Does the Qur'an Tolerate Domestic Abuse?
In Islam, does God permit husbands to beat disloyal wives? A new translation of the Qur'an says no--but will this take hold?
BY: Interview by Andrea Useem
This verse caused inner turmoil for some of you. Do you think that’s true for other Muslim women?
Mubarak: I know a lot of other educated young women struggle with it. You read the Qu'ran and see the basic gender paradigm that ordains mercy and justice between men and women. Then you come to this one verse that seems to contradict everything you believe Islam stands for, and it just doesn’t fit. I never accepted that this verse actually instructed men to beat their wives. That to me is an absolute contradiction to the way God describes Himself, as absolutely just.
How did you resolve that conflict?
Mubarak: You have to consider several things when you read that verse. The first one we've already talked about: interpreting a specific verse in the context of the Qur'an's general message. The second principle is looking at the example of the Prophet. You'll find the four authentic prophetic traditions that prohibit beating.
|Three Traditions from the Prophet|
You also have to look at the verse's purpose. It's clear God intends to reconcile two people who are having problems. Now if God is telling men to beat their women, then the woman is going to want out of that marriage. She could exercise her Islamic right to divorce if he resorted to physical abuse. All of that would contradict the objective of reconciliation.
Then there's grammar. According to one scholar, the word itself (daraba) has 17 different meanings in the Qur'an, and most of the time, it's used to mean "to separate." That fits exactly with the practice of the Prophet.
In American-Muslim marriages, when a couple faces a problem, do they open up the Qur’an? Do these interpretations matter in a practical way?
|Women Need an Imam's Help|
I also see Muslim women who say, "I want the abuse to stop but I don't want the marriage to end." But when she seeks help outside the Muslim community, she constantly gets the message, "Leave, leave, leave." She may be less apt to take advantage of those safe--but secular--services, because that message contradicts what she wants and expects from the marriage.
Mubarak: The problem is people's understanding of men and women's relationship in Islam as a whole. I liked how Laleh translated another word, nushuz, in 4:34, which is often translated as "disobedience" [of wives to husbands]. There's absolutely no Islamic basis for proving a woman has to obey her husband, beyond fulfilling his legal rights in Islam. Laleh translated that word as "resistance," which I think is better.
Same with the phrase as the beginning of 4:34--qawwamuna. People use this to prove that Islam establishes men's superiority over women, which it absolutely doesn't. Laleh is correct to translate this word to mean men are "supporters" of women, meaning in a financial sense.
But when you speak to a lot of Muslims, even Muslims who are literate, they will point to 4:34 and say it establishes a man’s right to be in charge of women. That's where the danger comes in: Once you say men have a level of moral authority above women in Islam, that begins to allow people to justify other things, like beating.
Bakhtiar: I have counseled Muslim couples in America where Qur'anic interpretation has been a real issue. The husband thinks he is superior to his wife. In many cases, he was staying at home, and the wife was working, and doing all the housework, and everything else--and he still thought he had the right to beat her.
|Crisis of Faith|