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“I am convinced about the veracity of my opinions, but I do consider it likely that they may turn out to be incorrect. Likewise, I am convinced about the incorrectness of the views different from mine, but I do concede the possibility that they may turn out to be correct.” — Imam Shafa’i
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Universality of Quran if husband is allowed to beat wife (1)

Question:
I live in a western country, a society which is in the habit of looking at things in current perspective. We are facing a dilemma somewhat similar to the early Muslims who came in contact with Greek philosophy and Iranian culture. I know that if one or two ayahs are not solved in a contemporary world it will not negate the whole Book. But our CLAIM is very BIG for this book. It should be defendable in any situation and any period. Isn't it true for prohoibition of wine, and slavery. Then why it is not defendable in case is physical punishment to wife. I have not stressed about the consequential problems arising out of beating because that will widen the discussion without a benefit. If it was acceptable norm in that Arab society (or similar old and oppressive societies) and a provision has been drawn for them, then the claim of universality is weakened.

If it is argued that it is exceptional and a choice and not an order, it will not be binding on those who do not agree with this explanation and insist that any husband can beat his wife if she according to him (husband) has committed nushuz. The Mullahs in mostly backward Muslim societies will not agree with your explanation and the practice of beating and the objection will stand.

I from my heart believe that the Quranic orders and guidelines are universal and workable in the context thay are ordained. I was hoping that I shall find a convincing logic to solve this knot of the ayah but it is my bad luck that still I am not yet clear about it.

If I am just asked to believe what I am told without being convinced then it will be even a bigger shock to me which will stir my basic trust.

Response:
I can understand that one can at times not fully appreciate the rationale behind the expectation of a certain Qur'anic command. One looks at the overall set of teachings which one has internalised rationally to conclude that what has been understood and appreciated is much bigger than what has not as yet been fully appreciated. There is no question of asking you to simply believe. What I would urge is that you tell yourself that you are thinking about the verse and as yet you don't quite fully understand it. There is however no reason why one verse or two whose full implications are still not clear to you should make you feel shocked and dismayed. Exaggerated reaction can be a part of the problem one sometimes goes through in understanding many phenomena.

One must revisit the claim itself: The Qur'an is a word of God; it has come to guide the entire mankind. In order to do the task it guided the first generation that received it. Many verses of the Qur'an therefore carry a message which was meant for them more than anyone else. Verses requiring Muslims to kill the polytheists are another example of such Qur'anic injunctions. They have nothing to with us.

Let's look at the problem itslef. There is a family; it is run by mutual consultation. God has expected the husband to be polite, caring, and fair with his wife. The wife, in a particular case, says 'To hell with what you are doing, I don't care a bit about your status. I'll do what my mind tells me.' Now, there could be two options: The husband tells his wife to not be silly. He keeps telling her about how wrong her attitude is. The wife however doesn't give what he says to her a damn. The husband then says to her 'Kindly move on to the other bedroom or I am myself doing that.' During this while the wife's insulting behaviour (nushuz) continues. After a few weeks, or months, the husband gives her a mild smack. This last measure was to bring her back to her senses. This is what the Qur'an has suggested as one possible strategy. The other possibility that the husband divorces her immediately is always there. The Qur'an has already given that advice elsewhere. The wife, on the other hand, always has the possibility to seek divorce on the very first hint that her husband is on his way to smack her after a few days. It is her right to seek immediate separation. However, insulting (nushuzing) wives are not of that kind.

Compare this situation with the one in the West where broken families are a norm and extra-marital sex is rampant. Are we questioning our faith on the basis of this latter pattern of life? Is that what ideal husband-wife relationship should be? Don't forget that what is mentioned in surah Nisa is an exception. And there were, and there still are, many women who accept the disciplining role of their husbands as an acceptable part of the deal. In fact, many of them feel good about it. I know it is ridiculous in your eyes. However, God knows much more than we do and He is not bound by a certain taste developed in a certain part of the world in a certain era to confine His instructions in His scripture to suit them alone. And don't forget that wife-bashing is a norm in the western society too. Also, the stipulation in surah Nisa, if properly followed, would rule out the possibility of wife-bashing completely. Husbands are allowed to physically hit their wives in anger. They can only do so if at all they do mildly to discipline. The verse that is confusing you carries the seeds for eliminating wife-bashing from an Islamic society. If Muslim husbands violate the Qur'anic expectation, it is no fault of the Qur'an.

Islam's message is meant for all situations and not for a few. It is meant for all peoples and not a few. We must never ignore that reality.

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