«Nada Ibrahim and Mohamad Abdalla Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia A Critical Examination of Qur’an 4:34 Abstract This article examines ...»
Involvement with religious organizations reduces the factors that are associated with IPV, such as social isolation, alcohol and substance abuse, and depression (Ellison, Trinitapoli, & Anderson, 2007). Research also shows that with religious involvement, levels of social integration and social support are increased, likelihood of alcohol or substance abuse is reduced, and the risks of psychological problems are decreased. Furthermore, religious involvement in the form of rituals, sermons, and informal social interaction could be utilized to highlight commitment to relationships and family life that would lead to personal and spiritual growth, as it encourages altruism, self-sacrifice, shared purpose, love, and caring for the well-being of the family rather than one’s own self-interest (Ellison et al., 2007). Through its principles of sanctity of marriage, religion may also motivate individuals to fulfill their familial roles while drawing upon the information, and practical and emotional support that exist within their religious communities; thus enabling them to resolve any conflict through anger management and improved communication (Ellison et al., 2007; Lambert & Dollahite, 2006). Studies also show that joint prayer performed by couples decreases negativity, contempt, hostility, and emotional reactivity towards one’s partner by fostering forgiveness and by appealing to God for help and guidance (Butler, Stout, & Gardner, 2002).
and the context of historical and contemporary fatwas (legal verdicts). Since our discussion is restricted to one aspect of IPV, namely wife abuse, it is necessary to contextualize Islam’s legal position on IPV by examining, albeit briefly, Islam’s attitude toward the treatment of wives as illustrated by the Qur’an and Prophetic traditions. The Qur’an eloquently describes the reciprocal marital relationship stating “…they (your wives) are your garment and you are a garment for them…” (Qur’an, 2:187). In the Qur’anic paradigm, marriage is represented as a means of tranquillity, protection, encouragement, peace, kindness, comfort, justice, mercy, and love (Qur’an, 2:187 & 229-237; 4:19 & 25; 9:71; 30:21). It indicates that marriage is a sharing between two halves of society and that its objectives, besides perpetuating human life, are emotional well-being and spiritual harmony. In fact, an entire chapter exclusively entitled The Women describes guidelines of behavior, a code of ethics and conflict resolution in all aspects (e.g., care, inheritance, marriage, divorce, conflict resolution, etc.) that relate to women (Qur’an, 4:1-176).
The precedent of a marital relationship based on care, mercy, kindness, mutual consultation and justice was set by direct examples from the life of Prophet Muhammad and is well-documented in the books of hadith6 (Jamil, 2007). The Prophet Muhammad said, “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best behaviors, and the best of you are those who are best to their wives” (At-Tirmidhi, as cited in An-Nawawi, 1999, p. 271).
In reference to the relationship between husband and wife, Abu Hurairah, [d.681] relayed that he heard Prophet Muhammad saying “A believer should bear no malice to his wife, if he dislikes one of her habits, he likes another of them” (Muslim, as cited in An-Nawawi, 1999, p. 269).
It is well-established that Prophet Muhammad never hit his wives, although they argued
wives and would later have intimate relations with them (Sahih Al-Bukhari, 7:62:132). When asked about a husband’s responsibility toward a wife, the Prophet said “Give her food when you take food, clothe when you clothe yourself, do not revile her face, and do not beat her” (Sunan Abu-Dawud, 11:2138-2139). In his farewell pilgrimage sermon, he further asserted the importance of kind treatment of women,7 equating the violation of women’s marital rights to a breach of God’s covenant.8 Additionally, he discouraged women from marrying men who are known for their harshness, as evidenced in the story of Fatimah bint Qays narrated in Sahih Muslim ( Book 009, Number 3512):“She said: When my period of 'Idda was over, I mentioned to him that Mu'awiya b. Abu Sufyan and Jahm had sent proposal of marriage to me, whereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: As for Abu Jahm, he does not put down his staff from his shoulder, and as for Mu'awiya, he is a poor man having no property; marry Usama b. Zaid. I objected to him, but he again said: Marry Usama; so I married him. Allah blessed there in and I was envied (by others)”.
Based on such legal texts, classical and contemporary Muslim scholars view all forms of IPV as oppression (Abd al Ati, 1977; European Council for Fatwa and Research, 2005).
