The Catholic Church teaches us that the highest expression of love is self-gift. This teaching flows from Christ’s gift of himself on the Cross. This is the ideal that should guide our understanding of sex and marriage, in which husband and wife give the gift of self to the other and cooperate with God to generate and rear new life.
We are familiar with how this understanding is rejected in the modern West. Less familiar is how this ideal is being radically rejected by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
According to ISIS, unbelieving women in conquered territories are the rightful spoils of war, given to the conquerors by God. ISIS argues in its propaganda magazine Dabiq, the practice of saby or taking slaves, including sex slaves, in war is sanctioned by the Sunnah, the verbally transmitted teachings and sayings of the prophet Mohammed. ISIS laments the many Muslim leaders who reject this teaching, and accuses them of burying the teaching and being enemies of Allah. Notably, ISIS denies that the purpose of sex slavery is pleasure. One Dabiq author, apparently a woman, argues that anyone who makes that claim is a “mistaken ignoramus.” The purpose, rather, is liberation: the sex slaves are freed from their unbelieving communities and given the opportunity to believe in Allah.
According to ISIS’ interpretation of Islamic law, a man must make sure his sex slave is not pregnant before he has sex with her. The rule, supposedly, is to protect against confusion over the child’s paternity. This has led to ISIS forcing their sex slaves to take contraceptives, and even forced abortions in some cases. Many of the women who have been freed from slavery and shared their stories did not even know they were being forced to take birth control every day. They shared their accounts of being forced to take a pill each day in front of their captor, of being injected in the thigh with what they later found out was the contraceptive Depo-Provera, forced or pressured into taking abortion pills, and required to pass urine tests to prove they weren’t pregnant before being purchased by a new fighter. Some women were even forced to take two or three different types of contraception at the same time just to be sure they did not become pregnant.
Surely these facts belie ISIS’s assertion that sex slavery is really a tool of evangelization in the minds of its practitioners. ISIS fighters are taking every measure to keep the wombs of their captives barren not for the sake of their conversion, but to maintain them as perpetual sex objects.
But suppose there are some who sincerely understand their rapes to be evangelistic. Would this not demonstrate the deep bankruptcy of ISIS’s rape theology? The Apostle John teaches that he who does not love does not know God, for God is Love. Indeed, Love is a Person, eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son, the Logos. God is Love and Reason, not Arbitrary Will. This is why it cannot be true that God desires conversions by rape. Such is the theology of darkness, of those who wrap their hatred of non-believers in the clothing of light. But, we know that “He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still” (1 John 2:9).
How to deal with ISIS is of course a massive geopolitical question that cannot be adequately addressed here. But there are things we can do. Let us pray for these victims and their persecutors. And let us reject the theology of darkness by how we live. In our workplaces and homes and ball fields, let us give witness to Love by allowing God to love through us.