Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Wife-Beating Issue

"Your mother is so great that I did not have to beat her up once in the thirty years we have been married!" a father told his sons as he was trying to praise his wife.

"Every time she will talk back at me I will slap her," a brother told me as I was trying to provide marital counseling for him and his wife. Apparently he had "smacked" her before they came to see me. The mind boggling thing is that when I asked him, "What did she say to you that caused you to hit her?" he replied, "We had an argument and she provoked me so I said to her "Haywaneh!" (you're an animal!) Then she dared to talk back at me saying, "Inteh el Haywan" (you're the animal). Then I exercised my "God given right" to beat her up."

Though this is hardly a common idea in our community, if only a few brothers follow this misunderstanding of our religion, it damages their families and it damages our whole community.

The opponents of Islam often accuse Islam and Muslims of mistreatment of women and allowing men to beat up their wives referring to the Quranic verse 4:34. Unfortunately some Muslim men do strongly believe that this verse in the Quran gives them some "God given right" to beat their wives.

Yusuf Ali translated this verse as follows ".....As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next) , refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly)..."

"disloyalty and ill-conduct" is how Yusuf Ali translated the Arabic term ''nushuz" coming from the wife towards her husband, while Muhammad Asad rendered it, in this context, as "ill-will" and explains it in his footnotes " Deliberate, persistent breach of her marital obligations". Ali and Asad, both used the word "beat" as a translation of the Arabic term "wadhribuhunne" derived from the verb "daraba" used in the verse.

Before we elaborate further on the issue of "beating" we immediately can see that the verse is exclusively addressing very specific and serious problems. Nushuz is not 'problems' or disputes that arise if you come home hungry and find your supper a bit salty, or not ready, or later in the evening if she irritates you by telling you all that happen to her that day, which may be of no interest to you at all, while you are watching the end of an adventure movie on Satellite TV. Nushuz is actions that violate the wife's marital obligations to her husband, like being untrustworthy or dishonest, or threatening his honor, his reputation, or refusing to have intimate relations with him (within the Islamic boundaries). Please note that "nushuz" can also happen from the husband towards his wife as indicated in the Quran and there are ways to deal with that too, but I chose not to cover that topic in this posting.

Quran and Sunnah teach us that Islamic marriage is build on mutual love, mercy, trust, respect, fulfilling each other's reasonable sexual needs, desire for having children, consultation and sharing etc. So how could "beating" fit into this beautiful picture of a model Islamic marriage!

Sheikh Mohammad Al-Ghazali (Rahimahu Allah)in his book, Women's Issues Between the Stagnant Traditions and the Imported Ones said, "I did not find , in the (Islamic) Shariah, a justification for the use of darb [beating] except in two circumstances;

1) the wife refuses to have sexual relation [as permitted and within the boundaries of Islam] with her husband

2)or even worse when she brings male outsiders into her home in the absence of her husband [which could ultimately lead to suspicion which can escalate to spying or to a beginning of cheating]."

He added that even in these extreme cases, when he, the husband, resorts to the 3rd step (beating) of the family dispute resolution plan [verse 4:34], it should be using a soft object such as miswak [a twig used as a toothbrush] and that is by the consensus of authorities, avoiding the face and without calling bad names or humiliating her.

Let's look at how this Quranic verse creates a three-step dispute resolution plan to reconcile a couple when the wife is in error, and supports the family structure. When a woman becomes rebellious or thoughtless of her husband and refuses to discharge her Islamic duties to her husband, the husband is asked to verbally express his frustration and unhappiness about the situation in a very nice way, (no cussing, no shouting, no humiliating). This kind of communication works very well in most situations. The wife cannot guess what is on her husband's mind, (especially during their first years of marriage), and continuous communication would avoid many problems. Some time should be given to this effort. (If he starts communicating nicely with his wife he may find out that her behavior is actually a response to some poor behavior on his part, like neglect or disrespect and they both have improvements to make.)

If this strategy does not work and the wife continues persistently to refuse to perform her duties under Islam, particularly refusing to have sexual relations (as permitted and within the boundaries of Islam) with her husband or playing games with her attractiveness, then the husband is asked to go to step two. In this step he purposely suspends sex relation.

When the man initiates the suspension of sex relations, this should send a powerful message to the wife expressing the degree of misery the husband is going through that pushes him to declare that his wife is no more attractive to him. It is recommended during this stage, which may last several months , that the husband continue to be kind to his wife and talk to her (suspension of talk for more than three days is forbidden). This method works with some women. They start thinking that their charm is no longer effective and that they are starting to lose their husbands and they will end the dispute.

Obviously, if the husband does not see improvement during this stage, then prolonging it will just be hurting him. Finally he can end this stage by going to step three.

One would wonder however, how barely touching the women's arm or leg (in step three) with such a soft object (miswak) could make any impact on her to change her mind about her behavior? Is there a different plausible interpretation of the word "wadhrebuhunne" of this third step?

Actually, the word "daraba" and some of its derivatives are used in the Quran 58 times with various shades of meaning, some of which are: to give examples, to explain, to set up, to take away, to ignore, to condemn, to cover, to seal, to strike or hit, to travel, to beat, to get out.

Back in 1995 Edip Yuksel wrote (in a forwarded e-mail message entitled "Beating Women, Or Beating Around The Bush") that the meaning of the term 'wadhribuhunne' , in this context, should be understood for the husband "to strike his wife out", (start the separation process which can lead to divorce), if the first and the second stage suggested in verse 4:34 don't work out.(This opinion is mentioned here for its historical place and relevance to the issue at hand and should absolutely not be considered as an endorsement to his overall philosophy and work on Islam and Islamic Issues).

This new understanding of the term 'wadhribuhunne' was echoed by Dr. Abdulhamid A. Abusulayman, President of The International Institute of Islamic Thought, in 2002 in his book Darb Al-Mara'ah:Wasilah li-Hall Al-Khilafat Al-Zawjiyah . Dr. Abusulayman is telling the husband at this stage to leave and distance himself from his wife. He supported his opinion by citing the action of the Prophet (pbuh) when he left all of his wives for one month, when they showed unhappiness with the way they were living and demanded a better lifestyle that the Prophet could not provide for them. Then he gave them a choice to accept his way of life or to divorce them. This is significant and demonstrates that a women cannot be forced to stay in a marriage she does not like.

After leaving the house, outside help and arbitration must be sought to get this dispute resolved in an equitable way. This is the first time when the issue should be brought out to outsiders for arbitration as indicated in the Quran. Nevertheless, at any stage of the dispute, husband and wife can and are encouraged to seek outside help and advice from trusted knowledgeable members of our community (avoid relatives if neutrality and objectivity could be questioned) and sometimes professional family counselors are of great need.

Finally, please remember that under no circumstances does Islam allow someone to, punch, shove, pinch, slap ,pull hair, curse, cuss, or insult his or her spouse. If fear of Allah doesn't impress someone, he should be reminded that in this country he may end up in jail if he uses force of any sort against his spouse. I have seen brothers arrested when they ignored my plea to them to avoid force and resorted to violence against their wives. (I have not witnessed a woman beating her husband (yet).)

I write this to advise our community to stand up to those who need education on this issue. Our community is not healthy if any of our families are torn by what is generally called domestic violence. We need to help our less knowledgeable brothers, and sisters as well. Please pass on this information to those in need. I wish for the best well being for all of our families.

1 comment:

  1. Salaams,

    Question: how can the husband suspend relations for "months"? I'm asking to learn, not to argue.

    may Allah reward you.