Perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misconstrued verses in the Qur’an by Muslims and non-Muslims alike is verse 4:34, the so-called ‘chastisement verse.’
Those who claim that the verse allows husbands to hit their wives argue that the verse suggests a three step solution in the event of a family dispute where ill-conduct has been committed on part of the wife. The verse instructs first that the husband may exhort his wife and appeal to her reason (wa‘ẓ). If the problem continues, the husband may then express his displeasure by sleeping in a separate bed. If the wife persists in the deliberate mistreatment of her husband, expression of contempt, and disregards her marital obligations, the husband, they argue, as a third step, may resort to ḍarb as a means to ‘save the marriage’.
The verse prescribes these three conflict resolution measures in the case of a dispute between husband and wife. The most contentious segment of the verse is the imperative waḍhribūhunna (hit them). The word, coming from the trilateral root ḍ-r-b, in this verse has commonly appeared in modern English translations of the Qur’ān as “hit” or “beat lightly”. The addition of “lightly” reflects a dependence on traditional commentary (tafsīr) of the verse. Other translators have instead used words such as “tap” and “pat” to represent a physical type of admonishment that is not at the level of hitting or beating. All of these translations, I would argue, do not take into account the context of the verse vis a vis the passage following it. Others have posited seemingly far-fetched translations, wherein, they argue; ḍarb implies sexual intercourse, or the temporary separation of husband and wife. Although the Prophet did separate from his wives when a dispute arose, I argue that this is not the primary purport of the verse.
Insofar as a translation must maintain a ‘literal’ expressive framework, the most adequate one-word translation of the word ḍaraba would be “to percuss” or, “to strike’’ or tap lightly as a doctor would examine a patient”. In this study, however, I will show that the real meaning of waḍribuhunna is not literal, but that the imperative is a stand in for a metonymic expression of anger and display of displeasure. This interpretation, I argue, has basis in the works of the Muftī (judge) of Makkah and the student of Ibn Abbās (interpreter of the Qur’ān), ‘Aṭā’Ibn Abī Rabāḥ (d. 114 AH), and is, in fact, suggested by the writings of a large number of scholars.
In this brief study I will provide a comprehensive overview of the phrase waḍribūhunna from it’s linguistic (lugha/philology), rhetorical (balāghīyya), jurisprudential (fiqhiyya), exegetical (tafsīriyya) framework, and include some supporting traditions (ḥadīṭh) of the Prophet. I will not be able to delve into similar discussions surrounding the terms qawwāmūn, wahjurūhunna, nushūẓ (in detail) and other such controversial terms in this particular verse will not be the focus of this article. They will be addressed in a much more extensive study “Spousal Reprimand in Islam”, God willing. The following remarks on the phrase wadhribūhunna are only summarized from it.
I was pleased to read this booklet written by my dear brother, Imām Abdullāh Hasan under the title “The End to Hitting Women: The Qur’ānic Concept of Ḍarb (‘hitting’)”. Imam Abdullah is bringing new insights into the interpretation of verses from the Qur’ān that are often misinterpreted and misused to justify violence and oppression of women, a position taken by several (mis-)interpreters in a way that is unfair to Islam and its eternal teachings.
We need such insights to understand the book of God and the traditions of His Prophet (peace be upon him), especially with regards to two subjects: women and governance. Several (mis-) interpreters have rendered such subjects in a way which, in my view, is contrary to both the spirit and objectives of the Sharī‘ah.
The question then arises: how can we differentiate between a valid interpretation or re-interpretation (which is the case here) and an invalid misinterpretation? We must resort to the absolute and universal objectives (maqāsid) of the Sharī‘ah.
Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 748 AH/1347 CE), one of the greatest scholars of Islam, described the Sharī‘ah as follows:
“Sharī‘ah is based on wisdom and achieving people’s welfare in this life and the afterlife. Sharī‘ah is all about justice, mercy, wisdom, and good. Thus, any ruling that replaces justice with injustice, mercy with its opposite, common good with mischief, or wisdom with nonsense, is a ruling that does not belong to the Sharī‘ah, even if it is claimed to be so according to some interpretation.’’
