Current Issues Domestic Violence
Summary of the Issues
A Jihad Against Violence - the Global Muslim Women Shura Council’s condemnation of domestic violence and violent extremism.
Islam is a peaceful and merciful faith that highly respects women. Unfortunately, however, an inaccurate perception exists about Islam and domestic violence.1 This incorrect perception paints Islam as a religion that condones abusive behavior towards women in the domestic sphere and bases its evidence on the misinterpretation of Chapter 4, Verse 34 of the Qur'an.2 Due to the deep complexity of Arabic interpretation and translation (even for native speakers) juxtaposed with historical patriarchal interpretations, Chapter 4, Verse 34 of the Qur'an is often translated incorrectly3 For example, many translations use the following interpretation:
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."
Shari'ah or the Divine Law is the operative formula by which Muslims determine whether an issue is good or ethical.4 The Qur'an is the primary source in analyzing an issue. If, in cases where guidance is not provided in the Qur'an, Muslims looked to the Sunnah (Prophet's example). If guidance is still not provided, then Muslims are to make their own analytical reasoning based on their understanding of the Qur'an, Sunnah, and their own personal life experience. Islamic Law is used by jurists and scholars to interpret the Shari'ah. Islamic Law is flexible and accounts for context and history when analyzing an issue. In addition to the Qur'an and Sunnah (codified in Hadith), it must also pass muster with ijma (consensus), qiyas (reasoning from analogy), and ijtihad (effort of thinking). Muslim jurists have opined that the Shari'ah exists to achieve certain aims or objectives for the well-being of humans. The jurists called these the "Objectives of the Shari'ah" (Maqasid al-Shari'ah). The Maqasid contains six objectives in total. They are the protection and promotion of: life, religion, property (or wealth), family (offspring), mind (reason/intellect, sanity), and dignity. These Objectives are so important that certain laws may, under certain circumstances, be overruled if any of the six objectives are put into jeopardy.5
Thus, there are many elements that are analyzed in order to find guidance in Islam. Furthermore, all elements promote equality between sexes, respect among marriage partners, and reverence for women.
The confusion over the words "daraba" and "nushuz" have led to distorted interpretations of Chapter 4, Verse 34 of the Qur'an. Traditionally, the word "daraba" has been translated as "to strike" or "to beat", which contradicts many chapters in the Qur'an. The confusion exists since "daraba" has over 25 meanings, which change based on context. An intertextual and historical analysis of the word indicates that "daraba" means "to go away from". Scholars from the Global Muslim Women's Shura Council have noted, "while no other passages (in the Qur'an) support the 'beating' interpretation of 4:34, there are other passages that support the 'distancing' or 'going away from' meaning."6 In result, many scholars translate and interpret 4:34 in the following way:
"But those whose resistance you fear, then admonish and abandon them in their sleeping place, then go away from them."7
Similar to the distorted interpretation of daraba in 4:34, the word nushuz has often been incorrectly translated as "disloyalty" or "disobedience". However, in other sections of the Qur'an, particularly in reference to men, the word is interpreted as "to stand up" or "go away from marriage".8 Therefore, this notion of one-sided "obedience" from a wife to a husband does not exist in the verse.
Correct interpretations of the words daraba and nushuz are in agreement with the general notions of non-violence in marital relationships in the Qur'an. For example, Chapter 30, Verse 21 states:9
"And among His signs are that He created for you spouses from among yourselves, that you rest in them. And He made affection and mercy among you. Truly, in that are certainly signs for a folk who reflect."
Chapter 2, Verse 231 states:10
"And when you divorced wives, and they (f) reached their (f) term, then, hold them (f) back as one who is honorable or set them (f) free as one who is honorable. But hold them (f) not back by injuring them so that you commit aggression. And whoever commits that, then, surely, he did wrong himself. And take not to yourselves the signs of God in mockery. Remember the divine blessing of God on you, and what He caused to descend to you from the Book and wisdom. He admonishes you with it. And be Godfearing of God and know that God is Knowing of everything."
In result, the Qur'an unequivocally advocates for amity between marriage partners and peace in the domestic sphere.
The Prophet made countless statements that are codified in Hadith, where he advocated for absolute respect and rights for women. In Sunnah Abu Dawud, it is recorded that he proclaimed, "Never beat God's handmaidens."11 Sunnah Tirmidhi accounts that he also stated that "the most perfect of the believers in faith are the best of them in moral excellence, and the best of you are the kindest to their wives."12
In addition to his words of wisdom, the Prophet's actions reflected respect toward women; he was a walking example of the Qur'an. He was kind and gentle to all of his wives, and he showed utmost respect toward women, despite the tradition at the time. The society in which the Prophet lived was harsh toward women, yet the Prophet never faltered from his position of equality and respect towards women.13
On several occasions when the Prophet disagreed with his wives, he followed the directions of Chapter 4, Verse 34, and stayed away from his wives, rather than implement physical discipline. Thus, as the Shura Council concludes, "based on his actions, the Prophet interpreted (verse) 4:34 to mean 'go away from' not 'beat'."14
Finally, the six objectives of the Shari'ah-- religion, life, mind, family, dignity and wealth--advance equality and respect between the sexes. Domestic violence breaches at least four of these principles. For example, protection of life requires all Muslims to respect the body of the other and thus refrain from any forms of bodily abuse. Likewise, the protection of mind allows spouses and children to flourish into a peaceful and violent-free household. The protection of family is a result of a "loving and trusting relationship between the husband and wife."15 Finally, human dignity is crushed in the face of violence and physical abuse. Thus, the Global Muslim Women's Shura Council opines that domestic violence counters the major objective of what Shari'ah attempted to infuse into Muslim societies since the emergence of Islam.>
Gender-balanced scholarship has shed light on the sacred rights of women in Islam, and continues to affect change in laws in Muslim-majority countries to officially outlaw domestic violence against women.
