A curious case of Old Testament proof texting

The Associated Press has a story about a child in Morocco who killed herself after she was forced to marry her rapist. Amina Filali was raped when she was 15 and was 16 when she took her own life. She had complained to her mother that she was being beaten during her five-month marriage and we're told that the mother counseled patience. Here's the top of the story:

RABAT, Morocco (AP) -- The case of a 16-year-old girl who killed herself after she was forced to marry her rapist has spurred outrage among Morocco's internet activists and calls for changes to the country's laws.

An online petition, a Facebook page and countless tweets expressed horror over the suicide of Amina Filali, who swallowed rat poison on Saturday to protest her marriage to the man who raped her a year earlier.

Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code allows for the "kidnapper" of a minor to marry his victim to escape prosecution, and it has been used to justify a traditional practice of making a rapist marry his victim to preserve the honor of the woman's family.

"Amina, 16, was triply violated, by her rapist, by tradition and by Article 475 of the Moroccan law," tweeted activist Abadila Maaelaynine.

The story does a good job of explaining the outrage over the situation and how women and girls find themselves in forced marriages. There's some discussion of Article 475. We hear that the father says court officials pushed the marriage and we learn about how the loss of virginity is considered a stain of honor on the family in certain cultures.

Then this:

In many parts of the Middle East, there is a tradition whereby a rapist can escape prosecution if he marries his victim, thereby restoring her honor. There is a similar injunction in the Old Testament's Book of Deuteronomy

So many questions. Such as, "Why are we talking about the "Middle East" instead of North Africa?" and "Why is there no punctuation after Deuteronomy?" But also more important questions such as, "Why in the world are we bringing the Book of Deuteronomy into this?"

Now what's amazing about this story is that it never once uses the words "sharia," "Islam," "Muslim" or "Quran."

Yes, it's true that Morocco is 99.9% Muslim and its laws are officially Islamic. Yes, it's true that it severely restricts religious freedom, particularly for those people who include Deuteronomy as one of their sacred texts. And it's also true that, according to the U.S. State Department, the government confiscates Arabic-language Bibles (you know, the books that include Deuteronomy) and refuses licenses for their importation and sale.

So why is religion brought into this only in the above sentence? Does Israel have a problem with forced marriage of rape victims? Are there any laws on the books in Christian countries requiring rapists to marry their victims? Why are we talking about Deuteronomy?

And, more specifically, why are we talking about Deuteronomy but not talking about the actual religion in play in Morocco?

There's nothing in this story that explains where this "Middle East tradition" comes from. Now, we read stories about the jailing, stoning or forced marriage of rape victims in places as disparate as Somalia, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Malaysia. Are we to believe that these places all have the same tradition, much less that religion has nothing to do with it?

Here's what the State Department mentions in its 2005 religious freedom report for Morocco:

Women traditionally have experienced various forms of legal and cultural discrimination in criminal and civil law, which is based on the official interpretation of Shari'a. In 2003, the Parliament passed reforms of the Personal Status Code that gave women the same rights as men in divorce cases and granted mothers custody of minor children, increased the marriage age from 15 to 18, and imposed limitations on polygamy that make it all but impossible to practice it. The reforms also abolished obsolete codified traditions that favored male heirs based on the official interpretation of Shari'a.

Now, isn't it odd to mention Deuteronomy but not sharia and what it has to say about rape? Particularly considering that there's no indication that any Jewish or Christian country is interpreting laws concerning rape in the same way that various Muslim countries are? What am I missing here?

Photo of Deuteronomy via Shutterstock.

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