Prohibition of oppression and injustice is premised on and derived from the Qur’an (Qur’an, 7:33) and Prophet Muhammad’s tradition, including his statements: “Verily, your blood, property, and reputations are as inviolable to one another as the inviolability of this day, this month, and this city of yours” (Bukhari and Muslim, as cited in Keller, 1991, p. 668). Abuse against wives is a form of injustice and is hence prohibited, as decided by the Council of the
International Islamic Fiqh Academy [IFA]:
is forbidden because it contradicts the objectives of shari’ah as regards the preservation of life and reason, and because it contradicts the divine approach that is based on righteousness and kind treatment (IFA, 2009).
Islamic law also addresses IPV under the concept of darar (harm) that includes several types of
abuse against a wife, including:
The failure of a husband to provide obligatory support (nafaqa) for his wife, which includes food, shelter, and clothing. A husband’s absence from the home, his inability to fulfil his wife’s sexual needs, or mistreatment of his wife’s family members can result in dissolution of the marriage contract…Darar [harm] also includes physical abuse against a spouse (Semerdjian, 2004, p. 121).
Consistent with this understanding, the Ottoman fatwas dealt with the issue of IPV in the context of darar (Smerdijan, 2004) evident from the seventeenth-century fatwa of the Ottomani scholar
Abū al-Sa’ūd (1491-1774) that reads:
Question: Zeyd hurts his wife Hind in many ways. If the qadi (judge) knows about it, is he able to separate Hind from Zeyd? Answer: He is able to prevent his hurting her by whatever means possible (Imber, 1997, as cited in Semerdjian, 2004, p. 121).
Hence the Ottoman courts decreed that an abused wife was able to annul her marriage contract and “the most important proof needed was to show that the husband had broken the marriage contract or that the marriage caused the woman harm” (Sonbol, 1996, as cited in Semerdjian, 2004, p. 121). Therefore, “physically assaulting a wife violates the marriage contract and is grounds for immediate divorce”. Furthermore, shari’ah records of Othman courts’ contain evidence of “the ability of women to seek retribution when subjected to abuse”. In 1687 the shari’ah “courts of Aleppo ruled against abusive husbands in several cases of domestic violence” (Semerdjian, 2004, p.121).
ordering that he be given ta’zir (discretionary corporal punishment) (Imber, 1997, as cited in Semerdjian, 2004, p. 121).
Consistent with the Ottoman shari’ah fatwas, the nineteenth-century Syrian jurist Ibn ‘Abidin stated that ta’zir (discretionary corporal punishment) is mandatory for a “man who beats his wife excessively and ‘breaks bone’, ‘burns skin’, or ‘blackens’ or ‘bruises her skin’ ”. While Ibn ‘Abidin does not “state what form the punishment should take”, there is evidence that “Muslim jurists repeatedly admonished men who committed violence against their wives and the shari’ah court upheld their position” (Semerdjian, 2004, p. 121).
Recently some contemporary scholars, such as Sheikh Al-Atrash from Al-Azhar University Egypt, have issued fatwas explaining that in the act of self defense a Muslim woman is permitted to use violence against her abusive husband (Abou el Magd, 2008), which is consistent with the law of self-defense in domestic violence situations under criminal law in the West (Alexander, 2002; Lanham, Bartal, Evans, & Wood, 2006). Such a fatwa draws inspiration from the idea that people are permitted to defend themselves from violence (IFA, 2009), even in their own homes as it contradicts the objectives of shari’ah mentioned earlier.
