“A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree, the more you beat them the better they be.” The syntax of these words, penned by a prolific 17th century writer, is a clever concoction. It shows how a woman’s spirit can be broken — stage by stage — turning her from human, to savage, to a voiceless but still beautiful creature, through acts of aggression.
Out of all the justifications I have heard that try to validate domestic violence within a marriage, none enrages me more than the one that comes from a man who uses religion to justify the beatings. Like Shakespeare’s Antonio said, the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose — so can, it appears, misguided Muslim men.
The Quran states that a husband is not allowed to hurt a woman to the extent where she is left bruised, even if she has committed a sin. “As to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful), but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great.” (Surah Nisa, Quran 4:34)
Dr Zakir Naik describes the situation as one where the Quran says a husband can hit his wife with a handkerchief, only after she persistently sins and he has exhausted the options of verbal admonishment and sleeping in a separate bed. Furthermore, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) never engaged in such a practice and frowned upon men who abused their wives. Men and women have been given the right to divorce each other, so in a situation where a man may think he is being a “good Muslim husband” by “disciplining” an unfaithful spouse, he has the option of leaving her.
Ultimately, it is for our Maker to decide whether mankind has sinned; instead of taking that task upon himself, a man who suspects that his wife is unfaithful should leave her. No matter what her socio-economic background may be, the mental and physical anguish a woman undergoes after being hit by her husband is mortifying; being abused by a man you love and have a family with can break even the strongest woman’s spirit. According to statistics compiled by the Aurat Foundation for 2009, most cases of domestic violence arise due to “domestic conflicts”, fights arising from petty issues in the household. Figures reported for rape, burning, torture and attempted murder incidents are alarming — enough to make one wish that these women didn’t have central nervous systems that could register the pain.
The theory that Islam justifies abuse is incorrect; Islam does not disempower women, as is popularly believed. A woman has the power to create, nurture and transform life, and is born powerful by virtue of her very existence; a husband would be a better man if instead of feeling threatened by his wife’s strength, he celebrated it.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2010.