Spousal Abuse: What Islam Really Says
In his wonderful book Letters to My Elders in Islam, Dr. J F Dirks, under the title of “On Spousal Abuse” says, “a couple of years ago, a social worker at a community mental health center in a distant American city contacted me about an urgent problem a member of her staff was encountering. It seems that one of our Muslim sisters had sought help at their clinic because she had been physically abused by her husband on several occasions. While the husband had agreed to meet with the mental health staff, he had adamantly insisted that it was his religious right to beat his wife and had apparently proceeded to quote from the Qur’an in support of his claim.
ٱلرِّجَالُ قَوَّٲمُونَ عَلَى ٱلنِّسَآءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بَعۡضَهُمۡ عَلَىٰ بَعۡضٍ۬ وَبِمَآ أَنفَقُواْ مِنۡ أَمۡوَٲلِهِمۡۚ فَٱلصَّـٰلِحَـٰتُ قَـٰنِتَـٰتٌ حَـٰفِظَـٰتٌ۬ لِّلۡغَيۡبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ ٱللَّهُۚ وَٱلَّـٰتِى تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَٱهۡجُرُوهُنَّ فِى ٱلۡمَضَاجِعِ وَٱضۡرِبُوهُنَّۖ فَإِنۡ أَطَعۡنَڪُمۡ فَلَا تَبۡغُواْ عَلَيۡہِنَّ سَبِيلاًۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّ۬ا ڪَبِيرً۬ا
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and their husbands) and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g., her chastity, property, etc.) 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.”
The social worker informed me that this is not the first such occurrence of spousal abuse by a Muslim husband. She went on ahead to tell me that community health clinics and battered women’s shelters around the country were ever more frequently encountering cases where Muslim husbands were claiming that it was their religious right to strike their wives, often leaving them horribly beaten.”
The Soundvision web page on Domestic Violence is full of horror stories on Muslim husbands physically abusing and mistreating their wives. In some cases, this abuse even resulted in death.
Having counselled many Muslim families, we know that this ill and unacceptable behaviour exists among some Muslim husbands. The irony of the situation is that, as we have seen in Dr. Dirk’s story, most of those who practice this crime justify their actions using the Qur’an. They always quote verse 34 of Surah Al-Nesaa’ (Chapter 4) which is known among Muslims as the verse of Qawamah.
Does Islam Promote Spousal Abuse?
There is no place in Islam for spousal abuse. There is no doubt that Islam liberated women and contributed positively toward the restoration of women’s dignity and rights. Any fair-minded people who study the original sources of Islam, i.e., the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad SAAW, would undoubtedly and easily reach this obvious and clear conclusion. However, many cultural practices of some Muslims from different ethnic backgrounds are completely contrary to Islam’s teachings regarding women. These practices have certainly contributed in a negative way to the status of women in Islam. Islam holds women in a very high and noble position as mothers, as wives, as sisters, as daughters, as aunts, and as grandmothers. Needless to say, if we compare the situation of women before the advent of Islam in various corners of the globe, including the Arabian Peninsula itself, with what Islam did for women, we can see the huge difference in women’s status and rights in favour of Islam.
However, this is not the image and impression that non-Muslims have about Islam and Muslim women. In fact, it is not even the understanding among many Muslims, due to so many cultural distortions. Realizing this, in the recent century particularly, many scholars have elaborated in various works in many languages on the true status of women in Islam. Among these works are, Status of Women in Islam and Polygamy in Islamic Law by Dr. Jamal Badawi, Women in Islam and Muslim Society by Dr. Hasan Turabi, Feminism and Muslim Women by Sajda Nazlee, The Place of Women in Islamic Life by Dr. Yusuf al Qaradawi, and Women Between Islam and Western Society by Maulana Wahududdin Khan. These books have enriched the Islamic library and provided much needed material for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to understand the true position of Muslim women in Islam.
On the other hand, many unfair writers, orientalists, secular Muslims, and supporters of the feminist movement, have tried to condemn Islam and label it as demeaning, humiliating, and unjust toward women. They have accused Islam unjustifiably by saying that its teachings encourage the mistreatment of women and favour the male gender over the female, which is far from the truth. In recent years, with the increase in domestic violence, particularly in North America and among Muslim families, these writers have also incorrectly tried to link this increase to the concept of Qawamah. Let me say it loudly and clearly, our faith has no room for domestic violence, but unfortunately some Muslims are committing it, sometimes in a fit of rage or as a way to resolve marital conflicts. This is completely unacceptable from an Islamic point of view and is strongly condemned by Muslim scholars, leaders, and community activists alike. Islam should not be held hostage by the behaviour of certain ignorant and disobedient Muslims.