The horror of rape and tribal customs

Category: Asia, Life & Society Topics: Women Views: 19416

Gang-rape victim Mukhtaran Mai reads the Quran along with her students at her home village of Meerwala near Multan in Pakistan

In June 2002, a woman from Meerwala, a village 350 miles away from Islamabad, would experience a grievous violation of her rights as a woman. There was a rumor that her 14 year old brother had been seen with a girl from the high ranking Mastoi clan. Under the Panchiat system, a set of tribal laws upheld in some rural Pakistani villages, the Mastoi elders claimed he had shamed the girl's honor and the honor of their tribe. Mukhtaran Mai, upon hearing this accusation, stood before the tribal elders to defend her brother's innocence. The elders chose to let him go but they decided that in order for their "honor" to be restored, Mukhtaran Mai had to be punished in his place. Four men took turns gang-raping her before a cheering crowd of witnesses. After her painful ordeal, she was thrown out into the street, with only a shawl to cover her as she walked back to her village. 

In June 2004, over 150 women were raped under the Panchiat system. A rape victim in rural Pakistan has no marriage prospects, credible reputation or justice for the abuse. Mukhtaran Mai had given up hope. Many times she had contemplated suicide but it was her friends, family and the village imam that convinced her not to give up. The imam used his position in the community to speak out against her rapists. He called for her attackers to be tried before civil court and convinced her to file a complaint with the police. She also alerted the attention of the local and international media so that women like her could garner the justice they deserve. 

Mukhtaran Mai is an Islamic teacher, well versed in the Qur'an and Sunnah, and she knew that her rights as a Muslim woman had been violated. Often these cases go ignored or unreported. The Panchiat system is a violation of Pakistan's secular laws and the divine laws of Islam. The government stepped in and charged the four rapists and eight tribal leaders. They were subject to hang and Mukhtaran Mai was awarded $8,000 in compensation, money which she has used to build schools to promote literacy among the children of her village. Instead of execution, the men were sent to jail for life but in March 2005, due to an appeal, the rapists were released from prison. Within the same month, the Islamic Shari'a court stepped in and overturned the appeal and ordered that that her attackers be tried for their crime and had them rearrested. She had been offered a house and protection within the capital city of Islamabad but she chose to remain with her people in Meerwala. She even allowed the children of her rapists to attend her school. 

On June 10th, 2005, the Lahore High Court went against the Shari'a court and released her rapists from prison. Her case has been appealed and is going to the Pakistani Supreme Court but she is in tremendous danger from people who want to restore the "honor" of the men who attacked her. She was set to do an international tour speaking about her experience and the abuse that women like her endure because they are female, poor or come from a "lower social caste." The Pakistani government initially prevented her from leaving the country but now they are allowing her to leave. It was reported that the police assigned to protect her in her village home were, in fact, harassing her. So the question remains. When will Mukhtaran Mai and others like her receive justice? 

When the Prophet Muhammad came to the people of Makkah with the message of Islam, he had to deal with a society that had no respect and dignity for its women. Burying baby girls alive was common. Women had no marital rights, no right to inherit property or receive an education. They could not function as individuals within their society without their father or husband's permission. Now, many years later, we are still struggling to purify our societies of these pre-Islamic practices. We know that Islam gave women a multitude of rights that other women did not enjoy until the advent of modernism and secularism. But it's not enough to say, "Islam liberated women." We as believing people must establish this deen in order to create just and peaceful societies so that rape and other forms of abuse are forbidden and punished accordingly. 

Action Request:

The members of the International Muslima Rights Association have started an e-mail campaign. We are encouraging Muslims to write e-mails to the Pakistani Embassy of the United States in support of justice for Mukhtaran Mai and other women punished under the oppressive tribal laws of the Panchiat. All e-mails to the embassy must go to [email protected] or [email protected]. We encourage all emails to written in a polite but firm manner. The current Pakistani ambassador is the Honorable Jahengir Karamat.

3517 International Court, NW
Washington DC, 20008
Phone: 202-243-6500 

If you are reading this article from a country other than USA, we encourage you to find a Pakistani representative in your country.

