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An Islamic Perspective on Domestic Violence, Azizah Al-Hibri

An Islamic Perspective on Domestic Violence, Azizah Al-Hibri

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Elias Abrar Edited by: Natasha Latiff, Helena Zeweri A Content and Utility Analysis of: “An Islamic Perspective on Domestic Violence” by Azizah Yahia al-Hibri September, 2010

Written by: Elias Abrar (eliasabrar@feminijtihad.org) Edited by: Natasha Latiff (natashalatiff@feminijtihad.org) Helena Zeweri (helenazeweri@feminijtihad.org) July 28, 2010 Research Team # 1: Exegesis of Islamic Texts Femin Ijtihad Content and Utility Analysis: Karamah Yahia al-Hibri, Azizah. “An Islamic Perspective on Do
Elias Abrar Edited by: Natasha Latiff, Helena Zeweri A Content and Utility Analysis of: “An Islamic Perspective on Domestic Violence” by Azizah Yahia al-Hibri September, 2010

Written by: Elias Abrar (eliasabrar@feminijtihad.org) Edited by: Natasha Latiff (natashalatiff@feminijtihad.org) Helena Zeweri (helenazeweri@feminijtihad.org) July 28, 2010 Research Team # 1: Exegesis of Islamic Texts Femin Ijtihad Content and Utility Analysis: Karamah Yahia al-Hibri, Azizah. “An Islamic Perspective on Do

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Elias Abrar Edited by: Natasha Latiff, Helena Zeweri A Content and Utility Analysis of: “An Islamic Perspective on Domestic

Violence” by Azizah Yahia al-Hibri September, 2010

Written by: Elias Abrar (eliasabrar@feminijtihad.org) Edited by: Natasha Latiff (natashalatiff@feminijtihad.org) Helena Zeweri (helenazeweri@feminijtihad.org) July 28, 2010 Research Team # 1: Exegesis of Islamic Texts Femin Ijtihad Content and Utility Analysis: Karamah Yahia al-Hibri, Azizah. “An Islamic Perspective on Domestic Violence.” Fordham International Law Journal 27 (2003): 195-224. Classification: 1. Audience: Lawyers, activists and students who are seeking a holistic analysis of the Qur'anic verse 4:34 (i.e. Chastisement Passage) by taking example from al-Hibri’s multifaceted utilization of both intra-textual and inter-textual interpretive techniques and evidence to uphold a genderequitable reading of the Chastisement Passage. 2. Nature of Article: Scholarly article 3. Discipline: Hermeneutical, exegetical 4. About the Author: AZIZAH Y. AL-HIBRI is a professor of law at the T. C. Williams School of Law, University of Richmond. She is the founding editor of Hypatia: a Journal of Feminist Philosophy, and founder of KARAMAH: MUSLIM WOMEN LAWYERS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS. A Fulbright Scholar, Professor al-Hibri has written extensively on issues of Islam and democracy, Muslim women's rights, and human rights in Islam. She has also guest edited a special volume on Islam by the Journal of Law and Religion. She is currently completing a book on the Islamic marriage contract in American courts. Professor al-Hibri has traveled extensively throughout the Muslim world in support of Muslim women's rights and acted as a consultant to the Supreme Council for Family Affairs in Qatar in the development of that country's personal status code. She has visited thirteen Muslim countries and discussed with their religious, political, and women leaders, as well as their legal scholars, issues of importance to Muslim women. 5. Jurisdiction: N/A 6. Date of Publication: 2003 7. Subject terms: Islamic family law, domestic violence, women's rights in Islam, gender equality, Shari'ah 8. Link to Text: http://www.karamah.org/articles.htm

