Monthly Archives: March 2012

to beat or not to beat, that is the question

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Recently, a friend of mine posted a photo of the front page of the Toronto Sun on her Facebook page.  The entire front page was filled with big block letters stating, “How to Beat Your Wife.”  The article inside discussed an Islamic book sold in Toronto, in which the author justified use of force by a man to subdue his wife.  The story was obviously a part of the usual anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim fodder, because the book’s author had passed away in the 1940s, which means that it was written well before the civil rights and women’s liberation movements in the West.

However, this matter cannot be simple brushed away as irrelevant.  This is because there are many people in our community who are still very much accepting of such attitudes and beliefs.

I remember a couple of years ago, my dad told me how he had a Muslim client at his bank who expressed great distaste at living in Canada, and that he preferred to live in a “Muslim” country.  My dad wasn’t sure why he felt that way so probed further.  The client explained how he didn’t like the fact that nobody could beat their wife here, because according to him, it was his right as a Muslim to have the freedom to use physical force with her if he deemed necessary.  Frustrated, he related to my father how several of his Muslim friends were currently in jail because their wives had called the police on them for physical abuse.  Shocked, my dad listened on as the man told him how the majority of Muslim men in Canada’s jails were there on domestic abuse charges, and that he felt like it was totally absurd for a society to punish men for simply “excercising their right” to physically discipline their wives.

This issue of men being allowed to hit their wives keeps surfacing in our community, but unfortunately, it is not dealt with effectively.  The problem lies in the interpretation of the Quran, and further, when people confuse human interpretation with divine discourse. This is the current translation circulating online through the free Quran Explorer website for chapter 4, verse 34: …As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them.

I looked up the definition of the word “scourge” and the first one on google says the following: whip (someone) as a punishment.  The online Merriam Webster dictionary gives the following definitions for scourge (verb): flog, whip, to punish severely, afflict, to drive as if by blows of a whip, chastise.

All of these definitions give a pretty inhumane impression of God’s words.  The word being translated as “scourge” is the Arabic word “darraba”.  When such translations are freely circulated and elicit outrage from non-Muslims and sometimes even Muslims, many from our community come out and condemn violence against women, stating how the word darraba doesn’t at all imply to hurt, but to hit lightly, that it should not be on their face, and it should not leave marks, and some even go as far as saying that the hitting is meant as a “snap her back to her senses” and that it is symbolic and that no force should be used when hitting.  But all of these explanations are actually contradictory to not only human rights, but also to the message of the Quran, an insult to logic, and to the example of the Prophet pbuh.

To understand the Quran, one must free oneself from tunnel vision, and most importantly, one must read the Quran as a whole instead of isolating verses.  Another point everyone must understand is that although Arabic is still spoken today, it has gone through the usual metamorphosis of any language, and so it is possible that in modern times, we may not always be able to accurately pinpoint the precise meaning that was assigned to a word in times the Quran was first revealed.

One of my sisters sent me a link a couple weeks ago to a website for “The Sublime Quran.”  This translation is by a woman, who through her studies discovered that the word “darraba” has over twenty five meanings, one of which is “to go away”.  This means, that using this interpretation, we could read the verse as telling men to seperate or move away from their wives to use space as a means of possibly leading to clarity of mind and change of heart.  If you’re not convinced, then there is further proof.

Saying that beating the wife is permissible under certain circumstances actually contradicts the Quran.  There are two main pieces of evidence against allowing any physical force in a marriage.  The first proof is evident from the very next verse that follows the controversially interpreted one:

And if ye fear a breach between them twain (the man and wife), appoint an arbiter from his folk and an arbiter from her folk. If they desire amendment Allah will make them of one mind. Lo! Allah is ever Knower, Aware. (4: 35)

I found a link to another imam on youtube who also interpreted “darraba” as seperate and not hit, because he stated that what sense does it make to hit your wife and then call both your families to try and work out your marriage?  It obviously makes more sense that the word with the multiple meanings is referring in this case to simply seperate to allow for cooling of minds.   I remember when I told my youngest sister about this, she agreed and then we joked about how a man who beat his wife would offer her an ice pack for her bruise and then tell her to call her family for marriage counselling.

Still not convinced?  The author of the Sublime Quran has several sensible aruguments, and the best one is from the Quran itself.  Read surah Baqarah, verse 231 (The Sublime Quran translation):

“When you divorce wives, and they are about to reach their term, then hold them back honorably or set them free honorably; and hold them not back by injuring them so that you commit aggression, and whoever commits that, then indeed he does wrong to himself; and take not the Signs of God to yourselves in mockery…”

The author points out that if God is telling men to be kind and to not in any way hurt or harm women during a divorce, so how could God allow men to hit their wives, no matter how lightly, when the women are still in a marriage?

