This article is in response to a post by Qasim Rashid of the Muslim Writers Guild of America titled, “The Islamic Solution to Stop Domestic Violence” published in the Huffington Post‘s Religion Blog on March 5th, 2012.
Although this post came to our attention a year after it was written, as young Muslim women who have worked with and/or written about gender-based violence issues that have personally affected some of us, we deemed it fit to respond. Also, the points we will discuss here are not only limited to the particular post written by Rashid, but rather address similar arguments that have been made by other writers as well on this issue.
It is a concern to us that Rashid uses the Quran verse 4:34* and proposes that it contains the “Islamic solution” to domestic violence. He states that according to the perspective of an American social scientist Dr. James Q. Wilson, known for his controversial works on the criminal justice system, men are more prone to anger and aggression and less capable of self-restraint than women. This, we assume, the author took from Wilson’s essay, “The Future of Blame” in which he cites what he calls “the claim” of research by neuropsychiatrist Dr. Louann Brizendine. Interestingly, Wilson is also a rational choice theorist on the causation of crime and violence; he argues that individuals make clear, rational decisions after evaluating all possibilities and do that which benefits them the most.
Theories, both biological and psychological, that claim women and men experience and react to anger and violence differently are not new. Christa Reiser, author of “Reflections on Anger: Women and Men in a Changing Society,” writes that there are other variables such as socio-cultural norms, class and age differences, and processes of socialization that explain how men and women react to anger. She writes with regards to a previous research that, “Analysis of independent variables shows that men with low-self esteem, traditional gender roles and attitudes, adversarial sexual attitudes towards women, a history of sexual abuse, and who believe in rape myths generally score higher in hostility towards women.”
For Rashid to cite only one viewpoint about the causes of male violence and then to conclude that men have a natural inclination to violence against women is not only biased, but it is also playing into the patriarchal stereotype that men are solely dominated by brute forces, and are therefore unable to control their instincts. This is unfair to men, for not all men are like this; we know of many men who are not violent nor are they inclined towards violent behaviour. And though some violence may occur in most cultures, it is important to remember that because we are living in a global culture of violence against and subjugation of women, we cannot automatically conclude that violence is part of human – or male – biological nature. We believe violence is a choice; it is not genetically mandatory, nor is it innate.
Further, Rashid uses the typical ploy of citing facts and figures from the United States to explain that domestic violence is not only a “Muslim” problem. Of course it isn’t! Women all over the world experience domestic, as well as other forms, of violence regardless of their nationalities or religions. And we all know this. What becomes a “Muslim” problem, however, is the various interpretations of tradition that justify domestic violence, and in the author’s case to seek a ‘solution’ to domestic violence using the Quran. Certainly there are many interpretations of the Quran verse 4:34,* and there are even feminist efforts through initiatives such as WISE (Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality and their Muslim Women’s Shura Council) that try to make sense of the verse.
Nevertheless, we are appreciative that Rashid stated that the verse in fact restricts the husband from using violence; he thus promotes the adoption of a restraint and reconciliation approach–this is certainly a more progressive interpretation than many. Yet, while this interpretation may serve as a “preventative” measure, it is not necessarily a “solution.”
According to our understanding, verse 4:34* is as a one-way street when it comes to placing faultlines, as it rests on the assumption that that the woman has endangered the relationship with her husband in some way. In the instance where a husband may be at fault, Rashid sys the solution is simple: “[for] women who fear harm from their husbands, Islam gives women an even easier path: demand their husbands to stop their egregious behavior or file for divorce.” Here, the author is deeply mistaken if he believes the “easier path” would suddenly put an end to domestic violence. Neither “demanding” nor “divorcing” is an option for many women, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. This is because many women are highly dependent on their male family members – both economically and socially – especially when it comes to their livelihood, security, and other dependencies. Additionally, there are socio-cultural burdens around ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ which affect many women at a deep psychological level.
Conversely, we know today that domestic violence is not only limited to spouses, for many children, elderly women, daughters, sisters, and mothers, etc. are also subject to violence at the hands of their male family members, as well as from female family members (i.e. a mother-in-law abusing the daughter-in-law and vice versa).
Hence, Rashid’s method of offering a solution to domestic violence using verse 4:34* requires a deeper analysis and review. His method is not only exclusionary, it is also inadequate to reach a conclusion based on the living realities of Muslim women. The root cause of gender-based violence is the imbalance of power between men and women, resulting in gender inequality and discriminatory patriarchal practices against women. And in order to resolve this issue, a greater understanding and promotion of gender equality is necessary at all levels, including the promotion of positive masculinity (which the author admirably mentions) and shared gender roles. The most highly erroneous assumption in discussions of domestic violence is that women are solely or primarily to blame for allowing domestic abuse and violence to occur – and this perspective needs to change.
