Give her food when you take food, clothe her when you clothe yourself, do not revile her face, and do not beat her.
-Prophet Muhammad (SAW)
Worldwide statistics on domestic violence calls for general alarm. One of the most alarming reports is that of the United Nations that estimated that 58 percent of the 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017 were killed by intimate partners or family members, which means that approximately 137 women are killed daily by their own family. Researching further on these statistics, I came to find out that these figures are even more disturbing among Muslim countries. According to HRW 2013 report, in Afghanistan, the country with the highest incidence of domestic violence in the world, 85 percent of women admit to experiencing it. According to another UN study, 40 percent of women report experiencing it in Bangladesh. Another 2012 UN study found that 33 percent of women in Egypt experienced it at least once in their lifetime, while 18% report experiencing it in the past 12 months. I can go on with statistics on Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, but that will only sideline and delay the important questions: why is domestic violence more common in the Muslim world? Is it, as acclaimed by some scholars, permissible and recommended in some instances? Do the Qur’an or Sunna condone it? Or is another consequence of rules established by mere mortals, by some Muslim men?
First off, there needs to be a careful study of the permissibility of domestic violence in Islam. On this topic, the most vital verse to start off with is the verse 4:34 of the Holy Quran. It reads,
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 therighteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those (wives) on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (then if they persist) refuse to share their beds, (and last) strike them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).
Even though the common belief is that the above verse justifies some form of domestic violence, scholars have been divided on whether or not this is true. A controversy comes from the translation of the phrase “wadribuhunna.” According to Ahmad Ali, a Pakistani scholar, the word “idrubu” can be translated into “to forsake, avoid, or leave.” A slight but further proof of his claim is the use of “darabtum” in another part of the Holy Qur’an (4:94) to mean “go abroad.” Both “darabtum” and “idribu” were derived from a single word, “daraba”. But while this claim can be given consideration, because even the prophet was reported to have left his wives in a certain instance of dispute, it cannot be taken as the certified interpretation because the word “daraba” and its derivatives, are used in six other instances in the Holy Qur’an, under no uncertain terms, to mean physical beating or striking.
However, even the scholars that justify some form of beating from the earlier verse, have emphasized that the permitted hitting was not to be harsh. Studying the opinions of Islamic Scholars from different centuries and times such as Abu-Shaqqa, Ibn Kathir, Ibn Abbas and Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, one can see that the majority of Ulamas share the Prophet’s opinion of discomfort towards domestic violence. Most of the scholars have agreed that the permissible beating should not go beyond a light tapping with a sleeve or a siwak (a small stick used for cleaning of teeth). But, even with no backing for domestic violence in the Qur’an and Hadith, let us assume that some Muslim men use the verse 4:34 to justify their violence towards women, I believe it will not provide a cover for them as rarely do they take the first two steps (admonishment and separation) before proceeding to the third. Here, we may conclude that violence in the Muslim world has backing in neither the Qur’an nor Hadith.
Now that, clearly, Islam is not the link between Muslims and domestic violence, the link has to exist somewhere betweenculture and environment. Gender-based violence seems to be another trait that Arabs have inherited from pre-Islamic Arabia, from the Jahiliyyah period. Recall that in the Jahiliyyah period, women were treated like properties, sold into marriages, inherited in said marriages from brother to brother, from father to son, as all other worldly possessions are owned, sold and inherited. Their birth was met with sorrow, called for no celebration and in most occasions, their burial alive. These traits and predispositions must have creeped past a millennium, must have stood a solid brick between Arabic culture and Islam. Of course, it would be very wrong to shelve all Arabs or all Arabian households as violent, even though this predisposition exists among the majority. While “Arab” and “Muslim” should not be synonymous, these two terms happen to be in the modern world. The Qur’an came in Arabic language, most non-Arabic Muslims consider Arabian dress code the standard for moral dressing, only a negligible number of Muslim names are not Arabic, their cultures and traditions are copied all-round the Muslim world. To say it simply, the Muslim world is infinitely bound to the Arab. While blaming Arabic culture solely for domestic violence in the Muslim World (because this violence exists in non-Muslim homes and communities), this bond between religion and culture somehow plays a significant role in the differing statistics across religions.
However, one may wonder how these atrocities hide under the cover of Islam, unchecked. While the Qur’an and Sunnah, the former an infallible book sent down by the almighty and the latter traditions of the last prophet of Islam, abhor gender-based violence, why is it tolerated among the modern day Muslims? This answer lies in the misinterpretation of the Qur’an and Sunna that largely calls for poor policies in the Arab countries at large. Those policies have managed to conserve pre-Islamic practices that are today being injected into Muslim societies, causing this pollution. To make a change, our Sharia laws first need reform, they need to be more aligned to the Holy Qur’an, they need to preach love and mercy, patience and restraint.
Allah SWT says: “And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for people who give thought.” When you look in her eyes, and raise your hands to strike against her, where is the love? When she curls into a ball as you kick her ribs, where is the love? When you hear the slap of your belt against her beautiful skin, where is the love? When she winces at the pain of the bruises left at the wake of your beatings, where is the love? When you can hear her mind debating on the punishment she will receive this time, when her mind is loud with working out whether to stay or leave, where is the love? Where is the love when your children and hers circle around her and tend to those welts? Where is the love in domestic violence? How are you her protector?
The solution to domestic violence in Islamic countries is ensuring less misogynistic policies and more that protect women. Awareness needs to be created on how the Prophet SAW implied in word and dead that Muslim men shouldn’t harm women under any circumstances, “Do not beat your wives.” It must be reinstated that any man who harms his wife does this against the admonition of Allah and Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Awareness needs to be created on the truth that Islam was the first religion to grant the woman the right to seek divorce, an option she can resort to in toxic marriages. However, marriage, the biggest cover for domestic violence, happens to be a vital organ and institution of the society. There is little wonder why one cannot walk out of it without much deliberation and pain. The journey of transforming from a victim to survivor is not an easy decision to make, but a necessary one, for one’s personal growth and for the next generation. Marriage should be beautiful, family should not be terrifying, anything other than this should not be condoned by any Muslim, or any human anywhere.
HADIYA ALIYU TILDE
20 August 2019