I ran into this quite interesting article by Asra Nomani in the Jerusalem Post. Nomani is a Muslim modernist and initiated the first mixed-gender Muslim prayers. I bring just a few quotes, but it's a worthwhile article to read through. I feel that much like Irshad Manji, Nomani is taking herself out of the religious community, and as such will have less of a chance of affecting it. You do not need to support mixed-gender prayers in order to come out against wife beating. I hope that more Muslims will come to that conclusion.

Essay: Wife-beating, chapter and verse

When dealing with a "disobedient wife," a Muslim man has a number of options. First, he should remind her of "the importance of following the instructions of the husband in Islam." If that doesn't work, he can "leave the wife's bed." Finally, he may "beat" her, though it must be without "hurting, breaking a bone, leaving blue or black marks on the body and avoiding hitting the face, at any cost."

Such appalling recommendations, drawn from the book Woman in the Shade of Islam by Saudi scholar Abdul Rahman al-Sheha, are inspired by as authoritative a source as any Muslim could hope to find: a literal reading of the 34th verse of the fourth chapter of the Koran: "[A]nd [as to] those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them," reads one widely accepted translation.

The notion of using physical punishment as a "disciplinary action," as Sheha suggests, especially for "controlling or mastering women" or others who "enjoy being beaten," is common throughout the Muslim world. Indeed, I first encountered Sheha's work at my Morgantown mosque, where a Muslim student group handed it out to male worshipers after Friday prayers one day a few years ago.

Verse 4:34 retains a strong following, even among many who say women must be treated as equals under Islam. Indeed, Muslim scholars and leaders have long been doing what I call "the 4:34 dance" - they reject outright violence against women, but accept a level of aggression that fits contemporary definitions of domestic violence.

Western leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, have recently focused on Muslim women's veils as an obstacle to integration in the West. But to me, it is 4:34 that poses the much deeper challenge. How the Muslim world interprets this passage will reveal whether Islam can be compatible with life in the 21st century. As Hadayai Majeed, an African-American Muslim who opened a shelter in Atlanta to serve Muslim women, put it: "If it's OK for me to be a savage in my home, it's OK for me to be a savage in the world."

Source: Jerusalem Post (English)

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