Abstract: Written in response to the widespread condoning of domestic violence among American Muslims—which became especially problematic when the anti-Muslim hostility in the wake of September 11th prompted a spike in spouse abuse in the community—this article articulates an Islamically-based repudiation of wife beating through an approach that foregrounds the Qur’an’s egalitarian vision of gender relations. Invoking the foundational principle of Islamic monotheism, tawhid, which posits the preeminence of God’s Will, al-Hibri argues that attempts to enshrine the priority and dominance of men over women draw on the very arbitrary hierarchies that the Qur’an condemns. Not only does such a polarized paradigm marked by male authority and female servility diminish the absoluteness of God’s Sovereignty, it also contradicts the Qur’an’s repeated depiction of the ideal marital relationship as one enveloped in peace and kindness. The Harmony Principle, a verse that the author considers to be the Qur’an’s definitive statement on gender relations, encapsulates this teaching by describing mates as one another’s sources of tranquility. Al-Hibri points to the Harmony Principle as grounds for rejecting scholars who validate wife beating on the basis of the Qur’an’s so-called Chastisement Passage (4:34), which ostensibly allows husbands to hit wives feared to commit nushuz, a term widely interpreted to include simple disobedience against husbands. Favoring instead another exegetical trend among jurists, which understands the “hitting” mentioned in the Chastisement Passage as a symbolic exercise intended to convey the husband’s anger without injury to the wife, al-Hibri appeals to evidence from the Prophet’s sunnah and to the idea of the Qur’an’s gradualist approach to social change as a means to not only bolster this hermeneutical position, but to also criticize jurists who use patriarchal assumptions to define nushuz in an excessively broad manner, thus empowering husbands to invoke the Chastisement Passage at will. In addition to challenging rulings of the Chastisement Passage as textual proof for the authorization of wife beating, al-Hibri also reframes the greater import of 4:34 by individually scrutinizing the verse’s other contentious terms and phrases. For each one, the author provides the scope of possible definitions sustained by the sentence context before proceeding to deduce the preferred meaning through probing the usage of the word or phrase in other verses of the Qur’an as well as in the Prophetic tradition; she returns to and confronts contentious words like ‘wahjuruhunna fi’l madhaji’i’, ‘qanitat’, ‘nushuz’, and 'fahishah mubayyinah' in passage 4:34. Viewed as an integrated whole, al-Hibri’s interpretative measures allow her to recover the Chastisement Passage’s reformist function as a means for some men to rise above a hit-first mindset and reach the Qur’anic ideal of marital relations.

Utility: In her engagement with different interpretations of the Chastisement Passage, al-Hibri demonstrates the innate dynamism of Islamic law, a feature underutilized by women’s rights organizations working in the Muslim world. Far from constituting a settled code of regulations, Islamic law, as evidenced by al-Hibri’s own jurisprudential contribution, often features within any given domain a constellation of differing opinions that are, in theory, continually refined in an unending interpretive process to better uncover and administer the Divine Will. Activists seeking to overturn patriarchal statutes in the legal codes of Muslim countries are in a better position to challenge claims that such provisions are beyond reproach due to their alleged “Islamic” origins by summoning this prevalent juridical notion of Islamic law’s fluid character. Not only can a full appreciation of Islamic law’s dynamism equip activists to dispute existing laws that have been effectively rendered untouchable thus far, it may also direct them to approaches of enacting reform that have greater local resonance. As al-Hibri’s piece shows, not all classical legal opinions propagate patriarchal and cultural biases in the same degree. In fact, her gender-equitable standpoint on the Chastisement Passage represents a modification of a mainstream exegetical precedent, as alluded to previously. This suggests that opportunities exist for the production of juridical views that are progressive as well as agreeable to the segments of Muslim populations that favor legislation derived from Islamic legal discourses. Therefore, al-Hibri’s article is testament to the value of supporting and establishing linkages with forward-thinking voices and institutions immersed in the enterprise of Islamic law. Apart from speaking to the possibility of Islamic jurisprudence yielding unprejudiced positions on women’s issues, al-Hibri’s work also sheds light on how activists themselves can apply Islamic sources in a meaningful and credible way to engage Muslims approaching social questions from a Qur’anic worldview. The article reveals interpretive techniques that activists can use to build a legitimate claim for gender-equitable interpretations. For example, to derive the meaning of certain words, the author cross-references those words with their similar usages in other Qur'anic passages. This authenticates specific semantic decisions of choosing a genderequitable meaning over another. It also demonstrates how one’s construal is consistent with the Qur’an’s wider teachings on the matter as well. Al-Hibri’s references to hadith are similarly instructive as they highlight the extra layer of legitimacy conferred on a viewpoint that is shown

to be exemplified in the Prophet’s sunnah. Women’s rights activists can therefore conduct more holistic analyses of the Qur’an’s attitudes on gender issues by taking example from al-Hibri’s multifaceted utilization of both intra-textual and inter-textual interpretive techniques and evidence to uphold her reading of the Chastisement Passage. It is also important that activists understand and convey the importance of how God, as we understand Him through the divine word (i.e. the Quran), conceived the world as the medium and exercise of human existence where no one race, gender, or class is innately superior to the other. This is what the author terms as the Qur'anic worldview. Al-Hibri works with the premise that the Qur'anic worldview, therefore, is a set of presuppositions about how we as a people relate to each other and how our relation is hierarchized, or rather un-hierarchized, in the Islamic social order. Precisely because the suppositions within the world view are axioms, by definition they are therefore self-proven and self-determined. All other concepts are argued 'from' as opposed to 'for' or 'with' this premise. This logic therefore demands that the organization of male/female relations and hierarchy in Muslim societies; and their attendant roles, rights and responsibilities, must be thought of and argued from within the framework of the Qur'anic worldview.

