There has been another controversy over an often misunderstood verse in the Muslim holy book, the Quran, about relationships between husbands and wives. This week a book condoning the beating of your wife has been published on line and more questions about Islam have emerged.
The Quran is the revealed book which Muslims revere as the direct words of God. When one reads the Quran it is not like any other book, but more like a manual or guide-book. It is a conversation between the reader and God.
The Quran is unique, as are the three other revealed books. However, we can’t compare them, as the original Psalms of David, the Torah and Gospels of Jesus, have been lost forever. What we have today are only translations and copies of the translated texts and they have been modified over the centuries.
Whereas the Quran has been preserved over time and the words delivered 1400 years ago are exactly the same as any copy of the Quran today, in any country, the Quran does not change or cannot be modified. The Quran is the final in the series of divine revelations and Islam (submission) is the last message, aimed at all humankind and delivered by the seal of all the prophets, a humble man named, Muhammad (the praised one).
If you look at Islam, like the final episode of a long running soap opera series, for instance, Home and Away. As we know, the stories change from episode to episode and the characters also change, although there are central characters that tend to hang around for a while. But each series is slightly different from the next but the messages are usually constant. Be good to each other and that crime doesn’t pay.
Or another way of looking at it, is that the Quran is like the Gregory’s Street Directory (final edition), whereas preceding editions, being the Torah, the Psalms of David and the Gospel of Jesus, are now obsolete. Every year new streets are created, new roads and housing estates, new parks, shopping complexes and railway lines have been built. So there is a need to update the Gregory’s street directory regularly. The 1967 edition would be no good to me today, because there has been a massive transformation of Sydney into a large sprawling city and new suburbs have been established in the outer west. So I cant use it today.
So the Quran is just the latest edition of revealed books, which essentially delivers the same message as the others but includes more detail. The Quran, explains or clarifies many things that we did not understand before. It, tells us that the Earth is a rotating sphere, that the Sun is the centre of our solar system and explains the stages of pregnancy from conception to birth. It explains other scientific phenomena and fills in the gaps about many of the preceding prophets or messengers like Abraham, Moses, Noah, Joseph and Jacob and of course John the Baptist and Jesus. The Quran includes detailed guidelines around the organization of societies, for example, how to perfect your character, how to treat travellers, inheritance, marriage and divorce rights and relationships between men and women.
For example the God says in the Quran, (4.19).
“O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may Take away part of the dower ye have given them, (except where they have been guilty of open lewdness); on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good.”
Of course, there are some discrepancies over interpretations of some of the verses contained in the Quran and that is probably, where we can run into trouble. However, last week’s article in the UK about a new marriage guidebook called “A Gift for Muslim Couple” has caused a stir because some of the advice is a little confronting. There are concerns that the book is advocating that a man can beat his wife.
When it comes to the roles that men and women played in society fourteen centuries ago, I think we can all appreciate that families took them more literally then than they do today, especially in modern Australia. However, traditionally, the man was the leader, the breadwinner, the decision-maker and protector of the family. For society to function men and women were expected to accept these norms. In the Islamic context, a man could ask his wife not to leave the home because he was worried for her safety.
But on the matter of relationships, even today, little has changed. We all have our idiosyncracies and habits and we are all human and imperfect. Sometimes couples don’t get along. In the case, of a husband, who suspects his wife was flirting with another guy or maybe she was intimately involved with another man, then the Quran gives us some direct advice on this matter.
And this is what all the fuss is about. The interpretation of this verse.
“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 guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).
(Chapter 4 Verse 34, from Yusuf Ali translation)
Of course one could write a treatise on this topic and one, who is a scholar, could give various interpretations about the meaning of this text and its application in one’s life. I am not a scholar and will not even attempt to do so. But I will say this.
As a Muslim it is abhorrent for me to treat my wife with nothing less than the way I would want to be treated myself, that is, with dignity, respect, equality and love.
To treat your wife like a child is unacceptable and illogical. A wife is not one’s chattel or property. As Muslims we are taught to respect women as the bearers and guardians of sons and daughters, as teachers and as home-makers and as the one’s who console and nurture their relationship with their husband.
But as I said relationships don’t always work out as smoothly as some; we are not all so blessed, like John and Janet Howard. But when another man meets a married woman and tries to come on strong and she finds herself tempted, then the husband as does the woman has a right to know and do something about it. If they have only been flirting then the husband can warn her or advise her not do so, if she continues and he finds out, he can separate their beds, now this is serious sign, which means that it had better stop because the next stage, is where the marriage is at risk of divorce. If the wife were to continue then the husband would theoretically, have no other choice but to divorce. But what if there are children involved? Divorce is not a simple matter and should always be a last resort. The husband has a duty to save the marriage. He can symbolically, using a small twig, about the size of a pencil, to admonish his wife, by lightly tapping her. This is a sign to say that this is the last straw.
Nowhere in the history of the Prophet’s marriages was there a case of beating his wife. The prophet had several disputes with his wife but they never resulted in any violence. Therefore, the Prophet as the model whom Muslims follow, a husband is to treat his wife with respect and love and not allowed to use violence against her (or the children for that matter).
The recent book that advocates this is flawed because it does not explain the context of these verses and does not go into enough detail to explain the Prophet Muhammad’s own advice on this matter.
After all, Muslims have to use both the information they have from the Quran and the example of the Prophet to make such informed decisions.
Islam is a logical religion, it is scientific in nature and antidote for the intrinsic problems of all societies. Just about everything you read has a logical reason behind it, but we as lay people cannot interpret them without the help of scholars and experts.
We know that it does not make sense that a man should be given free licence to assault his wife. It’s a no-brainer. A relationship wouldn’t last long if that were the case and even if it did, it would not be a loving and harmonious one.
Domestic violence is a disease of society today, in every society, regardless of religion. We as modern day people have inherited a patriarchal attitude towards women and hence we still get these incidences of violence occurring, however, it is something that happens because men abuse their power and strength and often take advantage of a woman’s softness or passiveness. It should not be happening. Full stop!