You can read more about Mukhtaran Mai's at'sTragedy.htm or read the Muslima Rights Action alert at

The author Kelly "Izdihar" Crosby is a resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, USA and can be reached at [email protected] . Her blog can be accessed at

  Category: Asia, Life & Society
  Topics: Women
Views: 19416

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Older Comments:
What a vile and disgusting and dishonorable thing to do a woman. Mukhtaran Mai is a hero, she stood up for her rights as a muslim woman and as human being. I pray that bravery will be an example to the rest of them woman under this barbaric tribe and this insidious Panchiat system of raping women as punishment will be put to death. Rape is a crime it used by men to control, shame and demoralize women, and it doenst matter what country it occurs whether the west or in the east it needs to stop and it needs to be exposed. Rape is everyones problem. The best thing that can happen this village is reprogramming, if thier minds are not changed to recognize that this practice is barbaric then nothing will change.

DAWN said:
The Holy Qur'an commands all muslims to stand for justice.
Srah an Nisa' 4.135"O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.
Srah 7.33 Say: My Lord has forbidden all atrocities, whether overt or disguised, and harm (ithm).

Hadiths also tell muslims to speak out against injustice and to stop the one commiting the injustice.

"Support your brother when he commits or suffers injustice". A man asked the Prophet(pbuh): "Messenger of God, I understand that I should support him when he suffers injustice. How do I support him when he is the committer of injustice?" The Prophet (pbuh) answered: "You prevent him from doing injustice. That is the best support you give to him".

On the authority of Abu Saeed Al-Khurdari, who said: I heard the messenger of Allah say: "Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart; and that is the weakest of faith." (Muslim)

Based on these, I truly don't undestand why some want to dispute based on east versus west. It doesn't matter what country Kelly is from or what country the injustice is happening. It is her duty (along with all other muslims) to speak out against injustice. It's obvious that the powerful in Pakistan aren't about to change things. What is wrong with focusing international attention to these atrocities in order to get them to stop?

Many muslims are quick to condemn the west and their problems but won't acknowledge any problems in "Islamic" countries. Change needs to come from within first before we have the moral authority to condemn the actions of n

Its a damn shame some of the Muslims here are behaving like ... The author herself is a practising Muslim, as is Mukhtar Mai. This people, .. are nothing but Pakistani jingoists trying to hide their countrys shame. Dictators like Musharraf have far more to tarnish Pakistan's credibility as a lapdog in the so called war on terrorism.
I'm glad to see the Islamic oriented parties supporting Mai in her quest for justice. Her defilers should hang from the highest of lamp posts to make it clear that unless these "customs" are erased, they should expect the same.

SAMINA said:
I think the people who accuse Muslims of having a double standard, ignoring crimes in Muslim countries etc etc are missing the point. What people are objecting to is parading Mai Bibi in the West. Plainly, hers is a cause celebre in Pakistan, so why do people from the USA need to get involved? What on earth can they do to help, sitting thousands of miles away?

I saw the author suggesting (on her blog) having her come to ISNA almost as an act of contriteness. Really, I wonder if it's not a good idea to sit down, have a cold glass of water and think for a moment of the consequences of one's actions.

Oh, so Kelly Crosby the American wants to help out the poor backward people of Pakistan! Stick to your own country, the violence against women there is pretty bad I heard...

Based on your blog you seem to have a very arrogant view of others. You can even read their intentions! And God forbid we should blame your precious fellow Americans for anything.

"Even when we plan to volunteer in the community, sometimes I get the feeling that we do it to be seen rather than for Allah ta'ala. I don't deny that's it's good dawah but pleasing God is the #1 priority."

What a stunningly arrogant statement

Fahad Kamal - Gems of Wisdom. I wish everyone saw this issue with open eyes than emotions and a victim's chip on their shoulders. Islam is the right path no doubt but do Muslims have the guts to follow Islam in its entirety or are they content in picking and choosing things they like about Islam and discarding the rest. Islam is not a religion with grey areas. There are no maybes, shortcuts or whitewashes that other religions have sadly fallen prey to. Lets look within ourselves first, weed out our own shortcomings and then face the world.