Reference Table: Topics within Islamic Chapter Name and/or Any reference to law How useful were the

Law relating to women’s rights

Page numbers of the original article read.

reform (or proposals to) in the jurisdictions of Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Jordan? If yes, state which country

Chapters/articles on that specific topic? You can gauge its utility using the criteria mentioned in the CUA submission guidelines 4

Property and Inheritance Child Custody Female Testimony Political Participation And Leadership Role of Woman in the Family Domestic Violence (and marital rape) Education/Employment Child Marriage Running away from home Forced Marriage Religious and spiritual responsibility Sexual and reproductive rights Rape Adultery Polygamy Divorce

5, 6

8,9 10,11, 25 Entire Article

4 4 5


While the increased strain Muslims faced after September 11 generally spurred the Muslim community to engage the larger political landscape, it also frequently aggravated the preexisting problem of domestic violence (al-Hibri 2003, 1-2).

According to Azizah al-Hibri, victims of domestic are routinely discouraged to actively resist their partners and are at times themselves blamed (2). Al-Hibri connects this atmosphere to the prevalent belief that a husband is religiously entitled to discipline his wife, which gives the abuser false, divine sanction to commit violence and “makes a victimized spouse a willing participant in her own oppression” (2).

For the purpose of tracing an accurate understanding of Islam’s position on domestic violence, al-Hibri turns to the Qur’an and its conception of gender relations.

1. The Qur’anic Worldview

The fundamental Qur’anic principle of tawhid, or monotheism, establishes the supremacy of the Divine Will as best captured in the Adamic myth (3).

(a) Satanic Logic

Al-Hibri recounts that after God shaped Adam from clay and blew into him of His own Spirit, He asked the angels to prostrate before Adam. All proceeded to bow except Iblis, who refuses on the basis of being created from fire, which he considered greater to clay. The roots of Iblis’s downfall were his vanity and arrogance, says Al-Hibri, as they caused him to value fire over clay as a way to justify his superiority. By defying God on grounds of this principle, Iblis commits the sin of placing another entity coequal to God (shirk) and contradicts tawhid. Al-Hibri blames Iblis’s arrogance on his ignorance (jahl) of God’s true measure of a creature’s worth: piety (taqua) (3-5).

She remarks how the jurist al-Ghazali noticed that any effort to rank people based on false standards like race or class uses the same Satanic logic that led Iblis shirk (6). Al-Hibri argues that true Islamic states would follow the Qur’an’s opposition to false hierarchies grounded in Satanic logic by featuring democratic mechanisms such as “elections (bay’ah), consultation and deliberation (shura), and a constitutionalism articulated by basic Qur’anic principles” (6). Heads of state would also be accountable to citizens in court because absolute sovereignty only lies with God (6).

She points out that such liability has precedent in Islamic history during the caliphate of ‘Umar. Worried that large numbers of men would abstain from marrying if women regularly began demanding excessive amounts for the marital gifts (mahrs) to which they were entitled, ‘Umar declared in the mosque that mahr amounts will be controlled. However, the appeal of an elderly women that such action goes against the Qur’an convinced ‘Umar to discard the plan (6-7).

On the topic of mehr, al-Hibri argues that although a woman’s right to it is undisputed from a legal perspective, wives often have problems accessing the full amount agreed to before marriage. This is due to pressure by husbands to withhold the delayed portion of the mehr or fathers that seize the mehr for themselves (7).

Noting the Qur’an’s clear proclamation that men and women derive from one soul (nafs), al-Hibri puts forward that gender is another standard that has been misapplied using Satanic logic to create false hierarchies (7).

(b) The Qur’anic Diversity Principle and the Prophetic Tradition

Al-Hibri states that the Diversity Principle is contained in 49:13, which expresses that God created ethnic and gender diversity so that individuals may come to know one another. She interprets this as a call for us to “enjoy each other’s differences and company” (8).