Clearly, the Islamic position is one where IPV is forbidden in the Sunnah as well as sanctioned against in legal texts. Accordingly, any violence and coercion used as a tool of control or subjugation in the home is construed as oppression and is unacceptable in Islam, even if sanctioned by cultural practices. Any form of violence that results in the shedding of blood, breaking bones or causing wounds requires ta’zir and is valid grounds for a wife to annul her marriage contract. So, if Islam condemns all forms of violence against women, what does verse
To distinguish between IPV and the legal meanings in verse 4:34, the following Arabic key terms found in the verse need to be understood in context: qawwamuna, nushuzahunna, and wadribuhunna. Before discussing the former two terms, it is prudent to demonstrate the problem with the conventional English translations of the term wadribuhunna. A recent translation by Ahmad Zaki Hammad (2007, p. 138) renders the meaning of wadribuhunna as “strike them with a light hand [wadribuhunna]. But if they obey you, then do not seek to go against them in any way. Indeed God is ever exalted, all great”. Abdalhaqq and Aisha Bewley (1999, p. 73), Muhammad Habib Shakir, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Arthur J. Arberry, Muhammad Asad, and Mufti Muhammad Taqi Uthmani9 translate the contentious verb wadribuhunna as “beat them”. Taqiud-Din Al-Hilali and Muhsin Khan (1993, p. 131) translate it as “beat them (lightly, if it is useful)”, Irving (1998) says “and [even] beat them [if necessary]”, while Pickthall (1938) says it should mean “scourge them”. Hamza (2008) says it means “strike them, but not violently”.
Clearly, there is disagreement on how best to translate wadribuhunna, but all translations give an explicit negative connotation and, read out of context, provide reasonable evidence for wife “beating”.
Few translators depart from the above conventional translation. Laleh Bakhtiar (2007) suggests that the word wadribuhunna should actually be translated to mean “to go away,” because “God would not sanction harming another human being except in war” (MacFarquhar, 2009). Bakhtiar adopts this translation and believes that it is appropriate based on the premise that the Prophet did not beat any of his wives when he had difficulties with them, and that the
being divorced. Given that there is no agreement on the translation of wadribuhunna it is necessary to look beyond English translations for a proper understanding of its legal meaning.
Meaning of Qawwamuna It is important to understand the legal meaning of qawwamuna and nushuz, before any attempt is made to understand the meaning of wadribuhunna. Commenting on the meaning of qawwamuna with respect to verse 4:34, the classical scholar of Qur'anic exegeses (tafsir), Ibn Jarir al-Tabari [d.
Allah, majestic be His praise, means by men are caretakers of women that they are in charge of their womenfolk, in disciplining and guidance, respecting the rights that they [women] owe to Allah and to them. Because of that by which Allah has favoured one over another means because of that through which Allah has favoured men over their wives, since men must give them their marriage payment (mahr) and spend of their wealth to support them, and save them their pains and effort: that is the favouring of Allah Most Blessed and Exalted of men over women, and is why they have become caretakers of them who have authority over them regarding those of their affairs that Allah has given them charge of... (as cited in Keller, 1995).
Keller (1995), an Islamic law specialist, says that al-Tabari states that the reason for the revelation of this verse is that a man slapped his wife, and she went to the Prophet who wanted her to take retaliation against her husband by striking him back in reprisal. Meanwhile God revealed the verse about men being caretakers of women (Qur’an, 4:34). So the Prophet summoned the man, recited the verse to him and said, “I wanted one thing, but Allah wanted another”. While this is the often-cited reason for the revelation of this verse, Keller points out that for religious purposes, this reason is not well-documented enough to rely on for the verse’s interpretation and that al-Tabari’s first interpretation is sounder.
Consistent with the interpretive principle established by scholarly consensus (ijma) of specialists of methodological bases (usul) of sacred law (Keller, 1995), the verse should be
Hence, the 14th century Arabic grammarian and exegete Abu Hayyan al-Nahwi says of verse 4:34:
Because Allah Most High has mentioned [in preceding verses] the matter of men and women acquiring their appointed share and their estate-division inheritance, He [here] apprises them that men are in charge of the interests of women. Caretakers (qawwamuna) is an intensive form [indicating something done much]. Because Allah has favoured one over another means “because of Allah's favouring some men over others, this man having been given more sustenance (rizq) than that man, this man being better off than that one”.
And because they spend of their property means “upon women”. The word ma [lit. what, translated above in the citation of al-Tabari as “because of that through which Allah has favoured,” and secondly, “because of what they spend”] is [rather] ma masdariyya or “the indefinite pronoun signifying a verbal noun” in both instances. [Thus meaning “because of Allah's favouring the one,” and “because of their spending of their property”] (as cited in Keller, 1995).
Hence, whenever a husband is unable to support his wife, he is no longer her caretaker.