Tuesday, May 3, 2011

VBV - Ch. 4 Pt. 5

And we're back. We rejoin our posting series in progress, after the brief interlude where pretty much everyone sat around, stared at their news source of choice and went, WTF? and then there was cheering. Speaking of people who distort Islam...back to the Caner book!

The Disciplining of a Wife

I told you we would get to the other half of the surah an-Nisa 4:34 verse. For refresher purposes: " Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all)."

But we're dealing with only this section: "As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all)."

The problem with this verse should be pretty obvious. It commands the beating of a man's wife. And we, as modern day people, are shocked and appalled. We sit there, mouths gaping open, wondering how anyone can believe that this is the word of God when it is telling men that they may hit their wives. But here's the thing. This was not written in modern times. I remind you, again, that at the time the Qur'an was written, men owned their families. They could do pretty damn much whatever they wanted, and no one would say anything at all. If they wanted to, if they felt they had cause, they could beat their wives to death. And this wasn't just in Arabia. This was all over the world. Men could 'discipline' their wives up to very recently in history, even in America and it was overlooked, ignored, because she was his wife and it was his business. Thankfully, things have changed. But let's get back to this part of the verse.

In spite of the proper horror that we feel for spousal abuse, this is (again) one of those moments where you have to take the context into account and understand that this was a step forward, at the time. Now, Mohammed (and Allah, if you believe that the Qur'an is divine), are making men go through a process *before* they start beating on wives they think are being disloyal or treacherous. First, speak to them. Air your issues. It might not be the calm discussion we would view, hell, it might be an argument. But that can solve a lot of problems, getting things out that way. If that doesn't work, no sex! The husband can sleep in a separate room for up to four months, in Islam. And, given that polygamy is permitted in Islam, it doesn't mean that he's not getting his needs met, necessarily. Just that he's expressing his displeasure with her conduct. Not, perhaps, the way we would do it today, but at the time...logical and even sensible. And it puts some distance between the initial anger over whatever the issue is, gives the wife (assuming she is really in the wrong), a chance to correct, before the husband is allowed to resort to physical discipline. Again, and I cannot overstate this enough, to modern minds, it is never okay for a man to hit his wife. But this was not modern times. I know that all the translations I have read include the parenthetical '(lightly)' after the beating instruction. I have read opposing points of view as to whether that is a translator's attempt to make it more palatable or what is actually meant. Unless I learn Arabic, and classical, Qur'anic Arabic at that, I will never know.

I do know that it is said that Mohammed was meant to be an example to the Muslims. That he was, perhaps, the embodiment of the sentiment we hear in this quote: 'Preach the Gospel always, when necessary, use words.' Meaning, while he gave the Qur'an to the people, he, more than that, embodied the spirit behind the letter. And Mohammed was, it is reported, never known to have hit any of his wives. And you *know* he had problems with that many wives. It's even been reported, on several occasions, some of his difficulties. There was the incident of Aisha being accused of infidelity, the 'honey' incident. And likely many more we never knew about. If Mohammed is taken to be the perfect Muslim and all Muslim's are meant to emulate him, then none of them would ever raise a hand to their wives. But that's in a perfect world, and we know that there is spousal abuse in Muslim households, just as there is any Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Hindu, Jewish, etc. Pick a label, you can find someone who claims it who is an asshole.

The author claims that this hadith (and you know how I love the hadith) proves that the permissable beating may be very brutal: Sunan Abu Dawud 11.2142 - " Narrated Umar ibn al-Khattab: The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife."

I'm not sure how she gets that. In the first place, it is a part of my admittedly shoddy knowledge of ahadith that Dawud is not one of the books considered to be very reliable. As such, it is hardly every quoted. So the reliability of the hadith is in question, I believe. Secondly, I can't get it to say: 'beat the shit out of your wife if you want to, no one cares' no matter which way I squint at it. Does it seem to make the discipline that goes on in a household a private matter? Yes. Does that mean that, perhaps, a wife's near infidelity won't become public knowledge so that she is not shunned or mistreated by the general populace? Yes. I'm not saying it's a perfect situation. Just that it doesn't say what she thinks it says. At least not that I can figure.

The rest of the verse from the Qur'an states that if the wife, at any point, repents, returns to correct behavior, that the husband is to forgive and forget. He can't keep bringing the incident up, needling about it. It's saying, 'You had a problem. It's solved. Move the hell on.' Good advice, I think.