She provides the example of the Prophet accepting the support of two women alongside that of men with equal footing to demonstrate how the Prophet applied the Qur’an’s precept to embrace diversity. He is also purported to welcome the backing of a purely female delegation representing other Arab women (8). For al-Hibri, these incidents during the outset of Islam convey two key ideas:

Bay’ah and shura are the twin pillars of the Islamic conception of political leadership (9). Women participate in equal measure to men in this scheme (9).

(c) The Qur’anic Harmony Principle, and the Prophetic Tradition

Al-Hibri locates the Harmony Principle in 30:21, which reveals that mates are intended to serve as sources of peace for one another (9). This and similar verses like 2:187, which characterizes spouses as each other’s garments, lead al-Hibri to insist that the Qur’an promotes gender relations marked by “affection and mercy” and as means for attaining mutual serenity, an understanding averse to hierarchies and their associated discord and oppression (10).

She sees the Harmony Principle operating fully in the Prophet’s interaction with his wives, particularly ‘A’ishah, who challenged and debated with the Prophet without hesitation (10).

The Qur’an’s perspective on gender relations as embodied in the Harmony Principle— in itself inhospitable to domestic abuse—is complicated by another verse that apparently allows husbands to punish their wives (11).

Al-Hibri questions scholars that understand the verse as a license for wife beating by evoking the principle of the Qur’an’s internal consistency as a divine revelation. Because domestic violence contradicts the Harmony Principle and Qur’anic instructions to husbands calling on them to either live with their wives in compassion or leave them cordially, al-Hibri poses that there must be an interpretative error with respect to one of these elements. Whereas the Qur’an’s views on peaceful marital relations are unqualified and expressed in simple terms, the alleged verse that sanctions abuse has a knotty structure and requires particular conditions to be met. This suggests, according to al-

Hibri, that the contradiction in the Qur’an’s message on gender relations is a result of interpretative distortion of the so-called wife beating verse (11-12). 2. The “Chastisement” Verse

The following is al-Hibri’s translation of the passage:

“As to those women on whose part you fear nushuz, admonish them (first), (then) wahjuruhunna fi’l madhaji’i (abandon them in beds), (and last) wadhrubuhunna (hit them (lightly)); and if they obey you, seek not against them means (of annoyance or harm), for God is most high, and Great (above you all)” (Qur’an 4:34) (12).

(a) Background, Scripture, and Interpretation

Examining the contrasting ways the interpreters have understood the linguistically straightforward phrase “abandon them in bed”, al-Hibri reasons that they show an overreliance on personal and cultural judgments. An extremely patriarchal reading of the verse in provided by al-Tabari, who viewed the apparent meaning of leaving the wife in bed alone as something that a disobedient wife desired. This prompted him to search for other meanings that derive from the same root from which “wahjuruhunna” is formed. He ultimately interpreted the phrase to mean “tie them to bed”, a reading contested by many interpreters (13).

Al-Hibri’s initial, personal remark on the verse is that she accepts the plain meaning of “Wadrubuhunna”, that is “hit them”. Linguistic considerations aside, she asks if the Qur’an truly promotes wife beating and how that reconciles with the Harmony Principle (13-14).

The Qur’anic Philosophy of Social Change and Asbab al-Nuzul (Reasons for the Revelation)

In addressing these questions, al-Hibri says we need to properly engage “the Qur’anic philosophy of social change, then the reported reasons for the revelation of this verse (asbab al-nuzul), and finally, the social conditions at the time of the revelation and the related prophetic interpretation” (14).

Al-Hibri contends that the Qur’an’s approach to social change is gradual and points to how the Qur’an itself as well as the restriction against drinking alcohol were both incrementally revealed (14).

With regard to the context that situated the revelation of the Chastisement Passage, alHibri notes that it is necessary to understand the brutality of pre-Islamic Arab men, especially the Makkans, against their wives. The Prophet had rebuked Muslim men that

hit their spouses and allowed women to exact retribution in response to a complaint her received from a Muslim woman. The Chastisement Passage is said to have been revealed following male protest that the Prophet’s actions favored women (14-15).
● Seemingly less woman-friendly than Muhammad’s prior decision, the Chastisement

Passage reflects the Qur’an’s gradualist approach by leaving “hitting” in form while working to displace its negative content (15).