Plus, if you read the whole Quran, all you find is talk of kindness, mercy, forgiveness, taking the “steep” road, and compassion.  Any talk of agression or violence is clearly in the context of self-defence, or if absolutely necessary to free a group of innocent civilians from cruel tyranny.  So if you read the Quran as a whole, your reason tells you that hitting your wife, no matter how lightly or harshly has no place with those who submit themselves to God.  Interpretations can only remain valid if they are done so in line with the entire Quran and in keeping with the example of the Prophet pbuh.

And perhaps the biggest evidence against any kind of hitting of wives comes from the life of our beloved Prophet pbuh, who, along with all other messengers of God, is a beacon of light for all of humanity.  He never hit or even verbally insulted any of his wives, but rather treated them with the utmost respect and love.  For those who argue that the Prophet pbuh did not hit any of his wives because he was exceptionally soft hearted, their words contradict history, because despite being compassionate, he was known to carry out justice and Quranic commands, such as punishments for stealing and other injunctions.

So if all historical records point to the complete absense of the Prophet pbuh ever hitting any of his wives, and the whole of Quran pushes mankind to embrace compassion and kindness in treatment of all peoples in their family and society, then why do so many Muslim men keep interpreting this word as permission to hit their wives, sometimes even at the slightest hint of annoyance? The answer: tradition.  How, when and why this tradition formed despite being completely against the Prophet’s example and the Quran’s teachings is a whole another area that needs to be properly researched.

Before you get too happy about this new interpretation, it’s best you know that the woman who published the Sublime Quran, Laleh Bakhtiar, is quite despised by many orthodox and mainstream scholars and religious institutions.  It seems that many Muslim leaders are having a difficult time accepting this new interpretation.  I don’t know why.  But many have tried to discredit her translation through smear campaigns that accuse her of not having proper authority to translate the Quran. Their reasons range from her not being a native Arabic speaker to spending too few years in the study of Arabic, to not being accredited from well known Islamic scholarship centres such as those in Medina.  The author commented how other mainstream translations have been conducted by non-Arabic speakers, such as Yusuf Ali.  Despite of this truth, those against her interpretation of the word “darraba” still lash out against her, discrediting her work all together.

My sincere advice to everyone is that you must seek out your truth and that you must use reason and logic to reach your conclusion.  Do not cloud your judgement by paying all your attention to who is talking, but rather, you must focus on what is being said.  People’s titles and public image can wreak havoc on our minds.

Marriage is a difficult bond to secure, and always remains as delicate and fragile as a spider’s web.  It is built on love and compassion between the husband and wife, and even if one or both parties no longer feel love for the other, they must always hold on to the rope of compassion, because it is what connects us to Allah, the Most Merciful Most Compassionate.

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The choke hold

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I seek refuge in Allah from satan the accursed.

In the name of Allah Most Compassionate Most Merciful.

 

It was a beautiful summer afternoon as the eleven year old me strolled the scenic streets of the hilltop tourist paradise of Murree, Pakistan with my family.  Coincidentally, it was also the tenth of Muharram, thus the day for the Shia community to come out to mourn the slaughter of the Prophet’s (pbuh) grandsons.  My parents were unaware of the date, and brought along my aunt and uncle who were visiting us from another city.  At some point, my parents bought my younger sisters and me soft serve ice cream cones from one of the street vendors, which we devoured pretty quickly.  By the time I was done eating my cone, my hands were very sticky, and that left me feeling irritable the whole time.  I somehow got my parents to stop and let me wash my hands at a bathroom in a hotel I saw along the street.  So they stood outside the hotel close to the reservation office as I entered the hotel through the side doorway, walking past the narrow hallway, down to the bathroom, and until I finally washed my hands.

 

But as I walked back and reached the junction between the end of the hallway and the outdoors, I heard what sounded like gunshots, followed by the shouting, “Kafir, kafir, shia kafir!” (meaning: shia are disbelievers) followed by stomping of feet.  Before I could reunite with my family, a horde of men stampeded towards the hotel entrance, right where I stood.  Fear hit me like a tidal wave and I did the only thing I could think of at such a short notice.  I hid behind one of the French doors that stood open, pushing my body as far against the wall as I could.  As soon as I was tucked behind the door, I felt the pressure of the door against my body as a large crowd of men ran inside.  I was convinced that this was the party who started the confrontation and that they would hurt me if they discovered me.  I decided that once they ran down the hallway, I would quickly run out and look for my family.  I just prayed that they were safe and I would somehow find them.