South and Central Asia
In Pakistan, Parliament signed "Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill" into legislation on Feb. 20th, 2012, which "makes violence against women and children an offence carrying jail terms and fines."16 In the past, a husband who was proven to have beaten his wife was not arrested since the incident was categorized under private domestic affairs.
Despite this legislation, women in Pakistan are still under the threat of domestic violence due to two prevailing problems: patriarchy and illiteracy. Illiteracy affects not only women but also men, thus preventing both genders from understanding the civil rights and religious duties toward one another.
In Afghanistan, the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE) in collaboration with its local partners piloted the Imam Training Program to End Violence against Women (ITP) in order to train imams on five basic rights provided to women in the Qur'an. ITP attempted to clarify "distorted and patriarchal misinterpretations of the Qur'an" and separate tribal customs from religious values. ITP trained 50 imams in Kabul and Jalalabad and has proven to be extremely effective in addressing the underlying beliefs of Afghan communities. President Bill Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative have honored ITP with a "Commitment to Action" award based on its successful outcomes.
Arab Middle East
In Jordan, Laleh Bakhtiar's gender-balanced interpretation of the Qur'an has been "chosen by HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan to appear on his website, http://www.altafsir.com for the 6 million+ visitors to his website."17
In the United States, organizations like Peaceful Families Project and Turning Point for Women and Families advance the legal rights of Muslim-Americans and work to end domestic violence in Muslim families. These organizations not only bring awareness to the issue through workshops but also offer various forms of support (such as counseling, outreach, and crisis intervention) for Muslim survivors of domestic abuse.
Based on the Qur'an, Sunnah and the Maqasid al-Shari'ah, abusive behavior toward women is contrary to the message of Islam. Unfortunately, distorted interpretations of the Qur'an exist due to various socio-political factors. Thankfully, correct interpretations that incorporate the eternal message of peace and well-being for all are increasingly available and have successfully created a shift in the consciousness of the global Muslim community.
1 Domestic violence, also known as "intimate partner violence," is a form of violent or oppressive domination over a family member or partner. It occurs in families and relationships around the world and across culture, religion, race, and geography. Domestic violence manifests in various forms, most commonly as physical violence, but also as emotional abuse and financial control. Many of those who suffer from domestic violence fear for the safety of their lives and are thus reluctant to come forward. Although domestic violence victimizes both men and women, the majority of the victims are women.
2 The Qur'an is the holy text in Islam.
3 Arabic - the language in which the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) - is an extremely nuanced and complicated language to translate. Thus, Qur'anic verses can be translated and interpreted differently based on the context of the phrase and sentence structure.
4 Rauf, Feisal Abdul. Islam: A Sacred Law: What every Muslim should know about Shari'ah (Qiblah Books, 2000), 1.
5 Rauf, Feisal Abdul, 7.
7 The Global Muslim Women's Shura Council, 8.
11 The Global Muslim Women's Shura Council, 4.
13 Ibid, 5, 11.
14 Ibid, 5.
15 Ibid, 4-5.
16 AFP, "Pakistan makes domestic violence a criminal offence", Al Arabiya News, 20 Feb. 2012, http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/02/20/195970.html.
17 Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality. Muslim women: past and present. Laleh Bakhtiar, 2009-2012, 18 July 2012, http://www.wisemuslimwomen.org/muslimwomen/bio/laleh_bakhtiar/.
Related Current Issues
WISE Shura Council Statement on the Issue
Organizations Active on this Issue
R. Ayyub. ‘Domestic Violence in the South Asian Muslim Immigrant Population in the United States.’ Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, Vol 9, Num 3/July 2000.
L. Hajjar, ‘Religion, State Power, and Domestic Violence in Muslim Societies: A Framework for Comparative Analysis’ Law and Social Inquiry Vol. 29 (1), PP. 1-38.
A. Kort, ‘Dar al-cyber Islam: women, domestic violence and the Islamic reformation on the world wide web’ Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs Vol. 25 (3), December 2005. PP. 363-383.
S. Alkhateeb. ‘Muslim Wheel of Domestic Violence’
M.B. Alkhateeb S.E. Abugideiri, Ed. Change from Within: Diverse Perspectives on Domestic Violence in Muslim Communities. (Peaceful Families 2007)
Z. Alwani and S. Abugideiri. What Islam says about Domestic Violence: A guide for helping Muslim Families. (FAITH 2003)
WISE women active on issue
Robina Niaz, Turning Point
Lena Alhusseini, Arab-American Family Support Center
Maha Alkhateeb, Peaceful Families Project
Fatima Outaleb, Union de l’Action Feminine
Azza Kamel, ACT
Aishah Shahidah Simmons, No! Documentary