Afghan cleric defends contentious marriage law
— A key backer of an Afghan law that critics say legalizes marital rape and
rolls back women's rights rejected an international outcry as foreign
meddling on Saturday and insisted the legislation offers women many
The law, passed last month, says a husband can demand sex
with his wife every four days unless she is ill or would be harmed by
intercourse, and regulates when and for what reasons a wife may leave her
The legislation has raised the spectre of the deposed hard-line Taliban
regime in Afghanistan. The strict Islamist regime required women to wear
body-covering burqas and banned them from leaving home without a male
Following an international uproar, in which President Barack Obama called
the law “abhorrent,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai put it under review. The
move puts enforcement on hold.
Mohammad Asif Mohseni, a top Afghan cleric who was one of the law's main
drafters, said the legislation cannot be revoked or changed because it was
enacted through a legislative process — passed by both houses of parliament and
signed by Mr. Karzai. He condemned the outcry, saying Western countries were
trying to thwart democracy when results did not please them.
“The Westerners claim that they have brought democracy to Afghanistan. What
does democracy mean? It means government by the people for the people. They
should let the people use these democratic rights,” Mr. Mohseni told reporters
in the capital, Kabul.
Surrounded by supporters, Mr. Mohseni unfurled reams of paper with hundreds
of women's signatures and thumbprints backing the law. The legislation came out
of three years of debate and revision involving both Islamic scholars and
members of parliament, Mr. Mohseni said.
Afghanistan is an Islamic state and its constitution defers to the Quran as
the ultimate authority. Mr. Mohseni said the law simply reiterates rules from
Islam's holy book.
“In Shariah law, it states that a woman cannot go out without the permission
of her husband,” he said. He argued that the law is permissive because it allows
a woman to go out for a medical emergency or other urgent reason without asking
beforehand. In addition, a couple can agree to opt out of this rule when signing
a marriage contract, he said.
Mr. Mohseni said much of the uproar has come from people misinterpreting the
law. He said a woman can refuse sex with her husband for many reasons beyond
illness. For example, he said, a woman may be fasting for Ramadan, preparing for
a pilgrimage, menstruating, or just given birth.
Mr. Mohseni also argued that the law can be interpreted to mean simply
sleeping in the same room as a couple every four nights, but an Associated Press
translation of the pertinent article suggests this reading is unlikely.
The law says that every fourth day a man “can pass the night with his wife,
unless it is harmful for either side, or either of them is suffering from any
kind of sexual disease. It is essential for the woman to submit to the man's
“If she is not sick, and if she does not have another problem, it is the
right of a man to ask for sex and she should make herself ready for it. This is
the right of a man,” Mr. Mohseni explained.
Though the law only applies to the country's Shiite population — 10 per cent
to 20 per cent of Afghanistan's 30 million people — Mr. Mohseni, the country's
top Shiite cleric, said most of the articles could also be applied to Sunnis. A
prominent Sunni cleric, Mawlawi Habibullah Ahsam, said the rules about women
submitting to sex and leaving the home would also be acceptable to Sunnis.
Not everyone is happy with the law in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, dozens
of Afghan lawmakers and officials condemned the legislation, saying it
The law contradicts the country's constitution and human rights, treating
women as objects rather than subjects, they said in a declaration. The Afghan
Constitution states that both men and women “have equal rights and duties before
Much has improved for women since the fall of the Taliban. Millions of girls
now attend school, and many women own businesses. Of 351 parliamentarians, 89
are women. But in the conservative country, critics fear those gains could
easily be reversed.
Mr. Mohseni argued that women and men are very far from equal in today's
Afghanistan and should not be treated as such. He pointed out that many rural
women are illiterate and would not be able to find work if they were asked to
provide some of the family's financial support. Men are typically the
breadwinners in Afghan households, expected to provide for their wives and
“It is not possible for all women to pay the same amount of money as men are
paying. For all these expenses, can't we at least give the right to a husband to
demand sex from his wife after four nights?” he said.