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Marieme Helie Lucas on Noura Hussein Hammad


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/10/31

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: ​Cornelius Press is located in South Africa. It is the first progressive publication, as far I as I am told, in South Africa and Southern Africa for that matter.

Noura Hussein Hammad has been given the death penalty for murdering a husband who she was forced to marry and who raped her within the marriage. How common is this story the MENA region? Does this tend to extend within the fundamentalist religious group in general, e.g. those found in Southern Africa too?

Marieme Helie Lucas: First of all, it is not just a marital rape, it is also a gang rape insofar as she was held down by several of the husband’s male relatives on the 5th day of their legal marriage, after steadily refusing first of all to get married to him and then to have sex with him.

She did not sign her marriage contract and was given in marriage by her matrimonial tutor or wali,- in this case, her father. It is only the day after this first rape, when he attempted again to rape her that she stabbed him in self-defense. I think we need to spell out these horrendous circumstances.

Now, marital rape is common the world over and women and rights defenders — always — had to struggle for a long time before having it criminalized. It is neither specific to a region, nor to Islam or to a school of thought in Islam.

However, it is true that bad practices and ultraconservative interpretations of Islam that legitimize patriarchy in all its forms are on the rise everywhere and facilitate the extension of the worst cultural practices: for instance, the concept of wali, which was unheard of in many predominantly Muslim countries, is now being propagated in the name of Islam; so is FGM, an Egyptian practice of sexual mutilation of women that predates Islam (as it originates in Ancient Egypt), which fundamentalist preachers, right now, are trying to expand to South East Asia and the Maghreb in North Africa where is was unknown till recently.

Jacobsen: Hammad has less 15 days to appeal the case. What external pressure can come from other countries in order to change the highly punitive and gender discriminatory legal system found in many Islamic theocracies or Muslim majority countries for that matter?

Helie Lucas: First of all, there is internal pressure, both from within Sudan where women’s rights and human rights defenders are on high alert and from within predominantly Muslim countries where progressives started defending Noura and her lawyers.

It is essential that external pressure come in support to those progressive forces from within, and in alliance with them. Ignoring the high level local protest would be totally counter productive, and will amount to putting such a blatant denial of fundamental human rights — self defense in a case of rape — into a political context of ‘good West’ against ‘bad Islam’.

The so-called Muslim world is very far from being homogeneous, hence marriage laws range from granting no rights at all to women within the marriage to granting equal rights — and responsibilities — to both spouses in more democratic countries.

In all countries, whether predominantly Muslim, Christian, other or secular, democratic forces struggle long and hard in order to defend fundamental human rights — especially but not exclusively for women.

Jacobsen: If Hammad dies, what will this symbolize as with other potential tragedies in loss of life simply fighting for their well-being and dignity?

Helie Lucas: I do not want to believe for one second that we, the progressive forces the world over and especially those within Muslim contexts, will allow for death penalty to be a applied to such a young woman, a victim of child marriage, forced marriage, rape, and many other violations of universal rights.

We should just keep actively fighting for her rights till her life is saved. Appeals for pardon have already been sent to the Sudanese president, petitions have popped out on Aawaz and on Change; they are massively signed. There is a very active and courageous Sudanese website in defense of Noura.

Vocal progressive theologians of Islam started speaking up. Sudan’s Constitution and international human rights treaties that Sudan signed should be called upon to protect Noura’s life.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Marieme.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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