Why Muslim women need to stop justifying domestic violence in the name of religion

Published: May 11, 2017

Muslim men are allowed to hit their wives – not with fists, but gently using only short sticks and pieces of fabric, as per a video recently released by the Australian women’s branch of Hizbut Tahrir.

The video, posted on the Islamic political group Hizbut Tahrir’s Facebook page, shows two Australian Muslim women from Sydney telling a small audience of veiled women that Muslim husbands are in a position of leadership in ­a marriage and “it goes hand-in-hand that he would have the right to undertake disciplinary ­measures”.

The verse under discussion proposes three potential responses to unfaithfulness on part of the wife, namely, admonishing them, abandoning them in bed, and to beat them (4:34).

“What a beautiful blessing from Allah that he said not to take all the steps at one time. It is one after the other,” says Ms Latifi, while emphasising how men are only permitted and not encouraged or obliged to beat their wives on accord of unfaithfulness.

“He’s not responding through anger or frustration or rage; he’s responding in obedience to Allah’s (swt) commands, in a measured and staged way, because we know when people talk about violence against women, often it happens in the heat of the moment, in anger, in frustration and what not, whereas here, it’s managed.”

“It’s symbolic,” she insists, while a fellow panellist adds, “And a beautiful blessing.”

Justifying domestic violence, Ms Allouche says a husband might decide to hit his wife if she strayed from the teachings of the Holy Quran, because,

“He loves his wife, he fears for his wife, it’s almost a natural consequence.”

When I stumbled across this video for the first time, I had no doubt in my mind that this was quite obviously a satirical piece targeting the normalisation of domestic violence in conservative Muslim societies. As a satirical piece, I thought it was brilliant. And then came the hollowing realisation – the two women actually believed every word they were saying.

The verse in question has long been used by men to justify domestic violence in the name of Islam, but what comes as a surprise is the lack of resistance by educated Muslim women on this particular interpretation of this verse.

Religion, you see, is not set in stone. Anyone with a basic grasp of Islamic theology will tell you that apart from the very basic pillars of religion, there is difference of opinion in almost everything else. This particular verse is no different. Some interpretations of this verse argue the case that the Arabic verb ‘wadhribihunna’ which is translated as ‘beat them’ can also mean to ‘separate with them’, according to the context.

Looking at the verse from a rational perspective, it makes little sense that God in all His Wisdom would permit beating your wife as a last resort to ‘discipline’ her when the very foundation of marriage should be based on love and mutual affection (30:21). If the foundation of the marriage has been compromised on part of unfaithfulness, beating your wife hardly seems like a way forward. Rather, the interpretation that if mutual dialogue and barring intimacy doesn’t work, the couple should separate as a last resort seems much more sensible and befitting.

We usually suspend critical thinking in matters of religion because we’ve been taught, consciously and subconsciously, to never question what we’ve been brought up with. But this is a direct violation of the Holy Quran’s most fundamental of messages – dare to think for yourself, and do not blindly follow anyone as everyone is responsible for their own soul.

You cannot say that Islam is egalitarian while simultaneously maintaining that men are allowed to beat their wives. This is a glaring contradiction in belief, no matter how you try justifying it. It is high time that Muslim women acquaint themselves with the egalitarian roots of Islam and reject any and all interpretations which suggest otherwise. Such a step will be paramount in addressing the deep misogyny that is unfortunately rampant in our cultures.

For the love of all that is sacred, please do not be complicit in your own oppression.

Rohail Waseem

Ro Waseem

The author is a Muslim who writes about Progressive Islam. He runs a weekly blog on Patheos (www.patheos.com/blogs/quranalyzeit) and has contributed some of his articles to Huffington Post, Onfaith, & Tikkun, among others. He tweets as @Quranalyzeit (twitter.com/quranalyzeit)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.