RAFEH said:
The author accuses people she disagrees with of being nationalists but unless she can see into people's minds where is her proof for this insinuation? In fact it's she who seems to have inherited her countrymen's attitude towards trying to bring attention to problems halfway across the globe.

Maybe it makes her feel better that "they" are for tribal customs and banana republic dictators, but NOBODY is supporting those things. Is this about feeling superior about yourself or doing something truly useful?

And the quote "If you are reading this article from a country other than USA, we encourage you to find a Pakistani representative in your country." just shows the author views the world squarely through an American perspective.

Get off your high horse and try and understand others rather than immediately assuming the worst based on factors exterior to the information you have on hand.

Indeed, this article is senseless and it shouldn't have been posted on this website at all. Fahad Kamal, you are wrong by choosing to lecture br muslim and br Ismail, I'll tell you why.
1) Your answer to muslim about his comment, muslim is right. This article is very misleading, not for you that you are Pakistani, but for the rest of the Muslims that never heard of such barbaric practices in their lands and of course for the great majority of uninformed non-Muslims. What does this stupid custom have to do with non-Pakistani culture and general Islam? Is this website Pakistani? I thought it was North American. I don't give a rat's ass on Pakistani subculture, they should deal with it. Why on earth with every issue they have they run to uncle sam instead any Islamic authority? I do care though about my muslim brothers and we all know what Muslim means as well as Islam. And yes Muslims are the best of mankind and Islam is the way the Creator prescribed for His subjects. If you have a problem with that, revisit your Quran and Hadith. You said,"Stop telling people that Islam is beautiful and show them its' beauty." Maybe if articles like this about confused Pakistanis won't be displayed on this website as a by-product of Islamic culture we could uphold the truth and beauty of Islam!
2) Your answer to Ismail. Ismail is right. We live in North America not Pakistan, period. Pakistan's problem belongs in Pakistan and if there are Muslims over there they will tackle it. They don't need the intervention of the western hypocracy to save them from tribal practices. We Muslims are belonging to one umah but that doesn't mean that my Muslim neighbour will mix in my family and decide in my house! How do you expect any Muslim in the world to tell the Pak8istanis how they are supposed to run their country and how to exercise their religion and believes? Only Pakistanis in Pakistan(not Pakistanis in North America)have a say and right to immediate action. Their land their lives.

ALTAF said:
Do people who "disagree" with this article actually read the article?!!! Check out ths comment:

"This has nothing do to with Islam, so no one should be pointing any fingers at Islam."

Here is what the article states:

***Mukhtaran Mai is an Islamic teacher, well versed in the Qur'an and Sunnah, and she knew that her rights as a Muslim woman had been violated***

The comment also says:

"I disagree with such misleading articles. That point the finger at the innocent while the tyrant walks away from the crime."

Huh!!!?!! What innocent is the article pointing fingers at?!!! The article is critical of the nonsensical anti-Islamic customs that continue to prevail in so-called "Islamic" Pakistan.

If folks bothered to read the article, they might actually find that they agree with what is written... May I suggest if you find yourself "disagreeing" with the article to read it again...

And who cares a freaking penny what happens to Mushie the United States puppet?! I sure don't - the guy is a total fraud. Why people getting bent out of shape about criticisms of Mushie?

Lets make it simple: Musharraf does NOT equal Pakistan - he is a petty dictator who should be criticized strongly for his role in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the region - in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere - allowing the US to use Pakistan as a base.

The case of Mukhtaran Mai higlights very clearly, that Mushie is not at all interested in anything Islamic - and is much more interested in being a good little --- "I wanna look good in the eyes of the United States" puppet.

All Muslims should take up the case of Mukhtran Mai, we should invite her to our masajid, to our Islamic conferences - she can teach us all a great deal about standing up to petty tyrants.

It is interesting to note that it is the Sharia court calling for justice while the secular courts keep letting off the rapists.

Regarding muslim's comment: muslim, this article is NOT misleading. It makes clear that the Panchiat system violates the Quran and Sunnah. The question is: since the people of Pakistan have been Muslim for over a thousand years why do these tribes follow the Panchiat rather than sharia?

