Boreal

Between a Pillar and a Hard Place

A Friendly Disagreement between Husband and Wife

If the Koran is the problem, can it also be the solution?

She had never watched Let The Quran Speak, a half-hour program hosted by Shabir Ally, President of the Islamic Information and Dawah* Centre in Toronto, broadcast across Canada most Saturday nights on Vision TV.

This Saturday’s topic was the controversial verse 4:34 which condones the beating of a spouse who disobeys her husband or whose husband fears she will disobey.

4:34 Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made some of them excel the others, and because they spend some of their wealth. Hence righteous women are obedient, guarding the unseen (their sex) which Allah has guarded. And those of them that you fear might rebel, admonish them and abandon them in their beds and beat them. Should they obey you, do not seek ways of harming them; for Allah is Sublime and Great.

When we came upon the program, Shabir Ally was being questioned by a young woman wearing the traditional headscarf (chador) on the meaning of what is now commonly called "the wife beating verse" by those who don't know any better.

Ally was not put off by her questions and appeared comfortable with being interviewed by a female.

My wife was impressed by the moderate and positive interpretation of the verse given by Ally. He said that verse 4:34 had to be looked at in a much wider context, and in that wider context the Koran did not sanction the beating of one’s wife, but instead, instructed the community to protect and look after wives.

It is one interpretation, it is not mine, and it is not, from my research, the interpretation of the vast majority of Islamic scholars.

Ally's explanation, in my opinion, was also lacking because there was no implicit or explicit admission that women are equal to men and it was, in my view, condescending towards women, though I am sure this is not the impression Ally wanted to convey.

The discussion of Shabir Ally’s interpretation of verse 4:34 would lead us to the trial of Galileo charged with heresy for supporting Copernicus’ theory that the earth revolved around the sun.

In the Bible, it is written that during the Israeli conquest of Palestine, God ordered the sun to stand still in the sky for a day so the Israelites could complete the extermination of the Amorites.

Then spoke Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.

And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day (Joshua 10: 12-13).

God had commanded the sun to stand still, not the earth. To accept Galileo’s explanation would have meant, for Christians raised on the literal interpretation of the Bible, that the Bible was wrong. This was unacceptable to pope Urban VIII.

It was not that Urban VIII did not believe in the Copernican system, he simply wanted Galileo to keep quiet while the Church guided the faithful to a new interpretation of the scriptures concerning the sun interrupting its race across the sky for twenty-four hours.

My wife thought that Shabir Ally was just doing what the informed leadership in Rome had done, gradually getting the believers to abandon a simplistic, literal interpretation of the Koran.

When it comes to women's rights and religion, I believe that this is a dangerous strategy. It’s a strategy that expects women to compromise on fundamental issues such as equality in the hope that one day, an enlightened male religious leadership will declare that:

1) men and women are equal in every way, that men are not superior to women by at least one degree;

2:228 Divorced women should keep away from men for three menstrual periods... women have rights equal to what is incumbent upon them according to what is just, although men are one degree above them. Allah is Mighty, Wise.

2) non-consensual sex is rape even if she is your wife;

2:223 Your women are a tillage for you. So get to your tillage whenever you like...

3) beating your wife (verse 4:34 already quoted) for whatever reason is morally wrong;

4) that marriage is a partnership and the husband cannot end it on a whim, by simply telling a spouse that he is divorcing her and turning her out while she has to appeal to an all-male Sharia tribunal and/or pay her husband a ransom to obtain her freedom;

2:229 Divorce may be pronounced twice**. Then they (women) are to be retained in a rightful manner or released with kindness. And it is unlawful for you [men] to take back anything of what you have given them unless both parties fear that they cannot comply with Allah’s Bounds (by obeying His commands). If you fear that they cannot do that, then it is no offence if the woman ransoms herself [pays money to be set free]. Those are the bounds set by Allah. Do not transgress them. Those who transgress the bounds set by Allah are the wrongdoers.

5) that male heirs are not entitled to the equivalent of the share of two females;

4:11 Allah commands you, with respect to your children, that the male shall inherit the equivalent of the share of two females. If there be more than two females, then they should received two-thirds of what he (the deceased father) leaves; but if there is only one female, she is entitled to one-half …

6) ...

I said to my wife that Muslim women were sadly mistaken if they believed that men, whose religion granted them owners' rights over them will willingly surrender this extraordinary power. There is a reason why Islam is often referred to as "the men's religion", I said.

She said I was being obstinate and unrealistic.

To avoid going to bed upset, we decided to watch the Australian Open where an obstinate and determined Greek Cypriot, Marcos Baghdatis, beat the overwhelming favourite, number two seed American Andy Roddick.


* Dawah usually denotes proselytizing of Islam. The Arabic means literally 'issuing a summons' or 'making an invitation'. Dawah is sometimes referred to as the act of "preaching Islam" (Wiki).

Inviting others to Islam is considered to be an obligation for Muslims.

It is a capital offence under Islamic Law for practitioners of other religions to invite Muslims to cross over to their side of the spiritual divide.

** “Divorce may be pronounced twice” means that the husband can divorce his wife three times. If he divorces her a third time he can never take her back. A divorced woman is expected to leave the family home after experiencing her third menstrual cycle after being informed by her husband that they are no longer husband and wife. Her former husband can allow her to stay longer if he wishes, as long as it is not for ulterior motives, for example to obtain a larger ransom.

January 23, 2006