Muhammad beating Aisha, and fear as justification for domestic violence
We have already talked about “wife beating” in other posts, as for example here.
Here, we want to stress two things:
A) how Muhammad himself beat his beloved wife Aisha and
B) how it is not necessary to be disobedient towards your husband, FEAR from the part of the husband suffices
A) MUHAMMAD’S WIVES AISHA AND HAFSAH
Being Muhammad’s wife had many great advantages. However, even Aisha and Hafsah (two of Muhammad’s wives) were physically disciplined. Note that in each case when Aisha was struck she was married to Muhammad and she was probably younger than 16 years old.
…When it was my turn for Allah's Messenger to spend the night with me, he turned his side, put on his mantle and took off his shoes and placed them near his feet, and spread the corner of his shawl on his bed and then lay down till he thought that I had gone to sleep. He took hold of his mantle slowly and put on the shoes slowly, and opened the door and went out and then closed it lightly. I covered my head, put on my veil and tightened my waist wrapper, and then went out following his steps till he reached Baqi'. He stood there and he stood for a long time. He then lifted his hands three times, and then returned and I also returned. He hastened his steps and I also hastened my steps. He ran and I too ran. He came (to the house) and I also came (to the house). I, however, preceded him and I entered (the house), and as I lay down in the bed, he (the Holy Prophet) entered the (house), and said: Why is it, O 'Aisha, that you are out of breath? I said: There is nothing. He said: Tell me or the Subtle and the Aware would inform me. I said: Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother be ransom for you, and then I told him (the whole story). He said: Was it the darkness (of your shadow) that I saw in front of me? I said: Yes. He struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you?… Sahih Muslim #2127:
Jabir b. 'Abdullah reported: Abu Bakr came and sought permission to see Allah's Messenger. He found people sitting at his door and none amongst them had been granted permission, but it was granted to Abu Bakr and he went in. Then came 'Umar and he sought permission and it was granted to him, and he found Allah's Apostle sitting sad and silent with his wives around him. He (Hadrat 'Umar) said: I would say something which would make the Holy Prophet laugh, so he said: Messenger of Allah, I wish you had seen (the treatment meted out to) the daughter of Kharija when she asked me some money, and I got up and slapped her on her neck. Allah's Messenger laughed and said: They are around me as you see, asking for extra money. Abu Bakr then got up went to 'Aisha and slapped her on the neck, and 'Umar stood up before Hafsa and slapped her saying: You ask Allah's Messenger which he does not possess. They said: By Allah, we do not ask Allah's Messenger for anything he does not possess…. Sahih Muslim #3506:
Narrated Aisha: Abu Bakr came to towards me and struck me violently with his fist and said, "You have detained the people because of your necklace." But I remained motionless as if I was dead lest I should awake Allah's Apostle although that hit was very painful. Bukhari volume 8, #828
"Narrated Zam'a, "The prophet said, "None of you should flog his wife as he flogs a slave and then have sexual intercourse with her in the last part of the day."" Bukhari volume 7, #132
These four hadith illustrate that striking women was acceptable in early Islam. In the first hadith Muhammad chest-slapped Aisha and "caused her pain". This action is not "wife beating" in the strictest sense, but it shows that a woman can be struck under certain circumstances. Muhammad’s ego was challenged, and he was probably frightened by seeing her shadow late at night. In his anger he struck Aisha.
The context for the second Hadith is that Muhammad had been very upset because of his wives. He almost divorced them all! His closest friends came to cheer him up. Umar mentioned that he had slapped his wife because she wanted more money than he felt he could give. Muhammad laughed when he heard that. Then he pointed out his wives’ demands for more money. As a result, both fathers were angry and slapped their respective daughters. Physical discipline was used to bring the wives into line. Muhammad didn’t slap his wives but he approved others doing it for him.
The context for the third Hadith is Muhammad delayed breaking of camp to search for Aisha’s necklace. This made things hard for his followers because there was not much water. Abu Bakr struck her violently with his fist. While this is not "wife beating" it again illustrates that striking women, even Muhammad’s wife, was an acceptable form of discipline.
In the fourth hadith Muhammad does not forbid wife beating, rather he didn't want them beaten severely as Muslim's slaves were beaten.