The Chastisement Verse in effect prohibits violence against women by redefining the concept of “hitting” and converting it into a symbolic act that allows a husband to express frustration by using a handful of basil or a handkerchief to strike his wife. Even this figurative “hitting” can only come after establishing the wife to be nashiz, which al-Hibri leaves undefined for now, and the husband completes a series of reconciliatory measures (15-16).

The Prophet’s Tradition, Women and Slavery

Before fully analyzing the chastisement verse, al-Hibri examines how the Qur’an and Prophetic statements both liken patriarchy to slavery. Both sources frequently enjoin Muslims to treat slaves and women with kindness. One particularly vivid saying of the Prophet demonstrates the hypocrisy of men who treat wives like slaves: “Let not one of you whip his wife like a slave, then have sexual intercourse with her at the end of the day” (16-17).

For al-Hibri, the existence of numerous traditions that detail the Prophet forbidding husbands to hit women and referring to those that treat their wives kindly as the best of men after the revelation of the Chastisement Passage further confirms that, through this verse, the Qur’an modifies the meaning of “hitting” and imposes various preconditions for its application (17-18).

Many medieval jurists also considered striking one’s wife to be disliked (makrouh) and a last resort that, if abused, entitled her to divorce and sometimes retribution. They too, says al-Hibri, considered the “hitting” of the Chastisement Passage to mean a symbolic act to be conducted with certain prescribed objects so as to not hurt the wife (18-19).

The last piece of evidence with which al-Hibri supports her symbolic interpretation of “hitting” is the verse immediately following the Chastisement Passage, which advises the quarreling couple to use family arbiters if there is fear of hostility. This recommendation rules out for al-Hibri that the Chastisement Passage allows husbands to actually strike their wives as this would lead to conditions much graver than discord such as oppression and misery (19).

(b) The Concepts of “Nushuz,” “Qanitat,” and “fahishah mubayyinah”

The Chastisement verse pertains to nashiz women, a category best defined, according to al-Hibri, in relation to righteous women characterized in the preceding verse as “qanitat and hafithat li’ l-gaib bima God hafith” (19).

Qanitat is an adjective derived from the noun qunut meaning pious obedience to God. Thus, al-Hibri translates qanitat women as those who are submissive to God. She is highly critical of interpreters that subsume obedience to husbands under that of God.

Analyzing the phrase “hafithat li’ l-gaib bima God hafith”, al-Hibri concludes that righteous women also “honor their marital covenants, even in the absence of their husbands (with whom these covenants were undertaken)” (21).

With righteous women defined by their compliance to God and their marital contracts, alHibri explains that women who defy God by spurning their marital contracts fall under the category of nashiz (21).

What separates al-Hibri’s understanding of nashiz from most traditional interpretations is that her rendering makes exclusively the disobedience of God blameworthy. In comparison, she says some jurists conflate defying a husband with transgression against God, a move that is borderline shirk in her estimation. She compares it to the way some Muslim rulers have historically attempted to consolidate their authority by equating resistance to their power as a rebellion against God (21).

● In an attempt to further validate her interpretation of nashiz, al-Hibri provides the portion

of an address made by the Prophet where he supposedly defines nushuz, the noun from which nashiz derives:

“You [men] have rights against women, and they have rights against you. It is your right that they do not bring someone you dislike into your bed, or that they commit fahishah (an act of adultery) mubayyinah (which is clear and evident to all). If they do, then God has permitted you to desert them in bed, and [then] hit them lightly. If they stop, you are obliged to maintain them” (22).

From this, al-Hibri gathers that nushuz consists of the wife either bringing someone the husband dislikes into his bed or definitively committing adultery (22).

While some exegetes have, like al-Hibri, judged fahishah mubayyinah to mean adultery, others have regarded simple acts of opposition to a husband as also constituting fahishah mubayyinah. She points to 4:15 as clearly establishing that the intended meaning of fahishah is adultery: “If any of your women are guilty of fahishah, then find four witnesses who testify against them.” Because the four witnesses condition is a distinct stipulation for corroborating adultery accusations, al-Hibri concludes that fahishah

mubayyinah refers to authenticated instances of adultery. In cases where there is only the accusation of the husband and the denial of the wife, the pair is divorced and the transgressor will be punished by God (23-24). (c) Interpreting the Chastisement Passage:

Having defined both components that make up the Prophet’s definition of nushuz, alHibri proceeds to confront the argument that he was not addressing the Chastisement Passage in this hadith (24).

