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Dehumanising the Muslim woman

india Updated: Apr 20, 2009 15:24 IST
A Faizur Rahman
A Faizur Rahman
Hindustan Times
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The passage of a law in Afghanistan asking Muslim women to unconditionally submit to the sexual whims of their husbands once in four days is a shocking piece of legislation that seeks to dehumanise women reducing them to mere chattels devoid of human rights. To add insult to injury the 300 women who were bold enough to protest against this inhuman law this week were pelted with stones and called “dogs” and “slaves of the Christians.” One fails to understand why motives should be attributed to a democratic protest. How can the moderate Muslims who have always been part of the larger Muslim society suddenly become agents of the West “which is out to destroy Islam?” The truth is that it is the bigoted Talibanised Muslims who are destroying Islam through their misinterpretations and intolerance of progressive ideas. It is they who need to be treated for their fossilized mind-set.

It is strange the puppet regime of Hamid Karzai, which was installed by the US and its allies to replace the Taliban, is doing exactly what the Taliban would have done if they were in power. If this was what was in store for Afghanistan why were the Taliban replaced at all? In fact, the entire region seems to be relapsing into medievalism with Pakistan signing a deal with the terrorists of the Swat valley to implement their version of the shariah which is symbolized by the brutal and arbitrary public flogging of an young girl, to say nothing about the recent refusal of a Saudi judge to annul the marriage of an eight year old child to a 47-year-old man.

A deeper probe into the psyche of most of the narrow-minded radicalized jurists would reveal that their interpretations are based on traditional tafsirs (commentaries) written by patriarchal males representing only the experiences of men with either the total exclusion of women’s experiences or their interpretation through the coloured vision of men. This has resulted in women being brought under the control of men to be exploited at will.

For instance, in an incident concerning the shariah, The New York Times on March 22, 2007 reported that a German judge turned down, citing the Quran, a Muslim wife’s request for a fast-track divorce on the ground that her husband beat her from the beginning of their marriage. The judge justified her ruling by saying that the couple came from a Moroccan cultural milieu in which it is common for husbands to beat their wives because the Quran sanctions such physical abuse.

The judge was obviously quoting one of the most mistranslated verses of the Quran (4:34), which supposedly allows wife-beating. The mistranslated word is wazribuhunna, which is derived from the Arabic root zaraba.

Major commentators on the Quran including Ibn Kasir, Pickthall and Maulana Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, have rendered this word as “beat them” ignoring the fact that the word zaraba has various other shades of meaning. Out of the 50 times it occurs in the Quran, it has been used 31 times in the sense of “to explain by giving an example.”

Only 10 times has it been used as “to strike” but mostly in the context of Moses “striking the rock” or the sea, and angels “striking the faces” of the sinners. Verse 4:34 usually talks about the various means at the disposal of a husband to bring about a reconciliation with his wife and obviously beating the wife cannot be an option to sort out differences. Thus, the translation “beat them” is clearly not justified in this context. But unfortunately even today most Muslim societies consider it their Islamic right to beat their wives for disobedience.

In other words, the passage of the controversial Afghan law would allow husbands to beat their wives if they refuse sex or step out of the house without their permission. For Islam to be exploited to this extent is indeed shocking given the fact that the Prophet was one of the greatest promoters of women’s rights.

The same holds true for the punishment of stoning to death for adultery. The primary source of Islamic law, the Quran, does not prescribe stoning as a punishment for any crime much less adultery.

It only authorizes the Muslim state to flog those guilty of adultery or fornication but only after the case has been proved by four eye-witnesses, which is a near-impossibility. Even here the flogging is not meant to hurt the person but only to humiliate him.

A report in Kitabul Hudud of Imam Bukhari, compiler of the Hadith (Traditions of the Prophet), says that when a man was brought before the Prophet for habitual drinking he was asked to be flogged. And it was done with a lash made out of twisted clothing, which could not have hurt him. Interestingly, when someone in the group cursed the drunken man, saying “May Allah disgrace you”, he was chided by the Prophet.

Compare this to the brutality of what is being done in the name of Islam today. It is time the ulema worldwide collaborated on a liberal interpretation in the modern context.

The author is a Chennai-based peace activist.