Thus, we can argue that the same verses that Hasan explains here were previously subject to misinterpretation because the outcome and the meaning go against these absolute and eternal values of Islam: justice, mercy, wisdom, and goodness. In the issue of marriage, specifically, God says:
“And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put Love and mercy between your (hearts), verily in that are signs for those who reflect.”
With regards to marriage specifically then, we can add a fifth objective: love. It is about time that our fiqh (Islamic ethics and rules) are renewed in order to align our behaviour with these eternal and absolute values; justice, mercy, wisdom, goodness, and love. These absolute objectives are fixed ends that reign over the changeable means, and their universality governs how we understand the Sharī‘ah in different contexts of place and time.
May God reward Abdullah Hasan and widen the circles of benefit of his works.
Dr. Jasser Auda
Guilting Victims Is Disobeying God: The Abuse of Forgiveness
It is undeniable that God loves forgiveness. It is also undeniable that God views forgiveness as exponentially more superior than blame, punishment, and retaliation. Personally, I highly doubt that there is in existence a single survivor, even one trapped in toxic anger and bitterness, who would deny this fact. So the question here isn’t really about God loving forgiveness. Rather, the question is about whether or not we—the judgmental outsiders (even if we happen to be survivors)—accept that God also loves justice.
The question is also about whether or not we sincerely accept that God supports whatever decision victims of wrongdoing make in addressing what happened to them, so long as they don’t violate anyone’s rights in the process.
In forced forgiveness culture, the answer is no to both of these questions: No, we don’t accept that God loves justice, and no, we don’t accept that God supports victims’ right to choice. Yes, many of us give lip service to acknowledging this. But the words are like a dismissive wave of the hand before we get right back to guilting survivors of abuse into doing what we say they must, God’s teachings be damned.
Ironically, in this forced forgiveness approach, it is we ourselves who are in danger of falling into sin and wrongdoing. And this danger is much more imminent than the hypothetical possibility of a survivor’s heart being filled with anger and bitterness if they don’t forgive. However, we are too busy imagining that we know better than everyone else, God included, to even perceive the looming harm hanging over our own hearts and souls.
In Islamic tradition, there are many places in the Qur’an in which God describes the traits of sincere believers. In one part, He prefaces this description with a reminder of the nature of the things humans enjoy in this worldly life. He says what has been translated to mean:
“So whatever you have been given is but a passing enjoyment for this worldly life, but that which is with Allah (i.e. Paradise) is better and more lasting for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord” (Ash-Shooraa, 42:36).
Given that several verses that follow address both forgiveness and wrongdoing, this introduction is quite profound in that it reminds every person, regardless of circumstance, the nature of this transient world and how we should understand our experiences in it. This allows the reader to put his or her mind in the right place before even processing the traits of the sincere believers who will be in Paradise. God goes on to list several traits of these believers:
“And those who avoid the greater sins and immoralities, and when they are angry, they forgive. And those who have responded to [the call of] their Lord and establish the Salaah (obligatory prayer), and who [conduct] their affairs by mutual consultation, and who spend out of what We have bestowed on them” (Ash-Shooraa, 42:37-38).
For those involved in forced forgiveness, they would read this description and immediately think, See! This is what I’m talking about. God says that true believers forgive wrongs! So what’s going on with all these angry, bitter people refusing to forgive those who wronged them? However, in this description of those who forgive, God didn’t mention wrongdoing at all. He mentioned only that they are angry. He doesn’t even mention why they are angry. Yes, wrongdoing is certainly implied in the verse, but it is not mentioned specifically. This is no small point.
Some people might say that this wording is merely a technicality, and that I’m being nitpicky in even pointing it out. Thus, they argue that this wording has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that everyone should forgive, no matter what abuse, oppression, or wrongdoing they suffered. However, when we say this, what we fail to realize is that not only is the emphasis on anger quite significant; it is also the point, as the verses that follow make undeniably clear.
Before quoting the verses about wrongdoing, I think it is important to mention how we should understand the wording of things in the Qur’an, especially when the same topic is addressed more than once in the same context. Generally, whenever a topic is discussed more than once and in some detail, what is and is not mentioned in each context points to important traits we are to focus on in understanding them. In some cases, these important traits are found in contexts outside the Qur’an, such as in the reason for revelation and in the prophetic example. However, in this case, the important traits are mentioned quite clearly in the verses themselves.