Thus, men and women need to work collaboratively to address these issues at both the domestic and local levels, as well as to ensure that they raise their children in a community that believes – truly believes – that men and women are equal. And this will only be possible through meaningful, rational and open-minded dialogue in order to gain a deeper understanding of the living realities that exist within the communities we live in.
*Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.
Shireen Ahmed is a frontline worker in Social Services, writer and footballer living in Toronto. Her passions include #VAW advocacy, her amazing family, football, coffee and her two cats. She contributes to various magazines and writes about her experiences in football, empowerment of women, girls and marginalized people through sport in her blog “Tales of a Hijabi Footballer” at www.footybedsheets.tumblr.com. You can follow her on twitter: @shireenahmed
Nasreen Amina is the Muslim name for Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente, a Feminist Writer, Gender Journalist and specialist in social communication and grass roots projects. She is a Muslim and pioneer of Islamic feminism in Latin America. Nasreen is also a lecturer on women’s rights and activist against gender violence and religious fundamentalism issues.
Ayesha Asghar is a Pakistani Canadian Muslim woman. She is currently a joint major in Forensic Science and Chemistry at Trent University. Anti-racism advocacy & activism has been her passion since she has been a part of Canadian culture. She was Anti-Racism Commissioner at Trent Central Students Association (TCSA) for year (2009-2010), and recipient of BlogHer International Activist Scholarship 2013.
Samar Espazai a visual artist and Ph.D. student in International Rural Development and Gender Studies. She blogs athttp://sesapzai.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sesapzai.
Hyshyama Hamin is currently Program Manager of Sisterhood Initiative at AVA Projects, an online network for free self expression of Muslim women that celebrates a diversity of voices & encourages sharing of art, ideas & experiences. Read the blog at www.sisterhoodnetwork.org and follow on Twitter @SISTERHOODART.
18 thoughts on “Response to “The Islamic Solution to Stop Domestic Violence” by Samar Esapzai, Shireen Ahmed, Vanessa D. Rivera, Ayesha Asghar, and Hyshyama Hamin”
So glad to hear all of you say: “The root cause of gender-based violence is the imbalance of power between men and women.” I recently read the same statement in an analysis of gender violence in Greece. Here in Greece there is very little discussion of gender violence and also very little discussion of power imbalances between women and men. The two discussions must be opened together, as you say so well.
When I was in my teens I decided to read the Koran for myself. I got to the bit where its says how, when and why a husband my hit (smack, beat, chastise, correct) his wife, and threw the book in the bin. Since then any defence of wife-smacking (beating, correcting, chastising, whatever) by various Muslim scholars leaves me feeling physically sick.
As with the apologists for Christian ‘discipline’ within marriage, I strongly suspect that there is a buried sado/masochistic erotic agenda at work here – men who get a hard-on hitting women like to think their god approves.
The idea of ‘correcting’ your wife (you don’t even have to smack her, just stand her in the naughty corner for half an hour) is the root of this sickness: the male as representative of a single, all powerful, masculine deity who will brook no challenge to his authority. Monotheism supported by political violence has much to answer for.
To me, it calls for courageous men who are prepared to fight for women’s equality, and particularly to educate their peers and young boys/men, to use compassion and love when dealing with all female members in their family. Of course, It suits men to believe that they have little power over their thoughts/feelings, to believe that “I raped her because she was dressed/walking provocatively,” and “I hit her because she refused to do what I asked.”
I’d like to see a follow up post, which champions men who are standing up for women’s rights.- for instance Ziauddin Yousafzai, whose daughter, Mulala, almost lost her life because she campaigned for girls’ education, as did her dad. WE are part of the solution, and we need to CELEBRATE those men who have the courage!
I have been compiling information for a synopsis of my formerly published book, “I Will Love Unloved” and I continue to wonder why women aren’t aware of biblical texts that tell of their importance, influence, and rights. And then why women of today have trouble claiming those rights. (Yes, I know, patriarchy and its power). Here is another small section of my findings:
Misperception # 3. Women were not considered influential, or independent – that women’s rights were limited….
