Between a Pillar and a Hard Place

The Nazanin Fatehi Story

One of the more gut-wrenching videos you may ever see or hear is of a mother talking with her daughter who is in Iranian police custody waiting for the death sentence imposed by an Islamic tribunal to be carried out.

On January 3, 2006, 18-year-old Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi was sentenced to hang by an Iranian court for stabbing to death one of three men who attempted to rape her, and her 16-year-old niece, in a park in a suburb of Tehran in March 2005.

Under most modern egalitarian legal systems, what she did was clearly self-defense. What did she do wrong under Islamic law to merit being sentence to slowly chocking to death at the end of the hangman’s noose?

A number of things.

First, she should, under the circumstances, have allowed the rape to take place. By defending herself the way she did, she risked the lives of men whose life, under Islamic law, is worth twice that of a woman.

As an unmarried girl, if she had allowed herself to be raped, she would have only risked a public whipping (as opposed to stoning to death for a married woman) for seducing her rapists.

She could even have avoided the public whipping by proving that she did not cause her own rape. Under Islamic Law this is both simple and complex and, for a woman or girl being sexually assaulted, physically demanding even if her hands are free. She could have proven that she had not caused her own rape by ripping her attackers' shirts from the front during the assault (her niece would have had to do the same).

She might also have avoided the death sentence, even if one of her attackers had been killed during the attempted rape, if she had used a rock or a stick to defend herself, and her niece, instead of a knife based on a previously quoted statement by the Prophet:

And intentional murder shall be punished according to talion law; where the murderess intention is not clear and the victim is killed using a club or a stone it will cost the perpetrator one hundred camels as blood money. Whoever demands more is a man from the time of ignorance.

From a translation of the Prophet's Last Sermon by Islamic scholar and author Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah’s [1908-2002]

In the face of international outrage a new trial was ordered for Nazanin. Her murder conviction was reduced to "using disproportionate force" in defending her honour and that of her niece. She would still have to pay blood money to the family of the deceased aggressor before she could return to her family after almost two years in police custody.

What is a hundred camels worth in today's dollars? According to the Court, 400,000,000 Rials, approximately $ 43,000 US dollars.

As we ponder the horrible fate so narrowly avoided by Nazanin Fatehi let us remember another victim of a misogynous mediaeval mindset who was not so lucky.

On August 15, 2004 Atefeh Rajabi, a sixteen year old Iranian girl from the town of Neka was hung from a crane and agonized for more than forty-five minutes inside her black burqa which was sealed at the top with a hangman’s knot.

The town’s people who witnessed the struggling teenager slowly choking to death in that sack-like garment, sobbed and condemned the Mullahs (specialists in Islamic law) for condemning the young girl to this horrible, lingering death. The girl's crime: having pre-marital sex and being disrespectful to the presiding Mullah.

The Mullah was so incensed at the teenaged girl, that he personally put the noose around her neck before ordering the crane operator to hoist her into the air.

Bernard Payeur