These hadith give us glimpses of early Islamic life. They show us how women were thought of and how they were treated. Later Islamic scholars were able to draw from these stories and develop an Islamic system of life and women continued in subjection. If wives were beaten with Muhammad’s approval then that practice would continue. Muslim women today are placed in the same position that Rifaa’s wife was placed: obey or be physically punished. We’ll see several examples of this later.
The Scholars on Wife Beating
All of the scholars agree that a man is to beat a disobedient wife. He can use a stick or use his hand. He is not to break bones but he can beat her like a father beats a disobedient son.
Note the following:
- Tabari said: "then tie them up in their homes and beat them until they obey Allah’s commands toward you."
- The Jalalain and Ibn Abbas establish man’s superiority over women strongly.
- It is permissible for the husband to beat his wife if she has a bad attitude towards him. Once again, "rebellion" is determined by the husband’s standards. The right of judging rebellion places the husband in a powerful position. He evaluates the woman’s attitudes and actions, makes a judgment, and executes his sentence. If his standards change she will have to change accordingly.
- Wherry could see through Muhammad’s rhetoric and state the bottom line: "Women are an inferior class of human beings". That hits the nail on the head and sums up the theology accurately. This is what I noticed after I began to study this topic in depth.
B) Any fear from the man is justified to beat his wife
Here we have the second point that I wanted to stress: it is only the man that determines when and why to beat her wife. If you read Surahh 4:34 carefully, it says that “if you fear”….that means that the standard by which you have the right to beat your wife is determined by the man only. He only needs to FEAR that she will be disobedient, to beat her….what more to say?
Other Islamic writings and statements
1) Muslim Clerics on the Religious Rulings Regarding Wife-Beating: http://www.memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Area=sr&ID=SR2704
This article references many articles and statements by prominent Muslims teaching wife
2) Here is a video of a Muslim cleric teaching wife beating.
3) An Islamic website http://www.aol40.com/beating.htm
Below are several quotes that the Muslim author wrote justifying Islamic wife beating.
a) "The husband is like a "god" to his wife. Wives need to always honor and respect their husbands:
b) "It is important to know that according to Islam, the husband should always be honored and respected in his home as if he were "god". It is important for the wife to realize this fact very well. Stubborn wives have no place in Islam:"
c) "Narrated Qays ibn Sa'd: "I went to al-Hirah and saw them (the people) prostrating themselves before a satrap of theirs, so I said: The Apostle of Allah has most right to have prostration made before him. When I came to the Prophet, I said: I went to al-Hirah and saw them prostrating themselves before a satrap of theirs, but you have most right, Apostle of Allah, to have (people) prostrating themselves before you. He said: Tell me , if you were to pass my grave, would you prostrate yourself before it? I said: No. He then said: Do not do so. If I were to command anyone to make prostration before another I would command women to prostrate themselves before their husbands, because of the special right over them given to husbands by Allah. (Translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud, Marriage (Kitab Al-Nikah), Book 11, Number 2135)""
d) "The wife is responsible for pleasing her husband and making sure that he is always satisfied. It is her Islamic duty!"
e) "It is also important for the wives to know that according to Islam, their husbands are like their "gods". If bowing down to other than Allah Almighty in worship was not prohibited in Islam, Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him would've ordered the women to bow down to their husbands."
About the situation of Muslim Women in Muslim countries:
Islamic wife beating in Turkey: (9.8.2000: here and here)
Islamic wife beating in Egypt: The Guardian Weekly, a British newspaper on 23/12/1990 printed: "In 1987 an Egyptian court, following an interpretation of the Koran proposed by the Syndicate of Arab Lawyers, ruled that a husband had the duty to educate his wife and therefore the right to punish her as he wished."