Furthermore, can we blame Westerners for scratching their collective heads when we tell them that Islam is good yet the Muslim world is backward and full of corruption?

How can Islam be good, but the world of Islam so pathetic? Well, perhaps because Islam isn't really being practiced in its' true sense. Well, why not?

So you can see why there is so much confusion.
Stop telling people that Islam is beautiful and show them its' beauty.

Regarding Ismail's comment: No one is providing propaganda. If crimes are being committed in Muslim countries than that should be our concern. You seem to be more concerned about domestic violence in the US rather than your own Muslim brothers and sisters. If you don't care for the well-being of your Muslim sisters in Pakistan who are being raped, fine. That is your problem. But other Muslims, such as the author of this article, are merely fulfilling their Islamic duty to uphold justice and to care for their Muslim brothers and sisters.

If Muslims are causing each other so much harm, and we are silent about it, then we have no right to complain when non-Muslims do likewise.(Or at least, our complaints sound rather shallow and hypocritical)

humanity is depravating allover. people feeling concerned must wakeup and joinhands to provide justice immediately and free.

Asalaamlaikum wa rahmatullahay wa barakato,
(peace and blessings be upon you)

What does the panchiat system have to do with anything about Islam. I for one have never heard of any such system coming from the Quran or the Sunnah. Whatever is being practiced there is not Islam, that is for sure. And that is only if the author of such stories are telling the truth in the first place. We should not be treating this as a issue that has come up against Islam. Islam teaches only good, correct, beautiful things. This problem is the the pakistani government and its officials and its authorities, which are corrupt in that country. This has nothing do to with Islam, so no one should be pointing any fingers at Islam. If those people actaully began to follow the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah CORRECTLY then such dispicable things as rape and what not would not be occuring.

I disagree with such misleading articles. That point the finger at the innocent while the tyrant walks away from the crime.

ISMAIL said:
Once upon a time people like Ahmed Chalabi used to be brought to the West at great cost to tell them what they wanted to hear.

Now we have Muslims paying the bill to provide propaganda against themselves! Hysteria and emotion will get people nowhere.

How about tackling domestic violence in the US?

Salam, This is a great article for many of us to take action apon. Many islamic societies treat women as "animals" and still use primitive practices for their own inherent discipline. These types of practices are not Islamic in any way, shape or form and need to be abolished. Raping, stoning and honour killings are nothing more than a weak customs which have succeeded over the past centuries, but there time has come. I encourage everyone to write the Pakistani embassy to take action against such barbaric rituals!

Alhamdulillah. We should stand up for ALL the oppressed, no matter where they are from. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Columbia etc. People should care. We are all sharing Planet Earth, all human beings, I don't see why we shouldn't care.

Shame on us Muslims. It is such a barbaric act in so called Muslim country. The country came into being in the name of Islam, and these kinds of shamefull acts are being practised there.
This is the Duty of that country's govt. to punish the culprits, and hang all of them including the village elders publicly, so that other village tribals dare not to do that.

It is time that we stop being apologetic about inhumane cultural practices simply because they are commited by Muslims. Indeed Islam is unrightfully pointed out as the cause of many wrongs, but our anger and frustration about this should never justify closing our eyes to blatant injustice. Fighting prejudice against Islam should go hand in hand with fighting injustices withing our own communities!

RAMI said:
Bringing Mai to the West is a straight-out dumb thign to do. It's easy to work oneself up into a self-righteous lather concerning things like this, but prudence dictates a bigger view rather than a heaving morally indignant stand right into the US media's clutches.

Why don't you get in a huff over things in yor OWN country?

as salam 3aleikoum wa rahmatullah,
This case as the thousands of others is just a reminder that what is called the muslim world is actually far from being muslim. This sister was attacked by NON muslims with hindu like caste priorities who only live the 'ibadat mechanically with no heart or intelligence. May Pakistan loose the Islamic title it gives itself untill it cleans up this mess, In sha Allah the muslims from Pakistan will be able to reform their society.