In the above context, when forgiveness is mentioned as the immediate response, the emphasis is on the fact that the person is angry, not that he or she has been wronged. The profound wisdom in this emphasis cannot be overstated.
In our daily lives, there are many things that anger us: A friend refuses to speak to us, and we have no idea why. Someone is late picking us up to an important appointment. A business partner agreed to do something then dropped out at the last minute. A person cuts us off in traffic or quickly steals our parking space. Our husband or wife is focused more on their smartphone or career than on us. And the list goes on.
One lesson we can glean is this: When facing day-to-day things that incite anger, for the sincere believer, the default response is that of forgiveness. By praising this trait in His servants, God lets us know that our daily behavior should foster environments of peace, understanding, and empathy instead of hostility and retaliation. No one is perfect. Thus, from time to time, we’ll all be insensitive, unreliable, and even flat out wrong, thereby inciting justifiable anger in others. However, as a general rule, it is in everyone’s best interests to be forgiving and merciful in these circumstances. Otherwise, the world would be full of quarrelsome, vengeful people who feel justified in avenging even the slightest offense.
This is not to say that none of the scenarios I listed are sometimes more serious than they initially appear, or even that we have to forgive these scenarios every single time. I give these examples only to make the point that what is being described in the Qur’an is the fact that sincere believers—those endowed with authentic spirituality—have a forgiving nature. And this nature is manifested most when they are justifiably angry yet still choose to forgive.
However, when an egregious wrongdoing has occurred, the emphasis is no longer on forgiveness; it is on justice. In this case, the sincere believers are described as follows: “And those who, when an oppressive wrong is done to them, they help and defend themselves” (Ash-Shooraa, 42:39).
In the verse that follows, it is only after it is explained that the retribution should fit the crime that the option to forgive is mentioned:
“The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto [in degree]. But if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah. Verily, He loves not the wrongdoers” (42:40).
Interestingly, God does not stop here in discussing the rights of those who have been wronged. He goes on to let victims know that not only do they have full right to not forgive, but also, should they exercise that right, no one has the right to blame them in any way. He says:
“But if any do help and defend themselves after a wrong [done] to them, against such there is no cause of blame. The blame is only against those who oppress people and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice. For such there will be a penalty grievous” (42:41-42).
Here is where seeing and understanding the original Arabic would be tremendously helpful in comprehending the powerful message being conveyed here. However, to get a glimpse of the deeper meaning, I offer this explanation: What is being translated as “there is no cause of blame” (i.e. against the victim who decides to not forgive), a more literal translation would be “there is no path, road, or means [that can be taken] against them.” By using the Arabic word sabeel—which is translated as cause above but has the literal meaning of way, path, or road—God is shutting down every possible justification anyone can use to criticize, blame, or harm a victim who chooses to not forgive.
In other words, it doesn’t matter whether this justification of blame, criticism, or harm is rooted in good intentions or not, if it is directed at the victim of wrongdoing, God simply does not allow it. If we do take this pathway of blame, then we are the ones who are wrong.
Even if we are simply perplexed or sincerely disappointed at their choice to not forgive, once they make their decision, we have no right to express disappointment or criticism, as this expression itself can be a sabeel (a pathway of blame) against them—no matter how harmless, innocent, or well meaning it appears to us.
After God makes this point crystal clear, He then effectively tells us: If you still feel in your heart or mind any inclination to criticize, blame, or express disappointment toward anyone as a result of this circumstance [which resulted in the victim not forgiving], then shift all of your attention back to the one who started this whole problem in the first place: the abuser, wrongdoer, or oppressor: “…The blame is only against those who oppress people and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice.”
Only after God establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt the victim’s full right to choice—and the prohibition of any form of blame or harm against them as a result of their choice—does He return to the topic of forgiveness:
“But indeed, if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs” (42:43).
Be A Caller Not A Judge
I am sure the readers will have come across numerous notices at some mosques discouraging certain types of people attending the mosques. Here is an example of many I have had the displeasure of reading:
‘We will not assist in counselling unless you are Islamically and decently dressed’.
