honour and Shame.
The cover-up doctrine of Sitr
is tightly wound up with the concepts of honour and shame as understood in Islam. To better understand this, see this article on Guilt Cultures vs. Shame Cultures
and also here
under “Shame vs. Guilt”. In a shame society the drivers of society are not truth-falsehood and innocence-guilt (as they are in the West), but honour-shame. The fundamental point is that in the latter world-view what “others” think of the person (or community) is more important than what the individual (or community) thinks of him/itself.
The consequence of this is that if “honour” is impugned (in the eyes of the “victim” of the “dishonouring”) they must act in such a way to restore their honour in the wider community and denial, anger and violence, including HBV, are frequent responses.
It is well known that the majority of so-called HBV (honour based violence) takes place in Muslim societies
. When the family is “dis-honoured” by the revelation of a “shaming” act, the family often feels the need to restore its honour by punishing (to the point of killing) the person who brought the shame on them. (See also here
and 6 above.)
In many Muslim societies the honour of the family is bound up in the behaviour of its female members and those women/girls who transgress the honour code are the most likely victims of HBV (followed by homosexual males) which is seen as the only way that the family can remove the “stain” of its “dishonour”.
- We’ve seen that a leading Muslim scholar of today (Qaradawi) speaks in support of Sitr.
- The moderate-Muslim authored Islamweb website has fatwa rulings that declare that even very serious crimes must be covered up (Sitr) if the perpetrator is Muslim.
- Other prominent classical scholars support Sitr.
- Sharia law, according to the Umdat as Salik also supports Sitr.
- There is evidence that Muslims act this doctrine out both individually and in groups by being reluctant to support law-enforcement in various ways and in (sometimes literally) violent reactions to the perception of being “shamed” personally or having their religion “shamed” (note I’m referring to Muslim minorities in non-Muslim Countries here, the tendency to violence is – currently – much more pronounced in Muslim majority Countries.) and their wilful blindness to and covering-up of various criminal actions of members of their communities.
The doctrine of Sitr
is all about preserving the “honour” of Islam and Muslims, the latter both individually and collectively. Muslims see themselves as being the “best community amongst mankind
” (Koran 3:110) and as a consequence anything that would tarnish this asserted reputation and/or the reputation of “of Allah, of His book, of His religion, and of His Prophet
” must be covered up (or denied) and the revelation of something “shaming” is often perceived as “defamatory” (in the language of the Umdat
as “slander”) by the community or individual affected. (see also here
Consequences of the doctrine
When it comes to the illegal actions (according to Western criminal and civil, not necessarily Sharia, law) of Muslims within non-Muslim countries, are we then surprised that Muslims are often less than fully cooperative in Police investigations into crimes committed by Muslims?
Or that they hide various crimes (such as child-sex-grooming) within their own communities through fear of “dishonour”? (And note that the victims do so out of fear of “family repercussions” including HBV.)
Or that cries of “Islamophobia” and “racism” (the latter being truly risible) on the part of the authorities prosecuting Muslims are widely heard?
Or that when charged with something “shameful” (i.e. criminal) the reaction is anger at the “defamatory” charges, and/or denial of the facts and a feeling of “victimisation” on the Muslims’ part – which only fuels their resentment of and anger towards the non-Muslims in the Countries in which they live.
This is illustrated by the attitude found amongst many Western Muslims that they get “a bad press” and that if it were people of other religions then the religion would not be remarked on. Quite how this is maintained in view of the child-abuse scandals within Christian Churches and organisations in which the faith of the perpetrators played a very prominent role would be hard to understand were it not for Sitr and the implicit assumption amongst (some) Muslims that such behaviour on the part of Muslims should be covered up. Put another way, Muslims think they get “a bad press” because they think their failings (individually or as a community) should never be made public – unlike everyone else’s.
Sitr is a particularly damaging and invidious doctrine: not only does it result in Muslims covering up Muslims’ crimes; it inculcates in the perpetrators a sense of victimization (which breeds resentment and anger) when they suffer the “injustice” of being caught and prosecuted – especially if the revelation of such wrong-doing is at the hands of non-Muslims and in an “illegitimate kafir court”, and Sitr also ensures that this resentment and anger is directed towards the non-Muslim society among whom they reside – with predictable results in terms of so-called “radicalization”.