Women and their deeds play a prominent role in these early struggles. Much of that material is not known because it has been mistranslated, misunderstood, eliminated, or downplayed. I tell many of these stories in “I Will Love Unloved.” There is Sarah, who overturns an ancient Babylonian law about her marital position and gains rights as the “legal wife.” Rachel and Leah spoke of “our money.” (Gen. 31:15) Tamar also stands up for her legal marital rights and wins her point. There is the prophetess Miriam and her victory song. Zelophehad’s daughters are given portions of land, as is Achsah when she asks for some from her father. Ruth, a woman from a foreign tribe, adopts the religion of the ELoHIM. She is the one who makes the well known statement “Do not beg me, to leave you, to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge, your people my people, and your ELoHIM my ELoHIM.” (Ruth 1:16 MT) Judith was wealthy and had a woman overseer for her property. (Jth. 8:4-8) A Jewish woman, Mibtahiah, of about 486-465 B. C. E., was written about on papyri. There are records of deeds to property she owned. Other records of the time list Jewish women as contributing to the Jewish Temple showing that they were financially independent. In the book of Job, Job gave his daughters “inheritance rights like their brothers. (Job 42:15) and brothers and sisters ate and drank wine together. (Job 1:13, 18 LXX and MT) In Proverbs 31 a woman buys land.
Women such as Deborah ordered officers to battle in defense of the Israelites The woman, Jael, killed the attacker SIsera, and was called “most blessed among women” while Barak, Deborah’s male military officer, behaved in a cowardly way. Deborah judged/oversaw the Israelites for 40 years and was given lasting acclaim. The biblical text says that: “Powerful men in Israel failed they failed until Deborah arose, until she arose a mother in Israel.” (Judges 5:7 LXX). Most readers of the English translation remain unaware of Deborah’s prowess because the words “Powerful men” have been translated as “rustics ceased.” Judith is another Israelite heroine who advised men, outwitted an enemy, beheaded him, and saved her people. In another conflict a woman threw a millstone down on an invaders head “and crushed his skull.” When questions are asked today about women in the military and whether they will be competent, these ancient texts could be kept in mind. Esther was a Jewish Heroine who saved all of her people and wrote the edict that saved them “with all authority/power.” (Esther 9:30 MT) Zorobabel won a wager by describing women as having the ultimate power (1 Esdras 4: 14-17 LXX) and dominion over men. (Esdras 4:20-22 LXX)
Jennifer — you bring out this other type of violence against women — the war with words that erases women from history and makes them ‘helpmates’ to the men and makes it seem as if women never had rights.
Ya banat! :-) Excellent and well-reasoned reply to Rashid’s piece, in which I was happy to see you knock down his straw men, point up inadequacies in his research, highlight questionable interpretations and “solutions,” and provide a thought-provoking discussion of domestic violence, not only in Muslim cultures, but everywhere. Good to hear from our Muslim feminist sisters. Keep kicking that door of “ijtihad” open a little wider: your interpretations are certainly needed. Salaamatum wa barakatum!
I have been thinking about all of the posts I’ve made on this blog and I want to say one thing. I am not religious – I have written the eBook, “A Gender Neutral God/ess” and my former book “I Will Love Unloved” because of the injustices toward women done in the name of religion. That is why we need more reasoned articles like this one today.
If a woman wants to belong to a traditional religion, she needs to realize how that religion has been skewed toward patriarchy. There is an old saying, “Knowledge is Power.” I have been trying to provide some of that knowledge in respect to the Hebrew/Christian religion to help women and interested men. I hope that women in other religions also continue to look closely at their religions and religious documents.
Thank you for this. I wish Barbara G. Walker could get in on this conversation. She is one of our elder matriarchs, and in her book, “The Crone: Woman of Age, Wisdom, and Power,” she advocates that The Crone may need to FORCE men to do what is right. She says, “Men do not voluntarily relinquish their ego trips, war toys, and money games” and “men may dislike angry female voices but they will listen to them, whereas the sweet voices are not even heard.” IMO, participating in patriarchal religion is just helping the guys continue their nasty games.
In regard to feminists in traditional religion. There is an understanding that says, if you are not a member of a path and you challenge it, then you are critic, but if you are a member of the faithful, and you speak out, then you are a prophet. Both voices are needed to create change.
Yes, it’s easy for those of us who have left patriarchal institutions to criticize–and here I point the finger at myself–those who have chosen to remain and struggle from within what we were able to jettison. For whatever cultural, intellectual, societal, spiritual, or familial reasons persons (especially women, who continue to bear the heavy weight of patriarchy) stay, they deserve our attempts to empathize and understand.
As the authors point out in their critique, it also isn’t easy for victims of domestic violence or oppression, especially in traditional cultures, to simply pack their bags and brush the dust of the past from their shoes. I lived for almost three years in Saudi Arabia, and was fortunate to have Saudi women friends who gave me a window into their lives and struggles, which are not inconsequential. They are often wrapped in a very sticky web of circumstances and loyalties which make exit difficult, if not impossible.
Cultural imperatives–in my opinionated crone view–have to be addressed, after all our outside advice is given, by a culture’s own, most thoughtful, members.