Islamic wife beating in Jordan: Reports from Jordan concerning the acceptance of wife beating. April 10, 2005. Disturbing report on wife beating in Jordan (here). Mariam highlighted a very disturbing report (in Arabic) published on al-Arabiya's website that says over 80% of Jordanian women support wife-beating! I'm not sure if this has even a smidgen of truth to it but the figures, released by Jordan's National Family Council, are quite alarming and disturbing. According to the report: • 83% of Jordanian women approve of wife beating if the woman cheats on her husband; • 60% approve of wife beating in cases where the wife burns a meal she's cooking; • 52% approve of wife beating in case where she's refused to follow the husband’s orders
Another survey in Jordan (here): In Mahmoud Rimawi’s column in Al Rai Today a read a ‘very nice’ statistic: 91% of university students polled by the Jordanian Human Right Centre approve of wife beating (Note: university students, not illiterates)
Islamic wife beating in Palestine: An article on the state of wife abuse in Palestine (here): Poll Finds Majority of Palestinian Arabs Support Wife-Beating: A September 2002 poll taken by a leading a Palestinian Arab polling agency, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, found: * 56.9% of Palestinian Arabs "believe that a man has the right to beat up his wife if she underestimates his manhood." …
QUESTIONS AND FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Several points need to be raised about 4:34, the Hadith, and Muhammad's farewell address.
- Why does Allah tell men to beat their wives before seeking family council?
- Why does Allah command wife beating in the Qur’an but does not command men to love their wives?
- How does Muhammad's statement that women lack self-control and placing men over them effect a woman's self esteem?
- How does 4:34 and Muhammad’s "women are in-between slave and free" comment affect how women are viewed in society and culture?
- What is the social and psychological significance for women in the long run knowing they are physically subjected to men and can be beaten by their husbands if men begin to merely suspect that their wives are disobedient?
It’s been established that the Islamic source materials command the beating of disobedient wives. Wife beating occurred in early Islam with Muhammad’s approval and it is part of Islam’s theology for family management. This beating is meant to inflict pain in order to bring the wife into submission to her husband. The beating cannot break bones, disfigure, or injure the wife, but can cause pain and bruise her.
Islam states that the man is superior to the woman and positions the wife subordinate to her husband. As her superior he is given authority over her. If she persists in disobedience to him the Qur’an commands him to beat her. Muhammad institutionalized wife beating and his edict is accepted and supported by the majority of Muslims worldwide.
This legal method of harsh discipline degrades and de-humanizes women. They become servants, they become possessions, they become prized animals that are to be treated kindly but disciplined when the husband feels she is disobedient. There is no way to justify the institutionalized physical and psychological abuse of women commanded by Islam. Islam is not the solution, it is the problem.
APPENDIX 1: CRITIQUE OF YUSEF ALI’S AND MUHAMMAD ASAD’S NOTES IN THEIR QUR’AN TRANSLATIONS
Y. ALI: Ali wrote for a Western audience and knew that they reject wife beating. Consequently Ali inserted many of his own words into the Qur’an’s text to mollify it. Ali inserted 9 different comments in the 4:34 verse. There is no other other verse with that many insertions. Clearly something troubled him enough to cause him to butcher his Qur’an. Not one other translation adds "lightly" when talking about the beating because there is no "lightly" word in the actual text. Ali was a Muslim apologist and his work here is meant to soften the Qur’an’s real meaning.
Ali wrote that the beating should be 'light'. Now examine the Qur’an’s context: it’s obvious that the beating has to be severe enough to bring her into obedience. It must produce a stronger psychological effect than verbal chastisement and sexual desertion. In other words - it's got to hurt. Ali did not want to say that because it would mean that Islam is a harsh faith.
Here are Muhammad Asad’s comments on wife beating found in his translation of the Qur’an.
"When the above Qur’an verse authorizing the beating of a refractory wife was revealed, the Prophet is reported to have said: "I wanted one thing, but God has willed another thing – and what God has willed must be best (see Manar V, 74). With all this, he stipulated in his sermon on the occasion of the Farewell Pilgrimage, shortly before his death, that the beating should be resorted to only if the wife "has become guilty, in an obvious manner, of immoral conduct", and that it should be done "in such a way as not to cause pain (ghayr mubarrih)"; authentic Traditions to this effect are found in Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Daud, Nasai and Ibn Majah. On the basis of these Traditions, all the authorities stress that this beating, if resorted to at all, should be more or less symbolic – "with a toothbrush, or some such thing" (Tabari, quoting the views of scholars of the earliest times), or even "with a folded handkerchief" (Razi); and some of the greatest Muslim scholars (e.g. Ash-Shafii) are of the opinion that it is just barely permissible, and should preferable be avoided: and they justify this opinion by the prophet’s personal feelings with regard to this problem." Asad, M., “The Message of the Qur’an”, Dar al-Andalus, Gilbralter, 1980
Asad, like Yusef Ali, wrote with a Western readership in mind. Consequently his comments are intended to make Islam acceptable to the moral Western reader. Although he references the great scholars, his comments contradict what they taught. If Asad were truly familiar with those scholar’s works, he would know that wife beating can be done for both immoral conduct and persistent disobedience.
