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Don't Hold All Muslims Responsible for Men Who Misuse Quran, Beat Women

by Summer Hathout
Published in LA Daily Journal

Whenever I tell people that I speak to Muslim audiences about domestic violence, I get the same reaction: "Wow, you must have your work cut out for you." Why do I get this response? Why do people think Islam is violent? Why do people think Muslims are misogynists?

The answers elude me. Are there violent Muslims? Yes. Are there misogynistic Muslims? Yes. Are there violent Christians, Jews and atheists? Yes. Are there misogynistic Christians, Jews and atheists? Yes. So why aren't those groups as misunderstood and vilified as Islam? Is the answer as simple as racism and prejudice? I hope not.

We, as Americans, have a very deep misunderstanding of Islam. How do I as a Muslim-American female attorney rectify the problem? First, I don't hide who I am. I try to let people know that I am not the "exception to Islam" - I didn't somehow end up being a decent person despite my religion. All the good things that I am are because of Islam. Second, I try to inform others about Islam (this includes Muslims). Third, I don't let the constant prejudice deter me.

When I speak about domestic violence, I explain to my audience that violence against women is not the monopoly of any single group. Studies indicate that domestic violence affects all segments of society irrespective of race, religion or socioeconomic status.

With this premise in mind, how is the issue of domestic violence different for Muslims? Some Muslims believe that the teachings of Islam allow wife beating in certain circumstances (this number is small but it is this segment of Muslims that gets the most media attention). Why does this small group of Muslim men think they can beat their wives? The answer lies in one word: daraba. This word, or its derivatives, is used in the Quran in several places (Muslims believe the Quran is the divine word of God, revealed to Muhammad, a prophet, through the angel Gabriel).

One translation of Chapter 4, Verse 34 of the Quran states, in part, "And as for those women whose ill-willed rebellion you have reason to fear, admonish them first; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them; and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them." (Muhammad Asad translation).

Another translation of the same verse states, "As for women you feel are averse, talk to them persuasively; then leave them alone in bed; and go to bed with them when they are willing. If they open out to you, do not seek an excuse for blaming them." (Ahmed Ali translation).

Note the differences in the translation of the Arabic word daraba. One translation indicates beating while the other indicates consensual sexual relations. These are only two meanings of daraba. The same word also can mean to separate, leave or depart.

The Quran itself uses daraba 16 times, and in nine of those instances, the meaning is to separate or depart.

Note also that we have not discussed the meaning of women's ill-willed rebellion or aversion, according to the Quran, that would lead a man to take the steps outlined in Chapter 4, Verse 34. That conduct (regardless of how one interprets daraba) is an issue of debate among Islamic thinkers and scholars.

Moreover, the general principles of a relationship are unambiguously stated in Chapter 30, Verse 21 of the Quran: "Another of God's signs is that he created mates out of your own kind so that you may get peace of mind from them, and has put love and compassion between you. Verily there are signs in this for those who reflect."

Which interpretation of daraba is more popular? Unfortunately, the one that connotes beating. But we need to consider why that translation is more popular while ones that are more in tune with the flow of the verse and the overall teachings of Islam are not.

Islam was introduced to Arabian society more than 1,425 years ago. That society, like the rest of the world at that time - and much of today's world - was dominated by a patriarchal elite power structure. That power structure did not take kindly to the advent of Islam, in particular the Islamic teachings of equality among all people, including women and slaves.

The teachings of Islam posed a threat to the Arabian power structure, which had not encountered a similar threat to its very existence. Aside from persecuting the early followers of Islam, the power elite needed to dilute the teachings of Islam.

Unfortunately for women, much of the corrosion in Islam's message pertained to issues related to women. Why? Historically women have been easy targets; it was an easy way for the powerful to ensure they maintained control over at least one segment of society.

The subjugation of women is important on a number of societal levels for the power elite.

Once women are excluded from the potential power base on a societal level, the next logical step is to exclude them from decision making or power at the domestic level.
As women are oppressed in the microcosm of the home, the battles needed to overcome that tyranny overshadow the battle for equality in the macrocosm of society, and women are thus relegated to a status of second-class citizen or worse amongst less-informed Muslims who live in a tribal-like environment.

To those of us who know Islam and the Quran, violence against women is so antithetical to the teachings of Islam that we look at those who use our religion against us as misguided, misinformed or malevolent.
Summer Hathout is a prosecutor in Los Angeles and an activist for women's rights.


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