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.