Another error is that he translates ghayr mubarrih as "not to cause pain". Guillaume translates it as "not severely". Ibn Kathir wrote, "not viciously" and both of these allow a degree of pain. How do you beat someone without causing them pain? The two concepts do not go together. If someone says, "I gave him a beating", be assured it hurt. If I beat you, it will hurt, otherwise it is not a beating.
Asad reaches for straws when he quotes the "symbolic", "toothbrush" and "handkerchief" rationalizations. "Beat your wife with a handkerchief"? Was he so blinded by his devotion that he actually believed this? The Islamic sources show that in the days of early Islam wife beating was painful and done with the hand or stick.
APPENDIX 2: MUSLIMS’ DEFENSE OF WIFE BEATING
Muslims’ defence varies from "it is no longer valid today", to, "the beating must be done with a large toothpick", to, "wife beating is okay, if done according to Islamic guidelines", to, "she can get a divorce if she doesn’t like it", to, "she deserves to be beaten if she disobeys". Contrary to what the Islamic source materials teach, most Muslim apologists in the West do the 4:34 dance and bend over backwards trying to soften the command. We’ll take a look at some of their mitigations.
Excuse 1) "The Qur’an allows her to divorce if she feels she cannot work out the relationship".
At first glance this sounds tolerable. The Western reader understands that getting a divorce is not that difficult to obtain and usually the wife receives a monetary settlement.
However in the Islamic world the rules of divorce are quite different. It is nearly impossible to for a woman to obtain a divorce in an Islamic country. Those that do, usually fare poorly when it comes to obtaining any finances from their husbands. The poor women either have to fend for themselves, with many of them having little or no job skills, or have to be grudgingly provided for by their relatives. And as the Jordanian woman remarked, in Islamic society a divorced woman is shamed. She is used goods. Getting re-married will be very challenging.
Excuse 2) "The Islamic system for wife beating is perfect, the real problem is that the guidelines for wife beating are not followed by the Muslim men. If everything were done according to the rules then it would be fine."
The "Islamic guidelines" stipulate that the beating is painful and allows her to be bruised. When beating her in such a manner, an accident could happen, and the man could break a bone or scar the wife unintentionally. Or the man may not intend initially to injure his wife but once the beating begins an angry husband could take it too far. In both cases the wife is damaged severely, and the mental scars remain after the body heals. The man says "Malish" (sorry), and the woman is left to deal with the pain. These so-called "Islamic guidelines" are a coward’s way for dealing with normal marriage difficulties. "Spousal abuse" by any other name should still be as cruel.
Excuse 3) This next excuse is a common one that criminals use to justify their crimes, "she made me do it." You can find it here as:
What if my wife is stubborn and she intimidates me to either beat her or divorce her when she is angry? (Link)
How does a wife intimidate her husband into beating her? Does that make any sense to you? I don’t know many people who intimidate others into beating them. After all, isn’t the male superior to the women in Islam? How then does the wife intimidate him? This is ass-backward thinking and the Muslim’s statement above shows the depravity of this “mind”. They are willing to grasp at any excuse to justify Muhammad.
Excuse 4) This excuse is used most frequently and touched on earlier: "The husband must beat her "lightly". Below is a quote from one Muslim site.
In case their admonition turns out to be in vain, they should then avoid conjugal relations with them to make them realize the gravity of their disobedient attitude. In case even this step fails to improve the wives' behaviour, the husbands are then advised to beat them lightly. (Link)
What is a light beating? How would it sound if a man said to his co-workers, "I gave my wife a light beating last night"? Will Muslim women mind having a "light" beating? Sometimes the absurdity of the Muslims doing the 4:34 herky-jerky dance is dumbfounding. Muslim fundamentalists will do and say anything to justify Muhammad’s ignorance and cruelty. In this case we have the "light" beating. But the Islamic source materials say otherwise. Aisha said it herself:
I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!