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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 20 Apr 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Dehumanising the Muslim woman is contrary to Islamic tenets

By A. Faizur Rahman

 The passage of a law in Afghanistan asking Muslim women to unconditionally submit to the sexual whims of their husbands once in four days is a shocking piece of legislation that seeks to dehumanise women reducing them to mere chattels devoid of human rights. Although this law applies only to the Shia minority, it is outrageous that the Afghan mullahs thought it Islamic to legislate on a private relationship which is confined to the four walls of a bedroom. To add insult to injury the 300 women who were bold enough to protest against this inhuman law were pelted with stones and called “dogs” and “slaves of the Christians.” One fails to understand why motives should be attributed to a democratic protest. How can the moderate Muslims who have always been part of the larger Muslim society suddenly become agents of the West “which is out to destroy Islam?” The truth is that it is the bigoted Talibanised Muslims who are destroying Islam through their misinterpretations and intolerance for progressive ideas. It is they who need to be treated for their fossilized mind-set.

 It is strange the puppet regime of Hamid Karzai, which was installed by the US and its allies to replace the Taliban, is doing exactly what the Taliban would have done if they were in power. If this was what was in store for Afghanistan why were the Taliban replaced at all? In fact, the entire region seems to be relapsing into medievalism with Pakistan signing a deal with the terrorists of the Swat valley to implement their version of the shariah which is symbolized by the brutal and arbitrary public flogging of an young girl without establishing her guilt in a proper court of law, to say nothing about the recent refusal of a Saudi judge to annul the marriage of an eight year old child to a forty seven year old man.

 A deeper probe into the psyche of most of the narrow-minded radicalized jurists would reveal that their interpretations are based on traditional tafsirs (commentaries) written by patriarchal males representing only the experiences of men with either the total exclusion of experiences of women, or their interpretation through the coloured vision of men. This has resulted in women being brought under the control of men to be exploited at will.  For instance, in interesting incident concerning the shariah, The New York Times on March 22, 2007 reported that a German Judge turned down citing the Quran, a Muslim wife's request for a fast-track divorce on the ground that her husband beat her from the beginning of their marriage. The Judge justified her ruling by saying that the couple came from a Moroccan cultural milieu in which it is common for husbands to beat their wives because the Quran sanctions such physical abuse.

 The Judge was obviously quoting one of the most mistranslated verses of the Quran (4:34) which supposedly allows wife beating. The mistranslated word is wazribuhunna which is derived from the root zaraba. Major commentators of the Quran including Ibn Kasir, Pickthall, and Maulana Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, have rendered this word as "beat them" ignoring the fact that the word zaraba has various other shades of meaning. Out of the 50 times it occurs in the Quran, 31 times it has been used in the meaning of "to explain by giving an example." Only 10 times it has used to mean "to strike" but mostly in the context of Moses "striking the rock" or the sea, and angels "striking the faces" of the sinners.  

The verse 4:34 actually talks about the various means at the disposal of a husband to bring about a reconciliation with his wife and obviously beating the wife cannot be an option to sort out differences. Thus, the translation "beat them" is clearly not justified in this context. But unfortunately even today most Muslim societies consider it their Islamic right to beat their wives for disobedience. In other words, the passage of the controversial Afghan law would allow husbands to beat their wives if they refuse sex or step out of the house without their permission. For Islam to be exploited in this manner is indeed shocking given the fact that the Prophet was one of the greatest promoters of women’s rights.

 The same holds true for the punishment of stoning to death for adultery. The primary source of Islamic law, the Quran, does not prescribe stoning as a punishment for any crime much less adultery. It only authorizes the Muslim state to flog those guilty of adultery or fornication but only after the case has been proved by four eye witnesses which is a near impossibility. Even here the flogging is not meant to hurt the person but only to humiliate him. A report in Kitabul Hudud of Bukhari says that when a man was brought before the Prophet for habitual drinking he was asked to be flogged. And it was done with a lash made out of twisted clothing which could not have hurt him. Interestingly, when someone in the group cursed the drunken man saying “May Allah disgrace you” he was chided by the Prophet. Compare this to the brutality of what is being done in the name of Islam today. It is time the ulema worldwide collaborated on a liberal interpretation of Islam in the modern context.

(Source: The Hindustan Times, April 18, 2009)

 The author is student of comparative study of religions. He may be reached at <