Imam Abdul Razzaq is not famous. He has probably never been outside of his native Pakistan, let alone his small village of Meerwala. You’ll most likely never see him on television or read about him.
But he has done what few men have ever done: Defend a gang-raped woman in the face of more powerful (and armed) men.
On an otherwise ordinary Friday in June 2002, Imam Abdul Razzaq gave a Khutba. But not just any Khutba – it was a sermon with shock value. In it, he condemned the gang rape of Mukhtar Mai, which had occurred a few days earlier in his village.
Mai was a young woman whose teenage brother was falsely accused of engaging in a relationship with a woman from a “higher” tribe. In the vigilante justice meted out by the village elders, the punishment for this was to humiliate a woman close to the offender. That meant Mukhtar Mai was to be gang-raped by men from the “offended” woman’s tribe.
And that she was.
After being raped and paraded naked in front of hundreds of people, Mai contemplated suicide.This traumatized woman would have done it – until Imam Abdul Razzaq knocked on her door.
The Imam convinced both Mai and her father to press charges against the rapists. He went with them to the local police station and helped them report the incident. Then, he delivered his Khutba and called a journalist to give the crime publicity. Once the article about the horrific attack came out, the news spread first within, shocking Pakistanis across the country. Then, a few weeks later, the BBC picked it up and brought it to the world.
The Imam’s support, along with the publicity sympathetic to her plight, strengthened Mai. It gave her courage to face the world and challenge her attackers.
Imam Abdul Razzaq never received rape crisis training; he did not complete a degree in Women’s Studies; he was not pressured by Western non-governmental organizations (NGOs), nor has he ever lived in a part of the world where detailed discussions about women’s rights, women’s equality, feminism, or gender justice take place. At the time of Mukhtar Mai’s rape, his village had virtually no electric power service and no telephones.
But Imam Abdul Razzaq received a different kind of training. It was not just in being able to read, recite, and teach the Quran. Rather, it was to truly live up to its principles. In this case, to be just, as God commands repeatedly.
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a Better Protector to both (than you). So follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is ever well-acquainted with what you do” (Quran 4:135).
Imam Abdul Razzaq made it clear that rape is wrong, whether it is in the alleys of Meerwala or on the streets of Manhattan. It is wrong whether it happens to a woman of “high” status or “low”. Imam Abdul Razzaq also knows that giving Khutbas is necessary, but to truly stand up for what’s right, action and support for the victim are essential.
This great, underappreciated Imam also understands that violence against women is not a “women’s issue”. It is a men’s issue as well. In fact, it is very much a “Muslim issue”. It is about the core of Islamic teachings: Justice for the weak, and standing up for what is right in every way we can, with every tool at our disposal.
Imam Abdul Razzaq’s example is one that more Muslims should highlight, discuss, and emulate.
May Allah make us just to all, especially the weakest and most vulnerable of our communities, following the lead of Imams like Imam Abdul Razzaq.