 

But my plan got disrupted, as I felt a whoosh of air when a man swung the door away from my body, leaving me exposed.  He had a very serious expression on his face, and I feared for my safety.  I kept praying he would leave me alone and pretend not to see me, but instead, I saw his eyes on my face and noticed his hands coming towards me.  The fear and anticipation of pain was too unbearable, and so I broke down crying.  But instead of the harshness I expected to feel on my shoulder, I felt a gentle touch.  I stopped crying to find a man with a look of concern on his face, as he asked me where my parents were.  Through teary eyes I told him how I had come to wash my hands at the hotel and got separated from them during the sudden chaos.  As I related my dilemma, I could still hear some gunshots from outside, and even smelled tear gas seeping through the  corners of the doorway.  The man was very kind, as he gently led me through the narrow hallway that was now lined with people taking shelter from the chaos outside.  We turned into another hallway until we came upon the reservation office.  Relief washed over me as I saw my whole family, including my aunt and uncle standing safely, happy to see me.  My parents thanked the man for helping me find them and he gracefully parted from us.

 

The hotel management were more than courteous, as they welcomed us to their lounge and even served us a complimentary lunch at their dining room.  That day, I stood against the large glass windows of the hotel overlooking the beautiful valleys of Murree, and witnessed the beautiful landscape get defiled with tear gas and the sound of people firing weapons and chanting derogatory slogans.  Most of the people who ran in slowly left the hotel, but we stayed.  We stayed in the hotel for several hours, until the last of the hateful chanting, firing, and tear gas dissipated.

 

This was a story about what happens when people blindly follow a religious/influential personality.  It was a story of a people whose minds were in a choke hold by the religious “elite.”  Those people who spoke so hatefully of shias and even used weapons to intimidate those who dared to disagree with them, did not just do it out of the blue.  They were systemically taught to hate. They were also taught to be violent in order to make others submit to their viewpoint.  It may seem absurd that someone could actually believe that it’s okay to hurt another group simply because you don’t agree with their beliefs, but the truth is that it does happen.  It happens because many people feel a great affinity to Islam and as a result, end up believing whatever they are told by respected religious leaders.

 

According to a PBS webpage, only about 12% of Muslims are Arabs.  Also take into account that most non-Arab “Muslim” countries don’t usually teach Arabic as part of their curriculum, and if they do, it is usually limited to Arabic recitation of the Quran without meaning.  The situation gets more complicated as the interpretation of the Quran, competes with the collected sayings of the Prophet pbuh, the four surviving schools of Islamic thought from the medieval times, and the traditions acquired through the ups and downs of history.  This gives a lot of room to the religious leaders of the “scholar” class to step up and dictate to the masses what they should and should not be doing as devout believers.  They not only are able to dictate the dos and don’ts, but also list the essentials in what ever order of priority suits their opinions and agendas, which most of the times is the same as that of the religious scholars from as far back as a thousand years ago.

 

The result?  The masses end up confusing tradition as faith, and dissent is almost automatically seen as heretical and a threat to the “purity” of the faith which must be preserved at all costs.

 

But the thing is, that most Muslims scholars, especially those in the West are usually smart enough not to incite open violence and hatred towards those different from us.  They have other tricks up their sleeves to make us subservient to their ideas.  They simply use the rule of repetition to make people believe everything they have to say about Islam.  They don’t use guns or force to make us believe. All they do is keep repeating the same concepts over and over again, and when we go from mosque to lecture to youtube videos, all we hear and all we see are the same ideas repeated over and over again.  So when the spiritual choices are on a menu board like at a McDonald’s restaurant, we feel the comfort of the familiar, and feel threatened by anyone offering anything that can’t be ordered at a McDonald’s drive thru.  Any new thinking becomes scary and unacceptable because “I don’t know Arabic, and the scholars are more learned than me, so my safest bet is to follow what these pure and learned people tell me.”  Here’s some food for thought: you don’t have to know Arabic to be a good Muslim.  If you can’t learn Arabic, you can compare different translations, read a wide range of interpretations, and dare I say, use your own reason and life experiences to understand and apply the principles in the Quran and sunnah.  We need to open our eyes and see the irony of our current existence.  The Quran repeatedly ridicules those who blindly follow tradition, and praises Prophet Ibrahim AS, who despite being surrounded by blind subservience to irrational beliefs and rituals, was able to think independently in a critical manner, and thus saved himself and his wife from the darkness of ignorance.

 

We need to open our eyes and see that our faith, which was meant to give us mostly spirituality and some guidelines, has turned into a rigid, rule filled religion, thanks to the continuous campaign of the religious “scholars” and their followers.  It is about time we realize that the scholars or so called religious leaders have no power, except that which we give them by agreeing with and following them.  It is time to begin viewing their interpretations as part of a very wide spectrum that WE, the people, the regular Muslims, can and must constantly check and recheck against the core principles outlined in the Quran.  It is time we at least tried to escape this choke hold over our minds and spirits.  Our salvation depends on it.

“Do they not reflect in their own minds?…” (30:8)

May Allah make it easy for us to choose right over wrong. Ameen.