Equal-opportunity domestic violence?

Like last week’s article on Britain’s apparent condemnation of the entire system of Islamic law, it was the ridiculous headline of this article that got me first. “Al-Azhar backs women’s right to beat husbands“? Hardly. Scholars from al-Azhar University in Cairo have affirmed that a woman who is being abused has a right to fight back in self-defence against her husband’s violence, which is, well, not exactly the same thing as having a right to beat her husband. What on earth was the person who wrote the headline going for? Pure sensationalism?

Of course, the acknowledgment that people who are facing abuse have the right to respond physically in order to protect themselves is important and positive, and it’s good to see Islamic scholars from various countries acknowledging the reality of domestic abuse and the religious right that a woman has to defend herself. I’m really glad to see that the news station covered this.

However, that shouldn’t really be more than a last resort, and should certainly never be a long-term solution. In this sense, the article’s scope seems uncomfortably narrow. It almost implies that the scholars are sanctioning relationships in which both husband and wife are beating each other, because at least that’s equal and the husband’s abuse is being returned in kind. (Or, according to the article’s description of the Turkish scholar, it should be returned “with interest,” which isn’t really a phrase I expected to hear in the context of Islamic law!)

The absence of comments condemning the initial violence means that the onus could be understood as on the person being abused to fight back, which they may not be able to do. I think this is why the headline made me squirm so much; the focus is on a woman’s right to defend herself, but doesn’t explicitly address the initial abuse. The right to self-defence is articulated because everyone should have a right to fight back, but not because domestic violence is wrong in the first place. Sure, we can assume an implicit rejection of violence as well, but it’s almost as if the article is saying, “look, women are equal, because they can beat their husbands back!” Not really a form of equality many women are looking for, I’m guessing.

Also, “Al-Azhar is Sunni Islam’s highest authority”? What, like the Pope? I was pretty sure Islam didn’t have a “highest authority”…

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  • Dude

    I didn’t like how some of the articles reporting on this made it seem as if this is a newly granted right, and that they couldn’t do this in the past.

  • Philip

    For Fatwas Al Azhar is the highest authority.

  • http://www.souvenirsandscars.wordpress.com souvenirsandscars

    Dude – I didn’t like the article period. Not the title, not the actual article, and definitely not the comments.

    Krista – I read it and commented, then made my way over here to see if you’d said anything about it. Thankfully, you had. So as always thanks for letting everyone know what’s what in our ever so trustworthy and unbiased media *rolls eyes*

    - A long time follower, yet first time commenter.
    JAK sisters (and brothers?)

    S&S

  • Sobia

    Sunni Muslims have made Al-Azhar the highest authority. It’s a man-made importance.

    Great analysis Krista! I just wish once and for all all the Muslim authorities would just come out and say that a man cannot hit his wife ever and the verse in the Qur’an that has been used to justify wife-beating has actually been misinterpreted. It seems so easy.

  • Dude

    “I just wish once and for all all the Muslim authorities would just come out and say that a man cannot hit his wife ever…”

    Except in self defense!

  • laila

    Simply great analysis Krista, well said! and Sobia great comment.

    It’s a sad everyday reality for many women around the world, and I hope more women speak up and support each-other, because sadly I don’t feel like the “man-made high authorities” give that much of a damn, once in a while we’ll hear something, besides their not the ones getting beat down. And we don’t hear any “women-made high authorities” around whose words have any influence the public.

    I’m happy a Woman has already stepped up to the plate and beat the man (lol) in reinterpreting the wife-beating verse in the Quran she translated. Because there is no such thing as “the” one and only correct interpretation of the Word of Allah, really only he knows what he truly meant. And I believe Islam is *woman friendly*, yes there’s those superior husband and inferior wife interpretations that some people believe but you have the option to choice the interpretation.

    I thought the same thing- address the essence of the problem. “However, that shouldn’t really be more than a last resort, and should certainly never be a long-term solution.” Ohh no, definitly not a long term solution!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Too bad they didn’t give a short-term solution, it would probably be easier than defending ourselves / fighting back, no one should let the problem get that far along, it’s too dangerous and one’s life could hang in the balance.

    I thought it was common-sense advice, but never the less I’ll appreciate it as a form of their support against domestic abuse. And the more support we can get the better, even if it’s tiny baby steps.

  • Krista

    Salaams, thanks everyone for the comments.

    @ Dude:
    Yeah, totally. And something like defending yourself against violence isn’t exactly an issue that should require scholarly permission…

    @ Philip:
    I agree with Sobia’s point that many people look to Al-Azhar as the highest authority, but that’s not the same as saying that it *is* the highest authority… The system isn’t centralised under one hierarchical body; Sunnis aren’t bound to accept decisions out of Al-Azhar over decisions from other places. That’s what I meant in questioning the way this was phrased.

    @ souvenirsandscars:
    Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you came here to check if we’d talked about it (and I’m glad we didn’t disappoint!) Hope to see you commenting more :) And I hear you on the comments made on the original article… yuck!

    @ Sobia:
    Yeah, I agree with you… Just hope that your comment doesn’t start a whole debate in this comments thread over what that verse *actually* means :P

  • Sobia

    @ Krista:

    hahaha

    I never thought of that. But knowing how some people feel about me I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. But yes, let’s really hope it doesn’t. :)

  • Sobia

    @ Dude:

    haha…yes…perhaps in self-defense.

  • Philip

    Krista, in the original article there is no mention of “pope like hierarchy”. So common sense would point to the fact that no one is claiming that Al Azhar has to be listened to or that it overrides any other legitimate voices. but it IS the highest authority. It has the largest number of people who listen to it and is the most respected in terms of interpretations of law,(govt interference and wahabi/salafi influence aside).

  • samia

    This culture of fatwa for everything is bizzare, what happened to common sense?

  • Imi

    Just a point about domestic violence: In Britain 2 women a week die from being abused. There is a call to the police every 3 minutes regarding a violent incident between couples. I hardly think the West has a clean slate on this issue. AND – those Muslims who abuse the ruling to repremand their wives (and note that the ruling doesnt allow you to HIT your wife!) I would say that they are displaying their non-islamic colours not their islamic ones. In other words NON islam gave them the sick mentality to abuse their wife….not Islam

  • Saha