I am not sure whether the advocates of this notice really understand the purpose of counselling or what the role of the imam should be in the community.
To discourage people from seeking help because they may not be ‘appropriately’ dressed in one’s eyes defeats the very purpose of counselling. It takes enormous courage and bravery to seek help and to read these dogmatic and crude attitudes is very disheartening. The job of an Imam/counsellor is not to judge but enable people to explore their concerns and worries.
Counselling is not about preaching to people. It is not about changing people the way you may want others to be. It is certainly not about imposing your understanding onto others. It is not about judging others by how your own worldview is. A counsellor is not there to sit you down and tell you what to do – instead they will encourage you to talk about what’s bothering you in order to uncover any root causes and identify your specific ways of thinking. The counsellor may then look to create a plan of action to either help you reconcile your issues or help you to find ways of coping. A lot of the time those who seek help simply want to be heard and listened to and the counsellor will facilitate that.
One of the impediments of being an effective Imam counsellor is the lack of awareness of other people’s states and conditions as well as the lack of appreciation of the multi natured or the diversity of approaches and intellectual foundations people are exposed to. In order to be effective helpers and practitioners in the community, Imams/counsellors should take into consideration what may be termed as the ‘Diversity- and relationship – oriented empathy’ attitude towards the members of the society.
What is empathy?
Different theoreticians and researchers have defined it in different ways. Some see it as a personality trait, a disposition to feel what other people feel or to understand others ‘’from the inside’’, as it were. Others see empathy, not as a personality trait, but as a situation-specific state of feeling for understanding of another person’s experiences. Covey (1989), naming emphatic communication one of the ‘’seven habits of highly effective people,’’ said that empathy provides those with whom we are interacting with ‘’psychological air’’ that helps them breathe more freely in their associations and connections. Finally, Goleman (1995, 1998) puts empathy at the heart of emotional intelligence.
It is the individual’s ‘’social radar’’ through which he or she senses others’ feelings and perspectives and takes an active interest in their concerns. These and other academics, although they provide us with different definitions, nevertheless, their language is lyrical in giving us the maqsad (spirit) of what empathy denotes. It is a natural trait (jibillat) which also can be acquired through learning and understanding one’s own condition and experiences of others.
The Prophet was fully cognisant of the pivotal role empathy plays in developing astute and diligent human beings and always was keen to educate people from an early age on this important value.
Below are some examples:
- Anas Ibn Malik narrated that “the Prophet used to mix with us (the children) to the extent that he would say to a younger brother of mine, ‘O Abu-‘Umayr! What did the Nughayr (a kind of bird) do?’ “(Bukhari). This demonstrated to the children that they were valued. This was the Messenger of Allah, who was a leader of thousands, a husband, father – despite these and other heavy duties and obligations, he had time to play with the children. This made them feel that they are loved, cared for and appreciated.
- Whenever he would enter Medinah he would carry his grandchildren and other children nearby on his mount. Again, given them the important attention children need.
- In another well-known tradition, a young companion related that he spent many years with the Prophet and not once did he complain or rebuke him.
- He would carry his granddaughter Umamah on his shoulders even while he was praying. Some narrations mention that he hastened to complete the prayer because of them. These and other examples show the great teacher and counsellor the Prophet was (peace be upon him).
Learning, inculcating and teaching empathy may solve many of the problems we face in our society.
The WAVE Trust, an international charity dedicated to raising public awareness of the root causes of violence in the society and the ways to reduce it, commissioned research that came up with some amazing findings: ‘’Empathy is the single greatest inhibitor of the development of propensity to violence. Empathy fails to develop when parents or prime carers fail to attune with their infants’’ (Hosking & Walsh, 2005, p.20). To attune to a child means ‘’attempting to respond to his or her needs, particularly emotionally, resulting in the child’s sense of being understood, cared for, and valued’’. (p. 20)
In many instances, it is argued that those who carry out acts of violence or cruel behaviour in the society have had issues and problems at their early life which were not dealt with but suppressed, and in their later stage of their life some external agent (s) or incident triggers some of the feelings and they lash out expressing their inner turmoil which results in cruel and sometimes inhumane behaviour.
