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Q & A Continued

How to understand the Qur'an: Issues of Women's Rights
Doesn't the Qur'an 4:34 Put Men Above Women, Even Giving them the Right to Beat Women?

[For introductory notes to this answer see previous issue on "Wife's obedience to Husband."

Qustion from Adam Seedat, South Africa:
How do you reconcile your view on the wife's obediance to verse 4:34 which deals with the light beating of the wife?

[by Kaukab Siddique]

Many Muslims in our times have delinked the Qur'an from the Hadith which enshrines the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). When these misled Muslims take the Qur'an, they take it one verse at a time and try to make the claim that in itself each verse is ultimate in meaning. Thus when they are faced with chapter 4 verse 34 of the Qur'an, we find Muslims taking these postures:

1. Some say the verse makes men the "rulers" of women.
2. They add that women must obey their husbands (be "qanitat.")
3. They claim that if men display "nushuz" (rebellion) against the husband, then the husband can carry out a three stage withdrawal from the wife, resulting in him beating her (lightly) for her rebellion.
4. The commentary of this group gives the impression that women are the slaves of men.

These are the ‘modernist' apologists who are reacting to the West's attack on the Qur'an. They make weird efforts to twist the meaning of the verse to avoid its obvious meaning. The Pervaizi sectarian types use the dictionary. They find that, Arabic being a versatile language, the word used for 'beating' can also mean having sex. So they grab hold of this straw to, in their thinking, save Islam from barbarism which Western writers accuse it of. For them 4:34 does not imply inequality at all.
[Some writers, who are not Pervaizi but also want to have "Qur'an alone," like Amina Wadud, have worked hard on 4:34 to make it say what it obviously does not.]
The problem with the writings of this group is that it creates a "Qur'an" made in its own image according to which there is no issue of application or context. For them, there is no difference between war torn Afghanistan and an 'Islamic' conference in a Hilton Hotel.

In my book THE STRUGGLE OF MUSLIM WOMEN, I have shown the original, Islamic way of understanding the Qur'an, which is through the Hadith.

My viewpoint is that the Qur'an was a PROGRESSIVE REVELATION. "Progressive" here means that it went from stage to stage. The HADITH indicates and provides SOIAL CONTEXT without which the Qur'an cannot be understood. I note in my book, for instance, that according to HADITH, 4:34 was revealed in the early period of Madina (Sahih of Bukhari, kitab al-Fadail). That was a time when the Muslim community was not perfectly formulated and people coming into Islam, especially women, had to be disciplined to understand that they could no longer keep in touch with men they knew beforehand. Sexual promiscuity was common in pre-Islamic Arab society. Also, on marriage, men would not take proper economic care of the wife. Hence the emphasis on this verse on men being "maintainers and providers" [qawwamun].

I also showed that the word NUSHUZ in 4:34 is not about the willfulness or rebellion of the wife but, as indicated by Hadith, sexual misconduct. It's the kind of loose sexual behavior which can undermine a marriage.

As the Qur'an was revealed progressively, Sura 24 verses 6-10, do not indicate any right to physically discipline the wife. In fact these verses indicate that even where the husband is alleging adultery, he cannot do anything other than to take an oath. The Hadith makes it clear to us that the Prophet (pbuh) forbade men to hit their wives. His SUNNAH, which is the model for all Muslims, shows, according to hazrat ‘Ayesha (r.a.), that he never raised his hand against any woman.

From Hadith, we know that the last verses on male-female relationships were 9:70-71 and these state very clearly that BELIEVING MEN AND WOMEN are EACH OTHER'S GUARDIANS and PROTECTORS. [These verses do not say that men are guardians and protectors of the women.] Obviously, by the time Sura Tauba (chapter 9) was revealed, the Islamic community led by the Prophet (pbuh) had reached its perfection, which of course we know from Hadith.

Those who have a static view of the Qur'an tie themselves into knots by applying the "Qur'an only" method to 4:34 (of course in the process adding the Arabic dictionary while leaving out the Hadith).
(To be continued)

2003-08-02 Sat 07:15ct