Onoosh, thank you for your reply here, especially that we need leaders and members inside to implement what we are all working for. Really that is so hopeful too, because your vision has moved us ahead into a time of a successful change in the status quo. ((-:
I offer my opinion with diffidence but since reading Steven Goldberg’s book: The Inevitability of Patriarchy I have developed a furious ‘bee in my bonnet’: Patriarchy, real or imaginary, is the prime reason for the existence of Feminism. Goldberg presents his theory
with a certain amount of elan, but I am not fully convinced that his endocrinological facts are correct. His theory, nevertheless, troubles me.
Firstly, it speaks for itself that not all men are identical, thank God, and perhaps this is where Goldberg’s theory falters, but they are all remarkably alike which gives credence to Goldberg’s theory.
Some men like to point to history with a flourish and ask the question: “Is it not true that the greatest religious leaders, the greatest artists, the greatest composers, the greatest painters, the greatest poets, the greatest scientists, the greatest administrators, the greatest leaders and so forth, were mostly men? Yes, but was this not because patriarchy favoured them and does this justify the universal resistance to the advancement of women?
Is it not also true that serious crimes , particularly violent ones are mostly committed by men?
Why do some men rape? Because they can. The endocrine system has undoubtedly favoured men physically and has also made them sexually aggressive. I challenge the idea that strong will power can resist a strong sexual drive. Ask Bill, ask Mussolini, ask any body.
If women had generally been stronger then men then most macho men would end up dead
Are there enough men out there whose endocrine activities are of such a nature that it would enable them to dismantle the patriarchal system and, grant women parity at all times Not equality because male and female can never be equal to each other. They are two separate species but they need each other to procreate
In the light of nuclear development, patriarchy has reached its sell by date. Nothing less than parity will do.
Noek — I am new to Steven Goldberg’s work and haven’t read it carefully, but I appreciate your efforts at keeping it in our minds here. I agree totally that patriarchy has reached its sell by date. The problem is whether it is bringing us all down in its death throes. In terms of male endocrines, I so wanted to argue that this violence against women and violence in general is connected to testosterone levels as argued by James Dabbs of Georgia State University in the 90s. But it’s not true. As explained in a Scientific American article http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=strange-but-true-testosterone-alone-doesnt-cause-violence, testosterone can be a result as well as a cause of aggression. Testosterone is related to social dominance. Testosterone is necessary for violence but not sufficient.
Thea: thanks for the link to the piece in Scientific American! I think it’s of interest in the “Steubenville” discussion and Carol’s thread on patriarchalism, too, so I hope you’ll cross-post it in both places.
I’ve been reading the Quran (in English) wanting to understand the religion. I tried to track down the WISE women link and found the site but not the exact reference. I am not very knowledgeable on Islamic history but I thought I read there is no way to separate the religion from the state. And as I read the Quran (please taking into account I am not doing it with a teacher), I see chapters like “Women” and “She Who is Tested” and “Man”. I see it speaking to men, I see it talking about a male god and male behavior. So when you say ‘working for equality between men and women’ I am trying to see how it is possible. When Katharine quoted Barbara Walker above regarding men not voluntarily relinquishing anything, it is an echo of Peggy McIntosh in her White Privilege paper where she says men “will work to women’s statues, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s.” There oppressiveness is unconsciousness. Where is this equality going to come from?
In The Coming of Lilith Judith Plaskow said that the criteria for reforming Judaism cannot be said to be found within the Bible or Jewish tradition. Rather they are found within ourselves and our communities. We are the ones who must choose which aspects of traditions to affirm and which not to affirm. And we need to affirm that too.
Reading between the lines of this post, I think that what these women may be saying is that the criteria for reforming Islam are not to be found exclusively within the Quran or Quranic traditions. They call for “rational dialogue” and taking into account the “lived realities” of women.
In other words, they may be saying that reform of Islam will involve rereading texts and tradition, but also rational dialogue, and a new factor, the voices and lives of women.
Thank you for reference, I am reading it with great interest It is the first time I have had insight into genuine scientific endocrinological opinion, and I defer to their expertise, but I am not fully convinced. The KGB(not my favorite source of scientific information) reported a case where they had captured a senior German spy and turned him into a counter spy after they had castrated him. They say that castration made him easier to control and more co-operative. I admit that this incident does not prove any thing, either way.This brings me to castration as a means of countering serious violent crime committed by the male. It is, in my view, in many, many ways, a better option than capital punishment. I feel that mandatory castration, is a poetic, therapeutic response to rape, but this is another story for another day.
I hope that that story will be told. The idea of mandatory castration to counter serious violent crime committed by males definitely seems like a better option than capital punishment, to me, but as long as males dominate our legal system, I doubt that it will happen. Men like Jimmy Carter give me some hope, though, especially in this article: http://www.womenspress-slo.org/?p=11440