Even if this view is valid, one cannot dispute the fact that the Prophet was providing illustrative examples of what makes a woman nashiz. Al-Hibri concludes from the Prophet’s identification of women that commit adultery or take other men in their husband’s bed that nashiz women are those that commit either:
○ ○

Offenses for which the Qur’an has issued specific punishments (hudud) Actions that are proximate causes of the first category, that is, actions that directly lead to transgressions carrying hudud (in the way that bringing another man to bed is a proximate cause for adultery) (24).

Al-Hibri disagrees with some jurists who maintain that only outright knowledge that his wife has carried out one of these two types of actions entitles a husband to pursue the procedures outlined in the Chastisement Passage. She argues that the verse also allows husbands with rational suspicions to apply its steps and that admonishment can help to prevent misconduct from taking place (25).

(d) The Qur’anic Concept of “Hitting”

Interpreting the Chastisement Verse in light of the larger Qur’anic teachings on proper conduct between spouses, many scholars have transformed the act of “hitting” into a means for a husband to show disapproval without injuring his wife by imposing parameters that men must follow:
○ ○

They are prohibited from hitting their wives on the face. They must use something soft like a handkerchief so as to not hurt or leave a mark on the body. Any hitting that causes injury or a mark is punishable as a crime. Furthermore, wives that experience abuse—physical or verbal—have the right to divorce (26-27).

Jurists took other measures to preempt domestic violence such as prohibiting men likely to hurt their wives from marrying. They followed through with this prohibition even in cases where the man was liable to commit adultery if not married, often arguing that spousal abuse violates the right of a wife against her husband for which she often cannot

receive justice whereas adultery defies a right of God over humans that God can rectify (27-28).

Al-Hibri mentions the story of Job as a Qur’anic instance where we can see the notion of symbolic “hitting” in practice. The narrative portrays Job vowing to hit his wife upon learning that she lost her faith and blasphemed during his trial. This results in a quandary for Job, who realizes that hitting his wife is unbecoming behavior for a Prophet and yet cannot abandon the oath he took to hit her. Job receives divine instruction to “hit” his wife with a bunch of fragrant grass as way to both satisfy his oath and not injure his wife (28).


For al-Hibri, the Chastisement Passage provides Muslims a tool to achieve the ideal stage in marital relations consisting of a situation where husbands and wives “hold together on equitable terms” (28).

While seeking to eliminate violence towards women completely, the Qur’an outlines a multistage solution for men to manage valid anger against their wives based on its awareness of the intricacy of human emotion. If unable to find closure from the preliminary measures detailed in the Chastisement Passage, husbands are permitted, in the manner of Job, to symbolically strike their wives as a way to display their discontent without wounding their spouses (28-29).


Introduction The impact of September 11, 2001, on the American Muslim community has been both severe and multifaceted (al-Hibri 2003, 1). …The American Muslim community has experienced a new awakening and a determination to become an active part of the American democratic process. In some cases, however, the cumulative effect of fear, frustration, experiences of discrimination, and job insecurity, bled into the Muslim family. Where latent problems of domestic violence already existed, the new pressures made the situation worse3 (2). In this article, I will address my tradition’s view of domestic violence. But to understand the Islamic perspective on domestic violence, we need first to understand the Islamic view of gender relations, especially within the family. This view is rooted in the Qur’an, to which we turn next (2-3). 1. The Qur’anic Worldview The central concept in the Qur’an is that of tawhid, or monotheism. From this concept flows the belief in only one God, a Supreme Being who has no partners and whose Will supercedes those of all others. This concept defines Islam, permeates the whole Qur’an, and from it emanates the Qur’anic worldview. The Qur’anic story about the creation of Adam and the fall of Iblis (Satan) best illustrates this concept5 (3). (a) Satanic Logic