As stated above it is of paramount importance for Imam counsellors to understand that the people they serve originate from diverse backgrounds. People will differ in ability, age, economic status, education, ethnicity, group culture, national origin, occupation, personal culture, politics, religion – to name a few. It is from the prophetic methodology to incorporate these variables and factors in one’s dealings with people. Below are some examples from the sunnah to illustrate some of the approaches being discussed:
- While the prophet was once returning to his house after talking to his companions in the mosque, a Bedouin pulled him by the collar and said rudely: ‘O Muhammad! Give me my due! Load up these two camels of mine. For you will load them up with neither your own wealth nor the wealth of your father.’ To this impertinence the prophet responded without expressing any sign of offence: Give that man what he wants! (Abu Dawud). The Prophet understood the nature, cultural difference, economic status, and psychological state of the Bedouin and did not resort to rebuke him for his rudeness and disrespect towards him.
- Zayd ibn San’an narrates: Once, Allah’s Messenger borrowed some money from me. I was not yet Muslim then. I went to him to collect my debt before its due time, and insulted him, saying; ‘You the children of ‘Abd al-Muttalib, are very reluctant to pay your debts!’ ‘Umar became very angry with this insult of mine and shouted; ‘O enemy of Allah! Were it not for the treaty between us and the Jewish community, I would cut off your head! Speak to Allah’s Messenger politely!’ However, Allah’s Messenger smiled at me and, turning to Umar, said; ‘Umar, pay the man his debt! And add to it the amount of twenty gallons because you have frightened him!’ Umar relates the rest of the story: ‘We went together. On the way, Zayd spoke to me unexpectedly; O Umar! You got angry with me. But I have found in him all the features of the Last Prophet recorded in the Torah, the Old Testament. However, there is this verse in it: ‘His mildness surpasses his anger. The severity of impudence to him increases him only in mildness and forbearance.’ In order to test his forbearance, I uttered what I uttered. Now I am convinced that he is the Prophet whose coming the Torah predicted, so, I believe and bear witness that he is the Last Prophet.’ (Suyuti, al-Khasais). The mildness and empathy of Allah’s Messenger sufficed for the conversion of Zayd, who was on another religion and culture.
- Even in the realm of worship, the Prophet was diligent and understood the different abilities and circumstances of the people. When a complaint was circulated about an imam because he prolonged the prayer, the Prophet climbed the pulpit and said: O you people! You cause aversion in people from prayer. Whoever among you leads a prescribed prayer should not prolong it, for there are among you people who are sick or old or who are in urgent need.’ (Bukhari). He even reproached his beloved companion, Muadh ibn Jabal when he prolonged the night prayer, saying, ‘Are you a trouble-maker? Are you a trouble-maker? Are you a trouble-maker? (Muslim)
- The Prophet said, ‘No Arab is superior over a non-Arab, and no white is superior over black (Ahmad), and superiority is by righteousness and God-fearing alone (Sura Hujurat, 49, 13). He also declared that even if an Abyssinian Black Muslim were to rule over Muslims, he should be obeyed. (Muslim). During the time of the Messenger of Allah, the same kind of racism we encounter today, under the name of tribalism, was prevalent in Makkah. He understood the biases and prejudice people had and eradicated it from the outset.
These are few examples out of many where the Prophet showed and articulated diverse and multicultural competencies. The more Imam counsellors understand the broad characteristics, needs, and behaviours of the people they serve, the better positioned they will be to demonstrate the true compassionate nature of Islam.
Below is a basic list of competencies adapted from different books, articles and experiences of individuals:
- Beware of your own personal culture, including your cultural heritage, and how you might come across to people who differ from you culturally and in a host of other ways.
- Beware of the personal-cultural biases you may have toward individuals and groups other than your own.
- As an Imam/counsellor, be aware of both ways in which you are like any given individual you are helping and ways in which you differ. Both can aid or stand in the way of the support process.
- Come to understand the values, beliefs, and worldviews of groups and individuals you will encounter. In other words, to feel what other people feel or to understand others ‘’from the inside’’, as indicated above.
