Wife Beating; in the Modern Context by Dr. Javed Jamil
Wife Beating; Discipline or abuse? by Mike Ghouse
March 25, 2007
By Mike Ghouse
Dr. Javed JamilThe recent translation of the Quran by a woman is in the news all over the world just because it suits the designs of the forces of economic fundamentalism and feminists spawned by the culture that they created. In particular, verse number 4:34 of the Quran has come into focus with an attempt to disseminate the message that the Quran is cruel to women and even allows wife beating. There are apologetic Muslims who have been arguing that the context of the verse was set in the old Arabic world, and it has to be reinterpreted according to the modern context. Before discussing the meaning of the verse in question, let us first try to understand what the modern contexts of feminism and domestic violence are.
- Every fifteen seconds, a woman is beaten by her husband or boyfriend. (FBI Uniform Crime Reports, 1991)
- National surveys indicate that at least 2 million women are assaulted by their male partners each year. (Straus and Gelles, 1990)
- The American Medical Association estimates that almost 4 million women are the victims of severe assaults by boyfriends and husbands each year, and about one in four women is likely to be abused by a partner in her lifetime. (Sarah Glazer, "Violence Against Women," CQ Researcher, Congressional Quarterly Inc., February 1993
- Approximately 97% of the victims of domestic violence are women. (U.S. Dept. of Justice)
- Violence by intimate partners is the leading cause of injury for women, "responsible for more injuries than car crashes, rapes, and muggings combined." (Centres for Disease Control)
- In the United States, a women is more likely to be assaulted, injured, raped or killed by a male partner than by any other type of assailant. (Browne, A. and K.R. Williams, 1989)
- Females are victims of family violence at a rate of three times that of males. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1993)
- Abused women make up approximately 22-35% of women who seek medical attention at hospital emergency rooms. (Randall, 1988)
- More than 50% of women are battered at some time in their lives; over one-third are battered repeatedly. (Peachey, 1988)
- Approximately 70% of murdered women are killed by a husband, lover, or estranged husband or lover.
- Approximately two-thirds of those murdered by intimate partners or ex-partners have been physically abused before they were killed. (Campbell, 1981, 1992; Wallace, 1986)
- More than twice as many women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends as are murdered by strangers. (Kellerman, 1992)
- Every day in this country approximately four women are killed by a male intimate partner. (Stout, 1991)
- The nation's police spend approximately one-third of their time responding to domestic violence calls. (Domestic Violence: A Guide for Health Care Professionals, New Jersey Dept. of Community Affairs, 1990)
- Estimates of the percentage of pregnant women who are battered run as high as 25%. (Flitcraft, 1990)
- Abuse of pregnant women is the leading cause of birth defects and infant mortality. (March of Dimes study)
- Most prevalence rate studies estimate that 28% of all adult women in a relationship are victims of domestic violence on an annual basis. (Anna Wilson, ed., Introduction to Homocide: The Victim/Offender, 1993)
- Separated or divorced women were 14 times more likely than married women to report having been a victim of violence by a spouse or ex-spouse, accounting for 75% of all reports of battering. (Bureau of Justice, 1991)
- As many as 50% of women killed by partners/husbands are murdered at or after separation. (Wilson and Daly, 1991; Barnard, 1981)
- As much as 90% of the hostage-taking in this country is domestic. Domestic hostage-taking attempts to coerce a partner to return or remain in a marriage or relationship. 100% of these hostage-takers are men. (FBI, 1989)
- 40 children are abducted by a parent each hour in the U.S. More than half occur in the context of domestic violence. More than 80% of abductions by parents occur after separation. Almost 40% of the abductions by fathers involve force or violence. (Finklehor et al, 1990; Grief and Hegar, 1992)
- Domestic violence is increasing in Russia, with 14,000 women dying every year at the hands of their husbands or other relatives. (Amnesty Internatic)
Now, in this background, examine the verse that is supposed to support wife beating: " As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), next refuse to share beds with them (and last) beat them lightly. But if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance) for Allah is Most High, Most Great." (4: 34) It is clear from the verse that:
It is clear from the verse that:
The over-all aim of the directions is to save the family from breaking;
The strategy is not to let the issue going out of the house and giving it a chance to get resolved within the family;
The directions involve a situation where wife is arrogant or disloyal, and does not apply to women whose behaviour is within normal limits;
The steps to be taken are in an increasing order of harshness.
First, the husband is asked to use verbal tactics like lecturing, persuasion and admonition.
Second, if this fails, the husband is advised to isolate her within the house. Sexual separation is a very potent weapon for reform within the marriage.
Third, even if this fails, the husband is allowed to use physical measures.
Only when this fails, the husband must take the issue out of the family, either by seeking arbitration or by initiating the procedure of divorce or by seeking criminal action, in case she has engaged in any forbidden activity.
Whenever she reforms herself, the husband is warned against continuing mistreating her; he must return to her and live with her in love.
Though this verse is primarily addressed to men, its indirect application should also be there for situations where husbands are arrogant or disloyal to wives and are engaged in forbidden activities. There are various situations in the Quran where the instructions are either for men or women but they need to be applied in reverse cases too.
For example, the above verse talks of "disloyalty" by women. But there is no verse about what should be done if husbands prove disloyal and are engaged in extramarital relationships. Does this not mean that women too must first try to resolve the issue within their houses, first by admonishing them, second by refusing sex and last by seeking intervention of the other members in the family (like fathers and elder brothers) who can even use physical assault as means to reform them? This last one is necessary as women are normally not physically strong enough to beat their husbands and if they do so it may invite greater violence.
I have however heard cases where women actually beat their husbands (sometimes even by shoes) for their misdemeanours like drinking, gambling, etc. Similarly, the Quran talks of "80 lashes" for those men who label false allegations of disloyalty on their wives. (Surah Nur) But what if the wives label false allegations against men? As the underlying principle is that men and women committing equal crimes under similar circumstances must receive similar punishments, it applies that women must also be given 80 lashes if they make unsubstantiated allegations against their husbands or other men.
Wife beating allowed in the Quran is surely different from wife battering that is routinely seen in the world, more so in the Western societies. In the Quran, mild beating is allowed only in cases of disloyalty for the purpose of reforming women within the family and not let others know about their misbehaviours. In the modern world, wife battering is mostly the result of silencing them into submission, alcohol and other addictions and to continue their own extramarital affairs. It is almost always aimed at causing them pain or taking revenge rather than reforming them. Islam creates social conditions where women do not face problems of physical security on account of the drinking, gambling and other bad habits of their husbands. It is also to be stressed here that market forces have used the issues of wife beating and child beating for their own selfish ends.
It is clear that if women are battered for no fault of theirs or they are battered more than what is permissible, they can always seek revenge from the court. The Islamic court will have to use the principle of "punishment equal to the crime" in order to fulfil the demands of justice.
Dr. Javed Jamil is a Chairman of International Centre for Applied Islamics, India. His columns regularly appear at WorldMuslimCongress@yahoogroups.com and now it will appear at this blog and eventually he will have a blog of his own at the new upcoming website http://www.worldmuslimcongress.com/