There is no question that Islam is currently getting very bad press in the West.

To an increasing number of Americans and Europeans, Islam conjures up the image of a bearded fanatic in baggy pants, with an AK-47 slung across his chest. This suits the fundamentalists, whose weapon of choice is fear. And they use selective interpretation of the Koran to brainwash the gullible into believing they are on a holy mission. The reality, of course, is that the fundamentalists constitute a very small minority among those who practice the religion of Mohammed. It is the silent majority – who are as appalled as Westerners, at suicide bombings and senseless slaughter of innocents – who are trying to put a positive spin on what they claim is the true intent of the Koran. It is with this laudable motive that Laleh Bakhtiar, a 68 year old Iranian-American, set about her mission of providing an accurate English translation of the Koran. Then she came upon Chapter 4, Verse 34; and nearly dropped the project right then. The hotly debated verse states that a rebellious woman should first be admonished, then abandoned in bed, and ultimately “beaten”- the most common translation for the Arabic word “daraba”- unless her behavior improves. “I decided it either has to have a different meaning, or I can’t keep translating,” said Bakhtiar. “I couldn’t believe that God would sanction harming another human being except in war.” Bakhtiar worked for five more years; and the translation is scheduled to be published in April. When she reached the problematic verse, Bakhtiar spent the next three months grappling with possible interpretations of “daraba”. Her eureka moment came when. On reading of the Arabic-English Lexicon by Edward William Lane - a 3,064-page volume from the 19th century. Among the six pages of definitions for “daraba” was “to go away”. “I said to myself, ‘Oh, God, that is what the prophet meant’,” said Bakhtiar. “When the prophet had difficulty with his wives, what did he do? He didn’t beat anybody, so why would any Muslim do what the prophet did not?” She thinks the “beat” translation contradicts another verse, which states that if a woman wants a divorce, she should not be mistreated. She reasoned that, given the option of staying in the marriage and being beaten - or divorcing – most women would obviously leave. Bakhtiar may have found a way through the problem, but few verses in the Koran have generated as much debate - particularly as more Muslim women study their faith as an academic field. In Germany last week, a judge citing the verse caused a public outcry after she rejected the request for a fast track divorce by a Moroccan-German woman – on grounds that her husband beat her. The judge, who was subsequently from the case, had written that the Koran sanctioned physical abuse. “This verse became an issue of debate and controversy because of the ethics of the modern age, the universal notions of human rights,” said Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Egyptian-born law professor and Islamic scholar at the UCLA. The leader of the North American branch of a mystical Islamic order, Sheik Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, said he had been questioned about the verse in places around the world where women were struggling for greater rights; but most of all by Westerners. Women want to be free “from some of the extreme ideology of some Muslims”, the sheik said. There are, at present, at least 20 English translations of the Koran. “Daraba” has been translated as beat, hit, strike, scourge, chastise, flog, make an example of, spank, pet, tap and even seduce. Given the complexities of Arabic grammar, it is

not surprising that no single English word can claim to the authoritative meaning. And so the debate goes on. Opposing camps will choose the meaning that best suits their purpose. In essence, there is nothing wrong with that. The Bible itself is open to various interpretations. The tragedy results when the “word of Allah” is used to justify “martyrdom” and the slaughter of innocents. Common sense would dictate that no religion could possibly encourage or sanction the two deadliest sins; namely murder and suicide. But try telling that to OBL and his gang of cutthroats.