A book’s claim that wife-beating is condoned by Islamic law has the support of Muslim clerics around the world, according to a report.
Egyptian-born Sheikh Muhammad Kamal Mustafa, the imam of the mosque in Fuengirola, Spain, was convicted in January for publishing his book “The Woman in Islam,” which among other things said a rebellious wife should be physically punished.
Researchers Steven Stalinsky and Y. Yehoshua contend this belief is common, citing Muslim clerics and Islamic religious institutions that discuss it as a legitimate way of “disciplining” a wife, based on the Quran, reported the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute.
The Barcelona judge, who gave Mustafa a 15-month suspended sentence and fine for inciting violence against women, declared society is completely different from 1,400 years ago.
Mustafa’s attorney argued his client was not expressing his personal opinion, but simply reiterating Islamic writings from the 13th and 19th centuries.
In his book, which sold about 3,000 copies, Mustafa states: “The beating must never be in exaggerated, blind anger, in order to avoid serious harm [to the woman].”
He adds, “It is forbidden to beat her on the sensitive parts of her body, such as the face, breast, abdomen, and head. Instead, she should be beaten on the arms and legs,” using a “rod that must not be stiff, but slim and lightweight so that no wounds, scars, or bruises are caused.”
The sheikh said the aim of the beating is to cause the woman to feel some emotional pain, without humiliating her or harming her physically. Wife-beating, he said, must be the last resort to which the husband turns in punishing his wife, and is, according to the Quran, chapter 4, verse 34, the husband’s third step when the wife is rebellious.
First, he must reprimand her, without anger. Next, he must distance her from the conjugal bed. Only if these two methods fail should the husband turn to beating.
Stalinsky and Yehoshua cite other Islamic clerics, including Sheikh Yousef Qaradhawi, one of the most influential clerics in Sunni Islam and head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, who says “it is permissible for the husband to beat her lightly.”
In his 1984 book “The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam,” he wrote: “If the husband senses that feelings of disobedience and rebelliousness are rising against him in his wife, he should try his best to rectify her attitude by kind words, gentle persuasion, and reasoning with her. If this is not helpful, he should sleep apart from her, trying to awaken her agreeable feminine nature so that serenity may be restored, and she may respond to him in a harmonious fashion. If this approach fails, it is permissible for him to beat her lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive parts.”
Qaradhawi quotes Imam Al-Hafiz ibn Hajar, who says the saying of the prophet Muhammad, “The best among you do not beat,” could imply “beating wives is in general permissible. To be specific, one may beat only to safeguard Islamic behavior and if [the husband] sees deviation only in what she must do or obey in relation to him.”
Dr. Jamal Badawi, professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada, has explained Islam allows beating in cases in “which a wife persists in bad habits and showing contempt of her husband and disregard for her marital obligations.”
On the Al-Jazeera weekly program “The Sharia and Life,” Oct. 5, 1997, Al-Qaradhawi said: “Beating is permitted [to the man] in the most limited of cases, and only in a case when the wife rebels against her husband. … The beating, of course, will not be with a whip, a stick, or a board. The beating will be according to what the prophet said to a servant girl who annoyed him on a particular matter, ‘If it were not for fear of punishment in the Hereafter, I would have beaten you with this miswak.'”
In a fatwa posted on Islamonline.net, Qaradhawi said on the same matter: “It is forbidden to beat the woman, unless it is necessary, and she ‘is in a state of rebellion’ against the husband and flouts him.”
The Islamic Affairs department of Saudi Arabia’s Washington embassy says wife-beating is permitted in accordance with Quranic verses and Hadiths, or sayings of Muhammad.
The department quotes an Islamic source that says, “The husband’s rights on his wife are greater than hers over him,” and another that says, “Men have a supervisory authority on account of the physical advantage they possess … .”
The department says the Quran authorizes a husband to beat his “disobedient wife.”
Based on the Quran and Hadith, this disciplining measure may be used in the case of “lewdness on the part of the wife or extreme refraction and rejection of the husband’s reasonable requests on a consistent basis.”
A prominent Muslim-American leader, Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America, answered the question, “Does Islam allow wife-beating?”
“It is important that a wife recognizes the authority of her husband in the house,” he stated. “He is the head of the household, and she is supposed to listen to him. But the husband should also use his authority with respect and kindness towards his wife. If there arises any disagreement or dispute among them, then it should be resolved in a peaceful manner. Spouses should seek the counsel of their elders and other respectable family members and friends to batch up the rift and solve the differences.
“However, in some cases a husband may use some light disciplinary action in order to correct the moral infraction of his wife, but this is only applicable in extreme cases and it should be resorted to if one is sure it would improve the situation. However, if there is a fear that it might worsen the relationship or may wreak havoc on him or the family, then he should avoid it completely.”
Siddiqi said the Quran is “very clear on this issue.”
“Almighty Allah says: ‘ 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 the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah would have them to guard.”
He emphasized the word “beating” in the Quran does not mean “physical abuse.”
On a Saudi television show titled “Disciplining Wives and Children,” Jasem Muhammad Al-Mutawah discussed the issue while holding a 10-foot pool cue which he said some couples keep in the home.
He explained when it is permissible to use the rod and what types of wood they are made from.
Al-Mutawah said “we should solve our problems with dialogue,” but the response varies according to the person.
A guest on the show, Dr. Muhammad Al-Hajj, lecturer on Islamic faith at the University of Jordan, explained the basis for discipline.
“We in Islam see the family as an institution, an institution that must succeed,” he said. “This institution has foundations, and it has the elements for its success. Allah gave the management of this institution to the man. This is the concept of guardianship. Guardianship in Islam does not mean repression, concerning which there are penal and moral laws. The issue is who directs this institution, because two people cannot drive a car – there must be one driver. Islam has given the wheel of this car, the car of the family, to the man.”
After the first two means prescribed by the Quran are exhausted comes the third, he said, “the means of the not-hard beatings.”
The host, noting if a husband is rebellious, the wife “cannot banish him from the bed, and she cannot beat him,” asked Al-Hajj, “Do you not find inequality in this?”
“No,” he said, “I do not find inequality in this, because as I said from the outset, the ultimate responsibility for managing the institution of family is given to the husband and therefore when the wife encounters disobedience on the part of her husband, or negative deeds, there is no doubt that she must remark on them and express her dissatisfaction with these deeds; she can go to his friends, his relatives, or her relatives so that they will take care of the problem … .”
The May 22-28, 2003 issue of Al-Ahram Weekly featured an article by Lina Mahmoud on violence against women shown on Egyptian television. A media monitoring project conducted by the New Woman Research Center and the Media House, an independent production company, covered 18 television dramas shown during Islamic holy month of Ramadan in 2002.
The study said “audiovisual media has a great influence in shaping the collective consciousness of Egyptians. The extremely high illiteracy rates in Egypt, among women in particular, give media an uncontested role in dictating people’s behavior and ideas … .”
The report showed all of the programs included scenes of violence against women perpetrated by “the heroes of the episodes,” those “who are closest to the hearts of the audience and hence have the largest impact on them.”
“Just as disturbing as the portrayals of violence against women is the lack of public outrage to them,” the study said. “In many cases, observers responded with either indifference or approval, making such aggression seem commonplace or justifiable.”
The majority of the women portrayed in the television episodes were housewives, according to the report.
After completion of the report, a documentary was filmed in which people were questioned about their reactions to violence in television dramas.
“Women deserve to be beaten,” responded one viewer.
“A husband should beat his wife if she does something wrong,” said another.
One woman said “men are so cruel to women. They should be merciful.”
A young man commented beating a woman makes her “more stubborn.”