She also references, but does not quote, another hadith. This from sahih al-Bukhari 7.72.715 - " Narrated 'Ikrima: Rifa'a divorced his wife whereupon 'AbdurRahman bin Az-Zubair Al-Qurazi married her. 'Aisha said that the lady (came), wearing a green veil (and complained to her (Aisha) of her husband and showed her a green spot on her skin caused by beating). It was the habit of ladies to support each other, so when Allah's Apostle came, 'Aisha said, "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!" When 'AbdurRahman heard that his wife had gone to the Prophet, he came with his two sons from another wife. She said, "By Allah! I have done no wrong to him but he is impotent and is as useless to me as this," holding and showing the fringe of her garment, 'Abdur-Rahman said, "By Allah, O Allah's Apostle! She has told a lie! I am very strong and can satisfy her but she is disobedient and wants to go back to Rifa'a." Allah's Apostle said, to her, "If that is your intention, then know that it is unlawful for you to remarry Rifa'a unless Abdur-Rahman has had sexual intercourse with you." Then the Prophet saw two boys with 'Abdur-Rahman and asked (him), "Are these your sons?" On that 'AbdurRahman said, "Yes." The Prophet said, "You claim what you claim (i.e.. that he is impotent)? But by Allah, these boys resemble him as a crow resembles a crow,"

Which seems to support the belief that if a woman was being mistreated by her husband she could appeal to one of the wives of Mohammed, who would bring the case before Mohammed himself. I find it likely that the women could also approach Mohammed directly, but in this case the woman seems to have been in the wrong, so maybe she wanted some extra support from Aisha. Who knows. 


  1. Without having read it, I think what she might be getting at in terms of that hadith showing it was brutal is that they would know it was going on. This isn't a slap on the wrist, it's leaving noticeable bruises that people have to be told not to talk about. If it wasn't brutal, no one would know to ask in the first place.

    But yeah. Different worlds. It's not ok, but it's also not something I can do anything about and is no more indicative of Islam than the fact that Rachel and Leah's dad sold them to their husband is indicative of Christianity and Judaism.

  2. sanil,

    Good point. I should probably stop writing these late at night, but it's the only time I have to write!

    And, this is going to sound bad, but maybe the beating wasn't brutal. See, it sounds bad. But hear me out. Again, hitting your wife isn't right. My husband hits me and it will be the last thing he ever does. I do not play with this shit. However, just because a bruise is visible, even large or dark doesn't mean that the hit was exceptionally hard. I, for instance, bruise nuttily easily. I whack myself all the time, not very hard, on tables, desks, etc. and I get brilliant bruises. If I had a husband or boyfriend, people would be giving me looks and asking if I was 'okay'. Again, hitting your wife ain't okay, hard, soft or otherwise. Unless you two are playing special bedroom games, in which case, that's consensual and a whole different ball o'wax.

    But yeah. Most of all, it boils down to different worlds and different times. It was okay (culturally) then, it's not okay now. End of story.

  3. That's a good point, and easy to forget. I get bruises and half the time have no idea where they came from, so it probably wasn't anything particularly brutal or even noticeable when it actually happened. It just looks bad. That said, if a woman is constantly walking around with bruises that you know are from her husband...it's a little different from the random life bruises, and a little more than "light beating." A measured hit like giving kids a spanking? Ok. I mean, not ok, but understandable in a culture where men discipline their wives and hitting is an acceptable means of doing that. "I don't trust you so I'm gonna give you a black eye"? More like anger than discipline.

  4. One of my coworkers has started telling me, when she bumps into things, 'remember that!' and pointing to wherever she hit. So when she has a bruise the next day I can remind her where she got it!

    And you're absolutely right. There's a very clear and obvious difference between the bruising of someone who is just clumsy and the bruising from abuse.

    I question, though, if they had the framework to differentiate between 'acceptable' discipline (for the time) and abusive behavior? I don't think so.

    I think that the anger vs. discipline thing comes into these instructions, though. There're things that the husband is supposed to do first and they take some time. Which has an additional affect of removing the immediacy of the issue.

  5. The only time I ever heard that Muhammad (PBUH) struck one of his wives... it was Aisha... and it was with his toothbrush. You'd be hard-pressed to hurt a fly with a miswak stick. That's all I'm saying. :P And that's in a culture that not only accepted spousal abuse, but condoned it. Nowadays, a real Muslim man would never consider laying a mean finger on his wife.

    I've been more abused by the Army. My bruises have been truly outstanding from tripping over rocks here. ^_^

  6. Sanil: Your comment = awesome. People are so fast to forget or plain ignore the less-than-stellar moments in every religion but Islam.

  7. Heather,

    I hadn't even heard of that one. Good to know. Aren't the miswak really little sticks? I have a hard time picturing that doing any damage, really.

    Nowadays, a real Muslim man would never consider laying a mean finger on his wife.

    'Nowadays, a real man would never consider laying a mean finger on his wife.' There, I fixed that for you. :) But I understand what you're saying.

    My bruises have been truly outstanding from tripping over rocks here. ^_^

    :D If it makes you feel better, my sister walks into walls. I'm not even joking. She broke toes one time doing it too.


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