According to the Qur’an, Iblis’s fall from grace was the result of his vanity….When God was about to create Adam from clay, and breath into him of His divine spirit, he ordered the angels to bow to Adam once created.6 All the angels bowed when the time came, but Iblis refused to do so.7…Elsewhere in the Qur’an where the story is repeated, Iblis answers: “I am better than him; you created me from fire and created him from clay”9 (3). Iblis had adopted a value system based on an arbitrary hierarchical principle (“fire is better than clay”) which served his own arrogant and selfish purposes….Consequently, he violated the fundamental principle of tawhid and fell into shirk (the opposite of monotheism, that is a belief in more than one supreme being or will) (4). In his Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Deen, the medieval jurist al-Ghazali…notes that every time a rich man believes that he is better than a poor one, or a white man believes that he is better than a black one, then he is being arrogant. He is adopting the same hierarchical principles adopted by Iblis in his jahl, and thus falling into shirk (6). I agree, and add to his list, gender-based reasons. The Qur’an states clearly and repeatedly that we were all, male and female, created from the same nafs (soul)21 (7). (b) The Qur’anic Diversity Principle and the Prophetic Tradition I refer to this ayah [49:13] as the Diversity Principle. It explains that we were created from two different genders and made into a multitude of different tribes and nations, so that we may become acquainted with each other (i.e., to enjoy each other’s differences and company, or to put it differently, variety is the spice of life)24 (8). The Prophet implemented this Qur’anic view of human relations in his own practices (8). For example, at the dawn of Islam when the Prophet was still in Makkah, seventy three men and two women gave the Prophet their bay’ah.26…The two women’s bay’ah were given and accepted on the same terms as those of the men.27 The men and women then elected 12 representatives of their tribes to discuss various matters with the Prophet. Subsequently, a delegation of Arab women came to the Prophet and gave him their bay’ah on behalf of other Arab women. This purely women’s bay’ah was also accepted by the Prophet, who conversed with the women to clarify the bases of their commitment (8).

These two events and other early meetings established two important principles: (1) that bay’ah and shura are the basic principles on which the Islamic model of governance is based, and (2) that women share in that system on equal footing. The second principle flows from the Qur’anic statement that both genders were created from the same nafs, and that the most favored in God’s sight is the one who is most pious29 (9).

(c) The Qur’anic Harmony Principle, and the Prophetic Tradition …We may justifiably conclude that the Qur’an articulates a basic general principle about proper gender relations; namely, that they are relations between mates created from the same nafs, which are intended to provide these mates with tranquillity, and are to be characterized by affection and mercy (10). The Prophet’s example in his own household illustrates this Harmony Principle….‘A’ishah, his young wife, blossomed and felt free to think, argue and disagree with the Prophet repeatedly. They treated each other with tender affection and kindness, and the Prophet nurtured ‘A’ishah’s young mind while at the same time integrating her into the life of the Muslim community where she played an important role…. The Prophet himself was a model “modern” husband and father, never asking anyone to wait on him and participating in household chores and childcare.36 His great love and respect for ‘A’ishah, and Khadijah even after her death, as well as his daughter Fatimah, are well-documented in history books37 (10-11). Having explained the Islamic perspective on gender relations, especially within the family, it would seem clear that domestic violence has no place within that framework. But the matter is not that easy. There is a Qur’anic verse which appears to explicitly permit husbands to chastise their wives.38 This verse has been used by many male scholars to argue in favor of the man having the right to “beat” his wife.39 In our view, this reading of the verse is erroneous (11). 2. The “Chastisement” Verse The so-called “Chastisement Passage” is usually translated as follows: “As to those women on whose part you fear nushuz, admonish them (first), (then) wahjuruhunna fi’l madhaji’i (abandon them in beds), (and last) wadhrubuhunna (hit them (lightly)); and if they obey you, seek not against them means (of annoyance or harm), for God is most high, and Great (above you all).” (Qur’an 4:34) (12)

(a) Background, Structure, and Interpretation At first glance, this is a difficult passage to square with the Harmony Principle. For this reason, it illustrates very clearly the danger of separating an ayah, or part of an ayah, from its context to reach an isolated interpretation of its meaning (13). My first comment on this verse is simple. “Wadrubuhunna” has its plain Arabic meaning, namely, “hit them.” Now that we have gone over this hurdle, we need to ask ourselves: Does the Qur’an advocate hitting women? And, how does that square with the Harmony principle (13-14)? The Qur’anic Philosophy of Social Change and Asbab al-Nuzul (Reasons for the Revelation) It is a well-known fact that the Qur’an adopts a gradualist philosophy for social change. Gradualism is God’s merciful recognition of the human condition and its limitations in the face of change (14). The gradualism reflected in the “Chastisement Passage” was not instituted as to the prohibition of “hitting;” that is, unlike wine drinking, there was no gradual prohibition of hitting women. The prohibition was immediate, but the approach was quite complex (15). The Prophet’s Tradition, Women and Slavery … The Prophet analogized the status of women in his society to that of powerless slaves, and he beseeched his male audience to treat them kindly, saying: “Be good to women; for they are powerless captives (awan) in your households. You took them in God’s trust, and legitimated your sexual relations with the Word of God, so come to your senses people, and hear my words....”.64 He also admonished them: “Let not one of you whip his wife like a slave, then have sexual intercourse with her at the end of the day”6 (17). Al-Shawkani notes that the Prophet flatly prohibited hitting women.71 Yet, as the perfect Muslim, the Prophet is bound by the Qur’an, including the “Chastisemnt Verse” that appears to have overruled him. So, how can we explain the Prophet’s sunnah in light of the “Chastisement Passage” (18)? …We note that in a society in which wife beating was prevalent, the Qur’an changed the meaning of “hitting,” narrowed severely the justification for “hitting,” and imposed a graduated approach to anger management designed to dissipate that anger before reaching the final stage. It also held up an ideal of spousal relations for both genders to aspire to. For these reasons, many Muslim

