Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Wife beating in Islam

Q: In a recent talk you stated that Surah 4:34 doesn’t support the beating, even if lightly, of women.

A: That’s right.

Q: Unfortunately, wife beating is wide spread in the Islamic world, and 4:34 is often used to justify it.

A: Yes. This is a matter that brings shame on the entire ummah. Our viewpoint is that the Recital from Allah speaks to us at the level we are at. Those who are in spiritual hell will mistakenly believe that the Qur’an justifies spousal abuse and other sorts of violence.

Q: I’ve always found it interesting that the Taliban, and other Wahhabis, are so concerned to follow the Prophet (PBUH) in the way they cut their beards, fast, pray, reject alcohol, but mistreat women –

A: Something the Prophet never did. In order to unpack the entire aggression against women in Islam we have to locate it in its proper historical-cultural unfolding, namely: (a) the lingering pre-Islamic violation of women; (b) an attempt to insert a mental image of a male patriarchal god onto Islam (an act of shirk) – instead of accepting the new revelation of God as Light; and (c) misunderstood struggle against polytheism, where the most prominent gods were female; and finally, (d) the struggle for power and control of the new religion between the male companions and family of the Prophet (PBUH) and the female companions and family (particularly Fatima and Aisha), wherein the males won the battle. All of that is complicated, but we do plan on working through those issues for our readers.

Q: Let’s go back to Surah 4:34.

A: I think what is often missed is that the verse begins by stating that men are the protectors of women. For someone in hell this is read as power over, as control. But the verse was actually intended to speak to the hearts of Arab men who had no problems beating, controlling, trading and even killing women. The verse reaches down into hell and tells men to rethink their role with women. Instead of privileging men as owners, it obligates men to protect women against other predatory men. To protect means to risk one’s own life, welfare, wealth, etc.

Q: But are men and women really equal?

A: Notice that later on in the passage, when divorce is looming, an equal number of arbiters from both sides are called in. I seriously doubt that would be the case if men were privileged over women.

Q: What else can you tell us about the passage?

A: Only that the reader of the Qur’an must always do two things: place it in its historical context; and attempt to view it from various spiritual stations.

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