- Come to understand how all kinds of diversity, group, cultural, ethical or otherwise, contribute to each person’s dynamic make up.
- Be aware of how socio-political influences such as poverty, oppression, stereotyping, discrimination, prejudice, and marginalisation might have affected people with whom you encounter or with those you are trying to have a dialogue.
- Establish rapport with and convey empathy to people. Both in the individual and collective capacity.
- Initiate and explore issues of difference between yourself and the people you are working with. Always bearing in mind that Islam does not place any barriers between people. In the end your interactions (and the barriers between us and them) with people are personal.
- Design non bias strategies and plans for people that factor in the diversity, education and upbringing they received.
- Finally, asses your own level of competence and strive to improve in all areas outlined above.
To conclude, our approach should be about working with people the way they are, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, however, it does not imply that you need to apologise for who you are.
Written in 2009, posted with minor modifications.
UK Faith Leaders Launch Call For UK Government To Take Critical Action On Violence Against Women
Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Hindu faith leaders gathered in the House of Lords to launch a joint call for UK Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women – and for MPs to support the Istanbul Convention Private Member’s Bill (PMB) by voting for it on 16 December.
The gathering, hosted by Lord McColl and organised by the IC Change campaign for the Istanbul Convention, Restored and Faith Action, follows on from faith leaders’ declaration against domestic abuse launched in 2015.
This call from faith leaders comes as, on average two women in England and Wales are killed every week by a current or former male partner and 85,000 women are raped and more than 400,000 sexually assaulted each year.
Violence against women and girls takes many forms and is widespread in the UK. The Istanbul Convention is the strongest tool in the box that the Government has to respond.
The Convention – aptly described as ‘the best thing you’ve never heard of’ – is a set of life-saving minimum standards on tackling violence against women for a State’s response to the epidemic.
If the UK Government ratified the Istanbul Convention, it would bring unprecedented positive change for women and girls – supporting those experiencing violence, ensuring a stronger prosecution system, and stopping violence from happening in the first place by dealing with its root causes. It would protect funding for domestic violence shelter, rape crisis centres and ensure education on healthy relationships in schools.
The Government promised to make the Convention law over four and a half years ago and it still has not happened.
That’s why faith leaders have united to call on the UK Government to demonstrate its commitment to ending violence against women by making the Istanbul Convention UK law.
More immediately, faith leaders are calling on MPs to attend a debate on 16 December on a life-saving bill for women that would require the UK Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention – and to vote in its favour. And they are asking people across the UK to write to their MPs to ask them to do this. Please find details below on how you can get involved!
Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester, says: ‘Violence against women is an injustice and a violation against the dignity of human beings made in the image of God that the Church must speak out on. The Istanbul Convention provides a strong, practical framework to help us tackle the issue comprehensively in a way that has never been done before’.
‘As faith leaders it is our duty to combat the menace of domestic abuse in our society. We must show unity to call our leaders to do whatever it takes to protect the most vulnerable people in the society,’ Abdullah Hasan, Imams against Domestic Abuse.
This December we have a rare opportunity to change the individual stories of women and girls across the UK who face violence every day and secure this vital protection from violence for them.
Rabbi Sybil Sheridan, adds: ‘We urgently need a stronger framework in which to combat such evils, to make people more aware, to enable us to combat it, to prosecute the perpetrators and prevent its recurrence. This is exactly what the Convention provides’
Faith leaders are calling on people to support this bill by writing to their MP and asking them to go to the debate and vote for the bill.
So what can you do to get involved?
We need to make sure that 100 MPs turn up to Parliament to support it so that it can pass on to the next stage.
However, the 16th December is on a Friday morning – a time when many MPs would normally be in their local constituencies. That’s why we need your help to it’s essential for to contact your MP and to tell them why it’s so important for them show up and support the Bill.
Please write to your MP or arrange to meet them to ask them to attend the debate on 16 December and vote in favour of the Istanbul Convention bill.
You can find all the resources you need here on the IC Change website, including a template letter to help you write to your MP and top tips for meeting your MP. Let IC Change know at firstname.lastname@example.org if your MP says yes.
@ICchangeUK I #ChangeHerstory #IstanbulConvention I www.icchange.co.uk/pmb
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