Unless she is blind to the instititutional and religious persecution of women in the West, Ms. Crosby should begin her campaign in her own country first. In Denmark we celebrate a girl's puberty and transition to womanhood by rejoicing upon her first menstruation. Medieval, archaic and barbaric? Yes. We have also legitimized prostitution as a business and prostitutes and their pimps now pay taxes- proof of a civilized society - I don't think so. Its not just the social practices that are demeaning to women in our Judeo-Christian societies it's the moral teachings of the bible and the Torah, as corrupted by the priests and rabbis down the ages, that leave one simply aghast. To quote a few gems from the Bible - a legacy of our Judeo-Christian values:

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 Bride who is not virgin must be stoned to death 22:28 Unmarried rape victim must marry her rapist Hosea 13:16 Their infants shall be dashed in pieces and their women with child shall be ripped up.Luke 14:26 You cannot be Jesus's disciple unless you hate your mother, father, and family 14:24-35 Women, keep in silence; may only learn from husbands I Peter 3:17 Women should talk to husbands in fear
Numbers 31:17-35 Virgins" are war booty 24:1 Men can divorce women on the spot 28:11-12 Delicate women will be forced to eat their children Job 14:1-4 "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean [woman]? not one" Isaiah 13:16 "their wives [shall be] ravished"

To fault Islam in light of our own religious beliefs is simply absurd, when the Bible shares with Islam the following views:

Ephesians 5:22-33 "Wives, submit..."
Colossians 3:18 More "Wives, submit yourselves..."
I Timothy 2:11-14 Women should learn in silence in all subjection
Genesis 2:22 Woman created from Adam's rib
Leviticus 15:19-23 Menstrual periods are unclean

For a more balanced view of women's rights under Islam visit

I am totally against violence against anyone, especially against women.

However, my only question is why it has become such an important issue in west & especially in USA. How many women are battered, raped & beaten up in USA? (Referred to as Domestic Violence in USA penal code)
How many are actually getting punished i.e. sent to prison?

We all know why? Because it happened in a Muslim country/society so have to be dragged in the media to just bring bad name to Islam & create Islam phobia.

Our Ummah suffers from the distortion of the lines between Islam and culture.

As I write this there are sisters in "Muslim" countries all over the world who are treated worse than a dog.

Speak of which, why do Muslims hate dogs anyways?

Our culture is currupting what is pure and the only fix is EDUCATION!

However, with Education comes questions and concerns ... so the self imposed rulers of our Muslim lands will never allow it.

Hence, we continue to be the Ummah with the best religion and the worse practices.


Tribal policies like the ones used in parts of rural Pakistan are a blight on Islamic world. If the Pakistani people wish to use Shari'a Laws, that is their business but they must apply these laws consistently, especially when it comes to protecting the rights given to women by Allah.

I have sympathy with the victim & am vocal for justice to her. But as usual I am doubtful towards the motive of west in giving it a global colour. Can you justify western double standard? When Islam speaks against sexual bewilderness & exploitation, west malign Islam as backward thinking. In fact, the above rape horror is the result of un-Islamic traditions adopted by those tribals. It is well known fact that 'Rape' is one of the unpardanable sin before God. If one claims to be Muslim, how he could dare to commit such aggression. Now you will see that western media will paint 'Mukhtaran's case' as the demonised face of Islam. They will extract the maximum out of this case and will dump her after fulfilling their motive. If we are really concerned about women's plight, we should advocate for Islamic way of life. I think till now 'Mukhtran Mai' knows this fact. She knows that it all happend due to lack of true Islamic sprit among his tribal community. If she is giving Islamic education to the culprit's childred, it is really commendable job, rather than exposing her personality to Western world for her media fame. If she takes this case in the light of Quran & Sunnah God will definitely reward her and her socieity and if Pakistani Govt. is not capable to punish the culptrits, they will not escape the punishment of almighty. During prophets time, when such cases happened in socieity, Munafquin always tried to exploit the situation and rip the benefit. The companaions always took such happenings as their test before Allah and they never deviated from their path. Rather they looked forward for the way in Quran & Sunnah. May Allah help us in such a trembling situation. sarfaraz