God describes the faith that God gave to humankind as a light upon humanity. The faith of our father Abraham, and of all the prophets, one prophet after another, until the final articulation of this faith with the Prophet Muhammad, is a light upon humanity. What does light do? It forces darkness to retreat. When it shines, it enables visibility and clarity, it exposes the hidden and secret, and confronts those who look where the light shines to see the true nature of things. Light, by its nature, forces darkness to retreat. Light, by its nature, has an intrinsic relationship to truth.
It is not just light, not just truth; but with bravery and truthfulness, and honesty. If a light shines, and people see where the light shines but either do not have the bravery, the attention span, the wisdom, the perceptiveness, or the sagacity to see where the light shines and to speak the truth on behalf of the light, then the function of the light itself is defeated. It is as if light and darkness become equal.
When God sent us the Qur’an and a divine message through the angels - a message that shines light - the job was not done. Yes, the light can shine. But if those who are supposed to be served by the light are themselves blind, distracted, dishonest, or otherwise cowardly; if they see where the light shines, but for all practical purposes, do not see where the light shines, the entire purpose of God sending us the light onto humanity becomes as if null and void, entirely pointless.
What does it mean for a Muslim to exist on the face of this earth but not be a beacon of truth, as in truth in perception, truth in thought, and truth in discourse? What does it mean for a Muslim to exist but not testify on behalf of the light? What do we say to God when God says to us, "I have gifted you the light. What have you done with it?" It is our job as Muslims to see what the light reveals. If anyone on the face of this earth should speak the loudest against injustices, darkness and evil, it should be the people who were gifted with God's light. What greater gift can there be?
Hardly a week passes when I am not reminded of the most abysmal areas of darkness in human life. With all of modernity; all of the academic institutions that specialize in gender rights; all of the highly acclaimed theorists on feminism; and all of the Muslims around the world who declare themselves feminists, you would think that the darkness that is sexual violence against women would be vanquished in our age. With freedom comes the heavy responsibility of what you do with freedom. With technology comes the heavy responsibility of empowering human beings to reach far beyond their territory. In other words, with progress comes the ability to inflict an enormous amount of hurt and pain.
Every week, I read countless reports of sexual violence against women in the field of human trafficking. Every week, it pains me to no end that some of the worst human trafficking countries in the world are officially Muslim countries, including the very country where our Prophet was born, raised, and died - the country of Saudi Arabia, where gross violations against women take place all the time; where women are trafficked in huge numbers. It pains me to no end that another Muslim country created a Ministry for Tolerance, but the head of that ministry, himself, is a sex offender - the country of the United Arab Emirates, who trafficks hundreds of thousands of women every year, women who are captured and forced into sexual slavery. And the Emirati government refuses to do anything meaningful about it.
Closer to home, I recently spent the night reading an 80-page court decision made by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a case of grotesque sexual violence perpetrated by famous American star, Bill Cosby. Cosby was freed after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on a fairly technical, but not so technical, point of law. By the very opinion that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrote, they document that someone like Bill Cosby is a serial rapist. There are at least nineteen women who were ready to provide testimony at his trial that they were drugged and raped by the man.
In all but one of these cases, the statute of limitations had run out, and the judge in the trial did not allow the vast majority of these women to testify. Only a very small number of women were permitted to testify as to what were called, “prior bad acts”. In other words, the crime that he has committed and was being tried for, he has had a pattern of doing with many other people in the past.
What we know in real life is that there is a long line of women who are willing to testify that this man took advantage of them, gave them drugs, knocked them out, and raped them. All of these women were raped when they were in their 20s. Intimidated by the fame and the wealth of the man in the '80s, most of them did what many victims of sexual violence do. They lived with their shame, with a broken heart and a broken ego, nursing their pain until the narrow amount of time allowed for a victim of sexual assault to file a complaint passed.
But one woman, only days before the statute of limitations ran out, did file criminal charges against Bill Cosby. That is why he was put on trial. That is why we even heard about the other women who were willing to testify in his trial. The problem was that what was afforded to Bill Cosby is not afforded to normal defendants who do not have a virtual mountain of money to spend from and the best lawyers to hire.
In 2005, the prosecutor made the decision that he was not going to prosecute Bill Cosby. The United States Constitution guarantees one the right against self-incrimination. This is a constitutional right that we can invoke. Meaning, one cannot be forced to testify against themselves if the state is prosecuting them on criminal charges.
In this case, when the victim of the sexual assault found out that Bill Cosby was not going to be prosecuted for rape, she decided to file a civil lawsuit against Cosby. It is another way of trying to punish a rapist that does not involve criminal charges. In this civil lawsuit, a defendant can be forced to testify, but if the testimony can lead to criminal charges, they can invoke their right against self-incrimination. In other words, they can say, "I cannot answer this question. I invoke my right against self-incrimination, because I am worried that if I give an answer, that answer will be used against me by the state."
The prosecutor, in this 2005 case, claimed that he issued that media release saying that Cosby is not going to be prosecuted, so that Cosby cannot invoke his right against self-incrimination in the civil proceedings. In other words, the prosecutor claimed, "I wanted to help the civil case go ahead smoothly by taking away Cosby's right against self-incrimination by saying, ‘I have no intention of prosecuting you, so you cannot refuse to answer questions by claiming your constitutional right against self-incrimination.’”
That civil lawsuit that was filed by one of the victims of Cosby was ultimately settled, and after, a new prosecutor came into the picture. That prosecutor, looking at what the previous prosecutor did, said, "That prosecutor had no right to tell Bill Cosby, ‘We have no intention to prosecute you.’ But even if he had the right, a media release is no agreement between the defendant and the state not to prosecute.”
The second prosecutor brought criminal charges, which ultimately led to the conviction and imprisonment of Bill Cosby. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that what the first prosecutor did in 2005 was, in fact, an illegal brand of immunity against prosecution. Furthermore, it was argued that all of the charges against Cosby must be thrown out because he was forced to testify in a deposition for the civil law case - although in that civil law case, Cosby never claimed his right against self-incrimination to any question; although Cosby's defense in that civil case was that the sex was consensual; and although in that civil law case, the case never went to a jury and was settled out of court. But for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in one of the most shocking opinions that I have read, all of that did not matter.
It did not matter that Cosby preyed on an untold number of women. The record is clear. Bill Cosby used his privilege as a famous, wealthy man who had connections to power, to prey on an unspecified number of young women. Normally, these were women who dreamt of a career, who dreamt of some form of success in Hollywood. Bill Cosby would promise to help them in order to get them alone, to get them to swallow something that would knock them out and then rape them.
It is shocking that we live in a country where a serial rapist is not prosecuted as a terrorist. Is a serial rapist not a terrorist? Does a serial rapist not terrorize women? If Bill Cosby did not embody wealth, power, and masculinity, would there be any chance he would get away with the type of crimes he got away with for so long? According to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, there is no further criminal action that can be taken against him. All the women who were raped, they do not matter.
I am not going to do the Muslim thing and say, "How dare you lecture me about women's rights when this is what you do?" because we are all in the same boat. We are all injured and aggrieved by injustice, or rather, we should be. It saddens me and shocks my conscience as a human being, and as a Muslim, that a serial rapist can still be protected by a statute of limitations of 12 years.