Domestic abuse has no place in an Islamic way of life
The UN says that the deadliest place for a woman to be is in her home. Around 140 women are killed every day across the globe by an intimate partner or relative, and 1 in 3 women experience domestic abuse in the course of a lifetime. Domestic abuse is much more prevalent than many of us would like to think, but there is hope.
A study by the World Health Organization has stated that, ‘there is evidence that advocacy and empowerment counselling interventions…are promising in preventing or reducing intimate partner violence against women’. Advocacy and counselling interventions such as these are exactly what motivates and informs Penny Appeal’s UK programme activities in countering domestic abuse.
As a foundational Muslim charity, however, we also have to be very clear - both for ourselves and for the communities we serve – about Islam’s perspective on family partnerships and conflict. The first and most important thing is to understand the overriding principles in the Qur’an around marriage and behaviour towards spouses – as given in the verses below:
‘And one of God’s signs
is that He created for you spouses from among yourselves
so that you may find tranquillity in them.
And He has placed between you compassion and mercy’ [30:21 part]
‘Spouses are clothing for you, and you are clothing for them.’ [2:187 part]
‘But consort with them in kindness, for if you hate them it may happen that you hate a thing wherein God has placed much good.’ [4:19 part]
‘Do not forget [that you are to act] with grace towards one another’ [2:237 part]
The Prophet (ﷺ) was himself directed by Allah to be gentle and consultative in all dealings with family and friends:
‘It is out of God’s mercy that you [O Prophet] have been gentle with [your companions].
Had you been cruel or hard-hearted, they would have certainly abandoned you.
So, overlook [their faults] and ask forgiveness for them,
and consult with them in the conduct of affairs.’ [3:159 part]
Following this Quranic model, Prophet Mohammed (ﷺ) was never known to have struck anyone in anger. And as a family man, he is reported to have said: “The best of you is the best to his family and I am the best among you to my family” [Ibn Hanbal] ; and that, “The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”. [Tirmidhi].
Despite what the Qur’an and Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) have told us, physical and emotional violence is still far too prevalent within Muslim and other homes around the world – partly because some still hold to a traditional medieval understanding that ‘beating’ a wife is legitimised by the Qur’an itself.
This particular interpretation arises from Verse 4:34 in the Qur’an which addresses men, since domestic violence has always primarily been a gendered crime, and can be translated as follows:
‘Men are supporters of women with the wealth God has given to some over others,
and with what they spend out of their wealth.
Women of integrity are humble guardians in absentia by God’s protection.
If you have reason to fear ill-will from your wives, remind them of the teachings of God,
then ignore them when you go to bed, then depart away from them [‘idribohunna’]
If they respond, then do not seek any harm to them. God is most high and great.’ [4:34]
The key word here in Arabic is ‘idribohunna’ which carries numerous meanings – including to separate from / shun / beat / bed […them].
Traditional Islamic scholarship has always been dominated by males and, as a result, many have regrettably chosen to understand the word in question as ‘beat’ or ‘strike’, although usually qualified by the word ‘lightly’ even in medieval texts.
More contemporary Islamic scholars, however, prefer to understand ‘idribohunna’ as meaning ‘to shun them’ or ‘to turn away from them’, as used above. This meaning, they argue, is preferred not so as to fit in with present social morality on domestic violence. Rather, it is for reasons of grammatical correctness and also because – most importantly – it fits in with the general Quranic and prophetic encouragement towards compassion, mercy and kindness within families and between spouses. To beat a wife, they argue, would stand in violent and ugly contrast to all other counsel given by God.
Changing our shared understanding as a community about such issues is also actually encouraged at an individual and collective level by the Qur’an itself, when it says: "Those who listen to the Word and then follow the best of it; those are they whom God has guided, and those it is who are the people of understanding"; [39:18].
So, while there are, of course, a number of sociological and economic reasons for the violence that kills nearly 150 women a day, Muslim women and men need to be absolutely clear that the Qur’an and Prophet Mohammed (ﷺ) can never be used as any sort of justification for domestic abuse. On the contrary, Islam, properly understood, advocates only for kindness, compassion and tranquillity within all homes and families.
WEDNESDAY 1 JAN 2020