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.

Dawah usually denotes proselytizing of Islam. The Arabic means literally 'issuing a summons' or 'making an invitation.'Wiki

Inviting others to Islam is considered to be an obligation for Muslims. It is a capital offence under Islamic Law for Muslims to accept similar invitations from other religions.

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".

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.

Lucette 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 is 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 men and women are equal in every way.

I insisted that Muslim women were sadly mistaken if they believed that men to whom the Koran grants owner's 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.

Bernard Payeur, January 23, 2006

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