jurists of medieval times concluded that “hitting” one’s wife was “makrouh” (strongly disliked). They also concluded that if the husband is unable to avoid this behavior completely, then he may only hit his wife as a last resort, and that such action could only be for one specific reason, namely that of nushuz (which will be discussed later), and only for nushuz. This was considered the narrow exception that God provided in the “Chastisement Passage” (18). (b) The Concepts of “Nushuz,” “Qanitat,” and “fahishah mubayyinah” …Nashiz women are those who do not honor their marital covenants, and hence disobey God. Thus the focus of obedience here is God, not the husband (21). Some jurists have found…that any woman who disobeys her husband angers God.83 Thus the obedience of the husband is subsumed under the obedience of God, an approach which borders on shirk (21). In his famous Khutbat al-Wadaa’, the Prophet actually interpreted the word “nushuz”… to mean one of two things: bringing someone the husband dislikes into his bed, or committing fahishah mubayyinah. To understand the scope of this Prophetic statement, we need to explore further the meaning of fahishah mubayyinah (22). (c) Interpreting the Chastisement Passage …We conclude, that the meaning of fahishah, as enlightened by ayah 4:15, is simply “adultery.” Given this conclusion, then the Prophetic hadith which interprets nushuz to be in part fahishah mubayyinah, is referring to clear and evident adultery. This conclusion agrees with one reached by many interpreters about the meaning of fahishah mubayyinah96 (24). One more observation about the “Chastisement Passage”: It does not appear to require actual knowledge by the husband of the occurrence of the actions described above, but rather a “fear” or “suspicion” of their occurrence…. I believe it is unreasonable to expect that the husband may not react to well-grounded suspicions about his wife until he has actual proof. For one, he may save her from committing fahishah mubayyinah, which would ruin their family relations and her spiritual well-being (25). Interpretations of “nushuz” which force the wife to give up her independent will in favor of her husband’s do not reflect the lives and example of female Islamic role models, including the wives of the Prophet who amazed Muslims by constantly arguing with him over matters of disagreement.99 For them to behave otherwise would have made a mockery out of the basic

concepts of bay’ah and shura. In the familial model, the bride’s free consent to the marriage represent s her bay’ah to the husband to take care of their family.100 Disagreements and discussions are the essence of shura in an Islamic marriage (25). (d) The Qur’anic Concept of “hitting” …[Scholars] interpreted this passage, as they should, in light of the basic principles governing marital relations as articulated by the Qur’an and the Prophet.104 This approach forced them to modify their common understanding of the act of marital “hitting.” As a result, these jurists issued a series of limitations redefining the act of hitting itself.105 For example, the man may not hit his wife on the face.106 Furthermore, any “hitting” which is injurious or leaves a mark on the woman’s body is actionable as a criminal offense.107 Also, if the husband reaches that unfortunate stage of “hitting,” he may hit the wife only with something as gentle as a miswak or handkerchief.108 Finally, given the Qur’anic ideal of marital relations, the majority of Muslim scholars concluded that while the act of “hitting” is permissible in Islam, abandoning it is preferable and more graceful (ajmal).109 They also concluded that a woman abused physically or verbally is entitled to divorce from her husband.110 They lowered the bar significantly on what counts as abuse, so as to make it include verbal abuse (26-27). Conclusion Thus, the Qur’anic approach to the problem of husbands hitting their wives aims at eliminating such behavior altogether, but it takes into account the very nature of human beings, the complexity of their emotions, and the need for “a gestation period” for them to achieve a higher stage of development. It also helps them reach that higher stage through a series of prescribed behavior aimed at self-control and anger management, and by describing and exhorting by words and the example of the Prophet that blissful higher stage of marital life (27-28).

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