Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition

By Osama, Esraa | Journal of International Women's Studies, January 2016 | Go to article overview

Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition


Osama, Esraa, Journal of International Women's Studies


Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition. By Ayesha S. Chaudhry. Oxford University Press, 2013. 288 pages. ISBN: 9780199640164

In her book Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition, Ayesha Chaudry gives an extensive study of the Qur'anic verse (4:34) that describes the relationship between men and women with an explanation of the behavior of women in accordance to being good or bad, and how the husbands have the authority to discipline their wives. The verse says

"Men are qawwamun (in authority) over women, because God has preferred some over others, and because they spend of their wealth (to maintain them). Righteous women are obedient and guard in (their husbands ') absence what God would have them guard. Concerning those women from whom you fear nushuz (disobedience/ rebellion), admonish them, and/or abandon them in bed, and/or wa-dribuhunna (hit them). If they obey you, do not seek a means against them, God is most high, great." (Q4:34).

Chaudhry's book is divided into two parts that consists of five chapters with an extensive description of the evolution of the interpretation of the verse in three contexts: textual, historical, and cosmological (patriarchal--egalitarian). She argues that the Qur'anic verse can be differently explained through the cosmology of the scholar and his/her inherited community/historical values. Therefore, there is no possible exact meaning that might be valued over the other.

In the first three chapters, Chaudhry demonstrates the traditional Islamic interpretation of the verse according to the 1) history of the revelation of the verse concerning two women: Umm Salama and Habiba, 2) possible textual meanings of the verse surrounding the words admonishment, abandonment in bed, and beating. She points out the selective meanings chosen by scholars in the traditional (pre-colonial) Islamic societies that is different from the post-colonial interpretations because of the difference in the cosmological backgrounds, 3) and then she examines the four major Sunni legal schools in the pre-colonial periods illustrating that despite the different motivations and the variety of concerns of the four legal schools, they agreed on the right of the husband to discipline his wife physically if she committed Nushuz (disobedience/rebellion); however, the beating ought to be "non-extreme" (not to break bones or cause open wounds). Chaudhry here raises the questions: didn't the Qur'an after all say "The Human has nothing but what he/she strives for" (Q 53:39) which means that men and women are equal before God. Most importantly, Prophet Muhammad "a walking Qur'an" never hit his wives, and Muslims were meant to follow his example. Why are men allowed to hit their wives at all; however lightly? Why is violence ever the correct answer to marital dispute? Actually, Chaudhry's questions are valid reasonably based on many verses in the Qura'an that state the equality of men and women before God. Also, it is valid that Chaudry brings the example of the prophet because he is supposed to be the live example that all Muslims should follow.

In the last two chapters, Chaudhry focuses more on the post-colonial Muslim scholarship that is based on a different historical context from that of the pre-colonial one. She divides them in four categories: "Traditionalists", "Neo-Traditionalists", "Progressive", and "Reformist". The main problem that is faced by all contemporary scholars is balancing the traditional and the contemporary concerns facing the egalitarian-authoritative dilemma. Actually, the post-colonial scholars' perspectives is so much diverse ranging from 1) permitting the husbands to hit their wives, 2) hitting the wife with restrictive reasons, 3) hitting the wife; however, lightly, 4) forbidding the beating of wives under any and all circumstances. …

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